Peanut Butter, Honey & Banana

Around lunchtime today, I had a hankering for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. It had been good while. All of the ingredients were on hand, so voila!

I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the food I’m about to eat, so here it is. (I don’t think it’ll end up on Facebook, though.)

peanut butter, honey and bananaTom’s Tabooley in Austin used to serve a dandy pdh&b sandwich for a very modest price, at least it did in the summer of 1981, when I would eat there occasionally. I checked today and discovered that Tom’s Tabooley has closed. That didn’t surprise me — that’s the way it is in the restaurant trade — but what did surprise me was that it closed in 2016.

As I enjoyed my homemade pbh&b creation, it occurred to me that Elvis was fond of them, too. Or at least I thought I’d read that some years ago in Amazing But True Elvis Facts by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (1995), which I picked up on a remainder table sometime in the late ’90s. I know that because the price tag on the back of the book says, “Originally $6.95 SALE PRICE $.97,” a bargain for sure.

So I checked. I wasn’t quite right. Memory is an unreliable narrator. P. 59: “At home, [Elvis] loved the munch a sandwich of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and crisp bacon.”

In the same book, p. 143, you can also discover that, “Elvis’s favorite film was Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It featured one of the King’s favorite actors, Peter Sellers, in three different roles. Elvis watched the 1964 British-made film at least fifty times in his life.”

Remarkable, considering he only lived to be 41. Apocryphal or not, that “amazing true Elvis fact” makes me smile.

The Courtyards of Plaka, 1987

Ah, Greek food. A fine thing. I’ve had it in a number of places, including Sydney, but unfortunately not Greece. There was none to be found in San Antonio of the 1970s, nor Nashville of the early ’80s, or at least I made no effort to find it.

March20.1987 (2)So I never had any until sometime in the mid-80s, probably in Chicago. One of the things to do during visits to the city in those days was seek out various kinds of food you couldn’t find at home, relying on word-of-mouth or luck in those pre-look-it-up-on-your-electronic-box days, to get commentary from a crowd of strangers. Will future generations believe people used to live like that?

Based on online evidence, the Courtyards of Plaka seems to be closed, but I’m not entirely sure, and don’t feel like calling them unless I’m going there. In any case, 30 years ago was long enough ago that a lot of restaurants still gave away matches, rather than cards. Now I sometimes can’t find either.

I picked up some matches when I went with my friends Neal and Michelle, who lived in Chicago at the time. I just had moved there the month before. I don’t usually write anything on the matches or cards I find at restaurants, but for some reason I did that time. Maybe I should have more often.

March20.1987Can’t say that I remember much about that evening, though I’m sure we had a fine time. A short 1993 description of the restaurant in the Tribune said: “A lively place, especially once the live piano music gets underway. A handsome bar overlooks the stage-perfect for those who just stop in for a drink. The pretty, two-level dining room is awash in shades of terra cotta, with dark green accents; a series of white wooden slats suspended from the ceiling creates a canopy effect that makes you feel as though you’re eating outdoors.

“The menu lists a fair number of mezedes, the tapas-like tasting portions that lend themselves to grazing. There are also solid, sizable entrees: a pair of double lamb chops, a bit too chewy but quite tasty, and pair of expertly grilled, gently seasoned quail.”

Thursday Flotsam

I think I was in the 8th grade when I learned the different between flotsam and jetsam. Mr. Allen’s English class. He was firm in his belief that you should learn things in school. I suppose most teachers feel that way, but he was particularly adamant. Once a wiseacre named Tim asked Mr. Allen why anyone had to learn what he was teaching. “Because if you don’t know it, you’ll be ignorant,” was his answer.

Saw La La Land recently. It was everything it needed to be. Namely, skillfully made and visually appealing light entertainment, with an especial fine use of the Griffith Observatory as a setting, and an ending a bit above the usual formula. A lot else has been written about it, of course. Endless commentary. As far as I’m concerned, that’s overthinking the matter.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations weren’t right about everything, but I think they had a healthy take on song-and-dance movies. Mostly light entertainment, though there was the song that was just as powerful a weapon as any cannon or battleship in the First World War.

Speaking of war, after posting about the evacuation of Fort Moultrie on December 26, 1860, I found the digital version of The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies to see if Maj. Anderson’s telegram was indeed the first item in that sprawling compendium. It is.

I was amused by the second item, also a telegram, dated December 27.

Major Anderson, Fort Moultrie:
Intelligence has reached here this morning that you have abandoned Fort Moultrie, spiked your guns, burned the carriages, and gone to Fort Sumter. It is not believed, because there is no order for any such movement. Explain the meaning of this report.
— J.B. Floyd, Secretary of War

Or as Sec. Floyd might have said privately, “The deuced you say! He did what?” Three days later, Floyd resigned as Secretary of War, and is remembered — when he’s remembered at all — for suspicious behavior in that office, at least as far as the Union was concerned, and as an incompetent Confederate general.

General Floyd, the commanding officer, who was a man of talent enough for any civil position was no soldier, and possibly, did not possess the elements of one. He was further unfitted for command for the reason that his conscience must have troubled him and made him afraid. As Secretary of War, he had taken a solemn oath to maintain the Constitution of the United States and uphold the same against all enemies. He had betrayed that trust.
— Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Recommended eatery in Charleston: Bluerose Cafe.

Bluerose Cafe

I started looking for dinner a bit late on a Friday night, and went to one place I’d found on Google maps. It was jammed, and more importantly, so was its parking lot. I went to my second choice. It too was full. Facing the possibility of fast food, which I didn’t really want, I headed back toward to hotel, when I noticed the Bluerose. Plenty of parking there.

The restaurant wasn’t packed either. In fact, at about a half hour before closing, only one table was occupied, with a fellow eating at a counter, and a hostess/waitress behind the counter. The place was simply decorated, but not drab, and the longer I looked around, the more I started noticing Irish touches, such as the sign that said, Céad Míle Fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes).

I sat at the counter as well, and the man eating there said, “I’ll get you something as soon as I’m finished. I haven’t had a chance to eat all day.”

He had a distinct Irish brogue. Turned out he was Denis O’Doherty, the proprietor. I told him not to hurry. We talked a bit, and he told me that he’d come to the United States a good many years ago, living in Boston quite a while, but in Charleston for the last 13 years or so, running the Bluerose. People get around.

I ordered the pan fried flounder before too long, and Mr. O’Doherty went back to the kitchen, which is visible from the counter, to prepare it. While he was at work on that, a woman came in and ordered some food to go, and talked a while with Denis as she sat at the counter. A regular customer. I got the feeling that the place had a lot of regular customers.

He didn’t let the talk distract him too much, because when I got my fish, it was superb. Which was the exact word I used when he asked how the fish was. Sometimes, when it comes to finding good food on the road — even in the age of Yelp and Tripadvisor and all that ya-ya — you just have to get lucky.

Billy Beer Now Counts as an Antique?

First things first. Remember the Alamo.

Not long ago we visited an antique mall in another northwest suburb that we go to occasionally, though this was the first time in a few years. On the whole it’s a likable place stuffed to the gills with debris from across the decades. I like looking around, just to remind myself how much stuff there is in the manmade world. The establishment frowns on photographing its wares, so I have no images.

The mall’s postcards, unfortunately, tend to be $1 or more each. It has to be a special card for me to pay that much. Got enough of them anyway. Several drawers full of old photographs of random strangers were also available, at a lower cost per item. Many were easily taken 100 years ago. That only goes to prove that for most people, any images older than their grandparents might as well be cave paintings.

The most amusing find: a six pack of Billy Beer, apparently unopened. I don’t ever remember actually seeing any, only hearing about it, as everyone did in 1977. A short history of the risible brand, posted in 2010, is at Mental Floss, whose key line is: “That’s about the best summary of Billy Beer that we can find; it was so noxious that not even Billy Carter would drink it.”

As for later: “Billy Beer perfectly fit the mold for a worthless collectible. It was made in giant quantities. Hordes of people had speculatively saved some. It had no intrinsic value.”

I think the price on the cans was $30. Who knows, maybe Billy Beer’s time as a collectible will come someday, as those giant quantities waste away across the decades. But I’m not going to buy any in hopes of finding out.

Winterlude ’17

Time for a winter hiatus. Back on about February 26, when it will still be winter, but at least with the prospect of a less winterish March to look forward to. Winter around here fades like it’s being tuned out by a dimmer switch — in the hands of a three-year-old, so the transition isn’t very smooth.

Before we saw the parade in Chinatown earlier this month, we walked by the Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch. It’s fairly new and I didn’t remember seeing it before.
Chicago Public Library Chinatown branchIt’s a nice piece of work. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the building won a Library Building Award from the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association about a year ago. Being Sunday, it was closed, so we didn’t have a chance to go inside and look around.

Here’s something I saw not long ago when I happened to have a camera in my hand.
It was a drink machine. That it takes credit and debt cards isn’t so strange. Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a new one for me on a vending machine. But maybe I don’t see enough vending machines to notice. At least regular cash is still an option. What’s next, Bitcoin?

Mail From the Patel Brothers

Something new in the mail the other day: a circular from Patel Brothers. The grocery stores of theirs that I’ve seen have the appearance of being local — tucked away in strip centers — but in fact Patel Brothers is a national chain, with about 50 stores. The brand did start in Chicago, however, with its first store on Devon Ave., hub of the city’s East Indian population, in the 1970s.

Patel BrothersThe four-page circular has one of our names on it, so it’s more than a blind mass mailing. Chinese New Year is mentioned on the front page. Guess the Patels are looking to expand their market a bit.

On the back page, various East Asian items are offered, such as Ichiban Tofu, Sriracha sauce, TYJ spring roll pastry and Chaokoh coconut water. Looking up that last one further, I learned that the Thai product is the “Official Coconut Water Partner of Liverpool Football Club.”

Inside the circular, the products are more South Asian. From it I learn that Swad brand is popular. Apparently that’s an Indian food distributor headquartered in Kerala, but its web site is less than helpful when it comes to offering much information about the company.

The About Us page says, all sic: “Catering to gods own people is no mean task. We embraced this challenge with great enthusiasm and with Swad Food Products, a well known house hold brand name in India. We make available premium Wheat & Rice Products all over the world. Our products are available all over the world through more than hundred strong distributors. Our Product Quality agreed internationally by getting orders from Middle East, Europe and USA.”

Anyway, at Patel Brothers, you can buy Swad peanuts, cashews, salt, moong dal, whole moong, kidney beans, kabuli chana, turmeric powder, ghee, rice flour and canola oil.

Katsudon

I had lunch with an old friend on Friday at the food court of Mitsuwa, a small Japanese-oriented mall anchored by the grocery store of that name in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. We had a good visit. The food is quite good there. I had some katsudon, a Japanese creation with pork cutlet and egg and a small amount of vegetables on rice, and long a favorite of mine among Japanese eats.

There’s a tiny restaurant off an alley in the Namba district of Osaka simply called Katsudon (or rather, カツ丼). It seated maybe eight at a counter looking straight into the small area in which two cooks made katsudon, the only thing on the menu, in gleaming copper-bottomed vessels. It wasn’t especially expensive and it tasted like heaven.

In fact, the place offered up the Platonic Ideal of the katsudon, as far as I’m concerned. All katsudon of the material sphere yearn to be that form. They inch toward it, but never quite make it. In short, the one at Mitsuwa was very good, but not as good as Katsudon, at least as it was 25 years ago. Hope the quality’s been maintained.

I had to look around to make the sure that the restaurant is still in business. I found some pictures, and it even looks like I remember it. Seems like the joint now also offers the related dishes of tonkatsu — cutlet on a bed of chopped lettuce — katsucurry, which is the cutlet on top of curry rice. Bet those are top-drawer, too.

I also noticed that the name of the alley is Hozenjiyokocho. I’m not sure I knew that back then. According to one source, the alley is a “collection of 60 small izakaya, bars and eateries in an alleyway behind Hozenji Temple in Osaka. The street has been filled with nightlife since the 17th century, when the area was a theater district.”

As for the nearby image of the kami Fudo Myo-o, which is covered with moss, I must have seen that. That’s the kind of thing I would notice. But I don’t remember.

What I need now is a specialized Tardis, one that takes you to your favorite restaurants, past or present, closed or still operating. Katsudon in Hozenjiyokocho would be such one place, since my tastes run to the inexpensive.

Off the top of my head, other destinations would include O-Sho, also in Osaka, which made wonderful gyoza; River Kwai in Chicago; Mack’s Country Cooking and Loveless Cafe as they used to be in Nashville; the Daily Catch in Boston; Viet Nam in San Antonio; that place in Apalachicola; that other place in New Orleans; the Cuban place in Tampa; Pizza Rustica and Mario’s in Rome; that fish-and-chips spot on Cleveland Street in London; halbes Hähnchen mit Pommes frites in Lüneburg; and yet other establishments whose names I’ve forgotten in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali and other places.

Thursday Residuum

Remarkably rainy January so far. Even when it hasn’t been raining these past weeks or so, the skies have looked pregnant with rain. So it’s been a wet January, not an icy one. That was the case at UIUC, as the last of clinging frozen matter thawed, as it might in a normal northern March.

UIUC January 15, 2017

Blame it on climate change? I’d be tempted, but weather isn’t climate. Besides, there’s a blizzard lurking out there in the near future, or at least heavy snow. Winter will not be denied.

A few days ago, I approached a four-way stop to make a left turn. Directly across the intersection another car arrived to make a left turn. To my left, a third car arrived to make a right turn. We all got there at about the same moment. We all made our respective turns concurrently. Can’t remember when that happened before. Had a fourth car to my right wanted to make a right turn, it would have been truly remarkable, but we had to settle for a three-way synch.

At a World Market last week, I saw bottles of Tito’s Handmade Vodka for sale. I couldn’t ever remember actually seeing any before, as opposed to hearing about it, though I don’t go to a lot of liquor stores.

Last month, I heard Tito himself on the radio, pitching his creation. He didn’t quite sound like his high school self, no one would, but it was him all right. I was pretty sure I hadn’t ever heard advertising for Tito’s beyond sponsorships on public radio (the ad I heard was on a commercial station). Maybe Tito’s needed to up his ad budget in the face of competition.

I’m most of my way through the book River of Doubt, about the Roosevelt-Rondon expedition into the deep Brazilian rainforest. Reading it, you think, how did anyone survive that trip? They faced untreatable diseases, looming starvation, dangerous animals, venomous bugs, an extremely hazardous river, a murderer among their crew, and the potential for Indians to attack at any time and wipe them all out. At one point, a very sick Theodore Roosevelt seriously contemplated overdosing on morphine. Not too end his pain, but to avoid being an impediment to the rest of the expedition. His son Kermit wouldn’t allow it.

Amazing how close TR’s bio came to ending with, “Led expedition down the River of Doubt in Brazil, 1914. Never seen again.”

Nipponese Debris

Yuriko and Ann are back from Japan, no worse for trip except for the usual jet lag. They brought back various things, including some printed items and small packaging material. Japanese aesthetics, known the world over, are present on every surface.

The only request I had for them to bring me some postcards. Here’s an Osaka-specific one.
Osaka postcard 2017Osaka has a sobriquet: The Kitchen of Japan. Specialty regional items include butaman, okonomiyaki, kushikata, and takoyaki. Delicious indeed.

Disposable chopsticks. Or rather, the paper wrapper for the chopsticks.
Disposable chopsticksSometimes even disposable items are too cute for words. Too cute is a running theme in Japanese design.

A nice brochure picked up at Nara Palace (Heijō Palace).
Nara Palace brochureHeijō Palace was the imperial residence in the Japanese capital city Heijō-kyō (Nara) during most of the Nara period, which essentially spans the 8th century AD. Things tend to get lost or kicked around after 12 centuries, so what visitors see on the site now are 21st-century reconstructions. Good ones, Yuriko said. Yet another thing for me to see, since they weren’t there in the 1990s.

Back to food packaging: Sakuma Drops hard candy.
Sakuma Drops Something a bit softer: Morinaga’s Milk Caramels.

Morinaga's Milk CaramelsThat’s the front of the box, plus one side. Each piece is wrapped in a yellow wrapper whose design is the same as the box.

Uncle Bub’s

Good old Uncle Bub’s. It’s a barbecue joint in Westmont, Ill., and one of my favorites in this part of the country, along with Hecky’s in Evanston. We had dinner there on Saturday with my old friend Kevin — known him nearly 30 years now.

No reason to write much about Uncle Bud’s, when you have a picture that will offer up 1,000 words.
Uncle Bub'sThat’s pulled pork, mashed potatoes, baked beans and cornbread. A fine feast on a cold December night.

Uncle Bub’s is not to be confused with Uncle Bud’s, a catfish joint in exurban Nashville. One strange day in the spring of 1980, two friends and I wound up at Uncle Bud’s for a meal. The catfish was fine, but what I really remember seeing was Gregg Allman and his entourage — including a few very tan, very blonde young women — enter the restaurant and head for a back room.