Monday, April 27, 2009

Frozen Fish and Bloody Ears

Why are my ears bleeding? Oh yes, because I watched Little Irvy (starring my friend Aaron) perform at Grumpy's yesterday for a benefit to buy former bartender Hank a new peg leg. I'm not making that part up, it's for his refurbished prosthesis.

Methinks the venue was perhaps a little small for the likes of a band with as much sound as Little Irvy, named for the iconic frozen whale that disappointed child after child on the Midway every August at the Minnesota State Fair. We'd pay the cover charge as kids, something measly but still a lot for us, and go inside to see the supposedly giant and real sea creature and it was nothing but a big frozen fish. The disappointment was palpable.

Not even a delightful Neko Case show at the State Theater after Little Irvy's performance at Grumpy's could stop the blood from flowing from my hearing canals. But unlike the frozen Little Irvy of my childhood, I'm willing to give live musical Little Irvy another chance. Just not anytime real soon.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Warning: When you visit the Hultmann household in South Minneapolis on a sunny Spring day, don't you dare drink your new Summit Horizon hop-filled beers out on the front steps without Bad Boy Tiger Cat Steve. He doesn't care for it, and he'll let you know.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Homemade Oreos

Baking on a weekend afternoon is something I love to do and something that I will miss come this summer when the weather turns sultry and taste buds turn to crave cool fruit and crunchy salads. But it's not summer yet, as beautiful as it was today, and after fitting in some outdoor time I made room for baking homemade Oreo cookies.

I'd read about these on awhile back and vowed to try them, so easy they appeared to be. They did not disappoint. The cookie part couldn't have been faster to come together and the filling is just four ingredients blended in a mixer and piped onto an open-faced chocolate wafer. This is actually one of the faster cookies I've ever made, and totally delicious. Already I'm considering some alternatives I could try, using almond extract in the filling, or peppermint for the holidays. Thankfully the cold holidays are a ways off and for the next few months at least I can devote my weekends to summer pursuits and crunchy salads. And perhaps the occasional homemade Oreo.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bike to Work Day

It's not an officially sanctioned Bike to Work Day, but nonetheless, I made it one today. Didn't really plan to, though I had thoughts this week that I should, but when I woke up two hours early this morning, I had plenty of time to strategize the various issues that go along with biking to work: timing, packing and clothing. It all came together nicely, I didn't forget any part of my work ensemble, and the ride on my new Trek mountain bike actually felt pretty good. 

I rode into downtown which is always a bit of a nightmare at rush hour, fraught with giant buses just inches away spewing toxic exhaust clouds in our cycling faces. Then there are the Metro Mobility buses that take a sudden left turn right in front of you, and the cops pulling over drivers into the bus lane where now a single lane is being navigated by buses, cyclists and misplaced taxi drivers. But once over that hump, onto the relative quiet of the Cedar Lake trail, everything settles down. From there it's a breeze getting to work. 

Getting home tonight, not such a breeze. I decided to try an alternate route that would lead me around the downtown zone. I took the Greenway all the way to the West River Road, but I'll admit, I had no clue just how far out of the way that was. Yowza. True, it was all trail which was nice, but it literally took me twice as long to get anyway near home, and by that time I was going to be late for my 6:00pm board meeting at the old Grain Belt Brewery so I decided to just keep pedaling all the way there. I won't lie to you, that felt like a long ass ride so early in the bicycling season! Of course, now that it's done, I'm super glad I did it. But I'm just as glad I can't ride tomorrow due to my work schedule!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Souviners at the Ball of Twine

I try not to be judgmental (though I usually fail) but I'm just saying that if I went to all the trouble of carving a nice wooden sign advertising products for sale at the world's largest ball of twine (by one man) in Darwin, Minnesota, I'd check my spelling first.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sometimes a Movie is More Than a Movie

Haven't seen this documentary yet? Rent it and be whisked away to another mindset. A fascinating look at a man who did what almost no other person would ever even consider when he danced across a wire strung between the twin towers in New York City in 1974. You can't help but ask yourself why you don't have that need to challenge yourself like Philippe Petit did. While you won't find any answers here, you'll be spellbound by the questions.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In This Economy

I'm already tired of those three little words - in this economy. I'm tired of hearing them, saying them, thinking them. With a recession in full force, this phrase is bandied about more often than the F word at my office. 

However, I am willing to throw those three little words out there one more time because in this economy, you can't beat The Wienery for an awesomely cheap meal. The Wienery is a little hole in the wall on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota nestled next to a little Thai restaurant and near the 400 Bar. It seats maybe ten folks at the counter and there are three small tables. It isn't the cleanest establishment you'll ever visit, but it isn't scary, either. It just is. One dude, the owner I presume, presided over just a regular home stove (no fancy restaurant cook top here) to feed the full house of hot dog lovers. Jude and Gord and I got lucky and nabbed one of the tables and perused the menu while sitting underneath a mounted deer head that was wearing a necktie and a trucker cap that was printed with the words Jesus is My Homeboy. I loved the place for that alone. I knew I wanted a hot dog for lunch, after all the place isn't called The Hamburgery, it's The Wienery. That said, I have heard that the burgers are pretty great, so there is definitely one in my future. But for my first visit only a wiener would do (that's what she said).

Amongst the possibilities that included all sorts of toppings (chili, onions, chilies, vegetables, bacon, cheese, etc.) as well as dog options, beef and pork and vegetarian choices, I chose the Drive Inn Dog. That's a Vienna beef hot dog with chili, cheese and cole slaw on top. Word on the street is that the owner makes everything from scratch, almost at the very time he is preparing your order. Still, it was remarkably fast. When you order French fries, you order them by the number of potatoes you want. One potato costs $1.25 to fry and each additional potato for your order is 75 cents. I told the owner we wanted to share some fries and he said, "So you just want a huge pile?" and I could not refuse.

My dog arrived piping hot, with a layer of chili and cheese on top and a glop of tasty cole slaw thrown in the center. Now, some people may have been disappointed with the amount of toppings on the dog, so accustomed to out-of-control restaurant portions that try to make us all believe we're getting more for our dollar. Even I expected something more along the line of a Coney Island at the Gopher Bar in St. Paul, smothered in toppings so much so that you can't tell where the hot dog is. I'm not saying I don't enjoy that, but I can also appreciate a certain amount of restraint in topping my hot dogs so that every flavor can be appreciated. For me, this dog had the perfect amount of toppings, no fork required when it was all over. The French fries were hot out of the fryer, skin on and lightly salty. It was indeed a huge pile and we finished every last one of them. I don't think this was the best hot dog I'll ever eat in my life and I'm not urging Chicagoans to make a beeline for The Wienery, but it was a darn good dog and I'll gladly return anytime.

As we gathered to leave, since there's no point in hanging out at this place because it's pretty small, the owner caught my eye and said, "Make it ten bucks." Ten dollars for lunch for three?! I could not have been happier. Even with a generous tip we got out of there with hardly a dent in the wallet. Three stomachs happily full for around ten bucks in this economy? I'll be back.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Romantica and Carrie Rodriguez

Romantica, a local alt-country band with roots in Ireland and a bass player from Minneapolis (Grumpy's bartender Tony Zaccardi), shared the stage at the Varsity Theater last night with Austin, Texas fiddler Carrie Rodriguez. Romantica has been a favorite of mine for a few years but this is only the second time I've seen them perform live, and it was enchanting. Lead singer Ben Kyle, with his Irish brogue and hunching guitar playing style, could easily exceed Ryan Adams or Jay Farrar's success and I can't help but think it's just a matter of time till that happens.

Carrie Rodriguez sang her heart out, a mix of country bumpkin and sophistication that was incredibly endearing and fun to watch. But when Carrie and Ben joined together to perform a duet of her song Big Kiss from her Seven Angels on a Bicycle record, it sent a chill down my spine. I could have watched them sing it ten more times in a row. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Ben Kyle and Romantica down the road.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Fries made of chickpea flour. Did I even know there was such a thing as chickpea flour? No, I did not. But I do love a chickpea so I felt compelled to try these out right away. 

I was reading one of my favorite food blogs by Mark "The Minimalist" Bittman yesterday on the New York Times website and I stumbled across his ode to the chickpea fry, apparently easily found in France and Italy. Always looking for new ways to use chickpeas, I ran out to the Indian grocery down the street (easy to do in Northeast Minneapolis!) where I found myself face to face with about a thousand different kind of flours. I never knew they made flour out of half of the things I saw there, and it was quite overwhelming. After eying up fifty pound sacks of rice and vegetables I'd never heard of, I found the chickpea flour right next to the gram flour (whatever that is). I got in line with lots of Indian folks with great accents and paid $2.99 for two pounds of flour, a bargain at twice the price I'm sure. 

Chickpea fries couldn't be easier to make, it starts out like preparing polenta. I whisked the chickpea flour with water in a saucepan over medium heat and added some salt and olive oil. At first it seemed super liquid-y and I was worried that I'd done something wrong, but as it heated up it thickened into a porridge. All I did after that was pat the dough down on an oiled cookie sheet and chilled it for a couple of hours. Then came the tough part, for me anyway. I have never really successfully fried anything, and I'm not sure I did tonight. I think I put too much olive oil in the pan and then turned the heat up too high. After I cut the chilled dough into strips about one inch by three inches, I added a few of them to the hot oil. They immediately began frying, and also smoking. Soon my tiny home was filled with a haze that the vent above my stove couldn't handle. I opened the window and, thankfully, it wasn't bad enough to set off the smoke alarm, but it was annoying and made Hakeem spend a lot of time sniffing the air. I fried the dough on both sides for just a short time till they turned brown and then transferred them to a paper towel-lined plate where I dusted them with kosher salt. I only made four of them so as to prevent a visit from the fire department tonight, and because I have a fear of frying. I'm going to try to fry more of the dough tomorrow in less oil and at a lower heat to see if that makes a difference, although I tend to believe that almost any kind of frying short of frying an egg is not meant to be done in 689 square feet of home.

When the fries had cooled enough, I took a bite. The texture was excellent, crispy on the outside and tender creamy on the inside. There is a taste of chickpea, but not overpoweringly so. It's more like an earthy French fry. It was a little bland, so I mixed up a quick dip in the form of light mayonnaise blended with a little Nando's Chickenland Hot Peri-Peri Sauce from one of my favorite cities in the world, London. Nando's is a little chain of Portuguese chicken restaurants that I think is regarded there as kind of silly, but by which I am enchanted. Roasted chicken truly makes me swoon. The simple dip was perfect for the fries, and I'm thinking for a turkey sandwich in the future as well. I think some simple additions to the dough before cooking would be great, too, like garlic or herbs or more salt than I mixed in. It's also possible that a bigger house and even a tiny bit of knowledge about how to fry food would be helpful. I'll keep trying.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Have I Gone Too Far?

Friends and family have expressed concern that I may be taking this whole pineapple slicer business over the edge. I'm afraid an intervention might be unavoidable.