Travel is a life-changing experience, for better or worse. Heaven knows my life — or at least my diet — changes every year when we return to Kentucky. Gone are the fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market, the artisanal breads, the lovingly pulled shots of Illy espresso and the assertive California wines. In their place come a flood of fast and prefabricated foods, peppered lightly with a few items of genuine culinary interest.
En route to visit the in-laws, DPaul suggested I document everything I ate during the trip. I thought it would make an interesting study, in sharp contrast to the last time I captured a week’s worth of food.
If the photographs are rather artless, so too were the subjects. One can only do so much food styling with paper plates and glassware emblazoned with Shrek’s verdant mug. So, if you have the stomach for it, follow me on six days/five nights of eating my way through Middle America, and understand how I managed to put on three pounds during that time, despite eating only two meals most days.
Cantina Laredo, DFW
Read more on that in my previous post. Not bad for airport food.
One half pimento cheese sandwich
Blah to the argh. I hate pimento cheese. But it was late, we had been traveling all day, and I was willing to put just about anything in my stomach at that point. But it was not an experience I repeated for the remainder of the trip.
Boars Head™ ham, turkey and havarti sandwich on light wheat bread. Ruffles™. Sweet pickles. Coke™ in a Shrek the Third™ glass from McDonalds™.
OK, this was not so far outside the realm of food reality for me. I’m not a big chip eater, but they have their time and place, which is to say alongside a nice sandwich. And the pickles? Stay tuned for more on those.
An oasis. Read all about it in loving detail.
Grilled "premium" chicken combo, McDonalds™
I eat at McDonalds™ exactly once a year. In Kentucky. I’ve long since given up on the idea that it can be avoided, and so I view it as a sort of rite, a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I kind of thing. To be fair, I don’t hate the fries. The grilled chicken, while ostensibly a nod toward healthier eating, was pretty vile. While moist, the meat (whether it was a reconstituted product or actual chicken breast I could not determine) was pumped up with brine, making the thing taste solely of salt. Bizarre squiggles of gloppy mayonnaise, limp lettuce and flabby tomato rounded out the dish. The bun didn’t suck.
Get this: McDonalds™ has put a lot of energy into creating and marketing their salads, again as an effort to change public perception about the health and nutritional value of their food. But though there were big posters for them on the front of the restaurant, they appeared nowhere on the menus as you stepped up to order. In other words, you have to know ahead of time that you want one, and which one you want, when you order. But how often do you think people cave into temptation when the step up to the counter? I think it’s a shady practice.
Grilled prawns and steak. Baked potato with butter and sour cream.
We went down to DPaul’s aunt and uncle’s new house in Elizabethtown, about an hour south of where his parents live. Lovely place, but in a development so new there is no landscaping, so these McMansions are dolloped about on an almost lunar landscape. It’ll be pretty in a year or two, I’m sure. Being a family affair, the food was of course pumped up. Ain’t nothing wrong with steak and prawns on the grill. And yes, I think that was officially the world’s biggest russet potato (I only ate half, and perhaps half the steak as well), but the folks from Guinness couldn’t make it in time.
Piece of cheesecake from Whistle Stop Cafe, Glendale, KY
Glendale, a small town just outside Elizabethtown, is a snapshot of fin-de-siècle rural Americana. Quaint late Victorian homes and antique shops cluster along the railroad tracks, where trains still run today. The former depot is now a reasonably good restaurant called the Whistle Stop Cafe — no relation to that Whistle Stop Cafe. I don’t go out of my way for cheesecake, but I finished my slice.
Pillsbury Golden Homestyle™ biscuit with local peach preserves
DPaul tells me his mother used to make excellent biscuits, but I’ve only ever seen the ones that come out of a tube. They’re not terrible, but one day I hope Jane will make me a batch of honest-to-god biscuits. The jam, though, comes from a farm stand/garden market down near Bowling Green that we’ve been to. It’s cute.
Oh, and the coffee. Senseo™ Paris blend – vanilla-caramel (artificially flavored) with a crema-like head. Two pods. Still not strong enough.
Pulled pork from Bar B Que Inn in Bowling Green, KY. Baked beans. Corn on the coblet.
Another family event, this time at David and Jane’s place in Brandenburg. Sadly, there is no good barbecue up in their area, but there is mighty good pulled meat down in Bowling Green, so it got imported up with DPaul’s grandmother. Smoky pulled meat with sweet-tangy sauce. Mmm hmm. Perhaps the best thing to come out of Kentucky, and the one thing I genuinely look forward to eating each trip.
Round 2: Half a dog. More beans. Slaw.
What? It’s a family thing. Of course you have to go back for seconds.
Pillsbury Golden Homestyle™ biscuits. Bacon. Country sausage. Scrambled eggs.
Ah, a full-on country Sunday breakfast … on Monday. The sausage was made locally in Bowling Green, given to DPaul’s parents by David’s brother-in-law. It had a subtle sweetness, I think from a little maple syrup in the mix.
Leftover barbecue. Ruffles™.
You didn’t think we’d let the hordes eat up all of that luscious pulled pork, did you? Had to save a sandwich’s worth for us the next day.
Grilled Pizza. Salad.
This is where we tried to bring a little California to Kentucky. We thought it would be fun to grill up some pizzas. But we weren’t really in the mood to do everything from scratch, so we took the low road and bought pre-fab dough (yup, you guessed it, Pillsbury!) and — shudder — sauce in a can (or, as the case was, box).
"Dad really likes homemade pizza," said Jane, but here’s the thing. "Homemade pizza" means buying a Di Giorno™ pepperoni pizza, bringing it home, putting more toppings on it, and baking it off. Our modus operandi with pizza normally is homemade dough, rolled thin, barely covered with a small amount of sauce and cheese, and maybe one topping, and baked crisp.
As a sidenote, while driving back to the house one night, DPaul’s dad pointed out a pizza place, and said, "they make their pizzas inch and a half, two inches thick, so much stuff on top you can’t hardly pick it up. Yup, that’s good pizza." David thought our grilled pizza was "interesting." I thought it
was surprisingly good for store-bought components. Best of all, it was
fun, easy and required almost no cleanup.
Salad. My mouth watered at the sight of greens. Even if they were lightly covered with Wishbone Spicy French™ dressing.
Pillsbury Golden Homestyle™ biscuit with gravy.
I didn’t see it being made, but I’m pretty sure the gravy was from a mix, too.
Turkey sandwich. Fries. Gallon of margarita.
Groan. Our flight from Louisville to DFW was canceled due to weather problems, so we were rebooked on a flight out of Lexington to Chicago, connecting on to SFO. Odd though it may sound, I was rather looking forward to DFW’s dining options. Chicago, on the other hand, I hate with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. I’ve spent too many hours trapped in that pit of an airport. Your dining options in the American Airlines wing are beyond limited. So we sucked it up and ate at Chili’s. I have little else to say about it other than that our waitress, Eve, was cheerful, friendly and hyper-efficient, able to cart around an amazing number of those stein-like mugs full of margaritas. DPaul surmised she used to work in a hofbrau.
One year ago today … I pondered my memories of the Alhambra — with music!