How much is it worth?

Everyone has food memories from their childhood. Some even have happy food memories.
If you’re like me, and you’re living in the city where you grew up, you may still be able to relive your childhood memories. The only time you can’t is when the place closes. (I really miss Kip’s Big Boy, but I have Frisch’s Big Boy when I visit my grandkids in Ohio.)
I think food memories are hardest on people exiled from their childhood homes (sometimes by choice) where the food is still available, you just can’t get there from here. This is especially true if you are from a cultural background that reveres food.
The Spousal Unit is from Brooklyn and she is Brooklyn Italian. She is … opinionated about food. If you want to get her going, just call “pasta” “noodles” or tell her if she needs pizza, Dominos can be here in a half-hour, and if she really needs an Italian food fix, there’s always the Olive Garden.
Never mention Olive Garden – except to her sisters, who inexplicably like it.
This week, in earth-shaking news, DaVinci Pizzeria, the Spousal Unit’s favorite pizzeria in Brooklyn (and therefore in the world) started shipping their pizza. Shipping, as in having FedEx deliver pizza to anywhere they can reach in two days that is willing to pay the rather pricey shipping charges. (Frozen food requires two-day shipping, which is not cheap.) You can order online, which takes some of the fun out of calling for pizza, but it works. 
DaVinci has Sicilian pizza, which is not pizza. It’s a very thick crust, and you don’t get slices, you get squares. It reminds me of Chicago deep-dish pizza, but I don’t say that out loud, because I want to live.
So, while my wife was reveling in the pizza of her childhood arriving on her doorstep, a lot of other people are complaining directly to the pizzeria on their Facebook page about how much it costs.
These were my (slightly-edited) thoughts which I posted, but their page is wisely moderated, so we’ll see if they think it’s worth posting – it’s a defense of small business and a plea to just mind your own beeswax if you think someone has their priorities out of whack:
To everyone complaining about shipping costs, I feel your pain. As the husband of a Brooklyn expatriate, I have had 19+ years of “You don’t understand! You can’t get that here! I NEED IT.”
 
I’ve only been to DaVinci Pizza once – we were visiting my wife’s family and friends in the area, so we went for lunch. My wife was taking photos of all the food with her cell phone. One of the staff asked if she wanted a picture of the two of us. She said, “Why would I want that? I just need photos of the food.”
 
Any food shipped to Texas from New York is insanely expensive – but it’s mostly the shipping costs, with the possible exception of Junior’s Cheesecake – and they’re relatively famous, so they have volume in their favor. Pastosa Ravioli will ship, but the shipping costs more than the pasta. We tried to order cookies for my wife’s Aunt in Florida once, and decided we just didn’t love her that much. 
 
My only salvation is Jimmy’s Food Store  in East Dallas who has owners that import some critical Italian necessities (as in the aforementioned Pastosa Ravioli.) So, if you’re in Dallas, go to Jimmy’s. Tell them Kevin sent you. 
 
Here’s the issue that Mom and Pop businesses run into – the stores don’t set the shipping rates. They either absorb them which kills their profit or pass them on which annoys their potential customers. Sure, you can ship more slowly, but the food won’t arrive edible. I did think $80+ shipping to get $100 of pizza to Dallas was a bit insane, but it’s cheaper than us flying to Brooklyn and having my wife discover all the other stuff she needs to take home. (It’s also cheaper than a two-day UberEats delivery with the pie in the back of a random driver’s car.) 
 
So, I had really, really good Sicilian pizza last night and a calzone for lunch today, and my wife is happy (Happy wife, well, happy wife.) However, I know my late mom-in-law will put in a good word for me on Judgement Day because I got her favorite child (well, except for her Shih-Tzu) a real Brooklyn Sicilian pizza and I ate a proper calzone.
I didn’t really have much of a choice – I saw the announcement that they were shipping, and I told my wife, so it’s my fault, anyway. My only fear was adding up the costs, and wondering what would happen if it arrived and it sucked.
It didn’t suck.
It may be too expensive for some. However, if it brings someone’s childhood back, even for a moment, that’s worth it.

Has any Italian ever written a complete recipe?

There’s a story one of my nieces tells about her Grandmother (aka my late Mom-in-law who defeated the Instant Pot from the Great Beyond earlier this week.) She was making Grandma’s Baked Beans, and followed the recipe but they didn’t taste right. She called Grandma for advice, and they walked through the recipe over the phone. After the list of ingredients, Grandma asked, “What about the mustard?” My niece said, “What mustard?” It wasn’t in the recipe, it was “implied.” Actually, everyone else knew it was in there, because everyone else in the family that made baked beans had learned by watching, not reading.

Now, I’m sure people are tired of hearing about my magical Instant Pot, but I made pot roast tonight. There were actually some free Instant Pot cookbooks for my Nook, so I just took the first recipe that I found, because it was short.

First thing, I scanned through the recipe to make sure we had all the ingredients (we did, for once) and that I could execute successfully while recovering from a stressful day (seemed possible.)

So, I began.

First, assemble all the ingredients. (I’m probably not experienced enough to say mise en place yet.) Once everything was assembled, I started browning the roast. The recipe said two tablespoons of olive oil. I begin wondering about the author. That’s not enough to cover the bottom of the pot, and everybody knows you need at least that much. So, I eyeballed it. (If I ever write a cookbook, I’m going to use “Chuck Roast” as my nom de plume.) (Two French phrases in one paragraph? Really?)

After the meat was browned, the recipe said to take it out and sauté the onions. Then, add the tomato paste and mushrooms, and continue stirring. Done.

Add the broth, put the roast back in, seal it, bring it up to pressure, cook for an hour. Second existential crisis. You can’t pressure cook on sauté mode. When was I supposed to have turned it off?

I was in the middle of that step and the existential crisis when I noticed the potatoes, sitting lonely and abandoned on the counter. Hmm. Those must go in the pot eventually. Did I miss a step?

So, I re-read the recipe to that point. No potatoes, except in the ingredients. I read through the rest of the recipe. The last step was to “serve the gravy with the meat and potatoes.” Raw potatoes?

This was my “What mustard?” moment. (Jen, I now feel your pain.)

How was that step left out? Who wrote this? Why, look. The author is from Tuscany. This recipe is probably just copied from his Nana’s notebook.

I threw the potatoes in with the meat, after consulting with the wife, since we don’t like raw potatoes. Crisis averted, but I’m worried about the quality of the recipe and it’s almost ten dollars of meat, and the good delivery restaurants are closing. I hope the rest of this was right.

This was the longest pressure cook I’ve done to date. An hour at pressure, followed by a natural release (which took another 20+ minutes, then a fifteen minute rest with the lid off. (Natural release followed by a rest sounds kinda dirty, now that I think about it.)

Hmm. What was that about pressure cookers and time savings?

(Since I never made most of these things in a pressure-free environment, I’m really not sure if an hour and a half is good or bad.)

Come to think of it, I’ve often had the wife or dogs (or both) waiting on whatever I’m cooking, and they’re usually staring (or growling) at me, so I’ve always cooked under pressure. It’s just now I use a pressure cooker.

Gravy time. Add the water and flour (water? Wait. What water? How much water?) to the pot (Do you take the meat out first? What about the potatoes? Were they really supposed to be in there? Am I really mixing gravy around a three-pound roast?)

I asked the Spousal Unit for advice. She said “it must mean a slurry.” Shouldn’t it say a slurry, then? I’m assuming that’s what she learned from watching her Mom, not read.

Finally, I just pretended my Mom-in-law wrote the recipe and added some mustard.

Actually, I just fished the meat and potatoes out (fishing meat?), and made a basic gravy. It was decent, but it would have been better if I had cooked the flour first(or just used cornstarch.) I suppose that was implied, as well. Thanks, author’s Nana.

I need a new cookbook.

Mom-in-law 1, Instant Pot 0

My mother-in-law defeated my Instant Pot from the Great Beyond last night. She’s been gone almost ten years, but I’ve always been pretty sure she’s still watching us, and now I have proof.

My wife still has her right arm immobilized, so I’m still the chef of the house. Yesterday afternoon, the patient requested chili, so I got some ground beef from the freezer, and a couple hours later, when I started assembling ingredients, I discovered that was pretty much the only chili ingredient I had. Oops.

Plan B was goulash, but we were also missing ingredients for that.

My goal while I’m running the kitchen is to prove people can eat before 8pm and survive, so this was not looking good.

Finally, my wife said, “Make sauce.”

This is where my Mom-in-law comes in.

“Sauce” when I was growing up came in a jar, and it was called spaghetti sauce. My in-laws are New York Italians and sauce is a not in a jar. It is in a number of cans and cloves and shakers that have their contents combined in a large stockpot. It takes all day to make. All damn day. Also, it’s not “spaghetti sauce” because it’s not just for spaghetti – you use the same sauce for all kinds of pasta, on entrees, on bread for a snack, as a substitute for plasma in blood transfusions…

As an aside, for some people from the frozen North, sauce is called “gravy.” I grew up in Texas, where there is cream gravy for chicken-fried steak, enchilada gravy for enchiladas and brown gravy for everything else.

My mom-in-law lived with us for six years before she passed away, and the most upset she ever got was when Rachael Ray made sauce as part of a thirty-minute meal, adding beef stock to get that “all-day flavor”. She was more upset about half-hour sauce than she was the day one of the dogs peed on her walker. Twice. Pee? Slightly Annoyed. Sauce in a half-hour? Ballistic.

So, making sauce “quickly” put me on shaky ground, but I figured, I’m Irish, she should expect me not to know better, and it’s not like she’s haunting us or anything.

For the record, my mom-in-law’s sauce must cook for at least four hours, or it tastes “raw.” To me, sauce tastes like tomato and uncooked sauce also tastes like tomato, but I learned early on to not argue with her about cooking.

So, I was going to make sauce quickly (which is different than “quick sauce”), and my Instant Pot had never let me down in the two times I had used it. Plus, I was cooking for an invalid.

So, first step, brown the garlic. Then, brown the ground beef. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste. Stir it all up. Seal the pot.

Wait for the pot to come up to pressure, wait a half-hour, make some pasta, dinner is served.

“Beep!”

I had never heard a “beep” that just sounded unhappy.

The display said, “Burn.”

This is apparently a well-known issue, “the infamous Burn message.”

It means something is sticking to the bottom of the inner pot. (Thanks, Google.)

So, I opened the pot, stirred everything around, resealed and started again.

“Beep.” Burn.

Uh, Google?

So, something may be stuck. Check. There may not be enough “thin” liquid in the pot. Don’t stir in “heavy” liquids (like tomato paste.) Oops.

This was also when my wife mentioned she usually adds a can of water (28oz!) to her sauce. Hmm.. Water would be a very thin liquid. That would have been a helpful reminder a half-hour ago.

Let’s try this again. Scrape the bottom, add the water (note how close we are to the Maximum Fill line), stir all the heavy stuff to the top (consider that logic), seal and pray.

“Beep.” Burn.

I really should have learned to say, “Dammit” in Italian.

I admitted defeat. I moved all the raw sauce into a stockpot on the stove. Four hours later (after we had BBQ delivered), dinner was ready. For tomorrow.

So, “Burn” is apparently just short for “You will burn in Hell for trying to make sauce quickly.

I miss my mom-in-law. I might have had a bruise today, but she would have stopped the madness much sooner.

Frankenstein Ribs

So, I have an Instant Pot and an injured wife, so I’m on cooking duty. Luckily, there are hundreds of experts on YouTube and Facebook to help you learn to use it.

The YouTube cooking videos are my new obsession – replacing “pier runners.” The great thing about YouTube is there is no filter – anyone can be an expert on anything. Just call your channel “Best” or “Greatest” whatever you do.

We had four pounds of beef short ribs, so I decided to make them. There are lots of videos about making ribs in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Most are pretty similar. One did a dry rub. (Shouldn’t they all do this?) One browned the ribs first. (Shouldn’t they all do this?) A couple finished the ribs off in the oven. (Shouldn’t they all do this?)

So, these are Frankenstein Ribs because my recipe is parts of a bunch of people’s recipes. Also, since Italians taught me to cook, I have no idea how much of most of the stuff I used, which is going to make tracking this in My Fitness Pal interesting. In Italian, I used “enough” of many of the ingredients.

I also realized I should have taken better notes.

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs short ribs
  • Grub Rub
  • Garlic Powder
  • One can Cherry Dr Pepper
  • Soy Sauce
  • One medium onion
  • Vegetable oil
  • BBQ Sauce

Preparation (Dry Rub)

  • Liberally sprinkle Grub Rub and garlic powder all over Ribs
  • Let sit 25 minutes

Brown Ribs

  • Set Instant Pot to Sauté mode
  • Heat “enough” vegetable oil
  • Brown Ribs on all sides
  • Remove to platter

(Think “Wow. That oil looks lonely.”)

Aromatics On The Fly

  • Chop one medium onion
  • Think “Wish I wasn’t too lazy to put some garlic in there.”
  • Sauté until translucent
  • Deglaze with sauce (see below)

Turn off Instant Pot.

Place steaming rack in pot (the rack used for steaming, not a literally steaming rack.)

Sauce:

  • 1 can Cherry Dr Pepper
  • “Enough” Soy sauce to make 2 cups liquid

Cooking the Ribs

Place ribs on steaming rack.

Set Instant Pot using the Meat setting – 45 minutes.

When cooking completes, use Quick Release to depressurize pot .

Remove ribs to foil-wrapped pan.

Realize you don’t have any BBQ sauce.

Homemade BBQ Sauce (Bonus Recipe in a Recipe)

  • Put “enough” ketchup in a small dish.
  • Add soy sauce.
  • Add Worcestershire sauce.
  • Add a couple drops hot sauce.
  • Repeat until it tastes like BBQ sauce.
  • Realize you now have a crap ton of BBQ sauce.

Glaze ribs with BBQ sauce.

Broil until the ribs look done, the sauce is caramelized or your spouse asks what’s taking so long.

Serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Fish Fries And The Hunger Strike

I’ve had some interesting food in Malaysia. I had noodles with pork for breakfast one day, Japanese pastries stuffed with a hot dog (it looked like a big kolache) for lunch, and an Asian breakfast burrito (I have no idea what the true name is, but it was really tasty.)

All the sausage seems to be chicken, since pork is avoided. The chicken sausage has been very good.

So, I had tried new and exciting foods, but I was on the way home at last. There was breakfast on the flight from KL to Hong Kong, and I was hoping there would be a non-Asian dish available. The flight attendant was asking if people wanted fish fries. I was surprised that they don’t call the fish they were serving fish fingers or fish sticks.

I kept hearing “Fish Fries”, which I thought was a Burger King name for mini-fish sticks. However, they would be good airline food, since they reheat easily.

As the flight attendant got to my row, she was asking if we wanted an omelet or fish fries. I hadn’t heard “omelet” before. Although I decided fish fries would be good, I had the omelet on the way to KL, so I chose the omelet again. It’s breakfast food.

The omelet is very tasty, and it comes with chicken sausage, so it’s a good breakfast, even if you’re not on an airplane. So, even though I haven’t had fish sticks in forever, I had the omelet.

The person next to me chose the fish fries. He received fish and rice. So, I think I need a hearing aid, since FishRice sounded like Fish Fries. For twenty rows.

The omelet was good, as usual.

That was the trip to Hong Kong. The next leg was Hong Kong to San Francisco, which was exciting because it was a tight connection, and we were late getting in from KL.

If this were a stand-alone blog post, it would be called “11 1/2 Hours Of Random Kicks From An Adopted Cleft-Palate Chinese Baby”, but that seemed really long.

When two gate agents meet the plane with your connecting flight on a sign, things are not going to go well.

One of the agents counted heads, got enough of us, and said, “Follow me!” Apparently, her goal was to make the plane, and keeping the group together was up to us. If I could dodge and weave that well, I’d still be playing soccer.

It would be easy to follow a young dark-haired, slim Asian woman in a red dress in the Hong Kong International Airport, except that describes most of the employees of Cathay Pacific.

We made the train to switch terminals, got to security, went through the crew-only line (woo hoo!), then made it up the elevator and down two sections of moving sidewalk to the gate. They were still boarding.

Our bags were searched (for appearance sake) and we got on the plane. I had booked a middle seat in the bulkhead row only because it was the only bulkhead seat left on the plane.

How bad could it be?

So, I have an old guy on one side and a Yuppie-Hippie tattooed Dad with a lap child (the baby in the too-long title) across from his wife (Earth Mother) and three other kids. Kill me now.

At times like this, I prefer to think there is no God, since I had said a quick prayer when I got onboard. Granted, He’s busy fixing people’s brackets this month, but a guy hogging the armrest on one side and a lap baby on the other? How much have I pissed Him off over the years?

Of course, I later found that a younger Italian-looking guy had switched seats so Dad could be parallel to the rest of the family instead of behind them. One row behind them.

I was beginning to think God really hates me.

During the first meal service, a really old Indian gentleman behind me didn’t get his vegetarian meal. The flight attendant tried to explain that you need to confirm special meals, but he refused to talk to her after she said it wasn’t onboard. This is the ultimate cranky old guy – she doesn’t exist anymore. The supervisor came by, offered to make him an alternate vegetarian meal, but he just muttered at her. Finally, he accepted. When she delivered it, he refused it. So, now I have a hunger strike in the row behind me.

This shit never happened in business class.

My little friend just took a dump for the ages. When Third World people get an “I smell stink” look, you know it’s an impressive one. I’m glad she was over by her Mom, not that I was spared much.

Baby comes back to Dad. Every time she rotates in his lap, I catch a whiff. Somebody didn’t bring the wipes, I guess.

A few hundred miles later, and the baby goes on a crying jag. Dad wanders off with her. Some of the poop smell lingers. Maybe the old guy next to me isn’t just belching. (I have never heard someone burp this much, and I used to drink in college.)

The hunger striker just agreed to green tea. I’m beginning to see rum in my future.

Six and a half hours to San Francisco. Oy vey.

The hunger striker was coerced into eating something. I would have thought an average hunger strike would last longer than a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, but Cathay Pacific are taking no chances. I guess if the overhead bins are full, there’s no place to put a body. I wonder if a dish is still vegetarian if someone has spit in it.

I need a nap. I am not going to need white rice for quite a while.

One of the kids had an extended coughing fit. It went past medical into “Somebody notice me.” If that kid can hit a drum with the same rhythmic accuracy she can cough, we have the next Ringo.

Even flights from Hell eventually end. This one ended with my bag being almost literally the last bag delivered, which meant I was late through Customs. That meant I was running through my second airport in 24 hours to make a tight connection. There was another train involved, as well.

One other moment of excitement – Cathay Pacific hadn’t issued a boarding pass for my Dallas flight. The American kiosk wouldn’t give me a boarding pass since it wasn’t an American flight (it’s a code share.) Luckily, the agent printed me one. So much for self-serve.

That got me into the Priority Access security line, where businessmen and random stupid people collide. There should be a quiz for passengers before they are allowed to book travel. If people don’t know by now to take their damn shoes off, when my taxes are paying for a TSA agent whose only job seems to be droning, “Take your shoes off”, I guess that’s why airlines still have to explain how seat belts work.

I had my first window seat in quite some time, so as I watched the ground crew finishing up, I saw a truck come up with late bags, and saw mine going onboard. It’s time to go home.

Here’s when you know you’re back in the States. You can buy a glass of iced tea that has ice, and is more than six ounces. Here’s when you know you’re on a US flight – you get a can of Dr Pepper and a lot of ice. After 14 hours of juice poured into a small cup from a liter box or Coke from a liter bottle, it’s nice to be back to cans. Plus, the flight attendant’s name tag says, “Oh Miss”. Sarcasm, how I missed thee.

This is now officially the trip that will not end. I will explain.

My iPad battery is dying, my phone is dead, and we’re still flying. So, I got my GPS out to see where we were. It got a lock fairly quickly. We were almost to Albuquerque.

Then, the Captain came on the speaker. “We have a medical emergency in the back. The closest airport is Albuquerque.” So, at least the GPS works.

We landed in Albuquerque and taxied near a gate.

Paramedics took a passenger off in a wheelchair. His wife followed behind, with her head down. I don’t know if she was embarrassed or avoiding the hate stares.

Now, we have to top off the tanks, take off, and get a new landing slot at DFW. We were doing 580 knots back to DFW. Somebody at AA corporate must have decided paying for hotel rooms would be a bad idea.

The first estimate was an hour or so late into DFW. I am very glad I am done with connections for the day.

Let’s recap, shall we?

I left the hotel in KL at 5:00pm Thursday, Dallas time.
I crossed into Texas at 7:00pm Friday, Dallas time, per GPS, and yes, I cried a little.
I landed at DFW at 7:40pm Friday, Dallas time.

Of course, our gate was blocked, so we had to wait to get to the gate. The crew asked that people without connections let everybody trying to catch their next flight get off first.

It was like a clown car. I was in row 16, and I never realized there were 367 rows behind me.

Now, to get home.

First, I had go find my suitcase. The sign said carousel A16. The agent said A15. After a handful of bags, he said they were all off on A15. Mine was not there. Of course. So, I waited until the carousel stopped, and went to report my suitcase missing. The same suitcase I had seen go onto the plane in San Francisco.

My assumption was they pulled it for the medical emergency man by mistake.

It was on A16. I’m still wondering how bags from one flight ended up in two carousels.

Home at 9:15pm Friday, Dallas time.

28 hours, 15 minutes. It’s the fifteen minutes that really made it tiring.

Listen to the Band (Sometimes)

Play the drum a little bit louder,
Tell me I can live without her,
If I only listen to the band.

Michael Nesmith, “Listen to the Band”

I love that song. I love listening to the band. Pretty much any band. Just not while I’m eating. Actually, I would like to be able to eat without any songs. It’s getting harder to do.

Could we please stop having bands in restaurants? A band in a bar is one thing – I expect that. However, the new trend of putting amplified bands in a restaurant just pisses me off. A lot.

Don’t get me wrong – I love music, so much it annoys most of the rest of my family. I can quote lyrics ad nausem. I volunteered for the Board at KNON because of their (our) music programming. I will pay to see a band I like, I always tip, but stop fucking playing while I’m trying to eat. I can’t hear anyone at my table, and I’m with people specifically so I don’t have to eat alone.

The only exception is a truly cavernous space, or a large Tex-Mex place with a cheesy Mariachi band just to be ironic (or for tourists, in a tourist trap). If you have twenty tables or less, you don’t need a band. Amplified. You just don’t. Please stop.

Also, any Hispanic band in a Tex-Mex place that plays “Smooth Operator” should have their union cards revoked.

If you want a small acoustic band playing in your restaurant just to avoid having a CD player, don’t. It’s lose-lose. If they’re good, nobody can hear them over the noise, but at least you can talk at the table. For me, I’ll be instantly distracted (quoting lyrics, original versions, the whole setlist), which annoys my companions. If they have any self-confidence (a musician? self-confident?), they just crank it up so you can hear them. In spite of my love of music, sometimes I don’t want to hear you. No offense, really, but my wife has stuff to talk about. If we do it in public, we fight less, or at least more quietly.

I love music, but I’m losing some of my favorite restaurants because somebody thought music would add a good vibe. It doesn’t. It’s annoying me. If it annoys me, a music lover, what is it doing to less tolerant people? I know we saw one couple walk out of a place tonight before they got in the door, because they heard the band.

Move music back to the bars where it belongs.

For my musician friends, I love you guys. I really do. I’ll always buy your CDs, I’ll download your MP3s, I’ll support your Kickstarter projects (don’t tell my wife), I’ll come to your shows when I can. I’d get you on the radio, but the DJs own their playlists. If you ever need a producer, I took a record production class years ago. If you could let me eat quietly, we’ll call it even.