Re Cycled

  Given the proximity of everything in the city, I decided to once again become a bike owner.  I wanted something cheap, practical and with that slightly emasculating quality that only a cute little basket on the front could provide.  My wish was granted.

Vess still hums the "Murder, She Wrote" theme song when she sees me riding by.

  Despite being available brand new and fully assembled for 80 bucks thanks to black Friday sales, it still looks pretty slick – Me riding on it after a 16+ year hiatus, however, does not.

  “It’s just like riding a bike.” 

  I always assumed that means you can easily pick something right back up no matter how long it’s been.  I looked like a grizzly bear on two wheels, only not as good.  After a couple of wobbly days, near misses with pedestrians, some close calls with riding off the curb into traffic and almost colliding with a few cacti and low-lying tree limbs, I had enough confidence to venture further away from the homestead.

  Yesterday I needed to make a trip to a store a couple of miles away.  No problem!  The weather was great, the whole city is pretty much devoid of hills and I have my basket.  Let’s go!

  Though I still get a little pale when another bike is heading toward me on the sidewalk, I was managing quite nicely.  I took my time so I could enjoy the sun and take in some of the more unfamiliar parts of town.  In a few moments I was at my destination and ready to park my bike.  As I was chaining it up, my ears suddenly noticed something.

“Hissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss…”

Shit.  I located the culprit – a small sliver of metal had impaled the front tire.  I had owned the bike for 5 days and already flattened a tire.  By the time I came back out of the store, the tire was almost sitting on its rim.  Time to hoof it.

What felt like beautiful 80 degree weather suddenly felt like 200.  What was just a couple of miles suddenly felt like 1,000 as I began the trek back during lunch hour traffic.  I wheeled it straight to the bike shop which, conveniently, was 2 doors down from our apartment.  I walked into the shop with a wet shirt, sagging tire and a basket full of anti-frizz hair care products – not my proudest moment.   Having scant tools and no pump, I was at the repairman’s mercy.

  “Not a problem.” the tattooed 20 something stated under his purposely crooked hat.  “We’ll have you fixed right up.”

  As he started to disassemble the front housings and work his magic, I walked around the shop to peruse their bike accessories.  If I made a grocery trip I would need more carrying capacity so I was curious as to their offerings.  It was then I started to get scared.

  “40 dollars for a fanny pack?!  95 dollars for a duffel?!” I muttered to myself.  How much was this replacement tube going to cost?  15 minutes later I had my answer.

  “Alright dude, you’re good to go.”

  “What’s the damage?” I said, with bated breath.

 Now, I could go on a diatribe here about how the whole bicycle repair industry is crooked and all they want is to make a quick dollar.   Though the accessory prices were exorbitant (probably due to brand names) this simply wasn’t the case.

  “Labor included that will be 11 dollars.”

  I breathed a sigh of relief, swiped my card, hopped back on and pedaled home.  The ill mood that I was spiraling into suddenly vaporized.  It seemed like I found the silver lining of this dark cloud.

  Since the car has stayed parked since I got the bike, it will have payed for itself in a month – that is if I don’t go through a new inner tube every 5 days.  Luckily, that cute little basket on the front is big enough to carry a can of Flat Fix.

Sausage Party

  As we first arrived in Phoenix, we passed a sign on 7th Street that advertised fresh, homemade sausage.  Doing a little research I found that it was a hotspot for local Germans to get their fix when they needed a taste of Deutschland.  Lured by all things pig, I jumped on my bike and decided to check it out!

The house that pork built.

  The name of the place is Schreiner’s Fine Sausage, a mom-and-pop operation located in an unassuming little shack that you could easily pass by without noticing.  This place is tiny.  If more than four or five people are already there (which is often the case, even when it isn’t lunchtime) things can get downright claustrophobic.  The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was the smell of smoked meats frying.  Suddenly I realized that I had some serious decisions to make.

Blood tongue, anyone?

They had all varieties of handmade sausage from the questionable (read: boudin) to the tantalizing (sausage kabobs: slices of many of their different meats skewered on one stick and ready for the grill.)  Fresh or smoked, Cajun, German, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, Sicilian, Portuguese, Spanish, Mexican – everything was represented here, and at excellent prices.  I know in certain places, shops like this are commonplace (I’m looking at you, sis-in-law living in Germany!) but to me this was an oasis.  After much deliberation, I decided to get six fresh bratwursts, a pound of their house sauerkraut and a pack of German rolls.  I threw my purchase in the basket and pedaled home as fast as I could.

  I decided to parboil them in beer first, then sauté them the rest of the way to give them a crisp, golden skin.  Instantly the apartment smelled of frying porky-goodness and beer. 

♪ Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, Über alles in der Welt! ♫

  I split one of the rolls and slathered it with hot mustard.  I lovingly dropped in the brat and topped it with a good helping of kraut.  Eagerly, I took my first bite.

  The fresh sauerkraut (can anything fermented be considered “fresh”?) was crunchy and tangy, a good sign of a naturally fermented raw kraut as opposed to a cooked one.  It lacked the juniper berries and carraway that I have come to love but It was still tasty.  All of that didn’t really matter as soon as I tasted the bratwurst.  The natural casing was crisp and had a “pop” to it when I bit through.  The inside was tender and juicy and tasted of fresh quality.  I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of fennel, which is something I usually associate with Italian sausage.  The other spices were subtle and complimented the pork perfectly.

  I have never had homemade sausage of this quality before and Schreiner’s totally rocked my face.  I can’t think of a better idea for a fast and cheap dinner in this area that packs as much flavor.  Already I have planned a return trip to try some more of their creations.  Like I said, if you blink you will miss it, and that would be a shame.  It really is a hidden gem.

Turkey for Two

  So, lacking the tools and room to roast a full-on brined turkey this year, Vess and I decided to walk across the street to the grocery store and see what our Thanksgiving day options were.  As a sign of these hectic times, everything you could possibly need to make a memorable turkey day was available in prepackaged containers with colorful labels and delicious looking pictures – packaged gravy, packaged asparagus with butter sauce, packaged mashed potatoes and last but not least, packaged turkey.

Serves 8-12. I don't think I've thought this through.

  I admit, I felt like I had sold out.  Roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving has actually become a point of pride for me.  It was a two-day ordeal and a bit of a hassle having to stick my hands in a bucket of iced brine to flip the turkey at 6 AM but I was always very happy with the results.  It just didn’t feel right buying one out of a plastic container.  Begrudgingly, we put the turkey in our basket.

  Back at home we opened the package.

I want them to do the exact same thing to my body after I die.

  So far, so good.  I’ve definitely seen worse raw turkeys.  Somewhere under all of that bacon lives a very happy bird.  It even is kind of shaped like a turkey despite having no bones.  I questioned how well an orange slice would hold up in a 375°F oven for two hours and forty minutes, but it was trussed to the turkey so I left it on.  The label said the turkey was organic and never frozen so I started to not feel so bad about taking the easy way out with a convenience food.  Into the oven with you, Gobbles McTurkeystein!

  Next came the sides.  This is where it got fun.  Two people working in a kitchen the size of a closet makes for a lot of elbowing and stepping on each other’s feet.  I started to snap and steam some green beans while Vess started peeling potatoes.  We had some leftover Mexican corn from the corn lady that we decided to just serve at room temp.  A couple of tequila shots along with some Mexican AM radio in the background and things started flowing like a well-oiled machine.

  In the interim, my mind started to race with ideas for additional dishes.

“You know what is missing?” I questioned, with wide eyes.

“What?” Vess’ interest was piqued.

“Deviled eggs and macaroni and cheese!”

“Let’s do it!”

  I put a pot of water on the boil and took five eggs out of the fridge.  Vess started to boil water for the pasta.  This meal was starting to take on a life of its own.  As I was finishing the deviled eggs I noticed we hadn’t brought along any paprika to sprinkle on top.  I grabbed some hot Mexican chili powder instead and dusted the yolks.  Done with the eggs, I watched as Vess was finishing the roux for her sauce.

“Don’t you need cheese for that?”

Vess went pale, “Oh shit!  Shred some quick!”

I spun around, grabbed the grater and shredded like the wind.  A mound of cheese was ready just in time as the sauce was coming together.  Finally the macaroni and cheese was ready to go in the oven as soon as the turkey came out – which was going to be any minute now.  Vess started boiling the potatoes.  By this time the house had started to fill with this amazing smell of turkey, bacon and sage.

*DING!*  The timer went off.  Time to see what this thing that was stinking up the apartment so deliciously looked like.

There's nothing quite like carving the Thanksgiving bacon.

  Well, I was right about the orange.  It looked like a hockey puck.  There was also this pool of black sludge in the bottom of the pan left by all of the rendered grease – one of those pools that will take multiple soakings and washings to get off of the pan.  Still, look at all of that crispy bacon!  Even if the turkey sucked, we still had bacon.  I tented the turkey and placed it in a corner to rest for twenty minutes.  Vess put the macaroni and cheese in the oven and started mashing potatoes.  I started sautéing the steamed green beans with garlic, onions and red pepper flake in some of the rendered bacon fat.  We took turns working on a pan gravy made from the drippings, white wine, chicken broth, corn starch and spices.  We were almost done!

  Time to “carve” the turkey.  Carving a turkey without a bone is interesting.  It’s kind of like carving a huge loaf of Spam.  It feels wrong, but you know it will probably be pretty tasty.  As any designated carver is obliged to do, I carved off a little smidgen for tasting.  It was actually pretty tasty!  The bacon had kept the white meat moist and the cranberry-apple stuffing was herby and sweet – but not TOO sweet.  It wasn’t as delicious as a homemade turkey of course, but it definitely filled that Thanksgiving turkey role that it was created for.

  Plating a Thanksgiving meal has always been difficult to me.  You always start off with sort of a game plan that usually gets thrown out the window.  Starting out, I always try to keep foods that may run into each other and create weird combinations as far apart from each other as possible – pie and Mashed potatoes with gravy being a good example.  As plate real estate starts to run out, that plan usually falls apart and I end up piling shit on top of each other.  This was no exception.  I finished my beautiful platter by slicing up some canned cranberry sauce and plopping it on top of the most harmless spot I could find – on top of the green beans (Huh?)

Did I mention there was a lot of bacon?

  It was a glorious and delicious battle.  We tore through meat and sides with reckless abandon.  There was a whirlwind of gravy and cheese twirling through the air… but it was all for naught.  Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.  Halfway through our meal, we had to throw in the napkin.  There was a frozen key lime pie in the fridge that never even got touched.

  The aftermath was ugly.  Kernels of corn and the occasional stray green bean were strewn about.  Except for cups, not a single clean dish, pan or utensil remained.  The kitchen looked like a war zone. 

 Waking up the next morning, the apartment still smelled of the delicious foods prepared the night before.  It was a common occurrence at our old place that was sorely lacking here.  I realized that was one thing that had been missing.  The new place finally smelled familiar instead of smelling like a previous tenant.  I had spent my first holiday away from home with the love of my life and we had our first big meal at the new place together.  It was finally starting to feel and smell like home.  It was a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Food can do amazing things.