Food, Philosophy, Travel

Dear Diary

“But these days I feel more at home in a foreign land, wandering, with no direction in sight. Every little thing is new and exciting. Is it real life? Can someone perpetually be in motion? Is it human nature to plant roots in a certain place or can some of us coast freely, drifting throughout this vast world? Either way, I plan to find out. Because if it were not for adventure I would not be who I am, a vagabond.”

 

A stream of thought that floods my consciousness every time I arrive back stateside. And I cannot help but to dwell on the memories that were once present time experiences.

 

Did I appreciate them in the moment?

 

Probably.

 

If those occurrences involved food, then definitely.

 

While recently away I embedded with a Non Governmental Organization doing all sorts of photo work. This work mainly involved going out with members of the NGO to explore projects in rural villages outside on the San Martin municipality. Rural is not an understatement, some of these villages lack amenities we Americans take for granted. Every thing from running drinking water (that flows to the houses and schools), stoves that don’t require wood and fire, and even something as simple as electricity.

 

Despite the lack of basic necessities there’s pure joy and respect that the Maya people radiate and that positivity is simply inspiring.

 

A day’s work would start with a long ride out to the hillsides of Guatemala— far past paved (or safe) roadways. Many people hitchhike and are seen roadside or in the back of low riding pickup trucks, and I don’t just mean locals. I might know some certain Canadians who took, what I like to call, the anxiety highway.

 

After getting to the villages The NGO members and myself would check up on how projects are going and talk to families about everything from the projects themselves to everyday life. Me, speaking very little Spanish, would stand in observation; but often I would become the center of attention. Breaking in to Spanglish, I would try my best to navigate through a basic greeting. In such instances I was met with plenty of laughter and finger pointing. The emotions being thrown around in such contexts were playfully innocent.

 

Yet, it wasn’t until the work was all finished up that my school-kid-glee really commenced. As per what seemed like a customary procedure for welcoming guests into the villages, the women would begin to prepare lunch. Smoke flowed out of the small metal roof vents and mixed with the slightly cool Guatemalan breeze, the kitchen was alive. The petite Maya ladies would slap dough onto their hands; press with two fingers in somewhat of a circular motion, all while spinning the ball of corn dough. There was chicken stock simmering on the stove.

 

The sounds of cutting, scooping and the shuffling of feet are all one can hear. The smell was something dazzlingly intoxicating. Next thing I knew, there was a spread of food presented in front of me.

 

The dishes consisted of sopa de pollo— a sort of chicken stock that can come with or without rice. An assortment of fresh vegetables, that would most likely cost an arm in a leg back home in the states. Vegetables that just so happened to be grown in the same yard that I am butchering the Spanish language in and exactly where the chicken called home earlier in the morning. But wait a minute! I thought I knew what those charming womenfolk were up to! Are those, why yes, homemade and still hot corn tortillas.

 

The cuisine, the preparation, the thoughtful and respectful manners exuded by these wonderful people would be hard to recreate even in the finest of multiple starred restaurants.

 

As for my customs? I dug straight in and left nothing in my wake.

 

Tearing flesh from bone like a primitive beast, using only a corn tortilla to wipe my face and beard; the women watched in amusement as the crazy fuzzy man snatched the carefully constructed fare. I would seldom look up, only to see smiles along with cellphones, snapping photographs of me while a chicken bone protruded from my mouth.

 

Hopefully the photos will be put to good use.

 

food.jpg

 

 

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Food, Guilty pleasures, Philosophy, Travel

Mezcal Daze

Latin America, it just grabs you by the balls, dude.

Specifically speaking, Guatemala. Antigua, Guatemala.

The city is as hipster as Brooklyn but not as expensive or as pretentious (sorry, New Yorkers).

Everything is extremely straightforward, initially; but from the diverse cuisine to the live music that echoes in the bars and discotechs, it is hard to believe that you are in such a place as Guatemala. Upon arrival it becomes easy to be swept away by the mass amount of, well, nothingness.

But wait! Is that the Golden Arches? And another McDonald’s… And another one… Where am I?

In the midst of riding through the non-traffic-law-having and moderately chaotic streets of Guatemala City you will catch the sights, sounds, and even the smells of this intriguing country. There is everything from diesel exhaust to the exuberantly colorful chicken buses. It is an ease to find bustling markets, and like mentioned above, plenty of fast food joints. But shortly after you leave the city, via the Pan-American Highway, the landscape and diverse topography take hold. Mountains, volcanoes, seedy highway roads with slow moving semi-trucks – distractions all demanding complete human attention.

The ride could be comparable to going through the Appalachian Mountains in the United States – swaying through the curvy and vertical terrain in areas such as Tennessee. That is to say if it wasn’t for the fact that this is Guatemala and the country has an astoundingly unique draw to it.

This is Latin America – possibly at its best.

About an hour from the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City comes the region of Antigua.

Upon arrival the aesthetic scene can be equated to stepping back in time. There are low roofed buildings with cracking paint, a palate of brilliantly colored tiendas, and rough stone streets. Streets that may be as wise as your great grandfather— they’ve seen some stuff, man!

Along with the eclectic mix of locals and tourists it might be an understatement to say a person could get lost here. Hey, don’t take my word for it. Just ask those bearded ex-pats serving up mezcal at the abundance of local bars. While combining modern capitalist refugees and wanders, Antigua may just have you at a loss and feeling rather befuddled; however, this township can quickly feel like home.

At somewhere near 4,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by a few active volcanoes, who wouldn’t want to spend their days in an exquisitely charming municipality like this? I know that if there is a time I don’t come home from work, well, you know where to find me.

Hopelessly lost somewhere trying to horribly dance salsa.

SOCCERTOURNEY

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Food, Guilty pleasures, New York, Philosophy, Travel

Life Begins on the Road

Road trips are full of twist and turns, ups and downs, or even heavy storms.

These factors contribute to the overall outcome of being out on the road. They mold you and teach lessons that can be carried for years to come.

For me, being on the road is home, I feel like I need to be out there somewhere in the world.

So many things have been checked off the bucket list in the last few days: Eating a Philly Cheesesteak in philly, staying in a apartment in West New York, and even staying out consuming libations until four in the morning.

There was food, cooking, vintage wines, craft beers, jazz clubs, enticing conversations, and a list of other things too long to explain.

There is a place between the plane flights and bus rides – a middle ground. Maybe it’s out on the open road or at a grungy dive bar in a foreign land.

This is the place that I exist, the place I’m happiest.

I’m a stranger just walking these city streets and it’s a pleasure to meet you.

 

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Food, Travel

Food Review: Dalessandros and Chubby’s

Cheese, meat, and carbs.

There is a special place in my heart for any combination of these three ingredients. Yet, there is only one way to eat these godly components if you are in Philadelphia. Of course I am speaking of the illustrious Philly cheesesteak.

Traveling through the Philly area I had to stop and hunt for a luscious cheesesteak. I was turned on to Dalessandros in Roxbourgh, PA. It’s a counter style restaurant, which implies you must sit at the counter to eat. The smell coming from the kitchen was that of legends, but that was where the legend ended.

The sandwich was bland, to say the least. It lacked salt, or maybe acidity, or… I don’t know, maybe it lacked love.

Luckily there was another competitor right across the street, Chubby’s.

They had bathrooms, accepted debt cards, and had a very lovely and entertaining staff.

I started out with some French fries and a pint of shandy. A few friends were digging into some of the cheesesteaks from this joint, so I had to compare.

It wasn’t even a comparison because as soon as the sticky, bitter and rich American cheese and meat mixture hit my palate I knew I had made a mistake. That mistake was that I bought and ate a cheesesteak from Dalessandros. The thing that baffles me the most is that Chubby’s is not on any of the “best of” Philly cheesesteak reviews, yet Dalessandros is. So Chubby’s is the place to be. This sublime establishment hands down has one of the best cheesesteaks that I have ever had the pleasure to consume.

It is pretty clear that people who publish “best of” awards have the palate of a tongueless four-year-old child.


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Food

Food Review: Wait.. it’s not French?

Classical French cooking may be what an individual ponders upon when thinking of remarkable foods. World-class French Chefs such as: Jacques Pepin, Hubert Keller, Eric Ripert – the list could stretch for eons.

On Thursday night I was invited out to French Folies for a dinner special.

You had me at French food!

Much to everyone’s surprise this was not a French establishment (the first menu item was an empanada).

Needless to say that I was already a bit discouraged, so I did what any other foodie and self-respectable journalist would do, order cocktails.

I assume it is hard to find good help these days – since the one and only bartender switched from drinking water to playing on her smartphone – damn you technology. When she managed to find her way to a bottle of wine there was nothing wrong with her service, but this only happened every fifteen minutes or so.

The same case was with the food. There were slices of French baguettes, my bet is store bought, that were distributed out along with a dollop of butter.

Half of our dinner table obtained their (pork) filet mignon, which happened only about an hour and a half after sitting.

Luckily for me I was already drinking to forget the appalling experience – much like going on a bender to forget the person in high school that broke your heart.

After I consumed a few mojitos, the kitchen finally managed to learn the art of preparing burnt chicken. The chicken special called for a lemon wine sauce but what stood before us on the plate was a brown gravy; much like the “just add water” that your aunt gets at the store for Thanksgiving because she could care less about you.

Additionally, there were some other forgettable and borderline regrettable side items brought table-side. The night wasn’t a complete waste because there was great company, and plenty of material for food jokes.

The excuse was being short staffed in the kitchen but when serving only three menu items for the “special” to fifteen different people, it is no excuse at all. You find someone to cover for the slackers that don’t show up or you simply hold your head up and get through the weeds. There is no reason to over cook chicken and pork that many times – not to mention I still have yet to receive my mashed potatoes.

Never keep potatoes from an Irishman!

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Food

Food Review: Black Eyed Pig BBQ

If I was put on death row and was allotted one last meal I know what it would be. 

Hell, I even know where to get it from. 

That meal is BBQ, that place is the Black Eyed Pig in Naples, Florida.

I know what you are thinking. Logan, why would you be on death row? Well, it might be from someone trying to take this delectable barbecue goodness away from me. 

No one takes my meats!

Arriving at this joint, you are met with joyful faces ready to serve you what is arguably the best BBQ in the Southwest Florida area.

Sweet tea, beer, smoked meats? This is everybody’s vision of heaven, unless you are vegan. 

The sampler is the best bet, as you get four different choices of meat, two sides, and a jalapeño cornbread muffin or Texas toast; but stick with the cornbread. 

The pulled pork is so juicy and succulent that there is no need for any sauce. The brisket, with a nice crusty bark on the outside, breaks apart with the slightest touch. The sausage is just the right balance of sweet and spicy. 

Lastly, any side is fine, they are all amazing (get the baked beans and toss in some pulled pork).

Further selections of sides include bbq restaurant basics like: slaw, potato salad, collard greens and much more. 

Appetizers, sandwiches, ribs and wings. These items are also on the list of grub to try, the fried okra is spectacular. 

Wash it all down your gullet with cold beer or sweet tea and let the food coma hit you. I’m ready, If this is it, then I will die happy and full. 

Just give me a to-go bag before I make the journey to the great beyond. I may get hungry for some pork.

  (My buddy Brian posing with some brisket)

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Food, Travel

Food Review: Noodle Saigon 

Hot, steamy, aromatic, the ability to cure anything that may ail you.

Pho, pronounced like the beginning of my favorite sentence enhancer, is a Vietnamese dish that has been making its way around the states. This is not your average Southeast Asian soup, the broth alone can take at least ten hours, and is made with different beef bones, onions and a load of herbs and spices. 

Living in Southwest Florida there isn’t a ton of Vietnamese cuisine but there is Noodle Saigon. A place you can go get a fix for a pho addiction.

I’ll admit, I am not an expert on this style of food but this pho they sell will help you out after a long night of slowly murdering your liver. 

Patrons can choose from any protein such as chicken, thin sliced beef, or even Vietnamese meatballs, this is added to a plethora of other ingredients. Most pho will consist of a protein, rice noodles, green and white onions, and cilantro. All of this is put in a bowl and then piping hot broth is poured over it. 

The scent alone will heal you of any sickness, mainly because of the star anise added to the broth. 

The pho is brought out to the table with a plate of “toppings” which is most likely going to be mung bean sprouts, mint and limes. These toppings should only be added after tasting the broth, since most chefs slave over it for ten plus hours. Actually, as soon as the bowl hits the table the broth should be siped and admired, only then should the toppings of choice be put in. Most places will also have sriracha and hoisin sauce, I would recommend not being a total dweeb by pouring in both, but to each their own.

Pho is really something to experience. It is hard to explain the sheer elegance that flows out of this dish.

Stop in to Noodle Saigon, order some pho bo, and I promise, you won’t be disappointed. 

    

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