Guest post: Old McDonald’s

I met Brooke Takhar on the Internet, which is pretty much how adults are supposed make friends now that it’s the future. (Please don’t correct me on this probably misguided assumption.)

Brooke was a contender in Vancouver’s Top Mom Blogger competition last year, and I wanted her to win because she is the coolest. It turns out, we like (and dislike) most of the same things. After we bonded over Eater’s Life in Chains series (and this post in particular), we decided to bring a little of that magic home, to our own blogs, where we’re posting our own stories of chain restaurants and what they mean to us. Brooke is here today, and when I figure out how to end mine, it’ll be on her site later this week.

While you read this, I’ll be talking myself out of a trip through the Drive-Thru. Enjoy.

Life in Chains: The Golden Days

Filet-O-Fish

Like many kids of divorce in the 80s, on a late Saturday afternoon you would find me and my brother seated across from our Dad in a warm corner of a McDonald’s.

Shoeless, whooping monkeys who had two parents watching them flip off the slide and get their heels stuck in the rope ladder.

The seats were hardened plastic; if we were lucky they swiveled. My Filet-O-Fish was always the perfect combination of crunchy, squishy and tangy. Every time I gently unwrapped it from its damp and crinkled paper casing, I marveled at how it looked exactly like it did on the menu.

Inspired by Chains: 1In between bites and slurps and sly sharp elbows to ribs, we dutifully answered questions about our week. Shoved five or six ketchup-drowned fries into our mouths while mournfully staring at the kids having the time of their lives in the indoor playground. Shoeless, whooping monkeys who had two parents watching them flip off the slide and get their heels stuck in the rope ladder.

The last 2/3 of our orange sodas always ended up in the dark brown trash bin by the exit. You had to really shove the mouth of it open to deposit your garbage before it snapped shut. I would do it quickly – fearful that my hand would get caught and the rotting corpse of Ronald McDonald’s mother, her red wig greasy and matted, her teeth individual rotting pickles, would grab me and pull me down into the deep.

Back in my Dad’s car, the upholstery was old but efficient at muffling and holding fetid fish farts. We would sit there quietly and let the car warm up, the yellow arches sharp, then smearing under the windshield wipers.

Inspired by Chains: 2My Dad didn’t have many chances to be a hero when we were kids.

One summer afternoon, as we reached for the warmed door handles of the car, I froze and felt fear dart down my spine into my shoes. My retainer, the device in charge of keeping my newly straightened teeth properly in place, wasn’t nestled into my jaw. I had taken it out before I ate my fish sandwich, carefully wrapped it into one of their thin white napkins, and then, somehow, forgot about it. It had been whisked into the garbage with all our other balled up messes and now – oh God, Mom was going to kill me. My teeth were already looking around at each other, eyes wide, jostling their little pearly shoulders, confused at their new-found freedom.

Wearing the McDonald’s brand rubber gloves, my Dad spent what felt like hours picking through the guts of one of those dark brown garbage vessels. We watched. When the retainer was finally triumphantly found, I breathed again, snatched it from his hands and popped it right into my mouth with a satisfying “click.”

I hated all of it with a stalwart teenage passion.

When I was 16, we moved to a new town 45 minutes away from my high school. Businesses were tired and slumped side by side in long brown rows. Hills lead to more hills. Everyone was old. There was one Chinese food place where the owners looked both perpetually unhappy and surprised to be there.

Once a year, with great fanfare, a rodeo came. Neighbours dug out stiff leather boots and cowboy hats, cracked beer cans and celebrated.

I hated all of it with a stalwart teenage passion.

There was a McDonald’s on the main drag that you could hit on your way in to or (blessedly) out of town.

Scan10094My first car, that I maneuvered through that drive-thru often, was my Grandpa’s old brown Honda Civic. I only needed two other seats for my two best friends. We were bonded tightly – rigid in our love of punk rock music, Value Village men’s section ensembles and our tight shaved haircuts, one week green, one week yellow.

One afternoon, as we left the parking lot, a car and its driver did something I perceived as rude. Middle fingers were held aloft as we accelerated away. Two short blocks later, my friend riding shotgun told me quietly, “they’re following us.”

We may have looked tough and brave and strong, but all three of started to cry as we wound our way around and through and back and sideways and around the town again, trying to lose our tail. It was a Scooby Doo car chase, the same landmarks flying past us. I couldn’t go home! They would know where I lived! Did I have enough gas to keep this up? We had a bag of Bugles between us – would we starve before too long?

They eventually got bored and squealed away. We laughed with a bit of that cry-ache in the back of our throats and sped to my house. Told my bored brother about it then watched Red Hot Chili Peppers videos, passing the Bugles back and forth until we were just left with salty, stinging fingers. When it was dusk, we piled into the car again to go to 7-11 for a Bugles re-up.

(Remember how casually and easily you ate garbage in high school? I think I ate fries and Cool Ranch Doritos for lunch for a year and somehow didn’t die of sodium poisoning.)

We pushed through the jangling Exit door of 7-Eleven and our bladders seized. My car was blocked in, by the same car that had terrorized us earlier. We silently climbed inside, locked the doors, avoided eye contact and sat there shaking, whispering, the loudest sound being the snap of the Bugles bag being opened. What did these girls want?

They didn’t approach us; they just sat in their car, laughing, snapping gum and watching my surely crazy eyes in the rear-view mirror. I was scared and tired and wild, watching the doors of 7-Eleven for a miracle or a solution. A very cute boy, someone I would have normally walked by, scanned then logged in my mental masturbation journal, stepped out with a sweating Slurpee.

I jumped out of the car with heretofore unknown bravery and pleaded with him.

“Please, help us.”

Words were exchanged, their car was moved, and we followed him like the Pied Piper down a very long, very dark road to a flat open field with a bonfire. My friends and I sat mute on a log, surrounded by a party that seemed like a really good time, but we knew nobody, had no tongues and no alcohol.  A half-dead barn cat wove an infinity circle through our legs until we all mutually agreed to leave, slowly picking our way through the uneven grass back to my still ticking car.

Inspired by Chains: 4We drove up to the drive-thru window, solemnly ordered three strawberry milkshakes and kept our mouths busy with them until we fell asleep in three clumps on my bedroom floor.

After high school I decided to become a vegetarian. I don’t remember why. I liked animals but wasn’t feverish about their well-being. I knew nothing of nutrition so I still remained a loyal McDonald’s customer. I would either pick out the meat or eventually just order all the sandwiches with a pause then an emphatic “with NO meat.”

If you swing open the door to a McDonald’s in Nebraska or Vancouver or Timbuktu, the smell will always be the same.

Because if you eat a cheeseburger with no meat patty, or a Filet-O-Fish with no fried fish wedge, they still taste pretty good. I imagined the hair-netted kids in the assembly-line kitchen merrily juggling the unwanted meat, hacky-sacking it right into the garbage.

My meat-free convictions died the day I walked into my Grandma’s suite and the smell of her slow cooker beef stew punched me in the face. I grabbed a fork and bowl and sat down to a steaming portion of tender carrots, sweet slippery onion, and brown-sauced beef chunks. Twice.

When I was 18, my stomach hurt all the time. There was a fat drunken hummingbird stumbling around in my stomach all the time and I apologized for feeling terrible all the time. I found out right after Christmas I had celiac disease. No wheat or gluten allowed in my life, ever again.

I tried for two weeks to eat better, read labels, and not dramatically mourn chewy bagels, buttered pasta and fluffy white confetti’d angel food cakes.

Then, I got bitter. I got sad, and I got stupid. In my head, food was the enemy. Every day for lunch and dinner, I only ate microwave peaches-and-cream corn with cold glops of salsa swirled  into wedges of day-old white rice prised out of the rice cooker.

One night I picked up my car keys and slid out of the quiet house, heart pumping so loud I’m sure the neighbourhood could hear it as I took familiar turns and pulled into the arrowed McDonald’s drive thru lane. Hello, friend.

I ordered a Big Mac and a Filet-o-Fish and parked. I unwrapped and ate them so quickly, with robot-like precision, staring at nothing. Every bite was so hot, so crispy, so familiar and so mournfully delicious but I couldn’t enjoy a single swallow. I threw out the crushed paper bag and drove home, my stomach and head throbbing, a lump in my throat, and tartar sauce in my crotch.

If you swing open the door to a McDonald’s in Nebraska or Vancouver or Timbuktu, the smell will always be the same. That slightly sweet, slightly yeasty smell of fried comfort. When I pick up my daughter from a day with her Grandma, I can smell it in her hair, wafting off her tiny sweater-clad shoulders.

Inspired by Chains: 5Like an army of children before her, the day a Happy Meal was slid in front of her was the day she knew she was truly alive. That first decision of whether to dunk a boot-shaped Chicken McNugget into sweet-and-sour sauce, ketchup or McChicken sauce is a litmus test. (For the record, the only correct answer is a 50/50 ratio of McChicken and sweet-and-sour.)

She calls it “Old McDonald’s.” I probably taught her that in a moment of silliness, forgetting that when you tell a toddler something once it becomes Biblical Fact.

The only safe menu item for me now is McDonald’s French fries; I eat them maybe twice a year. I’ve eaten a lot of food over these long adult years, some of it glorious, but their fries are still delicious in my mouth. They are too salty which is a large part of their charm. Their shape is perfect; they are manufactured for us to not think when we eat them.

I usually have to share them with a greedy four-year-old. She has her own off-kilter fry pile in front of her, surrounded with tiny plugs of ketchup and a gender-appropriate toy, but of course Mama’s are much better. Most times we eat inside, where it’s cooler, the floor is always being swiped with a grey mop and clots of old men huddle together with coffee, watching sports I don’t recognize on muted TV screens.

I leave our tray on the table when we’re done. I still don’t trust their garbage cans.

When we push out into the night, we hold hands, grains of salt still wedged under our nails. She hoots about absolutely nothing, like all kids do, dried ketchup caught in her smile. I pause and scan the parking lot, then start again; the glow and hum of the golden arches shows me the way back to the car which will take us home.

Brooke Takhar is a Vancouver-based storyteller and Mama of one goon. When she isn’t Netflix parenting or running short distances, she blogs as missteenussr and is a contributor to Blunt Moms and Scary Mommy. You can follow her on Twitter or go make out with her on Facebook.

Guest post: Taslim Jaffer’s Extreme Chocolate Cake

It’s just about time for the holidays – Hanukkah starts this weekend! – and while we’ve moved in and are just about finished with living out of boxes and garbage bags, we’re not fully settled yet. With moving and work and not having done anything festive yet, I’m just not feeling the seasonal buzz  … so to remedy this, and to add a little sweetness to this now-neglected part of the web, I’ve invited another local blogger to share a treat she makes for her family during the Christmas season – her name is Taslim, and she blogs about inspiration and creativity at Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self. We met at an event for Vancouver mom bloggers this past spring, and I was impressed by her enthusiasm. I don’t think she even owns crankypants! I guess I wouldn’t either if there was more cake in my life.

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The Cake That Makes Me Look Like the Goddess of Baking

Another Christmas potluck – possibly the fourth of the season, thus far. While digging through my wardrobe, trying to find the most elastic waist on a pair of pants, a skirt, a dress (anything really, at this point) I thank my lucky stars that finding a recipe to please a crowd is infinitely easier than this. One year, I will find a dress that’s as rich as the ganache on my Extreme Chocolate Cake. One year, I will find a skirt that slips on as easily as this cake slips out of a bundt pan.

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But this year, the ooohs and aaaahs as I enter a party will all be for the gorgeous hunk of chocolate I carry in my hands. And rightly so. I slaved over it for hours and needed to call in a cleaning crew to help with the aftermath…

NOT!

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Here’s my easy-peasy, make-em-think-you’re-a-goddess recipe.

Extreme Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of dark chocolate cake mix (515g) – I usually use Devil’s Food
  • 1 package of instant chocolate pudding (4 serving size)
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup cooking oil
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 ½ cup chocolate chips (I don’t usually add these. Seriously, not needed, though you may beg to differ!)

For the ganache (glaze):

  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 4 squares of bittersweet chocolate (1 oz or 28 g each)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan.

Beat together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a large bowl on low for 2 minutes, scraping down sides twice or three times. Beat on medium for about 2 minutes until smooth.

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Stir in the chocolate chips. Turn into prepared pan. Spread evenly.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (although if you use the chocolate chips, you will end up with chocolate on the toothpick). Let stand in pan on cooling rack for 20 minutes before turning over on to a plate to cool completely.

To make the ganache, heat whipping cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

Add chocolate. Stir slowly until the chocolate has melted completely. Let sit – after a few minutes it will be a little thicker, but still pourable.

Slowly pour over the top of the cake, allowing some to run partially down sides. Let set before cutting. Serves 16 very happy people, or 1 lucky husband and 2 ecstatic kids. (Maybe I had a couple slices, too!)

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About the author

Taslim Jaffer

Taslim Jaffer is the voice behind the inspirational blog Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self and author of the Let ME Out!! workbook series. She also shares her motivational stories in the Heartmind Wisdom Collection anthologies.  Recently, Taslim combined her two loves of art and social change in her new line of inspirational, pay-it-forward type cards called Make-A-Wave cards.  She is happiest at home in her wool socks and sweats with her husband and two beautiful children where she writes and raises funds for the literary arts. You can also find her on stage sharing life-gained wisdom and joy. Connect with Taslim on Facebook and Twitter.

Guest post: Vegetable pulao and fruit lassi.

Today’s guest post comes to us from Sandy of mango on an apple. Sandy and I were a year apart at the same high school, and somehow reconnected after ten years, despite a distance of 3,400 kilometers, via the Internet. She’s now travelling India and having grand adventures, and graciously offered a recipe from a cooking class she took along the way. I’m making this tonight for Meatless Monday.

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On our year off to find the cure for quarter-life crisis, we began in India where in addition to sightseeing and avoiding cow poop, we took a cooking class in Udaipur at Shashi’s Cooking Classes. We learned lots of Indian cooking methods for rice, naan, and curries, plus how to make a delicious cup of masala chai. Check out mango on an apple to see more of our trip so far!

DSC_4769In keeping with the theme of cooking healthy and staying low-GI, I thought the vegetable pulao would be great here, along with a nice fruit lassi to finish off the meal.

Pulao means more vegetables, less rice. Biryani, on the other hand, means more rice, less vegetables. The vegetables used in this recipe are flexible – use what’s in season, but make sure to include something crunchier in texture, like cabbage, to give the dish more personality.

Vegetable pulao

  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 2 shallots, sliced*
  • 2 tsp. dry anise/fennel seeds
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced julienne
  • 1/2 cauliflower, sliced into long strips
  • 1/4 small cabbage, sliced julienne
  • 1 carrot, sliced julienne
  • 1/2 tsp. – 1 tsp. chili powder, to taste
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 generous pinch of turmeric
  • 1 generous pinch of garam masala
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup water, depending on the vegetables you choose
  • 3 small firm tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp. cashews, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sultana raisins, soaked in water for about 5 minutes before using so they’re nice and plump
  • Salt to taste

*Shashi used red onions, but they were really small and flavourful, so I’d suggest using shallots if cooking this in North America

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DSC_4726  DSC_4728

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan until hot, and then add anise seeds and onion. Cook until onions become translucent and start to caramelize.
  2. Add in the sliced vegetables and green onions, chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and garam masala. Correct with salt to taste.
  3. Add the water, stir, and then cover and let simmer for about five minutes.
  4. Add in the chopped tomatoes, stir well, and simmer for another five minutes.
  5. Once the vegetables are cooked through (not necessarily mushy, but if you like softer vegetables, give it a little longer), add in rice and combine.
  6. Add in the cashews and raisins, toss together, and correct again with salt.
  7. Serve with freshly chopped cilantro and perhaps a bit of grated cheese if you have some on hand.

DSC_4729After a meal in India, with all the spicy tastes lingering in your mouth, the best dessert is often a lassi. Lassi in India is a milky drink, although depending on the fruit used, sometimes it is a bit more like a smoothie. The best kind of lassi we found was plain, sweetened, and sold in terra cotta cups that you throw out when you’re done!

Fruit Lassi

  • 1 cup pureed fruit (banana and mango are typical choices in India, and I think peach, when in season, would be delicious as well)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • Pinch of cardamom powder, or open up two cardamom pods and crush the seeds between your fingers and a little bit of granulated sugar
  • 2 – 4 tbsp. of milk or water, depending on the thickness you’d like, the thickness of the yogurt you use, and the fruit in question

Whisk everything together, and serve. If you’re feeling extravagant, top with one tablespoon of finely shredded coconut.

Guest post from South America: Maracuya Sour

This post comes from Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic, which is a blog we absolutely need right now. Look her up, and live vicariously through her as she has adventures in warmer climates while the rest of us toil up here in the cold. Here. Have a cocktail.

I’ve been traveling through Latin America for ten months, but while saving for the trip back in Canada I was glued to this site as I vowed not to eat out but still to eat well. Well fed, flat broke was a savior as I share the love for sriracha and found one of my favourite recipes, the bulgur risotto.

So when I landed in South America, I wanted to give something back, to contribute a recipe to show you can both eat AND drink well at home and on the road.

Mojitos are so popular now that they’re almost banal and while cairpirinhas will likely be this summer’s big drink,  you can stay one step ahead of the hipster crowd with the hottest drink in South America – the pisco sour, specifically the maracuya (passion fruit) pisco sour.

I  fell in love with this drink when I landed in Peru,  but it’s price hurt my heart like a scorned lover. At $6 a glass, it really cut into my budget of $30 a day. But when I arrived in Cusco I landed a job working at a hostel and there learned how to make this drink on my own which turns out to be so cheap and easy that I asked my co-worker, Miguel, to make one for me so I could share it with you.

Maracuya Pisco Sour

1. In a blender, place 8 ice cubes and 2 oz. of frozen maracuya (the size of two ice cubes).

2. Add 6 oz. pisco alcohol and 2 oz. simple sugar syrup.

3. Add one egg white.

Note: In South America they only use very fresh eggs for pisco sours, if you are uncomfortable with raw egg white you can make it without, it will simply be a little less frothy so blend it a bit longer

4. Blend for a full minute and pour into two glasses. At this point you can top the traditional way with bitters, which don’t add much flavour – it’s more common for it to be topped with cinnamon.

5. Enjoy with someone special!

 

 

 

Ayngelina left a great job, boyfriend, apartment and friends to find inspiration in Latin America. Follow her adventures on her blog Bacon is Magic, on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Guest post: On being raised by hippies

I invited Lara from Food. Soil. Thread. to do a guest post here while I’m supposed to be frantically assembling the last of my MFA application (not taking Facebook quizzes about which “drunk writer” I’m most like … Ernest Hemingway, FYI, which I think means I deserve an MFA and that I should never own guns).

I read Lara’s blog regularly, where she posts recipes for delicious, different things like West African Chicken Stew and squash with peanuts and tofu. We have a lot in common, I think, except that I am maniacal and probably a degenerate, and she is calm and quilts and seems reasonably responsible. We might both be Pacific Northwesterly hippies, or yuppies, but you can definitely find us both at or near farms. Go visit Lara, and be sure to say hello!

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Hippie credentials

By Lara of Food. Soil. Thread.

My husband and I have been arguing for years about whether or not he is married to a hippie. He insists, rather urgently, that he is most definitely not married to a hippie despite such evidence as my frequent trips to hot springs, the eating of tofu and hummus, an aversion to chemical cleaning products (“What’s that smell? Is that air freshener? Are you trying to kill me?!“), and an intense dislike of Hummers and all that they represent. I continue to insist that I am a hippie, mostly because I like any attention from him even if it is negative.

But now I am starting to wonder … what is a hippie nowadays? Does being a hippie in the 21st century require that you wear patchouli and not shave your armpits even when you have access to a razor? Do non-hippies dress their babies in tie-dyed onesies and shirts that say “locally produced” too?

The indoctrination begins early: vaguely political onesies.

Maybe the modern hippie is just a yuppie-hipster. Some of the things hippies and yuppie-hipsters have in common include recycling, organic food, and shopping at farmers markets. They think the Prius is cool, and the yuppie can afford one.

Being a modern hippie is of course all my mother’s fault. To read about my hippie origins, hop on over to my blog where I have provided my evidence, along with a recipe for granola.