New Orleans: Chapter 1: The Guide

Later, I’ll cover the train ride. I’ll talk about food and about music and the things that I will keep in an ornate box in my soul and the things that I will wake up in a cold sweat thinking about for years. I’ll cover the voodoo and the mafia hit and the Christmas trees on the ceiling and the gator sushi and the 7-foot-tall velvet vagina.

Later, I will talk about all of those things. But first, I want to talk about “The Guide”. First, I want to talk about magic.

We were saddled up at a bar called Sylvain. We’d heard good things about their sazerac’s so we walked a jagged line through the French Quarter in the failing light, jiving to the sounds of muffled jazz and nascent debauchery.  

Mel and I were sitting in the cozy darkness of the bar, bopping our heads to the sound of jazz and pleasant conversation. Nipping on a happy hour sazerac, sweet, a little bitter, hint of fang to it and the room was dark and there were little candles burning languidly all along the bar. Two men came in while we were drinking and they plopped themselves down beside us, throwing a casual nod in our direction, like, I acknowledge your existence, but that will be the extent of our interaction unless something crazy happens. They initiated their own conversation that centered around people that only they knew and Mel and I did the same.

Something crazy happened. 

The bartender ripped a strip of rind off the outside of a lemon, set the peeler atop a pile of fresh citrus on the bar in front of me and turned to finish the drink she was making. The peeler slid slowly down, 


down, the pile of lemons, settled just above the gently flickering flame of one of the candles on the bar and promptly caught fire. Nothing wild. More of a guttering sputter than a flash and a whoomp, but enough to draw my eye. 

“Oh shit,” I observed astutely, swatting at it.

The guys at the bar beside me turned, saw it too,
“Oh shit,” They concurred. 

We patted out the flames, chuckling.

“Crazy,” we said, wordsmiths, all of us. But this led to introductions, started a conversation. 

“You guys just visiting?” the man beside me asked. His name was John and he was a jolly, mustachioed man in his late 30’s. There was something twinkly in his eyes that had either come out of a bottle of whiskey or from a goodness in his soul. 

“Yeah, we’re here for a week,” I said and he pounded at the bar, grinning. 

“Yes, Fuck yes,” he said, “People always come here for the weekend and that’s not enough time to really see this city!”

John loved this city. He’d scrambled over every nook and cranny, into every back alley bar and upscale boutique and he’d come away with a desperate and feverish love that filled him all full of fuzzy fire and made him pound his fists in quiet bars. His friend Dave, nodded pleasantly beside him. Dave said he worked in the “film industry” which sounded even more porn-y when he didn’t explain what that meant. I don’t know what John did for a living. He didn’t talk about it because he was too busy mentioning everything good that New Orleans had to offer. He rattled off a dizzying list of places, bookstores, restaurants, bars, parks, that made it the best city on the planet. 

“What have you done?” He asked, eyes twinkling in the flickering lights of the candles, “where have been so far?” 

I was leaned towards him, twisted around on my stool, drawn to the vacuous gravity of his passion like a lesser moon in his orbit. 

“I walked the waterfront,” I said, “There was a park, um,-” snapping my fingers, eyes searching my cheesecloth brain for the name of it. 

“Crescent Park!” he said, head rocking emphatically on his shoulders, “fuck yeah, that place is amazing.”

“Yes!” I said, validated by this bastion of New Orleans magic. “Then I ended up in Bywater and I ate at the Bywater Bakery-”

“GODDAMMIT THAT PLACE IS SPECTACULAR.” His flat palm whapped at the bar top. People were looking at us, then. The bartenders watching with the detached intrigue of zoologists and service industry professionals. 

“Where are you going next?” he asked.

“We’ve got some things on the list but we’re kinda winging it.” I said, but he was already fishing his phone out of his jeans. 

“I’ve got a list,” he said, presenting his grease-smudged phone like an ancient idol there in the smoky darkness, and his eyes glowed wild and reverent and my breath caught in my throat and the smell of burning plastic and the sound of muffled jazz. 

The list. 

The Definitive Cultural Heritage Guide

66 dots scatter-gunned across a map of the greater New Orleans area. The description read:

Includes tangible culture (such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts), intangible culture (such as folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge), and natural heritage (including culturally significant landscapes, and biodiversity).

And it was magic. It was a young lifetime’s worth of experience superimposed over a defined geographic area with cryptic little snippets of notes like: “weird bar” or “this place closed and y’all missed out and that’s fucked up”. 

“Do you want this?” He asked, and oh sweet Jesus I wanted it. He leveled his sparkly gaze at me and he liked whatever he saw in there. Sincerity, maybe. A sincere appreciation for this thing he’d made. I spooled off my phone number and that map went pinging into my text messages and I promised him I’d use it and he said, 

“Be good to this city.” 

I swore I would.

“Please do,” he said, “ Because this city will be bad to you if it doesn’t like you.” 

The bartender had floated back over to clear his empty glass and that last line set her head to nodding. 

“It’s true,” she said. “I’ve met a few people that this city just” 

“Birds will shit on you, you’ll fall down manhole covers,” Dave chimed in.

“But if you’re good to the city,” John said, “the city will be good to you.” 

I absorbed this wholly. Took it as a law of nature the way a child does when you tell him about cracks in the sidewalk as they pertain to the structural integrity of his mother’s spine. 

“This is a woojie city,” John said, standing to leave. He and Dave had dinner reservations at a restaurant on his list that had been labeled as “FQ brand new modern French Creole restaurant.” He knew where the chef had been working before that and what other chefs said about him and why there would be cockles on the menu.

“Be good to this city,” was his parting comment. As they shuffled to the door, the bartender said, 

“How do you know that guy?” 

I told her we didn’t really know him. Told her about the spontaneous combustion of a lemon peeler and the conversation that followed.  A sly smile crept across her face as she scooped his check up off the bar. 

“This city likes you,” she said. 

Life in the Heart of Lincoln

I first stumbled into Lincoln District a few weeks ago, wandering Tacoma like a coyote, on the prowl for something new.There was some unforgivably smooth shit slithering through my speakers, painting the interior of my car in shades of sepia, hanging like smoke in the sunlight that was shining defiantly onto that quiet stretch of street. A rim of clouds lined the horizon in every direction around me like a violent purple iris of rain and sleet, but there in the pupil of Lincoln district, the sun was out and the jazz was smooth and I was into it. According to the radio host, KNKX connects me to Jazz, Blues and NPR news. It also connects me to the pleasure centers of my brain and to neighborhoods, apparently, because Lonnie Johnson started moaning into the microphone, picking at that guitar and the brick buildings reared up around me, spindly trees dancing in a winter wind and I coasted it into a lot on South 38th and S. Tacoma way because I was supposed to be right there, right then. I wandered into Zocalo Tortas and ordered at the counter. Planted myself in the seating area where the sound of the soccer game on the television was unfolding itself into an empty room. Roaring crowd and excited commentary humming between the windows and the glass case full of handmade Mexican pastries. Empty chairs and cleared tables.


Coming down off my sunshine and blues euphoria, a feeling of apprehension rolled itself down my back like a cold fingertip. When my food came out I asked the waitress,

“Is it usually this quiet in here?”

Totally dead at lunchtime on a weekday? Not even one lovable old guy whose kids don’t visit tucked into a corner near the TV?

“Sometimes it’s quiet.” She said,” People are moving out.”  and she scooted my food towards me, pointed out the salsa bar, headed back to the kitchen.

I shrugged my shoulders. I bit into my sandwich.


Time got away from me after that. I know that I made some noises, but I don’t remember how loud. There were flashes of meat and bread hurtling towards my face and the sound of gnashing teeth and then when I came to the sandwich was gone and I had more questions.

I cornered her by the register. Saw her recoil at the fresh-from-the-oven wild in my eyes.

“Why aren’t people lining up out the door for these sandwiches?”

And she smiled a sad and appreciative smile.

“People are moving out.”

I stood in that magical sandwich shop staring out the windows at the buildings full of character and history, shining in the sunlight against a frothy sky, wondering what could keep anyone out of a neighborhood like this one.


If you’re ever looking for a potent metaphor to describe a neighborhood in flux and you stumble across something more telling than the Rex Theater in Lincoln, email me about it. I’ll give a cookie or something.The Rex was built to replace a smaller theater in 1919 and was one of the first theaters to include a nursery near the lobby where parents could care for their children while still being able to see the screen. When it closed in 1958, it was passed off to a series of churches, who held their congregations in it. One website I visited said that it’s been a church ever since, which is bullshit because It was a porno theater for a while in the 80s. After a lot of guffawing it was changed back into a church again and according to google maps and the sign out front, it still is. Hard to tell exactly what’s going on from the street though. The phone number is disconnected and the windows are boarded up. Not unlike the Rex, Lincoln’s start as a definable neighborhood was exciting. It quickly established itself as an international district, hosting a handful of fantastic Vietnamese restaurants and an Asian specialty grocery store. Lincoln was a diverse progressive place to get good food. Gang violence began to become more prevalent in the 90s. In 1998, gunman burst into the Trang Dai Cafe and shot people indiscriminately. 5 dead, 5 wounded. The killing was carried out over a personal dispute with the owner. Lincoln began to feel less safe. People started moving out. In 2001, the city closed a bridge that connected mall traffic to the neighborhood for the better part of a year. It severed the femoral for local businesses that depended on that transitory business. More people moved out. The financial crisis of 2008 decimated much of what was left. The neighborhood was clearing.


2 Days later found me back in Lincoln on my day off, wandering up the block to Zocalo with a book bag under my arm, singing a sandwich song I made up about tortas as one is wont to do on a blustery afternoon. I had parked on a different street than the day before, which meant a different route to Zocalo, which meant walking past a window full of BBQ’d ducks, which found me frozen in front of a window with a song about sandwiches stuck in my throat. Before I knew what I was doing I had hovered to the door and a gust of wind blew it open, blew it the fuck open and there I was, standing in the dimly lit place, saliva pooling in my open mouth. There was a loose gaggle of people in the corner. There were two elderly Chinese women at the bar. There was Sesame Street on the television in the corner. Everything had ground to a halt with my arrival, chopsticks hovering over bowls, food hanging from them. Everyone was staring at me. An atavistic voice in my head told me to shimmy back out the door, but that same voice saw those ducks hanging, crispy and caramelized, and thought, DUCK=GOOD and planted me on the spot. A chef sauntered out of the back with a cleaver like a steel book with a handle on it gripped in his muscular palm. The spell was broken and the eyes swiveled down and the eating recommenced.

I held a finger up, like, ‘table for one please’ and he pointed a finger at the bar and I sat there. Elmo was spelling the shit out of the word apple and the old lady at the bar beside me was still staring at me.

The chef with the cleaver said,

“What do you want?”

And I asked for a menu and he pointed at a chalkboard crawling with Chinese symbols. Help me Elmo. I thought, but he was juggling apples. The chef saw the panic in my eyes and he said,

“Do you want rice or soup.”

“Um, rice.”

“Do you want duck or pork?”




And a grin splashed across his face and he walked over to his work station and that cleaver was singing on that cutting board, walloping through meat and bone while Elmo juggled apples.


The meal that followed was bliss. I haven’t stopped talking about it for three weeks over and over again to absolutely anyone who will listen to me. Crispy duck skin, tender pork meat. Dollop of rice with a dressing. The kind of perfection that comes with hard learned lessons and time to practice.
“ How long have you been here?” I asked the chef with the cleaver.

“19 years.” He said.

I’m flossing with a duck bone. I said,

“How are things going?”

“Going to retire soon, I think.” He said.

“No!” I want this place in my life forever like a family pet.

“19 years is a long time.”

“Will you pass it on to your kids?” Hope sparkled in my eyes.

“My kids are American Kids. They’re doing their own things.” He said it with pride. No bitterness.

“One of the other restaurants on the street was saying that business is tough and that people are moving out.” I offer.

He nods sadly at the street.



On the walk back to my car I stopped on 38th street and turned in a full circle. From that spot I could see Vien Dong, a legendary Tacoma Vietnamese restaurant, Dragon’s Crawfish (a by-the-pound Cajun spot), a burger joint, a Chinese noodle house, my beloved Zocalo and the BBQ place I’d like to be buried in, Tho Toung BBQ. All on one block. Banners hanging from the street lights  snapping in a malignant wind, flashes of retro color against the pallid sky. They say, “reboot Lincoln” and “rejuvenate Lincoln” and “restore Lincoln” and they’re part of an 8 million dollar effort on the part of the city of Tacoma to tilt back the head of this neighborhood and breathe life into it. The artwork on the banners and some of the murals that have been added to the beautification process were conceived with the help of Lincoln high school students, who had set out into the community to restore it long before there was a city project involved. Kids who saw problems in a neighborhood they cared about and set out to fix them.


And sure, Lincoln has its problems.

Yes, there are empty buildings in Lincoln. It has potholes and homelessness and blight. But Lincoln has heart. It has character. Lincoln has strong willed people  who would rather fight for their living, then abandon their homes. People who came from other places and settled here and raised American kids and have American dreams.

Tacoma needs Lincoln. More than it needs high rise apartments and box chain stores. More than it needs a methanol plant. Tacoma needs Lincoln’s drive and its resilience and its history.


And right now, Lincoln needs us too.


Written by:
Kellen Burden



Tho Toung BBQ:

El Zocalo Tortas Bakery:

Lincoln Food Map:,47.23120633223692,-122.45673857216968,47.21663367781346

Lincoln History:





Good For Business

Growing up in Monrovia California with two food conscious parents and a live-in-grandmother who cooked and ate like someone was going to try to take it from her, the local food scene was something that found its way into my life on a pretty regular basis. All the older people would go on scouting expeditions into the different boroughs of the city with a handful of rationed cash and hope in their hearts. They were suicide missions, though. Shots in the dark. At the time, nobody was covering holes in the wall and Yelp didn’t exist. If you wanted to find out which 4 star joint served the best foie gras, you could crack open a paper, but for the most part, if you wanted something life changing and you didn’t want to refinance your house, word of mouth or just gambling with your digestive tract was the only way to do it. Then In ‘86 a food writer for Weekly magazine (and later The Los Angeles Times) named Jonathan Gold started a column called ‘Counter Intelligence’. He featured places that were operating off the radar of anyone outside the neighborhood and forced the city and the food community to acknowledge the skill and heart of the people who ran them. My father and grandmother would open the Times every Sunday and flip straight to Gold’s column to see what restaurant they’d be saving up for that week.
So, when my dad found out I was hopping a plane to Southern California last weekend to see an old friend on leave from the air force, he broke out a copy of Jonathan Gold’s 101 places to eat in Los Angeles. He started highlighting. By the time I stepped off the curb at LAX, skin coated with a Northwest sweat, rosying in the desert sun, he had narrowed his list down to 12 places. By the time we’d freed ourselves up to make the drive back to the city on Sunday afternoon, we had it narrowed down to 3. We pointed the car east and as we drove, I made phone calls. The first place was closed until 5pm on Sundays, so we scratched it. The next was so busy the woman who answered the phone just screamed, “What!?” Into the receiver.

“Hello!” I said cheerfully. “I was just wondering what the wait is like?”

My voice was lost amidst an eruption of kitchen sounds like wartime radio chatter.

“Table for five!” She screamed, all consonants, and a slippery stream of mandarin followed it out, pointed in a different direction.

“What’s that?” I’ve got a finger in my ear.

“What do you want?” She hollered into the receiver like it was a gulf war radio and she was taking mortar fire.

“I was just wondering-”

“We’re too busy!” ” she said, and there was another clatter of pans, danger close.“If you want to come here, don’t come here!”

She hung up the phone.

And then there was one.

Sapps Coffee Shop sits comfortably in a strip mall, just north of little Armenia. The title of the place doesn’t really denote the savagery of its cuisine. Before I saw the picture that accompanied its write up on Gold’s list, I was thinking scones, maybe a mean slice of quiche.


We tetris’d our car into the postage stamp lot and found ourselves in a mostly empty dining room. Little laminate tables scattered about, people tucked into corners, eating happily and quietly. My mom, dad and I folded ourselves into the room and ordered drinks and while we waited for them, my dad tapped at the table excitedly. He said,

“Your Nana and I used to take you and your sister out to places like this all the time. People would come in from all over the city to try some little hole in the wall, just because Jonathan Gold had given them the OK. It was awesome.”

My dad brings those trips up a lot.The food they served and the smiles on everyone’s faces and most vividly, the lines leading out the doors of places that, just weeks before were struggling just to keep the electricity on. Places that were fighting to survive, not for lack of effort or skill, but simply because there was no one to speak for them.

The drinks came out.

I had ordered an Oleang or Thai iced coffee and it was absolute rocket fuel. Ten minutes after my first couple sips and the word coffee buzz snapped sharply into focus because my whole body felt like it was set to vibrate. Couldn’t stop drinking it, though. It’s flavor was too deep and rich to put it down and sweetened condensed milk that was swirled into it was just the right amount of sweet to take the edge off the bitter of the beans. My parents opted for the Thai iced tea and the Jamaica juice, which were also fantastic.

We sipped our drinks and made ridiculous noises in the semi sunlight winking through the windows and mom said,

“I would have driven right past this place and never known they were in here making such amazing stuff.”

And she was absolutely right. From the curb, this place blends right into the neighborhood so seamlessly that it seems to disappear. We missed it on the first pass and we were looking for it. But there we were at the bottom of our glasses, wondering where this goodness has been all our lives, and that was just the beginning.
The food came out.

I can always tell when I’m having a memorable meal when I start to have irrational thoughts as I’m eating it. Whether I’m contemplating how many kidneys I’d trade for this experience, or swearing at a napkin for not being able to appreciate the sauce I was wiping onto it (true story), the crazier my thoughts go, the better the meal. A couple of bites into the jade noodles, I went full Charlie Sheen. Gary Busey on bath salts. The specifics of that interior monologue are too weird for even this blog, but the gist of it is, I loved it. The roast duck, barbecued pork and crab meat, which simply should not play well together, balanced one another out completely. The peanuts and noodles rounded out the chili oil spattered throughout it and every bite was total bliss. Under the circumstances, wired on Thai coffee, tripping balls on one of the best meals I’ve ever had, it wouldn’t have been too ridiculous for me to start seeing things. Which is why, when the door opened and he walked in, I was like, “nah.” I blinked a couple times, pinch on the wrist, another hit of coffee, but there he stood and I said,
“That’s Jonathan fuckin Gold.”
And it was. He waited to be seated and as he ate his lunch, the chef came out of the back and shook his hand. He took a photo with Gold and thanked him and thanked him, and slowly, the restaurant began to fill with people around him, as if his very presence was good for business.

To my parents: thank you for an incredible lunch and for being exemplary humans in a general sense of the word. 

To Jonathan Gold: thank you for what you’ve done for food writing and the food scene in general. Thank you also for being so kind to a highly caffeinated fanboy in the throes of a full blown nerd-out. 

Meet your heroes, kids. Meet them.



New Orleans: Chapter 3: The Park

Morning came to the sound of raucous laughter, Charlie Browning’ through paper thin walls, all wah-wah, full volume. 6:30 AM on a Thursday. Maybe it was still Wednesday night for that guy. Anyway, it could have been worse and I’d left all the exhaustion and weariness of the day before in the folds of those hostel sheets, so all was right with the world. While Mel was getting ready, I slipped down to the massive industrial kitchen in the common area and gathered up a free breakfast. The breakfast was… free. I housed a so-so bagel, slugged some burnt coffee and braved a biting wind as I cut a path for the French Quarter. Two blocks away, I realized that the area around our hostel was not the place to be if you were looking for ambience. Imagine ‘The Strip’ in Vegas. There was a Hustler Hollywood. I’d been a little disappointed on our walk from the train station. I’d been expecting architecture, history, a little magic. 

The French Quarter delivered. 

I walked a jagged line East through that neighborhood, gawking at the wrought iron railings on the balconies, the ferns growing full and hungry, hanging from porticos. The sound of Jazz, the smell of frying food. I finally found myself at the Mississippi, wandered its banks eastward with my jaw flapping in that icy wind. Surging, coffee-two-creams colored water, coursing along the New Orleans cityscape. To the west, a staggeringly large bridge spanned that coiled python of a waterway, connecting this side of Louisiana to that. Cruise ships were moored along the waterfront beside it. They passed beneath it with ease. Not two-story river cruises. Big, Carnival-looking, shrimp cocktails and waterslides cruise ships. Truly massive tankers Tokyo-drifted the bend in the river, carrying a city-blocks worth of cargo on their mighty backs. 

The wind was furious as I made my way along the water’s edge. Arctic blasts of it came ripping down out of the clear blue sky to slash whitecaps on the water and put tears in my eyes and I pushed through it with my fists mashed into the pockets of my coat. All around me, the sound of music intertwining with the grinding roar of a city. Classic rock, jazz, bubbling up through the drone of jackhammers and weed whackers. The air smelled faintly of the sea. Not always. Often, the smell of car exhaust and occasionally the reek of sewer, but sometimes, when the wind was right, salt and foam, kelp and coral. I meandered to the edge of the wharf, then through the French Market. It was bustling, but nothing like it would be on the weekend. People selling gator nuggets, trinkets, voodoo memorabilia. I’d struck out that morning with my sights set on finding a park I’d read about when I was bloodhounding through the New Orleans chat boards, and I could see my little blue dot drifting closer and closer on Google Maps, but I was struggling to actual find it until I saw the 12 foot letters printed on what looked like a sea-wall. CRESCENT PARK. 

I followed a sidewalk splashed with encouraging messages in spraypaint (“Focus”, “Keep Going”, “Don’t give up now”) to an epic, rusted, staircase which, I was delighted to discover, was the entrance to the park. The staircase, a spiky piece of urban art, rose sharply up from the sidewalk, stretched out over the railroad tracks and dropped down, down, into what had once been a warehouse space.They’d knocked the walls down to let the river breezes in, painted looping, concentric circles on the floor, but left sheet metal roof to provide shelter from the heavy rains, the sultry southern sun. As I made my way down the staircase, a man was rollerskating in lazy ellipses across that open space. A little girl was exploring the edges on a Huffy.

At the termination of the roof the park continued into a row of swinging benches, and behind those, a sprawling lawn of crabgrass and clover. A homeless man lay sleeping in that marshy grass beside a golden retriever and they looked so goddamn peaceful that I almost joined them. A walking trail snaked its way out of the eastern edge of the park and I followed it, the river rolling along to my right, warehouses looming to my left. A beautiful love story played out there along that trail. Someone had painted the words “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” on the roof of one of those warehouses in white paint. 

As I read that, my attention naturally drifted back to the river, that cooing, gurgling thing, where I saw a sheet of plywood propped up on the shattered pilings rising up out of the water. The words “I love you” were spelled out in bricks on that plywood and it was as though the city and the river were having a moment that I’d just interrupted with my wandering.

 The trail led to a rusted metal pier that was kissed with graffiti. It looked like another abandoned thing, left to the whirling mash of the tide. But as I approached it, there was a sneaky little bridge and when I crossed it, I found myself in yet another park. It wasn’t fancy, but it was a quiet, open space, which is a luxury in any city. There was a peephole in the center of it, a cutout with a railing that probably held a pillar at one point. Now the river went rushing underneath it, gurgling melodically. They could have just banged that whole place down to make room for expensive apartments. They would have, in another city. Here, it gave back. 

I continued my eastward press through that space and found yet another piece of New Orleans magic, buried in that marshy riverside. The Rusty Rainbow bridge spanned a bog dividing the trail from the Bywater neighborhood. A 75-foot long hunk of artfully corroded steel with precipitous steps on either side. It would be the highlight of your jog if you crossed it everyday. Probably kick your ass a little bit, but in a fun way, like a jiu jitsu class. It deposited me into the Bywater neighborhood, which was delightful. A crayon box of houses, every building a kaleidoscope of pastel colors, and on every flat surface, art. Art about inequity, diversity, change, love. It was striking and galvanizing and good, like exhaling a breathe that I didn’t know I’d been holding. Like slipping into warm water when there’s a chill in the air. I didn’t often feel that way in Georgia. I didn’t see openness and acceptance on the tip of a brush, shining like a lantern above a door so that when you see it, you know that you are safe here. I had starred only one place in that neighborhood and I found myself standing at its door with the smell of fresh bread in my sinuses and a line of drool down my chin. 

The Bywater Bakery. Jesus Christ this place. It’s a brilliant red building flanked by little tables, bustling with happy people who are in the process of filling themselves with fresh-baked-bang-bang. The staff greeted everyone they encountered, myself included, like a regular or a direct relative or an organ donor. I ordered a fancy egg-in-toast, (a quail egg embedded in the center of freshly baked garlic bread) and a sweet potato sticky bun for Melissa. Then I carried my little box of pirate booty out onto that windswept street, with my heart set on slaying it outright with warm bread and golden yolk. It was glorious. Rich and sparkly and deep. With that in my furnace, I turned on a heel and began my journey back to our hostel. At some point along that mystical waterfront the wind snapped off like it was wired to a breaker. 


That southern sun without the chaser of wind to stunt it beamed down on me and I had to peel my jacket off my back, stuff it in my day pack. I was shimmering with sweat when I finally found my way back to the hostel. Found Mel in the lobby working and I offered her her baked good like a cat offers a dead bird to the woman who feeds it.  

After a few minutes of rest in the hostel lobby, the city beckoned me again and I slipped back out into its wilds for lunch. Killer Po-boy was planted just over the demarcation line between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. Casual sandwich joint serving street legal drugs in the form of life-changing sandwiches. I ordered a pork belly for myself because the woman behind the counter called it ‘magic’ and I respect magic. I picked up a tofu po-boy for mel, shimmied back to the hostel with a bag of boom-boom. Magic indeed. The slaw was a revelation, bright and lemony and perfectly balanced against the sweet, smokey bite of the pork belly. A dove flew out of my hat when I was done with it.

That night brought us to the Sylvain, bellied up to the bar with Sazerac’s clenched in our fists. That night brought us a fledgling peeler fire and a chance encounter with a bastion of New Orleans mystery. That night brought us the Woojie List. But long before that, somewhere between Crescent Park and the Bywater Bakery, my heart was open. Open to the gravity that city. Open to the possibility of goodness etched into the foundation of a place. Open to magic.

New Orleans: Chapter 2 : The Rails

The American South. See us huddled in that commuter cabin of that antiquated form of transportation, chasing a line of tracks like an endless row of stitches closing some gargantuan wound. See me pressed up against the glass in that jostling space. Atlanta to New Orleans via the Crescent line.  A million little vignettes sweeping past my window. A million little lives that I could have lived. A man snuffs out a cigarette with his boot in front of an abandoned textile mill in Talapoosa. A dog behind rusty chainlink in Aniston Alabama cocks its head back to  howl at the eerie whistle of the train. People walk those roads, sleep in those houses, eat at those restaurants, hunt those woods. Maybe it’s the blast radius of this noisy train, but the American South was a hobbled and broken thing from the window of that train. There was a beauty to it, but it was a beauty under siege. It was a beauty beset on all sides by the unchecked hubris of man. See the trees singed fall colors, dazzling reds, dappled yellows, the barks glowing neon green with sheen of mildew and buried in the midst of all that startling beauty, a ramshackle collection of trailers or pre-fabs, rotting at their foundation, flanked by chainlink. See a stream running a muddy finger through the gap between two leaf strewn hillsides, sparkling in the winter sun and then the eyes adjust and there is garbage disgorged into it. Piles of tires, a rusting washing machine, a busted cathode television. The hills stretched away from the train, mottled green and red beneath a stormy sky and all across their backs, cellphone towers like quills in the snout of some nosey predator.

Around noon, we hit Birmingham. The city just kind of fell out of the treeline and suddenly it was old brick warehouses and half-hearted skyscrapers. On the face of it, it was the kind of city I would love. Red brick, milk paint, edison bulbs and fire-escapes. A hip beer garden welcomed us as we passed. The train station was far superior to the one we left behind in Atlanta. Most of them were. 

Graffiti became a theme of that ride. The artfulness and sincerity with which the people of a city spilled their paint surreptitiously would hint at the mettle of a place. Birmingham’s was lovely. Closer to murals, some of them. Vibrant, cohesive, works, executed artfully by skilled hands under the cover of night.

We stopped for 20 minutes there, the conductor announcing over the PA that this would be the last stop of the trip. The smokers smoked and the walkers walked. We were the latter, so we did a few laps of the platform, batting cigarette smoke away from our faces to the roar of the engine in idle with the nippy Alabama wind teasing at our clothes and prickling our skin. When the time was up, we reboarded the train, saw the other side of Birmingham. People shuffled along the unoccupied tracks, looking for I don’t know what. Vacant stares on porches. A desperate poverty that remained picturesque by the deliberateness of its own spirit. Art prevailed, splashed on crumbling brick. Houses stayed homes, clung to their warmth. 

After Birmingham, the landscape changed furiously, over and over again. A military base, a Honda factory, pastures slashed with rivers gave way to auburn woods full of spindly trees turned into tidy housing tracts and then suddenly swamps. Marshy, palmetto dotted wetness. Cranes, turtles, vultures. Duck blinds. Deer blinds. 

Tuscaloosa was a college town, complete with all the trappings. Massive stadiums, hip bars, a bustling downtown. It seemed cooler in a more mainstream way than Birmingham. Disneyland-cooler. Then we tore through a series of no-name towns, burnt shell places with boarded up windows, lazy graffiti in angry, jagged shapes. Declarations of ownership and impending violence.

Storms had ravaged that stark space the night before. We crossed two heaving rivers gorged with muddy rainwater and shattered trees. In a clearing at the Alabama border, 10 trees lay like casualties of some terrible battle, chalky mud still clinging to their roots. At the western edge of the field, an aluminum shed had been stripped of all its siding. The metal that had comprised the roof was peeled up to the crossbeam, pointed skyward, presumably into the eye of the tornado that had savaged it.

The sun had begun its collision course with the prickly skyline as we pulled into Meridian Mississippi. It was the bleakest stop we would make on that journey. The train station itself was deceptively nice. A sprawling, mission-style building that was well-maintained and just almost large enough to block one’s view of the ruins behind it. The city had, as the man beside me stated “made an attempt at being a city.” They had built a few skyscrapers and slapped together a downtown. But the skyscrapers were covered in peeling paint and the windows were mostly boarded up. The downtown looked haunted. Faded signs for furniture stores that had closed long ago. Plywood for windows, bars over doors. At the city’s eastern edge we crawled past a warehouse that had been clobbered down. A man sifted through its corpse for scrap metal. It was a wasteland after that for some time. Mississippi slipping despotically past the windows and the stuttering machine gun flash of sunlight through the naked winter trees. 

Night fell and the rest of the train ride was a mad dash through the darkness with my nose buried in a book. The train became loud and close, then. People talked too loudly. A man in the seat behind us listened to an action movie at full volume with no headphones. We ordered a pricey asian noodle salad from the dining car and it arrived seasoned heavily with ice crystals. There was delay on the tracks and we were both exhausted, but all of that was manageable.

We pulled into the station in New Orleans 10 minutes ahead of schedule, made our way to the hostel on foot, in the dark, through this new city with its new people. From this perspective, freshly shaken by 12 hours on a train with nothing but the yawning expanse of mostly-rural Americana and the pressing closeness of trees rushing past. The buildings loomed over us, cars roared by us. We found our hostel on Canal Street, buried between a tattoo parlor and a pawnshop. The hostel was a well maintained and pleasant space. We checked in at the front desk with a smoked out looking 20 year old, humped our bags up 4 flights of stairs to the room. It was spacious. 2 bunk beds that would store our luggage for the next two days and a twin bed that would store our bodies for the next two nights. Having landed in a safe place, it was time to find the next step in our personal hierarchy of needs, FOOD. The asian noodle salad still defrosting in our bag and to this day, I don’t know if it ever DE-frosted. I threw it into the hostel garbage can two days later and heard the tinkling crunch of ice hitting waste-bin like a winter symphony. It was then that knew that the literal god of ice resided within that unassuming plastic container and I turned around and didn’t look back (lest I face his wrath). So… the noodles weren’t going to be an option, which meant finding food elsewhere. The problem was, that it was midnight on a Wednesday and almost everything was closed, especially the places that were likely to feature vegetarian options without a side of severe intestinal distress… almost. 

After some comprehensive googling, I discovered Cleo’s. Cleo’s reported to be a mediterranean restaurant in a convenience store setting. What I found it to be in person was a bit more complicated than that. The “convenience store” setting was a different side of Europe than I thought it would be from the description. I was imagining that checkered tile-and-wood aesthetic. A place you might find an older gentleman in a white apron folded over the counter, big spit of meat roasting behind some glass, hand-patted pita in plastic wrap in the front window. Instead I shuffled into a nightclub, choked with meaty smoke, all black walls, techno thumping like a heartbeat over the loose assortment of truly unusual snacks that littered the shelves.

Dunkaroos. This place had Dunkaroos. The Dunkaroo factory doesn’t have Dunkaroos anymore. According to the internet, Dunkaroos haven’t been available in the United States since 2012, which means these were either smuggled into the country (with tiger parts and booger-sugar) or they were almost old enough to see a PG-13 movie in theaters. Eyes watering, train-rattled brain throwing error messages behind my eyes, I ordered their veggie platter to-go (as though I were going to eat it standing up in one of the aisles), then stood there in the pulsing darkness waiting for them to call my name. They did and before I knew it, I was standing there, punch drunk and blinky in the hostel room and as it turned out, I had scored.

The hummus was bright and nutty, the babaganoush was garlic-y and fantastic, the pita was pillowy and steaming. We ate it in our bunkbed in our weird little hostel and then drifted off to an exhausted sleep and all the while our cerebellums rocking gently to the rhythm of a rolling train.

Tune in next week for Chapter 3!

Gas Station Tacos in Woodstock Georgia

When you start putting the words “gas station” near the word “taco” the mind begins to wander in a less-than-culinary direction. Let me assure you, however, that the mind is wrong. As unimpeachable evidence, I present to you: El Serranito. I stubbed my toe on this diamond in the rough while my family was in the midst of a very stressful move across the country. We sold our home, we purged most of our worldly possessions, and we flung ourselves across this pandemic-stricken land with our hands clenched into fists and our cheeks streaked with tears. When we finally slid to a stop here in Georgia, we had been through the ringer. Two or three tornado warnings in Kansas City, some biblical flooding in Little Rock, a Taco Bell… it was rough. We needed comfort. We needed familiarity. We needed El Serranito.

Lunch in the Time of Cholera

“MELISSA!” My eyes are all run through with wild, glued to the face of my phone with a fanatical focus. I’ve got goosebumps. My heart stammers in my chest.

“Did he leave?!” She says. Her voice is the flash of blue light between two conductors. Pure, live, energy.

I take my eyes off the screen long enough to nod once, slowly.

“He just left,” I say.

There is some dancing. Nothing shameful. Little action in the hips, mostly hands. Still though, dancing.

[video-to-gif output image]

“where is he?” she says, her voice still throwing arc flashes.

“26th and Pine,” I say. ” App says he’ll be here in 17 minutes.”

Her brow furrows and she goes to her computer like an ensign on the bridge, fingers flying at the keys.

“17 minutes? From 26th and Pine?!” Shaking her head now. She spins the screen to face me, shows me the Google Maps readout. “This says 8 minutes. Tops.” she pauses dramatically before she says ‘Tops” and it’s super badass.

I turn to stand at the kitchen window. Outside, the sun falls behind the Olympics, shining brilliantly through our Rhododendrons, casting shadows across my face as I fold my hands behind my back. It is a very General Patton move. I say, “Godspeed, Kevin. Godspeed” and it is super badass.

5 minutes of drama and stoicism pass.

“Melissa,” I say, “There are officially zero traffic lights between Kevin and our house.”

A wicked grin knifes across her face and she says, “17 minutes my ass!” and I do a very Robert Redford chuckle as we move to prep the airlock for receiving, by which I mean laying out old paper bags near the door, priming the Lysol. While we’re doing that, the muffled whump of a car door shutting, a rustling on the stoop. Dear God, it’s here.

I yell a frantic thank you through the window at the back of Kevin’s head as he’s sliding back into his Passat and my voice sounds unhinged even to me. During different times, with different stakes, I might have been embarrassed. But this a global pandemic and I’ve got a bag full of burritos on my doorstep. Shame is a luxury that (much like delivery burritos every day leading up to this) I simply cannot afford.

In the airlock, we carefully remove the food, plate it and nuke it for a few seconds in the microwave. We wrap the containers in old paper bags and toss them in the outside trash and then we sit down to the first meal that I did not personally prepare in weeks.

And there is some dancing. And it is shameful. Then we eat. The food is as good as it ever was, but the moments leading up to it, the ordering, the waiting, the receiving, are positively transformative. It is a view of a time when things were simpler and safer through eyes better suited to appreciate it. When I was in basic training, we would sit around in tents in freezing weather, clutching frozen rifles to our chests and we would talk about all the trivial things we took for granted before this. We would stand guard, staring off into the woods with nothing to do but pontificate on how crazy it was that we used to have cellphones in our pockets full of all the entertainment that man had ever conceived of, and that we would complain about being bored. And later, much later, when we were back with the world, our appreciation for those things would fade and we would forget how stolidly we had promised to never take them for granted again. But there was a sweet spot. A time right between the nostalgia and the undervaluing. In that sweet spot, we are really, truly, present. Really, mostly, happy. Wrapped in the warmth of that moment like beans in a weekday burrito.

Special shout out to Brewers Row for the burrito and to Melissa’s wonderful mother for the Doordash gift card. And to Kevin. Godspeed Kevin. Godspeed.

Written by:

Kellen Burden


Half Shirts and Whole Hearts. And Cheese Dip.

This was a week for making things. Without venturing down that twisty rabbit hole of “This virus is a blessing in disguise” (because that’s an easy thing to say if you’re not actively dying) I will at least admit that my creative juices are flowing in the midst of all this awfulness. I got out my wife’s sewing kit and I hacked up a bunch of my T-shirts and Monday night found me hunched under the warm glow of a single bulb sewing ‘end of the word’ masks. Its funny, I always imagined that my Mad Max face accessories would look more like this:

Mad Max: Fury Road 8x10 Photo Hugh Keays-Byrne Up Close and Scarey ...

And less like this:

But here we are. And it didn’t stop at sewing, either. I found a job posting on LinkedIn for a TikTok content creator, (a sentence that would have meant jack shit 10 years ago) and I slapped together a couple quick videos for a portfolio, only to find that the job had ceased to exist in the interim, leaving me with a weird profile full of pseudo hip videos like that old guy who puts his hat on sideways and tries to “talk Jive” with the “young go-hards”.

But most importantly (as far as this food blog is concerned) I have been cooking like it’s the only way to cure Corona, which, if it was, we could all finally go back to licking handrails and shotgunning stranger sneezes. In the last 7 days I have made this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

But the real show-stopper this week was this vegan queso dip recipe that I stole from a Pinterest post. I know what you’re thinking. You’re like vegan queso?! That’s like non-alcoholic beer! well that exists too. But open your mind. This is a brave new world. Adapt or die.

This is a preposterously easy recipe. You’re going to take a medium potato and you’re going to cube it up and boil the ever-living out of it. When it’s nice and soft, dump it in a food processor with some almond milk, olive oil, nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, garlic, and salsa (the quantities are in the recipe link.) Fire that shit up and in about 20 seconds you’ll have vegan cheese sauce to dip chips in or roll up in a burrito or smear all over your naked body (no judgement.)

As I draw this to a close, I would like to make what I think is an important point. This is a crisis. This is a fucking disaster. This is not a high stakes creativity incubator meant to weed out the go-getters from the do-nothings. I was out walking with my wife the other day and the sun was out and the lawn mowers were running and people were balls deep in their gardens, pulling weeds and planting things. My wife sighed and she said, ” Look at all these people using this time to get things done around the house,” and I waited while the sigh inducer found its way to the surface. ” I feel so lazy for not doing more right now.”

That is not your job right now.

Yeah, I’m feeling creative, but if we’re being honest that’s probably more of a coping mechanism than anything else. One of those neurotic things that everyone applauds because (purely by luck) it ends in something pseudo-productive. But in actuality, it’s really no more voluntary than making a funny face when something goes bang. So, if all you’ve got in you right now is lying in bed and waiting this out you’re fucking killing it. You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing right now. Surviving.

Try to imagine that you’re driving a school bus. Can some of the other bus drivers text while they’re driving and still get to school safely? I guess. Maybe Jerry can sing songs with the kids while he’s on his route. Good for Jerry. But if all you can do is get the bus there safely and it takes all of your concentration to make that happen, then guess what? You’re employee of the goddamn month!

So take it easy on yourself. Just get through this. Maybe make some cheese dip if you’re feeling it. But just remember what your job is: to get there in one piece. And maybe make a dope shirt while you’re sewing masks…

Whole Fridge Fritters

Bored? Hungry? A little scared?

This carousel is still spinning and the calliope music is getting a bit grating and I think we’d all like to hop off and pound a beer, but, you know: death, shame, logic and whatnot.

I don’ t know what it’s like where you are, but the shelves are still looking a little barren in my neck of the woods. The canned goods are picked over and the flour aisle is looking toothless. I’ve been doing a lot more cooking and I’m finding it harder and harder to come by the basic ingredients necessary to make all the sparkly, extravagant dishes that I’m finding on Pinterest.

4 eggs?

1 stick of butter?

A cup of all purpose flour?

I wiped my ass with my neighbor’s cat yesterday. You think I’ve got cup of flour laying around?

Anyway, so I stumbled on “recipe” for margaritas and it didn’t really have ingredients so much as flavors and ratios of them and it BLEW MY FUCKIN MIND. I made a couple of out of control adult beverages (more on that later) and I thought to myself, I wonder if this applies to cooking?

the long and short of it is: yeah, kinda.

So I banged out this recipe and I’m going to encourage you to add some twists of your own and see what happens.


  • First, reach over right shoulder and give yourself a pat on the back, because you’re Gordon Goddamn Ramsey and you’re about to dominate this episode of Iron Chef. Do a preemptive victory dance, give your mailman the fingerguns.
Petition · Citizens of this great country.: Make Finger guns a ...
  • Okay, now dump some sauce ingredients into a bowl and stir them together. Pop them in the fridge while you’re doing the rest of this. They don’t have to be refrigerated but it will make for a more exciting sensory experience when you’re dipping hot, crispy fritter into cold, spicy sauce. I’m sweatin’, just thinking about it.
  • Drain a can of chickpeas, mash them into meal in a bowl with the back end of a fork.
  • Next, take a grater to some root vegetables. I used russet potatoes and carrots, but I’ve seen recipes for sweet potatoes and turnips. (beets might be too wet and would prevent everything from binding)
  • Shred up some kale or parsley or cabbage. (Lettuce might be too wet also)
  • Mince up some onion and garlic
  • Dump all that in the bowl with your chickpeas. (Remember that your chickpeas are your main binding agent, so if you’ve got a crazy amount of veggies you may need to add more chickpeas.)
  • Add some spices. Get creative with this part. I went with Curry spice, onion powder, some cumin and cayenne. Turned out delightfully Indian. I imagine that you could mix it up and mash black beans instead of chickpeas, do it up with chili powder and cumin and end up with more of a Latin fritter. Up to you.
  • Next, mix all that up with a fork. You should have a semi-wet pile of mashed up hash. YUM! chill, it gets better.
  • Heat up a pan to medium high-ish, toss a dash of heat tolerant oil in it.
  • when the pan is hot, grab a handful from your pile and plop it in there. Press it flat the bottom of a spatula and let it brown up.
  • Flip it when it looks like its getting there, give another couple minutes to bind up and brown. Keep on plopping and browning until you’re out of mush and you’ve got a stack of crispy fritters.
  • Plate your fritters. Drizzle them with some sauce or dip them in it. You’re your own person. These have enough nutrition in them to be the main course or just a side for whatever out of control, next-level magic you’re serving up. I served mine with a green salad tossed in a tangy dressing. but I bet you could fold these up in a pita with some lettuce and tomato or scramble some eggs into it and have a banging hash.
  • Finally, do a little dance. Mush some home cooked food into your face. You are the Iron Chef. Also, don’t tell my neighbor about his cat.

Written by:

Kellen Burden


Up and Down, Together

This is might be our generation’s World War. Our Great Depression. Our Black Plague. One of those moments in time when everything changes, everywhere, violently and inescapably. One of those things that warps the iris through which we look at the world for the rest of our lives. Maybe we’ll gather together after this, anywhere we can, every time we can, just because we can. Or maybe the sight of a sea of seething bodies will look like danger from here on out. 

Maybe 50 years from now, a young stranger will reach out to shake your hand and you will physically recoil from it and he will not understand why and you will not be able to explain it to him. Maybe, when you’re 83, the sound of someone coughing in a deli will drive you right out the door, and not just you, but everyone who survived this. You will meet the faded gazes of those people in the parking lot and you will ask them where they quarantined. 

“2 bedroom in Florida,” they’ll say and you’ll nod. 

“Studio in Detroit.” and they’ll nod back.

The thing about experiences like these, the worldwide ones, the everybody-everywhere ones, is that, because we are all carrying this burden together, it can feel like it is our job to carry our share alone.

If you fall down while you are walking on a crowded street, chances are someone will stop to help you. But what if you all fall down together? who do you turn to? Is it every man for himself? 

It doesn’t have to be. 

Because the other thing about these worldwide, everybody-everywhere tragedies, is that if you’re feeling something, someone you know is probably feeling it, too. Your old co-worker went through it yesterday and she’s got some tips on getting out. A guy you went to high school with will be going through it tomorrow and they’d probably like to hear from you. 

So be open. 

Call your family, your neighbors, your co-workers. Ask them how they’re holding up. Tell them how you’re doing. 

Wave at your mailman. 

Facetime with isolated people. 

Donate what you can, if you can. 

If you need help, ask for it. If you’re worried about someone, call them. 

Because this might be our Great Depression. Our World War. Our Black Plague. 

Some of us won’t make it through this. Some of us will never be the same. But all of us will remember. 

We’ll remember the fear, yes. The boredom, maybe. But we will also remember the things we did to help. And we will almost certainly remember the things that we failed to do. 

I personally would like to know later, if I’m ducking out of a coffee shop because someone had the sniffles or getting off the bus because there were too many people on it, that I acquired these scars in the process of being the best person I could be. I personally would like to know that this experience took the bare-minimum from me because even though we all fell down together, we got up together, too.

This is my personal cell number: (805) 276-5247

If you’re feeling lonely or stir-crazy or you just need to talk, I am absolutely, positively, here for you. I’ll sing to your kid, I’ll dance for your grandma, I’ll read to your dog. I’m here for you. We’re all here for each other.

Some Resources:

Some free online fitness classes

Some people on Instagram who are doing exciting things:

This chef is doing cooking classes:


This is very therapeutic:


This account makes me so laugh so goddamn hard:


A bunch more:

Finally, this:

Written by:

Kellen Burden


King of the Wasteland Kitchen

We were going to let this die. We were going to leave this parked under the oak tree in the backyard like an ’83 Lesabre. Let the land retake it. Have it grow a mold you can’t scrub out. Let the internet equivalent of mice make a home out of it.

Goat Federation got us to where we were going. It put some miles beneath us, taught us some lessons, pointed us in the right directions. But eventually, the wheels kinda fell off it. 

Krishan opened a food stand that is turning out some absolutely, obscenely good bang-bang.

I whipped up some articles for a few different papers, created some content for some local blogs, then I went off to work for the State as an investigator. 

We moved on. 

For me, food went back to being one of those things that you slapped together when you weren’t doing other things. I cooked, yes. I went out to restaurants, of course. But I didn’t take pictures anymore. I didn’t write about it. The desk job certainly didn’t help. A 30-minute lunch break at a job site with ‘natural selection’ parking, doesn’t offer much time for dipping out for a bite to eat. My homemade sandwich and bento box game got strong

but my meal diversity took a leave of absence. 

And then…

Coronavirus swept the planet with an animal ferocity. Like a wildfire without the smoke. A meteor without the bang. We all watched it with exhausted disbelief as it went from being a thing that was happening somewhere else, to a thing that was happening here but to other people, and, finally, a thing that was happening to all of us, everywhere. Supply chains wandered into the darkened alley of a pandemic and got absolutely JUMPED by Panic and Human Nature. 

It is here that we get to the meat (or lack thereof) of our story. Because in the span of a week, I went from being a guy who had a fridge full of exotic food that I had to shovel down on a working lunch break, to being a guy with a rapidly emptying cabinet full of mundane nonsense and nothing but time to figure out what to do with it. 

It was terrifying at first. I would stand in front of my barren shelves, anxiety humming like a deep sunburn on my shoulders, wondering how long it would be before I could get bread again. Wondering if I was going to have to throw ‘bows at a Trader Joe’s for canned goods. 

I was standing like that in my pantry, thumbing through Pinterest recipes that had ‘lentils’ as a keyword, shaking my head because I had some of the ingredients, but not all of them and suddenly, something just clicked. or snapped. I don’t know, they’re similar sounds. Anyway, I just started grabbing things. I grabbed handfuls of ingredients and I Dr. Frankenstein’d my ass over to the stove and I started improvising. Canned tomatoes? I had some old tomato paste. Tomato Sauce? I had half a box of pre-made tomato soup. I spiced the bejesus out of it. Dash of this, sprinkle of that. Poured some juice from an empty jar of olives in there for a little briny-ness. I was doing it. 

The whole time, I was looking over my shoulder, trying to get this monstrosity cooked and plated before my wife followed the smell of failure into the kitchen and asked me what in the actual fuck I was doing.

20 minutes later found me sitting in front of two strangely colored bowls of spaghetti in a lentil bolognese. It was red-orange from the tomato soup. It was thicc from the tomato paste. But most shocking of all…

It was gooooood. 

After that, every night became a wasteland version of Iron Chef. Someone lifts the lid off a pile of nonsense ingredients and I scramble over and grab an armload of it and just start making magic out of it. 

Crackers out of nutritional yeast and masa flour. 

A twisted hummus with peanut butter instead of tahini and lime instead of lemon

A pinto bean version of Hoppin Johns with Cuban sensibilities. 

I wasn’t going to get a Michelin star for any of it, but I wasn’t going to get diarrhea or go to bed hungry either. And best of all, I felt human again. I felt passionate again. Powerful, even.

So as I said at the beginning of this crazy rambling: we were going to let this site die. We were going to leave Goat Federation to rust in the hungry woods of the internet because things had changed and we didn’t need the lessons that it had taught us anymore. 

But now things have changed, again. Now it feels like this old blog might have some new lessons left in it. So I’m giving the tires a kick. I’m giving the engine a jump. 

And I’d love it if you’d join me for the ride…

Acceptance Tastes like Egg Waffles

The gnashing of teeth and licking of fingers. The dripping of juice and the wide-eyed, desperate chugging of water. Crispy skin, buttery fat, salty meat. It is lunchtime and my father and I are folded into May May Hong Kong BBQ in Federal Way and right now, for these few moments, we belong. With our sleeves rolled up and our fingers glistening with fat, we are without race or age. There is no room in us for bias or judgment. We just are. We just are here.


The skin of this pork is crackly and explosive, the meat of the duck is rich and tender. The juices run down through them into the white rice, seasoning it gently. Between meats we nibble at the edges of our bok choy, cleansing our pallet. We eat like monsters and yet there is a reverence to it that has not gone unnoticed to the regulars that mean-mugged us when we pushed through the door. Our desperate love for this food that they love desperately has made us one of them faster than any diplomat or emissary could ever hope for.


Take notes, Peace Corps. Build all the schools you want, but until you make a sex noise at lunch and get a duck bone stuck in the hair on the back of your head, you’ll never truly be immersed. And you most certainly will not be offered secret dessert.

“Have you tried the waffle?” The owner asks, taking our decimated plates off the table.

I shake my head, no. A piece of bok choy falls out of my eyebrow. She is impressed. “You have to try the waffle.” She says and she leaves us at our table, stuporous with delight, glowing chubbily. It is winter outside the wall of windows that divides us from the gloom. Clouds swirl, cagey and wild behind the cascades. Rain slashes down on Pac Highway, falling sideways on a bitter wind. In here, though, it is warm and it is quiet and soon there will be waffles.


May May Hong Kong is hidden on the back side of a business park off Pac Highway. I’m sure that there are all kinds of other wonderful things in that parking lot, but I’ve yet to see another one with a roast duck on a hook by the register, so I’ve never made it past May May Hong Kong. The owner is friendly, the service is fast, the patrons are suspicious of me (as well they should be), and the food is obnoxiously good. Even the waffles.

The owner drops a plate between us. On it, sits steaming bubbly confection. No powdered sugar, no chocolate syrup, no berries. No waffle, for that matter, by my western definition of the word. Just a crisp, golden hunk of hot dough with pockets of heat and air like bubble wrap in an alternate fresh-baked-universe.


Later, some internet research will inform me that the standard “Hong Kong Egg Waffle” is rumored to have come about in the 1950’s. A restaurant owner was delivered a package of eggs that had been crushed in transit and rather than toss them out, they whipped them into flour, milk, and sugar and poured the whole concoction into a waffle press. The egg waffle was a street food classic ever since.

My father and I tear ours apart with cautious glee, as one does with frightening new baked goods.


Crunch like a waffle. Sweet and doughy, all on its own with no flash and sparkle of toppings. We ooh and aah and tear the thing into more pieces and ooh and aah. There’s a twenty-second period of time in which I snap my fingers trying to conjure a comparison that his hovering just outside my reaching and then the owner drops our check on the table with two fortune cookies atop it and I say,

“ Fortune cookies! It tastes like a fortune cookie!”

Like a soft, warm fortune cookie with pockets of steaming dough and a crisp on the outside. Like history and ingenuity in a paper wrapper. Like rain crackling against the windows of a restaurant in which we have been accepted with silent nods and secret dessert.

Written by:

Kellen Burden


Here’s another article I wrote about this place for the Federal Way Mirror: