Years ago, just after the divorce was final, and long before I met Partner/Spouse, I played with the idea of opening a restaurant. People had suggested I work in one, or open one on my own my whole life. I honestly don’t see myself as a world class chef, but I enjoy cooking and feeding people. But I always told people I’d never open one because if I had to cook, it no longer was fun. But since I had time on my hands, I played with the idea.
The first step, of course, was to buy the perfect notebook to jot all my ideas into. It couldn’t be just a plain, run of the mill notebook like I had dozens of lying around the condo. No, no, it had to be a perfect, special notebook that I would carry with me to jot notes in whenever I felt like. I went to book stores, office supply stores, greeting card stores, etc. looking for just the right notebook. After several attempts, I finally chose one I had lying around, but had interesting food stains on it. I had to rip out a few pages from a story idea that I had already put to computer, but after that I had a nice new interesting notebook to write ideas in.
Just like everything else, a successful restaurant is all about location location location. If people don’t go to where your restaurant is, there’s not much chance you’ll be able to sell them any food. I wandered around the town I lived in at the time and playfully selected a busy street corner and said to myself, “There’s where it’ll be.” It was just a game, a way to pass some time, so it didn’t matter too much exactly where it was.
Just as important, though, is what kind of food would I serve? What would make people come to my restaurant when they had a glut of choices about where to eat? In a four block area, there were six places to get the kind of food I normally cooked. I didn’t have a hook that would set it apart, yet.
I’d always toyed with the idea of a place in the woods where I would make two set meals, that’s all. People would have to call me to find out what would be on the menu that night. Then they’d show up and choose which they’d like, and for a set price per person, I’d serve the full meal of their choice between the two entrees. That way, I’d never be stuck cooking something I didn’t feel like making at the moment. It was an idea I’d stolen from a couple of cooks in Naples, Italy when I’d worked there for a few weeks.
But that wouldn’t fly in this town because people like choice.
Then I had another idea. It was a brilliant idea, one I’d never seen done anywhere. It’s still an idea I play with once in a while with no real intent to fulfill it. So if anyone wants it, take it. Just let me know when it’s opening day.
I imagined a brightly lit place where people could get any kind of carnival food they wanted. Everyone likes to go to fairs and carnivals and stuff themselves on things they wouldn’t get any other time of the year. Shoot, in my home town, the week the fair was in town, I’d go almost everyday at lunch to stuff Indian Fry Bread with everything down my throat. By the third day, they would let me in without buying a ticket since all I did was eat lunch and leave.
Ooops! There was the first item on my menu. Which then set me on the path of figuring out what other menu items I’d have. That was the fun part.
Popcorn, of course. Cotton Candy. Corn Dogs! Oh, Kettle Korn, sweetened popcorn. Throw some roasted peanuts in there and make a Cracker Jack spin off. Sell the roasted peanuts by themselves. Oh, and peanut brittle, or mixed nut brittle. Or just candied nuts!
My mouth watered as I kept thinking about the menu. Drinks, of course. Water, sodas, but Fresh Squeezed Lemonade! Sparkling Orange Juice. Slushees. Snow Cones. Ohhh, Funnel Cakes!
Ever have a Funnel Cake? Cake batter poured in a thin stream into hot oil creating a bizarre pattern and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Or throw extra stuff in there and make it a towering treat of pure decadence.
Chicken wings would work since there was hot oil around for the corn dogs and funnel cakes and fry bread. Could even go with fried rolled tacos. And fried Twinkies, and fried candy bars. Even fried Oreos! Fresh Cut French Fries! I’d even try my hand at fried pickles.
Soft Pretzels cuz I just love ‘em. And hamburgers, cuz what’s a midway without hamburgers? Nachos! Certainly nachos. Soft Serve Ice Cream, yum! Sausage on a stick. Sidewalk Roasted Corn Ears and Onion Rings and Blooming Onions cuz you have to eat your veggies.
Chocolate dipped anything!
Chocolate filled fried donut pockets.
Spiral cut and deep fried potatoes.
PIZZA!!!! How could I forget that?
You can see, it runs away with you. I’ve been to more than a few fairs and carnivals in my time. Some have been themed, such as a Strawberry Festival I once attended with a friend. I don’t like strawberries, but I love fairs. I wandered into a street fair my first day in Italy and discovered that fresh popcorn sprinkled with sugar is disgusting. In Germany, one weekend I went from one street fair to the next all afternoon and ate so many pretzels, I thought I was going to be sick.
Wouldn’t it be great to get that atmosphere inside a restaurant?
Well, I’m done. You got any ideas what could or should be served?
We live in a small town. We like small towns that are handy to larger towns and cities. We like small towns that have all the amenities. We like small towns, but we don’t like inconvenience. You know the old saying, “I want what I want when I want it.” But we like our small town and the people and shops and life we’re finding here.
As you know from reading this blog over the last three years, we like small diners. Our favorite locally owned diner is about three or four hours away from us right now, but it’s certainly an option when it comes to going to a diner. We just have to plan for it. So when we moved here, one of our first tasks was to find the good locally owned and operated eating places. We’ve found many. Our little town has less than half a dozen chain fast food places. The rest are locally owned, independent, use local foods, and all have local personality.
So, we’d been here about a month or so. We’d already been to two of the main restaurants in the historic district, and one of the best riverside restaurants in town. We hadn’t been to a good diner yet. We’d passed a couple and said, in passing, “Oh! We should go there!” We didn’t, though, for whatever reason. Then, out of the blue, diners were our thing again. As we were out and exploring our new area, we’d start with a diner and then off we’d go.
The first one we went to was in a neighboring small town. It’s less than 15 miles away, but it’s almost a different world since you have to go over the river, then through some woods, then some fields. Through a little village, some more woods, more fields, and suddenly, you’re there. The diner is a popular one, named after the town it’s in. Every time we’ve gone in, it’s been crowded with a very eclectic mix of people. Portions are large; cost is low. It’s standard diner fare. The nice thing about this diner it’s open for dinner, too. Many diners we’ve run into are closed at 2. But, as it was breakfast, we had breakfast. I did my standard omelet, bacon, toast, and hash browns. Partner/Spouse did his normal two eggs with everything. It was good, decent, stick to the ribs food. It didn’t stand out as spectacular in any way, but it was good. And there was something about the place that brought us back, three times since then, to be exact.
Then we went to one here in our own small town, also named after the town. We took a weekend guest to have breakfast. Again, standard order. Cheese omelet, etc. Everything was just okay. My toast arrived cold. I don’t mean it was not warm. It tasted like it had been in a fridge and reheated improperly. I told the waitress who promptly brought me fresh, hot toast, but it was a little disconcerting. I wondered if I had gotten someone else’s toast, maybe from the day before? Every else was okay, and I figured any place can make a mistake. We didn’t write them off.
I’m glad we didn’t. Yesterday, after a long morning of building and rearranging furniture, we wanted to get lunch somewhere, but we didn’t want to do the fast food thing. We considered a good Mexican restaurant we found and tried the previous Friday, but decided it was too soon for Mexican again. Since one of our plans was to visit an antique store we like, and the diner was directly across the street, we went there. We were both a little cautious. But it was worth it. I ordered a BLT cuz I hadn’t had one in a while. What I got was a small bowl of navy bean soup that was delicious. And a BLT that was delicious. And French fries that were good. And a large, juicy pickle spear that was the perfect complement to the meal. We both got a small serving of cole slaw, but since I don’t like the stuff (really, I don’t; don’t make me eat it) Partner/Spouse got all of it. It must have been good, cuz there was none left. The terrific lunch more than made up for the previous meal, so we’ll be going back more often, I think.
There’s one other diner in town that we’ve only tried once and only recently, but I want to tell you about it. First off, it’s difficult to get to cuz it’s right off the bridge as you enter town from the north. It has tremendous views of the river and the boats, but since it’s now winter, it’s mostly views of the river and snow and ice. It’s got a small parking lot, so it will fill quickly. However, the aroma of the food cooking will make it all worthwhile. I ordered my omelet and a side of bacon. Partner/Spouse ordered a waffle and a side of sausage. We split our pork orders so we could each try the bacon and sausage. Remember a while back I told you about our butcher located in a small market? I told you how he provides a large portion of the meats for the area restaurants. The sausage was from him. We know this because we buy and eat a large quantity of this sausage and we were eating it again on our plates at the diner. We were sold! Any cook who knows enough to order local is going to get our business anyway, but to order from our favorite butcher is the icing on the cake (if you’ll pardon a mixed metaphor.)
So those are our current diners. If you ever come visit, we’ll take you to one.
Winter this year has been brutal for large areas of the country, mine included. The picture above is a wildlife preserve about two miles from our house. Snow is deep there, and it’s deep in our yard. The dogs hate going outside when the snow is that deep, but because the temps are so low, the snow is crusting and the ice hurts their paws. Buddy, in particular, has tender paws and limps pretty quickly. I was noticing yesterday that he and Dusty like to lick the snow. Then today, I watched one of the neighbor kids wandering around munching a handful of snow. It put me in mind of the things my mom used to tell us about using snow to make things to eat.
Now, before anyone says anything, no, I don’t eat yellow snow. I also seldom eat those odd round cupcakes covered in marshmallow and coconut called Sno-Balls. I used to eat those little candies of chocolate drops with white sprinkles on them called nonpareils, more commonly called Snow Caps. But I’m talking about really real stuff that you can eat that’s made from snow.
My mom used to tell us about this stuff. It all came from her childhood in upstate New York near the Canadian border and the farm her family ran at the time. Winters were always hard, but these were made more difficult by the large size of her family. They made whatever treats they got.
Snow cones were one of their favorites. They would make a fruity syrup out of preserved fruits and sugar and water. It had to be sweet, but it had to be thin. Then they had to wait until it came to room temperature, otherwise it would melt the snow. Once the syrup was ready, they would get cupfuls of clean snow. Powdery snow was the best, she said, but any snow would work as long as it was clean. They’d take it inside and pour the syrup over the snow and eat it. Instant dessert!
Another treat they had a lot, she said, was snow candy. I’ve heard other people talk about this one. Mostly people from the upper New England area. It seems to be a regional treat, or maybe I just don’t talk to people from other areas. Snow candy is basically cooked sugar that’s dropped hot into fresh snow. It hardens on contact and becomes brittle, but softens as you eat it. In the area where my mom grew up, they usually used maple syrup or maple sap direct from the trees.
You take a large quantity of syrup and boil it until it reaches the hard ball stage of cooking. A candy thermometer will show this best, but you can drop a small amount in cool water and test its brittleness. Once it’s done, you can either pour it over snow to create ribbons or weird shapes:
Or you can use a small spoon to make dollops:
Mom said they would sometimes make a sugar caramel and do this. Other times they would add other flavors to sugar syrup like cinnamon, vanilla, or peppermint if they had it and make flavored treats that way. She loved maple, though. It was her favorite. Not mine.
Another snow treat she said they had often were snow slushies. This was simplicity itself. A glass full of clean snow and fruit juice poured over it. It was different from the snow cone because it was a drink rather than something you ate. She said they mostly did it with lemonade, but other times they used apple juice or grape juice. They also used Kool Aid if they had it. She also said that after she moved away from the farm (after her mother passed away) and they had an electric fridge, the ice build up in the freezer would provide them with main ingredient for a slushie in the summertime. When I was in my early teens, I used to follow this advice with Pepsi.
One treat she told us about that we never tried was snow ice cream. She made it sound like it was complicated, and I suppose when you’re making it for a crowd and you’re ten years old, it does seem like an effort. You have to be thinking ahead when you want this treat. When the snow starts falling in earnest, put out a large bowl, or a large bucket, depending on how many you’re trying to feed. For 2-3 people, you’ll need 1 cup of whole milk, or cream, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, and any toppings you want. In a large bowl, mix everything together (except the toppings) until all the sugar is dissolved. Do not heat the milk or cream. When the bowl is full of snow, bring it inside. Stir spoonfuls of snow into the milk mixture until it reaches a thick consistency. Divide into bowls, add toppings, and eat with gusto! This will melt quickly and any leftovers (as if) should be tossed.
Well, I hope this helps you enjoy the polar vortex. Remember, Spring is only four weeks away.
This has been a crazy time for us all. Winter suddenly hit with gale force winds and all the subsequent fun stuff to deal with. I meant snow. Lots of it. We’re not near Boston or New Brunswick kind of snow, but more than we’re used to dealing with.
First, almost exactly a week ago, we had an ice storm in the overnight hours when normal human beings are asleep. I knew we were supposed to get something, but have seen these things bypass us many times. We live right on the line of bad weather and no weather events. Typically, it’s no weather event. So, at 5:45am when I looked and saw everything looked wet. I didn’t think ice.
It was ice.
And the dogs were pulling on the leashes.
I hit a patch and went down. Hard. On cement. The back of my head hit the cement porch step and I saw stars for a few seconds. Partner/Spouse was in the shower so I couldn’t holler for help. It was 5:45 am so no neighbors were about so I couldn’t holler for help. So I lay there for a few seconds trying to asses whether or not anything was broken, bleeding, or otherwise compromised.
Then Jack, our little black cocker spaniel sidled over to me with his tail stub wagging and licked me on the face. Buddy, the little Boston Terrier (we call him the Terrorist) was in the yard not far from we looking confused since things weren’t progressing normally. Dusty, our larger gold cocker spaniel, the only sensible dog we have, was pooping in the middle of the yard. He had a mission and nothing was going to deter him. I managed to get inside and holler for Partner/Spouse before settling down on a kitchen chair and putting my head on my arms.
No broken bones, no major blood loss (some minor cuts and scrapes), but a massively hurting left leg and left wrist. Had to take several days to rest and get back into the swing of things.
And, of course, Mother Nature wasn’t done. Bitterly cold winds swept in. Just after the ice melted, and Dusty could stop peeing off the porch and actually go into the yard, the wind started. Temps plunged to single digits. The only way to stay warm was to not go outside and to drink Hot Toddies and eat homemade soup.
Then it snowed. We’ve had a dusting or two, but nothing really bad till Monday night. Even the bit we got wasn’t bad in our part of the world. I didn’t measure it, but it was less than six inches. BUT, it had to be dealt with and I was the one home. So, with my wrist brace on, and a game expression on my face, I shouldered my trusty snow shovel and plunged in. Two minutes later, I took the wrist brace off cuz it was getting in the way, and put on an Ace bandage. Three minutes later, I took the Ace bandage off and just shoveled my heart out.
Then I came inside, took a shower, savored another Hot Toddy at 2 in the afternoon, and felt all warm and cozy as I watched the snow plow cruise by and undo all my hard work. To be fair, it undid all the hard work for all my neighbors, too.
So today, I’m watching the sun rapidly melt the powdery white stuff and turn the yard into a giant slush bowl and wondering how I can live in a place the declared an Emergency Situation out of the threat of the possibility of another half inch of snow falling tonight? And my wrist hurts.
Oh, you heard me say Hot Toddy? Wondering when I was going to get around to that?
Hot Toddy is just a simple hot drink with spirits in it. The hot drink can be as simple as hot water, but that wouldn’t have a very good flavor. Mostly it’s hot coffee or hot tea, but in my house, it’s usually hot chocolate because, well, you know, chocolate. Sugar and some hard liquor is added to the hot drink, and it’s served like that. But if you have a roaring fire to sit in front of and soft music in the background, it’s better.
There are lots of different recipes for a Hot Toddy. Hot Buttered Rum is probably the easiest. I’ve tasted that and to my thinking, it’s disgusting. Warm some rum with a few spices (or not) and float a pat of butter on top. It’s like drinking melted butter in rum.
The most common spirits to use are whiskey, rum, or brandy. Lemon features in most of the recipes I’ve ever seen. Honey is another ingredient that’s pretty common. Spices can be as simple as a cinnamon stick, to a whole bouquet garni you mix to your own tastes.
A close friend drinks hot chocolate or hot coffee with chocolate syrup, Bailey’s Irish Cream, brandy, and whipped cream.
In our house, it’s usually hot chocolate and brandy. And a dessert on the side.
Well, enjoy your winter and your snow. Have a Hot Toddy on me and watch out for the ice!
Hey, sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve been busy with a new writing venture and haven’t figured out my schedule yet. And earlier this week I slipped on an icy sidewalk and bashed the back of my head onto the cement so I’ve been recuperating from that. I’ll start posting again middle of next week. In the meantime, here’s some food funnies to make you chuckle (I hope.)
And at my house, not just Texas.
yeah, I’d do that.
well, maybe, I’m not sure.
looks like someone’s a tad bitter.
And as always: