Food And Drink

Coffee (RW64)

Basically the only two things John drinks are water and coffee. When he gets sick, he also drinks Gatorade. During an average day John drinks 5 pints of water and 4 pints of coffee, which Dan assesses as a lot of coffee, but the latest scientific findings are, according to John, that we cannot drink too much coffee from a health standpoint. John doesn't like sour coffee, which is the current fashion. He prefers regular coffee and does not want to monkey around with it or have any apparatus. After years of using a gold filter in his coffee maker, which he hated, he bought some of these unbleached paper filters at the supermarket in April of 2017. The coffee is better, John is better, it was a simple fix. John was unaffected by coffee until he reached a certain age, but now he can't repel bullets or mind-bullets anymore, he is no longer immune to the affections of women and he is devastated by anything now.

John's usual way to get coffee (RL250)

John participates in a lot of events where he receives a schwag bag in the end: promotional material you get for doing something, clearly identifying why someone gave it to you. In the Northwest, stuff in schwag bags is all locally sourced. Often there are some chocolate-covered coffee beans, a gift-certificate for an app or a comic book done by someone at the show, and of course a lot of flyers. The nicer ones give you a bottle of local wine or a bag of local coffee. John is not interested in the wine, but he is interested in the coffee. Schwag bags are one of his primary sources for coffee an he is wheeling and dealing the wine with other participants of the event. Sometimes he is on a show with Bobcat Goldthwait or Jeff Goldblum who are about to get on a plane the next day and do not want either thing.

There is probably an axis out there how long the coffee can be stored before it becomes petrified, but John's sense is that coffee will last forever. He usually has a stockpile of coffee distributed everywhere, like monkeys in the trees in Thailand: In the fridge, in the pantry and in the freezer. John had so many bags of coffee that he had the chance to try every method of storage. He could put it in the freezer for the freezer people, he could put it in the crisper for the crisper people, it was in the pantry for the pantry people, and it was right on the counter for himself. But at the end of June 2016, something spooky similar to a Nancy Drew mystery was going on: As he went down to make a coffee, there was no coffee in this house! John looked everywhere! The coffee had just disappeared, it was not like he used it all up and forgot about it! He was looking in the freezer behind the frozen blueberries, even back there were the white fish is stored that he bought when he was sure he was going to learn how to cook fish. He must have had $2500 worth of coffee in his house and now it is just gone, like Hitler's gold!

John was wondering if maybe his millennial girlfriend stole all his coffee when she moved out, knowing he wouldn't know it because the coffee that was in present use had been left alone. But did she steal the reserves? Merlin interjects that millennials don't see race and don't know about the concept of revenge. Maybe she was gaslighting him a little bit? What would she do with all that coffee? Would she just hand it out for free at the airport? Like the Hamburglar meets Robin Hood? "She took from the rich and gave it to the people at the airport."

When John's mom sold her house, her 50 year accumulation of disaster materials had to go to John's house. She had all of the required implements and accoutrements in preparation for an eruption of Mount Rainier, in preparation for a 1 in 10.000 year mega earthquake, in preparation for the failure of the grid due to a Stuxnet virus, and in preparation for every other conceivable kind of disaster. Now all of that stuff is at John's house or in his barn. John has so much stuff in the barn, he could build another barn with all the stuff that is in the barn and outfit each with its own scooter and chop saw. As part of his mom's disaster material, there is enough Nescafé on his property to feed the second brigade of the third army. You can give Patton's third army coffee for a year with the freeze-dried disaster coffee that had been stored in the spaces between her rafters. The thing is: As soon as you throw away your disaster coffee, Stuxnet will strike and who is the smart guy now?

So when John ran out of coffee, he was starting to drink from the disaster coffee and wondered if this was some kind of Truman Show where some prop designer forgot to put all the coffee back after they switched out the white fish in the back of the freezer. Drinking this instant coffee makes him feel like he is backstage at a Belgian rock show. Belgians also give you a mushy meatball that you are not sure what to do with, crunchy on the outside, mushy on the inside. John is not opposed to a mushy meatball when you can wash it down with instant coffee, but the terror that is in him now is that he has to go to a store and buy coffee like a regular and he doesn't even know how to do that. Merlin suggested that there is surely a service that would deliver coffee to John in less than 2 hours, like for example Amazon Prime. They would even leave the shipment at the door if it is not a perishable item. You don't even have to interact with anybody!

John's way to buy coffee (RL255)

John made some stunning coffee today! Coffee had not been that good around him lately and he had just been phoning it in. He started to buy coffee, which is a hurt, but also a life hack. John uses a coffee pot and there is nothing fancy about it, but he has not been using the coffee pot very well. It is a classical drip coffee maker and he always makes a whole pot, which follows the same philosophy as "always make all the bacon". John can't just go to the store and buy every kind of coffee. You have to start somewhere, and if it doesn't work out, you get a different one next time. The problem is that when John goes to the store to buy coffee, it is not with the intention of maintaining any awareness long enough to either buy the stuff again having tried it, or buy a different kind having tried it and not liked it. Every time he goes to the store, it is like he has never seen coffee before and he is making a new choice according to some imaginary criteria that fly through his head 5 minutes before the store closes. He does some kind of accounting based on the fact that one of them is on sale and if it might only be on sale because it is cheap coffee which John doesn't want. It also got to be in the "fancy-enough-for-me"-window! It furthermore matters if the brand has 6 feet of shelf space, or if there are two little bags of something called San Francisco Coffee Company or the Tillamook valley coffee roastery, which has got to be artisanal or special enough. He will not buy a red can of Folgers or Illy in a silver can just because the can is cute or because that is what you drank in Europe and you are somebody special who's got to have fancy European coffee. John isn't even sure if it is fancy. It is fine!

In other words: John goes to the grocery store like a newborn baby each time and couldn't tell which coffee is the one on his counter in the kitchen, although he left the house only 5 minutes ago. Merlin admires that, because John cares so much about the things in his home, but he can go into a store with a Zen-mind to get some coffee. John does the same with bread: There are 8000 kinds of bread and every time he is standing there thinking about 22-seeds and 9-seeds and about that squirly bread over there. It all looks the same, but different. He then reaches out and picks one of the numbers of seeds or one of the numbers of other components, like nuts and seeds. It is like being on top of the Log Ride at Disneyland, about to go on the ride. It is just "Go!", like jumping off the high-board. Every time John makes a decision like that, it feels like he goes in by rote and picks the thing he always gets. He is potentially making a grave error in missing out on the variety and that is why he does his calculations time and time again. Still, he feels somewhat confident that he got the most suitable thing at that moment.

2017-August: Different lunch habits for Dan and John (RW78)

Dan had a nice hamburger for lunch that looked very appetizing and made John think about the fact that he doesn't do lunch well enough. He skips a lot of meals while Dan has a good routine that involves having lunch at a certain time. When John worked in an office many years ago, they would go to all the places nearby, eventually figuring out all the good ones and the bad ones. These days, John doesn't eat lunch most of the time and when he does, it is sort of random. The day before he had a ludicrous amount of Dim Sum with two of his pals. Today he had no lunch and tomorrow he probably won't have lunch either. Dan regularly posts very nice lunches on Instagram which makes John realize he is missing out on something. Dan's breakfasts and dinners on the other hand are very mundane and basic. They are nothing you would want to talk about or look forward to, but they are just nutritionally viable meals for him to consume, almost like drinking Soylent. The lunch becomes the stand-out meal, which is the Midwestern and Texan farm-country approach. People would come home in the middle of the day and go back out afterwards to do their farming, geld some geldings and milk some milkings. They would do all those things that farmers do and they needed that gravy and that extra pan of sauce.

John's mom always called lunch for dinner and dinner for supper, which was confusing to John at the time, but now he understands that dinner is the biggest meal of the day and they just had it during noon. For Dan, dinner is more like hard-boiled eggs and sand. There is usually some protein, which could be chicken or a hamburger patty by itself on the plate. John doesn't like if people refer to their food as protein, starch and fat, because it sounds like you are growing chicken breast in a lab, but that is exactly what Dan's dinner is! Breakfast is all very basic and just gives him the energy to function and not pass out during the day. Dan does not look forward to the time when meat actually will just be coming from a lab, because he doesn't trust anything that comes from a lab. If it would be an organic country-based lab growing steaks on a tree, would we still need to cook it or would it grow cooked on the vine? The question is at what point the tree-grown steaks will be good enough so you can cook them yourself without the need to prepare them with enough MSG to make them eatable.

How does John like his steak? (RW78)

John likes his steak medium rare. If it is too rare, then he will cut it very thin, because he doesn't want to gobble down a rare steak. If it is not a very good steak, then you don't want it medium rare, but medium, because in that case it is merely a protein and not a delicious experience. John is terrible at cooking his own steaks and he always does it wrong. You get what you get and don't be upset! Dan’s go-to is medium-rare as well. Only when he knows the place is good might he go for a rare. Once John had steak tartare, which is basically beef sushi, and he has been chasing that dragon every since. It was not in America and the way they make it in America appalls him, because it is impossible to find beef tartare without capers and they don't even write it on the menu. John only wants it with a little paprika on top!

Second Dinner (RL159)

In homage to Lord of the Rings, Merlin has started a thing called second dinner. Sometimes he is out of sync, because his family snacks and eats things out of a bag all day long. His girls never sit down to an actual dinner, whereas Merlin is the weirdo who likes to sit down and eat. Sometimes he has a light, snack-like dinner with his family and then right around the time when he was just going to watch the rest of this wrestling documentary before he really should get to bed, he makes Corned Beef Hash. Merlin likes to use a slow cooker in his kitchen. You buy a giant corned beef in a bag, drop it in this pot, put the lid on and cook it for 10 hours. When it comes out, you have a giant ass corned beef brisket. Yesterday, Merlin took about half of that, at least 2 pounds of cooked brisket, cooked it in a giant pan and thought to himself that he is going to have corned beef for days. After he was done with his second dinner, all he had left was a half of a Quart Ziploc bag.

John and Merlin are really two birds of a feather: John had already been asleep, but woke up because he started dreaming about the graze: The possum that lives in his attic wasn’t a possum but was really a little graze that had just been living in the attic for the last six months. He woke up out of a dead sleep at about 12:30am, because he is a person who goes to bed long enough before 12:30am to get to sleep, dream and wake up again. He ate a Hot Link and a 1/2 pound of brisket and did a crossword puzzle. By 1:30am he told himself to just go back to sleep full of that food. By the time of recording the podcast, he was still full of that food.

Briskets as a path to peace (RL159)

The one thing that would unite people of all races, creeds, religions and nationalities, the thing that would bring peace to the world, would be if you just gathered all the warriors together and raised the topic of how to best cook a brisket. John doesn’t know a single culture that doesn’t have an opinion on how to cook a brisket, except for Hindus, but their opinion to not do it is also an opinion. When all those mad warriors are in the same room, they will remember they have a brisket to cook. After a quite contentious discussion about how to cook it, they would bring out a whole bunch of briskets, everybody would get their different style of cooker and seasoning and everybody would cook their brisket. Whatever everybody was mad about would just fade! John thinks that the brisket is the hub of the food wheel. You will find an equivalent to a brisket in every food. It is a tough unlovable piece of meat that everybody has figured out a way in their various cultures to soften and make palatable, some of it with sugary sauce, some of it with long slow cooking. This may be the path to peace!

Collecting Candy and Eating from a Buffet (RL177)

According to his mom, John kept a giant bag of candy when he was a kid. He would only eat the chocolate, but hoard all the garbage candy from the holidays. Then he would bring the neighborhood kids in and would bribe them into doing what he wanted by promising them a selection from his candy bag. He would offer the kids beads for their Manhattan islands. That sounds like a fucking diabolical monster child and makes him a sicko and his mom confirmed that she thought he was a sicko, because that was not a child-like behavior.

John's daughter on the other hand appears to have very little impulse-control when it comes to food. She does not seem like somebody who would hoard candy in a bag to manipulate other kids, but John is not sure if that is an evolution of the family or a mal-adaptation, because she does not leverage her wealth into power over other people. When in a restaurant, she would just pace in front of the buffet and give those poor eyeballs to all the adults walking by until somebody would give her a shrimp. People have passed the point where adults will just feed a stranger's child off their hands, so they are looking around where the parents are and John tells her that she is making people nervous. But as soon as you are not watching she is back over like a shark swimming in front of a beach covered with bathers. She would never stop eating. If John would put a trough of 4-year-old-kibble in front of her room, she would just gorge all day. She eats a lot of this kid shit, like macaroni, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, or Spaghetti. Merlin says, if there were draft noodles in the house, his daughter would just be pouring in noodles all the time. Otherwise she is not a big eater. She is a candy lover, but she does not eat a lot of normal food.

Talking about buffets: When Merlin came to Cincinnati in 1976, there was a $3 all you care to eat and it was the stuff of phantasies for him. John remembered The Royal Fork with 24 different kinds of Jello salad, macaroni and cheese, chicken cutlets, or Spaghetti, all you can eat. It was an insane scene and he can't imagine why a restaurant like that would go out of business. There was this trend in the mid-to late 90:s when more and more buffets were taking over and pushing out the mom-and-pop-version of whatever was coming there.

John has a pal who insists that they go to Sizzler, not because the steaks are good, but because of the salad bar. Sizzler's buffet got a hot bar, soups, a variety of breads and pump chilli, but they don't even have good steak or Malibu chicken (which is a chicken breast with a slice of ham and some cheese on it, a poor-mans's Cordon bleu). And that stuff is off the back of a truck, it is not USDA choice, it is Sizzler's choice. Another time when John was press-ganged into going into a Sizzler and across the street there was an Outback steakhouse, he proposed to try something new in order to have some comparison. They got up-sold half a dozen times, the waiter was pretty bad at his job, but at least the steak was much better.

Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Fudge (RL250)

Ben & Jerry's summer treats in 2017 only consisted of five flavors: Karamel Sutra Core, Americone Dream, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (which is good, but John is not an insurance secretary), Peanut Butter Cup and Chocolate Fudge Brownie (also a secretarial brand), but not the good flavors like New York Super Fudge Chunk, and the Everything But The. Here is the thing about the word "Fudge": There is no way to say "Fudge" in any accent without it resonating in the room and sounding dirty. It rolls around in the head for the rest of the day. Here is John's objection to ice cream chocolate molten cake or cookie dough brownie cake icecream fudge: Ice cream is more expensive to make than cake, so every time they put cookie dough in your ice cream, they are in reality hollowing out a giant space in your ice cream and replacing it with some cheaper shit. Get as much ice cream as you can in your ice cream and if you want cookie dough, then get cookie dough!

Six Layer Chocolate Cake (RW69, RL248, RW71, RL258)

John regularly refers to his favorite kind of cake from Safeway, having six layers of chocolate!

In John’s family there is a lot of trouble around the question what constitutes a good cake, which is very frustrating to John. The answer is very clear to him, but nobody seems to agree which is odd because they all came from the same place. John is the only one in his family who likes a chocolate cake. His mom likes white cake. His daughter’s favorite cake is carrot cake (what 7-year old has carrot cake as her favorite?) The other cake that sometimes appears at family parties is a Strawberry cake, which is very terrifying, and if you are going to put coconut or rum in your cake, John is going to leave your party. (RL258)

Merlin’s favorite cake is the other chocolate cake from Safeway, called the ”Chocolate Fudge Icebox Cake”. It comes as a square with fudgy icing on top and you could tile the floor of an airport with those substancial slices of cake. (RL258)

Barbecue and the history of Airport Way (RW66)

Dan has posted a lot of pictures of Barbecue on Instagram lately. For Dan as a kid in Philadelphia, barbecue was hot-dogs and burgers and ribs on a grill, but that is not barbecue in the traditional sense. That's grilling or having a cook-out. Barbecue is a very different thing and involves lots of smoke, lots of wood, low heat and cooking meat over a long period of time. The bare minimum is 6 hours, but if you do a pork shoulder or brisket, you easily look at 12-16 hours. In Central Texas, beef is an integral part of the barbecue menu, like for example beef rib or beef brisket, but pork dishes are available as well. Dan's friend once took him to Podnah's Pit Barbecue in Portland, because the owners are from Central Texas, making the place legit. John finds it funny because "Podnah's" sounds like an onomatopoeic or rather vernacular spelling of "partners". Next time John comes down to visit Dan, they will visit all the good barbecue places.

Seattle had an airport early on, partly because they were aviation pioneers and partly thanks to the Boeing company. In the former alluvial plain of the Duwamish river south of town, there was a large flat swampy area owned by an Italian guy who used it as a strawberry farm. As the site for the brand new Boeing field was laid out, he donated it to the city. That's also where the Boeing manufacturing plant was and where all the B17s were made for WWII. There is a road called "Airport Way" that leads out to the original airport. Nowadays, Seattle is using the Seattle-Tacoma airport way out on a hilltop out of town, a big airport that can land three Boeing 747 at the same time. The Boeing field is now kind of an orphan airport, used by many corporate jets, and Airport Way is now a long lonely stretch of road alongside an industrial area. There are little shops, people making carburetor parts, and a smelter where they take old iron bits, throw them into a furnace and make them into ingots. Airport Way is one of John's secret roads. When the Freeway is all jammed up, you can usually get down Airport Way quite easily.

There used to be a restaurant on Airport Way called Bogart's with a picture of Humphrey Bogart. Bogart's was just a bar on a stretch of road where there was nothing else, it was a shit bar. There is no way to get there other than by car. If you are at this place for 1,5 hours, you are intrinsically a drunk driver. At one point they tried to have bands play there, but John only played at the original Bogart's on Eastlake Avenue with The Bun Family Players. At the Bogart's on Airport Way you would just get into a fight with a pool cue. One day Bogart's went away, totally unsurprisingly, and you would ask yourself how it even had lasted so long! In it's place, Jack's BBQ arrived, run by a tall handsome guy from Texas with a thick accent. It was an instant success and there are walls of people trying to get in there. Because John travels this road very frequently, he tried out the restaurant within a day or two of them opening. It was pretty great! They do frito pie and chili with the short junky ends of all the ribs. John is a big chili person and eats a lot of chili. When he was a kid, chili was one of the primary foods in Alaska at the ski resort, because it is cheap and warm. John didn't like it because he didn't like beans. He doesn't like the mealy texture, similar to why he doesn't like potatoes. Later he didn't mind the mealy property so much anymore and now he is consumed with regrets about all those incredible chili hamburgers that his friends were eating while he was turning his nose at them and having a grilled cheese sandwich. Chili is basically hamburger and cheese in spaghetti sauce with beans, those mealy nubbins. Ever since then chili became one of his fundamental foods, because he wants to recapture all those missed chili burgers from the 70:s and 80:s.

In Seattle there is a great variety of all the different foods of the world. John can travel from Ethiopia to Bangkok and everywhere in between in a few short minutes. To spend 12 hours babysitting some smokey cow part in a trash can seems like an awful lot of work for some food that is so good that he would just scarf it down. It is an effort that John would much rather offshore, for example to Jack who can hire some guy with a broom with salt & pepper to babysit that smoke-pod while John is off doing other things. But something in the methodical care of preparing it has to be just as important as the result. There is so much else that Dan could do that men of his age usually do, like building a model train, building a crystal set, or waxing his car. That's at least what John thought men their age would do when he was younger and when he was wondering about that. Now middle aged men just watch a lot of TV and play a lot of video games. It was a long time since John has seen somebody build a crystal set and he used to hear about it all the time.

Fast Food Restaurant Chains (RL259)

Back in the 1980s it was still nice to eat at fast-food restaurants and John’s family would get dressed up to go to the Burger King or the Taco Bell. It was pretty deluxe and you could get fresh Mexican food. Merlin would drive to Tampa to get Taco Bell, which was down-market, but it was the place to go if you wanted to eat out. You wouldn’t go to Simon and Seafort’s to get Fettuccine Alfredo except on your birthday or your graduation day.

In 1984 or 1985, everything had to have an awning or an atrium, which didn’t age well. Awnings get mildewy and atria need to be cleaned regularly, but often they did not endow the building with a cleaning fond. Awnings and atria were typical for a Chick-fil-A. Rice University on the other hand needed some bootstrapping to have their atrium cleaned. They were kind of an Arby’s wannabe, but a little nicer. All Rax had atria as well. They distinguished themselves by being the first restaurant of its kind with a salad bar which really brought people in. The 1970s were the golden age of the salad bar and soon it became table stakes to have a salad bar. Places like Ponderosa Bonanza made it from being York Steak House style to being slightly upscale mall-ish food to being ”all you can eat”. You could still get a steak, but you were mostly there for the hot bar. John didn’t have any of those Midwestern brand names where he grew up. Merlin would go to Perkins before church to get strawberry pancakes. When he had a little bit of dough, he would go to the Forum cafeteria at the mall after church to get little green Jell-O cubes.

Maybe once a month Merlin would go to York Steak House, which was amazing and had a medieval theme. The last York Steak House closed in the late 1980s. Is was done like a castle, similar to what Sizzler did. In Anchorage there was a Clinkerdagger Bickerstaff & Petts, a more fancy medieval steak house where the waitresses were dressed like medieval wenches and offered table service. Steak houses and restaurants had so many themes back then because it was the wacky 1970s. John knew a restaurant where every room had a different theme and the waiters were dressed in different costumes, like one guy got a straw boater, the guy next to him had a pirate hat and she had a hoop skirt. It was like Farrel’s, but for spaghetti.

Merlin had something similar called Spaghetti Warehouse and it had a street car or train car with tables in it. Merlin went there at his 10th birthday and remembers it very well! Their signature dish was Mizithra cheese which seemed very exotic. You could get a dish called "Half and Half" with Mizithra cheese on one half of your spaghetti and meat sauce on the other half. It was the place to go for your birthday and in Seattle it remains the place where you go on prom night. Spaghetti Warehouse was orthogonal to Bennigan’s, a very brass and fern kind of place. There was a trend when Cracker Barrel type restaurants had stuff on the wall. There could be a loom or an old Coca-Cola sign. Spaghetti Warehouse was like that. It was this very old-timy street-car-in-the-middle place where the waiters would wear a garter on their sleeve. Steak and Ale was large in Merlin’s childhood. It was a little bit medieval and the menu was on a cleaver (example pictures). Now they are looking for new franchisees.

John has always been curious about the people who own franchise restaurants. You want to own a restaurant, but you don’t want to think about all the details and about what menu you are going to have. Investing in a turnkey operation like that is a very retired sports guy thing to do, like owning a Pontiac dealership. Those people have $150.000 to invest, they want something that is going to grow and they don’t want to do too much work on it, so they become a franchisee. There will be other franchisees out there to help them figure out how to hire a manager. There are McDonald’s franchisees with 5 or 6 restaurants and they are raking in the dough.

If John and Merlin would open a francise restaurant, they would have to pick a 3rd city that is neither of their cities, for example Missoula, Montana. They would want the kind of food that they like to have at certain times of day, because a big part of it is a passion project and you would not only see it as an investment, but as a lifestyle job. There should probably be some Dim Sum. Or what if they wouldn’t care, but they would just do it to make money? They could have it in Winnemucca, Nevada and neither one them would ever go there. Or they could open two of them, one in Seattle and one in San Francisco. The only reason John would open a restaurant would be to give himself somewhere to go everyday. He would have a big table with a big curvy banquette that is always reserved for the boss because he comes in all the time and wants a Malibu Chicken. Sometimes people would come over to ask you a question, sometimes you would sign some papers, you would have your ashtrays, people would ask if they could pay you their debt in installments, but you would request them to pay those $50.000 by Friday. You would also wear sunglasses that are tinted at the top, but not at the bottom. Three times a day they would come out and put a steak in front of you, you eat about half of it and then you push it away.

Merlin likes the idea of a turnkey operation, maybe some place that used to be a Pizza Hut before it was turned into a dentist’s office and then they would turn it into John’s restaurant. Or maybe an old Taco Bell or International House of Pancakes where they had that super-tall blue roof, but now it is a Thai restaurant. There are websites documenting this, like Used to be a Pizza Hut or Not fooling anybody and there was even an episode of 99% Invisible on that topic.

Wienerschnitzel is a hot dog place, but a Wiener Schnitzel is an actual dish which is not a hot dog or sausage of any kind. If you want to put the word ”Wiener” in something, go right away, but don’t make it confusing like that! In Europe, the Schnitzel is the basic food item in any place. In any pub, the first thing on the menu are 6 kinds of Schnitzel.

The mother sauces (RL177)

Neighboring the Basque country is the Hollandaise sauce region called Béarnaise. The sauce comes from France and not as the name suggests from Holland, same as Béchamel. They are all from France, because there were no sauces before France. Everybody else had just put everything into some put, boiled it, threw some salt and some dirt in, and then the French were like: "What if we made an emulsification of Mayonnaise and threw some Tarragon in it?", and the world was forever changed. They named it Béarnaise because they were doing somebody an honor. All those sauces belong to the five French mother sauces: Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, Tomato and Velouté. Umami is what the Japanese discovered.

2015-November: Hitting rock bottom on a candy addiction (RL177)

John went to Morton's and it was great, like if you are stewing in Frank Sinatra and they bring a plate with basically half of Frank Sinatra on the plate. John had a big steak and the day after he was suffering a bit from the consequences. It was basically like eating a cat. The weather was hot and it was Halloween and he hadn't been eating sugar for a while, but if you eat one M&M the cravings come back and you have to go to the Methadone clinic, like "OMG, I had some sugar and there is this giant bowl of Reese's peanut butter cups, what can I do? I'm trapped in the house!" What would you do if you hit rock bottom as a candy abuser? What kind of clinic would you go to and what would they give you? Splenda? They would probably give you shitty candy, like Liquorice.

2015-December: Weird lunch at the Chinese Place (RL182)

Years and years ago when John was first starting to stay at Merlin's house for many nights (before Merlin's daughter was born, and never for more than 3 weeks), there was a little dim sum place that Merlin had referred to in many of his other programs: a dirty, tiny little dim sum place where the man counts the money and then handles the dim sum. John even remembers that the owner once reached into his pocket to get some dim sum out and placed it into the container for them. They had a cat and some pigeons in the kitchen and they didn't mind it. It is not that they welcomed the cat and pigeons or they were mad about them, but they just merely didn't mind. That place was the first dim sum John ever had. He also remembers the place he first had Sushi or the place he first had Thai food. They had many great meals there and it became a ritual, John came to town and they would get like 15 pounds of dim sum, an amount of maybe 40 pieces per person that is impossible to eat through, yet they always managed to do it and it rarely cost more than $10, because they are 30 cents a piece. When John and Merlin went to the dim sum place today to have their John & Merlin lunch, it was gutted and they heard it is gonna be a coffee shop, the one thing they need more around here.

They went into another Chinese place that was really big and also completely empty. As they sat down, a table with 6 white people stood up and left without having ordered and as they walked by, each person made sustained and uncomfortable eye contact with a weird Manson family smile, a Tex Watson kind of feel. They were all different ages, among others a hippy mom, a young guy, an old man. The restaurant was:

Made In China Restaurant
1033 Taraval St (b/t 21st Ave & 20th Ave, parkside)
San Francisco, CA 94116

From their Yelp reviews: “Meatballs become meat droplets, sour bean pork becomes acid droplets beans pork.”

There were interesting items on the menu, like:

  • Boiled bullfrog: stunning double pepper fish-head.
  • Sauerkraut tofu soup: House Trotter.
  • Acid drops beans pork: Marinated fountain.
  • White oil sausage: Philippine sweet intestine.
  • Large pan of chicken: Levant meat section.

The food was delicious, but it was extremely flavored with MSG and cumin (which is not really a Chinese flavor). There was so much MSG, John felt like he was sucking on two D-batteries all afternoon and his tongue was swollen. Merlin was re-experiencing meals from his childhood. One Episode later, listeners suggested that they probably had Sichuan Pepper.

The waitstaff acted not only like they had not been waiters for longer than an hour or so, but also like they had never had been to a restaurant. They walked by and sustained eye contact without saying anything. They couldn't handle the simplest requests, like if they had Jasmine tea. Just like the original customers that left as soon as John and Merlin walked it, the waiters behaved like aliens approximating what a human being was like, putting on a human suit, not for the first time, but you have worn it in a few times. They wanted to try to go to a restaurant, but as soon as John and Merlin went in, they realized they couldn't handle it. The restaurant is just a front! When John and Merlin actually ordered food, they were probably scrambling in order to put something together that assembles Chinese food. The food put Merlin way off his game.

John is pretty invulnerable to food poisoning or E-coli. He does test positive for the antibodies of Lyme decease, but he never actually had Lyme decease. Or he has it all the time, but he doesn't feel sick. Many years ago, John ate at Jack in the box during the E-coli thing that killed a bunch of kids and he got very sick, but it didn't kill him, because he is strong like a bull. Like he is sleeping on a bed of penicillin.

2015-December: The 40 ounce flask (RL182)

Merlin and John went to the Walgreens near where Merlin lives, a strange place where no one knows where the line to the cash registers is. John noticed a Sharper Image flask which is characterized by a unique quality: it is a 40 ounce flask, about the size of a 175 gram professional frisbee, but shaped like a hip flask, holding an entire liquor bottle. John was about to buy it, but in the end Merlin gave it to him as a Christmas present. You could put it in the back-pocket of your Filson jacket and it would look good on the passenger seat in the RV. John would fill it with acetone, something you need if you want to prime a fuel injection system.

Bacon grease (RL246)

John asked Merlin a question that was more suited for Don Schaffner: How long can you leave a pan of cold bacon grease on the stove before the grease goes rancid? Merlin has recently moved from bacon grease to Lard. John's good friend Bob Wood had a 10 or 12 gauge cast iron pan that he would leave on the stove at all times with a centimeter of bacon grease in it. Some guy would come into town and would treat Bob 5 pounds of Halibut cheeks for two gold coins and a pick axe, so Ben would throw them into the bacon grease and flash fry them, which is the best way to cook fish. Afterwards he would just leave the grease on the stove and turn the gas off. John never lived with Bob and never asked how often he turned the grease around, but a lot of Alaskans had a pan of grease on the stove. John has been adopting this practice lately, but he needs some guidelines in order to avoid some classic mistakes, because he doesn't know if they would just dump the grease out after he left and next time there is a new pan of grease there because they made bacon that morning, or if they would keep the same grease for weeks and months.

Food safetly is a "Turns out" business, as Merlin learned from Ben and Don on their show Food Saftey Talk where both Merlin and John have guested on. Merlin bets there is a "Turns Out" when it comes to John's grease and they decide that they will ask Ben and Don about it, but they have trouble coming up with the exact wording of the question, because "Is it safe to eat?" is always relative. If John leaves food out for a bit long and wonders if it is still safe to eat, he will put it in the freezer for a month, because the freezer will do something to it, and if it only makes him forget that he had left it out on the counter some weeks ago. The freezer will make the choice for him. John has a very good constitution and can eat poisonous food and survive, like The Princess Bride. He has inured himself to Iocane and E-Coli earlier in his life.

Steak with egg noodles (RL255)

Merlin always used to have his steak with rice, but when he served it to John once, John explained to Merlin how important it is to have noodles with your steak instead: Egg noodles with steak is a delight, the fatter, the whiter, the better the steak! If you have a regular grocery-store-sized bag of egg noodles, you either make hardly any, or you make the whole bag, because nobody wants a quarter of a bag of egg noodles. Make all the noodles, make all the bacon, make a whole pot of coffee and let it sit on the counter until it is done or if you are going away for more than 3 days, put it in the fridge. Also: John's daughter's mother usually keeps some of the food in reserve, which is great, because either you will have a small lunch-sized box in your fridge that you will be very happy about later, or you will have some more if you are still hungry at the end.

2017-September: Make all the hamburgers (RL258)

John was at a party the other day and the host was asking how many of those hamburgers he should make. Before John could say ”Make all the bacon”, somebody from the other end of the room was shouting ”Make them all!”. John immediately went and talked to his person, because he understood they were a kindred spirit. The host did make them all, but four of them went uneaten, so John was really glad he was not the one who had shouted to make them all. If it were his own house, he would put them in the freezer and it would be great. Sometimes he re-purposes old hamburgers for other dishes, like a Wendy’s Chili (see this lawsuit) type situation. You can crumble one of them into Macaroni and cheese or you can crumble it into a pot with spaghetti sauce and the sauce will just gobble it right up.

Tilapia and preparing fish (RL255)

Every culture has a Goulash. Even if you go to outer Mongolia, people will understand that word. It has always one freezer-burned chicken-breast in it, as well as a piece of fish that John doesn't remember where it came from and that he doesn't know how to cook otherwise. John still has his aspirational fish in the freezer, a thing that would never survive Merlin's occasional freezer clean-outs. Who wants Tilapia? There is no good size of Tilapia that is either good for one person or for three people. It is the only fish that can survive in the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea has become so polluted with chemical runoff and heavy metals rising up from the bottom of the earth, it killed everything. The banks of the sea are made out of dead and decaying fish, you can't walk anywhere around this enormous sea without crunching on 1000 years worth of dead fish. Apparently, Tilapia thrive in this environment and the fact that there are billions of them in there caused John to have new respect for Tilapia, a fish he had never heard of until 12 years ago. Fishing collapsed at the Great Banks, because we have overfished to a point where the fish stock could no longer survive. There was Cod and there was other fish that you normally don't think very much about until somebody names them and you think "Oh yeah, that's a fish!". There are big fish that have lived 600 years and can use just a tiny little punching motion to break their way out of a coffin. All those smart fish: gone! And all of a sudden, Tilapia, the garbage fish that can live in a polluted dessert lake, is on all the menus and can be bought by the bag and you are wondering where all these Tilapia come from! John had literally never heard of this fish!

John does eat fish. If somebody makes a fish for him, he will love it! Merlin recommends John to go to a nice place in Seattle where they have fresh fish, get a meaty, heavy fish like a Grouper and prepare that with some butter. This is going to remind him that fish can be good! John did that the other day: he bought an aspirational bag of Trader Joe's Tilapia filets, as big as a sack of flour and now every time he opens the refrigerator he is rolling his eyes at it. It is like putting a bill on your fridge that you know you should pay. Or putting a note on the bag saying "aspirational bag of Tilapia and also: You should join a gym". The fridge is there to serve you, but instead you put something in there that you know is going to make you feel bad! The other day, John threw four of them into a pan with some oil or butter and cooked them until they appeared to be done and ate them with some rice and he was like: "Not bad! Not good, not bad!" The next time when he had a Zatarain's rice in a box New Orleans-style MSG-pile, he threw a couple of Tilapia in there. It doesn't disappear like Tuna, but it will junk up and is almost like a fish stew or Cioppino. Maybe grab a handful of those frozen shrimps, too! They are not going to overcook if you throw them in while they are frozen. Merlin normally also throws in some cherry tomatoes right before it cooks, which will add the X-factor! Not many people are making fish stew at home. They are making apps or they are making deluxe hamburgers!

2017-June: Sending John some barbecue (RW70)

Dan quite often posts pictures of brisket. He seems to eat it 4 times a week. John wonders if Dan could find a place that would ship lean brisket and baby back ribs to John. John is receiving those Blue Apron boxes that seem to come in the mail without too much hullabaloo, so why should it be more difficult for Dan to send John some actual Texas barbecue? There is a buying guide for mail order barbecue in Texas Monthly. A place called "La Barbecue" is shipping whole brisekts and whole racks of beef ribs. It is one of Dan's favorite barbecue places in the whole world and he will make it happen. There are different kind of pork ribs: The St. Louis spare rib is from the side of the animal, while baby back ribs are from the back part of the rib on top of the pig. It is the same meat, it just depends on what half of the rib you want. Baby back ribs are maybe a bit more tender, while spare ribs are a bit meatier and obviously bigger. Dan thought that John would want the biggest rib he could get, like a beef rib, but John instead wants the delicious sweet tiny soft rib from the back of a little pig who lived a happy life. Not a long life, maybe, because the glory days of a pig are behind it pretty quickly.

How to make popcorn (RW70)

Traditionally, popcorn was made in coconut oil, but a long time ago in the 1960:s, they apparently came out with a report saying all those saturated fats are bad and we needed to switch over everything to soybean oil that we now know is really bad, but back then the trend was going in the other direction. Today we know that food that is high on fat does not make you fat and food that is high on cholesterol does not rise your cholesterol. To make the best popcorn, take a pot bigger than a saucepan, maybe the one you cook the spaghetti in. Put a layer of oil in it to cover the whole bottom of the thing. Then put the popcorn in, but only one layer of kernels edge-to-edge, so that no kernels are on top of each other. You put the lid on it and put the stove on medium (at least on Dan's gas range. Hotter than you fry your eggs on but cooler than when you sear a steak). Shaking is optional, Dan rarely gets any unpopped kernels. While the popcorn is in there, you microwave some butter that you can put on the popcorn later.

2017-April: Heightened senses by a bad Hum Bow (RW62)

John went to the Asian grocery store, because he wanted a Hum Bow, but the store has become such a cornucopia of different Asian food, it was impossible to find. Hum Bow is a doughy bun with barbecue meat. Instead he bought a little Sushi roll with teriyaki beef which he liked. When he finally asked the cashier, they gave him a Hum Bow, but it was one of the most terrible things he had in a long time and now his senses are heightened in a bad way.

2017-May: Going out for Indian food (RL245)

John had dinner with his daughter at an Indian place called Naan -n- Curry in Renton, Washington. She hates Indian food, because at one time when he had ordered Indian food it was too spicy and it spiced her out. John made it clear to the waiter that the food has to be as bland as bland can be, it needs to be baby food, because John wants his daughter to like Indian food. The owner saw them come in, was enamoured by the child and was talking to her intensely, so John told him that he needs things to prepared in a way that is against the nature in order to satisfy this child. Something like a gastronomical Chimera, something that shouldn't exist.

John always had one eye open in this restaurant, because something is different about it and John didn't know what. Maybe it was a Pakistani restaurant? Maybe they would pre-partition the food? Maybe it is "naan-Indian"? The restaurant is always full of people and John is usually the only gringo in there while everyone else is from the subcontinent. There were Hijabs all over, which means that there were people of all stripes. The owner came over again and was very solicitous, they had some Mango Lassis, and John finally asked him about his origin story. He was from Bangladesh, the former East-Pakistan. This means that John now has a friend from Bangladesh and has opened the door to another empty room in his mind, because he doesn't know anything about Bangladesh. He will go more often to this place and ask the owner a lot of questions. He seems to be a wise man who knows that if John asks the wrong question, it was not of ill-intent, but simply because he doesn't know the right question to ask.

2017-May: Heavy drinking, vomiting and the Night Burrito (RL246, RW65)

At the time when John used to drink heavily, he'd go out drinking every night and some friend would always come with him. He assumed that every one of his friends drank every night, when in fact they only got super fucked up one night a week when they were out with John. They all had jobs and he was their weekend. John never blacked out and hardly ever vomited, and even when he did, he would still be able to excuse himself from the table, go outside, vomit like a rhinoceros with his beer still in his hand, go back in and pick up the conversation. It was a great advantage in a competitive sport. Merlin is really good at vomitting. People don't like nausea, but that makes them just more anxious about vomiting, when instead they should just get it over with. As a kid, his fears were hypodermic needles and corporal punishment, but not a far third was to vomit.

John got a burrito in Portland at 02:00 in the morning (mentioned shortly on RW65), which you could call a "Night Burrito". It was a shabby place, but he had been there before, he ordered a little bit off menu and he felt already when he was eating it that it was the wrong choice, but well, they were partying and he was showing off. This story reminded Merlin about the time when John was eating everybody's Subway sandwiches standing over a sewer and they are both laughing heavily about it. John had ordered one of each of the 14 Subway sandwiches for himself, Merlin, Jonathan Coulton and some other friends. The day after his Night Burrito, John was fighting nausea all day long while he was driving all the way from Portland to Seattle with sweat dripping down the side of his face. On arrival at his house, he was really incapacitated by food poisoning without acknowleging it. He asked himself "What Would Merlin Do (WWMD)?", went into the bathroom and let it fly. Afterwards, he felt much better. John probably made it a 1000 times worse by incubating and fighting the bacteria for a whole day and he was sick for 3 days after that.

Ordering a different dish from the menu every time (RL255)

John and the ladies periodically go to a Mexican restaurant called El Farol for family dinner. The three ladies always get Shrimp Tostadas and John honestly doesn't even know what that is. The waiter is a good guy and he recognizes them by now, so he knows he has to get out three Shrimp Tostadas and one Cheese Enchilada (a bean and cheese burrito) with no rice and double beans! John's daughter doesn't eat any rice, which John can't understand, but then he doesn't eat potatoes, and she won't, either. The potato doesn't fall far from the tree! The waiter also knows that John is going to take a different thing from the menu every time, and he is even getting things that he is almost certainly he won't like, like Mole sauce. He had been to Wohaka where the Mole comes from, but he does not want it. Don't get your chocolate in my peanut butter!

Stroganoff (RL260)

When John was a kid, he loved Stroganoff, because it was made with Hamburger and Cream of Mushroom soup (by Campbell’s). That was back when America understood how to make garbage food for kids. Now where are we? We are somewhere further down the road it seems. John started going to restaurants at that magical age where he could suddenly afford to buy not just Tacos, because he had a job and he could go to places at 11pm and order the things he wanted. Stroganoff was like ambrosia and it was flank steak and onion put over noodles. A thing you don’t want is a long cooked onion over a plate of noodles, because it looks like a noodle. It was an early experience of the overfancyfication of things. John realized that the flank steak version might have been the original version and the Hamburger-version was an abomination. John loved Stroganoff and so he spent years eating flank-steak Stroganoff, but dreaming of Hamburger Stroganoff. Now he is finally at the age where he can just go back and eat bean casserole and Hamburger Stroganoff and nobody can tell him different! He can have cafeteria food for the rest of his life, although people yell at him with their eyes.

John would microwave some Hamburger Stroganoff and would sit on the front seat of his dad’s car which was like a couch, and they would go to the state fair. Part of it is to blame on the Internet, which Merlin does for so many things. Part of him pines for a time when he could be at a party or a dinner and have an argument with somebody whether something existed and they couldn’t go to the library and look it up because they had to go on their bus. Today somebody else will have already looked it up before you are done! The other side of it is that back in the day you could get to hear from many people who said you are doing Stroganoff wrong, but now, as the aggrieved party, you could pull out your phone and show them that there are many different kinds of Stroganoff and you can make this any way you want because this is your house. Both Merlin and John miss the unknowability of things.

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