Monday, March 28, 2011

A Chip Off The Old Block

In hindsight I probably should have eaten the block.

Last weekend I decided to stop by a new neighborhood store. It's been open for a while, but since I had just returned it was new to me.

City Market fits squarely into a niche I have for certain groceries and food needs. They have fresh meats, fresh produce, beer, a great deli with a fine selection of meats and cheeses to choose from, good breads, and of course chips and snacks.

I loaded up on some deli sliced corned beef, peppered turkey, Swiss cheese, pepper jack cheese, and a 12 pack of beer.

I was next in line when I realised I had forgotten one of the most important food groups when it came to cold cut sandwiches.

I'd forgotten potato chips.

*gasp*

A cold cut sandwich without potato chips is like sledding without snow. I doesn't go anywhere.

I set my groceries down and walked over to the chip section. They had my favorites in stock, those being the Zapp's line of potato chips. The company formed in Gramercy, Louisiana back in the days of my working at New Orleans International Airport. You can read about their history here.

I picked up three bags of their chips, two Mesquite BBQ, and one Spicy Cajun Craw-Tator. As I was heading back to my groceries to begin the check out process I passed a section of Brim's potato chips. Brim's is a Memphis area company making various snack foods.

I stopped to see what they had to offer. I am a potato chip snob, having been a loyal Zapp's customer since the 1980's, but I am a big fan of most anything Memphis. "Why not try a bag of theirs for comparison?", I thought.

Right at eye level, one line stood out. "Memphis Style BBQ Rib Chips" was emblazoned across the bag.

I had never seen this flavor of chip in the Brim's line. It's not even featured on their website.

In hindsight, maybe there's a reason.

I took the bundle of chips to the register, paid the owner, and trundled smartly back to my condo with my cache of goodies in tow.

The next day around noon I decided it would be a good time to try out the corned beef with some of the marbled rye bread I had purchased the night before. I grabbed roughly a quarter pound of corn beef, three slices of magnificent Swiss cheese, set it on the bread, and topped it with good coarse ground brown mustard.

It was a masterpiece of a sandwich.

I reached for the chips and grabbed the Brim's BBQ Rib chips first. "What the Hell?", I said to myself. I figured I'd give the "home team" chip a shot right up front.

Sitting down, big glass of iced tea and sandwich at hand, I opened up the bag.

I cautiously gave them a whiff.

Up front they had a strong BBQ aroma to them. Stronger than a normal BBQ chip, but hey, Memphis BBQ has a strong aroma itself. It's slow cooked over woods like hickory and oak.

I poured some out on my plate. They had a nice color. Sort of like that reddish brown color one would associate with BBQ'd ribs.

After a couple bites of my sandwich, my attention returned to the chips. I grabbed a couple, put them in my mouth, and started to chew.

And that's when the fight broke out.

They were a little sweet, a little spicy, a little smoky, and a little something else I couldn't initially identify.

All I knew was that whatever that unidentifiable flavor was, was really REALLY horrible.

The pleasant flavor of the corned beef sandwich was immediately gone and gone for good.

Iced tea couldn't wash the taste out of my mouth.

I quickly rolled up the top of the bag and clipped it off to keep that smell from entering the room any more.

I muttered a quiet "Uggghhhh" as I made a "sour milk" face. They were not anything like I expected them to be.

The chips stayed on the plate for the rest of my sandwich. Fortunately the kosher dill pickle had enough acidity to clear the offending flavor out of my mouth.

I wouldn't open the chips up again until two days later.

You see, I am a foodie at heart. I love food and everything about it in most cases. I was curious as to what that unknown flavor was and was determined to try and identify it.

"CSI Snack Food" was now on the air.

I picked up the bag and read the ingredients list for a clue.

No luck. Like most food producers, the ingredients are a trade secret when it comes to flavorings. I reread the list again going over each seasoning carefully. The label read:
"Ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil(Corn and/or Cottonseed), Sugar, Natural Flavoring, Salt, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Spice and Coloring(Contains Paprika), Monosodium Glutimate, Maltodextrin, Hydrolyzed Soybean Protein, Silicon Dioxide, Spice and Herb, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate".

It read more like a chemistry assignment than potato chip recipe.

I kept looking at the ingredient list. Nothing stood out. I would have to do it "old school" and take one for the team.

Now armed with a cold 16 PBR, the lab was open. I opened the bag and put some chips on a napkin. I could smell the offensive odor. This was not going to be good.

I picked up a medium sized chip and placed it in my mouth.

Fighting the urge to chug the beer I slowly and painfully chewed up the chip. The "missing flavor" had a sharp, almost aromatic quality to it. It wasn't a smoky flavor, the smoky part was pretty good. Whatever it was still overpowered what might actually be a decent tasting chip.

However, I couldn't take it any more. I chugged the PBR in record time.

It was at the end of the PBR that I realized what that God awful taste was.

Somehow, some way, by mixing the specs all together they had replicated a flavor that every person who has ever been at a cookout has tasted.

Lighter fluid.

The damned chips had a lighter fluid taste to them.

You know, just the way your burgers tasted that one time when crazy, drunk Uncle Bill didn't wait for the charcoal to turn grey. The "45 minute cheeseburger" as a good friend of mine(and charcoal grill Ninja) calls it.

In order to confirm my findings I had to do one more taste test.

The second can of beer went down faster than the first.

Irritating taste confirmed: Lighter fluid.

Now I don't think for one second that Brim's puts lighter fluid or food grade lighter fluid flavorings into the chips. I'm not sure anyone even makes food grade lighter fluid flavorings. I do think it is an unfortunate coincidence.

Very unfortunate.

I"ll not take any more chances on any of Brim's off the wall flavor potato chips.

Think I'll just stick with good old Zapp's.

NOTE TO BRIM"S: Please don't ever use this "Memphis BBQ Rib" seasoning on your pork rinds. Your pork rinds rule! -ATM

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Innovations In St. Patrick's Day Gear


This dog has nothing to do with St. Patrick's day you say?

You're wrong for a couple reasons.

One, by virtue of being his a St. Bernard he has a distant and quite tangential connection to the day.

Two, he's packing his own holiday spirits in the traditional fashion. Well, his traditional fashion anyway.

He was having a good time sunning himself as his owner's dined on the patio at the Majestic Grille here in downtown.

Otto, Clay, and I were headed out of the restaurant. I caught up with them for lunch. I had the corned beef sandwich, Clay the tomato/basil flatbread, and Otto the Shepard's Pie. I had an order of the Shepard's Pie earlier in the week. It's outstanding.

Seeing as how it was St. Patrick's Day, we decided to head over to the Flying Saucer. That decision should surprise nobody. As a group, the downtown gang is likely a line item on their annual report.

It wasn't our intent to celebrate the entire St. Patrick's Day holiday there. However, they have lots of good beers to choose from, lots of big windows they can open up on the patio, and a really attractive wait staff.

The problem with drinking beer is that it CAN affect your balance. At least I've been told, anyway. The winds were blowing briskly. The three of us surmised that between the two, one of us could be in danger of getting wobbly. As we watched Roscoe, the day manager at the Saucer, try to corral a runaway balloon, Clay had an epiphany. He grabbed a balloon and then grabbed Otto's baseball cap.

It takes a brave man to volunteer to be a test pilot.

It takes a drunk guy to accept a suicide mission after it's thrust on him.


Otto, testing out the "Thompson Balloonance System".

"Balloonance" is the combination of "balloon" and "balance".

My contribution to this potentially life saving device.

Just another of the many reasons I'm not cut out for marketing.


It wasn't without it's scary moments. We almost lost Otto in the initial moments of testing.


Within a few moments, Otto had pretty much mastered it.

Seeing as how wind tunnel testing had gone so well in the Saucer, we headed out to Beale Street for the annual "Raising of the Goat" at Silky O'Sullivan's.

Besides, the only proper test would be to take it out and wring it out, out in the big world.


The "Passing Car Turbulence" test went extremely well.


As did the "Opposite Direction Bus" test.

At this point we started the sojourn down to Beale Street.

NOTE: Due to upload speeds here at the Majestic, the testing videos of the "Thompson Balloonance System" will appear at a later date.


Otto enjoying the "righteous" feeling of unrestricted balance.


A moment of "balance Zen".


A moment of terror for Clay, just some more balance for Otto.


Otto, ever the consummate professional, increased the load by another 32 ounces of Guinness.

Good "Test Pilots/Appointed Volunteers" know when to say "when".

It just depends on your definition of "when".


A few moments later, Otto took it to the wall.

Not "The Wall" like in "POC Tests". He sat down on the wall in front of Silky's to test out how well the "Thompson Balloonance System" worked in conjunction with sending "Tweets" and checking email.

All tests satisfactory.

It was working like a dream.

Pretty soon, it was time to "Raise the Goat".


Think it looks scary here?


Now that's one mangy stuffed goat.

With the goat successfully lifted up by the traffic light, there was little left to do but go into the patio and drink more beer.


Otto, showing off his mastery of the "Thompson Balloonance System" to Captain Carl and friends.

I'm pretty sure Captain Carl was jealous.

Pretty soon it was time to move on.

Otto went to Max's to play NTN poker and trivia.

Clay, Paully (who had met up with us at Silky's patio), and I went to Kooky Canuck, followed by the Silly Goose.

We were lucky enough to run into the "Nuh-Uh Girl", our friend Rebecca.


Paul and the "Nuh-Uh Girl".

As much as Paul teases her, they really are friends.

Almost time for the University of Memphis to take on the University of Arizona.

It's gonna be a war for our guys. Hope their up to the task.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On The Road Again.....Again

I had hoped to depart for Memphis today. At least that was my plan.

Travelling in the late Winter/early Spring can be a daunting task. As much as you can control certain aspects of the trip (roads used, hours travelled, lodging, meals, etc....) it's the uncontrollables that control the trip.

The biggest uncontrollable is the weather.

Yesterday's rains were bad here. Driving rains, poor visibility, and gusty winds would have been enough to keep me off the road. The forecast called for those conditions ending around 1:00 am EST.

The forecast proved just about right. I heard some wind gusts around 1:30 am and some rain falling around 3:30 am.

That's not what's keeping me off the road for one more day. The weather forecast called for snow/icy conditions at both my main and alternate driving routes' halfway stopping points. It's one thing to start off in those conditions and reach nice driving conditions shortly thereafter. It's completely another thing driving all day, then into those sort of driving conditions.

It's asking for trouble.

The weather has both cities in the 60's tomorrow with sunny skies. A good early start out of here will have me in my primary stop by between 4:00 and 5:00 pm. That's plenty of travel for one day and leaves me in a perfect spot to be well rested for the trip into Memphis on Sunday. Since I'm driving from Eastern Standard Time into what will be Central Daylight Time, I get the added bonus of not having to set my clocks forward.

Wow, someone call Charlie Sheen. He's not the only guy who's "Winning".

With any luck, I'll make it into Memphis in time to at least see the gang at the Flying Saucer for a "Sunday FunDay" beer and to catch up on the local news.

Sadly, I got the news yesterday that us Memphians lost a good friend to the community and a hero to the Saint Jude's children. John "Bad Dog" McCormack, mostly known for leading the "Wake Up Crew" on 103.7 FM "Rock 103" succumbed to complications from leukemia yesterday afternoon. Over the course of 20 years he helped raise millions of dollars for Saint Jude's Children's Hospital, in particular the Ronald McDonald House, with the annual "Radiothon".


That doesn't sound like the voice of a very sick man, does it.

This year's "Radiothon" was held February 10-11.

On February 12 "Bad Dog" got the news that his leukemia had come back.

"Bad Dog" was one of the good guys.

He'll be sorely missed by the city he loved and the one that loved him right back.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The End Of The World........Again

The first time I heard of this, Christine and I were on our way to adopt "Billy" from the SPCA.

I spied up a large, bright yellow sign on the side of the road announcing the end of the world, conveniently timed for May 21, 2011. A group calling itself www.FamilyRadio.com had taken the time to bring us the "good news".

"Wow.", I thought to myself, "It's time for another "end of the world" movement."

The I thought to myself, "Sweet!!!!!".

"End of the world" movements are not new. As long as man has believed in any "higher power" of any sort, there has always been someone in the crowd that has the inside word on when God/the Gods/Aliens/a meteor/the good old Earth itself was going to wipe out the planet and it's inhabitants.

Remarkably, the message always seems to reach some guy or group who's too busy dying to be bothered by living.

The one that comes to my mind right away is the "Heaven's Gate" cult back in the late 1990's. They believed that the Earth and it's inhabitants were going to be "recycled".

Another hallmark of the "doomsday" group. If you follow them, you'll be saved.

Like so many before them, the "Heaven's Gate" folks took it upon themselves to end their lives in preparation for the new life ahead of them.

Like all those before them, that life was an eternal dirt nap.

The "end of the world" groups all have minor variations on their themes. Where "Heaven's Gate" believed in alien masters of the universe, the www.familyradio.com folks believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the word of the Bible.

There have been many previous dates set for the end of the world. See them here. Notice that it's not a solely Jude-Christian crowd.

For the record, I'm not picking on any one religious group.

I'm picking on them all.

Why?

Simple.

I abhor people that stir others into a frenzy using their insecurities and fears as fuel.

For many, the "word of God" is just such a fuel.

The Bible has been alternately described as "The inspired work of God" as portrayed on www.youtopian.com and as hearsay by yours truly.

I'm a bit of a skeptic with the revisions to the Bible.

I put it in the same category as "Pass A Secret". "Pass A Secret" is the game in which a phrase is whispered to the first kid in a class and then "repeated" until it reaches the last kid in the class.

Usually, an innocuous phrase such as, "My dog is a collie with long brown fur." ends up as, "Tommy's knocked up your older sister.".

It may very well be "the inspired word of God", but it was repeated verbally by man for a long, long time.

There's a high probability that a line or two is out of it's original context.

So then, www.familyradio.com says May 21, 2011 is the end of the world and the Bible guarantees it?

*click here for their webpage* *click here for a .pdf file of the same*

I have my own guarantee.

See all y'all on May 22, 2011.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air traffic Mike, ret.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1-800-BAD-IDEA Meets The Produce Stand

Humans love to tinker with things.

All things.

Mankind is always trying to see if the world around us can be made better.

Learning how to start and control fire led us out of the caves.

Noticing that round things moved easier than blocks led us to the wheel.

The wheel gave us greater mobility.

That mobility spread the masses out far away from the caves.

In the ensuing millennia, mobility continued to change. What didn't change was the wheel. No matter what it is made from, the basic premise remains the same.

It's round, therefore it rolls.

So what does this have to do with the title?

"Hey y'all, watch this!!!!!"
- - - Last four words of a Redneck before he dies. Author unknown


Sometimes you just can't improve upon perfection.

Like chicken.

Chicken is popular because it tastes like chicken.

It tastes so good that it is the benchmark by which a lot of other food's flavors are compared to it.

Just ask folks.

Every light meat fowl I've ever had tastes a lot like chicken.

But it's not just limited to fowl. A lot of other foods resemble it in flavor.

Alligator tail meat?

Tastes a lot like chicken.

Rattlesnake meat?

Tastes a lot like chicken.

Once upon a time, I purchased some marinated mystery meat on a stick from a street vendor in Washington Square Park in New York City. It smelled good. I asked the guy what it was. He mumbled something in a language best described as "Vendorstani", followed immediately by "Taaaarieeeee Dollah Yooou Essssssss!!!!!!!".

For three bucks I was willing to take a chance.

Walking over to a bench my curiosity got the best of me. I cradled my illegal street beer under one forearm, took my free hand, and attempted to tear a piece of the meat of the bamboo skewer.

It didn't budge.

Finally, after finding a relatively pigeon shit and junkie free bench, I set my illegal street beer down and turned my attention back to this strange marinated stick snack.

First, it was really aromatic. Curry, garlicky, smoky aromas filled the air. Using a now unencumbered right arm, I gave a full strength tug on the light flesh. A piece finally pulled free.

It looked like grilled chicken.

It felt like grilled chicken, except it had a disturbing rubbery texture.

I nonchalantly popped the piece of meat into my mouth.

That's when the six alarm fire broke out.

The more I chewed on this ever tougher piece of meat the bigger it seemed to get and the hotter my mouth got.

Sweat began pouring off my forehead.

My ears began ringing.

I couldn't feel my gums.

In what had to be mere seconds I felt compelled to make a statement. I meant to yell, "Damn that's spicy!", but it came out more like, "AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH..*cough* *cough* AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!".

The gulp of beer I immediately took only served to push the pain down my throat.

It was like water on a grease fire.

I launched the remaining marinated mystery meat on a stick to sidewalk in front of me.

Not a single pigeon or squirrel would get near it.

For fear of vomiting or killing an innocent bystander, I opted not to spit out the morsel from Hell. In what seemed like an eternity I finally choked it down. Coughing and gagging I downed the remaining 28 ounces of my quart of illegal street beer.

It took a few minutes to gather my composure, my voice, and sanity back together. I saw another guy who had ordered the same thing. He seemed to be enjoying his.

I walked over and asked him if he knew what this skewer from Hell was. He told me it was usually chicken. The vendor was a friend of his and confided that today he was using meat from a stewing hen (old laying chicken that is processed after it's laying days are through) because it was cheaper.

That explained the texture and the toughness.

Even if, for once, chicken didn't taste like chicken, at least it was chicken.

That was a bad idea in poultry.

The phone call to "1-800-BAD-IDEA" was once again toll free.

Only this time, I was the caller.

The harnessing of fire and the discovery of the wheel had led to this little dark skinned man, selling fiery, spicy, oh so tough laying hen, and I to cross paths.

Bad ideas aren't limited to any one category in food.

I've run across countless bad ideas in food.

Blueberry Champagne is one of them.

Seriously.

Figures, it would have to be made here in New Jersey.

It's a shame really. I like both champagne and blueberries.

They just don't seem to get along well, at least according to my taste buds.

In some food groups, I think folks should leave well enough alone.

Like fruit.

Sure, there are hundreds, if not thousands of instances where human intervention has made new and exciting fruits.

Take the Tangelo for example. A United States Department of Agriculture employee is credited for inventing this in 1911. Seems he thought crossing a grapefruit tree with a tangerine tree might be a good idea.

Turns out he was right.

I love the things.

In fact, I bought a bag of them yesterday.

That turn into the produce section led me to what has to be one of the most God awful things I had ever seen or smelled.

Yet, for some reason (see "Redneck" quote above) I felt compelled to buy a container of these:


Grāpple®?

I stopped dead in my tracks.

Why in the cornbread Hell would anyone in their right mind think that this was a good idea.

Don't get me wrong, I love both good apples and grapes. The "Fuji" variety of apple that this company uses is one of my top favorites, trailing only the "Winesap" and "Granny Smith" varieties.

I picked up a container and gave it a whiff.

They aren't kidding about the "grape" part. I caught a huge nose hit of the scent.

I looked at the price, and against my better judgement, I made a quick phone call to "1-800-BAD-IDEA".

This morning I decided I'd give them a taste test, but only after I did some research.

I found their website. It has a page and video that explains how they do it. You can ignore the "USPP #7,824,723" (U.S. Patent Pending). It's now officially U.S. Patent No. 7,824,723 as of 2 Nov. 2010.

Patents don't necessarily mean something is good. It just means something is original.

I took an apple from the container.

It smelled like grapes.

I washed it. Now the apple and the paper towel I dried it with smelled like grapes.

The apple was firm to the touch. The "soaking" hadn't harmed that aspect in any way, shape, or form.

I took a deep breath and slowly bit into it.

Immediately, I wished I had the rest of that stewing hen on a stick back.

Try as I might not to have any preconceived ideas as to how it would taste, the aroma made that impossible.

I was expecting a mouthful of "happy".

What I got was a muddling of two usually great flavors. The "grape" flavor went away just enough to only interfere with the usually crisp tartness that "Fuji" apples are known for.

It was a big, juicy mouthful of dull.

Texture of a great apple with the flavor of old Kool Aid in my opinion.

Given the premium price, I sort of felt like I got graped yesterday.

However, that's what one should expect when they make the phone call to "1-800-BAD-IDEA".

Myself included.

Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.

Air Traffic Mike, ret.