Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Family Story Six: We Taste Meat, Cheese, and Beer.

On March 7th, 2010, my L'il Brudder Emil sent an email to our family listserve inviting us all to purchase a Groupon for a meat, cheese, and beer tasting at a bar in Chicago. Yes, we have a family listserve. And yes we will most likely engage in any group activity having to do with food and drink. And I know you didn't ask this question, but yes, when we attend an event at your establishment, we will descend upon you like a swarm of hungry vultures surrounding a wounded animal, and we will attack your food-related products like a lion taking down a gazelle. Okay, so I just compared my family to wild animals and Animal Planet specials. We sort of are like wild animals. But with cute shoes and well-manicured eyebrows. And usually, a lot of charm and wit.

Anyhow, 55 emails and 115 days later, several of us had bought the Groupon and found a time to meet up. Also, "several" means "12 - 14." With this in mind, Emil smartly called Villain's (the bar that was hosting this Groupon event) ahead of time to let them know that we had 7 people who had purchased the Groupon and 5 or more others that would be coming along to either participate in the meat and cheese tasting, or to have something else to eat and drink. Very thoughtful, Emil, especially since we'd planned it for the Friday night before July 4th, which is the same weekend as the Taste of Chicago and about a zillion other events. You see, we plan ahead.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at Villain's, we were informed that the Groupon deal was not available on this particular weekend because of the potential busyness spilling over from the Taste of Chicago. We were told this news as we looked around the bar and counted about 8 other patrons. Um...yeah. Emil got pissed, and rightfully so, since he'd talked to the guy the day before to let him know we were coming in. While he argued with the manager, I took the opportunity to go out front and sweet-talk Nick the Bouncer who we'd chatted with on our way in. And this bouncer subsequently became the star of the night. Within about 6 seconds of me mentioning (nicely) that they weren't going to honor the Groupon, Nick had run inside to "take care of it." See now, that's what I like to hear. "I'll take care of it." "Forget about it, it's done." "I'll make sure one falls off the back of a truck." I love this way of doing things!

Anyhow, long story slightly shorter, Nick saved the day and somehow convinced the manager and the chef to do the Groupon deal, and everybody was happy again. See, sometimes you have to ignore the manager and go straight to the bouncer. Bouncers get things done. My favorite part of it was when Mladenka, Emil's girlfriend, turned to my brother and exclaimed, "See! Reem was very nice and sweet and she got what she wanted! You have to be sweet!" Thanks, Mladenka. Sometimes, my charm works. And sometimes it results in the family getting to taste meat, cheese, and beer. (DISCLAIMER: Emil is plenty sweet. I was just sweeter in this particular situation. Mostly because the bouncer was totally fine and I was feelin' flirtatious).

Here are the brave 7 of us (Layla is hiding in the back) who participated in the tasting. You can see the 5 servings of beer placed in front of each person. Doesn't it look nice and organized?
Here's a close up. Guess what! I have no idea what any of them are. But you can pick out a random five from Villain's beer list and pretend those are they.
And here is the meat and cheese! I have to believe that there would usually be a bit more to it all. Because, to be honest, this platter seemed a bit half-assed. Especially for what would usually cost $47 (we paid $20 each with the Groupon). I mean, I know it's only supposed to be a tasting, was definitely lacking a bit. The extra touch of almonds or macademia nuts or whatever they were tossed sloppily on top seemed last-minute and a bit desperate. The portions were little. But maybe it's just different because I'm used to Wisconsin and to put it bluntly, people know how to eat here. EAT. In capital letters. See family, you'd love it here.
Another view of the platters. It was pretty hilarious to see seven of these spread across the table, along with 35 small beers. Oh, by the way, the beer was totally worth it. Especially since nobody liked the darkest beer in the middle and I got two "bonuses" of that one. Totally worth it!
One of my favorite parts of tastings is the tiny utensils that come with. Tiny things! Look at this little wiener spreader/knife!
There was this one thing on the platter that wasn't meat or cheese. Consensus decided it was a sort of apricot jam, but it wasn't of the regular jam consistency. It was more like a thick, really soft and almost melting fruit roll up. Appetizing, eh? It confused me.
After the first three or so beers, we started getting creative. This here is some meat with some cheese on it (oh lord, I don't remember what any of these are) and a green olive, sliced up and placed on top.
And this, thanks to Shadi, is my favorite combination of the night: some kind of prosciutto paired with a soft white cheese and a tater tot on top! Can you tell that we were several beers in by this point?
Absolutely delicious, and by far, one of the classier moments of the evening.
After finishing our tasting, we executed the successful tactic of leaving the establishment before they start to hate us. This only happens some of the time; the opposite has definitely occurred plenty of times, and I like to think that some of us try and avoid it now. Emil and I gave hugs and huge props to Nick, the lovely bouncer, who saved the entire night for us!
And, to top off one classy night, Shadi wore a helmet in the front seat of Layla's car for the entire ride to the next bar.
There he is, the classy gentleman.
And, to bring it all together:

Hell yes. A classy night had by all, thanks to food and drink, a lovely bouncer, a charming attitude, cousins, and a helmet. Good job, family.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Not a Review Because I Can't Handle Those: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue

See now, this is why I can't be a critic or a reviewer or anything. I go see a show, take two or three pictures and then have to put my camera back in my bag so that my hands are free to wave around in the air. Looking classy, obviously. And I think of a couple sentences that I try and jot down on my hand or on the back of a receipt I find crumpled at the bottom of my purse, but then I realize the band is covering James Brown and I need to focus. On the fact that they're playing James Brown, not on sentences describing them playing James Brown. I end up with a tiny handful of blurry pictures and three nonsensical phrases in a text message I sent to myself that I later try unsuccessfully to decipher. It doesn't work. And it's just not for me, man.

So instead, I watch. And dance and smile and laugh and all that. And that's why I don't have much in terms of a review of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, who performed here in Madison last night at La Fete de Marquette.

I mean, they were brilliant. I'll say that. From the horn section to the rhythm section to the unbelievable guitarist to Troy Andrews (Trombone Shorty) himself, the band blew my mind. Troy played trombone and trumpet, conducted the band, sang, and danced. Nobody told me he could sing! And for real, he could sing. His voice has the depth and passion of a man three times his age, but he brought out a sexiness that just works so perfectly from a 23 year old up on a stage in front of you. You know? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.
Watch him make the music move:

Do you see? That was all I could get, because sometimes you have to know when to put down the camera and just watch. Or just dance. Or just smile so much that your face hurts and forget the details of the show. Let somebody else do it, and you go experience that show.

And of course, there's my unending love for and fascination with the musicians. Oh, these musicians! My mother may have told me, and my friends may have warned me, but I know and they know that nothing gets me quite like a beautiful boy playing guitar. I mean, please.

You know?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Total Maroon

After cooking my dinner tonight, I sat down to eat. It took about 15 minutes. I also sat around for about 10 more minutes before going back to the stove to clean up a bit. I'd left a pan on the stove, and looking inside, I saw this:
What is it? A glob of cheese? A well-seasoned egg white? A dab of butter, perhaps? No, my friends, for I'm way stupider than that tonight. It's part of my white plastic spoon that melted when I left it in the pan on accident. Oh, and I also left the stove on.
Although I was somewhat distraught at the tragedy of losing my spoon (I only have two other identical spoons, you see!), I did see an opportunity for...

PROP COMEDY!!! Wooo, I'm takin' a bite! Yeah!
What a maroon. Theme of the day, babies. Total maroon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer Eatin'

Last night, I was explaining to a couple of friends that I seem to eat better and healthier when I take pictures of the food I'm about to eat. No, wait. That might be a total lie. Example A - The Mastodon (10 oz burger with BBQ Sauce, Cheddar, Bacon, Frizzled Onions) at Kuma's Corner:
Example B - the Mac & Cheese at Kuma's Corner (this was ordered "for the table" and had mushrooms and bacon in it): You get the idea. Okay, let's say that this week, I've been taking pictures of food and realizing that it makes me want to eat healthier. Seriously, you put all your food on a plate and take a picture of it, and you realize that you don't have any protein! So you go get you some protein, and everything is balanced and healthy, and things are great. See how it works?

It has been really easy to eat well and healthy this summer, mostly due to the weekly farmer's market that takes place right outside my house on Tuesday afternoons. The Eastside Farmer's Market used to be a few blocks over, but now it is literally in the parking lot across the street from where I live. I could run there and do an entire lap around the whole thing, holding my breath. Fantastic! It's been diverse so far this summer, and I've almost always come away with fantastic items. Like these, all for a very affordable price:
And some lovely lilies! I haven't been too excited about lilies in the past, but these were so lovely. The leaves are really cool looking too.
The food from the market is extremely fresh, locally grown and made, and absolutely delicious. I've had a ton of fun making meals this week. There's something about the weather that makes me want to eat differently than I do during the rest of the year. Part of me wants a lot of cold things, and no meat, and several little items, all on one plate (but not touching each other. Don't worry, Layla, I'm still true to my roots). Check out some of me fantastic meals from this week!

Here we have hummus I'd made a couple of days before with toasted pita bread, and green beans, raspberries, and cheese curds from the farmer's market! The cheese curds are from Farmer John, who regularly has a booth at several farmer's markets in town. Naysayers, please stop nay-ing; I'm pretty sure you're just nervous because of the word "curd." Here, have a read, and come back when you're more open-minded. These cheese curds are so fresh, probably just a couple of hours old, and they honestly do squeak when you eat them!
This is more of the same hummus and pita bread with a bit of paprika to make it more presentable. It's like dressing up for church, you know? Cut up tomatoes and cucumbers are one of my favorite dipping items for hummus, but the cucumbers must be sliced longways like this. Those pretzel-looking things are raspberry yogurt covered pretzels. So delicious...
I mixed some black beans with tomatoes and cooked them for a while, adding some cumin and other stuff. Hey, cooking! Those are white corn tortillas, avocado, and broccoli from the market.
I bought some new potatoes somewhere else this week - I can't remember where - and decided to cook them with an item I'd bought at the farmer's market last week: Summer Butter. What's summer butter, you ask? Um...actually, it's just butter that is made in the summer. That's all. But apparently, this summer butter has a more yellow color because the cows are eating healthier than they do in the winter. Hey, me too, cows. Me too.
I honestly haven't ever tasted butter like this before. It's incredible; just salty enough, creamy, um...buttery...ridiculous.
I also decided to make egg salad and add in some favorites: tomato, red onion, and dill pickle. These items give it so much flavor; in fact, I don't usually need to add any spices when I put in these three things. My favorites for egg salad, however, are dill and paprika. And it makes it real pretty looking.
Here's dinner! The potatoes have scallions on top (also from the farmer's market, duh), more green beans, and the delicious egg salad. There's also some greek yogurt on the side, just because. You know, one time I made egg salad with Laughing Cow cheese and a teensy bit of greek yogurt for creaminess, and I swear, it was really good. Sometimes mayonnaise is disgusting and you have to find another item. Waa waa!

So, just a note about pictures and colors...I have to say, this last dinner wasn't as satisfying in looks to me due to the sameness in the color of the egg salad and potatoes. There needs to be more of a sense of balance or evenness for me to be totally happy, like more so in the other pictures. For example, have you heard the "top news story" about Subway? They are changing the regulations on placement of cheese in sandwiches. Oh, for real. Check it. See, they're making things more even and giving the sandwiches more cheese coverage over all. Everybody wins! And for me, this is perfect because everything is even and balanced, and frankly, I just feel better and sort of relieved when thing are even and balanced. I have a...what's a nicer word for "compulsion?" Whatever that is, I have it.

The summer dinners have been lovely, and what's also been great is filling in the rest of my meals with leftovers here and there. For example: Bruffix. I love breakfast so much. It's definitely my current favorite meal. Here we have some more tortillas, leftover beans and tomatoes, scallions, scrambled eggs (those are totally egg beaters because I used all of the eggs for the egg salad. I think next time, a poached egg would be perfect here.), and the same potatoes I cooked before. I added some seasoning and browned them a bit, and they were lovely. That fancy stuff in the blue container is a delicacy known as "ketchup."

It's been a good summer for eating! Unfortunately, this trend is about to end as I head to Chicago for the weekend and go to a meat, cheese, and beer tasting with my brother and cousins. Yikes...I foresee the "tasting" portions not being big enough for some family members, and those family members going out for burritos later in the night. I'll let you know how it all turns out.