Friday, July 31, 2009

Mr. Crankypants: Beer for Idiots

Normally here at The Greasy Skillet, we keep Mr. Crankypants away from the keyboard because we like to keep things positive. Lately though Mr. Crankypants has been rattling his cage and has been a bit unbearable. It all started this summer when he tried to purchase a new battery for his cordless. drill. He returned with a new drill and upset because purchasing a new one was cheaper than a new battery. He's grumbled all summer about our disposable society, landfills, the economy, the environment, and how the man's always backing him into a corner.

Consequently the we've agreed to give him his own regular post, something that would allow him to vent and curb his grumblings. We'll see how this goes.

The corporate boys at Coors are probably somewhere in Golden, Colorado, at this moment giving each other congratulatory back slaps for their recent stroke of ingenuity, a beer bottle label that turns blue when the beer reaches a suitable drinking temperature. I know the man at Coors is trying to persuade me to spend my hard-earned money on his product, but he’s only succeeding in pissing me off by insulting my intelligence. Here in Kansas we to ice our beer down well before we plan on drinking it. In addition to common sense, God blessed me with the sense of touch, so that I’m capable of grabbing a beer and gauging whether or not it’s a suitable drinking temperature. Just as I don't need a warning label telling me to not operate a backhoe after consuming a six pack, I don't need this label.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the demographic Coors is targeting is the same group who purchases this:

It’s also the same blindfolded demographic that eats processed Pizza Hut pasta in their own homes and who think they’re eating fine, handmade pasta in a fancy schmantzy restaurant. Don’t get me started on this idiocy; such gimmicks are for schmucks.

Today I'm driving to Colorado, and I'm contemplating driving to the the Coors headquarters, so I can kick the collective assess of all involved in this asinine plot to snare my hard-earned beer money. However, when push comes to shove, I probably won’t waste my time. Instead, I’ll just roll down the window when I drive by and unleash a flurry of profanity that will flutter away in the rarefied mountain air. Even though no one will hear those words, I’ll feel a hell of a lot better.

Stick it to the man,
Mr. Crankypants

PS . . . I'll stick to local beer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

God's Country

(Highway 36 in Kansas between Bird City and McDonald)
A few years ago, the wrestling coach at my school took a group of athletes to the state tournament in Hays. Out of all of students, only two had been west of Topeka. As he drove the coach kept talking about how western Kansas was God's country. At a rest area one of the wrestlers surveyed the landscape and said,"I think I know why they call this God's country. It's because out here it's just you and God, and that's about it. There aren't even trees here."
I thought about this story as I drove west last night and I chuckled.
I love all of Kansas, especially the High Pains west of Hays.
I love how strangers are more apt to wave as I drive through a town.
I love the small town restaurants and convenience stores where farmers and ranchers gather to talk and drink coffee.
I love how the stars and moon are more spectacular west of Hays.
I love the sunsets west of Hays.
I love how the people tend to be friendlier and more sincere the further west I drive.
I love how the weather is always the center of conversation for those on the High Plains who make their livings from the land..
I love how it is God's country, and there's something spiritual about the landscape.
What do you love about your region of the country? I'd love to hear from you.
I'm in southwest Nebraska, and tonight I'll be enjoying the Dundy County Fair.
feelin' small under this big sky,

Monday, July 27, 2009

Parmesan-Sage Popcorn

Once upon a time, kids didn't eat chicken nuggets, popcorn was popped on a stove, and families watched television together. During this fabled time, my family settled down on Saturday evenings to watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island. While watching these kitschy shows, I'd munch on popcorn and wash it down with my only soda of the week.

Times have changed. Popcorn is prepared in a microwave, and while it's nice to throw a bag in the microwave, check my email, and return to a perfectly popped bowl of popcorn, I believe something is lost in the process. Microwaving popcorn is a detached experience and doesn't fully engage the senses like popping corn on the stove. There's something joyful about the first ping of kernels ricocheting off metal, a musical freeform Buddy Rich-like solo. Then as the popped kernels fill the dutch oven, the musical notes deepen to a chorus. There's just something romantic about the whole damn experience, and I miss it.

You could call me overly sentimental, but I'd like to see America return to popping popcorn on the stove. To spearhead this movement, I offer up this recipe for Parmesan-Sage Popcorn:

Parmesan-Sage Popcorn

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  1. Place a large, lidded dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add oil and popcorn kernels.
  2. Cover the saucepan,t hen begin gently shaking the pan over the heat.
  3. Listen for the joyful pinging of the kernels, after 4-5 minutes, and continue shaking the pan until the popping slows. I find it helps to sing and shake my body to facilitate the shaking of the pan.
  4. Remove the lid and pour the popcorn into a large bowl.
  5. Wipe out the dutch oven, turn the heat to low, and add the butter.
  6. Melt the butter, and then add the sage. continue cooking for an additional 30-60 seconds, until the sage crisps. Add the butter and sage mixture to the popcorn, along with the Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Toss well to evenly distribute.
  7. Settle down with the family in time to hear Tattoo shout, "Ze plane! Ze plane!"

My mother would sometimes make popcorn with bacon grease? What are your favorite popcorn memories?

while we're at it, let's get rid of baby carrots and return to old-fashioned carrot sticks,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Greasy Five: God, Strip Clubs, and Mud Ovens

I've always been a thinker, not a deep thinker but a thinker nonetheless. I spend an abnormal amount of time just living inside my own head, and since I've become a blogger, the minutes spent thinking have increased. To get outside of my head a bit, I thought I'd pose a few questions to visitors of this blog to establish a little dialogue.

  • I often think about abandoning the blog because sometimes becomes a burden and seems like a foolish waste of time. Do you ever think about abandoning your blog? What keeps you going?
  • This week I've been taking my daughter to vacation Bible school. I've been hoping that this would encourage a dialogue about God and faith, but it hasn't really played out that way. When I ask her about Bible school, she likes to talk about the snacks. I guess, this isn't surprising. She is my daughter after all. How do you talk to a five-year-old about God?
  • I've been thinking about doing a post about the Friday lunch buffet at The Flamingo Club, a strip club here in Lawrence. However, I don't want to offend anyone or really promote strip clubs. It's about the food. Should I proceed with this?
  • About a month ago, Tastespotting rejected my submission, which wasn't a surprise to me because I know that my photos aren't the most appealing. However, they also gave me the following feedback on the pictures: "Unflattering, dark composition." What secrets do you have for taking good photographs of food?
  • I've been reading Kiko Denzer's book Build Your Own Earth Oven, so I've been contemplating building an oven out of mud. Is this an eccentric pipedream, or should I pursue it?
Feel free to respond to any of the above questions. You can pick and choose. That's how we do things at the skillet.

keep on the greasy side,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ode to an Absence

. . . An odd thing, to come upon
an absence, to come upon a death, to come upon
what is left when everything is gone.

***From "The Death of a Small Town" by Kansas native B.H. Fairchild

I have a feeling I won't make a good old man because I'm a brooder. When something slips into past, I don't deal well with the holes left by its absence. I spend too much time thinking about how things once were. I end up with a dark gumbo of feelings of emotions that I have trouble digesting.

I then end up worrying about not being a good old man.

I'm trying to be proactive though because I want to be a good, not-so-crotchety, interesting old man that the grandkids enjoy; therefore, I promise to document the processional as it slips into the sunset. This will be the catharsis. I'll be one of the few (I know I'm not alone) with cameras and pens in hand to document how the little things were. It's all about the small details.

This week the Round Corner Pharmacy will close its doors.

They say it's the oldest continuous running pharmacy in the state of Kansas.

I guess, the plaque makes it a fact.

There was a small cheese shop in the back of the pharmacy. Of course, you could get a good grilled cheese sandwich there.

and that's the way it is,

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Baked Onions with Gruyere

I'm sitting on the back patio, enjoying a Shiner Hefewiezen, and contemplating the goodness of this life. It's breezy, sunny, and in the low 80's, a rarity for mid-July in Kansas, so I graciously accept this gift.

Tonight we're hosting a dinner party, and most of the ingredients were purchased at The Downtown Lawrence Farmers' Market. Since this is a food blog and I've neglected sharing any recipes lately, I thought I'd share something on tonight's menu a recipe for Baked Onions with Gruyere from Morton's The Cookbook. I've prepared the first six steps of the recipe, and I'll complete it right before dinner. However, I've sample the onions, and I think, I'll be roasting onions more often. Roasting an onion is a magical transformation. The recipe has me contemplating transplanting a patch of soil from Vidalia, Georgia, so I can grow my own sweet onions. Onion marmalade, anyone?

Roasting Onions with Gruyere

  • Cooking spray
  • 5 medium sweet white onions
  • 2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup beef broth.
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 cup finely shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray a shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Cut about 1/4 inch off the top and bottom of the onions. Then cut the onions in half a the equator and peel them. Arrange the onion halves, cut sides up, in the baking dish.
  3. Brush the tops of the onions with olive and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake for about 35 minutes.
  5. In a glass measuring cup, mix together the beef broth and soy sauce. Pour over the onions.
  6. Continue baking for about 1 hour, basting every now then. If the liquid evaporates, add a little water.
  7. Sprinkle the cheese and sage evenly over the onion halves. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until the cheese melts.

breakin' out the new guayabera shirt tonight,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Steve Sax of Pastry Baking

Yesterday I attempted to bake tiny chocolate cakes with molten centers, but they looked something like bear scat. I was aiming for something that would impress my wife on her birthday, not bear scat. I feel very at ease in the kitchen, and most actions are instinctual. However, don't ask me to prepare dessert. If I can use a baseball analogy, I'm Steve Sax (see note below) when it comes to pastries. There's really no explanation for my ineptitude. I should be able to bake a dessert, but in the pastry kitchen, I specialize in creating lumps, clumps, mish-mashes, bricks, scat, dung, WTF's, charcoal, surrealistic edible white trash folk art. Now I realize that I might need to consult a pastry psychologist to clear my head of my baking insecurities.

What demons plague you in the kitchen? Please make me feel better.

Throwing high and wide and missing the mark,

NOTE from Wikipedia:

Though never regarded as one of the top fielding second baseman in the league, Steve Sax inexplicably became incapable of making routine throws to first base in 1983, committing 30 errors that season. This is referred to in baseball terminology as "Steve Blass disease", named after the Pirates pitcher who suffered a similar breakdown of basic mechanics. As his accuracy suffered, fans sitting behind the first base dugout began wearing batting helmets as mock protection. (Teammate Pedro Guerrero, an outfielder pressed into service at third base in 1983, once reportedly stated that his first thought whenever he was in the field was "I hope they don't hit it to me," while his second thought was "I hope they don't hit it to Sax.") By 1989, however, Sax seemed to be completely "cured", leading the American League in both fielding percentage and double plays.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Soup Du Jour for the Incarcerated

After a three-month hiatus, I've decided to resurrect The Greasy Bookshelf, where I spotlight significant food moments in books I've read.

I bet there´s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
they´re probably drinkin´ coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can´t be free
but those people keep a movin´
and that´s what tortures me...

Well if they´d free me from this prison,
if that railroad train was mine
I bet I´d moved it all a little further down the line
far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
and I´d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....
I bet I´d move just a little further down the line
far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
and I´d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....

***"Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash

I have an acquaintance who works at the state prison in Lansing, so I often ask him about prison food and what's on the cafeteria menu. Two weeks ago when the temperature assaulted us with triple digits, he told me that they served the inmates soup. It should be noted that the inmates don't have air conditioning, and they were served a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup, not a chilled gazpacho. Needless to say the inmates were pissed. I sympathize with them. It does seem a bit cruel and unusual. If I would have been dining in the prison cafeteria that day, I would have jumped up on a table and shouted, "At-tic-ca! At-tic-ca! At-tic-ca!" I'm sure they throw inmates in the hole for such antics, , but at least there I'd have time to allow my soup to cool.

Today I pulled The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison by Pete Earley off the Greasy Bookshelf. In addition to having the state prison located in nearby Lansing, Leavenworth is also home to the United States Penitentiary and the United States Disciplinary Barracks located in Ft. Leavenworth, so prisons are a big industry in the area.

Anyway, the book gives a dramatic (maybe overly dramatic) look at life inside the Leavonworth Pen. It's a quick read, and there are a few good "foodie" moments in the book that show us food is more than food. My favorite involves a Sunday evening ritual for inmates who work in the kitchen. During this time they're allowed to cook their own meals. Mr. Earley gives us a glimpse of this unique freedom in the following passage:

Technically, the kitchen was closed. Inmates had to make do on Sunday morning with a brunch of coffee, milk, and pastries, and a dinner of cold cuts and bread. But behind the kitchen's stainless-steel doors, the inmate cooks divided themselves, as always, along ethnic lines and the mammoth kitchen took on the atmosphere of a church bazaar. Black inmates ate fried chicken with thick white gravy in one area; a handful of Chicanos dined on tortillas and refried beans in another. Bucklew and his crew ate spaghetti and pork chops in the officers' cafeteria.

While it's not exactly as elaborate and adventurous as the mafia dinner-behind-bars ritual described in Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguys (Many of you probably recall this moment as it's depicted in the movie Goodfellas), it still sounds tasty to me.

always be a good boy; don't ever play with guns,

PS. . . I'm sure taking photographs of prison is prohibited, but I'll go to great lengths to give my readers what they want.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Guy and Mae's Tavern

Elwood: What kind of music do you usually have here?
Claire: Oh, we got both kinds. We got country *and* western.

***From the movie The Blues Brothers.

Recently I traveled to Melvern, KS., with the man who is known as The Oracle in some outer limits of the blogosphere.
The main purpose of the trip was to hear The Oracle's brother's band -- The Barnyard Boys -- perform. The band's name makes me think of Akroyd and Belushi in The Blues Brothers posing as The Good Ol' Boys and performing in some backwater bar with only chicken wire to protect them from a barrage of beer bottles.

Even though our ultimate goal was hearing The Barnyard Boys harmonize, strum, and pick, we had another purpose, eat ribs at Guy and Mae's Tavern in Williamsburg, Kansas.
They're known for their barbecue ribs, and other than the pitchers of beer, I can't really recommend anything else there. I'm not going to sit here and tell you these are the greatest ribs in the world, but when you visit Guy and Mae's Tavern, you'll receive friendly service and very good ribs with tender meat that gently pulls from the bones. They're stripped-down, unassuming ribs. There's just a hint of smoke and they're served dry, seasoned with just salt and pepper, and the sauce is served the side. The ribs are much like Kansans: hearty, simple, plain, and sincere. They don't try to be something they aren't, and that's what I love about Guy and Mae's ribs. This is probably why Guy and Mae's is one of 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine.

(If I was a dog, I'd hang around in front of Guy & Mae's also. Does anyone have a doggie bag?

keep the sauce on the side,

PS. . . It was a good evening, complete with the 3 b's: barbecue, beer, and The Barnyard Boys' version of "The Blue Moon Over Kentucky." The Oracle reveled in the 4 b's by adding beans to the tri-fecta. The only thing missing was bacon and maybe, bourbon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Overactive Imagination: Muddywaters, Recent Parolee

If I'm ever in prison, and I'm fortunate enough to be paroled, I'll probably spend a lot of time in Haskell Square. It's one-stop shopping for the ex-con looking to claw his way back into society.

There's the parole office.

When I'm a little short on cash and I need to pay the electric bill, I can secure a loan at American Payday LoansI can rent my favorite Hitchcock films at Miracle Video. Maybe they'll have my favorite prison movie, Cool Hand Luke.

I can purchase the occasional six-pack and bottle of tequila at Haskell Liquors.There's a diner to get a meal when I don't feel like cooking.
There's a tavern, where I could grab the occasional drink when I felt like having some company.

Of course, good bbq is essential to any rehabilitative effort.
Finally, there's a Food Mart for my groceries.

Of course, I write jokingly about the plight of the ex-con. I firmly believe everyone should have the opportunity to improve his/her life, and I sincerely want the best for everyone.

For my next Lawrence fieldtrip, I'll visit one of the following destinations:
  1. Kelly's diner
  2. Grandaddy's BBQ
  3. Food Mart
Sorry, you're not going to get me in the Crosstown Tavern, which is also known by some as the Crosstown Gun and Knife Club. When I took the picture of the tavern, I took it from afar because there were some folks on the front patio who looked like they were ready to drag me from my minivan and kick my ass. I'm sure it was just my overactive imagination. They're probably good folks. Anyone thinking of encouraging me to visit the Crosstown, read this.

Anyway, cast your vote, and during the evening of Monday, July 6th, I'll tabulate the votes.

never give up on change,