So I’m Pretty Sure KFC is Made with Narcotics.

It began so innocuously.

My bus ride back from the EDI Airport left me only a fiver in my pocket and a tummy rumbling for food. More pressing than anything, though, was the need for solitude. This mega-level introvert can only handle crowds and queues for so long before she needs a nap. I made the fatal flaw of changing into leggings when i at last collapsed into bed.

There is no getting me out of my room when the cotton leggings have come on.

Some 24 hours later, i emerged, jet-lagged so much i felt hungover. My stomach was screaming for food; i’d only had cookies in the cupboard.

And that’s when it started. I needed food, fast, and my fridge shelf was empty. No time, i thought, for a run to the grocer.

So instead i ran to the KFC, not two minutes up the street. I hadn’t been once the whole semester. In the states, i’m not usually a fast-food-eater. But my week in Carolina had left me hankering for the greasiest stuff America can give, so in a bastion of homesick and hangry, i downed a Lunch Box special faster than any pie-eatin’ champion this side of the Mississippi.

It was french fries and fried chicken, and it was good.

I thought, foolishly, that would be it. My need for bad Americana-style food would be sated. Besides, the KFC’s here don’t even have biscuits or mashed potatoes.

I was so young and full of ridiculous notions of my own strength, then.

My Dad arrived, and his medium-sized-oak-tree stature was American enough to keep me away from the buckets of chicken for the remainder of the week. But all too soon, he was stateside bound. I was alone. Bereft. Abandoned in a land of chips-meaning-fries and no-ice-in-your-water.

So i wept my tears into a bucket of french fries and chicken breasts. (Not literally, that would have made the crispy perfection inside the box soggy). Once. Twice. Three times.

Four. Times. FIVE. Times.

I’ve had to cut myself off. Have intentional, no-KFC-allowed days where i stare down a bowl of granola and British strawberries and dream dreams of vegetables. But it’s so damnably close to my flat, so alluring with its obnoxious red windows and late-night hours. Tempting me with its evil, cheap-and-easy ways.

It’s not like i’m pining my days away for ‘Murica or anything. I miss my family, my cats, my J, my cats, and mostly my cats. But my love for Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) is neither subtle nor limited. I’ve come alive in this city, and i’m not ready for that plane ticket home in less than fourteen days time.

But JesusMaryAndJoseph, do i want KFC every meal, every day. It’s like i’ve unearthed Pandora’s box and now have founded a cult of the £2.99 special with an extra chicken breast, no ketchup.

Maybe my tummy’s telling me something that my mind won’t let me think yet. That the end of my five months in Scotland is coming – and soon – whether i accept it or not. Or maybe KFC just laces their meat with nicotine and i need a support group. Both are equal possibilities in my mind.

But if you’ll excuse me, i have to make a quick run up the block. Something drenched in salt and smelling of potatoes is calling my name, seductive bastard.

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current jam: ‘no church in the wild (feat. frank ocean & the dream’ by jay-z & kanye west.

best thing: more than a month after my last class, i have an exam today. about damn time i tackle this beastie.

Self-Reliance & Southern Fried Chicken.

My inability to cook anything more than rice and eggies-in-a-basket has been a running joke in my family since my brothers learned how to grill steak circa age eight.

I called it my feminist anti-domesticity clause. “I don’t cook because i don’t adhere to gender roles!” i’d stomp and snap. Meanwhile, all my self-prepared dinners consisted of frozen pizza or my tried-and-true favorite eggie snack.

So much for self-reliance.

I knew, in spite of my claim to anti-domesticity, that cooking is not inherently an anti-feminist thing. Obviously, all people have to eat. And i was growing older and pizza for dinner was getting to be repetitive and unhealthy. When i moved into my own flat for the first time on January 11th here in Edinburgh, i knew this was to be the semester of learning and growth abroad.

Fundamental to the growing pains? Learning how to make a balanced meal for myself.

It started slow, tortellinis cooked in slightly salted and oiled water. A few days in i was making sautéed spinach salad, and my first foray into baking chicken was an endeavor of it’s-still-pink-so-five-more-minutes? (For the record, it turned out pretty moist and edible and non-salmonella-filled). I then tried my father’s go-to: honey mustard chicken. A few rounds into those baked delights, i was feeling more assured of my own abilities.

The time had come. My friend Megan and i decided to undertake cooking what we Southern ladies missed the most: fried chicken.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

It was a semi-disaster. We knew, vaguely, that it was best to soak the chicken in some kind of egg-or-butter wash before slathering it in flour and bread crumbs. I always hated how warm the milk was after my mom had kept it beside her while frying up her famous Second-Helpin’ recipe, so i figured milk went in there somewhere.

With a decidedly eff-it-we’ll-make-it-work attitude, we threw all the ingredients together in one bowl. Which turned into dough.

Oops.

Half an hour of packing dough onto chicken legs ensued. Merlot was drunk. Potatoes began to boil. At last, dough dripping off those once-running legs, we threw our concoctions into a pan of oil and prayed to the Almighty Steal Magnolia that She would help us make our mothers proud.

Having no tongs, Megan expertly wielded chopsticks to flip the chicken over until, all but surrendered, we popped them into the microwave to ensure they were fully cooked.

In the pan floated the remains of our dough.

As we sat down to the table, we contemplated our creation. The mashed potatoes and corn, if nothing else, looked exquisite. Bravely, we took a bite of the chicken. Not bad, i thought. Not too bad at all, for making up the recipe on the fly. Sure, it was no Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ but it certainly was good enough for the bone to be licked clean. Megan and i exchanged smiles of victory.

Round 1.

Round 1.

When i told J, the other fried-chicken-master-maker of my life, how our endeavor had gone i think he actually wiped tears from his eyes he chortled so much. My pride mildly wounded, i emailed my mother for her Most Secret Recipe for Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Fried Chicken.

A Tesco trip later, i was armed for round two.

And this time, i must say, it went peach-pickin’ perfect. I’d had to improvise slightly, because Bisquik isn’t exactly available in Scotland (to my knowledge). But one sizzling pan later, i proffered the generously full plate to one of my flatmates, a hopeful grin tucked into the corner of my cheek.

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Round 2.

“Daaaa-aaaamn!” she exclaimed. There was a pronounced diphthong in her reply, even with a mouth full of chicken. Paula Dean would be downright green in the face.

I’m not sure which was more satisfying: the fact that i’d finally made something worth craving (and not just edible) or the chicken itself. As delicious as the food in Amsterdam was, nothing really compares to the warmth of my Southern Mama’s cuisine.

I’m sure there are immeasurable numbers of my peers who scoff at my simple pride in learning how to balance a budget, much less cook a meal (again, my brothers could grill sirloins before middle school). But i think growing up sometimes can be so taken for granted it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know what you know now.

So i’m taking time to appreciate the learning, even if it involves clumps of should-have-done dough and try-harder-next-time chicken. Because nothing tastes so sweet as knowing my own capability, domesticity and all.

current jam: ‘kiss you’ one direction (unashamed!)

best thing: self-reliance is the new sexy, ya’ll.

other cookery blogs: cheese buns & rice.

Markets and More Eating (Amsterdam, Day 2!)

If the Albert Cuyp Market was a field, i was a plow.

I’ve never been surrounded by so many sumptuous and tempting things to try – from the wafels to the hot chocolate to the small bucket of olives i purchased. Plus, as a mayo-loving french-fries eater whose allergic to ketchup, i just adored the frites stand that sold paper cones stuffed with fries slathered in mayo. And the cheese, sweet Holy Mary the cheese! The displays were utterly intoxicating.

(Note the bicycle!)

(Note the bicycle!)

We’d decided, for our second day, to set aside the whole morning to explore the oldest street market in the Netherlands: the Albert Cuyp Market. Lining the block were some of the most eclectic stalls i’d ever beheld (including my experiences in pre-burned-down Owino Market in Kampala). There was an entire pharmacy spread wide under a tent and in the cold, more lingerie shoppes than i could count, a plethora of places to purchase scarves and the like, and a few stalls reserved for Amsterdam-themed souvenirs. Interspersed between the flower stalls (oh, the tulips!) and garter belts were the main attraction: street food.

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(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

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It was as good as it looked!

It was as good as it looked!

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Making the famous frites!

Making the famous frites!

frites!

Frites!

I love street markets – the chaos, the food, the cool vintage things you can find, the food, and the experience of feeling like a local. As much as i may love doing silly tourist-y thing (see me in a large wooden shoe, below) i always try to find at least on thing per travel destination that gives me some sense of what it would be like to live there. Naturally, we were not the only tourists strolling about the market. But tourists were in a serious minority here, amongst the clamor of Dutch-speaking voices selling flowers and toothpaste and lingerie. I’d easily say this was one of my most-favorite things we did in Amsterdam!

Having sufficiently eaten our way through the market, we made our way over the Dam Square for more sightseeing. At the sight of THE LARGEST SHOE i have ever seen, there was a lot of squealing and leaping in to take pictures. So much for trying to blend in!

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About a block or so up from Dam Square is the (in)famous Red Light District. We chortled our way through all the funny little shops and such surrounding the red-lamped alleyways, but they definitely are not the reason i’d wanted to go to the city. And the whole district is clearly geared for people visiting the city, not the residents themselves. The gift shops are certainly amusing to visit, but once i’d cracked up at enough genitalia plastered on velvet hats (et cetera) i’d had my fill. Definitely would not say this was the family-friendly place to go on a holiday to the city, but as two young women walking around in the middle of the afternoon we felt pretty safe and took the whole thing in with a sense of humor.

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This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

By then it was high time we ate, again. Utilizing a combination of my Lonely Planet guidebook and the MOST EXCELLENT TripAdvisor City Guide App, we arrived at the quirky and chic van Kerkwijk. With whitewashed, wood paneled walls and candles adorning the tables, we knew this promised to be a unique place to dine.

Turned out there’s no written menu at van Kerkwijk, so our gracious waitress just plopped right down at our table and talked us through the extensive list of their eclectic combinations. When asked what was a truly Dutch thing to try, she explained that the port-city-nature of Amsterdam meant all Dutch food was really a mash-up of European and Indonesian cuisine. We asked for an appetizer that involved bread and cheese, so she brought out a bleu cheese paté-type-thing that was incredible. For our entrées, Abby had steak with strawberry cream and goat cheese, and i had Indonesian chicken. We split a salad and (of course!) frites with glorified mayo.

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

It was an exquisite capping off to two days and three nights of fabulous dining. But, alas, the next morning we were whisked off to the airport leaving behind Amsterdam’s canals and bike lanes for a flight home to Edinburgh.

Though we’d only had an all-too-short time in Amsterdam, i was utterly entranced. It is a beautiful place (even in the cold!) and i am ever grateful for the opportunities i had to visit.

current jam: ‘day that i die’ zac brown band.

best thing: productivity. back to dale martin, for now.

of interest: i’ve added a new page at the top of the screen! it’s still a work in a progress, but have a look if you like!

Maps & Gastronomy: Eating and Reveling in Edinburgh

Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.

I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.

Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.

This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!

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As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.

And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)

Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.

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Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.

Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!

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Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.

I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.

There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.

I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.

We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

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Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.

current jam: ‘good morning sunshine’ alex day.

best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.

p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!

*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!

The Elephant House Café & Greyfriars Kirkyard!

For lunch today i met up with a group of ladies from my flat for lunch at (you guessed it!) The Elephant House Café. Over cups of tea and coffee we gabbed about our love for all things Potter, marveling at the view of the castle from her customary chair. The food could have been horrendous and we’d have loved it (because, you know, Rowling). Much to our delight, though, the sandwiches and tea were all exquisite. The café is bathed in a warm light and bedazzled in elephants; everywhere, there are petit statues and large posters of the gentle mammal. It’s an eclectic and comfortable place to be – with tremendously reasonable prices for American exchange students trying to stretch the pound as far as it can go!

Having a cuppa where Jo used to dream up the inner-workings of Hogwarts, no big deal.

Having a cuppa where Jo used to dream up the inner-workings of Hogwarts, no big deal.

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the view from our table!

the view from our table!

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Afterwards, some of us went to explore the graveyard at Greyfriars Kirk where we’d heard a Tom Riddle was buried. The search was a long one, before we finally found the grave on a wall in the rear of the garden.

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I’ve always had a peculiar fondness for graveyards; they’re steeped in history, usually quiet, and endlessly inspiring. The search, then, for the mysterious Thomas Riddell was not at all unenjoyable – particularly because it was made in the company of new friends!

Besides, i even found a grave adjacent to Thomas’ with an Elizabeth Riddell. Perhaps Voldemort had a long-lost aunt bearing the same first name as me?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreyfriars, the street, is most famous not for ancient relatives of You-Know-Who, as it turns out. At the helm of the road is a statue of a small Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby, who loyally waited for his human every day even after the human had long died. Both the human, a man named John Gray, and the dog are buried in the kirkyard.

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bobby & john

 

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It was lovely to explore this little corner of Edinburgh – and especially to do so with new friends! Days like today, even when my toes go numb, are making me fall in love with this enchanting city.

current jam: ‘i will wait’ mumford & sons

best thing: new friends!

The Devil is the Details: Crook’s Corner

(Part 3 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series!)

After occupying a permanent address in North Carolina for almost fourteen years, the fact that i only made my first sojourn to Crook’s Corner this past Sunday is, frankly, embarrassing. Crook’s is more than one of the most hallowed restaurants in town – it is something of a local landmark, the pig on a stake soaring above the traffic clouding the corner unction of Franklin and South Merritt Mill. The New York Times was so bold to describe Crook’s as “sacred ground for Southern foodies,” so to have gone neglected on my budding-foodie palette is a travesty.

My first impression of Crook’s was from afar, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. The pig-on-a-stick is pretty unmistakable on this frequented crossroads in the town of Chapel Hill, and the word-of-mouth rumblings over the delectability of Crook’s shrimp & grits had me salivating at the opportunity to enter this hive of thieves and villainy.

(Crook’s Corner is so highly decorated as a restaurant that i suspect, were it to have served the U.S. Military, it would be a five-star general by now. Above is just one of many awards lining the walls).

Apparent to me now, in retrospect, is the trueness and spirit present in Crook’s Corner that was then salient in my first impressions. Crook’s is a place of quirks found in the small places; the sign is unusual, distinct, and very much detail-oriented. In much the same way, the hullabaloo over the food wasn’t over the breadth of the menu – it was over, most famously, the flavorful and well-attended grits. They say the devil is in the details and, in a place named (in double entendre) for crookery and criminality, it makes sense to me such attention to particularities transitively carries through.

Such attention to distinction is displayed for all to see when entering crooks on the walls lining the way to the door – walls lined with hub caps of fascinating patterns and sizes. I’m sure to someone who knows (or cares) about cars, there is a story to be told here, but i mostly find them intriguing because of their geometric intricacy and characteristic quirk true to this restaurant.

Once inside, the artistry is unceased. Lining the interior surfaces are works of art that fill the inside dining space with color and vibrancy. And on every surface there are pigs – along the tiled walls around the booths, above the bar, and in some of the artwork. Alas, from where we were seated i couldn’t really get a good enough picture to share! And though Crook’s has been awarded for its phenomenal patio seating, we opted for the indoors to stave off the heat. I suppose, then, that shall require a second visit to experience the outside dining adventure!

In such idiosyncracies the nature of Crook’s southern cuisine shines through; the Tabasco sauce on the table, the tea served with a minty simple syrup to sweeten to your preference, and a menu dripping with fatty foods and more grits than you could swim through.

So when it came time to place our order (from a wonderful and attentive server, i might add), i went for the “Eggs New Bern” which are a (true to form) bit of a twist on your standard Eggs Benedict. The company i was with went for a myriad of selections; to name a few, my mom went with the bold choice of the renowned shrimp & grits, and J went for the steak tenderloin omelette.

(the steak tenderloin omelette)

(the famous shrimp & grits loaded with goodies!)

(my selection of the eggs new bern!)

(my side of cheesy grits)

For me, the food certainly did not disappoint. Ever a fan of Eggs Benedict, i loved the twist of the doughy biscuits with the thinly sliced ham, hollandaise sauce, poached eggs, and topping of some kind of yummy spices. J was singing the praises of his omelette, exclaiming that the steak was cooked through the way he preferred but magically retained its tenderness and delectability.

My mother, however, did not care for her shrimp & grits, claiming they were “too salty.” Both J and i found them to be perfectly satisfactory; they were loaded with flavor and bursting with this (now beloved) Crook’s southern comfort with a quirk. So i suppose, future crooks and hog villains, be warned if you’re no fan of MSG or salty shrimp!

All food consumed and details considered, i would highly recommend this corner of the world should you be looking for something quintessentially Carolina with a subtle kick of unconventional flavor! Though the atmosphere is not nearly as entrenched in memory and feta cheese like Elmo’s, or urban-nerd like Bull McCabes, Crook’s has certainly won a corner of my foodie heart in the Triangle area of NC. The savory menu and pig paraphernalia makes it worth the wait!

(the deed done!)

Condensed McMizziview:

Price: 1.8 – 2.5 (0 being fast food, 5 being somewhere super-fancy and of multiple courses (this menu is also contingent on size of portion & time of day))            Atmosphere: 3.8 (0 being fast food boring, 5 being the full experience of delicious things for eyes and mouth and ears!)                                                                                      Delectability of Food: 4.0 (0 being fast food, 5 being mouth-explosion crazed-good)

For future Crooks: the website, the menu, and a yelp profile. (Of note: the menu is changed daily, and though some staples are pretty consistently present on the menu, i recommend going to the website for the most up-to-date munchies should you be reading this in the far-distant future!)

current jam: “free” zac brown band.

best thing: top gear and good tips.

History and Home: Elmo’s Diner.

(Part 2 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series) 

Nestled in the corner of the tumbled-brick, rain-dotted streets that encircle the train-track epicenter of Carrboro, North Carolina, is a slice of heaven served with a side of fries. Though i dream of the days when the dust is unsettled and the nooks and crannies of yet-uncovered places are the itineraries of my soul, there is nothing akin to coming home. The warmth of familiarity, the comfort taken in the known, and the want for the expected are the irreplaceable gifts when all i want is certainty. Coming to this corner of the world is the certainty and warmth and things known i need when i, however long at last, come home.

This is why, forever and amen, Elmo’s diner will forever be my most favorite restaurant in this wide and wonderous world.

Elmo’s is entrenched in history by virtue of its very walls. Its occupation of the corner of Carr Mill Mall stands within the same foundation as when the building was hewn from redclay bricks in 1898. Though the mall now houses small boutiques and the best cole slaw this side of the Mississippi, it was first built as a cotton mill not too far from the American Tobacco District of Durham, NC, where Bull McCabes is tucked away.

However, though Elmo’s tangible history paints a portrait of compelling hole-in-the-wall splendor and quirk, the real magic of Elmo’s – for me – is in the sense of personal history. The ambience of a place dripping with local color and the milieu of a community with roots is inseparable from this sense of home-ness, to be sure, but the persistence of memory permeates and seeps far deeper than the creaking floorboards might, at first, seem.

But what i first see when tracing my fingers along with crumbly, imperfect brick walls, is how much my fingers have grown – and how unchanging and constant those walls have been. I’ve been perching on the edge of Elmo’s green booths and counter-top seats since i was six years old – young enough to be unquestioningly given a kid’s menu and cup of crayons. Elmo’s kids menus have always, at least for the last decade, garnished with a friendly duck with an “E” emblazoned on the front of a polka-dotted tea. More of my works of Elmo’s-duck-art have (shall we say) adorned the walls of the host stand area than there are sculptures by Michelangelo. My family has been dining within the confines of the fairy-lit patio since they first strung up plastic bags filled with water to stave off the ever-omnipresent North Carolina flies. I don’t bother to open the menu anymore; even after they modified the font and prices, i know precisely what i’m going to order every single time.

It helps, certainly, that Elmo’s comfort is manifested most deliciously and directly in its phenomenal diner-style food. They are most famous for their breakfast foods which are, delightfully, served all day long (i recommend a stack of two chocolate chip pancakes with, if you’re feeling ambitious, a side of grits or fruit), but anything you order will assuredly be rife with flavor and fullness. The chocolate milkshakes are nectar of angels, the biscuits are made from dough i swear to be kneaded by holy hands, and, though i don’t eat beef anymore, the burgers are known to the be the best for blocks.

Most of all, however, i can heartily endorse the one thing on the menu that i have unfailingly ordered for every lunch and dinner meal spent in the crevices of tumbled red bricks and formica counters. I can back this recommendation with, firstly, my soul, and secondly, over ten years of consistent perfection on the part of the people in the kitchen.

I give you: The Greek Grilled Cheese with Chicken.

(feast your eyes!)

This Magnificat is composed of: grilled chicken (perfectly seasons) atop a bed of fresh lettuce, tomato, onions, feta cheese, cucumbers, and more feta inside a pita smothered in cheddar cheese. I like to drizzle some of the (what i presume to be) cucumber-esque sauce that comes as a garnish on top, but save half the ramekin for dipping my fries. It’s a monster of a sandwich to consume which, therefore, requires you to look a bit like a monster while eating it. Luckily, Elmo’s is a homeplace for me which, therefore, makes it a judging-free zone when it comes to inhaling creation’s best meal. (It also helps that i try to bring people along who will love me regardless of inability to eat like a dainty lady).

(the damage done)

So whether i’m indulging in a breakfast before dashing off to work (in yet another restaurant) or sharing a slice of my hometown’s history with friends, Elmo’s is an unmistakable landmark in the Triangle area of North Carolina. The service is impeccable and hospitable, the food is supreme, and the salience of memory makes any meal a new kind of remembrance.

And when i’m feeling particularly wistful, well, the waitstaff doesn’t really mind if i color another duck to hang on the wall.

Condensed McMizziview:

Price: 1.0 – 1.5 (0 being fast food, 5 being somewhere super-fancy and of multiple courses (this menu is also contingent on size of portion & time of day))            Atmosphere: 5 (0 being fast food boring, 5 being the full experience of delicious things for eyes and mouth and ears!)                                                                                      Delectability of Food: OVER NINE THOUSAND (0 being fast food, 5 being mouth-explosion crazed-good)

For future Elmo’s Ducks: the website, the menu, and an urbanspoon profile.

current jam: ‘roll away your stone’ mumford & sons

best thing: elmo’s, when shared.

A Treat for Moms from Mellark Bakery: Peeta’s Cheese Buns

To say that i am something of an embarrassingly abysmal chef would be a drastic understatement. If it were possible to burn water, i probably would. I’ve certainly ruined pots trying, at any rate.

But my mother, unfailing in her teachings and a prize winner in patience, has endeavored to teach me culinary skills enough to survive since my brothers were making filet mignon at the ages of five and seven. Though this foray into mother-daughter lesson-learning has not necessarily been the most fruitful (my fault, not hers) i have gleaned a few lessons, chief among them: 1. always keep a box of Bisquik stored in the house for emergencies, and 2. cheese can make almost anything better.

Wanting to explore the realm of the unknown and out of a desire to try something new, i decided to take a proper, dangerous adventure a few days ago. It’s true friends, i did the unthinkable: i may have had mishaps on motorcycles, but few things prepared me for the confrontation i had on Friday with … my oven. I’ve started baking. And i’m still alive and mostly unscathed. I count this as a victory.

So, as an homage to my faithful mother (who will still try my cooking, even when we’re fairly certain it will lead to certain demise) and to bask in my newfound glory of cuisine-generating (beyond that of the Ramen and scrambled eggs realm) i thought i’d share with you my first real foray into baking. Funny enough, this pseudo-crafting, DIY-baking stuff i so rarely do always seems to come back to some themed party or event i’m throwing/attending (well, funny in the sense that it is totally in line with my characteristic nerdiness and lack of ability to do anything actually useful in a world outside of academia and the internet). Last time, when i made my mockingjay shirt, it was for The Hunger Games premiere. That proved, like the food, to be mildly successful. Once more, Panem has provided the inspiration necessary for lizzie to voyage into the homemaking blogging kingdom with…

From the Mellark Bakery: Peeta’s Cheese Buns                                                         (As Inspired by the Schemestresses Video)

This recipe, which i borrowed from the aforementioned Schemestresses video channel, is adapted from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, which can be found here.

Ingredients needed for this recipe:                                                                                      2.5 cups Bisquick baking mix
1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (plus extra for spreading on top)

(for spreading on top of the buns)                                                                                           1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (my butter was already salted, so i eliminated this along with the Old Bay seasoning called for in the original recipe because i didn’t have any)

Step #1: Take a semi-artsy photograph of everything you’ll need, even though you’ve just listed it above. Its cool. Don’t question the cooking blog magic. Also, now would be a good time to pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees Farenheit.

(the computer was obviously the most important thing on the list. i like my biscuits peppered with micro-chips that store information, don’t you?)

Step #2: Mixing Stuff.

Chuck all your Bisquik, milk, sugar, garlic powder, and cheese together in a bowl and mash it up like you’re a zombie making brain stew. I find singing along to 80s glam rock whilst doing this makes the batter all the more tender and mushy, but that step is optional.

braaaaaaains

Make sure all the flour-y goodness has turned to semi-liquid, plado-like consistency to ensure you don’t have any awkward patches of flaky powder in your soon-to-be-deeeliscious Peeta-buns. (I’m sorry, that euphemism couldn’t be avoided. Sorry, kids).

Step #3: Roll out your dough on a well-floured surface. You can pound it out evenly with your hands or use a rolling pin, whichever is more accessible. I found pretending to be the Black Widow and karate-chopping the dough made for a much more entertaining step three, but again, that’s on you comrades.

When you’re done evening out the mashed brains, use a cookie cutter to slice out your buns. Once you’ve cut them out, put them on your baking sheet as close to one another as possible. Jill, the host of the video, advises this because it means the bread will rise up, rather than out. I used leftover dough for two wee drop biscuits.

is it just me, or does this kind of look like a whale wearing a monocle?

Step #4: BaKe DaT, gUrL. Put your tray of cozied-up buns into the steamer for 8 – 10 minutes. And by steamer, i mean oven (again with the sexual innuendoes! I only sort of mean to do that!).

Step #5: While those blobs of dough are turning into blobs of yummy-ness, start on the spread to go on top. Melt your stick of butter into a bowl (it took my microwave 45 seconds to thoroughly do the job) and mix your garlic powder and salt into the melted ooze. If you’re as inept at cooking as i am, this process will mysteriously take the entire 8 minutes your buns are rising.

Step #6: POP THE BUNS OUTTA THE OVEN. It helps if you wear oven mitts. Your buns should be pretty white, but if they’re a little brown you won’t die or anything. At least, i haven’t keeled over yet.

Spread the butter mixture on top of the buns and sprinkle some shredded cheese over the top of your buns. If you want to use residual heat from your now cooling-down oven, stick these buns back into the oven with the cheese over top for thirty seconds or so. This should melt that cheesy gooey-ness all over them so they’re positively smothered in cholesterol dairy goodness.

Step #7: Stuff your face and dream of Peeta or Katniss, whomever gives you gooey feelings of delight. To the mothers in your life, be they your own mother or friends’s moms or friends who are moms, share some Mellark Bakery love. Unless they’re lactose intolerant. Send them a recipe for zombie brain cakes instead, much easier on the abdomen.

current jam: “sky” joshua radin & ingrid michaelson

best thing: dairy products and old books.

things i’ve done elsewhere: a video response to hank green’s vlog on marriage equality.

Thoughts from the Journey: Homeward Bound.

My Dad flew up Thursday afternoon to assist me in moving out and, consequential of my sleep-deprived, exam-taking state, do part of the fifteen hour drive home. I turned in my final exam and, within no less than thirty seconds, my phone started buzzing with the news that he was at my dorm ready to start moving me out.

We wasted no time. Nothing less than a tornado of sweeping-up and placing-in-boxes and balling-up-in-bags cleared through my half of the room. No matter where i am or where i am going, the first items to be packed and unpacked, always, are my posters. It doesn’t feel like my space without color splashed on the walls in the form of treasured photographs or Van Gogh prints; it feels too somber to begin departure without un-doing the creation of my own space. When the walls are stripped, the room belongs to someone else again.

The room now relocated to the back of my car (code name: The Firebolt), we embarked Friday afternoon. Details only reveal the sweet sorrow of parting, and leaving sounds too callous. Embarking, it seems, is the most appropriate. A journey, a voyage, a temporary coming-and-going. My life, these years at university, seems to be an ebb and flow in the most non-figurative of senses.

Enough waxing lyrical; finals seem to have drained me of sensible writing. The journey commenced, the departure encroached, and Massachusetts was bid adieu. Through Connecticut we flew, and into endless hills and thunderstorms of Pennsylvania we held fast. We took our dinner in Scranton at the advice of my favorite Marauder and MI-6 agent, whereupon i ate breaded ravioli (delicious), Dad ate a french sandwich au jus (no beef for me!), and we shared a brownie (or warred over, depending on whose perspective). Fans of the office might appreciate the restaurant in question:

(it wouldn’t be a larry-lizzie journey without the signature dad-drinking-coffee-for-fortitude shot!)

There were hotels to select, and radio stations to recollect, and free wi-fi to prey upon for the father (and more ice-cream eating for me):

(of note: this computer is his, not mine. they are twins, naturally, but i think it sweet every time i see it!)

…before the time came to take up the wheel once more.

And then, lo and behold, we came upon a town that, were it found on Caprica, i think might be the laughingstock of the entire Battlestart Gallactica. The sign is mildly obscured by poor lighting and droplets of rain, but it reads “Frackville.” I laughed and longed for summer time ample enough to watch science fiction shows.

Night drew close. Gas was consumed by the vehicle, sleep taken by we who, for the day, had occupied it.

We awoke at what in college might be considered the crack of dawn (save for the crew team, perhaps) and traversed more roads through Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was whilst in West Virginia, however, that we drove past a landmark notable for its importance in American Civil War history and for me, most recently, in a paper i wrote for a class on the conscious of women in the lives of Frederick Douglass. Though John Brown was not to be seen, I delighted in recognizing Harpers Ferry (which is, apparently, meant to be spelled sans-apostrophe) and took it as a validation that education can manifest itself usefully in the world outside college.

Through West Virginia we drove until we reached her mother, Virginia, guided so fruitfully by one of the two identical road atlases kept stocked in The Firebolt.

(Also of note: Amherst, blurry at the bottom of the above photograph, bears the same name as a neighboring town to Mount Holyoke. There is also a South Boston in Virginia, which made me feel as though we had never really left Massachusetts to begin with).

(every good road trip requires its own unique 6-CDs-long mix!)

While my father drove, i burned CDs filled with old loves and tunes of Carolina. The Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, and Old Crow Medicine Show were featured prominently in the latter category, whilst Billy Joel and Elton John occupied the former.

Whilst in the Shenandoah Valley, we pulled over for a scenic stretching break wherein more classic Larry-and-lizzie photo-taking awkwardly occurred until, thank goodness, a couple from Missouri offered to take our picture in exchange for us taking theirs. Strangers on the road and in snapshots. The mountains were painted like the colors of the Van Gogh works that had so recently collaged my walls. I took solace in this.

thanks, friends of the road.

I took the driver’s seat, and my father took over the camera. There were lunches to eat, and my first solid jolt of sweet tea since March. Alongside Jerry Falwell’s memorial we ate southern chain food and, though i was acutely aware this was not yet home and in no way did i blend in, there were hints of Carolina growing closer. The air was getting thicker, the dogwood scent more potent.

Before long, there were signs indicating what tastes had taunted and scents alluded to. Chapel Hill was nigh, and summer was really here. Mango Jerry played juxtaposed to Keltic Electric; we sang an out-of-key harmony.

And now here i sit, somewhat at a loss. I knew the semester was wrapping up too fast – it always does, after all – but this happens more than i care to admit. I grow more and more restless, ready to tear down the posters and roll them into their boxes bound for home before i give pause to remember that home is a complicated word. Simon and Garfunkel plays on repeat, the rain taps at the window, and the cats are here. This is home. The room behind is no longer mine, and yet come fall there will be empty walls ready for the stringing up of new photos and old memories. A time in between, the season of weeding, blooming where i am planted. Come what may.

>Food, Glorious Food (30 DPC Day 27)

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Day 27: a picture of where you get your food

Yesterday i made a grocery store run (perks os having a Firebolt at my disposal) and as such I though I’d take ya’ll on a photographic tour of things I like to buy when in the Big Y!



Have I mentioned how much I dislike bananas? These babies never end up in the basket. 


The great love affair of my life…the cheese section. Cheesecheesecheeesecheesecheeseeeee!


Triscuits go well with…CHEESE. 


If you follow me on dailybooth you know that these cookie bags are kind of my achilles heel…I went through a whole bag yesterday. A WHOLE BAG. Seriously, self, that’s problematic. 


Speaking of fresh water availability…


A label of lies. Not real up-to-this-Southern-girl’s snuff. 

My best friend from home’s parents have lived, off and on, in East Africa for much of their lives. He told me the story once of his mother, after moving back to the states from Kenya, stood in a grocery store sobbing because of the sheer amount of food available to her. I’ve had similar experiences and, as much as I love Harris Teeter free sugar cookies and the Big Y I’m so eager to grow food in gardens and go to markets this summer. 

I think we lose sight of how much effort it takes to make a meal when all we have to do is purchase frozen, packaged, high-in-preservatives meals from the local grocery store. Or, even more so, I can walk downstairs to a dining hall with more options for food than I need. 

Anyways, I hope you’re all having lovely weather (it is unfortunately really gross here) and happy Passover/Holy Saturday to all!

current jam: “judas” lady gaga (expect a post devoted to my adoration for this woman on may 23rd when the whole album is released. serious)
best thing in my life right now: radio week has been a complete and total success! AND DOCTOR WHO TONIGHT. 
days until departure: 38

p.s. can you believe only three more days of this daily posting business? it’s flown by for me!