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Nina (the wife) and I headed down to Sacramento this weekend, based on a reliable tip that there was a place there that dealt in dogs… Chicago-style hot dogs, that is.

For those of you who don’t know… I’m a hot dog freak. I love them and in California they are hard to come by. In fact, it’s hard to come by a decent hot dog of any stripe here in Chico; hence the 80-mile drive to Sac-Town.

For those Philistines among us, a Chicago-style hot dog MUST include nine ingredients. Not give or take nine… but nine. End. Of. Story.

The obligatory ingredients:

1.    One all-beef frank, (may be Kosher, but not necessarily a requirement,) preferably from Chicago’s Vienna Beef hot-doggery. Can be steamed, deep-fried, or grilled. (I prefer Steamed.)
2.    Poppy seed bun. (Also steamed for softness)
3.    Kosher dill-pickle spear (Claussen-style)
4.    Chopped Onions
5.    Sweet pickle relish.
6.    Tomato slices
7.    Sport peppers (little green spicy beauties)
8.    Celery Salt
9.    Mustard*

* This last one is non-negotiable. By Mustard I mean, mustard. Plain, yellow, mustard. In civilian life, I love all mustards, sweet Bavarian, spicy Dusseldorf, brown, stone-ground… This hot dog business is serious…this is war. There is a time and place for other mustards, but believe me, this is not it.

The Chicago-style hot dog is as notable for what it lacks as what is has. Note the lack of Ketchup, (or Catsup.) Ketchup is a pernicious condiment, and has no place in the world of sausages. I have personally seen men killed over lesser things than a hot dog/ketchup infraction, so please, take this as a warning…DON’T CONTAMINATE YOUR DOG.

Ketchup is red, and so is the Communist flag. Coincidence?

Digressions aside, Nina and I made it to Dino’s Chicago-style Hot Dogs and Gyros in Sacramento in one piece and plenty hungry. From the outside the place looks like a hot-dog/burger shop. The signage is covered in a Greek-style font and the big windows reveal the grill, the menu board with Pepsi sponsored snap-on letters.
The food selection is promising Hot-dogs, hamburgers, Polish, Gyros and Italian Beef. (Also, along with the J-Rock style poor boy, a rarity outside of Chicago…)
There were paper signs promoting the Bears and the Cubs and skyline photos of Chicago, interwoven between the “damn right, I’m Greek” bumper stickers.

We placed our order and soon enough, I was presented with my prize… my California “Chicago” hot dog.

Right off the bat, I sensed danger. No poppy seeds on the bun and *horror* cucumbers on the bun!

The poppy seeds are a relatively small infraction as they are not ubiquitous even in Chicago, but the cucumber is damn near unforgivable.

I peeled off the pickle wedge and was disappointed again… The pickle is the limp, grocery store shelf Vlassic-style pickle. A weak, unacceptable imitation of a real kosher dill.

The cucumbers suddenly made more sense…  took a bite and gleaned the reason. The crappy dill pickle flavor, plus the cucumber balanced out to something similar to a Claussen style pickle. OK, fair enough Dino’s. I’ll give it to you, but it’s gonna cost you a point.

Nina opted for the Italian Beef, which was good…a tad pepper heavy for my preference but a passable version.

Overall I give Dino’s an A for effort, as it is the closest to Chicago style I’ve had here, but for the food I give it a B/B-… Nine ingredients is not debatable and California is the land of plenty. Nothing is impossible.

If I’m in the neighborhood I might stop in again, but I won’t go out of my way. So, my California quest for a proper dog continues.

There are things that are negotiable, and there are things that are not. For me, hot dogs are serious business. You can keep your sub-par sausages…Make mine Chicago-style.

I’ll be in Joliet in a couple of weeks and Joe’s is definitely on the agenda. Mmmm.images-2

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It seems like just yesterday I was griping about turning thirty..look a me today, a tall, confident, thirty something with the vim and vigor of a man half my age.

Is it time for a nap yet?

I survived my birthday (just barely) with only a brief hospitalization and contraction of an insidious antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria.

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Other than that it turned out to be pretty low key.

Frankly, I blame California for my infection. Between the hippies and the 11 months of pleasant outdoor weather, bare feet seems like the way to go.

From now on though, I’m subscribing to the Tom Manley School of podiatry…never let them see your toes!

For those keeping score on my checklist…I’m making progress. My first batch of sausages was a shining success…(Slovenian-style country sausages ground fresh from from pork shoulder) and, this past Saturday I made a barbecued pork butt… (9 solid hours of slow, smoke cooking.) The folks on the receiving end of my butt (heh, heh) told me it was the best piece of pig they’ve eaten.

I also tipped into the Scotch…I still wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I definitely have a fondness.

So…just a few weeks in with progress on the way. Maybe this 30 business isn’t too bad.

STM005_C300_30th_candles1219917367_180My birthday is on Sunday.

My 30th birthday.

I hate it.

This is one of those times when one is forced to take stock of one’s life. Well I’ve taken stock, and I feel…old.

I honestly never thought I would live to see 30. I know everybody of a certain disposition says the same thing out of the desire for drama, but in my case it is literally true. I though that for sure by now, I would have ceased to live by chemical, mechanical or just down right stupidly-careless means.

My lifestyle, choice of company, general malaise or an uncanny knack for being in the wrong place while handguns are being discharged, would suggest that three decades would be on the high-end of the life expectancy scale.

As it turns out, 30 is knock, knock knocking on my door, and I couldn’t be more depressed about it.

I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing, and now, I can’t sit around and whine about still being a kid anymore…Stupid threshold for maturity!

Over the past 8 months, I’ve come up with a list of things that grownup men do. As luck would have it, I don’t know how to do any of these things. Also, as luck would have it, steps are being taken to learn.

Here is my arbitrary list of manliness:3299586881_6d83762067

1. Learn how to butcher.

How can one be resolved to eat something without knowing how to kill, skin and chop that same animal into tasty grill-marked pieces of protein goodness.

2. Learn how to make sausage.

I will never live up to my Germanic heritage without knowing how to stuff ground-up meat, fat, and spices into pig intestines and hang until dried and preserved… this skill will also come in handy during a nuclear holocaust, disease pandemic (Kevin, I’m talkin’ to you,) long journey to the “New World,” or an unruly plate of bread and cheese.

3. Learn how to barbeque.

Not learn how to grill…not learn how to cook outside…learn how to barbeque. Low. Slow. Smoke. Wood. Period. I’ve smoked chicken already with mixed results…once poultry is perfected I will move on to swine.

4. Learn how to fly-fish

What’s the point of living near clear mountain streams, without being able to strip them of their tasty fish.

-Non Meat-Related Manliness-

Meat and manhood are not always one and the same…but they are mostly one and the same.meat47hands01

5. Know how to sharpen a knife within an inch of its life.

I have several knives. They all have trouble getting through pats of butter. This makes tasks 1-4 difficult.

6. Learn how to weld stainless steel.

Breweries are like pipe farms… tubes, pipes, tanks, valves…all made out of stainless steel. I don’t just want to learn to weld it–I want to learn how to weld it with dairy-grade welds. (For the steel philistines among us, dairy-grade is ABOVE medical-grade sanitary welding. Necessary in a brewery. Take that, doctor.)

7. Become a Scotch Whisky Aficionado.

I like Scotch a lot. I want to know it better. Ditto with wine and/or tequila.

8. Learn to fly a plane.

Points 7 and 8 should not take place concurrently.

9. Buy a truck.

Everybody I know in California drives a truck. Nobody drives it all the time and I still want a tiny, good gas mileage, Japanese econo-car, but It’s hard to look manly in a Mazda.

The real question, I guess, lies in how many of these things I actually accomplish. In the end, who knows.

I am working on #3 as we speak…#7 is in the works…and numbers 1 and 6 are planned for summer. I realize four out of ten is not a great ratio, but after-all, it took me 30 years to get here. What’s another couple months?

raw powerThat’s right– Mr. street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm himself–Iggy Pop, has a new record called Preliminaires, out now.

This record is a bit of a departure for the 62(!)-year-old punk rock prince.

Preliminaires was inspired by author Michel Houellebecq’s novel “La Possibilité d’une île” ( The Possibility of an Island.) The record is a new direction for Pop…soft, soulful, balladeering classics and jazz standards. Iggy’s slippery baritone voice slides through jazz classics such as Autumn Leaves sung entirely in French.

There is some late-model Iggy Pop standard fare on the record as well: Nice to Be Dead is solid Iggy, a la The Passenger.

My favorite track so far is, King of the Dogs, inspired by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Fives. This is real Hot Jazz, complete with risque warbling horns and cymbal heavy percussion. iggypop

I think this is a pretty great album and I can’t wait to see what Iggy does on tour… One can only hope he makes his way to my part of California sometime soon.

As for the subject matter, admittedly, I’ve not read The Possibility of an Island yet, and I only managed about half of Houellebecq’s previous novel Platform. From what I read of Platform, Pop’s mixed tones of slimy, sexy, and sinister sound just about right.

Pop did a great interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” recently… It behooves you to listen. It is free after all.

preliminaires

lebowskiNina (the wife) and I were invited to a “Big Lebowski” party Friday night after work. It has been uncharacteristically rainy here in Chico, and the opportunity to have a get together with some friends to watch a movie sounded pretty darn good.

For those of you who have been living in a cave… The Big Lebowski is a movie by the Coen brothers about a lovable loser named “The Dude” and his trials and tribulations based around mistaken identity, nihilism, bowling, and the “White Russian” cocktail.

A White Russian is: One Measure Vodka, one measure Kahlua, and one measure half-and-half, or cream…whiterussian

The Caucasian: Same as above, omitting the vodka.

These cocktails, no matter how tasty they might sound, are in fact, The Devil.

We started in on these insidious drinks around six PM… By 9 the evening had devolved. No movie, no plot, just more White Russians. I swear that at some point in the evening there were dune buggies, grilled meats, arm-wrestling, The Who and handguns involved, but at this point I can’t be certain.

What I can be certain of, is that the morning following our ill-fated Lebowski night was the most unpleasant in my life.

I have never, ever, been so hung-over.

I can safely say the same goes for Nina and the majority of the rest of our party.

White Russians contain a very potent mixture of elements which when combined in large volumes are destined to create the most intense skull-splitting, body aching, wobbly-legged, vomitus, morning imaginable.

I am officially in detox. If I didn’t work in the booze business, I would swear to never drink again.

After finally managing to make it down off the mountain and back home, I spent most of the weekend on the couch in my pajamas.

I am reminded of these faithful tips, by the world greatest drinks writer Kingsley Amis, who in his book Everyday Drinking, laid out the only sure-fire tips I have ever seen for combating hangover.amis

Amis’ genius lies in the fact that he deals with what he calls the physical and metaphysical effects of the hangover.

Here paraphrased, without permission:

Immediately on waking, start telling yourself how lucky you are to be feeling so bloody awful. This, known as George Gale’s paradox, recognizes the truth that if you do NOT feel bloody awful after a hefty night then you are still drunk, and most sober up in a waking state before hangover dawns.

When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friend are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk.

Amis goes on to list a series of required metaphysical hangover reading …I don’t have the patience for most of this, but I think it could help.

Begin with verse, if you have any taste for it. Any really gloomy stuff that you admire will do. My own choice would include Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines 606 to the end. The trouble here, though, is that today of all days you do not want to be reminded of how inferior you are to the man next door, let alone a chap like Milton. Safer to pick one less horribly great.

(This next one seems especially relevant to me, given the drink of the evening prior)

Next, switch to poems with the same principals of selection. I suggest Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. It’s not gloomy exactly, bit its picture of life in a Russian labor camp will do you the important service of suggesting that there are plenty about who have a bloody sight more to put up with than you (or I) have or ever will have, and who put up with it, if not cheerfully, at any rate in no mood of self-pity.

Turn now to stuff that suggests there may be some point to living after all. Battle poems come in rather well: Macaulay’s Horatius will do nicely.

By this time, you could well be finding it conceivable that you might smile again some day. However, defer funny stuff for the moment. try a good thriller or action story, which will start to wean you from self-observation and the darker emotions: Ian Flemming, Eric Ambler, C.S. Forester.

For some literature is the key, for others, myself included, couch laying and crappy movie watching, with a touch of In-N-Out cheeseburger, is just what the doctor ordered.

Maybe next time, I’ll lay off the White Russians instead.

cakeNina (the wife) had her birthday on Tuesday.

She turned 30.She is now–officially and without question–an adult. Scary.

I’ve heard it said recently, that 30 is the new 20, but frankly, I just don’t buy it. I have a month before I make the philosophical leap from 20-something, into 30-something, and I’m getting sweaty palms just thinking of it.

Despite the gravity of the date…actual birthday celebration went well!

I took a long lunch and came home to bake a birthday cake.

Before I come as being charming or anything…there is actually much more to the story. Nina had been pestering me for weeks to make her a birthday cake. I would coldly refuse even the suggestion of it. (Not necessarily because I’m a jerk, but just because I like being contrary.) I decided at the last minute to make one, so home, at lunch, it had to be.

As it turns out, I’m completely inept at baking… Even baking out of a box.

I fall into the free-form school of cooking…never really use recipes, mostly just cook by taste… that, as luck would have it, doesn’t work for baking.

Everything was going swimmingly until it came time to frost the beast… Apparently there is a right way and a wrong way to stack a two layer cake. I chose the wrong way. I put the first layer down, slathered the top with frosting and plopped on the top, never bothering to notice the massive gap-seam in between.

After the gap did cross my radar, I tried to re-arrange, but as it seems…cake mistakes are not easily forgiven.

My next thought was to use jarred frosting as something of a Spackle…cake Bond-O, if you will.

That just oosed out onto the plate…

Lunch break time was running short so I had to cut my losses and finish frosting. I hid the pitiful pastry in a cupboard so as not to disappoint Nina without softening the blow.

cakecrack

When I got home from work, I sneakily took a look at the cake and noticed that in my absence,  developed great yellow fissures through the top layer. There is no hiding now!

I hoped to camouflage my ineptitude with 30 spiral candles… Still no luck.

Nina was a good sport about it though, and just laughed it off. Next year, baby. Next year!

The cake tasted just fine…and I tried to make it up with dinner… Massive grilled prawns, Vermont aged cheddar cheese, green apples and champagne. And that was just the appetizer!

shrimpvert

Despite all of my shortcomings, the night ended well, with bellies full of shellfish and crummy cake… happy birthday indeed.

Maybe 31 will be better…less scary, at least.

ninafallsPeople in Portland know what’s good.

They are my kind of people.

They have their priorities in line…Coffee, beer, bookstores, breakfast, food in general, cheese in particular, and farmer’s markets five days a week.

All this, and… Jeans are appropriate everywhere, the temperate climate facilitates the wearing of sweaters, and the scenery is beautiful. (Having a Mt. Fuji-esque mountain looming in the background is surprisingly soothing.)

By the way Joliet (you know who you are) It’s pronounced ore-eh-gun, not ore-ee-gone.

Just a few weeks after the visit from Amanda and Ellen Nina and I used the three-day Memorial Day weekend as an excuse to get out of town.

As an aside–it was also graduation weekend for the throngs of flip-flop shod, beer fueled, gum-chewers at Chico State University… If ever we needed an excuse to leave the state…that was it.

Friday after work we loaded up the truckster and headed north toward the future. Yes, Chico is in California, but much to the surprise of my midwestern friends, we are a long, long way from L.A. Both physically and emotionally.

We are actually closer to Portland…that said, it’s not exactly close. About seven-straight hours of mountainous driving.

We arrived in the Portland area around 1:30 AM and I admit, I wasn’t prepared for the temperature. When we left Chico it was 99 degrees and sunny. In the wee hours of the Pacific northwest morning…45 and breezy seemed much colder than it really was.

To avoid the inevitable boredom of recounting each detail of our trip in nauseating detail… I’ll merely offer the Cliff’s notes and some pictures. Enjoy!

bacondounutSaturday morning:VooDoo Doughnuts (try the maple bacon bar…Mmm bacon on a doughnut) and coffee at premiere coffee-nerd establishment, Stumptown Roasters.

Saturday Afternoon: Farmers Market–Morels, pickles and every vegetable under the sun…(why did I have to eat doughnuts.) Shopping in the Hawthorne District and hours spend browsing at Powell’s Books for Cooks and drooling over the cheese case at PastaWorks.

Spent the afternoon sipping beers at the Deschutes Brew Pub downtown.

Saturday evening: Drinks at a nearby watering hole and dinner at Le Pigeon… I started out with Lamb Belly as an appetizer and had grilled rabbit as a main. Nina started with a rabbit terrine and progressed to veal as a main. All washed down with Oregon Pinot Noir. Tasty. This tiny little restaurant also sells some of the coolest meat themed t-shirts on the planet… Check out their site. Le Pigeon

cremaSunday morning: Coffee and pastries at Crema, another serious coffee-geek headquarters, except this time with more interesting food. Nina had an awesome corn and cheddar biscuit and I had a ham and cheese croissant that I would have killed for.

After our 27,000 calorie breakfast we felt it was time for a hike. We drove 30 min. outside of downtown to Multnomah Falls, a 600-something foot waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. I’m an avid indoorsman, but it’s hard not to be impressed with this kind of view. We hiked, huffing and puffing, up to the top to look over, and I’m glad we did, but at the time, I hated every minute of it.

We grabbed a slice of pizza for lunch and took in some of the notable bars/brewpubs Portland has to offer: The Horse Brass, and Hopworks Urban Brewery.

We stopped into Country Cat,–a Northwestern take on a southern restaurant–for Razor Clams Rockafeller and the best fried chicken this side of the Mason-Dixon before shooting off for more beers with Jeff, Our Man as they say, in Portland.

Monday morning we both moved kind of slow (see above for details.)

We killed hours browsing the aisles of Powell’s City of Books. Powell’s is, no joke, a city-of-books! The building is four stories tall and takes up an entire city block…not to mention their numerous satellite locations. New, rare, collectible, and used books, side-by-side in the story categorized by subject. I could move in and never leave.

After our foray into the bookstore we met our friend Darren for some lunch at The Blue Hour restaurant. (Dungenous Crab, a dozen pacific oysters, and salad nicoise.

We said goodbye to Darren and started the long haul back to California.

Portland…who knew?