New Food Stand Coming Soon

For the last two days I have been working on a business plan to open a food cart and a food stand.  I even played hooky from work.  I feel a little guilty about that, but not enough to go to confession.

The plan calls for a food cart to be set up semi-permanent through the week and then have a stand at the Farmers Market on Saturday.  Apparently this will be the 30th season.  Way to go Quincy Farmer’s Market.

I have been working on a menu for the last three or four hours.  It has not been easy balancing taste with what is possible to do in outdoor conditions.  Then there is considering how to much to pack into the park and how to get it out of there.

My mantra has been ‘keep the menu tight’.  I have a tendency to cook up all kinds of wild dishes with exotic tastes.  But I am in small town Midwest and so I have to tone it done.  I can’t be Spinal Tap and turn it up to 11-though that would be so awesome.

For the lunch menu there are burgers and brats and chicken salad wraps.  But I still want to jazz them up.  The menu isn’t too broad and I am considering salads.

The breakfast menu is small, only breakfast burritos and biscuits and gravy.  I am not sure how the biscuits and gravy will sell.  On cold days I am sure they will fly out of the stand, but warm days . . . .  I guess I could use them for skeet shooting once they get really hard.   I think the burritos will sell no matter the weather.  But we shall soon see.  Maybe I could do breakfast biscuits.  That could work.

All I know is that I finally feel alive again.  Since leaving the cafe I have felt sad and numb.  And working in the pizza place hasn’t been the most rewarding experience.  The only reason I have stayed this long is because of my father.  The only plus to the place is I get to spend time with my dad.  I work mostly nights so I can see him in the morning and have a cup of coffee and talk about the world, or books, or movies, or nothing.  But as for any satisfaction beyond that, there is none.  I have felt it was time to leave and do something else almost from the moment I walked back into the place.  I feel so old some days working with people so young.   And they seem so disconnected from the reality in front of them.  Not all of them, of course, but a great many.

So I am looking forward to telling the boss that I have a new venture.  I can’t wait to explore the possibilities.  Besides the kitchen at the pizza place reaches 120 degrees plus.  I won’t miss that.

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I am thinking I should have read through the prompts more closely.  Or at least amended this undertaking to allow substitutions.

If I think of fabrics at all I would put cotton, wool, and linen at the top of the list.  When I am traveling I love the quick dry nylon material.  I discovered its usefulness after getting caught in a April shower in the Loire Vally on the way to Chateau Chenonceau.  At the time I was in jeans since it was a little brisk.  Despite my attempts to hide under a tree, I became drenched.  It is no fun walking in wet jeans, all that chaffing, and the itchiness which arises.  I didn’t wear the jeans again until I visited the Vatican.  Thankfully.

One item I miss these days is leather.  I prefer leather for my shoes.  When it comes to dress shoes this isn’t really a problem.  Sport shoes is another matter.  More and more it seems as if tennis shoes are man made materials.  I understand they can be lighter, but pleather makes my feet stink.  I don’t mean a normal smell, either.  It is almost toxic in its obnoxiousness.  If I am offended by the smell these shoes produce, and transfer to my feet, what must others think?  And the smell is like bacteria; it doubles in smell strength every 12 hours, whether I wear the shoes or not.  I  put the shoes outside, just so the house doesn’t become a hazardous site.

One would think with all the hamburgers we eat here in America that there would be plenty of cowhide.  There should be piles of the stuff lying around waiting to be turned into a nice, new, pair of kicks.  I say we should stop using this precious and wondrous material for belts, wallets, purses, and fancy, Italian, dress shoes.  Maybe someday…..

Photo from:

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New Foods-I Am All In

I think the last new food I tried was mozzarella cheese and prosciutto ham wrapped together in a log shaped configuration.  It was heaven,  The creamy richness of the cheese mixed with the saltiness of the prosciutto was a wonderful taste.  Another new food I had the pleasure of eating was the Monte Cristo Sandwich-WOW!!

This sandwich was one of the most salacious, decadent, and sinful pleasures I have ever experience.

It all started when I lived in Portland.  On Belmont St.-on the East side of the Willamette River-stood an old icon of Portland dining, The Monte Cristo.  People would often tell me I had to eat the sandwich there, as” it was out of bounds”.  “It was a home run on a bun”. “And I could die in peace knowing I had the best sandwich ever created”.  I always thought Dagwood Bumstead‘s sandwiches were some of the best ever created, but of one can’t eat a cartoon drawing.

However before I had a chance to try this Portland “must have” icon, the place burned down.  Luckily no one was in the place.  I did kick myself for not getting down there.  Happily the owners eventually moved to a location in Gresham-just outside Portland-near to where my house was.  Thank goodness America is the land of second chances.

Sadly I missed my second chance.  The new place closed down within 6 months.  I kicked myself again.  All this kicking was becoming tiresome and potentially could lead to cramps and disjointed joints.  So I vowed to eat the Monte if this place ever opened again.  It didn’t happen.

As is often the case, life got in the way.  Work, school, travel, and family obligations all conspired to make me forget about the sandwich.  Perhaps forget is too strong a word.  De-emphasize would be a better word.  Soon the sandwich was on the lowest rung of things to get to list.  Years went by with nary a thought of the Monte.  Then I got the chance to open my own restaurant and the sandwich regained prominence on the list.

One of the great things about opening a restaurant, whether as owner or worker, is eating all the dishes.  Cooks practice making them and it is a shame to just throw them away.  Besides the waiters need to be able to explain the awesomeness of the menu items.  The weeks leading up to “going live”  are fat and happy ones.

There was one little draw back to putting the Monte Cristo on the menu-I didn’t know what it was.  In all the years since I first heard of it I never bothered to discover what it consisted of, or how to make one.  So I hit “the tubes” to discover what a Monte was.

I dam near ended up in traction from kicking myself for not discovering earlier what this sandwich was all about.  On the Google I found myself staring at pictures and reading descriptions of what has to be the world’s most perfect sandwich.  It is as if some demented genius mashed breakfast and lunch together.  According to that genius was some French cook who invented the  Croque Monsieur, with an assist from Walk Disney who made the American version popular in the 60’s selling it at The Blue Bayou in Disneyland.

I couldn’t wait to begin making this sandwich at the cafe.  I believe it was the first item I made in the run-up to opening.  It was so naughty and sinful I had to go to confession the next day.  Unfortunately, for my mortal soul, I have sinned so many times eating this sandwich that I just gave up the confessional.

In the version the cafe served, we took two pieces of Texas Toast drenched them in egg wash ala french toast.  As the toast was cooking up we grilled ham and turkey, hand cut fresh.  After turning the toast over to cook we loaded the finished sides with grated cheddar cheese, before piling on the mounds of ham and turkey.  Once it was finished cooking the sandwich was cut in half, dusted with powered sugar and served with the cafe’s home made maple syrup.  I am sure the local Catholic churches saw an up tick in confessional traffic the first month we were open.

The sandwich made my mouth water as I was cooking it.  And to taste it well a bib was required, at least for me.  The salty ham, the light turkey, mixed with the fried egg and sugar of the syrup was off the charts.  I was not alone in my assessment.  The Monte became one the Cafe’s biggest sellers.

Check out the various versions of this sandwich here.

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Where to Visit and When to Go

Where wouldn’t I like to visit. And can I go tomorrow?  I want to visit every country, city, and back-road. sleepy, village, and as many roadside kitschy attractions, as possible.

High on the list Tibet, India, and Russia.  For some time, I have been planning a massive trip which would take me to these three countries, as well as, China and Mongolia.

The plan begins in India, where I will visit all the major tourist traps and make a few pilgrimages.  One of these pilgrimages will be to the Sex Temple Khajuraho.  If only all religions honored this basic human element.  Then hit the Monkey Temple in Jaipur, and if feeling brave the Snake Temple in Mannarsala-not a huge fan of snakes.  I also want to check out the stone throwing festival in Pandhurhna.  I have no desire to be pelted with stones; however I have a stone desire to witness the madness.  Other places include Ladh, and the Dalai Lama’s place of exile in Dharamsala.  There is a planned camel safari in Rajasthan.  Depending on how bad the camel smells, determines if it is 5 days or 7 days.  Eventually I will head into Nepal for a week or so.  Then trek into Tibet, stopping to view Mt. Everest.  A week or so in Lhasa before making to Beijing to catch the Trans-Siberian Railway.  I plan to hope off in Ulaanbaatar and amble about, before heading into Russian.  There I plan to do some fishing at Lake Baikal.  Finally finishing off the trip in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  I am not sure how to get home yet.  I might kick about in Eastern Europe working as a teacher for a year or so.  Then it is up in the air.

I am not sure when I will head out.  I haven’t even begun saving for this mother of all trips.  I will need another tech start-up bubble to afford this trip anytime soon.

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Changes-Are Afoot?

I wish this were true.  I have been contemplating changes for some time now; but I can’t seem to settle on which direction to take. Return to school for a Masters or re-open another cafe, I can’t land on either one.

If I return to school what degree should I take: English, Creative Writing, History, Law, Business?  I am interested in them all.

If I go for cafe where should I open it: in my hometown, or Portland, or somewhere else?  I mean if location is undecided, why not throw all options out there?

Part of my decision is affected by a sense of duty to my father.  I have not always suffered this feeling, in fact I have usually done what made me free.  I keep people at arms length; this makes leaving easier.  I suffer no entanglements.

Of course my greatest regret is walking away from my son.  The courts called it abandonment, while that was not my intent; that is what it was.  And it still stings.

I believe that moving back to Quincy, IL is the World’s or the Universe’s way of giving me a chance not only to mend fences with my father-our relationship has been rocky-but an opportunity to rectify that decision to walk.

The chance is there to make a better decision.  To prove I am different, more mature, I feel I must stay.  Yet I wake up almost every day looking for a way to escape.

It is not the relationship I look to escape-our relationship has never been better.  It is the town and the people, I seek freedom from.

A few weeks ago, my father and I were talking over morning coffee.  I often walk over to his house to check in and chat about life, and work.  Part of the conversation had to do with what I would do next.  He wanted to know if I planned to open another restaurant.

“I don’t know, Dad.  I am scared that I don’t have it in me.  I am scared I will have another Shanghai experience”.

“What is a Shanghai experience?”

I told him. “When I was in China, towards the end of my second year, I went up to Shanghai to look for a job.  There was a big job fair at the Shanghai Library, for foreign workers.  Now I suspected it would all be teaching jobs, but I went hoping there would be one company looking for a foreigner to do a non-teaching job.”

By now my second cup of coffee is finished brewing, so I retrieve it.

Continuing, “When I get to the library it is all schools.  I am dressed in slacks and a freshly pressed button down.  My shoes are polished; and my face is shaved.  I am ready to impress.  And I do.  Many of the schools’ representatives question me at length.  I pick up applications left and right.  I troll the room twice, just to make sure I haven’t overlooked a company which is not a school or private tutor business.  There are none. ”

Dad remains quiet.  My mom would be asking all kinds of questions.  And to every one of them I would answer “I am getting to that.  Wait a minute.”  Of course she would wait about 30 seconds and invariably I would get sidetracked and ramble on some tangent for 5 or 10 minutes.

“So I sit down at a table, with all my applications.  I have my resume, head shots, references, passport and pens.  As I look at the collection of papers in front of me, I begin to think of all the energy, perseverance, and charm I need to complete the process.  I delve deep inside to gather all I need and nothing.  I almost cry.  In a daze I put all my belongings into my bag.  Leaving the applications there, I numbly leave the room and the building.  I am scared to think of opening another restaurant.  I am afraid there is nothing inside if I look.  So I am not even thinking about it.  Instead I am thinking of getting a Masters Degree.”

Dad was supportive of the idea.  He has been supportive of me since I moved back.  It has been a real change for him.  I appreciate the support and the change.

If he hadn’t changed, and still tried to tell me how to be and what to do in life; it would be easy to leave.  I could say I tried and made the effort.  Perhaps I haven’t changed.  Despite all my travels and all my readings, and efforts to improve and become a different person, a better person, I am not that different than the young man who left Quincy 20 years ago.

My mother says that we should bloom where we are planted.  And I have worked hard to be planted some where. anywhere but Quincy.  Yet here I am.  Here I am fighting being planted in this spot.  I work hard to see every deficiency this patch of ground contains.  I long for other ground.  Every spot seems preferable.  Even though I know this to be false.  For I have found spots which contained many deficiencies.

I try to change my mindset, but I find I can not for more than a day or two.  Part of my failure to change lies in the uncertainty of where I want to go in life.  I can’t choose at this time.  My focus comes back to leaving, and the certainty that I will be better able to bloom, if only I where planted elsewhere.

At least I know what I have to change-my perspective.  I just don’t know how to do it.  For when I wake up and see where I am, I can’t block out the deficiencies.

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And Now For Something Completely New

I like to say that I attempt to try something new everyday.  Yet I know that is not the case.  Life gets in the way and it is easy to stick with routine.  Some days I think the only thing new is the route I take to work.  Not that routine is bad, it is just that more is sometimes required.

And in the spirit of more, I cooked India style food.  Well that may be a misnomer.  I bought some India style sauces-made in Britain.  I have eaten India food in the past, but this was the first time to make such dishes at home.  I mixed the sauces with some veggies; threw that on top of rice, and added some baked chicken.  It was really tasty.

I ate some of the sauce cold.  I dipped some fish into it, and it was alright. But warmed it was like a whole other sauce.  The heat and spice components really stood out.  There was depth and richness of flavor and texture, missing when eaten cold.  After eating my creation, I am almost ready to travel to India and eat my way through the subcontinent.  I just don’t know if I am ready for the train rides

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Healthy Eats and Food Rituals

While I am not the healthiest of eaters, I healthier than I did 5-10 years ago, and especially 20 years ago.

This days I seldom eat at fast food places-I won’t disgrace the word restaurant by placing it after ‘fast food”.  Even if traveling I try not to frequent such establishments-though while traveling in Asia I duck  into McDonald’s on occasion, as the rice can be overwhelming, and I like to get a potato now and then; even if it happens to be in fried form.

While traveling State side I often stop in super-markets, to get a sandwich from the deli.  I eat less junk snacks and almost no fried food.  This can be hard as every off ramp has at least one fast food location, and if doesn’t, that is because it is located in a gas station.  Hell some fast food locales have other fast food places inside them.  Dairy Queen in my hometown has an Orange Julius inside it.  And out in Portland there are taco shops within burger places.  Come to think of it the K–Mart Mart here has a Little Caesar’s in it and the Super Wal-Mart has a Subway.  Hells Belles there are three stand alone Subways in this town.  It is madness.  And we call it progress.

Anyway, while I do eat more fruits and salads and veggies, I do love me some bagels with cream cheese and real butter.  I love Italian Sausage and burgers-I hand make.  I need my guilty pleasures.  One of my favs was a 4, 6, 8, or 10 egg omelette served with all you could eat hash browns.  The place was a truck stop called Kreiger’s and it was off of I-84 outside of Troutdale, Or.  Unfortunately, it closed when the freeway access was closed due to construction of a new Wal-Mart across the street.  Eventually the place was sold and torn down.  Before long the vacant property was redeveloped into a gas station and-wait for it-a Jack In The Box.  Their burgers have never been a pleasure-guilty or otherwise.

As for food rituals, I don’t really have any at home.  At work-I work in a restaurant I have more rituals.  I often wipe and wash and sharpen.  I rotate stock, and sample items for freshness, and taste.

When I owned my cafe, I had rituals and rituals.  I shopped almost everyday.  I prepped everyday, cutting fruit and veggies.  I made soups-low and slow.  I sliced turkey and ham.  I made up pancake batter and my own gravy-made in the greasy pan I cooked the spicy sausage.  That was a such a guilty pleasure I have to go to confession after just tasting it.

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