Nana Hums a Tune

     New Year’s Eve was a time of stock pots simmering on a stove in the Burden household. We’d shuffle out of our rooms in our pajamas and Nana would be pinging off of things in the kitchen, stirring and straining and seasoning and humming, always humming. A low vibrato warbling out between her lips  while the lids chattered on the pots and that honeysuckle southern california sunlight hung in the steam. On New Year’s Eve, the smells were foreign. Smokey and southern like the tune she was humming. They were traditional smells, that must have reminded her of her childhood, growing up in Michigan in an all black neighborhood. Smells that would have been climbing out of a lot of kitchen windows and hanging on a lot of people’s clothing when she was growing up, but were only New Year’s Eve smells to us.  Collard greens, black eyed peas and pig’s feet, simmering in their individual pots, full of their individual significance.

     My grandmother passed away a few years ago, but she’s found her way back to all of us in little flashes and snaps throughout the years. She wanders in and out of my father’s dreams and her photos hang bold and brassy on the walls of our family home. Nana in her rose colored glasses holding a glass of something boozy, staring defiantly into a camera, fresh off a shift working hard labor at a factory, flowers on her evening dress. This year, for me, she came for New Years. I was sitting at my kitchen table, wondering where my wife and I were going to be when the ball dropped, and what new traditions we’d invent here in Tacoma. The word traditions, turned over like a key in a lock and a door in me opened. On the other side of it there were chattering pots and foreign smells. On the other side of it there was humming. Sitting there at my new table, in my new home, far from Southern California and farther still from where all of my grandmother’s old traditions had been built, I realized how little I knew about them. I decided that that simply wouldn’t do.

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“The collards represent good luck in finances,” my dad’s voice through my cellphone. He was in his kitchen, pinging off of things. “Because the greens look like money.”  You boiled the greens, which wasn’t his favorite method of preparing them, (more of an olive oil and vermouth in a hot cast iron type of guy) but the tradition called for boiling, so he boiled. My great grandmother used to start hers on a low simmer first thing in the morning and they didn’t come off the stove until dinner time. What state they were in when she pulled them out of there, I can’t imagine.

“Next up,” He continued. “ the black eyed peas.” Water ran in the background and he moved away from it. “ I actually don’t know for sure what’s up with the black eyed peas. I know they symbolize good health, but I’m not sure why. I’m not a fan of them.” He said they tasted like sitting too close to a campfire, a metaphor that I found apt and well assembled.

He took a call and came back to me in a whoosh of kitchen noises.

“Sorry, telemarketer,” He said, “Okay, so, the pigs feet.” He enjoys the pigs feet. They’re boiled to work down the toughness of them, splashed with a handful of southern spices. Of all the dishes, pig’s feet always the most memorable for me. Poking out of the rolling water like pink icebergs, they were adventure food. Squeamish-look-away food. I loved them.

“What do they symbolize?” I asked.

“They- Ah shit.” He said. Clatter in the kitchen. “ I gotta go. I’ll call you back.” the line went slack.

     Standing there with a half-full bag of answers, I took to the internet like a true millenial douchebag, slamming hand over hand through a series of blog posts and wikipedia pages and came out the other side of it with this:

Collard Greens: Mostly represent good financial fortune. They look like money. Put a hundred on the Holiday traditions jeopardy board for dad.

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Black Eyed Peas: Many historians believe that these legumes (not peas) came over from Africa on slave ships, and their lucky reputation seems to date back to the Civil War. While General Sherman and his men were pushing through the south, they had taken up a ‘scorched earth’ campaign, which is to say they were burning whatever crops they didn’t eat as they passed through in an attempt to starve out Confederate fighters operating in the area. They did not, however, destroy the black eyed peas, because in the north, those crops are only eaten by cows. In the wake of the Northern Forces, Southerners survived on black eyed peas, which they considered to be a pretty lucky break. (some sites mention that people also thought black eyed peas looked like coins,which , I guess, makes them extra lucky.)

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Pig’s feet: According to several sites I checked, Pigs feet go back to the slavery days. One of the only times of the year that slaves weren’t working, was the one week between christmas and New Year’s. It was customary in some places for slave owners to give a gift to their slaves around that time, which usually consisted of food. The leavings of a butchered pig, (snouts, intestines, feet, etc.) were a common gift and during a cold southern winter, you learned to get by with what you had. This tradition of eating pork on the New Year is not unique to the southern and black community, though. Cultures all over the world see the pig as an inspiring example of perseverance and progress, and serve it around this time of year as a reminder of what to do. “The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving.”

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     When my dad called back, the kitchen was quieter. He’d found his rhythm and he was working in his space and all was well. He told me that he would be making the traditional Burden dishes on New Year’s Eve, and that he’d make sure to send me pictures for this post. I told him I’d be making my own variation, for good luck. Collard greens, black eyed peas and canadian bacon, mailed to us by my wife’s grandmother as a christmas treat. As I walked through the grocery store, picking the collards out of the case, lowering them down into my produce bag to be washed and boiled, an old tune wafted up out of that door I’d opened in myself and I hummed it while I worked.

     New Years is a time for pushing forward in our lives, while staying rooted to who we are. For going to new places and creating new traditions, but never forgetting about chattering pots, foreign smells and humming, always humming.

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Sources:

http://www.epicurious.com/archive/holidays/newyearsday/luckyfoods

http://www.blackisonline.com/2011/01/black-is-our-new-year-traditions/

http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/12/good-luck-food-new-year-pork-sauerkraut-lentil-herring-collards-hoppin-john.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherman’s_March_to_the_Sea

Top Popped and Guzzled

There was can in the gutter of the alley behind my house and I sympathized with it deeply. Sarah Mclachlan howling mournfully while weatherworn dogs drift across the screen in slow motion type of sympathy. I get you, boo. I feel you. You were empty and you were crumpled and it’s cold and it’s only getting colder and goddammit you’re still worth something to somebody if they would just pick you up and do something with you. It’s that time of the year, though.

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The sun’s on that off kilter rotation, throwing light only so briefly over the Pacific Northwest and it is a dark cold world into which we run full tilt, swinging. Last week, Krishan and I woke up in the dark, drove under cloudy skies to a rainy street and threw a nasty hip tackle on a guy with an inadequate number of teeth in front of headlights and horns honking. When we drove home, it was dark again.

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This last month my wife and I have boarded 6 different airplanes, up and back and up and back and up and back. Step forward, hold up your hands- this flight is %100 full so please stow your-the fasten seat belt sign has been illuminated-flight attendants please cross check for arrival- your shits on baggage carousel- 6-fucking-times. Streaking across a burnt grey sky with rain smeared across our little porthole window like teardrops and a fight that we snapped off cleanly at the car stuck in our throats like a cough.

The sink won’t drain. The car is falling apart. The world is unraveling.

And if you’re stretched out and heaving, you can always count on the army to drop a problem on your gut, as is evidenced by my old National Guard unit calling me a couple of weeks ago and telling me that they had royally fucked up my paperwork and accidentally extended my contract for 6 years. They needed me to make a 3 hour drive down to Portland on a work day so they could square everything away and keep me off their AWOL roster.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks is what I’m saying.

But even a crumpled can has had some lips mushed up against it. It’s top popped and guzzled from.  There were some highlights to all the holiday madness. You don’t turn a dude who’s carrying a bag of stolen vodka and candy into a human pinata, and not go get a killer bowl of soup afterwards.

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You don’t go cannon-balling into San Jose, California and refrain from smashing some Taiwanese Hot Pot into your damn face, even if you are jet lagged and bedraggled.

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Santa Barbara has some bomb-ass tacos

img_3751And Frank’s Noodle House in Portland is just a big bowl of hand made reparations.

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In the days following this season, with 2016 drawing to a close (burn you bitch, burn), I feel for you, crumpled can in my alley.

 That’s why I scooped you up, and I put you in my recycle bin, to be mooshed down and melted out and, from the pressure and fire, become a piece of something wonderful. A bicycle or a building facade, or maybe just a brand new can. I will feel for you then, too, in my little home office with my fingers poised at the keys, mooshed by the pressure of deadlines and born again in the fires of fresh hot food, rebuilding into something better. 

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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.

No.


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.

Sources:

http://ballots.latimes.com/lists/101-best-restaurants-jonathan-gold/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Gold

http://www.cityofgolddoc.com/

http://sapp.menutoeat.com/

 

Coastal Kitchen Casanova

“What time is it?”I check my watch and outside the car, the wind curls between the spaces in the buildings and surges down 17th, tussling with the trees.

“It’s 2:48.” I say. My dad puts his face in his hands and runs them down into the scruff on his chin like a penitent man washing his face in holy water. He has that blinky look in his eyes like a little kid, fresh out of bed on Christmas morning. Barely tethered. Hanging by a thread.

“Hmmmmm…” he groans. “ No.We’ll wait 5 more minutes.”

“ We could start walking now. Post up at the bar until 3 rolls around.”

“No, I’ll start ordering before happy hour.”

“Ordering what?” I say, but I’m just poking the bear now. Playing soccer with a beehive.

“Oysters!” he says and then the dancing has started and I have to ride it out before we can talk again. The car sloshes back and forth in the blustery wind, grooving with him and his personal version of cabbage patch. When the dance is over he says,

“What time is it now?”

“It’s 2:48.”

“Okay let’s go.”


Let’s talk about oysters.
As a food source, they’re incredibly well balanced. Pretty even split of proteins, carbohydrates and lipids, which all make for a happy belly. They’ve been on the menu for at least the last 2,000 years, when the Greeks started dredging them up out of the sea and punching them into their faces. They loved oysters so much that they began to cultivate them after finding that they would grow on the inside of broken pottery that was left submerged in coastal waters. You can attribute all the aphrodisiac references that accompany the pseudo-sexual looking mollusk to the Ancient Greeks as well. The very term “aphrodisiac” comes from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, who emerged from the sea in an Oyster shell. And, in case you were wondering whether any of those ridiculous, “oysters will make your Peter Dinklage want to engage in a Game of Bones” rumors are true… They ARE! Scientists have found a rare amino acid present in oysters that makes your sex hormones go all squirrely. It’s rumored that Casanova (AKA: Italian R. Kelly) ate somewhere between 4 and 10 DOZEN oysters with breakfast everyday. If Casanova were alive today and living in Seattle, I know where I could find him on a Tuesday afternoon. You’d find him at the bottom of a glass bellied up to a dark wood bar on 15th street, watching my dad and I shoot back oysters like somebody bet us we couldn’t, thinking to himself “I wish I loved anything as much as those dudes love oysters.” Well, keep dreaming Casanova, you don’t.


The jazz through the speakers is that fast paced, jamming on the keys type of jazz, which is pretty fitting for the wind ripping at the trees outside and the feverish pace at which we are eating oysters. The waitress keeps coming to see how we’re doing and the prognosis is always, “out of breath and out of oysters.” What do you want from us though? They taste like the sea is giggling into your mouth. Each type has a slightly different flavor to it. This one’s buttery, and that one’s got a flash of garlic to it. Bit of melon, hint of sweetness. Beer comes, beer goes and we are happy. When it comes to oysters in Seattle, for me, its almost always Coastal Kitchen. Dark wood and light tiles, stiff cocktails and something akin to bossa nova usually on the speakers. Every time I walk into the place, I want to put on a fedora and commiserate over the last “dame” who walked into my office. When it comes to which day of the week to eat oysters at Coastal Kitchen, for me, its always Tuesday. After 3pm on Tuesdays, it’s one dollar an oyster, which in and of itself is enough to get anybodys Dinklage wiggling.


Between slurps of Oyster and beer my dad shakes his head, takes a breather.

He says,”while you and your wife were on vacation and I was house sitting for you, I walked here by myself.”

“Oh yeah?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says, and he’s setting up the next oyster, blast of lemon, drizzle of mignonette. “I ate 5 dozen oysters by myself, drank three martinis and staggered out the door. Barely made it home.”

“Holy shit.” I say.

“Yeah.” and he shoots the oyster back. “It was awesome”

http://coastalkitchenseattle.com/

Written by:


Kellen Burden

SOURCES:

http://www.foodwine.com/food/egg/egg0298/oysters.html

http://www.oysters.us/greeks.html

Oysters, a Simple Food with a Complicated History

 

The Comfort Zone: It Feels like 90’s R&B

Recently, Young, our friend and co-owner of Phórale, recommended a soul food restaurant called The Comfort Zone, located inside of the Dragon Pearl restaurant in Burien. I had to repeat the location to confirm I heard it correctly…which still seemed odd even though our last hidden gem (Phorale) was located inside a convenient store in South Park. For a second, it didn’t make sense and just for that reason alone, it was right up my alley.

Note: Get your butt to Phorale if you haven’t been yet, these guys are getting busier and busier by the week. (https://goatfederation.com/2016/03/31/phorale-is-definitely-for-real/)

Anyway, I decided to check out Young’s recommendation and headed to The Comfort Zone on a Wednesday evening with a friend that trusts me when it comes to decisions involving food. We walked into the main entrance of the Dragon Pearl Restaurant and made an immediate left into the separate setup for The Comfort Zone.

We were greeted by some old-school R&B playing on the radio. There’s an old saying in Tennessee (I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee) that says, “If it doesn’t feel like 90’s R&B, I don’t want it”…I might have Bush-ified that a tad bit but these words couldn’t be any truer when it comes to my love for soul food. When I’m cooking at home, I find myself listening to 90’s R&B every-time, because it is a labor of love. You cannot have true soul food, without tasting the TLC that it was made with. The music was definitely a good first sign.

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After receiving our order of fried gizzards, oxtail stew with rice and the shrimp and grits, the following 10 minutes was silence. Silence is a good thing in my book, when you’re eating. This means that you’re so immersed in your current experience that you completely block out reality for the moment and enjoy what’s in front of you. There’s also something about listening to baby making music while eating a plate of what I can best describe as ‘love’ that brings back nostalgia…not quite sure what of, but it just feels right and you know that you’re exactly where you were meant to be at that very moment.

The fried gizzards: fresh, well-seasoned and not oily, oxtails: fall off the bone tender, shrimp: fresh and juicy, grits: perfectly buttery and creamy. I’m pretty sure “Butta Love” by Next started playing during my first bite of the grits.

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The 10 minutes of nostalgia would probably have lasted longer if not for, Talya, the owner of The Comfort Zone stopping by our table to assure that our dishes were prepared to our liking and asked if we had any feedback. Talya emphasized that she wanted to make sure that every guest felt like they were part of her family. We only had praise to offer and told her that we would be coming back, except with more people next time.

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While finishing off my last morsel of oxtail, I finally understood what Brian McKnight’s “Back at one” had been about all of these years…his love for soul food.

Written by: Krishan Kumar

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Because Food is Important

Food is important to me. It’s in my operating system. It’s on my home screen. If you grow up near the ocean, you surf. You hear the shudder and hiss of waves thumping into the sand your whole life and at some point you wade out there with a chunk of fiberglass because you have to put that fury and power in your world for real. If you grow up near the mountains, you climb. You grow up in the woods, you run naked through them… Or whatever….

Anyway, I grew up around food. My mother made breakfast every. God. Damn. Morning. And if you’re thinking that she was dousing some Frosted Flakes, or creaming some wheat, just stop right there, because she wasn’t. The woman made crepes. She made cinnamon rolls. She made bacon and eggs and hash browned potatoes and then she picked up her briefcase and slipped into her heels and she went to her job. No one would have blamed her for phoning in breakfast. In the age of pop tarts and Captain Crunch, plenty of parents did. But not her.

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And neither did my dad. There wasn’t a single day in my childhood in which he didn’t ask me what sounded good for dinner, usually right when I walked in the door from school. After that, you’d find him out in the backyard on his hands and knees, blowing into a coal starter, the smell of smoke and marinated something or other wafting in through the screen door, California sunlight hanging in the trees in the backyard.

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When I sat at the counter of that kitchen watching mom dart around with her spatula before rushing off to her ball-busting job, or watching dad flick collard greens around in the pan, freshly home from his, a fact began to slowly chisel itself into my brain:

Food is important.

And throughout the course of my life, that fact has stood unflinchinglcarsleepingy in the face of all my experiences. Screaming across the Midwest on a cross country road trip, an uncle took us in and fed us homemade dinner at a real kitchen table after a week and a half of McDonalds over a steering wheel, and we were loved. Alone in a new city full of strangers, my new coworkers took me to a bar and started a taco Tuesday tradition and we were accepted. Working a long night shift with a 50 year old Somalian woman with whom I had nothing in common, I brought up Somalian cooking and her eyes lit up and we were friends.

 

So, fuck all that food shaming. Fuck calorie restriction, and all those holier than thou memes about whether you’d rather have French fries or toned calves.

I’ll take French fries every time

Because, food isn’t a gallon of unleaded for your body and it’s not something to feel guilty about enjoying.

Food is culture. It’s a chunk of our life story. It’s important.

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Hot, Crispy, Solace 

These are scary times. Heavy times. Every morning finds me pajama clad at the kitchen table, nursing a fresh cup of French press, listening to NPR on our made-in-China radio wondering, “was it always this bad and I just wasn’t old enough to know it or is this a fresh kind of terrible?” Listening to my egg sizzle in the skillet over the sounds of FM horror, all tinny and crispy through cheap speakers. The ticking of the toaster oven steady and insistent, flat grey coils buzzing faintly, rising to a glow, shining fiery red. I used to hear stories from my grandparents about the Cold War. Shake my head in wonder at the thought of living always on the edge of my seat, watching hands in restaurants, shrinking away from shadows passing overhead. Life under siege. It was sad the way history is always sad, which is to say, distantly. Inaccessibly.

Then people started shooting up schools and movie theaters. North Korea went all Caligula crazy. Riots in the streets and a presidential race that’s just a game of Russian Roulette with a semi automatic and before you know it the coils are hot and everything is burnt toast.

I don’t know how my grandparents got through their uncertain times, although, if I’m to believe what I see on Madmen and in the washed out photos scattered around my parents house, the answer probably came in a tumbler and smelled a lot like whiskey.

(Photo credit: http://i.huffpost.com)

It’s 2016 now, though. Taking my pants off at a baby shower because I “got the tequila sweats” doesn’t make me “quirky” these days. Crashing a Pontiac into a mailbox and tumbling out stinking of rum and fear isn’t just another Tuesday evening anymore. You’ll catch a charge for that shit now. End up in a program. So where, in this age of global instability and social responsibility are we to find any solace? I’ve been picking mine up at place called Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant.

First, if you’re fingerjamming this place into your Yelp machine, you’ll see that there are a couple of different Cho Dang Tofu Restaurants in the area. Im told they’re both owned and operated by the same people and , if their Yelp reviews are to be believed, they’re equally awesome, but my experience is limited to the one in Federal Way, so that’s the one I’ll be talking about.


Krishan, my proverbial food guide and area expert, introduced me to the place at the midway point of a frustrating day. We’d just pulled one of those stops that was sideways before it even left the runway. Kid had a handful of unnecessary bullshit Tetris’d into a plastic hand basket and we had sandwiched him between us at the door.

“Put the shit down, man” I’d said, and I watched his eyes go wide and his pupils sphincter shut. He took a step forward and Krishan got two handfuls of his jacket, gave him a little tug back. Kid looked over his shoulder to see if the guy behind him looked as punchable as the guy in front of him and I saw that head turning, artery in the side of his neck working overtime, chugging adrenaline, spitting it into the rest of him. The compressed zip file version of it, is that we hip tossed the kid. He did a wicked sweet barrel roll and dropped all the shit he had in his basket, then he got up and waded through a bush that he was otherwise unaware of thanks to his tunnel vision, then he reached into his pocket and said, “I got the strap.” Which is a douchey way of telling someone that you have a gun.

He didn’t have the strap. He had a raspberry on his elbow. He had two guys in front of him who’d just tossed him like a pony keg, and a pound and a half of uh-oh in his shorts. But he definitely didn’t have the strap. His hand wiggled about ineffectually in his empty pocket, a silent prayer that we were buying this bullshit swimming in desperation in his eyes. It was over, though. He turned and broke like a wild pony and we collected the stolen things from the lot, carried them back into the store.

Moments like those are funny for the first few minutes, while the adrenaline is still arc flashing off you.

“I got the strap! I got the strap! Hahaha.”

“Haha did you tell that kid to ‘come catch this fade’?”

But when it’s fizzled out and the paperwork is done, the novelty has started to wear off and you’re just left with the bones of it, which is that you’re just two guys doing a kind of shitty job in a kind of shitty world where shitty things happen all the time.

“What an asshole.”

“Yeah.”

What if he’d had a gun?”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna get some lunch?”

“Yeah.”
So, with our hackles up and a brand new Instagram filter called pessimism over our lives, we shuffled through the doors of Cho Dangs’s… And totally redeemed ourselves

 

Dark wood on the walls between the framed photos of kimchi pots in various stages of the fermentation process. Food sizzling in stone bowls putting off that crickets in the deep woods feel as the staff waded through miasma of good food and happy people. So much for no safe places.

Krishan and I took up a table in the corner and flipped some menus open. I snapped up some magical words like somebody’d highlighted them for me and shut the menu immediately, because I knew what I wanted.
Krishan and I opted for one of the combo meals, which included a bunch of traditional Korean sides, (one of which was a mean looking fried fish, which is crispy and delicious as long as you don’t bite the head

off it like there aren’t any bones in there.)

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The rest of the sides were interesting and tangy and pretty foreign to my domesticated tastebuds, which made them all the more tantalizing. We fired them down with a fervor while we waited for the main course to come out, our troubles already sloughing off in the thralls of such exciting new goodness. The Kalbi beef hit the table, hissing like a lit fuse in the hotpot and we ate that caramelly meat off the bone grinning like idiots while that fuse sizzled down to the real boom-boom. A fat bowl of bibimbap.

Bibimbap literally means “mixed rice” and it’s been a mainstay of Korean cooking since the late 1300s to early 1600s. It’s one of those meals with deep roots that just makes sense, like stew or barbecue. You’ve got a lot of people to feed. You’ve got some rice and some vegetables and meat. Throw all that business in a pot, hit it with some gochujang and boom: Dinner.
It’s been tweaked slightly since the time of its conception, and one of the more welcome additions has come in the form of a hot stone bowl, which crisps the rice along the bottom and throws a whole different texture into the mix. It’s heaven. Sweet salty heaven in a hot stone bowl.


The waitress brought ours out and offered us the obligatory warning about not touching the sizzling hot pan, which I quietly mocked the obviousness of, and then immediately did on accident. Barely felt it though… because I was in the zone. I was cramming mouthful after mouthful of perfectly seasoned food into my previously worried face and watching the sharp edges shave off of the world around me. Fuck the election, and the crazy dictators. Fuck a kid with a gun and a nuclear winter. I’ve got beef and mushrooms. I’ve got rice and a stone bowl. I’ve got hot, crispy, solace.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap

https://www.yelp.com/biz/cho-dang-tofu-lakewood-2

 

 

Written by:

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Kellen Burden

Mendoza’s Mexican Mercado (again)

Well, old Larry was a bit of a goof the last time he was in this place. He ate grasshoppers and erroneously called them crickets, he made a bit of a scene in the seating area, and then he tan out the door screaming! We were all so embarrassed of his behavior that we sent him back in there to explain himself. The owners were so cool about the whole thing, we wanted to do another post to thank them and to say that, if you’re out there looking for a way to celebrate Mexico’s Independence  Day (today), this might be the place to do it. Truly amazing dishes, crafted with care and expertise at really reasonable prices. Plus, the owners have a great sense of humor, which is always a bonus

We had a great time, and they were so nice and they posed for this picture with Larry!

img_2982-3Then they gave him some tripe to try out and… hey, wheres Larry?

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That Time I Was Fancy

My Dearest Sister Sydney,
     This one’s gonna sting a little. Like a pull on a ponytail, an Indian burn beneath the Fisher Price slide, this one’s going to hurt. I mean, how many tea parties did you classily invite me to attend? You would stare pleadingly up at me with those watery saucer eyes and a tiara balanced on your bob hair cut, courtesy of the bored looking beauty school drop out at a strip mall Family Fun Cuts, hoping against hope that this time would be the time that I’d pull up a sun-bleached chair, tug on a tutu and partake in hose water, freshly poured from your best Made in China. And what did I always do? I embarrassed you in front of Strawberry Shortcake and Kahn, your weirdly named handmade doll with his even weirder shaped head. My behavior was deplorable. But you have to understand, my heroes at the time didn’t partake in such delicacies. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were more into the Italian fare. Batman didn’t eat at all as far as I knew. Still, there is no excuse for such rudeness and for that I’d like to apologize. Not for everything. The water balloon that knocked you on your ass was justified and I stand by that, but that’s a story for another time. This one’s about tea.

     The ferry ride across the channel was a gut punch. Pitching back and forth like pastas at a rolling boil to the crash and shudder of waves on the hull. People shuffled past our table drunkenly lurching into walls and grasping at anything bolted down as the ship rocked back and forth and the winds swept down over us fierce and angry. The view through the windows across the deck was of choppy dark water, then steel gray skies, water, then skies, water then skies, and when we pulled into the harbor in Victoria everyone on board disembarked like they didn’t trust that it was over. Hand over hand down the railings on the stairs, careful now, easy does it. 
When you start a birthday trip like that, it’s easy to think, “well, we tried, let’s just pack it in before one of us gets mugged or sold into sex slavery or talked into a timeshare meeting.” But stepping out of the customs line into the fresh air of the Victoria BC waterfront stripped us of any pessimism. Washed the slate clean. Oh, Canada…

My wife and I have very different ways of traveling. I once drove across the United States in a Ford Escape. I was packed in there with a 6’6″ buddy of mine and if you had asked us what route we were taking, how much money we had in our bank accounts or where we were going to sleep that night we’d have shrugged our sunburnt shoulders, scratched our unwashed heads. Melissa does research. Melissa has goals. This was Melissas birthday, so it was her trip, so it came with a list, which consisted of:

The Butchart Gardens:

The Victoria Butterfly Garden:


Exploring downtown Victoria

Seeing some funky little houseboats at Fisherman’s Wharf

And finally, high tea:

     Tea in British Columbia is a big deal. The British touched down on the shores of Canada and started doing what the British invariably do, which is to say act like they’re still in Britain, and tea has been a staple of Victorian living ever since. There are a lot of statistics about tea in the area available on the Internet. The gist of it is: they like it. There are tea houses all over downtown Victoria and even a yearly festival that is entirely devoted to tea.

     Now, If you’re doing tea in Victoria, every travel site you’ll visit is going to tell you to go to the Empress, which may very well be the case. Maybe it’s life changing. Maybe it’s worth every cent of the $68 per person to attend it. We were playing it thrifty, so we didn’t find out. We went instead to the Venus Sophia Tea Room, just down the way, tucked down one of the many quaint side streets. The express tea that they serve there is spoken of with a good amount of reverence on the Yelp boards and it is considerably cheaper, so we decided to give it a shot.
     I’m not the manliest dude in the world. Sure, I’ll change a tire. And yeah, the last time I got a shot, I barely cried at all, and then, when they only had grape lollipops I was like, “not my favorite, but whatever.” But by no stretch of the imagination am I Jason Statham riding a motorcycle into a bears den. Still, I was very reluctant about tea. Doilies? Fine China? Pinkies out? It wasn’t my trip though, so I laid my trepidations aside and I did the dutiful husband thing. Sat down and prepared to bite the frilly laced bullet. Holy shit was I wrong. 


The tea came first. I had a kettle full of cream earl grey, saucer of milk on the side and just the smell of it dancing up out of the spout was intoxicating. Soothing and floral and comforting. I poured it like a goddamned gentleman, drizzle of the milk to the pittering of the rain outside on the cobblestone street. Then the food came out. Sandwiches with the crusts cut off them, smashed full of flavor. Hummus and vegetables on rye. Cucumber on white. All meshing differently with the tea, creating different flavors. When we’d polished off the sandwiches, pinched delicately between our fingers like little debutants, we moved on to the desserts lined up across the bottom of the tray. Little cheesecakes and shortbread cookies, carrot cake bites and brownies all butted up to a scone and two dishes filled with dollops of clotted cream and strawberry jam. Every bite smashed full of flavor and washed down with perfectly steeped tea against a backdrop of cloudy skies. It was surreal. It was decadent and delicious and for fleeting moment, like a flash of classy lightning on a dark night of flatulance and tripping over my own sweatpants bottoms, I was fancy. And I liked it. 


Sources: 

Home Page

http://www.10best.com/destinations/canada/victoria/restaurants/afternoon-tea/