Sunday, September 25, 2022

Jar of Goodness 9.25.22: Old Munichburg Oktoberfest

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for this year’s Old Munichburg Oktoberfest.

I was very involved with our neighborhood organization from its beginnings in 2001 until 2020, when I realized I was pretty exhausted with it, with the whole thing.

I’ve been on the organization’s executive board, and we’ve been very active with the festival, too. So many meetings. So much hauling of stuff. So many phone calls, emails. Mailings. Talking to the media. The maps and the spreadsheets. I’ve been the music chair, the vendors chair, and I’ve served beer and brats. I’ve greeted vendors at 7 a.m. with my clipboard, and stayed until I was picking up trash out of the street after the day was over. I’ve helped vendors unload, and reload, their wares. I’ve wiped rainwater off of audience bleachers and beer garden chairs . . . there’s no end to the things that need doing in a festival like this. I was really tired of the whole thing.

But I went to the annual Oktoberfest yesterday and genuinely had a good time. I guess I needed to take a few years off.

It was good to see several familiar faces among the vendors: Summit Lake and Hummingbird wineries, Jamaican Jerk Hut, Coldstone Creamery, for example. I did miss seeing a lot, a whole lot, of the people I used to see before the pandemic. A&J Kettle Korn wasn't there, neither was Papa Hart's Pickles, and there were several crafters, too. And the awesome face-painting lady, Jeanette Dixon, of Lil Masterpiece Creations. She and her team really did create little masterpieces. But time marches on, I guess.

I’ve always loved the car show. If I walk to the festival on Broadway, the car show is always the first thing I see. This year a 1964 Dodge caught my eye. Except for being red instead of turquoise, and a different model, it was very similar to the 1964 Dodge I drove in college. Awww, so many happy memories.

Anyway, it was a good day. And yes, I did help out some. The festival isn’t back up to pre-pandemic levels, but that’s okay. It was a good day.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Jar of Goodness 9.18.22: My Brother

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for my brother.

My big brother. He’s the one who gave me the idea of the Jar of Goodness, because it’s what his family does.

Who knows how many other ideas I’ve stolen from him over the years.

All I know is, he’s always gone there first, and throughout my whole life, his example has always given me courage.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Grilled Cheese Atrocity

Yaay! It’s time for another childhood culinary atrocity! This time, I’m sharing with you the special grilled cheese sandwich I “invented” in high school!

Well, what kinds of foods did you proudly “invent” when you were first making your own food?

I’ve been revisiting some of my formerly favorite foods that I used to make for myself when I was a youth. Before I had heard of health foods. Before I had ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant. Back when pizza and spaghetti were “ethnic” foods.

The Requisite Digression

Yeahhhhh . . . back when Taco Bell was a spicy new fast-food place for us midwesterners. Its menu board had pronunciation helps like “EN-CHI-REE-TOH” and “TAH-COH.” Remember when Taco Bell’s taco sauce came in small plastic tubs with a peel-off, foil lid? Remember when they added a second flavor of taco sauce, “Hot”? Then, they started to put the sauce into the kind of packets they’re using today, only without the silly catch-phrases? Back when the corporate colors were brown, red, orange, and yellow? Well, this "recipe" dates back to about that time. Yes, you young things, back when I was young, there were only two sauces at Taco Bell: Mild and Hot! And we liked it! This was way before “Fire,” “Wild,” “Diablo,” “Fire-Roasted,” and “Green.”

And while we’re reminiscing, I’d like to say a few words about “authenticity” and Taco Bell. I understand the urge to pillory Taco Bell for being an inauthentic non-Mexican ripoff of true Mexican cuisine. It’s not Mexican. I don’t think it claims to be authentic. It is essentially fast-food junk food with garbage cheese, but . . . for many of us in the Midwest, it was the first time we ever had food that was spicy, that burned our mouths. It taught us the words taco and burrito. It wasn’t great food or even really good, but it helped us discover the cuisine. It was like Kenny G to jazz, or Boone’s Farm to wine; it was our gateway drug.

I’d also like to point out that, unless you like to cook for yourself, if you live in a small town in the Midwest, Taco Bell may indeed offer the best "Mexican" food for miles. This was especially the case in the 1980s and before. Even today, many of the so-called Mexican restaurants are worse than Taco Bell. The Bell’s basic tacos still stand up pretty well against some of the stuff I’ve had in midwestern Mexican joints. Honestly, I think midwestern Mexican restaurateurs know that a majority of their customers prefer seas of cheesy beans and gloppy, fatty meats, with sweet, ketchup-like salsa. And Taco Bell can be better than that.

Also, among fast-food places, Taco Bell is about the only one that offers anything besides salads and French fries for vegetarians to eat. And "Mexican-inspired" fast food can be much tastier than the standard ol' burger and fries.

Which leads me back to my topic. My sandwich has very, very little to do with Mexican food. Nothing, in fact. But Taco Bell Hot sauce is a key ingredient.

So hang on to your stomach, here we go!

Taco-Bell-Hot-Sauce Grilled Cheese Atrocity

For one sandwich, you will need:

  • 2 slices of sandwich bread (the plain white stuff)
  • 2 packets of Taco Bell Hot taco sauce (not any other flavor)
  • About 4–5 hamburger dill pickle slices (Heinz preferred)
  • 2 slices of mild or medium cheddar cheese
  • Margarine or butter (for frying)

Spread the Taco Bell Hot taco sauce onto one of the slices of bread. Top with sliced cheese, then add the pickle slices. Cover with the other slice of bread.

Heat a skillet, add a pat of margarine or butter into the skillet; when it’s melted, heat the sandwich on the buttery skillet. Flip. Cook until toasted. You can eat it now, or . . .

Bonus points: I high school, I used to make this in the evening, then pack it up in aluminum foil and carry it to school for lunch the next day. So try this: let the sandwich cool on the counter, then wrap it in foil or a sandwich bag. Refrigerate overnight. Eat cold, or at room temperature, as if it had to sit in your locker until lunchtime. It’s actually better this way, after it’s rested and solidified somewhat. I’m not sure why, but it’s the same principle as enjoying a cold slice of pizza or a piece of cold fried chicken. It might be because, being more solid, the sandwich seems more substantial. It’s also tidier to eat, now that it’s not gooey and drippy.

What is it that makes this work? On paper, it’s an atrocity: dill pickles and taco sauce. It must have something to do with the specific flavor of the Taco Bell Hot sauce. My guess is that the smooth, mild cheese melds whatever flavors the pickles and taco sauce have that can harmonize. The distinctive flavors of Taco Bell Hot sauce include plenty of cumin with onion and garlic powders, and I think those go especially well with something in the pickles. Maybe it’s the garlic, or maybe the vinegar . . . or maybe it’s just a salt festival. But try some other hot sauces, and you’ll see it just doesn’t work right.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Jar of Goodness 9.11.22: New Roof!

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for our new roof!

Yayayayay! Premier Property Services put on our new roof on Wednesday, September 7!

It was thrilling just to see the materials arrive in our driveway the day before.

The team of workers arrived around 6:30 in the morning and were working by about 7. They took lunch from noon to 1, and then they kept working until dark—around 8 p.m. They were nearly done.

They came back the next day, again around 6:30, to finish the persnickety little rooflets above the front door and above the garage doors. Ta-da!

They still have to do the gutters and the new siding for front and back dormers, but those are different crews, and at least the roof is done.



Note, 10-15-22: though this post is for September 11, 2022, which was the day we celebrated, I’m actually uploading it on October 15, which is why the photos all look like autumn—I took all the pictures today! And no, we still haven’t gotten the new gutters or siding, which is why the gutters and siding look the same as they have for years. And we still haven’t opened that bottle of champagne we got for our “roof is finished” celebration.

Also, a little backstory: Our previous roof was put on by a gang of riff raff in May 2006. The company’s name rhymed with "Narco," we realized in hindsight. The company disappeared from Missouri within a year.

Seriously, it took them four days to do the roof, and the owner’s son finally came and yelled at them to finish it the hell up. They used oceans of silicone caulk. The owner’s son came and beat on our door the evening they supposedly finished and demanded payment. “Now.” Yes, we made complaints to the BBB, but that did nothing. The BBB wanted us to let them back on our roof to "make it right." By that time, we needed them to stay far away from us and our property.

Here's a picture of the awful roofers from 2006:

The crew in 2006 were awful, and in retrospect, we were genuinely traumatized. This has set the tone for our home improvements: we are scared to hire anyone to do anything, simple as that.

So yeah, two weeks later, in 2006, we had a big rain, the front gutter overflowed, and we had water in our basement. Also within a month, shingles were falling off our back dormer and more. In 2010, we needed to get the sunporch roof replaced (March 1) thanks to ice/water shield not having been installed. We also had to have the sunporch ceiling replaced (June), since water had leaked in so badly.

So, in a nutshell, ever since 2006, we have been skeptical of our roof’s soundness and angry to have been taken in by those crumbs. Now that we have a new roof, installed by a good company with sober workers, we feel much, much better.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Jar of Goodness 9.4.22: Shakespeare’s Pizza South

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Shakespeare’s Pizza South.

First, because it’s Shakespeare’s Pizza, and that’s my hometown, college-town pizza.

Second, because Shakespeare’s Pizza South is on our way home, and (coming into town) it’s on our way to my parents’ house, so it’s mighty, mighty convenient for us.

Pizza night!

We go there a lot, and it makes us all smile.

Yes, this is a “Panda’s Pepper” pizza, “Brought to you by the letter ‘P.’ This is one that a whole bunch of Shake’s emps like, but we don’t know why. Must have been the Eighties. Pepper Cheese, Pepperoni, Green Peppers, Jalapenos, and Banana Peppers.”

It’s become a recent favorite of ours. Try it sometime!