Tuesday, July 30, 2013

America Wins the Mustard War

Growing up, four or five days a week my school lunch entree was a single slice of chopped ham between two slices of white bread slathered with yellow mustard. Even after college, I continued packing this same lunch for work almost every day except, as a wage-earner in control of my own destiny, I boldly expanded my sandwich repertoire to include two slices of chopped ham and sometimes (gasp!) cheese. I never realized lunch could be so much more, but on to my point: after eating literally thousands of boring ham sandwiches cemented with yellow mustard, I've had enough yellow mustard to last me a lifetime.

I remember the first time I had real (American) Chinese food with Chinese hot mustard. (Of course back in the 70's my mom occasionally made chop suey from a can and mixed it with ground beef, but that qualifies for Chinese food about as much as Spagettio's qualifies as Italian--but we never had hot mustard with it that version of chop suey.) Early in my career, I went with some co-workers to a Chinese restaurant where we started lunch with some eggrolls. Following everyone else's lead, I unwittingly dipped my eggroll into a generous portion of Chinese mustard. Seconds later, a volcano rolled through my sinuses and I grabbed my water to douse the flames. But what I found really amazing was that I immediately wanted more!

And so began my love affair with hot Chinese mustard and its cousin, wasabi. In fact, wasabi became the real reason I love sushi. I love the rush and the feeling of risk that maybe this time I might have taken too much... then “Ahhhhhhh!” the sweet release as it flushes out my sinuses. In much the same way that you should never eat at a barbecue restaurant tif you can't smell it from a mile away--if you didn't have a runny nose when you leave a Chinese restaurant, you should cross it off your list.

Way back then, when I first came to love hot mustard, I didn't even care about the eggrolls; I just needed a vehicle for dipping into that awesome, gratifying, sinus-clearing hot stuff. You could have given me a plate of cardboard toilet paper rolls and I probably would have declared them "fantastico!" if the mustard was good.

Flash forward to the present. Because of our recent long, drawn out moving process and having to take care of two houses for a while, we spent a lot of time on the road which meant we didn't feel much like cooking. And so we have had more pizza and Chinese food delivered in the past year than in all previous years combined. This has made us experts on eggrolls and Chinese hot mustard. But after a few deliveries, I began to notice that the "mustard effect" wasn't quite what it used to be; it was taking more and more mustard to get a decent fix. Had I developed a tolerance, like a meth addict?

We switched to a different Chinese restaurant for delivery but nothing changed, the mustard didn't seem hot at all. In fact, upon close examination I realized that the mustard looked and tasted more like the yellow mustard I had eaten growing up than it did the Chinese mustard I had come to love. In desperation we bought a dry hot mustard mix from the grocery store, but this too tasted bland and heatless.

Where oh where had my hot mustard gone?

Sadly, it appears to have undergone the slow but inevitable Americanization process that many original foods and flavors fall victim to. We don't appreciate cultural or regional differences when it comes to food. You can find the same chain restaurants, in virtually any city in any state. PopEyes is considered authentic New Orleans fare to many of us. And Taco Bell is "Mexican" food. But we don't want surprises in our food. And we want a Taco Bell bean burrito to taste exactly the same wherever we go whether we're in Anchorage or Albany. With this homogenization, some foods slowly morph together, and the masses get what they want. Thus, Chinese restaurant owners have undoubtedly, over time, catered to the non-adventurous American tongue by subbing familiar mild yellow mustard for their authentic, fume-inducing Chinese one.

I suppose it's democracy at its best but the victory of plain, banal yellow mustard over Chinese mustard makes me weep, the way a good dose of Chinese mustard used to. Guess I'll go make myself a chopped ham sandwich.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ultimate Guard Dog

Booboo the dog passed away on July 16 at the age of fifteen. Instead of getting bogged down in another pet eulogy, I choose to celebrate the day he channeled his inner Lassie and saved our house from destruction.

Being very territorial, Booboo claimed every backyard he lived in as his own kingdom. He kept us safe from squirrels, birds and even deer. His fearlessness finally caught up to him the night he chased and trapped a porcupine.

In 1999, we moved into a country house on 1.5 acres overlooking a heavily wooded area. The lot had no fence, which left us worried about how to keep Booboo from running away. At first, we kept him tied to a chain but within ten minutes, by running around the tree, he would end up tied against it helplessly. We finally just set him free to roam about. Amazingly, he stayed within the confines of the property as if we had given him a survey of the land. Apparently he picked out his territory and decided that it was enough for a dog his size.
Booboo guarding backyard at our previous house.
He kept us entertained nightly as deer came up through the woods, and he ran down to bark at them. Annoyed, they would simply lower their heads as if to charge, and Booboo would back off. 

The actual backyard of the house was an empty field filled with weeds and tall grass which we hadn't gotten around to doing anything with. One day while St. Pauli Girl worked inside the house, Booboo kept running to the front deck and barking like crazy. Booboo liked to bark at passing cars, joggers, walkers, unicyclists, etc., so St. Pauli Girl didn't pay much attention. After a while, Booboo parked himself by the back door, still barking. Finally St. Pauli Girl had had enough and went outside to get him to quiet down.

When she walked out, a neighbor from across yelled a bit too casually, “Hey, did you know your backyard is on fire?”

After pausing a second to wonder why this delightful neighbor hadn't called the fire department, St. Pauli Girl ran to the backyard and verified an out-of-control inferno. She quickly called 911 and then grabbed a garden hose.

The volunteer fire department responded within about ten minutes with a tanker truck. The firemen jumped out and fiddled with the hose. Then, a bit despondently, they approached St. Pauli Girl to tell her the bad news: there was no water in the truck. (Seems like “Fill the truck with water” would be numero uno on the fire department's daily to-do list, but what do I know? I'm not a fireman. Plus they were volunteers; you get what you pay for.)

The firemen stood behind St. Pauli Girl and shouted helpful instructions at her on where to aim the garden hose. Eventually the fire was put out, leaving behind only a blackened yard and smoldering utility pole.

But if it hadn't been for Booboo, we might have lost the house and maybe even the neighborhood.

Booboo guarded our backyards until the very end. Even when he couldn't much run anymore, he still walked toward the birds to shoo them away from our patio. So “cheers” to Booboo on a life well-lived.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

House Cleaning

Longtime readers may have noticed the absence of activity on this blog for the past month or two. But it's actually good news because we finally sold our vacation house (not really a vacation house, just a fancy way of saying we were paying two mortgages after we moved)! The contract had been signed in early May which meant that I spent two months staring out the window wondering how it would fall apart. Even now with a fistful of cash, I keep thinking a hand will reach out from the ground and take if from me.

And so ends an era in the lives of St. Pauli Girl and myself. With that in mind, I decided to clean up the blog a bit. The first change was the background image. Originally it was a photo of mountains in New Mexico. That didn't seem fair so I changed it to an image which better describes where we now live. The image is a “haboob” which happens several times a year in these parts. Granted the background doesn't do the image justice, so you can click on the “haboob” link on the right side for a live action video of a haboob.

We now live in a more urban area in west Texas which means fewer snakes, less yardwork, fewer meth addicts, and less gunfire but more haboobs. St. Pauli Girl has successfully transitioned back to Professor Pauli Girl. It's a bigger town but have no fear, I am still the real America.

I have removed a lot of the restaurant references because I never wrote as much about it as I thought I would. But there's a wealth of stories to mine from there should it become necessary.

When we closed our restaurant in 2009, we saved three of the most expensive bottles of wine. We opened one on 1/1/2010 for good luck and learned that even really expensive wine won't necessarily change your luck. We opened the second one in March 2012 when we sold our first restaurant effectively getting out of the restaurant business altogether. Finally, we opened the last bottle this past weekend to celebrate the sale of the house and the end of an era.

At one point, St. Pauli Girl asked, “What are you most looking forward to?”

“Being able to walk around without having to constantly look at the ground for snakes and scorpions and being able to use 'haboob' in everyday conversations.”

Friday, July 5, 2013

Another June, Another Wedding

For the second year in a row, we got to travel to an out of town family wedding. This time we flew resulting in a shorter trip and not quite as much adventure:

Five minutes prior to our flight's departure from the gate, the captain came on the intercom:

“Well, I guess this isn't really bad news but we have an equipment problem, and we'll have to ask everyone to vacate the plane. Hopefully, we can get a replacement plane and get you on your way.”

I wondered what he considered bad news. I can imagine his announcement if the plane suddenly started going down in a flaming death spiral:

“Well folks, as you can see we're having some issues up here but it's not the worst news. Oh wait, here comes the worst part...”

The second morning, I left the hotel room to get our morning coffee from the lobby Starbucks. As I waited for the elevator, I heard a bell ringing and pounding from one of the elevator doors followed by, “Hello? Hello?”

Apparently a damsel was stuck on the elevator. This caused a dilemma: help her out or go get my coffee (and maybe I should take the stairs to do so)?

With no tools, I figured I probably couldn't get the door open. I also realized that if I said anything to her, she might get irrational expectations that I could actually help, so I just went downstairs. But I did tell the front desk about her before I got the coffee.

(Note: I always thought the proper spelling for “dilemma” was “dilemna”. Not true, apparently. )

Pretty much every wedding weekend I attend involves a golfing excursion. This time we got to play with my 14 year-old nephew who was playing for the second or third time ever. We taught him some very important lessons:

  • Every golfer must learn how to drive the cart with his left foot while sitting on the passenger side, left hand on steering wheel and right hand holding a beer. (we allowed him to hold a soda instead)
  • He must also master the art of leaning out of the moving cart to pluck a golf ball from the ground.
  • If you hit an errant shot that hits a house, car, or person, do not approach! Immediately drive to the other side of the fairway, drop a new ball and pretend like nothing happened and/or blame it on someone else in the group.
  • Never hit on the beer cart girl for the same reason you never hit on strippers or Hooters' waitresses.

The outdoor, riverside, wedding ceremony started at 6:00 p.m. Everyone had large sweat stains on their backs before the dancing even started. Probably the best part occurred during a quiet prayerful moment during the ceremony when someone from a passing boat yelled, “Don't do it!”

During the reception, some guests grumbled that the DJ wasn't playing enough 70's music (ie disco). A family member mentioned something along the lines of, “with the exception of REM, the 80's were the worst decade for music.”

Flabbergasted, I stammered, “What? I will put together a three hour symposium on how 80's music is superior to 70's music.” Just then, a Bon Jovi song came on. “Okay, that doesn't help my case, but...”

The only disappointing thing about the trip was that there was no Kung Fu Fighting at the reception (the song nor a real fight).