Tag Archives: food

#MondayMixtape – Oh Brave New Wegmans-Accessible World

a boy and his ice cream. a love story.
a boy and his ice cream. a love story.

I want to first apologize for the long, unannounced hiatus I’ve taken from writing these last two weeks. I’ve become overly distracted of late, and I know I need to be better. I’ve definitely found myself thinking of fun ideas and new material for the blog, but the next thing I know, I’m wandering around the new Wegmans supermarket that opened up just down the street from the apartment, and everything else seems to take a back seat. It may be half the size of its sister locations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get lost in it.

Certainly doing one’s weekly errands is important, but there’re other much less important things that end up eating my time. Time that I could otherwise be using on writing and exploring. It’s a constant struggle. But I press on.

And I digress.

But yeah. Wegmans. It’s kind of great. If you’ve never been to one before, let me break it down for you in the simplest terms I can think of. It’s a large, New York-based supermarket that is known for its wide selection of goods, obsessively competitive prices, wonderfully friendly staff, and equally wide and impressive selection of prepared foods. And they boast the sort of following that’s usually reserved for just boy bands or Oprah: the announcement of an opening within 100 miles of your town will send devotees racing to clear their calendars for the entire week of its inaugural operations, and when the big day arrives the parking lot and all major traffic arteries will be clogged with pilgrims from the world over yearning to– if nothing else– walk its long, cavernous, yet uncannily warm and well-stocked aisles.

That said, my personal experience with The Wegs, as it’s affectionately called by its adoring supporters in the 20 to 30something demographic, is limited at best. They opened a few locations in the DC area only after I moved up to Boston, and although this isn’t the first on to open in Massachusetts (that blessed honor goes to the town of Northborough, MA), it’s the first one that I’d actually make any plans to visit regularly since it’s much closer. As in it’s just down the road. As in I can walk to it from apartment. As in it’s maybe 5 minutes roundtrip at a leisurely pace on foot. As in nanner, nanner, boo boo.

And now, after joining the teeming masses yesterday to get a sense of the place and then returning today for my first official grocery run, I have to say that while there’s no denying the appeal of the place- it’s overwhelming. It’s a full sensory overload kind of experience, and in many ways that’s all right (cheese! bread! bagels! bialys!); but in other ways it’s exhausting (they make fruit-flavored bialys? Look at all the different kinds of bread! Ten types of Camembert? What’s with the electric train over the dairy case?).

It’s all lovely, magical, and beautifully laid out for you. But sometimes, don’t you just want some good ol’ black beans and rice, and not this French-imported, bourbon-soaked, twice-baked, thrice-refried edamame-type beans with the short-grain, naturally-blanched, humanely-treated basmati rice?

Where have all the good [read: simple] beans gone?

Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, but you get it: when you’ve been sent to the market for a hunk of regular, ol’ brie, and you find yourself in the cheese aisle trying to discern the difference between Buttery, Creamy, Buttery and Creamy, Earthy, and Rich varieties… you wonder if maybe we’ve gone a bit too far with our segmentation of dairy products.

But of course, in many ways it’s the freedom to choose and explore that makes our lives so rich and colorful to begin with. So here are five songs that seem to typify our current relationship with the food and food providers we depend on to sustain us from day to day.

Some of them playfully sing about how detached we’ve become in our understanding of the processes that bring these products to us, whether by prioritizing, even sardonically, the loss of the food over the loss of life due to the perils of its movement around the world (“30,000 Pounds of Bananas”) or by forgetting about the people and processes  entirely (“Peaches”). Then there are the odes to excess. Songs that sing the wonders and delights of the instant gratification that comes from a good chocolatey substance. Even as “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” concedes that there’s (probably) more to life than those things that supply us that quick fix, the devil on the other shoulder (“Chocolate Jesus”) smiles wryly and reminds you that there couldn’t possibly be anything better (“only a Chocolate Jesus / Can satisfy my soul”).

And then, to tie it all together, there’s Weird Al’s early 2000s gem and tribute to life in fast food lane “Trapped in the Drive Thru.” I’m a firm believer that parodies can oft be more spot-on in terms of subject matter and overall tone than the original, and this one does just that. It cuts to the core of every man’s desires and reminds you that some days, you really just can’t help yourself. Some days all you want– all you really need–  is a thin, juicy burger-like substance with all the trimmings (just hope to Ronald McDonald they don’t skimp you on the onions).

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Monday Mixtape: Finding Your Beach

#cruiselife. #jealous.
jsburka: #cruiselife. nickburkaotm: #jealous.

Whenever it gets cold enough during these long New England winters that my toes feel like they would be better suited to serve as ice cubes in a glass of water rather than the useful instruments of basic locomotion they ought to be, I think about my enterprising younger sister Jenn and where she probably is at that exact moment.

Sometimes she saves me the guesswork as she did the other day by texting me and assuring me that she was just “you know, sitting at a beach in Kauai drinking a daiquiri.”

Poor girl.

You see, my sister works as a culinary instructor on a cruise ship, a cruise ship that is currently somewhere in the Pacific Ocean touring the breathtaking and captivating sights of the Hawaiian Islands. Some people have all the fun.

All jokes aside, it’s an awesome gig, and she’s the perfect person for the job. Growing up she was always in the kitchen cooking meals with our parents (I didn’t learn to cook until later, being happy just to be able to sample the fruits of their labors, showing my gratitude by cleaning the dishes afterwards). She loved it from the start, and over time she became quite proficient in both the art of cooking all sorts of cuisine as well as the similarly important art of hosting of trendy, cuisine-themed dinner parties. So it was no surprise she might one day want to do something with those skills.

So she decided to take it on the road, as it were, and she tells me it’s been a lot of fun thus far. This is her second 5 month contract and her second time cruising in the Pacific (her first contract that ran from May to October had her touring the great Pacific Northwest along the outer Alaskan territories). And in case you’re wondering what the worst thing about living aboard a cruise ship is: “The days at sea,” of which there are plenty this time around, what with the ship alternating  itineraries between tours of Hawaii and tours of the Mexican Baja peninsula.

I don’t know about you, but I’d trade 6 days of polar vortex conditions in a drafty apartment for 15 days at sea on a fully-fueled and fully-stocked cruise ship in the tropics any day.

Whatever the case, this mix is really a toast to my little sister, who’s not so little now, taking on the world in fact, and who showed me how to follow your passions with gusto. Last year while most of us were reveling in the aftermath of another lovely family cruise vacation and thinking aloud how nice it’d be to work on one, Jenn was planning her path to doing it. Here’s looking at you kid.

1. Weezer – Holiday

For when you really just gotta get away. I like number 1’s that start off strong, and this track does the trick with its wailing, simple and concise opening riff and strike (it’d definitely make for a rocking start to a cruise band’s repertoire as the ship is heading out to sea on day 1. Just imagine the casual sunbather’s surprise when the steel drum band kicks this one in to high gear…). Can we start calling this a classic track? Because it is. It’s definitely a classic Weezer track if nothing else. Both music arrangement and lyrics have that playful, unfettered, i-just-came-here-to-rock mindset with the just-a-hint of sonic sophistication that made early Weezer so great (dig that half-step sliding harmony in the chorus, and that delightfully sparse, doo-wop breakdown). I would argue it’s one of the finer pieces of their career.

2. Robbie Williams – Beyond The Sea

Cliche? Maybe (read: yes, definitely), but it doesn’t matter. This one sets the leisurely, leave-your-cares-back-home atmosphere of cruise life down to the very last shuffleboard biscuits (and yes, that’s what they’re called). This tune’s a bonafide classic now, but with all due respect to the original, there’s something about rocker-turned-sometime-crooner-turned-rocker again’s rendition that brings out the peaceful, easy feeling for me in a way that Mr. Darin’s doesn’t. Maybe it’s how easy it is to hear him smiling on every last note and on through the fade out, like he’s already on the ship wondering why you’ve missed the boat.

3. Charles Bradley – You Put The Flame On It

This song speaks not of vacations, cruise ships, or getting away from it all, but it definitely has all the easy-going freshness and vibe to make it a perfect pairing. Heartfelt and sincere, this song exudes unending gratitude and love, and the combined talent of Bradley’s effusive pipes and equally exultant horn section could power any seaworthy vessel the duration of its weeklong voyage.

4. Ben Taylor – Nothing I Can Do

This one’s for the quieter, reflective moments. Times of momentary wonder and awe that can happen as much aboard a ship at sea as they can when on dry land (and, why not, on soft, wet sand): that first sunset or sunrise seen from a windy deck, waking up to a day ripe for new adventures in a new town, or that first dip into blue, crystal ocean waters after a good, long beachside mountain hike. Yeah… that sounds pretty good. How soon can we leave for the airport?

5. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Waiting In Vain

Face it: no compilation of music to accompany you on a trip aboard the seven seas can in my mind consider itself worth its salt without at least one track from Mr. Marley and his faithful band The Wailers. It’s a fact that the sounds of reggae are sounds that will forever be part of the island life and experience, and it’s due in large part to this band’s music and vision. Marley was of course more than just the simple, breezy tracks that are so oft heard in those cloying Sandals ads on television, and this one is truly a testament to that end. It’s a love song, sure, but it goes to a deeper, more vulnerable place. It doesn’t come from a place of pure happiness or tragic sadness, but rather a place of hope. Even still, it’s a hopefulness that aches.

Of course, the musics of the Hawaiian and moreover Pacific islands are distinctly not the same as those that hail from the Caribbean, but I’d put good money on the fact that at this very moment, even while floating in the middle of the Pacific blue, that good ol’ pool deck band is getting ready to fire up another Marley standard just like this one.

Photo courtesy of Jenn Burka

Sunday Drive (by http://www.rednecklatte.com/)

Sunday Mornings with Dad and Casey Kasem

My favorite collection of memories are the ones of Sunday mornings when my dad and I would take long car rides around the Washington D.C. area. On these particular Sundays I’d find myself awake around 7am, sleep instantly having vanished from my eyes the moment they were opened. Making the most of it, I’d amble down the stairs into the kitchen, lured by the smell of fresh coffee, to find my dad thumbing through the Sunday classifieds over three pieces of toast, dressed in his off-day bagel shop owner attire (jeans and a dark polo), presumably searching for his next business venture.

By the time I’d have entered the kitchen he’d already have a few destinations in mind, himself having been up since 4 (the fate of many a restaurateur on his day off). Ordinarily these places would be located in two very different parts of the D.C. metro area. This always added to the sense of adventure.

As I’d approach the kitchen table, he’d look up, smile a warm “good morning,” and nudge the plate of toast toward as I sat down.

“Want to go for a ride?”

“Sure.”

“Great. Get something to eat and then get dressed.”

I don’t remember much about the places we’d see on these morning drives. There were the occasional trips through White’s Ferry at Point of Rocks to get from Maryland to Virginia, the winding roads in the northern and western parts of the area, the actual destinations themselves of course, and of course the weekly stop at Montgomery Donuts for a bear claw or apple fritter.

What I remember best of all is Casey Kasem counting’em down on the radio each week. Continue reading Sunday Mornings with Dad and Casey Kasem