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Monthly Archives: November 2007

Thanksgiving on the Wild Side

Wild turkey feathers onEmpanada Boy and I spent Thanksgiving in Cannon Beach with my grandma and immediate family and his parents, sister and brother-in-law. It was just the ten of us through most of the visit, but the Thanksgiving dinner at our family beach house was attended by nearly 30 of our closest friends and family. Needless to say, one turkey would not be enough. Mango Mama made a 20-lb bird using her traditional preparation (courtesy of Martha Stewart), which involves wrapping the bird in a butter-and-white wine-soaked cheesecloth. Another friend made a slightly smaller organic bird. These would have been enough to feed us all, but Daddy Salmon provided another interesting twist this year. About a week before Thanksgiving, he took his traditional longbow hunting in Lebanon, Oregon. He came back with the first bow-caught food of his archery career: a wild turkey.

Cooked wild turkey againThe bird looks big in the above photo, but once Daddy Salmon had plucked its feathers it shrunk down to a sinuous 10 lbs. Daddy Salmon got up early on Thanksgiving day to brine the turkey in garlic, salt and a variety of herbs. After about eight hours of brining, I pulled it out and placed it in the roasting pan. The wild turkey didn’t get nice and browned like its supermarket cousins during the 2-3/4 hours of roasting. Each time I checked in on it, I was surprised to see the taught, greyish-brownish skin looking just as alien as ever. When I finally pulled it out, I noticed a purple-colored area on the top of the breast. This likely came from the blood vessels broken by the pierce of Daddy Salmon’s arrow.

Wild turkey with arrowThis photo of the wild turkey waiting to be carved illustrates where the arrow hit. The meat was distributed to guests separately from the farm-raised turkeys to those interested in trying their free-ranging relative. The white meat turned out to be very tender, but it was far milder than the familiar store-bought birds. Daddy Salmon found whole acorns in its gullet, so we can only assume that this is part of what gave the meat its flavor. The dark meat was tough and very muscular, more like red meat than poultry. It was also difficult to get much dark meat off the bone. Daddy Salmon reminded us that there was less meat and more muscle on the wings and the thighs because wild turkeys actually fly.

In the end, it was great to get the chance to try a turkey that was much more like one the Pilgrims might have eaten. While it might not have had the plump, richness of the turkeys we’re used to, it was tasty and different. It’s not every day you get to try a food you’ve never tasted before without leaving the comfort of your own home, state or country. This opportunity alone was more than enough to be thankful for.

Irish Pub Grub

Fish and ChipsOne of the many things that struck me about Chicago when I moved here was how much more significant St. Patrick’s Day was here than in Portland or anywhere else I had lived. The city’s large Irish population takes these things a lot more seriously than I had expected. The seriousness extends to Irish food, and, more importantly, beer. Empanada Boy and I aren’t really into the St. Patrick’s Day festivities because, for many revelers, they end up turning into an excuse to get rip-roaring drunk each day for the entire week beforehand. Still, we enjoy any culture that celebrates robust ales and hearty food. That’s how we found ourselves eating a late-night dinner at The Grafton Pub & Grill last week.

interiorThe Grafton is a neighborhood pub known for serving Irish fare and for having live music most nights. The beer list includes some Irish favorites along with a smattering of craft and run-of-the-mill domestic, Belgians and a few Germans. I was a little unimpressed with the draft selection, especially considering the better-than-your-average-bar reputation of the food here. Empanada Boy ordered Boddingtons, the English pale ale. I ordered a Belgian-style witbier— Blue Moon’s superior cousin— which came in a tall glass with a slice of orange.

Shepard's PieFor dinner, EB opted for the fried fish, a culinary tradition shared by the Irish and the Wisconsinites. His cod fish and chips (pictured above) were flaky and flavorful with a pleasant, light crust. The coleslaw was too sloppy, and the chips were fairly standard. But the latter came with an excellent curry mayonnaise for a truly British twist. Dipping chips in curry has been popular in the UK for ages, demonstrating the influence of Indian cuisine and culture in the area. I decided to try the shepherd’s pie, a stew of carrots, peas, onions and ground beef. I knew the dish came with mashed potatoes, but I assumed they were on the side and that the pie had an actual pastry crust. As it turned out, the crust was the mashed potatoes, which were scalloped in a way that allowed them to brown on the peaks. The pie filling was hearty and flavorful, but I wasn’t too keen about the texture or flavor of the potato topping. I’ve never been much of a mashed potato person, and the bland, lukewarm, pasty potatoes here did little to convince me.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, the evening’s live music started up. It was a few performers doing bad renditions of Johnny Cash songs. We waited until after the second piece to make a run for it. The Grafton is a great place for a casual beer and dinner, but I wouldn’t trust the live music to inspire the celebratory Irish spirit.

The Grafton Pub & Grill

4530 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625

Grafton in Chicago

Currying My Favor

Iced CoffeeEmpanada Boy and I went to Madison after work on Saturday (yes, we both had to work) to meet his new nephew. Popcorn Princess and Drumstix had their first child on Thursday, and we couldn’t wait to meet him. It was also my first time meeting EB’s new niece who was born a little more than a week earlier to his sister French Vanilla and her husband Beer-Boiled Brat. It was baby city in the Empanada family! I was proud to accompany the younger of the two cousins to his first restaurant. Feeling like some warm, flavorful food, EB, Popcorn Princess, Drumstix and I took him to the family favorite Sa-Bai Thong. EB says this has been one of his favorite Madison restaurants since it opened. And with good reason; this is adventurous, authentic Thai food in a classy, but unassuming, location.

Suki-num2EB, Popcorn and Drumstix started things off with delicious Thai iced coffees enriched with sweetened condensed milk. EB commented on how difficult it was to keep any of his in the glass until the food arrived. But when the food did come, it immediately took center stage. EB and I have been seriously into Asian soups lately. We stuck to that trend, ordering what turned out to be some of the most flavorful and varied soups I’ve tried. My selection (pictured here) was Suki-num. It was a clear broth spiced with the traditional soy-chili Suki sauce. Floating in the broth were translucent mung bean noodles and beautiful slices of celery, bok choy, Napa cabbage and green onion. An egg dropped in and cooked by the hot broth added excellent texture and depth of flavor. I chose shrimp as my other optional protein. Empanada Boy’s Tom Ka soup was made with a chili-spiced coconut milk broth. It had fragrant lemongrass, galanga and cilantro along with earthy sliced mushrooms. He selected calamari to be added to the mix. These marvelously complex soups were the perfect thing on that grey day. Needless to say, EB and I almost finished every last drop.

Peanut CurrySa-Bai Thong is also known for its curries, which Popcorn Princess and Drumstix say they can almost never avoid ordering when they come. PP’s order shown here is called Pa-Naeng. It is a bold red curry mixed with peanut sauce zucchini, peas and pleasantly firm tofu. Chicken and shrimp are also options. Drumstix ordered another vibrant vegetable curry with a creamier texture and the same fluffy tofu.

This was a delicious meal that hit the spot. I felt full in a good way as we paid the bill and picked up my future nephew who had been sleeping in his car seat throughout the meal. I can’t wait to come back to Sa-Bai Thong with him when he can sit, talk and eat this delicious food with the rest of us!

Sa-Bai Thong

6802 Odana Rd.
Madison, WI 53719

Ice Cream to Fight the Freeze

Ice Cream BinsI have long been wanting to review an ice cream shop on this blog. I’ve written about frozen custard, and it was almost a year ago now that I first featured the great gelato shops of Rome. It’s about time I brought some good old fashioned ice cream into the mix. You may think my timing is off. You might ask: “Isn’t ice cream more of a summer food? Why introduce it just as the leaves are falling from the trees and nighttime temperatures are dropping below freezing?” Well, the truth is that there is no bad time for ice cream. I like to eat it all year long and as often as possible. Anyone who disagrees is just crazy. It’s the best way to treat yourself in the depths of cold winter or when you’re just not feeling good about things. For these reasons, and because I am always looking for an excuse to eat ice cream, I bring you Sweet Occasions and More.

PastriesSweet Occasions sells candy, cakes and elaborate pastries. It also sells delicious looking savory food like sandwiches, meatloaf, quiche and salads. (I say deliciously looking because I’ve never tried these.) But when Empanada Boy and I think about Sweet Occasions, we think of ice cream. The ice cream is made by Wisconsin’s Chocolate Shoppe, which makes EB even more partial to it. EB’s favorite flavor is black licorice. It’s actually more of a deep, dusty purple color and tastes better than it sounds. It has a twist of spice and is a little less sweet than other flavors. Sweet Occasions considers licorice a standard flavor, but we seem to find it more often during the colder months. EB gets very excited when it appears in the case again in the fall. I am also a fan of the seasonal flavors. When we went there last month I got a scoop of Snap-O-Lantern. It’s a spiced pumpkin flavored ice cream with bits of gingersnaps mixed in.

Zanzibar Chocolate EB is in Madison this weekend, so I went in to get myself a scoop last night. Snap-o-Lantern was gone with Halloween, but in it’s place was another of my favorites: Zanzibar chocolate. A blend of dark chocolates from around the world, including cocoa from Zanzibar, this is no ordinary chocolate. For one thing, it’s much darker in color than the typical chocolate ice cream. It’s also very rich and concentrated in its chocolate flavor, making it worthy of special distinction beyond regular chocolate. I got the sizable scoop you see here for a mere $2. A trip to an inferior location like Cold Stone Creamery could set you back $5 and give you a stomachache to boot.

The next time you have an ice cream craving in Ravenswood or Andersonville, give Sweet Occasions a try. And be sure to invite me along too.

Sweet Occasions and More

4639 North Damen Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625


5306 North Clark
Chicago, IL 60640

Sweet Occasions and More in Chicago