What have you been eating lately? I’ll bet that most of your meals were supplied by any one of numerous commercial establishments situated in your neighborhood. I am talking about fully prepared meals … the kind you get at Subway, McDonald’s, Applebee’s, or the local non-chain restaurant.
For my wife and I the local non-chain restaurant would be Boucher’s Wood River Inn. It is the only non-Chinese sit down restaurant nearby. The place has been around since 1850 so they must be dong something right. Patrons enter from the asphalt parking lot by way of the back door (no convenient front door to the restaurant), traverse the wide plank pine floor and choose your booth or table. A very colorful bar with subdued lighting lines one wall. The advertisements for low cost draft beer specials, my personal favorite kind of beer, are prominent. The booths and tables are comfortable in spite of their hailing from at least 1940. The relaxed atmosphere is further enhanced by a large fieldstone fireplace that glows upon a central bank of tables that can accommodate all the guys and gals from the Wednesday night bridge club or the slow pitch softball team. Besides the advertised “good food, good people, good prices” they also feature a different genre of entertainment on most nights. There’s Monday Trivia, Thursday Karaoke (you’ll never catch me there on a Thursday), Friday and Saturday Live Music, and Sunday Blue Grass (that’s live too but it rates its own listing). The food is pretty good, prices are fair, and above all we can drive there in less than four minutes … not bad for a countryside town like Hope Valley, RI. Our next visit will have to be later at night so we can catch the entertainment. I may have to help myself to a few extra drafts then. I can always count on my wife (non-drinker) driving us home. The Inn is fast becoming a regular for us.
Then there is breakfast. Our usual haunts have been in Coventry (see below); but, we have moved from there and need to find something more local. Just a few weeks ago we went to a nearby place called The Middle of Nowhere (it’s actually on a part of route 3 called Nooseneck Hill Road, just north of the junction with Ten Rod Road). Their website is a real riot … you have to check it out. They start off with some neat music and an accurate photo of the front of the diner; but I have no idea where the mountains and lake in the background came from. I must have missed that when I visited. While we ate breakfast in the overcrowded knotty pine dining room we were serenaded by the cackling and hooting chickens and roosters just outside our window. The food was just OK (IMHO) but they managed to fill the place to capacity in no time (I thought we might have to eat outside with the chickens … luckily our friends got there before us and saved a table). The service was excellent and we even rated a visit to our table by the owner. They appreciate their customers.
We don’t cook much at home and thus end up having an irregular mealtime ritual. If we go out for dinner on a Friday night there are usually doggie bags enough to last us all day Saturday. Sunday is usually a breakfast out day. More often than not we go to Gentleman Farmer (Donna is a great waitress) or Cracker Barrel. Both places are in our old town of Coventry and both have excellent food and service. Since we still go to church in Coventry it is convenient to also have Sunday breakfast there. A Sunday breakfast out will last us all the way to dinner (lunch is skipped) at which time we just look around for whatever we can find. My wife used to cook up a great meal every Tuesday when my daughter and her husband came over for dinner. Since we moved they don’t make the drive over anymore and the designated cooking day has become a rotating feast. It could be on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. It just depends when the leftovers run out. Each time the wife decides to cook a full meal (she hates cooking in spite of being very good at it) we usually have a couple days of leftovers. The end of the week is usually pretty hard. By then we are foraging everywhere. A particularly desperate meal will consist of English Muffins with peanut butter and a side of Saltine crackers. Then there are always the twosome combinations: beans and franks, pasta and broccoli, or pasta and sausage.
I have now decided that if I really want good food often I will have to cook it myself. I started this week with corn relish. I got the recipe off the Internet since the one my mother gave me did not work (did she leave something out on purpose?).
All I had to do was mix some onions, peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, spices and vinegar. Then I boiled and simmered the whole mess for a while and bottled it in a used Gourmet Foods plastic soup container. You laugh; but, you have not tried my corn relish yet. It goes well with everything, even frozen hamburgers. Right after making the relish I decided to make one of my favorite drinks. It requires one bottle of cheap whiskey, a can of sweetened condensed milk (I love to lick the inside of the can), ½ pint of cream, some instant coffee, chocolate syrup, four raw eggs, and vanilla. Put it all in the blender and you have instant Irish Cream Liqueur. I used to have these little heart-shaped liqueur bottles to put it in. This time around all I had was an empty apple cider bottle (the plastic variety). The Irish Cream tastes just as good as it did in the fancy bottles. You have to be real careful with this drink though – it is way too easy to drink too much. Zzzzzzz….zzzzz…..Sorry about that ….
I just went downstairs and tested a little more of the Irish Cream. It seems to get better each day. Our next door neighbor is coming over for dinner today (a Monday!) and you can bet I’ll push the Irish Cream on him. His ethnic background is Polish, but I don’t think it will make any difference.
I think the next item I make will be my famous refried beans. They take two days to make because I have to soak the beans overnight in water. They come out great and there is plenty to eat for a couple of weeks since I am the only person in the house who likes them. I’ll have to make some more of my famous horchata drink (a kind of rice milk that my Guatemalan friends introduced me to) to follow the refried beans. Then of course there is the famous Carr family pork sausage that requires a whole loaf of bread and a half pound of sweet Italian sausage. I learned that one from my dad who learned it from his dad. It’s a great depression-era dish that disappears quickly.
So, what about desert? It’s too early for me to make my strawberry-rhubarb pie. It is still March and we just celebrated Saint Joseph’s Day here in Rhode Island. I could go out and buy some Zeppoles at an Italian bakery (have to go back to Coventry to find one of those). My dad used to make zeppoles (a real big creampuff) and then hand deliver them to the homes of each of his three children. Maybe I should start my own tradition and bring my kids some of the Irish Cream Liqueur. I’ll bet they’ll look forward to it each year as we did the zeppoles.