My real culinary roots

30 06 2008

Alton Brown has a show on the Food Network called Feasting on Asphalt, in which he travels the country, avoiding interstate highways, and samples local road food. So far he’s traveled Route 66 and the Mississippi River in seasons 1 and 2. Apparently he’s going to the Caribbean for season 3 so I hope to see roti and doubles when it airs in September. But should Alton ever in the future travel the Ohio River I have a suggestion for the perfect stop on his trip.

Just like on the show

This is a really bad map I pulled from yahoo. If you start at Pittsburgh you can see the Ohio river snaking its way northwest. At the point where the Ohio River stops going north and decides to head south it is met by a tributary, the Beaver River. Travel up this waterway several miles to New Brighton and you will come to the birthplace of a western Pennsylvania icon.

The Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe is a cultural phenomenon, centered mostly in Beaver County. Yes, I said “centered mostly.” They have 11 locations.

I know what you’re thinking. Anyone can do hot dogs, what’s so special? Come inside and you will see. Enter in the middle of the lunch rush and you will pick your way through the teeming mass of people to the order counter. You don’t have a lot of choices, to be honest, and you will most likely order what will turn out to be an unremarkable hot dog. But on the side, in its own little plastic basket (or Styrofoam container if your oder is to go) waits the pinnacle in road food eatery:

Chili cheese fries.

This is what I miss most about home. Made daily on location, these skin-on french fries are a thing of beauty. Back when I was a kid my hometown didn’t have a McDonald’s until I was 12 years old. When they finally showed up they set up shop right next door to the Hot Dog Shoppe. This was very convenient for us, because we used to hit the McDonald’s drive thru for the burgers and then swing next door for the fries.  Ask anyone in town, we’ve all done it.

But it’s not just the dogs and fries that made this establishment the local legend that it is. Why is it that everywhere you turn you’re talking to someone who just ate there last week? One word: Marketing. No, not marketing. Branding. When you leave the Hot Dog Shoppe you take a piece of it with you.

Every now and then they change designs, but the basic theme remains the same. Hot dogs with arms and legs doing all sorts of things.  There’s usually a seasonal theme, and here they are at a picnic cooking, well, hot dogs. Reminiscent of Eskimo Joe’s out in Oklahoma, the Hot Dog Shoppe has its own merchandise. Except here they take it a step further. To ensure that you’ll remember where you ate that last meal, every drink is served in a to-go cup just like this one. And I’m not stretching the truth too much when I tell you there’s at least one of these in almost every pantry in the county.

So there you have it. The first rule of being a successful restaurateur. Good fries plus really weird cups equals a gold mine.

Alton, are you listening?

Daddy! I’m Squidward!!

25 06 2008

What happens to the Bumbo seat once the older brothers start messing with it?

Next will be the toilet seat I’m sure.

This post was funnier when it was about a rabbit

22 06 2008

Our yard isn’t big enough for a real garden, so we have a container garden. A few plants in pots because we like growing our own vegetables and herbs. But we’ve got a problem. Something has been eating my basil.

yeah, that will look good on my pizza

Dinner is ruined before I even get a crack at it. How am I supposed to put this on my pizza? It would be great blog fodder. Think that’s bad, look at our habanero pepper plants.

that\'s a spicy meatball

Yes, they’re almost dead. Habanero leaves seem to be their favorite. What was it that was eating our plants? At first I thought it was a rabbit. For two years now a rabbit family has decided to have babies in our weeds bushes. This makes for a very cute yard, but it also makes for a very unhappy gardener. But what kind of rabbit would eat basil leaves and pepper tree leaves? A rabbit that likes Italian and Latin/Caribbean food? Is this a “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” rabbit or a “Say hello to my little friend” rabbit? Either way, I’m leaving him the heck alone.

Our neighbor gave us a great idea. She gave us this spray that’s supposed to make the leaves taste bitter, then the rabbits won’t like them and will leave them alone. The first thing I sprayed? That’s right, the basil. Now THAT’S going to make a great blog post, isn’t it?

As luck would have it, Karen came home obscenely late from work one night and caught our rabbit red handed.

Yes, our rabbit is really a slug. Still doesn’t answer my question of whether it’s a Godfather slug or a Scarface slug.

The real reason cameras were invented

17 06 2008

Watching people fall down is pretty funny. Watching your kids fall down can be funny too, as long as nothing gets broken. So when Isaac got an invitation to a birthday party at the roller rink I made sure the batteries were charged and the memory card was empty. Big photo op since it’s been over a year since Isaac skated, and Jonathan has never skated before. I was sure Jonny wouldn’t do it, but once he saw me lacing up Isaac he demanded a pair of his own. He hesitantly stepped out onto the rink just in time for the hokey-pokey.

Standing still on skates is easy, right?

Isaac did really well this time around,

for a while.

Jonathan took my advice to cling to the walls for dear life.

He did venture out quite a bit, and had a ton of fun. Benjamin had fun too; someone bought him a new toy.

And when I got him out of his stroller he was laughing and giggling doubled-over. He had a blast.

It was a surprisingly enjoyable birthday party, which is quite an achievement. Usually I’m stabbing myself in the neck with plastic knives halfway through. A great time was had by all, and the kids fell asleep instantly at bedtime.

Isaac asked to go back the next day.

How do I know my baby loves me?

15 06 2008

Father’s Day this year was very similar to Mother’s Day. It started out with some breakfast and coffee, mulling around the house, and then a trip to Circuit City. What did I get?


Father’s Day for the stay at home dad is kind of like “end of year review” day for people with real jobs. I must have done a much better job this year than last year. Last year I got a keychain. It was a nice keychain and a very thoughtful gift and I really like it. It was handmade by one of Karen’s blogging friends. It holds my keys together wonderfully. It will most likely last longer than an Xbox. It’s not an XBox. This is way cool. But most multiplayer games take place online. That means this is a gift that says “Great job with the kids! Go spend some alone time.”

It also says “The house is too clean. Do this instead.”

Thank you Honey, I love you. See you in a few weeks.

And the winner is…

9 06 2008

This is where I post the results of my first ever giveaway. If you missed it, here it is.

After the first day I wasn’t sure what kind of a turnout there would be, but wow! This was awesome, and I was very pleased to see that I’m not the only one out there with a sadistic sense of humor. Thank you to everyone who participated, whether your suggestions were real or facetious (or both). The entries were so good that I must begin by honoring some that were awesome but didn’t win.

Honorable Mentions

Lauren was the early frontrunner. Not necessarily for the names, but she had by far the best stories. And her blog has the best tagline ever.

Bennie advertised my contest on his blog. That’s because he’s awesome like that, but then he went and made reference to “baby #5,” and that broke basically the only rule we had.

Karen’s Dad suggested Eddoes, which was the first food-related entry, and I thought it was brilliant. But if we’re talking Trinidadian heritage, wouldn’t Beddoe be a better name, in honor of the last stop for food and drink on your way to Maracas? And with three brothers he’s sure to be an “Uncle Beddoe” eventually.

Kristi suggested I.P. Freely, which was the only reference to those Bart Simpson crank calls that we love so well. I was secretly hoping for more entries like this.

But there can be only one winner, and as soon as I read Sandi’s culinary based entries, complete with alternate spellings, the contest was pretty much over.

And now for the winning entries (take your pick):

1. Gryll Marx
2. Char Broyel
3. Stayk Flambay
4. Ryyb I.
5. Sirloyn Stayk
6. Philay Menyon
7. Hoht Kwyzeen
8. Byrnt Dynner
9. Soopis Ezy
10. Weldon Berger

My personal favorite was Gryll Marx. Marx is close to Mark so I could call him Junior. Or would that be Joonyur?

This was a lot of fun. I’ll have to do another giveaway sometime, but I’m not having any more kids so it will have to be a different kind of contest.

A new page

8 06 2008

There’s a saying Karen and I picked up on that says “Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.” This post goes under that category. It’s been a year now since I finished work on the dining room, but I just hadn’t taken the pictures to show it off to the world (or my sister). But I’ve finally completed it, and you can click on it up there where it says The Dining Room Project. Let it never be said that I don’t finish what I start, I just finish it a year late.

BTW, it’s not too late to enter the Name My Child giveaway. Click here to enter.

Happy Birthday Jonny

5 06 2008

Jonathan was born with the greatest birthday in the world: The last day of school.  Tell me how sweet that is.

Jonathan is my kid who never stops.  Never stops what, you ask?  He never stops moving, never stops eating, never stops bothering Benjamin, never stops asking questions, and most of all, he never stops talking.

Jonny likes to draw pictures, color them in, and make up stories about them.  Mostly they’re about video games or Pokemon.  He’s always liked to bother Benjamin, squeezing his little arm to the point where he seems obsessive-compulsive about it.  But lately he’s really taken to helping out with Ben as well.  He’ll get toys for Ben when they’ve gotten away, and keep an eye on him when Mom or Dad are busy.  He’s done a lot of growing up this past year, and for that we are all grateful.

He even allowed a photo shoot on the eve of his birthday:

Actually it was two photo shoots.  The first set didn’t work out, so he let reluctantly put on the nice shirt again and, with bribery, let me snap away a second time.

Jonathan is way cool.  Happy 5.

My first Giveaway: Name my child.

1 06 2008

Following up my first ever book review, here’s my first giveaway. Selling out is cool!

No one believes that Karen and I haven’t even really discussed possible names for this baby we’re expecting in about eight weeks. We’ve been calling him “What’s-his-name.” Truth be told, we’re running out of boy names. But we’re also running out of time, and I don’t think he’d appreciate “Undecided” on his birth certificate. That’s where you come in.

So how about this for a contest: Name our child. And I’m not looking for just any names. Only funny or weird names will be accepted (I already know what my sister’s first entry will be). Names that raise eyebrows and contort the faces of strangers.  We’ve all heard them at one point or another. Here’s a photo of the babe to give you inspiration:

Put your entries in the comments section, and add as many as you like. Karen and I will look at the entries in a couple weeks and our favorite will be the winner.

For a prize Karen and I were going to let you pick one of our kids (excluding Benjamin, of course), but that news item about the guy trying to sell a kid on Craigslist took all the fun out of it. Apparently you can go to jail for it, even if you’re kidding.

So the prize for this contest will be Mario Batali’s recently published cookbook, Italian Grill. Just in time for summer. So come on people, do your worst.

ADDENDUM: Karen is demanding that I tell you all, in no uncertain terms, that we won’t really choose our baby’s name from your list. That part is fake, but the giveaway is real.  And if you wanted to suggest, you know, real names that could be fun too.