Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A French Burger in England? It Could Happen

I have a rule while traveling, never eat at chain restaurants that you can go to at home.

Yep, no TGI Friday’s, no Chilies, and most of all, no fast food.

The Fox and Goat is the kind of local eatery that we look for while traveling

Now I do have a friend who takes the opposite approach. He searches out the nearest McDonald's in every country he visits. He likes to see what they do differently than in the US.

I don’t think he’s wrong, I hear the squid ink Quarter Pounder in Japan is at least interesting, but I’m not a fan of eating ink - or paste for that matter.

But every now and then, you must break your own rules.

We found ourselves on the M20 between Dover and London, mid-way thru a marathon 364-mile drive. (you can read about the trip on my other blog Trippin with Kenny – The White Cliffs of Dover - at kendrylieblog.com).

The Keep at Dover Castle

We had considered having dinner before we left Dover, but the few places we drove past had very little or no parking and a pretty big storm was coming in, so we felt like getting on the road.
There didn’t seem to be much that was open along our route.

It was getting late and the lack of food was starting to take its toll. We decided that rather than fight, we would exit at one of the convenience stops along the way.

The convenience stops are very similar to turn outs on some of the toll roads in the US. It’s just a turnout with a gas station, mini mart, fast food place and sometimes a motel.

We had passed one that had a KFC and I found myself really wanting some of the Colonel’s Secret Recipe.

We pulled off at the next stop, and much to my dismay, the food court had a McDonald's, a Chinese place and one other choice which didn’t look good.

I was going to try the Chinese, but after standing in line and looking at the food, it seemed a bit dodgy.

Rather than risk the intestinal distress that could come from sketchy Kung Pao, we opted for Mickey D’s.

Now, growing up McDonald's and Del Taco were the center of my culinary universe. Later my stepdad introduced me to the wonder that is In-n-Out. My tastes have changed, and other than In-n-Out, I avoid my old favs (ok, not the Barstow Del Taco’s, they are still owned by the founder’s family and are much better than the corporate stores).

I reluctantly approached the counter, expecting to order my normal Quarter pounder, I noticed that they had something called “Burgers of the World.” The current choice was the French Stack, a double patty, with garlic aioli and Bacon on a garlic roll.

The French Stack Burger at McDonald's

I have to admit, it wasn’t bad. Maybe I’ll have to rethink my eating rules. Anything with bacon can't be too bad.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Trying to Pig Out

I enjoy a good snack. Most of the time, I limit my snacks to a couple of nice salty chips or a bit of ice cream late at night. During the day, I'm more likely to grab a couple of nuts, almonds or pistachios are my go-to treat. 

While we were in the UK, we found ourselves on a quest for candy and snacks.

The kids had been introduced to English candies when they were growing up. The mother of one of their friends was English and she would take her children back to the UK every year or so. When they would return home, they always brought an ample supply of their favorite candies to share with friends.

The kids had asked for us to bring back a couple of specific candies, especially something called “Refreshers.”

I decided, in my usual casual style, to do a bit of research on English snacks and candies. Armed with what I learned watching Youtube reaction videos, I assembled a list of must-try items. Refreshers were at the top of the list.

 What seemed to be an easy task quickly became something of an obsession. Everywhere we went we would search the candy isles for the elusive treat. When we asked at the counter, no one seem to have ever heard of them.

Helpful clerks offered up all kinds of odd replacements, including one who tried to sell me an automotive air freshener.

A small sample of the treats we came home with
Even though we couldn’t find the Refreshers, we did find almost everything else on the list. At one fuel stop, I spied a bag of pork scratchings.

I hate to admit it, but I was a fan of pork rinds way before they became the darling of the keto world. In the 1980’s I was introduced to the crispy, salty, smoky snack by some of my Southern comrades-in-arms while serving in the US Army.

Pork rinds and Pepsi cola became my go to snack whenever I was faced with the painfully tedious task known as CQ or “Charge of Quarters.”

CQ duty would begin at the end of the normal workday. The job was to answer phones when the HQ staff had gone home, and to track significant events over night. The big excitement of the night would be to walk the company area for security checks.

At the time there were no smart phones, no DVD players, and the building didn’t have that new service – cable tv. My boss did have a beta videotape player, but he was way ahead of his time.

It’s difficult to describe the kind of soul-crushing boredom that infects the mind of someone on CQ duty. Service members, police officers and night watchmen have most likely experienced the sleep deprived monotony that comes in the early morning hours.

The result of this extreme boredom is that everything is enhanced. People seem more interesting, stupid jokes are hilarious, and food tastes much better. Which is why, on one infamous tour of duty, I devoured an entire bag of hot-and-spicy pork rinds and a 12-pack of Pepsi.

The day-after result of my overnight culinary adventure was, let’s say, less than ideal.

But I still love the deep-fried bits of pig skin. Which is why I picked up a bag of Mr. Porky’s Finest Quality Pork Scratchings for the Connoisseur.

After all, if I like the common American pork rind, I should love the finest quality of Mr. Porky’s offerings. In fact, I’m almost certain that the Queen herself enjoys the savory delicacy.

I didn’t open the bag right away, I decided to wait until I returned home so I could share my discovery with two of my friends and co-workers. Dave, being from the South and Jason a US Navy vet, would surely appreciate the goodness that are British pork scratchings.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the Holiday work schedule had us on different shifts and we didn’t have the chance to all sit down and dine together.

So, the bag sat in my desk for a couple of weeks until one day I was craving a snack and thought about the wonderful delight that was just waiting to be devoured.

On opening the bag, the first thing that hit me was the smell. It was much more pungent than I expected. Undeterred, I glanced into the bag. I noticed that the scratchings didn’t exactly look like pork rinds. In fact, a couple of pieces looked a bit sketchy.

I picked one up and started to take a bite.

What I expected was the salty, smoky, crunchy goodness that I had come to expect from pig skin that has been boiled, rendered, chilled, then deep fried to an air-puffed porky treat.

What happened was, as I began to bite down, my upper teeth encountered a solid, almost impenetrable steel surface of pork skin. At the same time, my lower teeth entered the soft mass of un-rendered fat on the other side of the piece.

So instead of a satisfying crunch, I got a mouth full of pork shards and fat. I will admit, I had to spit it out.

Don’t get me wrong, from what I hear, if you drink enough beer, they’re supposed to be very good. I’m not rushing to find out.

Oh yeah, about the Refreshers candies, when we got back to the US we ordered a case online.

Friday, December 13, 2019

In Praise of the (Almost) Full English Breakfast

I’ve mentioned in the past, I do enjoy a good breakfast. I usually don’t feel like cooking in the morning, but I’m happy to feast on results of the hard work of others.

Which is one of my favorite parts of travel, eating out. Not every meal is a culinary masterpiece, but I do enjoy trying out different places and maybe checking out the local fare.

Which brings me to the full English breakfast.

As I was preparing for my first trip to the UK, I was intrigued by the idea of the full English breakfast. In looking at a list of British foods “you need to try” it came in third after Fish and Chips and Bangers and Mash.

In case your unfamiliar with the term, a full English breakfast consists of:

Fried, poached or scrambled eggs
Bacon (back bacon not American bacon)
Sausage or “bangers”
Fried or grilled tomatoes
Fried mushrooms
Bubble and squeak (potatoes and cabbage)
Baked beans
Fried bread or buttered toast
Black pudding

The Full English Breakfast at the Beefeater Restaurant in Didcot

Now I‘m sure the Queen doesn’t jump out of bed every morning to have the kitchen staff whip up a full breakfast, but she should.

I wasn’t sure about several aspects of the meal. My first thought was what in the world is “bubbles and squeak.” Turns out it’s not bad. I would prefer good old hash browns, but when in England….

I would have never considered including baked beans with breakfast. In my wife’s New England family, baked beans and hotdogs with buttered bread are strictly a Saturday supper item. Evidently, they had it wrong all these years. As odd as it seems to Americans, I really liked it.

Overall, I really enjoyed the full English breakfast, however there was an exception.

The one thing I can’t wrap my head around is Black Pudding.  It is made from pork blood, pork fat or beef suet and some type of cereal like oatmeal, oat or barley “groats.”

Wanting to give the whole experience a try, I did take a small bite. While it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, it must be an acquired taste. Let’s just say I’m not a fan.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Where Has the Time Gone

I was surfing the files on my computer the other day. Buried deep in the depths of a back-up drive between a folder named “Phone Pics” and one titled “Route 66,” I happened upon the folder “Random Food Shots.”

One of the photographs in the Random Food Shots folder

There was a time, several years ago, that I felt the burning desire to ensure that the world was aware of my amazing culinary observations. I was convinced that if I was only able to guide the masses to the locations that had satisfied my highly educated palate, I could make the world a better place, ease tensions across borders and maybe even achieve world peace.

To that end, I would eat out as often as I could, trying to never dine in the same spot twice. Simple business trips became a quest to find meals worthy of my noble praise. Family vacations centered on the likelihood of finding the hidden local dining gems in every corner of our chosen destination.

I joined a web-gathering of like-minded souls and quickly became the most prolific of the food sages. I out paced all of the reviewers in my region, penning hundreds of spicy missives describing each nuanced observation of my dining adventures.

During those days, nothing left my plate without being recorded for prosperity thru the lens of my camera.

Which is how I find myself here, sitting at my computer looking at a file folder with hundreds of photographs of food. And beer. Lot’s of beer.

Did I mention beer?

So why, I’m sure you’re wondering, did it come to a screeching halt?

The platform that I was writing for changed. They became less of a community, and more of a marketplace. I began to feel that I was being used to provide free content for their profit.

And my adult son hates it when I take pictures of my food.

But I feel that the world has been deprived of my services for too long.

And so today, I return.