Amerigo: An Italian Father’s Day Dinner

IMG_3703Well today is father’s day and I didn’t see my dad at all, but before you go casting stones at the ungrateful son, let me clarify that I did take him to dinner last night as our way of celebration. Why didn’t I take my dad to dinner on the actual father’s day? He had planned to take his father out to dinner that night, and there are only so many meals to go around, so I told my dad to pick wherever he wanted to go and my wife and I would meet him for dinner the night before. We settled on Amerigo, one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Memphis, and said we would meet him there at seven. I showed up right at seven o’clock, my wife left behind at home with her sore back not feeling up to dining out, and my dad was already there for standing in the dimly lit waiting area. We told the hostess I had arrived, and like a celebrity seated immediately upon arrival, we were ushered directly to our seats without a wait.

We quickly looked over the menu, deciding what we wanted before the waiter even arrived to introduce himself and take the drink orders, so by the time he showed up, we were prepared. My dad got the goat cheese and walnut salad with smoked salmon, while I got the goat cheese penne pasta with grilled shrimp. We talked for a little while, the only interruption being the loud family at the table behind us who had taken it upon themselves to do some sort of happy birthday chant, paired with rhythmic clapping that echoed against the walls throughout the restaurant, completely unprovoked by an employee, the first time I can ever remember seeing this take place. It was annoying but over soon enough, and before long the food arrived. The first thing I thought as I looked down at the plate before me was “that looks like a lot of tomatoes”, and it really was. With each bite of pasta I tried to get one or two tomato pieces on the fork with it so that I wouldn’t be left with an excess of tomato scraps at the end of the meal, but that is exactly what ended up happening, about a third of my plate completely covered once everything else was eaten.

The pasta itself was pretty bland, which would account for the excess tomatoes and goat cheese trying to hide that obvious and glaring flaw. The star of the dish were the grilled shrimp, four perfectly cooked and seasoned crustaceans at the corners of my plate. I cut each of them up into little pieces, trying to get as many bites with a piece of shrimp as possible, but I certainly would have opted for more. The service was fantastic, my water glass never less than half full before the waiter would arrive with a refill, and it was a nice dinner with my dad, despite my food being altogether disappointing. The important thing about last night was taking time to appreciate and honor my wonderful father, and everything else, including the food, didn’t really matter all that much.

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Memorial Day: Brothers Visiting and the Search for Food

IMG_3619Today being Memorial Day, I didn’t have to work, so my brothers came up from Arkansas to spend the day with me. They arrived shortly after ten and met me at Overton Park, where we left the cars and walked to the zoo. We passed a Veterans Park, filled with plaques honoring those from Shelby County who died serving the United States of America, and although it was just a coincidence that we passed by, it was fitting that we did so on today of all days, and I am truly thankful for the men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice to allow me to live a life of freedom. We went to the zoo, where the power was still out from yesterday, and walked around for a couple of hours trying to see animals through the crowds of people who had arrived before us, then we left and went to go eat lunch.

We agreed on Moe’s, to get a burrito so we set off from the zoo and arrived in the desolate parking lot of Moe’s about fifteen minutes later. It was closed, so we decided to go to the mall and eat something in the food court, and a few minutes later we arrived, to find that the mall too, was closed. Next on the list was the Sear Shack, a pretty good burger place here in Memphis, but luck still evaded us as we pulled up to the restaurant and saw the lights off inside and chairs stacked on top of the tables. 0 for 3. We drove around a little while longer trying to decide what to try next, and we reluctantly agreed on Chipotle, because Logan was still in the mood for a burrito after deciding we wanted Moe’s earlier. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Chipotle, we found that they were open, so we ate there, and it was very disappointing.

I know that I’m in the minority as someone who thinks Chipotle just isn’t that good and is overrated. I expect a lot of you reading this right now love this place and consider it the highest form of blasphemy to speak against it, but I honestly don’t know what’s so great about Chipotle and why people are so crazy about it. I got a chicken burrito with beans, salsa, cheese and sour cream, not that it really mattered what I had them put in the burrito because as soon as I took a bite everything started falling out into the basket. If I’m going to eat at a place that is known for burritos, it would be nice if they knew how to wrap it well enough so that all of the ingredients didn’t fall out. As I ate, I thought about Bo Burnham’s closing rant from his latest comedy special, “Make Happy”. “Wouldn’t have got the lettuce if I knew it wouldn’t fit. Wouldn’t have got the cheese if I knew it wouldn’t fit.” When eating chicken wings and ribs, there is an expectation that it will be messy and you will probably get some of it on your face, but burritos do not fall into this category, however by the time I finished mine today, I’d gone through a stack of napkins. All in all it was great to have my brothers in town for the day and we had a lot of fun, but none of us were happy with the choice to eat Chipotle for lunch.

For My Mom

IMG_1521It’s mother’s day so I want to use the blog today to talk about mine. My mom is one of the most important people in my life and I love the time I’m able to get to spend with her, whether it’s a quick trip down to Searcy where I only stay for the night or in a remote cabin in northern Minnesota where we get to spend a whole week together. For all that she’s done for me in my life, I will be forever grateful and indebted to her. Some of my happiest memories from childhood are doing things with my mom, like spending the day hiking up pinnacle mountain, or playing baseball in the front yard. How many other mom’s out there can wear a baseball glove on one hand and hold a bat in another, tossing the ball up from the glove and hitting me and my brothers endless ground balls and pop-ups with the other hand. We’d throw the ball back to her, which she’d catch every time, unless it was a bad throw on our part, and start the whole process over again.

A few years ago we took a family vacation to Destin, Florida, and on the very last morning we were there, my mom and I woke up early to walk along the beach, enjoying the sunrise and the waves crashing at our feet. Later that day she slipped by the swimming pool and shattered her kneecap and since has had multiple surgeries and been through unimaginable pain as a result, but on that day as she sat in her hospital bed in Destin, she said “at least it happened on the last day of vacation”, thankful for the time she was able to enjoy, rather than focusing on the fall and letting that cloud her judgement of the entire trip. My mom is the kind of person that always looks for the positive in any given situation, and has been a constant source of encouragement for me. She could have used her injury to sulk and lie around the house doing nothing, it would have been a valid excuse, but she used her time that she couldn’t work studying to complete her master’s degree, something she achieved last year, and I couldn’t be more proud. She has always encouraged me to not give up on things I want to do, to always persevere, but those aren’t just words, she leads by example.

She constantly asks how my writing is going, and even gives me feedback when I need advice. In fact, the book I’m currently writing and am about halfway finished with, never would have come into existence without my mom. I knew the premise of the book I wanted to write, but there was a gaping hole, a “why were the characters in this situation” type of plot hole and I was struggling to come up with a decent idea, but I talked to my mom about it and after thinking it over for just a couple of seconds, she gave me and idea and that was the beginning of my book. Thank you mom for the constant encouragement and love that is never ending. I love you. Happy mother’s day.

The Annual Christmas Picture

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When is it okay to wear a turtleneck? If you answered never, you are absolutely correct, I just wish somebody had told my mom that years ago, when it came time for the annual christmas pictures with all of my cousins. I’m sure we didn’t wear matching turtlenecks each year, but it seemed like we did a lot, and when it comes to those awful shirts, one time is too many. The annual cousin christmas picture always happened the same way, like a bad case of deja vu each year. The Friday after Thanksgiving, when all the good football games were on, me and my two brothers, along with my six cousins would be taken from the comfort of my grandparents living room, to go stand outside in the cold to take a picture, that seemed to include multiple poses and variations of people standing together. I don’t remember when we stopped taking them, maybe I quit being included when I was in high school, but for the better part of my childhood and teenage years, there was a picture.

At first, when it was just me, my two brother and a couple of cousins, the pictures were taken by professionals at a photo studio in the department store of the mall, which always included at least one crying child while the photographer would say bogus words, like fuzzy pickles, in an attempt to make us smile, but conjured up an image that made me want to burst into tears. As our group grew, and more cousins were added to the mix, the professional photographers were replaced with my mom, and two aunts, who each had a camera, and the photo studio was replaced with nature. One time we stood next to an old wooden mill that churned water, another time we stood in front of a lake, and one time we stood in front of an old wooden bridge, none of which held any significance in our lives outside of the thirty minutes to an hour that we spent smiling for pictures, one afternoon out of the year. Since each parent had their own camera, photos were taken in rapid succession, quickly turning after each picture was taken to the next camera, like we were celebrities on the red carpet, making sure the paparazzi got our best side with each shot.

Although it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, I do have one good memory of each photo shoot. Inevitably one of my cousins would be accused of faking a smile, which would result in them trying to smile again and again to no avail, and then, when my uncle was finally fed up with how long it was taking, and ready to get back to the house, he would pull the fake smiler aside and give them a spanking as encouragement to do it right the next time, and the next picture would include the tear streaked face of a cousin, trying their best to smile for real, so as not to be punished again. That alone was enough to make the pictures worth it, so perhaps this year, when Christmas rolls around, we can do it again. I’ll go ahead and practice smiling genuinely, while turning my head for each of the three cameras to get the shot.

The Easter Story

It was still dark when he arrived home, just before seven on this warm morning in April. He was tired but he bounced into the kitchen of his aging home with excitement, allowing the wooden door to swing shut behind him, shaking the foundation of that very house. Normally he would have been more considerate given that his wife and twenty-two kids were probably still asleep, but this morning they could use a wake-up call, whether they wanted to or not. It had been a long night for Pete, his longest of the year, and he wasn’t able to get through it as easily as he once had as a younger man, fifteen years earlier, but since it was the most important night at work each year, he went about his business without complaint. He could’ve complained, sure, but the higher-ups in the company were already looking for a reason to get rid of him, and he was not about to give them plausible reason for termination.

The administration had stripped him of the mall circuit last year, telling Pete in a not so private manner, in the middle of a shopping mall the Saturday before Easter, that he freaked out the kids, and nobody liked him. It was true that his eyes were red, appearing as if filled with blood, but that was just how he was born. He was able to seem less threatening over the years with his wide smile that made his whiskers twitch with joy, but I guess lately he just hasn’t had much of a reason to be happy. A job he used to love was becoming a monotonous necessity to provide for his children and wife who barely spoke to him anymore. When they’d first met he told her his dreams of becoming an engineer, and these high ambitions are what attracted her to Pete in the first place, but after they got married and she became Mrs. Cottontail, he gave up school for the old family profession, becoming a certified Easter Bunny.

Church started at eight, but before they went, Pete gathered all of his children around him in the living room and told them the story of the Easter Bunnies while they munched on some chocolate that he had saved for them throughout the night, while his wife stood in the corner and rolled her eyes. It was up to the most important species in the animal kingdom to keep the magic of the holiday alive, and Pete Cottontail took it as an awesome responsibility and a great honor to be able to serve the world in this way. Normally he didn’t care whether or not the family got to church on time, a near impossible task for a family of his size, but on Easter Sunday Pete insisted on being on time, and if possible a few minutes early. Despite his creepy red eyes and the general look of sadness on his face, Easter was the one day of the year when people didn’t shy away from him, refusing to make eye contact with him. The kids were forced to tell him thank you for the baskets full of candy that he brought for them, and the parents gave him an appreciative pat on the back for making their kids so happy. As he stood in the church, surrounded by all of the people who were pretending to like him, a hint of a smile crept across the rabbit’s face. It was a good day.

The Importance of Easter

With Easter coming up I thought it appropriate to write a blog about the importance of the holiday, just to make sure that nobody forgets the true meaning of what Sunday represents. When I was a kid, Easter was like the fourth best day of the year. Christmas was obviously first, and Thanksgiving was second, given that I was out of school surrounded by amazing food and football, my birthday was third, and Easter was fourth. I loved Easter because it was great waking up and and getting a basket full of treats, and the Friday before I got the day off school. Everyone seemed to overuse the joke, renaming it great Friday instead of good Friday because people were off work and school. After church we would have a big family meal and then an Easter egg hunt, each egg filled with additional chocolate than what the oversized bunny had delivered that morning. The only reason it didn’t rank higher on the list is because it did have the massive downfall of having to go to church, because if we’re being completely honest, there is really nothing as boring and painstaking for a kid than sitting through an hour long church service, and Easter meant that it would go on for even longer, but I kept my mind occupied with all of the chocolate that was to come later in the day, sitting on the wooden bench trying not to pass out from the sugar crash because of all the chocolate I’d already eaten.

Alright so now that I’ve gotten off track rambling about my childhood Easter’s, let me get back to the point. The importance of Easter is perfectly pictured in the story I told, because even as a kid, I had my mind focused on the right thing, chocolate. That’s right, the importance of Easter lies in the chocolate, but not just any chocolate, Easter chocolate. You can go to church multiple times a week, every week of the year, but do you realize how rare it is to find Easter candy? Sure the big stores start selling out the day after Valentine’s day, but you don’t buy it then. You scoff at Wal-Mart for putting the product for a holiday two months away on the shelves so early. You would never betray the spirit of Easter by getting a chocolate egg in February. You walked past the Easter candy, head held high, knowing that if you waited, you would be rewarded with all the chocolate you could eat on the fourth best day of the year.

It is a day when people of all races and beliefs come together in peace and collectively enjoy Reese’s peanut butter eggs. Sure the regular Reese’s cups are great, but the eggs are so much better, due to the much higher ratio of peanut butter to chocolate. Each bite you get like double the peanut butter, and for that, I am truly thankful. So as this holiday approaches, don’t forget what makes this day so special. Eat chocolate until you feel sick, because after Sunday you won’t be able to bite the head off of a bunny for another year. Happy Easter everyone!

Valentine’s Day

img_3405Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, but of course you probably already knew that or else that’s the reason you are in trouble today. My wife and I don’t normally make a big deal out of this “holiday”, usually just go out to dinner together and this year was no exception, although we did up our game this year. For those of you reading this in disgust, thinking “I can’t believe he didn’t get his wife flowers, the unromantic jerk”, I want to make something perfectly clear. I have gotten flowers for my wife on many occasions in the past, sometimes even after she asks me not to, and she’s always appreciative, but she’s really a person who doesn’t like flowers and thinks they’re unnecessary, and usually mentions it anytime she sees someone buying roses. “It’s such a waste” she’ll say. “Why buy something that will die in a few days?” Suffice it to say that she never owned a goldfish.

Anyway, we went out to dinner at the Butcher Shop, a steakhouse, last night, which definitely beat all of our previous Valentine’s dinners. Last year we went to Chilis, the year before I was working so we met at Wendy’s on my lunch break, and the year we first started dating we got a pizza with the pepperonis arranged in the shape of a heart. How romantic. This year I prepared, I made reservations last week for 6:30 and we pulled into the parking lot a few minutes before. We circled the entire restaurant in search of a parking space as I wondered to myself what good a reservation is if you can’t find a parking space. We eventually parked in a parking lot adjoining that of the restaurant and walked through the slight drizzle into the warmth of the restaurant that was overly crowded with hungry couples. We could barely get in the doorway and the hostess was telling people that it would be a two hour wait, but lucky for us we had the reservation so we scooted to the side, got our names checked off the list, and were escorted into the dimly lit dining area.

My wife and I both ordered steaks, me the New York Strip, and her the Top Sirloin, and after a few minutes the waitress brought out our salads and some bread. Maybe it was the excitement of the evening, but it was one of the best salads I’ve ever had, not that I’m any kind of connoisseur when it comes to salads. The lettuce was all very fresh and crisp, and I ate all of it, except for the cucumber which I absolutely can’t stand. The steaks arrived on a plate with a good sized baked potato that was topped with cheese, bacon, and sour cream. The steak was cooked perfect, medium rare as requested, and the potato was a star in it’s on right, the perfect compliment to the slab of meat before me. I have done quite a few meal reviews on this blog, many of which were disappointing, but this one earned a ten out of ten. Even the service was fantastic. Never once did my glass of tea ever run out, as the waitress always seemed to be handy with a pitcher, ready to give me a refill. The meal cost more than we spend on our weekly groceries, but it was absolutely delicious and well worth it. My only hope now is that the blog will become super popular so we can eat like this more often.