Wednesday, August 28, 2013

let's talk about yard work.

According to James, I had the easiest childhood EVER. While James and his four brothers would be out chopping wood in the winter, I would be inside reading a book. While James would be washing dishes for his family of seven, I would be whining about having to load and unload the dishwasher. While James’s allowance was a quarter a week (“I had to save up for MONTHS to buy GI Joes!”), mine was a whopping three dollars – WITH potential for raises! (Of course, the raises came with increased responsibilities, but they were raises nonetheless.) And so on and so forth. Anything I had to do as a child, James had to do times ten and uphill both ways.

The great childhood labor divide is especially evident when it comes to yard work. From ages two to thirteen, I lived in a small house with a large yard. Yep: a large yard, and my participation in the yard work was negligible. Once in a great while, I’d be asked to pull some weeds or pick up sticks in the yard, but that was about it. I missed out on what I believe are the two biggest parts of yard work: mowing and shoveling snow. Why? Our yard was too large to mow with a push mower, and my mom has always enjoyed mowing (weird, I know). Same thing with snow shoveling: our driveway was simply too big (as many farm driveways are, since you need room for your tractors and combines), so Dad hooked the snow blower up to his tractor, and that was that.

We moved to a bigger house when I was 13, and my parents planted a shelter belt. I was then tasked with pulling the weeds out of the shelter belt so our saplings wouldn’t be overrun. It wasn’t a very taxing chore, but I always put it off as long as I could. With the exception of weed-pulling, my other chores were based indoors: dusting, unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, etcetera. It was pretty rare that I had to get my hands dirty, and when I did, I was a big whiner.

For James? Things were a whole lot different. He and his family moved from Arizona to Minnesota when James was six, and the chores became a lot harder. His yard was at least as large as mine – maybe larger – and his driveway was longer by about a quarter of a mile. James and his brothers were responsible for shoveling show and mowing the yard – with push mowers, no less.

The first time I ever had to mow anything was when I worked at the Methodist camp. I was just a few months past 16, and when I took the job, I had no idea that there would be so much mowing involved.The place is HUGE, and the vast majority of it had to be mowed with push mowers. I had never operated a push mower before, and it was a lot harder than I thought. I ended the day covered in oil, grass, and dirt, and I couldn’t believe that I’d have to do it all over again in a few days. Same with the weed whacker: it was way too heavy for me and my non-existent upper body strength, and I had a terrible time just trying to start the thing. When I told James about this years later, he just laughed. And laughed. “Oh Calla,” he said. “That’s cute.” There is no sympathy to be had from James.

My first experience shoveling snow was – and this is a little embarrassing – at the ripe old age of 21. It was winter break, and I had gone to visit James and his family. It was a few days after Christmas, and we were hit with a spectacular snow storm. James and his brothers all set about shoveling the driveway, and I didn’t want to be the weenie who stayed inside, so I borrowed a pair of snow pants and got to work. I wasn’t very good at it – surprise – but I could finally say that I’ve shoveled snow.

My shoveling skills came in handy just a few weeks later: upon returning to school, my roommates Nate and Sara and I found that the driveway and the sidewalks of our rental house were all buried under several feet of snow. Sara and I had been unfortunate enough to have had our cars towed because they’d been snowed in on the street, so we weren’t taking that chance again. Nate, Sara, and I shoveled like there was no tomorrow –we only had two shovels, so we alternated/tried to use a music stand as a third shovel. We’re nothing if not resourceful.
Music stands make THE WORST shovels.
My latest and greatest shoveling experience was in Minneapolis in the winter of 2010, known to survivors as the Snowpocalypse. Minneapolis set snow fall records that year, and I was lucky (HA!) enough to be a part of it. James was living in Ellsworth at the time, and he had come to visit me on a chilly December weekend. One evening, the snow started and just didn’t stop. There was a snow emergency declared, so it meant we had to move our cars from where they were parked. James’s and my shovels were frozen in the trunks of our cars, so we walked to the hardware store and bought two of their last shovels. We spent the better part of the night digging our poor cars out from under the snow. I’m getting cold just thinking about it.
What a nightmare.
Now that James and I are homeowners, there’s no getting out of the yard work. (Not that James wants to, but I sure do.) It’s our job to mow, and it’s our job to shovel the sidewalks. Unlike in our last three apartments, there is no dishwasher, so the dishes actually have to get done – not just shoved in the dishwasher like in the good old days. (I’m starting to understand why people have kids – to do the chores that they don’t want to. Well played, parents.) We are responsible home owners now, so we have to think about things like what to do with all the apples from the apple tree in our yard and how to get the bats out of our attic. (Yep, we’ve got bats.)

As summer draws to an end, I can cross “mowing” off the “yard work that must be done but I kind of suck at” list. Next up is raking leaves (which I also never had to do, but that can’t be too hard… can it? You’re never too old to jump in the leaf pile, right?), followed by months of shoveling snow. I know I CAN do it; it’s just working up the willpower that can be a bit of an issue for me. Feel bad for me? I bet you don’t. James doesn’t either.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

adventures in Brookings: the Dairy Bar edition.

I’m about to state the fairly obvious here, but I love ice cream. Who doesn’t? Summertime is prime time for ice cream, but I am more than happy to eat it all year round.

I’ve had a lot of good ice cream in my day (and don’t even get me started on gelato!). From Sebastian Joe’s in Minneapolis to the official Blue Bunny ice cream shop in Le Mars to your regular old Dairy Queen, it’s hard for me to find chocolate ice cream that I don’t like. But there is one ice cream shop that stands above the rest, and that’s the SDSU Dairy Bar.
The SDSU Dairy Bar has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m almost positive that the Dairy Bar is the first place I ever went out for an ice cream cone. When I was growing up, they were only open in the summertime and had less-than-perfect hours, so you had to change your schedule to fit them… but it was always worth it.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in Brookings with my grandparents. I took summer swimming lessons there, so I would ride in with my Mom every morning. She would drop me off with Grandma and Grandpa, and they’d take me to swimming lessons. After swimming lessons, though, the day was ours. Brookings was my oyster. Grandma and Grandpa were up for anything, and so I was I: especially if it involved eating. So after lunch at Nick’s or McDonald’s or wherever my five-year-old-heart desired at the time, we would almost always swing by the Dairy Bar.

While my grandparents were certainly the biggest propagators of SDSU ice cream in my younger days, those carefree days of ice cream and sunshine eventually came to an end. When my Brookings swimming lessons gave way to Arlington swimming lessons, I no longer spent the majority of my summer days with my grandparents (much to their relief, I would imagine!). I’d still head in to Brookings for a day here and there, and those summer days always involved ice cream.  

When I was old enough to have a driver’s license and a shiny silver Buick Park Avenue, my friends and I spent many MANY summer hours in Brookings. The Dairy Bar was always on our to-do list. Whenever cousins visited and ice cream was requested, I knew right where to take them.

My Dairy Bar days had a revival of sorts when I started going to band camp. Band camp was at SDSU, and as part of your camp tuition, you got a bunch of coupons for free ice cream. The counselors also had a bunch that they’d hand out at their discretion (usually to get us to shut up). We’d have some free time during each day, so naturally, we’d gather a big old group of band kids and wander away for ice cream. SDSU also had a habit of giving away ice cream coupons at every single SDSU event geared to high schoolers – I got Dairy Bar coupons when we went to an SDSU science fair, when we visited the cadaver lab (remember that story?), at the Festival of Cultures, and – of course – on college tours and the big college fair. If SDSU hadn’t been just too close to home, you better believe that all that free ice cream would’ve been an effective recruitment tool for me.

So I’ve told you all about my history with the Dairy Mart, but I haven’t yet told you just what makes the Dairy Bar so wonderful. First of all, their servings are HUGE. You choose how many scoops you want, but they always double whatever you asked for. You also choose the vehicle in which your ice cream would arrive: cone or dish. I have always been a cone person, but a heaping cone of SDSU ice cream is no match for me. Since there was always so much of it, the ice cream would melt and start trickling down my arm before I could even make much of a dent. So I stick with dishes.

And the FLAVORS! They have your run-of-the-mill stuff, like butter pecan and strawberry. Dairy Bar ice cream flavors don’t get too wild, but you can find pumpkin ice cream in the fall and mango (I think) in the summer. The rest of their flavors rotate, but you can always count on the classics – and honestly, the Dairy Bar has the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had. I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate ice cream in my time, but nothing has been able to outshine the Dairy Bar. It’s rich and creamy, and it’s made on-site. SDSU is well known for its agricultural programs, and dairy science is a tasty part of that (their cheese is amazing, too). Those dairy students sure know what they’re doing.
See how much they love the Dairy Bar?
Next time you’re in Brookings and get a burning desire for ice cream, skip Dairy Queen (BORING) and find the Dairy Bar. You can thank me later.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

top ten Tuesday: New Orleans food.

Hey everybody! James and I successfully got married (!!!) and have returned from our mini road trip honeymoon. So what’s the next step? Start planning for our REAL honeymoon, of course!

When it came to selecting a place to go for our honeymoon, it was no contest: New Orleans, baby! James and I first went to New Orleans on a jazz band trip in January 2008. I immediately fell in love with New Orleans, and within a day of our arrival, I was already plotting a return trip. Thanks to an internship at the New Orleans Museum of Art, I made it back to New Orleans in September 2009 and stayed there until mid-December. I was dirt poor and lived in a shed in someone’s backyard (I promise, that story is coming), but I had an amazing time. My acute lack of funding forced me to find cheap sources of entertainment, so I spent a great deal of time exploring the French Quarter on foot. I listened to jazz music in Jackson Square, I took photos of wrought iron gates, and I read books by the Mississippi River. Poverty has never been so enjoyable.

Sadly, my lack of money meant that I had a tougher time experiencing (arguably) the best part of New Orleans: the food. My meals were made up predominantly of hot dogs, eggs, and bread (and macaroni and cheese if I had gotten extra hours at work). My salvation came in the form of my parents. Mom visited me in New Orleans just before Thanksgiving, and Dad flew down to keep me company on the long drive back to the Midwest. Both of my parents were up for New Orleans culinary adventures, and they were more than happy to feed me while they were there. (Yes, I felt like a loser – 22 years old and I could barely afford McDonald’s – but it was all part of the experience. I wouldn’t give up my time in New Orleans for anything.) So it was through the grace of Mom and Dad that I was able to eat at these glorious places, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Fast forward four years. It was time to select a honeymoon destination, and I didn’t hesitate to suggest (and by “suggest,” I mean “demand”) New Orleans. James didn’t argue: he loves good food, and he loves good jazz, and what better place to get both? Plus, New Orleans has the perfect amount of romance for me. As a distinctly un-romantic person (who just married a VERY romantic person), I realize that I’m going to have to deal with a bit of romance on my honeymoon, and New Orleans is just right. Imagine the sound of a lonesome trumpet wafting through a rainy night in the French Quarter. The moonlight reflects off the Mississippi River as you sip your café au lait and watch the riverboats go by. With James by my side, I can think of nothing more romantic… and if the romance starts to be too much for me, I know that Bourbon Street is just around the corner.

James and I opted to take our honeymoon a few months after our wedding – mostly because going to New Orleans at the end of July sounded like a terrible idea. We’re going at the end of December: a perfect time to escape Midwestern weather AND we’ll get to celebrate New Year’s in New Orleans. How cool is that?

I absolutely cannot wait to take James to my old stomping grounds, but I really can’t wait to give him a grand tour of all my favorite food places. In anticipation of our New Orleans honeymoon, I give you my top ten New Orleans eateries!

Café du Monde
Café du Monde is a New Orleans institution. It’s a little café in the French Quarter, and it’s been there since 1862. Café du Monde is open 24 hours a day, and it specializes in café au lait and beignets. Café au lait is simply coffee and milk, which you can get anywhere. The Café du Monde version adds chicory, which gives your café au lait a pleasantly bitter taste and matches perfectly with the sweetness of the beignets. And what are beignets? Simply put, they are heavenly. Beignets are French doughnuts heaped with powdered sugar. Café du Monde makes them fresh and sells them in threes, and I could eat them every day of my life and never get sick of them. Café du Monde was about the only treat I could afford during my internship days, so I savored each and every bite. 
Mom skipped the coffee and went right for the
I took both Mom and Dad there – Mom (who would rather have an extra helping of vegetables than dessert) thought they were pretty good, but Dad took one bite of his beignet and was already wondering when we’d be coming back.
That is the face of pure joy.
Clover Grill
During the 2008 jazz trip, we came across the Clover Grill completely by accident. James, our friend Mike, and I were wandering around the French Quarter, looking for something relatively inexpensive for dinner, and the Clover Grill looked the part. It was a classic greasy spoon: I don’t remember what James and Mike got, but I know I got an omelette that was so greasy I could see right through it. I also remember the three of us smelling like greasy diner for the rest of the night. Even with these less-than-savory memories, I took Dad to the Clover Grill on our last night in New Orleans. I took my chances with the omelette again, but this time, I really paid attention: they whipped the eggs up with a malt machine, and they were the fluffiest eggs that I’d ever had (and a lot less greasy than I remembered).
But still pretty greasy.
Dad got a hubcap burger: it was grilled underneath an American (that part was important) hubcap.
What can I say? The place has character.

Disclaimer: I’ve never actually eaten at Drago’s. They made my list because of a wonderful little event called the Po Boy Festival. A po boy is a sandwich made of hollowed out French bread and filled with the entrée of your choosing: shrimp, roast beef, meatballs, etc. Mom arrived in New Orleans just in time for the Po Boy Festival, so that’s what we did on her first full day there. We were met by a sea of food booths, and our first stop was Drago’s chargrilled oyster booth. I wasn’t convinced: oysters? Disgusting. Mom, on the other hand, persuaded me to try them, and I have never been more wrong. The oysters were all cooked over this giant open grill, and they were charred to perfection. They had this lovely garlic butter sauce all over them, and when you dipped them in lemon juice, it was simply amazing. 
Just LOOK at those oysters!
Copeland’s/Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro
Copeland’s is a restaurant chain that specializes in New Orleans food. You can only find it in the South, though, so don’t go looking for it if you’re planted in the Midwest. Mom and I had gone to Copeland’s on her last night there, and I had the best bread pudding of my life: it was warm and dripping in white chocolate/raspberry/rum sauce. Be still my heart. Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro is a branch of the Copeland’s franchise, and they specialize in – guess what – cheesecake. Dad and I went there and were faced with about a zillion varieties of cheesecake. We ended up with caramel (Dad) and Oreo (me). We also ordered two large glasses of milk and got a really weird look from the waitress (and an even weirder look when we asked for refills). I guess people in New Orleans don’t drink milk with their cheesecake. Weird.

VooDoo BBQ
When Mom came to New Orleans, we stayed in the most adorable little inn called the Prytania Park Hotel. It was right on the street car line, so Mom and I took the street car for most of our adventures. The night she arrived, Mom and I were looking for somewhere to eat that wasn’t too far away from our hotel. Enter VooDoo BBQ. It was approximately one block away from our hotel, and who can resist a restaurant with a name like VooDoo BBQ? We ordered barbecue shrimp (not what you think: it’s shrimp sautéed in white wine, butter, and garlic, along with a few choice seasonings) and this crazy stuff called corn pudding. It was SO GOOD – good enough that we went back a second time before Mom left. I took Dad there, too, but since he’s not big on seafood, we had ribs. They were spectacular.

mysterious pizza place
Like I said, Mom and I spent a lot of our time riding the street car here and there. It was wonderfully convenient (have you ever tried to park in the French Quarter? It SUCKS) and pretty cheap. A few times, we just rode it to the end of the line just to see where it went (answer: some super scary neighborhoods). On one of these journeys, we stumbled across a little pizza place and decided to eat there. The pizza was some of the best I’d ever tasted (it was LOADED with cheese), and there were some outstanding garlic breadsticks – plus, they had unlimited Dr Pepper, which gave them great marks in Mom’s book. The interior was brightly colored and inviting, and the owner was incredibly nice. He gave me a coupon for free breadsticks upon my next visit, so I brought Dad there. But I can’t for the life of me remember what this place was called. James and I will probably just have to ride the street car to the end of the line and hope that it takes us back to the mysterious (and delicious) pizza place. (A fair amount of Google searching has led me to believe that this pizza place is called Reginelli's Pizzeria, but no guarantees.)

Central Grocery
Before Mom came to New Orleans, she did her research. One of her coworkers had spent some time in New Orleans, and she asked him for some recommendations – namely, of where to eat. This coworker suggested that we try a muffuletta sandwich from Central Grocery. A muffuletta is a flat-ish loaf of bread with ham, salami, mozzarella, provolone, and this bizarre olive salad. It ended up being delicious (even though I totally cheated and picked the olive salad off my sandwich). Apparently, you can get muffulettas all over the city, but Central Grocery has the best. It’s a really neat little place: it’s a hole-in-the-wall that you can easily miss if you’re not looking for it, and they sell some truly bizarre foodstuff there (I recall seeing a jar of octopus tentacles for sale). But they can make a mean muffuletta.
Dad and I went, too!
Bud's Broiler
I only ate at Bud's Broiler once, but it was certainly memorable. It was in a dumpy little strip mall, and a few of my friends took me there late at night. It seemed to be THE place to go after you’re tired of bar-hopping, as the place was packed to the gills. Everything was super greasy (which was to be expected from the name), but my hot dog was probably the best hot dog I’ve ever had. They cut it into strips and served it on a hamburger bun – plus, it had charred grill marks on it, which is top notch in my book. This place scored additional points with the prices: I don’t remember how much my hot dog cost, but it was cheap enough that I could buy it without wincing (everything I bought made me wince back then). Even poor girls like me need a fast food hot dog every now and again.

Honestly, it wasn’t the food that made this place memorable. Mom and I went there and got oysters, but we got them after our chargrilled Po Boy Festival oysters, so nothing was going to live up to those. Landry’s was at the end of a pier out onto Lake Pontchartrain, so it almost looks like you are floating on the water as you eat your seafood. Lake Pontchartrain is massive, so if you look in the right direction, it’s as though you are out to sea. Mom and I went at night, so we could see the lights of boats reflecting off the surface of the lake. It was a GREAT view.

drive-through daiquiri stands
You read that correctly: drive-through daiquiri stands. While these are not technically restaurants, I feel like they deserve a mention in my New Orleans food blog as they are an essential part of the New Orleans experience. So you drive through these daiquiri stands just like your regular fast food restaurant: you make your choice off a menu, show your ID at the window, and pick up your daiquiri. But isn’t driving around with a cup full of daiquiri considered an open container? Not unless you put the straw through the plastic lid. Only in New Orleans, my friends.

If you ever go to New Orleans – and I hope you do – make sure to stop by one or more of these places. Whether you have beignets as you sit in the French Quarter or – if you’re more adventurous – alligator leg in a Bourbon Street restaurant, it’s all part of the experience. New Orleans is like no other place out there, I’m already counting the days until I’ll be reunited with my favorite city!