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Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Good, Good Life

So, no offense to the three regular readers of Spicy Food Guy and his gallant posts about delicious eating, but today is turned over to some guy named "Joe", who wants to write about his 30th high school reunion.  Something about another commencement speech.  Whatever.

Welcome and good evening, Class of 1981.  

It was 30 years ago that I last addressed you as a group.  Back then, I was one of three students elected by the faculty to give a commencement address.  Your friends and family were here.  Do you remember that I spoke or what I said?  

That's OK, neither do I.  Something full of arrogance and piss and vinegar.  Pretentious, as I recall. Wishful.  But I don't remember the details (any of it, actually), and neither do you.  I remember the party afterwards, but that one is in the vault.  A conversation for another time.

So, through the magic of the internet, we are all gathered again.  Not the cavernous arena we gathered in the last time, but a place like it.

Look beside you, right and left.  First thing we notice is some empty seats.  We didn't all make it, here in the land of the living.  Some of us have gone on to the Great Mystery.  We miss them, those that have passed on.  We wish them restful peace.  A moment of silence.

So my remarks will begin.  A word about our generation.

For those in the audience from the Media, I use the word generation loosely.  I am addressing the class of 1981, born in '62 or '63, but I am also giving or taking a few years.  The classes that graduated 6 or 8 years behind us?  They count.  Hard to know the specifics of who I call my generation, who doesn't, where the boundaries lay.  You media are a pedantic bunch; I will not be held to your labels or standards.  That's one of the good things about us, but we will get to that.

Here is what I know.  The Census people, the ones who count stuff, established the back end of  the Baby Boomer generation just a year or two before we were born.  The Baby Boomer  generation boasted Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, both Clintons.  Not us.

A generation behind us came the internet.  Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984, invented Facebook. We watched the start of Netflix and eBay.  But it wasn't us.

If you weren't paying attention, you'd think we haven't done much.  You might call us boring.  If the generations from the past 70 years had a party, my generation would be cut off at the door by a velvet rope.  "Sorry", the bouncer would say in that furiously unapologetic way that bouncers do, "your name isn't on the list.  You can't come in"

I think there is some stuff you should know, and you need to listen to me now.

Operation Desert Storm, 1991 or so, the first war we had fought as a nation in two decades?  We fought in that.

9/11?  Hit when we, my generation, were about to upgrade our houses and careers and take our turn at the American Dream.  We put that stuff off.  Those kids who were shot at in Iraq and Afghanistan the next ten years?  Those were our kids.

Do you know the three worst recessions in the past 30 years?  One in the early 80's, one in the early 90's, when we were entering the workforce.  The third?  The really awful recession, the great recession?  That happened in 2007, at the height of my generation's earnings years.  We were laid off, or, at best, watched our 401Ks fall to half value.  Let's face it:  when Social Security has to own up and say some poor future US Generation is going to have to take a smack in the face and take out less than they paid in, who do you think it's going to be?  I will tell you who it will be: me and my classmates.  

Let me speak tonight to the members of the media who think we might be complaining.  Have you heard this from us before?  Has the Class of 1981 gone and picketed Congress?  No.  We have not.  Want to know why?

Because we are not a complaining generation.  

We work hard.  We love dogs.  We love our spouses and kids and our homes.  We love Diners and Sports Bars and Cold Beer.  We would drive a far piece for really good Ice Cream.  We eat hot dogs with mustard during ball games.  We sing the baseball anthem during the 7th inning stretch and sing the National Anthem at the beginning of football games.  We cheer the band and wave flags.  We watch fireworks.  We ride roller coasters and scream like babies at the spooky parts of scary movies.  We celebrate our life's events at picnic tables at State Parks.  We hug our Moms and our daughters on their birthdays.  We take our sons fishing and bowling.

And let me tell the media another thing.  You praise another generation, the kids in their teens and twenties.  You call them generous and tolerant.  You go on and on about how they give hours to the community, how they don't discriminate about religion or ethnicity.  You marvel about how they accept homosexuality, how big their hearts are.

The Class of 1981 has a quiet message for you.  Those kids?  Those are our kids.  You think we are some passive do nothing generation?  Who has raised better kids in the past 100 years of our nation's history?  Not to be an ass, here at my 2nd commencement speech, but I really do think it is time for the media to shut the hell up.  

I will get off my soapbox now.

30 years ago when I gave you the big speech I didn't know all the stuff I just said.  I underestimated our collective character.  I simply did not know the size of your hearts.

So more specifically, now I talk to you, Milford Class of 1981.

We start with accountability.  The Popular Pretty Girls of the Class of 1981 made the reunion all possible.  The Class Officers are charged with delivering our reunions.  They elected not to do so.  I am certain our Class Officers have very big and important jobs in 2011.  They have not delivered a reunion to date.  Not in 1991, not in 2001, not 2011.  On this I will comment no further.

So the Popular Pretty Girls stepped up.  They have always stepped up.  Remember those big signs on the walls of the high school they worked on for hours to cheer our team on to some victory for some random sport and we thought it was because they were snotty and superficial?

Turns out they had school spirit. Real school spirit.  And big hearts and genuine souls.  

And I missed it.           

Thirty years from when we graduated, the Popular Pretty Girls made sure we had a homecoming.  And for us Nerdy Guys, who were deathly afraid of the the Popular Pretty Girls and their ilk?

Turns out the Pretty Popular Girls are nice.  Big time nice.  And have real class spirit.  And good husbands who are funny.  And 30 years ago I made a lot of false assumptions that these girls were stuck up and pretentious.  I was wrong then.  I will not be wrong again.

At one point in the evening, one of the Pretty Popular Girls pointed out that if some of us Nerdy Guys had just asked, maybe some dates would have happened back there in '80 or so.  I appreciate the gesture, but 30 years clouds judgment.  So to you, Pretty Popular Girl who hinted so, I think at prom time you had better options than a 6'2'' 128lb walking stick of bones and skin.  Wayyyyyy better options.  But thanks for making me think I had it in me at the time.  And thanks even more for organizing the evening. And thanks most of all for making me realize what a lovely person you are.  I wish I could have said thank you in June of 1981.

And then there were the Non-Popular Girls of my class.  The Non-Popular Girls were a little plain or a little overweight or a little whatever.  And now their souls shine like stars.  They volunteer at Hospice or Special Olympics and kings should bow at their feet.  Real kings.  

Sometimes we hung out 30 years ago when it was convenient for me and sometimes I ignored you. I didn't deserve your friendship back then and I probably do not deserve it now.  To repeat a phrase I recently used, your hearts are so big you could never be anything but beautiful.  If I had a brain in my head in 1981 I would have asked you to Prom.  Shame on me for not doing so.

Also at our reunion were the Scary Guys.  Jocks and fighters who kicked ass and tied guys like me in knots and hung us from the ropes in the gym.  Thanks for being normal and funny and not locking us in the bathroom at the reunion.  Your hearts are genuine and you are stand up guys and you have rescued a female classmate or two from bad situations.  I will always envy you.

Lastly, to the Nerdy Guys.  We know who we are, even if it took us 30 years to dance with a cheerleader. 

We have done well.

Some of us tried to be be brave.  We jumped out of C130's and called ourselves Paratroopers.  Or we worked as DJ's or media producers and made ourselves specialists at what we do.  One of us fought Aaron Pryor, Welterweight Champion of the World, for 3 rounds before getting knocked out.  

So this is the get tough generation.  We spit blood and stagger up and say who the hell are you?  

But a tough generation is not a mean generation.  You could tell from the reunion.  We are an affectionate bunch.  We are inclined to turn our faces to the sun.  

A reunion with the class of 1981 is sort of like going to an autumn fest.  The cold air is setting in, but for a moment we turn our heads to a fading sun and soak in the warmth.  We linger there, we  turn our faces to the west, we breathe in the last of the sunshine.

In our hands is a cup of hot cider is a little shot of something something.  We sip it.  We grin a bit.

I love my class.  I love our affection, our hand shakes, our hugs, and our defiance.  This is my class.  These are my people.  I didn't always know how important that was to me.  I won't miss it again.

Thanks to all of you.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chipotle Goat Cheese Scramble

Years from now, when the Chipotle Goat Cheese Scramble is an everyday offering on Diner menus all throughout the United States, Spicy Food Guy's three regular readers will say with certainty, "I remember when SFG conjured up that heavenly scramble in his spicy little brain, back in 11, it was."

Female members of the SFG Family were at the Farmer's Market last week, and they bought local organic eggs, fresh berries, and, get this, some Chipotle Goat Cheese from the River View Dairy.

Sam and Susie Byler, who own the small dairy (45 goats), market their various goat cheeses to high end places like the Pittsburgh Whole Foods and to very intelligent Chefs in the Steel City.  The Byler's are goat cheese sages.  Mixing chipotle spices with goat cheese?  Where'd that come from?  Potion class?  Maybe the Byler's are Wizards that specialize in goat cheese; that would certainly explain a lot.    

But Spicy Food Guy Digresses.

Saturday morning.  SFG wanted breakfast.  A random poke through of the Fridge revealed some possibilities:  Chipotle goat cheese, organic eggs, applewood smoked bacon, Memphis Mojo Hot Sauce.  All of this provided the platform for Spicy Food Guy's epiphany of culinary creativity.  Trust SFG when he say's you really, really, really want to try this:


Two strips of applewood smoked bacon, fried until crispy
Two slices of River View Dairy Chipotle Goat Cheese
Two organic eggs
Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce (SFG prefers Memphis Mojo) to taste.  

Cube the goat cheese, and place the pieces on a breakfast plate so they cover an area about the size of the palm of your hand.

In a frying pan, cook two eggs over easy, being careful not to break the yolks.  Place the eggs directly on top of the goat cheese.  Crumble the two strips of bacon on top of the eggs.  Slather the whole thing with the Memphis Mojo hot sauce or another Scotch Bonnet hot sauce.  Note the Scotch Bonnet pepper brings the dish's flavor palette together.  Do not substitute.

Take a deep breath.

Take a fork, break the yolks, and mix all that stuff together until you have a nice, gooey, yolky scramble.  Serve with a slice of toast.  Use the toast to mop up all the good parts you can't get on a fork.  Then face Pittsburgh and hail Spicy Food Guy because that damn breakfast kicked ass.

Peace out.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cajun and Kobe in the Arizona Desert

For reasons best left unknown to the general public, Spicy Food Guy was out and about in the world.  This time SFG was engaged in a quick flyby of Phoenix, Arizona, with only a day or so to try out the local cuisine.

Fortunately for Spicy Food Guy, his accommodations were located right across the street from Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen.  Let's just say it didn't take long for SFG to determine where he was headed for dinner.

SFG knows how to eat out when he is by himself on the road.  Roll up the sleeves.  Sit at the bar.  Quaff the local microbrew.  On draft.  Spread out.  Eat big.  SFG  knocked down the Cajun Combination, a cup each of seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and chicken and sausage jambalaya.  Plus coleslaw.  And garlic bread.   The gumbo was particularly good: earthy broth and tender chunks of shrimp and other seafood.

The more interesting part of the trip began the next day, when Spicy Food Guy's services were needed at the Phoenician, located in Scottsdale, Arizona.  The Phoenician, by any standard, is one of the stateliest and most elegant resorts anywhere in the US.  It doesn't just exude wealth, it exudes the look and feel of America's wealthiest.  Think the Greenbrier in WV, or The Breakers in Palm beach, FL.

Spicy Food Guy read a book once, Conspiracy of Fools, an accounting of the rise and fall of the Enron Corporation.  At the height of Enron's power and prestige, the Company had their annual executive offsite at the Phoenician.  As Spicy Food Guy surveyed his surroundings, he could just picture Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow striding across the marble and granite bridges that crisscross the swimming pools.  They would be sporting expensive sunglasses and wearing their arrogant infallibility like a tailored suit of Armani armor.  With blazing blue skies and a resort that backs up against the stark Camelback Mountain, it is just a given that the Phoenician houses Captains of Industry.  SFG swears you can smell corporate deals in the air.

But Spicy Food Guy digresses.

Since it was warm outside and SFG lives in a cold place, he elected to eat lunch at the Oasis Pool Bar and Grill.  Spicy Food Guy decided to try the Kobe burger because he hadn't had one before and the Japanese beef is said to be second to none.

No lie on the Kobe.  It's juicy, flavorful, a burger's burger.  And poolside at the Phoenician is a damn fine place to try one's first Kobe.      

As delicious as the burger was, SFG is simply not a Kobe guy.  Or a Phoenician guy.  SFG would just as soon knock back a hot dog and brew at a baseball game.  Preferably at PNC Park.  There are places you go and marvel at the beauty and wealth, and there are cities you live in that slowly capture your heart, and you come to love it there.  That's home, baby.  Home. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Fabulous Breakfast Sandwich at the Place You Never Go To

You know that dive restaurant you have driven by 248 times on your way to somewhere else and said to yourself "sometime I need to stop and eat at that place" but you never do?  Spicy Food Guy ate there.  And you are missing it, because it's pretty good.

But Spicy Food Guy digresses.

Spicy Food Guy was having lunch.  But not just any lunch.  The very best kind of lunch.  SFG was joined by not only his lovely daughter home from college, but also the boy, who is finishing his freshman year at Mt Lebo High School and just had golfed 20 strokes better than his Dad.  On nine holes.  He is really good, I suck.  I have come to peace with that.

Time was not long ago when the three of us ate together all the time.  As a divorced Dad who had his kids over every other weekend, the three of us ate out all the time as a matter of course.  Eating out removed us from my (then) tiny apartment and gave us some bonding time.  Back then our eating out was a matter of convenience, now it's a treasure.  I suppose it was a treasure back then, too, but I missed it.  SFG supposes that this is the manner of things; we miss the treasures in front of us.  A daughter's laugh, a perfectly cooked over easy egg, the boy's smile, laughing.  Treasures.  SFG sees them much better now, these moments to be savored.  

So back to the diner SFG had driven by so many times.  Tom's.  Great place.  Spicy Food Guy had the breakfast sandwich that has gyro meat, egg, and cheese on Italian toast.  Tasty!  Really good.  To the point SFG wondered why he had never seen, much less eaten, one before.  The girl had pancakes.  The boy wolfed down eggs, bacon, pancakes, toast.  The boy is ravenous, all the time.  You have to watch your fingers.

So here's the thing.  Spicy Food Guy has kids he does not deserve.  They are wicked smart.  The two of them have posted up 24 years of education, with maybe a B or two on 98 report cards.  Everything else an "A".  Since they came from a broken home, they should have issues, right?  Instead, both of them are caring, kind, quick to comfort others, funny, good people to be around.  They get lead roles in plays, get elected class officers, they are beloved. 

SFG is not.  Spicy Food Guy is cantankerous, grumpy, intimidating.  Spicy Food Guy caved into peer pressure in high school and made bad decisions that hurt good people (my apologies, PF, wherever you are).  SFG still sucks at stuff.  SFG doesn't have half the character of his kids, and he is twice and a half their age.

Spicy Food Guy ponders all this.  He is either a fabulous parent beyond measure (unlikely), or random shit has occurred in the universe that has blessed him with the best of children.  Or maybe all that is moot and we all just grab a good diner breakfast when we can, because it's all finite.  The stars, the laughs, the sunrises, walruses, anxiety-ridden dogs, and bad golf outings.  Breathe it in.  Embrace what you can.  SFG senses his mortality, and he's ok with it. 

Peace out.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hot and Juicy Crawfish

So Spicy Food Guy has been out of commission for a while, but a recent trip to our nation's capital drove him out of his retirement.  Explanations to follow.

But let's start with one of the best meals, all time, SFG has ever eaten.  Crawfish, baby.  Two pounds of crawfish.  In spicy garlic butter sauce.  Served in a plastic bag.  With spicy fries.  And a couple of Budweisers.  At a place called Hot & Juicy Crawfish in Washington DC.  Spicy melt in your mouth goodness.

But Spicy Food Guy digresses.

Spring break, 2011.  The first step on our trip from Pittsburgh is the Summit Diner in Somerset PA.  SFG gorged on the Scrapyard, a combination of hash browns, scrapple, two eggs sunny side up, and cheddar cheese.  Pricetag of something like $4.50.  Best value meal ever.  The scrapple, which is not easy to find outside PA, was the perfect crunch to mix in the eggs and potatoes.  Great start.

Another terrific meal was the Applewood Bacon Scramble at the Open City Diner just north of downtown DC.  Two eggs sunny side up, applewood bacon, and aged white Vermont cheddar cheese all mixed together with grits on the side.  Outstanding.  Almost as good was a six ounce ribeye steak with three sunny side eggs at the Woodley Cafe, right up the street from the Open City Diner.  

Big time eating because SFG was big time walking.  Treasury tour, Ford's Theater, the Smithsonian.

March of 2010, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum opens a new exhibit called Human Origins, a 15,000 square foot space devoted to our beginnings.  Spicy Food Guy, a history buff by design, is fascinated by Human Origins.  At some point, somewhere, we started cooking with fire.  We started painting pictures.  We wrote.  Sentience.  

Even though it's a busy place, the Human Origin exhibit invites silence, thoughtfulness.  Spicy Food Guy ponders; we each get a brief turn on this planet, then we become exhibits.  In two thousand years, my life will be a mystery to some kid touring some museum.  What will he think of us?  

Spicy Food Guy is not sure, but he can chronicle.  He can write down what he sees, what he smells, what he eats.  So it's time to take up the blog again.  SFG is back.

We ate crawfish kid.  They are probably extinct in your era.

Too bad, because they kicked ass.  They were the balls.

Peace out. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Best BBQ in Nashville and Four Meals with Pork. In a Row.

Spicy Food Guy and Great Guy Colleague of Spicy Food Guy (GGCSFG) had a full rack of ribs.

As a side.

After BBQ we went out for ice cream.  Spicy Food Guy had two dips of Tennessee Fudge in a Chocolate Chip Cookie Cone.  It was that kind of trip.  But Spicy Food Guy digresses.

As usual, for reasons best left unknown to the American public, Spicy Food Guy was out and about in the world; this time in Nashville, Tennessee.

The trip didn't begin as a BBQ orgy, but decadence has a way of gathering momentum.  This is especially true when the decadence has to do with ribs, pulled pork, bacon, and Texas sausage.  But Spicy Food Guy is getting ahead of himself again.

The origin of the BBQ binge took place at the Brookwood Farms North Carolina BBQ Pit at the Charlotte airport early in the afternoon.  During his layover, SFG happily knocked off a pulled pork sandwich with slaw and vinegar based BBQ sauce, baked beans, and a bottle of Budweiser.  Pretty sane BBQ consumption at this particular point in the trip.

Then the party went to Nashville and a couple of locals recommended Jacks BarBQue as the undisputed favorite among true BBQ enthusiasts.  Jacks has won two or three zillion awards, including "Best BBQ Sauce on the Planet" in 2004.  After tasting all eight or so homemade sauces that Jacks serves on premises, SFG agrees that the sauce is heavily competitive in planetary circles, and it's even in the realm of possibility that when the aliens land, they will want to go to Jacks.  But Spicy Food Guy digresses again.

SFG and GGCSFG went to Jacks with several other Food Enthusiast Colleagues of Spicy Food Guy (FECSFG).  The food at Jack's is served cafeteria style, and the line is long.  Orders must be placed quickly.

Spicy Food Guy decided on the three meat platter.  $13.  Really.  SFG picked the pork shoulder, ribs, and Texas sausage.  SFG also stuck with slaw and baked beans as tried and true BBQ sides.  However, because only two or three ribs came with the three meat platter, Spicy Food Guy fretted that there would be a rib shortage at the table.  That's when SFG and GGCSFG decided on the full rack of ribs as a side dish strategy.  Brilliant.

So this was Spicy Food Guy's tray -- 3 meat platter with beans, slaw, and bread.   A plate with a full rack of ribs.  Eight little plastic cups of every BBQ sauce that Jacks served.  And two beers.  Now this may sound a little over the top, but keep in mind SFG shared the ribs with GGCSFG.

The BBQ was fabulous.  The Texas sausage was packed with garlic, paprika, and juicy pork fat.  The ribs were tender with a great char and smoke ring.  The pulled pork was obviously smoked for hours and hours and had that pit-master smoky signature.

After dinner, SFG and FECSFG waddled over to the Whiskey Bent Saloon (of course it was called the Whiskey Bent Saloon, complete with an up and coming country music singer, and our table was made out of a real wagon wheel.  Really).  After digesting dinner and listening to music, SFG and FECSFG decided to head off to an old fashioned corner shop called Mike's Ice Cream Fountain.  That's where the Tennessee Fudge ice cream in a chocolate chip cookie cone moment occurred.  And yes, it was as tasty as it sounds.  Creamy.  Big ol' chunks of chocolate fudge.  A cookie cone that tasted like, well, a cookie.

Spicy Food Guy knows what you are thinking; "Surely it ended there, SFG, surely you didn't eat again for many, many days".

It's called breakfast and it took place the next morning.  Spicy Food Guy selected the Waffle House. Best breakfast at the Waffle House?  The Breakfast All-Star Special.  A waffle.  Two eggs.  Three strips of bacon.  Hash browns (Spicy Food Guy had his hash browns "smothered and covered", that is, grilled with onions and topped with a slice of processed American cheese.  Generally the best hash browns on the planet).  Toast.  Coffee.  SFG added orange juice.  A stick-to-your-ribs breakfast.

Ate every bite.  The force is strong in Spicy Food Guy, and the midichlorians were hungry.

And maybe, perhaps, that would have ended the pork orgy.  But Spicy Food Guy had to fly back through the Charlotte airport.  Hit the BBQ Pit on the flip side.  Pulled pork again, slaw again, beans again.

And then, and only then, did Spicy Food Guy decide he was full.

Totally true story.  Peace out, BBQ fans.  I am one of you.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Best Spicy Breakfast Sandwich in Pittsburgh, Perhaps Anywhere

Spicy Food Guy was home for a few days when he was tipped off about Gab and Eat by some local, in-the-know diner types (LITKDT).

"Go there", urged LITKDT, they have the best burgers in the 'Burgh.  They're Balls!"

OK, they didn't really say the burgers were balls, it's just that SFG loves the expression so, and it seemed to fit in the story.  And LITKDT aren't the only Gab and Eat advocates.  Several 'Burgh bloggers have hailed Gab and Eat as the "best diner in the 'Burgh".  Where there is advocacy there is substance, at least when it comes to hole-in-the-wall-diners.  The same cannot be said about the Republican party, but Spicy Food Guy digresses.

So off Spicy Food Guy went to the Gab and Eat, though he passed by it a few times because he blinked.  Or sneezed.  It doesn't take much to miss the ol' Gab and Eat.

Anyway, SFG had every intention of ordering one of the Gab and Eat burgers.  It was a mission.

Until he spotted the John Boy on the menu.  The John Boy.  Hot homemade sausage, egg, cheese, peppers and onions, all on Italian toast.  Not just any Italian toast -- but Mancini's Italian toast.  Mancini's, the makers of fabulous bread and perhaps the best pepperoni rolls in the region (that's a whole other blog post).

Let Spicy Food Guy say this about the John Boy:  it's spicy, it's cheesy gooey, it plays the egg and sausage perfectly together, it's the best bread ever, it's one of the best breakfast sandwiches in the free world, and tops anything in North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. 

If the John Boy could talk it would say "I have been called the breakfast sandwich of my generation among those who have tasted me" in a similar sort of way Will Ferrell called himself the songbird of his generation in the movie "Stepbrothers".

You should see Stepbrothers because it is hysterical.  You should eat the John Boy at Gab and Eat because it's a one of a kind Pittsburgh breakfast sandwich.  So says Spicy Food Guy.

Peace out.
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