confessions of a husky boy: wine?

I dread the things left in our home after a party. Cheese plates are often separated into baggies left to metamorphose into another phase of refrigerated spoiled milkdom, while crackers placed in the pantry to grow stale or become desperate sustenance when we’re too lazy to go grocery shopping. We have a refrigerator shelf where uninspired bulk beer sit next to the obscure micro beers mimicking the seating arrangements between our joe-lunchbox and bobo friends.

A rather subversive product crossed our threshold and it’s struck a discordant tone. We are now in possession of a local(ish) product, a bottle of cranberry “wine”, hailing from a town known for its olde thyme charm rather than its winemaking. Snuff, who is a staunch red wine drinker and who once in nostalgic appreciation gazed upon a bottle of “Uncle Ernie’s, hillbilly strawberry wine” in our farmhouse, will not give it a chance. I however set my reservations aside and took a willing flute of it last night.

The cranberry wine has a beautiful jewel-toned which is a contrast to its tartness. Like all fruit wines, sugar is added for the fermentation processes but because of the cranberry’s lack of natural sugar the vintner is forced to over-compensate. The end result is a slightly boozy cranberry cocktail at twice the price. Though I wouldn’t be caught dead bringing this to a party, I can see its place in the world. In somewhat forced camp appreciation I can hear guests saying “wow, this is a step up from Boone’s Farm”.

Cranberry Wine Spritzer

My affections for cranberry wine lay further than the low-brow irony. I see the bottle in my refrigerator a part of our local economy and dare say it’s artisanal. Fruit wines get a bad rap because there are major producers out there who make alcohol out of the byproducts of cheese making [ pdf doc link ] or fruit flavored malt liquor. There is a tradition of fruit wines in the old country, but it’s grown out of fashion because it’s not marketable. So long as there are Germans making fun of German Hillbillen drinking Landwein, French Hommebillies drinking Vin du Pays, and Snuff poking fun at “Uncle Ernie’s (God rest him) Hillbilly wine” there will be no respect for cranberry wine.

confessions of a husky boy: the refrigerator door

I know there is nothing in the refrigerator that I can just pull out and snack on. I know the contents of my refrigerator, it’s emblazoned on my mind. I don’t know if I’m expecting something to catch my eye. I’m not physically hungry, yet every time I walk into the kitchen I open the refrigerator door.

There’s an odd satisfaction or sense of fulfillment that I get from opening the door. My adopted lebanese grandmother – God rest her – had worry beads (سبحة) and she was able to massage all of her unwanted juju into the surface of agate beads. I’ve come to the realization that the refrigerator door handle is the husky boy’s worry beads. I don’t have to eat, I don’t have to cook, I just grab the door handle;  when it feels right… food.

confessions of a husky boy: black eyed peas

I’m not entirely clear as to how black eyed peas made it to our New Year’s table living in the American midwest and being immigrant Canadian. Mom has made it a point to serve these totemic dishes to ensure health and prosperity, so I try to keep with tradition.

Start with some kind of meat, the cheaper the better – about the size of your fist for a large pot. We have noticed over the years that fresh beef ribs, tail, spine, hooves, tongue; don’t compare to pork trotters, which seem to be in constant supply at a very low price. Boil the meat with a few pepper corns and bay leaves. Once the the meat is tender and a broth is set – throw in soaked black eyed peas, boil again.

One can appreciate the simplicity of this method – it is 90% done.

Magic time, some of the black eyed peas disintegrate, some stay whole, and the broth goes starchy and everything picks up the flavor of meat. At this stage one could throw in:


– hot sauce and vinegar
– julienne strips of bitter melon and bitter melon leaves
– spinach
– rice and roast pork
– field peas, black beans, or red kidney beans

Today it’s ham hocks and spinach, rice on the side. Happy New Year!

confessions of a husky boy: macaroni and cheese

Pictured below is baked macaroni and cheese. Not one of the most creative or complicated dishes in my repertoire, I serve this when there has been a long run of rice or asian noodles. While good in its own right there is a huge flaw, but it doesn’t reside in the creamy sauce and the crispness of the melted cheeses on the top, no clearly it is…. that I made it.

True, I have not made one macaroni and cheese the same way twice but they’ve all turned out to be general successes. Unfortunately, no matter who I serve it to, it never seems to be quite right; I will never live up to the one person that served them their best mac and cheese. Save for my friend whose adoptive mother was notorious for making “macaroni and milk”, everyone who comes up to my table has the paragon of macaroni and cheese deeply embedded into their psyche. It is not so much the technique, but there are certain memories locked in with that perfect mac and cheese that I don’t seem to stock in my pantry.

Macaroni and Cheese

Elbow, shells, fusilli, baked, stove top, roux-based, boil, boil and absorption, soft noodle, firm noodle, broth based, milk only, cream only, sour cream, no crust, crumb crust, cracker crust, cheese crust, one cheese, three cheese, white cheese, soufflé, black pepper, white pepper, fresh herb, dried herb, no spice, dried mustard, with vegetables, with meat, with meat and vegetables, full fat, low fat, no fat, soul free, soul crushing, crushed garlic, crushed ice, ice cold, cold heart, heart broken, heart ache, head ache, head trauma, traumatic childhood…

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