Monthly Archives: February 2011

Traveling Repast

Eating while on the road rarely promises a good meal.   It is not uncommon, while traveling,  that one finds themselves at mealtime in an unknown location with unknown  resources with their gut dictating that the time to eat is now.  That is part of the reason for success of fast food in America.   Instant recognizable comfort and satiation every five miles on the highway.  No hunting necessary, the golden glow of the marquee marks the restaurants location fifty feet off of the exit.  Not too hungry yet, think you can push on?  No problem, the next exit promises the same options, if you are lucky, maybe a Panera.  I lately have been finding myself trying to avoid that pattern.  Some curmudgeons bemoan it, but my cell phone has been the greatest tool in this quest.

While traveling with Amanda this past Wednesday, hunger dictated that we eat somewhere between Indiana, PA and Pittsburgh.  We were without time constraints, so it was easy to be choosy about where we ate.  At the same time though, we did not want to start driving and pick someplace as we went because we always end up settling on something disappointing because of the fear that it is going to be the best choice before there are no choices left and you end up skipping a meal.  So I pull out my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Droid and use Google’s “places” app to locate places to eat around me.  I scrolled though the generated list, ignoring the common everyday occurrences, as a tiny arrow pointed in the direction and gave the distance to each of my potential stops.  Each entry had a rating and description and I can easily skip over places described as “TGI Friday’s like” and “worst place to eat in Indiana County” (although I admit that those places intrigue me).  Finally I saw the word that hooked me:

“Diner”

Dean's Diner, seen here in an old postcard, opened in 1953 as a classic art deco style Federo dining car that had an additional, matching, dining room added on in the back. The dining room has since been been replaced with a bigger brick and morter structure that does not match the classic stainless steel exterior.

 

Diners.  The butt of many jokes about food quality and wait staff, but at least you know what you are getting.  Not in the cookie cutter, “I’ll have a number 5 with Coke, just like I can have at any other of your locations down the street” sort of way that I was complaining about before, either.  Things here will be familiar, but chances are there will be some unique qualities that give each diner its own distinguished charm.  Four things you can you can count on though: the staff have been there for years, the same patrons have been there for years, gravy seems to be an option for everything, and there will be pie.

I have to admit though, Diner’s started out in their time, as what fast food chains are to me now.  They were prefabbed, open 24 hours a day, had a menu designed to appeal to all on-comers, and their service was fast, convenient and cheap.  Now though, fast, convenient, and cheap means eating, in the car, food purchased from a window or a touch sensitive screen at a gas station.   Don’t get me wrong, I love Sheetz, but when was the last time you were able to ask your MTO touch screen whether she would have the hot roast beef sandwich or the club?

Everyday I hear people complain about today’s modern world being rush rush rush, no one takes time to smell the roses. They COMPLAIN about it, yet are part of the problem.  It is the same complaint generation after generation.  People blame society, technology or teenagers for the blinding pace that life is passing them by, when they themselves are just too complacent to get off the beaten track and try something different or unknown and slow down.  They are too worried about their drive time or not knowing what they will order to stop somewhere new, sit down with someone they love, and order something with gravy on it.

Dean's Diner, 2175 Route 22 Hwy W, Blairsville, PA 15717

Don’t forget the pie.

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Boiled Butt and Baloney Soup

Three years ago a great tradition was started.  A group of  friends simultaneously realized that none of them had to work on Presidents Day and that one of them had just bought a house with a hot tub.  Little thought more than that went into what would become known as “Boiled Butt and Baloney Soup Day”.

The first year found four guys sitting in a hut tub outside on a snowy February Day sipping whiskey and drinking beers.  Food was an afterthought and everyone was left pretty worn out by the end of the day even though we did little more activity than lift ourselves out of the water to cool off.  A good time was had by all, and it was agreed that a yearly tradition had been started.

I planned ahead for the second year.  I bought a pork shoulder and, even though I would normally not pass up an opportunity to use the grill, put it in the Crockpot for barbecued pulled pork sandwiches.  I was still keeping it simple and easy,  so a pack of sandwich buns and a package of sliced sharp cheddar rounded out my offering for the day.  We had begun to find a balance.  Boiled Butt and Baloney Soup Day provided an opportunity for a group of buddies to eat and drink good food things that paired perfectly well with the comfort of an afternoon in a hot tub.

Looking back I am surprised that food was afterthought for us.  The original group consisted of two chefs (one also a brewer) and two guys that are no strangers to good cooking and eating.  Between the four of us, we all had pretty similar tastes in what we liked to eat and drink.   As the month approached for the third BBABSD we realized that it was not going to be the same.  The house with the hot tub was no longer available to us and we needed to decide what to do without it.  A couple ideas were kicked around and they all involved food, and it was eventually decided that we would get together, cook, eat,  and drink and not get into a hot tub.

The group this year consisted of the former hot tub owning chef , myself, and a gourmand.  Everyone chipped in with ingredients and we set to work, working together in my kitchen.   The first course was mussels steamed in shallots, herbs and white wine.  We stood around my dresser-turned-kitchen-island and with fork and bread worked our way through the pile of bivalves and their wine and butter enriched broth.

Next, Chef prepared the deer loin that Gourmand brought and finished it with a balsamic pan reduction that was further enhanced with some of the left over shallots and broth from the mussels.  This too we grazed over and chose to eat standing in the kitchen rather than sit at the dining room table.  With what bread we had left, we were able to sample the sauce still hot from the pan.

For the final course we had tom yum gai, a chicken soup of sorts with coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass,  which I had simmering on the range all evening.  Finally we sat.  In near silence we savored the flavorful soup as it worked its way into all the cracks and crannies that were left unfilled by late evening.  The soup left us as satisfied customers in an opium den, lounging in the living room, euphoric from all that which we consumed.

I feel that BBABSD has changed for the good.  The hot tub was always relaxing but it really could not compare to this meal, which really was nothing extravagant but had the benefit of three friends collaborating and sharing in food and companionship.   I hope that the tradition continues, and if anything, no longer occurs only on President’s Day but becomes more frequent and expands to my other circle of friends.  No need for anything formal. No need for menus, just find something fresh and good, and we’ll cook it up together.

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Repast…

repast

\ rih-PAST \  , noun;

1.Something taken as food; a meal.
Simple.  Substance consumed.  To me though, it has always meant more.  A repast is an opportunity.   Repast occurs multiple times a day, more plentiful than sleep, and can, even in its simplest form, impart special meaning to the most mundane aspects of life and leave an indelible mark.