Memorial Day

IMG_5127I used to love Memorial Day. So it didn’t compare to the good holidays, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or New Year’s Day, but Memorial Day had some fun traditions of its own in my family, plus it marked the official beginning of summer, so there was a lot to love about it. Growing up, Memorial Day was like an even better fourth of July, because it shared all of the good traditions with independence day, like cooking out and spending the day at my grandparents house, while neglecting the worst aspects of the holiday, like shooting fireworks that are unreasonably loud. Yes, Memorial Day used to be great, but now, without the cook outs or the anticipation of the whole summer ahead free of responsibility, it has just become another Monday off work for me, as mundane as Presidents and Columbus Day, but this year, I was determined to get back to my roots a little bit and to rekindle (hey that’s my name! (and an amazon product)) some of the love I once had for the last Monday in May.

If my apartment complex wasn’t run by a North Korean dictator, perhaps I could have fired up the grill and had my own cook out on our balcony like a true American, but as it were, grills are strictly prohibited at my apartments, but I wasn’t going to let that deter me. Not being able to cook at home isn’t the ideal situation, I know, but I still had several other attractive options, like going to the park and using one of the crusty public grills that the soldiers used to cook on in the evenings during the civil war, or I could go eat at a restaurant. My wife and I ended up going Chili’s because what we really had to choose between was getting an incurable disease from the outdoor grill, or getting bad service, and while getting violently ill sounded like a lot of fun, we thought it might put a damper on Memorial Day. Maybe we’ll try it some other time.

At Chili’s, I looked at the menu trying to decide on what to get, always torn between getting something I’ve had before that I know is good, or trying something new. Since I’d been craving cook out food all day, I felt that getting a burger was the responsible thing to do, so I went with a new addition to the menu called the Chili’s burger. The Chili’s burger is exactly what it sounds like, a hamburger with chili on top. It was okay but not great, and it’s probably not something I would ever get again, unless of course I’m craving a burger covered in chili, which has happened exactly zero times in my life, but maybe one day I will. It’s not like the burger was bad or anything, but the chili was the overpowering taste of the dish, so I didn’t get that all-American burger taste that I had so been hoping would transport me back to Memorial Day’s past, but that’s okay. I’m just lucky I got to enjoy a nice meal with my wife in a free country, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrifice of so many men and woman who give their lives in service to our country. So maybe next year, while you’re throwing steaks on the grill or hanging out in the pool, take a minute to think about those people and the sacrifices they made, because that’s really what the day is all about.

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A Boy and His Gun

IMG_5059There comes a time in every boy’s life where they are given their first gun, or at least that’s the way that life works when you’re growing up in Arkansas. I remember my first, it was Christmas eve and I was probably nine or ten years old. My grandparents still lived on Bertha, which doesn’t hold any significance for you, but for me it’s a gauge for how much time has past, because that was two houses ago, before they moved to “the farm”, the house where the majority of my memories with my moms parents were made, and then moved away from Little Rock altogether. We always had Christmas at my grandparents house on Christmas Eve. The whole family would gather together, my grandparents, their three kids and their spouses, the nine grandkids, and while they were still with us, the great grandparents. Christmas was one of my favorite times of the year and Christmas Eve was perhaps the greatest day of all, because that morning I would be in Memphis with my dad and that side of the family, then that afternoon I would get to see my moms side of the family and open even more presents. Add in the anticipation about Santa bringing even more presents the next morning made it one of the most, if not the most, exciting days of the year.

So on that Christmas Eve in the Bertha house, we were going around the living room taking turns opening up gifts, and when it came to my turn, I picked up a long, rectangular shaped parcel, intrigued as to what it could be. I would like to tell you that I slowly unwrapped it, artfully pulling off the paper and preserving the beauty of the wrapping, but I was a kid so I tore off the paper with the same ferocity as the squirrel who clawed through my apartment wall last year. I was ecstatic as the bb gun materialized before me, and immediately I began imagining awesome scenarios in which I could use my new gun to save the day, much like the kid from A Christmas Story. I’d never shot a bb gun before, and most of the adults in the room stressed the importance of gun safety to me, and not to use it until I’d been properly trained how to do so safely, but luckily I wouldn’t have to wait for long.

Another Christmas tradition we had in my family growing up was having a big brunch on the morning of December the 25th and my grandparents would come over to eat with us, so this year, after the meal, on that lazy Christmas day, my granddad took me out to the backyard to teach me how to use the gun he’d given me the day before. The metal felt cool in my hand as he helped me raise it up. He showed me how to take the safety off when, and only when I was ready to shoot, and then standing beside me, he helped me take aim at a big blue tarp that he had hung from a tree limb. I pulled the trigger and heard the satisfying thwack of the pellet as it drilled a hole in the tarp. We stayed outside for a while practicing, on the tarp, and when that got too easy we set up a paper plate as a target, and by the end of the day, I felt confident that I was the best shot in the west, or at the very least the best shot in west Little Rock. That was a good Christmas.

Good Friday

I woke up five minutes before my alarm was set to go off, so that was bad, but then things started to get better. As soon as I stepped out of the apartment, and breathed in the cool morning air, I was happy. It had been getting warmer the last couple days, but today, it’s back to being my kind of weather, which is a good thing. On my way to work, there was virtually no traffic, so instead of it taking me nearly half an hour to drive across town, it only took me thirteen minutes this morning, so that was good. I’ve been drinking a protein shake, which although it sounds like it would be similar to a delicious milkshake, it’s not. My protein shake consists of two components, two cups of milk, and protein powder, which I dump into the milk and proceed to shake ceaselessly as I walk from my apartment to my car, and then for a few minutes as I drive down the road. Normally, no matter how hard I shake the bottle, there always ends up being a few clumps of protein powder that make their way into my mouth and feel disgustingly grimy against my teeth, but today, that didn’t happen, which was good.

On my way to work, Semi-Charmed Life came on the radio, so I rolled down the windows and let the cool wind blow through my hair and melt all my worries away. Throughout the course of my life, I’ve found that there are few things as therapeutic as a perfectly timed Third Eye Blind song, and today was no exception, so that was a good way to start the day. You know how we all have that one annoying coworker, the person who can make you seriously consider creating a pros and cons list for quitting your job and being homeless just so you don’t have to see them every day? Oh, it’s just me? Well, anyway, mine isn’t at work today, so that’s a very good thing.

When I got to work, the smell of coffee brewing was too much to resist, so for the first time in more than a month, I drank a cup of black coffee. The bitter richness flavors that I love so much tasted even better than I remember. Hot coffee on a cold day is definitely on my list of favorite things, and today it was so good that I went and got myself a second cup, and that one was good too. I’ve packed the same thing for lunch that I’ve had every other day this week, but I have a feeling it’s going to taste better today for some reason, because that’s just the kind of day I’m having. I know it’s Friday and people are generally happier on Fridays, but tomorrow I have to work, so it’s not like once I get off work today my weekend is starting, but I’m happy.  I’m in a very good mood today, and I can’t exactly pin down one specific reason why, but everything just feels right today. It really is a good Friday.

What I Gave Up for Lent

IMG_4977Lent began on Wednesday, February the 14th, Valentine’s day, but I didn’t really think about it given that I’m not Catholic and not a big fan of giving up things that I like, so I didn’t, but the next day at work, one of my coworkers, who also isn’t Catholic by the way, was talking about giving up something for lent. I was listening from the drive thru, set back in the corner away from everybody else, but I wasn’t participating in the conversation, mainly because of my previous stance on not giving up things I enjoy. Two of my coworkers decided they were going to give up all drinks except for water for the next month and a half, and another said she was going to give up drinking alcohol, and as much I wanted to avoid the conversation, it turned to me, and they asked if I was going to give up something for Lent. I decided I would since everyone else was doing it, because, you know, peer pressure, so I started contemplating what would be a good sacrifice I could make for the Easter season.

Since I was going to be giving something up, I wanted it to be something that would take a little bit of effort, because I could easily say that I’m going to give up cutting off my legs with a chainsaw and then cruise until Easter, but that would kind of defeat the purpose, but I wasn’t just going to mail it in, not on the Lord’s holiday. I chose to give up caffeine, which considering than water, I normally drink coffee and tea, was going to be a pretty big sacrifice. That night, I met my wife for dinner after work at a Mexican restaurant, and without thinking ordered unsweetened iced tea, because they have incredible tea there, and drank several glasses of it, so my Lenten season didn’t get off to the greatest start. I didn’t even realize what I’d done until I got to work the next day and was asked how I did without caffeine, but I vowed to try harder, and that’s exactly what I did.

I bought some caffeine free diet soda, and caffeine free tea, and discovered, that it actually wasn’t half bad, although I swear I could tell a difference in taste, but I suppose it could have been a placebo effect. When I went to the movies, instead of getting a giant soda, I got water, and even though it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as sipping on ice cold diet coke, at least I was sticking to what I’d committed to. Of all the people at work that had given up something for lent, with the exception of that first night at El Porton, I was the only one who had strictly stuck to it for a whole month, but then one day, I was craving a soda, and that’s when everything was starting to unravel. I was at sonic and I really wanted a diet dr. pepper with vanilla and lime, but I know that there was caffeine in it. I could have gone home where I had a bottle of the caffeine free stuff, but I decided, against my better judgement to order it anyway. It was delicious, but things haven’t been the same.

I haven’t even been thinking about avoiding caffeine the last week, drinking diet Pepsi and regular iced tea, completely ignoring the sacrifice I was supposed to be making. I’m not thrilled that I didn’t stick it out until the end, but what really bothers me is now that I’m drinking caffeine again, I’m having a lot of trouble falling asleep, tossing and turning for at least an hour before I’m able to doze off. That’s why I’m going to give up caffeine indefinitely. I’m going to completely cut it out of my life because apparently it has a massive effect on the way I sleep, and I’m tired of waking up and being tired. Since I didn’t stick to it initially I’m not expecting the Easter Bunny to leave me a basket full of candy and toys, but since I’m making the commitment to renew the no caffeine lifestyle, maybe he’ll leave me a Reese’s egg or two.

The Not So Perfect Valentine’s Lunch

Yesterday was one of those rare days where my wife didn’t have work or school. It’s an occurrence that doesn’t happen to often because she works thirty to forty hours every week at her job, and is a full time student two days a week, but yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, she had to do neither, which seemed like a pretty lucky coincidence. I still had to work, so we wouldn’t be spending the whole day together or anything, but I thought it might be fun to go out for a nice lunch together since that’s something that our schedules generally don’t allow these days, so I asked Leticia if she wanted to meet me for lunch at Buckley’s Lunchbox, a restaurant that’s only open for lunch and is a subsidiary of Buckley’s Grill, which is more of a fine dining restaurant. I’d only been to Buckley’s Lunchbox once, years ago, when I came to visit my dad, and I don’t remember a ton about it except for the steak burger that I got was incredible and was instantly one of my favorite burgers in Memphis. My wife looked over the menu, something she often does before we eat somewhere she’s never been, because God forbid we make an important decision about where to eat lunch without doing extensive and tireless research, and excitedly agreed after finding a menu item, the cheddar bacon burger, that was up to her standard.
 
A few minutes after one, my designated daily lunchtime, I got in my car to make my way towards the restaurant where my Leticia was set to meet me, in about five minutes, but the train had other plans. To get to Buckley’s Lunchbox, I have to turn left out of the parking lot at the stoplight, but since the train happened to be going by at that particular time, even though it wasn’t blocking my path, I still couldn’t turn left because the traffic continued to flow on the busy street thanks to the stoplight that was choosing to completely ignore the people like me who needed to turn left. By the time I got to the restaurant it had taken me almost fifteen minutes, but luckily my wife had been running late as well so she wasn’t left waiting on me for too long. We squeezed ourselves through the front doors of the crowded restaurant, wedging ourselves between everyone else in the city that apparently had the same idea for a romantic Valentine’s Day lunch that we did. Once we made it to the counter, the hostess informed us that it would be a fifteen minute wait, so on top of the fifteen minutes it had taken me to get there, plus fifteen minutes waiting, my hour long lunch break would be half over before we even sat down at our table. Given how crowded the restaurant was, it didn’t seem likely that we were going to get the super quick service required to order, eat, and pay the bill, all within twenty minutes so I would be able to arrive back at work on time.
 
Based on the numbers and knowing that I needed to be back at work on time so that the next person could go to lunch, I informed the hostess that we wouldn’t be able to wait and that we would have to come back another time. I haven’t been in this situation too many times, but I would assume if you tell the hostess that you will have to come back another day because you don’t have time to wait today, that the hostess would thank you or say something like “We’ll see you soon.” This hostess did neither of these things, and didn’t actually say anything to either me or my wife, but she did give Leticia a look, a sympathetic look, a look that said “I’m so sorry he’s ruining your Valentine’s Day” or “What kind of jerk would make you leave over a fifteen minute wait?” The look was sickening. This person didn’t know us or our situation, she didn’t know that I had to get back to work so that another coworker could take their lunch, and she didn’t know that my wife was completely okay with leaving and going somewhere else, something we discussed before walking in when we saw how crowded the parking lot was. If there was a wait, we would just go eat lunch somewhere else, so that’s what we did.
 
We decided to try the Half Shell, a restaurant both we both like that wasn’t too far away, but when we got there, even though it was nearing 1:30, the parking lot was completely full, as in there wasn’t a single open parking space. Using my Sherlock Holmes detective skills, I figured out that if there was nowhere to park, then the restaurant would be really busy and there would probably be a wait, so Leticia suggested we just go to Lenny’s, the sub shop next door. It certainly wasn’t crowded, and the sandwiches we ordered were pretty good, the roast beef for her and the American club, a sandwich with ham, turkey, bacon, and cheese, for me. It certainly wasn’t the lunch we expected to have when we made plans to meet yesterday, and even though the quality of the food probably wasn’t as good as we would have had at Buckley’s, it was nice just to share a Valentine’s Day meal with my beautiful wife.

Our First Valentine’s Day

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Today marks the sixth anniversary of the first Valentine’s Day that me and Leticia ever spent together, so if you’ll indulge me, then I’ll tell you the sappy love story of that first day. Just kidding, it wasn’t that sappy, so if you’re looking for something like that, then you definitely need to look elsewhere because you’re not going to find it here. It was February 14, 2012 and night had descended on Searcy, Arkansas, the college town where we were both attending school at the time. Being a broke college student, I didn’t have much money with which to take her out to dinner on that most romantic of evenings, but that was okay because we each had a coupon for a free Papa John’s pizza due to a promotion during the Super Bowl where you guessed the result of the coin toss and if the majority of the country’s population guessed the toss correctly, then they would get a free pizza. I think this might have been the one and only time I was ever excited to get Papa John’s pizza.
 
While I didn’t have enough money to take us out for a nice Valentine’s Day dinner, I did however make sure I had enough set aside to get her a gift, something I was very excited about. Pretty early on in our then five month old relationship, Leticia and I were talking about what we liked to read and that was when I found out that she was really big into Russian Literature and her favorite story was called “The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol, a writer I’d heard of but hadn’t read much if any of his work. She told me about the story and how much she enjoyed it, but I also discovered that she read “The Nose” on a handout in one of her high school English classes, and had never read anything else written by Gogol. When I found this out, I knew that I wanted to get her a collection of Gogol stories so that she would not only have her favorite story in a book, but also have more to read by that author that she enjoyed so much, so by the time February got here, I already knew exactly what I was going to get for her, the only problem was, the only bookstore in town, Hasting’s, didn’t have anything by Gogol.
 
This was a time before I became an Amazon savant, ordering any book I want with the click of a mouse and having it arrive at my doorstep two days later, but luckily, Hastings told me they could order the book for me and guaranteed it’s arrival in 7 to 10 days, which was pushing it since there was only a little more than a week until Valentine’s Day, but I knew this is what I wanted to get her, so I placed the order and just hoped that the book would get there on time. As the days ticked by I was starting to get nervous, but the day before, on February 13th, I got the call and all was right with the world.
 
I picked up Leticia at her dorm, then we picked up the pizza from Papa John’s, a pizza she had special ordered to arrange the pepperonis into a heart shape. Okay, so maybe it was a little sappy. We took the pizza and went to a park down the street where we walked to a picnic table where we ate the pizza, and huddled close together under the starlit night watched the movie, “Big Fish” on a laptop. I’m not sure why we decided to watch “Big Fish,” but she had never seen it and from what I remembered it was pretty good and luckily it turned out to be as good as I remembered and we both really enjoyed the evening. Before I took her back to her dorm, we exchanged gifts. I reached into the backseat of my gold Ford Explorer Sport and pulled out a little wrapped package that was unmistakably a book, but Leticia still acted surprised when she ripped off the paper and found that it was indeed a book.
 
She was excited about the collection of Gogol stories I’d given her, and was a little bit surprised that I remembered her talking about that months ago. I might have been offended at her surprise, but admittedly, and as a lot of people can attest to, I’m not the greatest listener. Then Leticia reached into the back and pulled out a golden brown box which she handed to me. I had no idea what it could be, but when I opened the lid I was surprised to see something I’d wanted for a long time, a Tony Romo football jersey. It’s possible that I’m the biggest fan that Tony Romo ever had, praising him with the good and standing by him with the bad. While other people were quick to criticize number 9 on a late game mistake, I was quick to defend him, knowing deep down that all the haters were just being ignorant. I hadn’t had a Dallas Cowboys jersey since I had Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman back in the mid 90’s, because since then, there had never been a player I liked as much as I had them, but ten or so years later, that all changed when a young Tony Romo came into the game and led the Cowboys to victory.
 
Leticia, like few other people I knew, was on my side in the Tony Romo debate, and understood how much he meant to the team as well as the fans, so she got me his jersey, the throwback jerseys that the team wears on Thanksgiving, my favorite out of all their uniforms, and to this day is still one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I couldn’t have asked for a better first Valentine’s Day to spend with the woman who would eventually become my wife. It wasn’t an upscale dinner at a steakhouse where a man walked between tables playing the violin like we had last year, but we made due with what we had, and looking back, it’s one of my favorite meals that we’ve ever shared together. I feel very lucky to have the same Valentine’s Day date six years later. There’s that sappiness again.

Eat and Eat and Eat: A Christmas Story

IMG_4601 Christmas is one of my favorite days of the year because it combines two of my favorite things in the world, family and food, and yesterday certainly had plenty of both. I’ll tell you all about it. For as long as I can remember, on Christmas morning when I’ve been at my mom’s house, we’ve always had a big christmas brunch. Now, there’s nothing inherently christmas themed about the brunch, but I call it a christmas brunch because of the day on which that meal occurs. Moving on. Yesterday after waking up and exchanging and opening gifts with my mom, grandmother, wife, and two younger brothers, plus a stocking for my mom’s dog, coach, which was kind of odd because Santa didn’t fill a stocking for our dogs, Jack and Mocha, maybe because they’ve been bad dogs this year, we all settled around the table to enjoy brunch. As many pictures as I take, I know you will find this surprising, but for whatever reason, I didn’t snap any of the breakfast food, but you can take my word for it, everything looked delicious, except of course for the poppyseed muffins, that only my brother Logan eats, despite the fact that that is one of the worst and most vile tasting foods I’ve ever tasted.

The spread was huge and I loaded my plate with breakfast casserole, a delicious blend of sausage, egg, and cheese baked to perfection, biscuits and gravy, a blueberry muffin, as well as sausage and some bacon. Everything was really good, and if you’ve never had breakfast casserole, try it sometime, because when you’re having a terrible awful no good very bad day, you can take solace in knowing that there is something as amazing as breakfast casserole in this world, a thought that should brighten your day instantly. My plate was so full that I didn’t have room to put any cinnamon roll on my plate, so I went to get some of that, and figured while I was up there I might as well get some more bacon and another muffin as well. It was a great decision, possibly the best I’ve ever made. The cinnamon roll that my mom makes is easily the best I’ve ever had, with a sweet icing and pecans on top for a nice, soft crunch.

After eating brunch at my mom’s in Searcy, Arkansas, my wife and I hit the road and got back to Memphis in time for christmas dinner at my grandparents house last night with my dad, aunt Kathryn, uncle Jimmy, and cousin, Bailey. Again, there was nothing christmas themed about the dinner, and I only called it that because of the day on which we ate. I’m not going to explain this anymore. If you can’t figure it out for yourself from now on, get off my blog! Anyway, that spread, like the brunch in Arkansas, was enormous, and it too looked delicious, which you can see for yourself since I did remember to take a picture at dinner. For the second time that day I loaded up my plate, but instead of breakfast casserole and biscuits, I filled it with green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, ham, and last but certainly not least, a dinner roll. My cousin Bailey (which when said aloud reminds me of the great movie titled “My Cousin Vinny”) made the sweet potato and green bean casseroles, and she, a reader of my blogs where I sometimes write food reviews, asked me to give an honest opinion of those two dishes, so I did.

My first bite was of the sweet potatoes and they were delicious, my exact words, I believe, were “so good.” Next I put a bite of green beans in my mouth, and for some reason, I hesitated and failed to give a response with as much gusto as I had for the previous bite, so she thought I didn’t like them. I actually did enjoy the green bean casserole, but as much as I tried to convince the audience of people around the table of this fact, it didn’t seem to sink in. I messed it up even worse for myself later in the dinner, when it came back up again, and again I tried to explain the hesitation. I started by saying, “normally green bean casserole is my favorite dish” and would have continued to say that the hesitation was because I was judging it against others I’ve had so I could give an honest answer about what I thought of it, but I didn’t get a chance, because my wording made it seem like I was saying “normally green bean casserole is my favorite dish but this is horrible.” It was all in fun, but for the record, Bailey, I did think your green bean casserole was good, and I actually ate some leftovers from lunch today (not pictured).

The mac and cheese and mashed potatoes were really good. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the mashed red potatoes but it was a nice change from the traditional mashed potatoes and I really enjoyed them. Some people spend lots of time cooking turkey or ham for christmas, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it seems like a wasted effort when you could get a ham as delicious as the one we had last night which my dad got from One and Only BBQ in Memphis. You could taste the smoky flavor in each bite, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that that pig came from a barbecue restaurant. I haven’t been to One and Only yet, but I’ve heard good things, and if their barbecue is anything like they’re ham, I’m going to love it. Yesterday was a full day, full of lots of fun with the family and lots of really good food. It’s a good thing Christmas only comes once a year, because I’m going to need a solid 365 days to work off the weight I likely gained yesterday.