When in Doubt Leave the Vegetables Out

IMG_4070An immediate stomach ache that hits you as soon as you leave a restaurant and a desperate need to find a bathroom as quickly as possible, are two telltale signs that the meal you just ate went terribly awry. Unfortunately, both of these symptoms hit me like a ton of bricks, or more specifically a plate of nachos as soon as I left El Porton, a Mexican restaurant where we ate dinner last night. My wife and I met the rest of the family there, gathering to celebrate the birthday of both my grandpa and cousin. I’m always in the mood for Mexican food and had actually been craving it lately, so when I was told that we would be having that for dinner, I was pretty excited, to the point where I actually caught myself thinking at random intervals throughout my day about what I might get to eat that night. The chips and salsa arrived before the drinks, as is typically custom at Mexican restaurants, but I showed a great deal of restraint that I normally lack, by waiting to dig in until my water arrived, which turned out to be a good call on my part since the salsa was a little spicier than I remembered.

I ordered fajita nachos with steak, because steak sounded really good to me but more so for the cheese dip that I’d been thinking about relentlessly throughout the day. I had the choice of ordering the nachos with or without vegetables, and despite the kid in me screaming that vegetables are gross, I ordered them anyway, to prove, if only to myself, that I am in fact an adult and vegetables actually aren’t all that bad. I was expecting some diced tomatoes, lettuce, jalapeños, and maybe even some onions, but in my haste to order the food, my brain neglected to register that the vegetables served with the fajita nachos would be just that, vegetables typically found in a steaming pan of fajitas, but don’t worry, I found out soon enough. The food arrived and I tried to not pre-judge my nachos based on appearance with the huge chunks of onion, tomato, and bell pepper being the most visible and populous foods on my plate, something that might have been aesthetically pleasing to a strict vegetarian, but I myself found it to be very unattractive.

The steak was delicious but the pieces of juicy meat were far overpowered by the crunchiness of the peppers and onions that I was desperately trying to make an asset of the dish but was rather hindering and taking away from the best ingredient. The cheese dip of course was amazing, because white cheese dip has a way of never letting you down, but again the giant vegetables were doing their best to make themselves known above all else. I gave some of the onions and peppers to my mimi and wife, the only two people at the table of nine who wanted anything to do with them, and finished my nachos in peace. Not long after, the storm hit and I was clutching my stomach which hurt like I’d eaten a half dozen creme filled doughnuts that were a few days old for breakfast and washed it down with a big glass of expired milk, not that I would know from experience. I don’t know if my body was having that reaction because it was shocked by my vegetable intake after years of neglecting healthy food or if something else was causing my growing discomfort, but I was completely miserable. The one good thing to come from this terrible experience was a valuable life lesson that I won’t soon forget; when in doubt leave the vegetables out.

Searching for the Perfect Gift

IMG_4073My grandpa and cousin Abigail share a birthday, August 7, which is tomorrow, but since it falls on a Monday the whole family got together to celebrate the greatness that is the two of them. I procrastinate on a lot of things, and unfortunately buying birthday gifts is one of them, so that is how I found myself driving to Walmart at about 2:30 this afternoon. I know, I know, what kind of idiot buys somebody a gift at Walmart? Well again this is unfortunate, the answer is me, but in my pathetic defense it is conveniently close to where I live. Maybe that makes it even worse, I don’t know. Anyway, I can’t turn into the parking lot because a stream of Mustangs are flowing in a cohesive line through the parking lot like a funeral procession, no matter that I had the right of way and they should have been stopping. I finally butted in front of one and got honked at, but it was a nice tradeoff to being forced to look at anymore of these lame people who have nothing more interesting to do on a Sunday afternoon that meet up in a Walmart parking lot with other people who drive the same kind of car that they do.

So I head into the store, knowing exactly one gift that I’m getting and with a couple options in mind for the other one. For my cousin I’m getting her a stainless steel bottle/tumbler/whatever that keeps drinks cold or hot for an excessive amount of time. I got one of these last year and it quickly became my favorite cup, eventually becoming the only one I drank out of, so I’ve decided to share the experience and have given it as a gift to a couple of people who really like it, so I figured my cousin would too. Now my grandpa is quite a bit more difficult to shop for. He’s not the sort of person you can just buy any old t-shirt for. There are certain brands that have been met with his approval, so it’s best to stick to these, but since I’m kind of balling on a budget at the moment, his shirts weren’t really an option so I had to come up with something else. As I walked down the aisles I scanned the ground hoping it would be my lucky day and I would find a very rare and valuable coin lying on the ground, which would make a great gift for my grandpa who just so happens to be an avid coin collector. But then again if it was really valuable I could sell it and get him one of his shirts plus something for me, which would be the ideal scenario in my selfish world, but alas, I had no such luck finding a coin.

I decided to get him a puzzle, which is actually something I think he enjoys working on, so I walked past all of the board games to the microscopic puzzle section of Walmart. Most of them were really annoying to look at, so I could just imagine how excruciating it would be to stare at that same picture for hours trying to put the thing together, so once I weeded out all of the unacceptable ones there were very few options remaining, a Monsters Inc. puzzle for children and a one thousand piece puzzle featuring a house with some tall grass and a couple of deer out front. I got him the latter and it actually seemed to go over well when he opened it, as did the tumbler with my cousin, which just goes to show you that good gifts CAN actually be bought at Walmart.

A Visit from my Brother and his Girlfriend

IMG_4052Yesterday my brother and his girlfriend came to visit, which I suspect had nothing to do with my company but rather with the fact that I could get them into the zoo for free, which my brother had been hinting at for months since his girlfriend really wanted to go. I met them at the zoo mid-morning, a little after ten, and we proceeded to go through one of the top ten ranked zoos in the united states, which I had to remind myself of each time I got really hot and thought I was seconds away from a heat stroke. Since this was Maggie’s first time at the zoo we literally looked at everything, from the chickens in farmland to the snakes that made me want to throw up, and despite the sun beating down on us at an uncomfortable 87 degrees, it was actually pretty fun.

After the zoo we went to lunch, and since it was Maggie’s first time in Memphis, of course we had to get barbecue, so I suggested the Barbecue Shop, which was conveniently located just minutes from where our cars were parked. They rode with me to the restaurant and once we got there the hostess said she would clean off a table for us to sit down, but I protested. You see, the table she wanted to give us was the one right next to the door, and while I don’t normally bother myself with trivial things like which table I’m sitting at or where it is located, I asked this time if perhaps we could take the unoccupied booth about fifteen feet away from the hostess stand. She told us if we sat there we would have to wait longer for our waiter, so unanimously we agreed that the location of our table was less important than the speed at which we got our food, so we sat at the table by the door.

We had to wait at least ten minutes for our waitress to come over, the whole time I was wondering if it really would have taken longer if we’d sat in the booth. By the time she showed up we were ready to order both our drinks and our food which we did, my brother and I both getting the barbecue nachos and Maggie getting a sandwich. Before long the food arrived. The reason I wanted to go to the barbecue shop was solely for the nachos, because I knew the sandwich was fantastic, and I was just curious how the nachos compared to others around town, and I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but they weren’t all that great, although the round tortilla chips that they were served on actually weren’t the deal breaker. What did make them not so great was the copious amounts of nacho cheese that was squirted over them, and while it is true that I normally praise the use of too much cheese, this was too much cheese that didn’t taste all that great. This isn’t to condemn the barbecue shop though, because in all reality I believe they have one of the greatest barbecue sandwiches in Memphis. Just learn from my mistake and don’t stray from that and you will be fine. After lunch we headed downtown because Maggie really wanted to walk down Beale Street, and although it was 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon and not much was going on, she still got to experience that and nothing anyone can say will take that away from her. All in all it was a good day, and I hope my brother and his girlfriend come back and visit again soon, only next time, hopefully it will be a much cooler day.


The Gunfight in Jackson Hole

Jackson HoleIt was about just after six o’clock on a warm summer evening in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and I was standing nervously behind a rack of sweatshirts in a local gift shop on the main town square. I was seventeen at the time, too old for such antics, but my fears that have plagued me for most of my life had me behaving like someone of a much younger age. It was a family vacation, a two week long road trip that would take us through various points of interest on our way to Yellowstone National Park, and though this was only the second or third day of the trip, I had already abandoned the family, extricating myself from activities that they, like most people found enjoyable and entertaining, but I did not.

It’s a long standing tradition in Jackson Hole to have a staged gunfight on the square every evening in the summer, an even so popular that masses of tourists gather around each evening to experience the wonder of the old west, an era that I’m grateful that I did not have to live through. At the first mention of gunfight, my eyes began darting around looking for a way out. I wanted to be normal, to enjoy the theatrics and the loud pops of gunfire that Americans have come to equate with patriotism and the great country in which we live, but I could not. A couple of actors walked out on the square as I stood by, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, nervously anticipating the loud noise that was now inevitable and getting closer by the second. It doesn’t matter that I know the noise is coming, in fact I think it makes it even worse, knowing when something bad is about to happen and have no power to stop it, like a very non masculine psychic.

The first blast came from a pistol in the form of a loud POP, and it was worse than I ever could have imagined. Whether the noise was amplified by the surrounding Grand Teton mountains or it was something done cosmetically to the guns in order to bring wonder to the crowd I do not know, but it was abundantly clear that I had to get out of there, which is why I took shelter in the nearest place I could find, the gift shop. In retrospect I probably should have ventured further away from the square, but I mistakenly assumed that being inside a building, any building would at least dull the sound of the ensuing gunfight at least a little bit, but unfortunately I was wrong. The gunfire was so loud inside the gift shop that I began to wonder how people up here survived the cold Wyoming winters with walls so paper thin. I don’t remember how long the show went on, but I’m sure it felt much longer to me than it actually was as I tried inconspicuously to cover my ears, the almost adult afraid of something that children and their families were taking in with smiles and laughter just a few feet away. I wish I could say that was a turning point for me, that I was humiliated so much by my fear of a harmless noise that I stepped from that gift shop a new man, someone who went on to enjoy live reenactments with guns and even fourth of July fireworks shows, but that would be a lie. If anything I’m worse than before, every earth shaking boom or pop sending me further and further away from the person I would like to be.

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Happy Birthday Mom!

IMG_3881It’s Bastille day in France, so I was thinking about dedicating this blog to talking about one of my vacations in Paris, in honor of their independence day, but that is not the most important event that happened on this day, so I would rather talk about that. On July 14th, a few years back, Tammy Kathleen Laird was born, and she just happens to be my mom, so I guess you could say that if that never happened, then I never would have been born and we all know, or at least I do, just how tragic that would be. My mom is one of my favorite people in the world, and along with my dad, grandparents, and Tony Romo, is someone I consider to be one of my heroes. So now, if you would please indulge me, I would like to share some stories about one of the greatest women I know.

I was nine or ten years old and it was summer. I was playing baseball, and had just been moved to the catcher position, one I was nervous about playing as I’d never done so before. After almost every pitch I would look over in the stands at my mom. I was doing it so much that the coach yelled at me, and the woman sitting next to her asked if she was my mom and she told her yes, while giving me a thumbs up, displaying the overabundance of encouragement that she’s given to me over the years, something I still rely on when I’m having trouble with something. She came to all my football games while I was on the team, despite the fact that once I reached seventh grade, I rarely got into the games at all, just being there to support me.

When I was twenty and in college, I did something really stupid that got me kicked out of school, and the day I had to call and tell her was probably the most nervous I’d ever been, afraid she would be angry and disappointed with me, and she was, but she never stopped loving me, welcoming me back home with open arms and even helping me to find a job. It wasn’t an easy job and I absolutely hated it, but that experience has made me appreciate all of the jobs I’ve had since then, and has given me a better work ethic to take with me throughout the rest of my life.

I could write for days sharing stories like these, about all of the ways over the years that she has supported me and helped me out, her encouragement never wavering as I inevitably made numerous mistakes throughout my life. That is just the kind of person that my mom is, and I truly feel lucky to have been given the person I consider to be the greatest mother in the world. I called her today to wish her a happy birthday and she told me that she was having a milkshake for dinner, a treat on this special day, and I couldn’t help but thinking, she deserves milkshakes for every meal of every day. Happy birthday mom, I’m so lucky to have you.

Corky’s: A Family Dinner

IMG_4006You know those people that you don’t see as often as you’d like, but you have just as good of a time with, if not better than the last time you saw them? That is the way things are with the other Curtis family, my uncle Brett, aunt Amy, and cousins Jay and Abigail. I think the last time we were all together was before Christmas, which is crazy given that they only live about fifteen minutes away from us and we have a great time whenever we are together, so I was obviously thrilled earlier this week when my uncle texted me, inviting my wife and I out to dinner. He picked one of my favorite barbecue restaurants in Memphis, Corky’s, and we met him along with the rest of his family there tonight. I love the dry ribs at Corky’s and I go back and forth between them and Central BBQ as having my favorite ribs in the city, but I’ve been on a nacho kick lately, so when the waitress asked what I wanted, I ordered the pulled pork barbecue ribs, which turned out to be a fantastic decision.

While we waited for the food to arrive we munched on rolls and a fried onion loaf, that was filling enough to have been the entire meal. We caught up on each others lives, Jay’s marketing internship, Abigail preparing for college, and swapped lots of stories, all of which ended in bursts of laughter. The food arrived and all of it looked absolutely delicious. My nachos were tortilla chips with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, nacho cheese, and jalapeños piled atop them, and I dug in. Although I’ve gotten nachos at various other barbecue restaurants, I don’t believe I’ve ever tried the ones at Corky’s before, and they were just as good, if not better than my current favorite at Central BBQ. After tonight I think there is a new champion in my book, the deciding factor being the copious amounts of nacho cheese that covered almost every single chip, which I’ve found to be a rarity in the world of nachos. It seems like almost every time I get nachos there are at least a few dry chips at the bottom, untouched by the deliciousness of the toppings, but these were the exception.

The jalapeños added quite a bit of a kick, which wasn’t a problem as our waitress was good about always being there to refill my water glass when I so desperately needed the relief. Everyone else seemed to enjoy the food as well, so all in all it was a spectacular meal in terms of the quality of food. While Corky’s delivered on the taste, what really made the meal so great was the great conversation and the company we had it with. We told story after story, and before we knew it we’d been at the restaurant for nearly two hours and the tables around us had quickly emptied without us noticing. I hope we can get together again soon, because they really are a joy to be around. Thank you uncle Brett, aunt Amy, Jay and Abigail for a great dinner, one that won’t be soon forgotten.

The Dirty Crow Inn: Lunch With Dad

Yesterday I woke up at three in the morning, involuntarily because I was leaving the beach at four, but my stressful body clock decided it was time for me to wake up, an hour before I was going to get on the road, so by eight o’clock last night, I was more than ready to go to bed. I slept for more than twelve hours, which is an incredible waste of time, but I woke up today feeling refreshed, which I suppose is a good thing. My wife and I were going to meet my dad for lunch, and since he let me pick the place, we decided to go to The Dirty Crow Inn, after my quick google search of new Memphis restaurants. We arrived at a quarter ’til noon, and joined my dad at the high top table he was already sitting at. I ordered an unsweet tea and looked over the menu, struggling to decide on what to order as there were multiple options that looked great to me. I got the “We Don’t Bluff Burger” which was a hamburger with bacon, cheese, barbecue sauce, and fried onion straws.

While we sat waiting for the food to arrive I looked around at our surroundings, cool artwork covering the walls in the darkened dive bar. The restaurant was in an area of town I had never been to, one that gave the feeling of needing to lock the car doors. My burger arrived and it looked fantastic, even though the waiter slash bartender didn’t ask me how I wanted the burger cooked. For the record I would have picked medium, but it arrived well done, and I remained skeptical before I took my first bite. The hamburger although cooked well done, was absolutely delicious, the onion straws providing a nice contrast to the beef. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t at all disappointing, every bite I took more savory and sweet than the last. It was a great meal, the fries cooked perfectly, the skin of the potatoes still prominent on each of the fries I ate. I’m not willing to crown the burger as the best in Memphis, but it was far from disappointing.

The dirty crown inn was very food, and by the time we were done I was one hundred percent satisfied with my section. My dad got the chicken wings, which were marinated for twenty-four hours before being cooked and served and look absolutely incredible. If we were to go there again, I would probably order those, the specialty of the “The dirty Crow Inn.” When we finished the meal, I came to the conclusion that i would one hundred percent eat here again, to try something different than the fantastic burger that I’d already eaten. My wife and I left, discussing the fact that we would some day eat here again. In Memphis good food isn’t hard to find, but I think the “Dirty Crow Inn” is a lace that we will return to in the future, a place where each dish is as good as the next. I would highly recommend checking it out. IMG_3973