Category Archives: Nostalgiafest

Return of the Fluff

Holy gawd: it appears I let half a month pass by without posting. OOOOPS! Life gets in the way of blogging, it seems. But, hey: I have updates! I started a new blog (kategarklavs.com — add it to your G-readers, yo!*), signed on as the content manager for LitBridge, continued the dating blitzkrieg, and spent a week in the glorious Midwest! Forgive me my absence? Oh, hell: forgive me or not, I’m still gonna post.

Fluff salad, a midwestern treat

As I mentioned, one of my favorite parts of visiting my ancestral homeland is eating junk food. I eat junk food in my Real, Everyday Existence, but not to the extent that I do while jammin’ in the flyover zone.** I’ll relate more of my junk-food experiences in another post, because what I really want to talk about now is Fluff.

Are you familiar with Fluff? I was not until three days ago. A cold salad of unknown origin, Fluff (aka Five-Cup Salad) is disgustingly simple to prepare and unsettlingly tasty. It’s a food you don’t want to cop to liking, but you will like it — unless you have a heart of stone, in which case you have larger problems to attend to. Are you ready for the recipe? Here goes:

Ingredients

  • One tub Cool Whip or other non-dairy whipped topping
  • Half a bag of miniature marshmallows. (You may use colored marshmallows, if you like.)
  • One packet pistachio pudding
  • One can cubed pineapple, drained
  • One can Mandarin oranges, drained
  • Approximately one-third bag sweetened shredded coconut
  • One tiny jar maraschino cherries, drained, stems removed

Method

  1. Dump your marshmallows into a large (and I mean LARGE) mixing bowl. Add the Cool Whip. Stir.
  2. Add the pudding mix to the Cool Whip/mallow mixture. Stir well to combine.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients; stir well to combine.
  4. Refrigerate before serving.
  5. Eat until you feel ill.

That’s it: really. You dump a bunch of sugar products in a giant bowl, stir, and devour. I was skeptical at first, but you know what? I’m a believer, so much so that I made my own batch of Fluff yesterday. Sarah and I ate some, and then ate some more, and then I had to put the leftovers away so we’d have some Fluff for tonight.


This isn’t the most flattering picture of yours truly, but it does depict me holding one of my favorite sugar products: frosted animal crackers. Oh, man: those things are good. Didn’t eat any while at home (surprisingly), but as long as I’m on the FluffTrain, I might as well add these lit’l dudes to my shopping list.

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*I will warn you, however, that kategarklavs.com is still under construction. There’s no About section, and I’ve only uploaded a handful of posts. Par for the lazy-ass course!

**Note: I do not consider Minnesota (or Illinois) flyover states, but some California residents do. They are missing out on the riches/wonders that would await them, were they to deplane before hitting the East Coast.

Road Trippin: What Are Your Ideal Snacks?

As I started my daily scroll through my G-Reader, I came upon this Blisstree post detailing food bloggers’ favorite healthy road-trip snacks. Really, I should have known better — the headline includes the phrase “No More Doritos,” which is unquestionably blasphemous. (It’s like, WHAT, are you going to take away my Jock Jamz and Gatorade water, too?) Still, being the semi-undiscriminating media consumer that I am, I clicked the link. BAD IDEA, Kate. Effing terrible idea.

The post begins with an irrefutably true statement (“Road trips are awesome.”), then moves into questionable territory: “Gas stations and truck stops offer a plethora of junk food…like you need sugar and salt-laden foods after sitting for hours in the car, yuck.”

Of course gas stations and truck stops offer junk food: DOI! They’re gas stations and truck stops — not, you know, highwayside Whole Foods. I was most certainly not on board with the judgey-mc-judgmental tone of the second part of that statement: “Like you NEED junk food, amirite, ladies?” Because, actually, I do need junk food for a long-ass road trip. Peanut M&Ms have saved my ass on more than one stretch of deserted highway.

Junk food — for me, at least — is emblematic of road trips. In my everyday life, I try to eat a balanced diet. I don’t always succeed, but dammit, I make an effort! Road trips, like trips in general, offer us a chance to break from our normal routines. No, I don’t regularly eat donuts for breakfast; yes, I will buy a breakfast donut if I stop at a Kum-N-Go in the middle of Iowa. Could I opt instead for a Luna bar and a sparkling water? Yeah, but I eat Luna bars most other days. Also, Luna bars sometimes taste like plastic. Also? Donuts are one of nature’s tastiest foods, and I challenge to a duel anyone who disagrees with me!

Some of my favorite road-trip memories are junk-food related. As a whippersnapper, I loved Burger King’s Whopper Junior. Go ahead and judge, readers: I don’t mind. I will take any/all heat for my avowed love of this sandwich (“sandwich”)! Whenever I took a road trip, I’d wait until 11:00 AM to eat, that being the time at which BK started offering lunch-menu items. Sometimes I’d eat in the car. Whenever possible, I’d park myself in the melmac-and-tile dining room of whatever BK I’d happened upon so I could really relish the Whopper Jr. experience.

I have similar feelings about Cheetos. When I was a senior in college, I dated a guy who lived about three two three? hours from Galesburg. Whenever I’d drive to visit him, I’d get a gas-station pumpkin-spice cappuccino and a bag of Cheetos. That particular flavor combination — ultra-sweet, moderately nutmeggy imitation coffee commingled with the distressingly salty Cheetos — brings me back: to Galesburg in September, to the flat stretch of highway between my podunk town and St. Louis, to Woody Allen and inexpensive Merlot and walks around Forest Park. I don’t drink gas-station cappuccino much these days — or ever — but now? I’m curious to see whether the drink would unearth more memories than those I’ve listed here.

Another point Carrie Murphy fails to address is the regional availability of certain foods. Dear readers, I’m sure you’re aware that your favorite food (junk or not) may only be available in certain localities. When my sis lived with me in Northampton, she grew to love this cornbread toasting bread — you know, sandwich bread flavored like cornbread. Guess what? It’s not available in the Midwest. Sis also loves Lays’ Limon chips, which are common in San Francisco and sold via Amazon, but aren’t stocked at her local Hy-Vee. When I studied in Berlin, I yearned for my beloved Cheetos; the nearest available bag was in Scotland.

This is the bread my sis loves so much.

When I visit Minnesota in a few short weeks, I’m going to eat the hell out of foods I can’t readily get here. What’s on my list?

  1. A kiddie-sized Dairy Queen Blizzard
  2. A danish from Uncle Billy’s bakery
  3. A veggie Chicago dog from Coney Island
  4. An orange scone from Panera
  5. Papa John’s Pizza

And so on.

I don’t feel one bit bad about this predicted junk-food binge. Part of a road trip is loosening up, letting one’s hair down, going with the flow, and all that other NorCal jazz. Yeah, I’m going to allow myself to become moderately sunburned! Why, yes, I’ll drink some daytime porchbeers, watch shitty TV, and drive when I can walk! Maple “syrup” made with HFCS instead of sap? Don’t mind if I do!

Food is so much more bound up with our memories — our perceptions of self — than we give it credit for. I was always the kid who got the cookie dough blizzard. I still am.

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Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

Up Past Bedtime

A-hoy-yy! So many tidbits & salutations to be offered: happy almost-weekend! Happy belated birthday to my mom, the rockingest lady around! Happy SUMMER! Solstices are rad, even for those among us who appreciate them strictly on a physical (and not ideological) level. I’m talking about increased daylight, people, the thrill of evening extending beyond its prestated limits, eating away at the night. Incidentally, if I had to choose one or the other — night or day — I’d choose night. The trees are much more striking then, laced in shadow as they are. At night, I have my best ideas.*

These days, my summer traditions are few. I owe this to two factors: my nostalgia’s slow fade and the Bay Area’s dearth of True Summer Weather. I do love living in a seasonless zone; time passes differently here, and I welcome the chance to wear sweaters year-round.

At the same time, I miss the constants of Midwest summer: electrical storms, humidity, calamine-dotted mosquito bites. Aloe vera sticky on your shoulders and thighs; ice cream eaten in an air-conditioned backseat. These joys of my youth embody the season, and I do mean embody: memories of Augusts past give me pause, cause my gut to sink in the best possible way. Without these joys, summer veritably ceases to exist.

It does exist, though, and I’m developing new traditions. Among these is my ceremonial preparation/enjoyment of the caprese salad. When spring loosens into summer, I develop a taste for fresh basil.  Never mind that the climate doesn’t sync with the calendar; this craving is rooted deep. Tomato season rolls around, and suddenly all I want to eat is tomatoes: sliced and dashed with salt; wedged in a hella greasy grilled cheese; chopped, tossed with balsamic and oil, and added to a pretty little bed of romaine.

My favorite preparation is the caprese salad. Bright and fresh, a snap to prepare, the caprese is a great pretender, assuming an air of elegance that belies its humble origins.

On a warm day last week, I made this salad. I purchased one large tomato, tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, and a basil plant. The plant, now somewhat withered, sits on the back patio, but the day I brought it home it was vibrant and half the size of a rosebush. I take my time constructing these salads, slicing the tomato into even rounds, placing the basil leaves just so. With the salad featured here, I had a Glenlivet and soda. I listened to the Talking Heads as I put away the dishes. Then, changing into shorts, I laid out in the backyard with a book and a Pellegrino and conjured some Midwest memories.

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* I almost spun off into a nostalgiathon about My Walks Through The Galesburg Industrial Park, but I stanched the desire. You’re welcome.

With a Twist: Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins

G’day, Garkyfriends! Not sure how your week is panning out, but mine is A-OK, despite climatological gloom + a persistent headache. You know what, though? Gloomy weather makes working indoors seem like less of a task, and this headache will surely be dispelled with some ibuprofen + coconut water. Voila! Attitudinal magic works wonders.

These past few months, I’ve been really into buying flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the common spaces, but buying cut flowers seems like such an adult thing to do. I mean, it is an adult thing to do, but some actions — dry-cleaning delicate garments, scrubbing the bathtub, turning in early on a weekend night even though you don’t have to wake up early the next day — seem robustly more adult than others.

Fridays, returning from acupuncture, I stroll past a wholesale floral shop; it was there I got the red bouquet, plucked from a flimsy plastic bucket and cradled for the duration of my trip.

Friday flowers are becoming a ritual. Establishment and practice of rituals — small and large alike — is what drew me to writing. Likewise to cooking. I am, by nature, a collector, and these activities fortify my amassment tendencies.

Banana bread was my mom’s go-to baked good. She made it for PTA meetings and potlucks, gifting foil-wrapped loaves to the neighbors. As a kid, I wasn’t crazy about the bread — my extreme sweet tooth wasn’t sated by its subtle flavor — but I’ve come around. Flavorwise and associationally, banana bread is a gem. It’s quick to make, and it offers an outlet for the scratch-and-dent bananas that would otherwise land in the compost bin.

Instead of baking one loaf, I made muffins, which bake more quickly (20 minutes!) and are easier to store and eat. I made a few other mods to mom’s recipe, namely reducing the amount of sugar and oil, adding a bit more banana mush, and tossing in some coarsely chopped, sea-salt-flecked dark chocolate. This tinkering yielded delicious results.

Sweetish but not cloying, toeing the line of wholesomeness, these muffins are a new standby.

Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup mashed bananas (appox. two large)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used Turbinado, but use what you have on hand!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • One high-quality chocolate bar, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (or line each cup with cupcake papers — you do you!).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs, and bananas.
  3. In a large bowl, mix well all dry ingredients, including chocolate. Once dry ingredients are mixed, add wet ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  4. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup only 2/3 full.
  5. Pop the pan in the oven, set your timer for 20 minutes, and clean up (or not). Muffins are done when a fork inserted into one comes out clean.

 

Joy of Joys

I’ve been gone; I’m back now, if only brief & flittingly. I’ve got no real excuse for the non-posting, my only sort-of excuse being the visiting of family, the suddenly warm and breezy weather that makes me want to abandon all my formal tasks and just walk.

Though I wasn’t posting them, I gathered a lot of meals & stories these past few weeks, one of my favorites being a simple quinoa salad that I dressed up with a new vinaigrette. Besides the grain, the dish contained roasted chickpeas and sweet potatoes, bathed in olive oil, s&p; salt-and-pepper pecans; golden raisins; fresh snap peas, cut into sections; roasted grape tomatoes (not yet burst); a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, s&p, dried tarragon, and fresh mint; and, finally, goat cheese, mixed in after the salad had cooled a bit.

Yes, I just spelled out the ingredients list for that salad, that’s how satisfying it was. I’m going to replicate it; I have just the sweet potato prepared.

My favorite story, though, is my first trip to The Jelly Donut. Since I first saw it, perched at 24th and South Van Ness, I’d longed to go. I put off visiting, in part out of fear that the donuts might not meet my expectations (what if they tasted like old grease?). Really, though, I enjoyed the longing: the anticipation of the day I’d cross the bootscuffed threshold and pause before the display case.

My history with donuts is a long one, more storied than you might assume. I’ve waxed nostalgic for Hans’ Bakery, the donut shop of my youth where you could get a glazed donut as large as a plate, its interior lighter than spun air. I’ve also mentioned my fond feelings for Swedough’s, whose burnt-orange decorating scheme and aging clientele make one feel as though they’ve fallen into a wormhole and landed in 1976. In both cases, I love these donut shops not simply for their wares (though DAMN, do I love donuts), but for the experience they provide: temporary relief from the exigencies of daily life.

My first Jelly Donut experience was wholly unexpected. Having eaten dinner and had a cocktail, Alex and I faced a long wait for the bus. Rather than sitting in the [relative] cold, A. suggested we get a donut. And, despite having just eaten, the lure of fried dough was irresistible: time and time again, I’d passed by that smudged plate glass, only to walk on past, but not that night. “OK,” I said, when I really meant, “Oh HELL yes!”

I knew immediately which donut I wanted: that one, the chocolate-covered behemoth pictured above. When in doubt, I opt for the largest-available, chocolate-frosted treat. (When not in doubt, I opt for the same thing.) My standby didn’t let me down. I undid the golden dough from the coils into which it had been fried, trying not to get chocolate all over my hands and face; mostly, I succeeded. Contrary to my initial prediction, the donut did not taste like old grease — in fact, it was airy and not-too-sweet, though the frosting may have given me insta-diabetes.

What I enjoyed most about the trip — indeed, what I enjoy about most donut jaunts — was occupying the dining room. Those well-wiped tables and serviceable chairs make me feel I could be just about anywhere. Donut places have about them a certain desolation, a silence that isn’t replicated in other establishments, even those with a similar price point and customer base. There’s a loneliness, a desire for a moment of peace and quiet; it’s reflected in the charred-coffee smell and the fluorescent lights’ flicker and the pleasant detachment of the woman running the till. It’s a mild, meditative disengagement from The Routine: a respite I’ll never give up, despite the barrage of bad news about refined sugars.

I don’t have a donut shop here (“my” shop). I love Bob’s, but it’s too far away to establish itself as a haunt. The Jelly Donut, though lacking some of Bob’s charm, has a solid product and a grittiness that resonates with me. It’s miles closer, too, and open late. I foresee more J.D. trips in the future: the late-night future, replete with unpopulated muni rides, wind-whipped scarves, adventure.

Blast from the Garky Past: Chicken with Bacon, Leeks, and Chives

Last week, nothing (healthy) sounded good to eat. Cheetos sounded damn fine; I’ll admit to having eaten a few peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, too. (These are a trending meal in meinem Haus.) Nothing wrong with PB&B — it features like, three food groups! — but it’s not the sort of thing I wanted to serve to Alex when he came to dinner. Necessarily, I put on my thinking cap and generated a slightly classier dinner idea.

When I’m low on ideas, I mine my personal history. During Thursday’s introspection session, I remembered a dish my parents used to make: sautéed chicken served with scallions and bacon over egg noodles. As a kid, I wasn’t much of a meat-eater, but I fiercely craved this dish; I realize now that the flavor combination of bacon and scallions pleased me greatly. Egg noodles, of course, are good in whatever form they’re presented (unless that form = “overcooked”).

I consulted the Almighty Intertron and found a similar recipe — a disconcertingly basic recipe, I should add — one that had seven ingredients (chicken, bacon, scallions, pasta, salt, pepper, white wine). Kids aren’t known for their refined palates: truth. Using the googled recipe and my Very Vivid Memories as inspiration, I began. Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Garky’s Chicken with Bacon, Leeks, and Chives (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • Eight ounces egg pasta — curlicues work best, if you’ve got ’em, but you may also use those wide, flat, yellow strips
  • Two large chicken breasts, totaling roughly one pound.
  • Four strips of bacon
  • A goodly amount of chives, minced
  • One bunch of leeks, chopped, cleaned, and patted dry
  • One bunch maitake mushrooms, cleaned and roughly cut
  • Two or three cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt & pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • About two tablespoons white wine (chicken stock may be subbed)

Method

  1. First things first: set a pot of (salted) water to boil. Clean your chicken breasts, trim them of fat, and cut them into equal-sized chunks. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until just done (between three and five minutes). Drain pasta, toss with a bit of oil, and set aside.
  2. In a rather large skillet, cook your bacon. Set bacon aside to drain and remove most (but not all!) of the fat from the pan.
  3. In the bacon-fat pan, cook your chicken. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, chives, and white wine to the chicken and cook until just browned. Remove from pan/store in separate, heatproof dish.
  4. In that selfsame pan, saute your leeks, mushrooms, and garlic. (Note: it helps to start the leeks first, then add the garlic and mushrooms after a bit.) Cook leeks until they’re soft and gently brown. Remove from pan.
  5. It’s combination time! To your pasta, add your chicken and vegetables. Crumble your bacon — which should be cooled by now — and toss that in, too. Mix thoroughly and serve right away.

Raaaaaaaaaaaah! This dish nailed it. I’m glad I didn’t follow the internetted recipe as it was — the leeks and mushrooms added a level of earthiness I might not have appreciated as a tot, but that I sure as hell appreciate now. Garlic, too, was a good call; I’m totally befuddled by recipes that don’t involve garlic. Verdict: I will be making this dish again in the near future. (Note: Alex was also a fan — he took leftovers to work for a quik-n-easy lunch.)

After dinner, we found ourselves with a mad jones for ice cream. No, I’m not using the royal we — Alex also craved sweets. So we hit up our new go-to, St. Francis Fountain, for A SUNDAE!

That there is the Buster Brown: one gooey brownie topped with Mitchell’s vanilla, raspberry sauce, cronchy slivered almonds, and enough whipped cream to topple Paula Deen herself. ALSO: our server, maybe noting our Lady-&-The Tramp-type behavior, added two maraschino cherries so neither of us would have to go without one. All together: awwwwww! Thanks, beanied hipster dude!

This week, my goals are as follows: 1) Find and prepare another leek-centric recipe, because leeks are the shit; 2) Hit up St. Francis again; 3) Eat fewer PB&B sandwiches, lest I burn out on that delicious combination. Good day.

Best of the Midwest: Dinner at Dino’s

Before hittin’ the skies, I laid out a few eating-related goals for my visit to Minnesota. I knew at the outset that I wouldn’t meet all the goals — I was only home for a few days, and I can’t eat that much, despite my best efforts — but I’m pleased to report that I made it to Dino’s Gyros, home of the killer fries.

Here they are in all of their greasy glory.

My family grew to love Dino’s a solid decade ago, when Ali worked there part-time. (In fact, I credit Ali’s love of All Things Greek to this formative tyme in her lyfe.) Fairly standard as far as fast-casual places go, Dino’s offers sandwiches, salads, Pepsi soft drinks, and a few desserts, including the seemingly out-of-place French silk pie. My go-to order, established when I was a young lass of 16, is as follows:

  • One large soft drink, which is a mixture of Diet Coke (2/3) and Light Lemonade (1/3);
  • One Greek salad with chicken breast;
  • French fries, to be split with my dining companion.

Annnnnnnd, because I am the ultimate Creature of Habit, I did not deviate from my ordering pattern. Shown above is a close-up of my salad; the green pepper ring encircling the pepperoncini and the olive strikes me as beautiful — as in, if it could be preserved and dipped in silver, it would make a badass pendant. Not pictured is my large soft drink, but you all can use your imaginations.

How did my nostalgic meal stack up? Better than I expected, actually. The salad was basic: a bed of chopped romaine hearts topped with tomato slices, thin-sliced onions, a handful of kalamata olives (pitted, thankfully), cucumbers, chicken, feta, and a quartered, grilled pita. (Dressing — about 1/4 cup of it — came on the side.) To my great pleasure/surprise, these winter tomatoes didn’t totally suck; they were a little mealy, but not as mealy as they could have been. Olives were salllllllllllty and briny and delicious, and I ate every last one. Chicken was gorgeously browned and gristle-free. The romaine offered the only obstacle — about half of it was browning at the edges or otherwise wilty. A tad bit gross, but not gross enough to prevent me from chowing down.

Sys, stoked for our traditional meal.

 And how, you ask, were the fries? Quite tasty, thank you. Revision: our first order of fries was pretty bad — they’d clearly been re-fried* and sparkled with salt. Sis returned the basket and asked for unsalted fries, which the cook promptly provided. Hell yeah! The new fries (pictured blurrily above) were golden and slender and mercifully salt-free. Of course, we added our own salt and gobs of HFCS-rich ketchup, and the result was damn fine.

Yep, this trip to Dino’s was resoundingly successful. I ordered my traditional meal, which hasn’t changed a bit in the past decade, and took part in a good-ole-fashioned French-Fry Feeding Frenzy (F^4). No French silk pie this time around, but it’s on the to-eat list for my next Midwest trip.

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*Never be afraid to bring back re-fried fries, people! I worked for four years at my college’s diner, and I KNOW. Protip: ask for unsalted fries, and you’ll often have a fresh batch made just for you!