How Far Would You Go For Fried Chicken?

We went 100 miles to Rip’s Tavern in Ladd, Illinois. Just to eat fried chicken.  My friend, Laura, told me it was the best.  She told me to “Get in the car!”  So we did.

Ladd is situated in north central Illinois.  You have the state try to tell you are driving through a scenic highway when in reality you are driving through this.

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Flat with cornfields.  Enjoy the ride.

Driving into Ladd, you find yourself in typical small town America and Rip’s exterior is just as unassuming.   After going inside, we encountered The Line.

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We were happy to actually get inside the building because, according to Yelp!, the wait has been known to be longer.

Faffing around for about an hour gave us a chance to get some libation from the bar and see how Rip’s operated.  The hostess actually takes your order and inputs it into the system through her tablet while you are waiting in line.  This is wonderful because you are waiting so long already.  You don’t want to wait another hour once you are seated.  Just don’t try to make any changes after you commit to your order.  This is a pure assembly line operation that is focused on delivering its chicken to as many people as possible, and making exceptions could gum up the works.  I have been told from firsthand experience that they almost take a “No chicken for you!” attitude if you ask for something else from the kitchen after the ordering is done.  Be sure of what you want when the time comes.

Eventually we were seated, and we were asked if we wanted pickles and “crispies”.  Of course, we said yes.  Not knowing what “crispies” were, they could have been marinated toenails, but we were game for anything at that point. Upon the wait staff’s return, we were presented with a container of these.

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Ah, the leftover bits of breading from the fryers became the appetizer. Clever idea and certainly lived up to its name. It was a delicious preview to the main event. The container slowly creeped its way directly in front of the Sprog as time went on. I was happy that my coleslaw came out early, so I could eat an approximation of a vegetable at least. The Boffin and the Sprog chose not to delude themselves with any sense of healthfulness.

And then after three hours of driving and waiting, Rip’s presented us with the Main Event.  The top dish was mine.  It was a 1/4 light chicken.  The Boffin got a 1/2 light.

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The verdict? I can say that, for the first time in my life, for a split second, I considered bestiality and necrophilia. Then I concluded that they must have played Barry White to the chickens just before they were slaughtered because it obviously made them much more receptive to the brining.  How Rip’s kept the meat that juicy and flavorful while the coating remained so crunchy and tasty is a mystery.  But I am grateful Rip’s is here in Illinois, and we can go there when we need our chicken fix.

Yours truly getting my bird on.
Yours truly getting my bird on.

An excellent beer pairing…Rip’s serve a local brew on tap called Bent River. I had their Raspberry Shandy which was perfectly light with such a heavy meal. And you can make up rude sounding mottos when your child is in the restroom.

Now we understand what the fuss is all about. KFC and Popeyes can kiss our asses. And chances are, said asses won’t grow much bigger because we don’t have the free time to drive 100 miles each way for fried chicken constantly.

England’s History within Identity: What Americans Need to Know

According to VisitBritain.org, a little over 34 million tourists visited the UK last year.  Nearly 3 million of them were Americans.  On top of that, if you look at the top 10 paid English tourist attractions, eight of them involve some sort historical or preservation connection.

Look, Kids!  It's the
Look, kids! It’s the “London Bridge”! Let’s sing the song!           Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Why on earth am I mentioning this? Because if an American is an Anglophile, he or she would list one of the main reasons is the English “sense of history”.  I never understood this particular phrase.  Is it like a sense of smell?  Is it a superpower?  I picture the Boffin sitting down to a meal, stopping in his tracks, looking to his right intently, then stating, “Wait, I feel a change in neighborhood relations with the influx of people moving in from outside Chicago.  I’m also feeling the long-term effects of the voting outcomes locally and statewide.  I think I am going to need a paper bag.”

Now Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have rich and wonderful histories, but I am afraid much of the romanticism goes the English way.  So I am keeping my points narrowed to England.  Once again, the smaller countries get the shorter end of the stick, and I apologize.

My bachelor’s is in American History.  (No jokes from the UK about my taking a weekend seminar!)  So I appreciate history in any form, and English history is a rich and integral part of the culture and deservedly needs to be preserved and celebrated.  I’m the one scouring the History category on BBC iPlayer wanting to watch how they made bread in the 12th century.  I can be as boring as shit as the next person, thank you very much.

Living in the young country that we do, most Americans do not understand just how deep English history truly goes and what it truly means to them.  The English people are, in a sense, owned by its history.  I can give you a couple of examples of this depth.

Going into this paragraphs is not impossible, but let me give you a brief overview of public rights of way.  Public rights of way are paths that the public can legally use because history set the precedent hundreds of years ago.  Mel the Angle walked here.  That was good enough.  It does not matter if the land is now private property.  Not only that, in many cases, the property owner is obligated to maintain these rights of way.  There are different classifications for what you can do on these different rights of way.   Some are designated as footpaths only.  Some allow horses and bicycles too.  Some even allow cars.  The Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 has put a deadline of 2026 to get these old rights of way on a definitive map to settle the issues for good, so it won’t be as open-ended as it has been.

I can imagine this going over will with the “get off my lawn” types over here.

Moving on, let’s go back to feudal times when the lord owned everything.  Of course, we don’t live in those times now.  However, all hidden treasure found on your property belongs to the Crown.  Technically.  And every so often there still is a discovery of something valuable tucked away in a crevice here and there.  Why?  Because people wanted to avoid paying taxes and forgot (or didn’t want) to tell their heirs about the loot.

So what do you do if you do find treasure in your house or yard? You take it to your local coroner within 15 days of discovery.  He or she determines whether the treasure is valuable.  If so, the loot is sold and the take is split between the finder and the landowner with the tax going to the government at the point, unless the finder and the landowner work out a separate deal.  Regardless, the government still gets its fair share.

Of course, we Americans have to be different.  While some states still maintain a form of the English law, most have a “finders keepers” rule.  If you happen find something on US government land, it goes to the Feds.  Maybe even humorless guys with dark suits and sunglasses will show up, if you are lucky.

England’s history is just so wrapped up in so much of what the people do that is so hard for them to imagine life without it.  Like I mentioned in my last post, the Boffin and I had our windows replaced.  Our single-paned ones formed ice on the inside during the winter.  The Boffin was talking to an English family member about the project, and she asked if we were going to miss them because of the history.  Um.  Well, our house was built in the early 60s.  These were Hemel Hempstead redevelopment/Levittown era windows, definitely not something to leave to the Sprog in our will. To be fair, the Boffin did keep a few panes to make mini greenhouses, but the thought of getting attached to windows that malfunctioned was a sentiment even beyond my historical sensibilities.  I am Boring Bread Woman.

The English people are left constantly battling amongst themselves over what is worth hanging onto for the sake of preservation and its history and what needs to go make room for the future. It’s a huge identity crisis that we, as Americans, don’t understand nor empathize with. We just see these lovely castles, the rolling green countryside, and all the pretty art and armaments there for us to gawk at. Meanwhile, the funds, the energy, the time, and the effort are all thrown in to maintain a tourist industry for people like us to enjoy. But the English people have to decide what needs to be preserved for themselves and how much of all this is worth it in the long run.  It’s not our place to say.

Another Way to Look at the Wife Bonus

Some of you may have heard of the term “wife bonus” floating around in the media.  Basically, the premise is that, in the upper class, the wife gets a percentage of her husband’s bonus based upon her performance during the year.  I first heard of the wife bonus from an article by Wednesday Martin titled, Poor Little Rich Woman, in the New York Times.

Ms. Martin lived in the Upper East Side of New York City for six years and donned her Margaret Mead hat.  She described a world where women are afforded every creature comfort provided by the men in their lives, but the extras are contingent upon whether the children get into the proper schools or whether she handles the household budget well.  Sex segregation is well entrenched in their social circles, and the balance of power clearly lies with the men.  Meanwhile, the women have to make do with the superficial fripperies, their social lives, and working on getting higher approval ratings.

I better get home!  I have my Kegel classes at 1:00!  Photo by Mike Baird. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/482031103
I better get home! I have my Kegel classes at 1:00!    Photo by Mike Baird. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/482031103

Since I don’t move in those circles, I don’t live such luxurious lifestyle.  But the Boffin does get a bonus every year.  Being middle class homeowners, we do boring things with our extra money.  This year, it went to replacing all of our windows because we were tired of having ice form on the inside.  Although, it did make the holidays more festive.

How the Upper East Siders are using their bonuses is off-putting on so many levels.  I don’t need to list the reasons.  There are tons of articles about that.  However, providing a bonus for a stay-at-home parent does not have to be a mark of oppression.  Let’s set up the scenario.

In the household where one parent stays at home, they come to an agreement for when bonus time comes around. The stay-at-home parent gets a mutually agreed upon percentage of the bonus as fun money.  This is just a reallocation of household funds that goes on in any other partnership. Many people are reluctant to spend money on themselves when there are other household expenses that are pressing.  I know I am one of those people, and I have full access to the accounts, and a husband who positively encourages me to go out and buy things for myself.

Think of this is a way for the breadwinner to say, “I value what you do.  I want you to treat yourself nicely.  You are worthy of the good things in life.”

Looking at it like that, it sounds like something normal in the household budget, doesn’t it?

No performance metrics.  No conditions.  No deals.  No expectations.  Just love and respect.

Unless the roof needs to be replaced.

Mysteries of America: The Riding Mower…with Cup Holders

When the Boffin and I bought our first house, the Boffin’s family delivered some good-natured teasing in the form of “Next we are going to see pictures of the Boffin on his riding lawn mower!”.  We would have found this amazing considering we lived in the Boston metro area at the time.  I would say being able to afford anything that warranted a riding mower was as likely as the Red Sox winning the Series, but they won at that point.  So, now that I live in the Chicago area, it was as likely as the Cubs winning the Series.

By Charles & Hudson (Flickr: Husqvarna Product Tour) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Charles & Hudson (Flickr: Husqvarna Product Tour) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, I had to get that dig in there.

The truth is the riding mower is not about laziness. I won’t lie. We have our share of lazy people in the country, and some of them do own riding mowers. But our laziness as adults with our lawns usually manifests itself in other ways. Of course, people do not necessarily outsource their lawn mowing because of laziness either. Let’s not forget the inability to take care of our lawns for whatever reasons we may have, i.e. physical disabilities, time crunches, etc. So here are our standard labor saving ways of taking care of the grass.

1) Lawn services: Whether we belong to a housing association or pay a private company, we have somebody come along every week to take care of cutting and trimming our lawn and spraying down those chemicals to keep those dandelions away. And we cross fingers that the petunias survive to see another week.

2) Our kids: Lawn mowing is classic household chore to pass down to the children. Just ask my Older Brother #1. I am sure Older Brother #2 would have gotten the task too, if he didn’t have autism and mental delays. In my time, I certainly used the mower too. It builds character.

Anna in Wisconsin gets the benefits of child labor. https://www.flickr.com/photos/bcmom/142488088
Anna in Wisconsin gets the benefits of child labor with the photo titled, “One of the benefits of having a teenage son”.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/bcmom/142488088

3) Other people’s kids: This is the route the Boffin and I are going. Our friend’s son is earning a few bucks a week to take care of our yard with the classic gas-powered push mower…that he hates. He will build a few more lessons in patience as he works toward becoming an Eagle Scout.

In most of the built-up suburban areas, most of the yards are about 1/4 to 1/2 acre of land, so a push mower does the trick, and that is what most people buy.  So why the riding mower? Not everyone lives in the built-up suburban areas.  It was designed for some of the big ass yards that we have over here. Several acres is not uncommon.

And our summers aren’t like English summers. If the weather is calling for about 38°C (That’s about 100°F.) and 100% humidity, that riding mower with cold drink in the cup holder will be a saving grace between heat stroke and you.  August in Louisiana.  Enough said.

Actually, I have one more thing to add. Because the mowers have wheels and a motor, in the USA, we have to race them. There is no other option. What I love about this video is the comments section. There are people actually suggesting that they used the wrong makes and models. There are riding mower afficianados here, folks.

We are a land of contradictions. The United States may have its deep problems, but we know how to have fun.

Update

The Boffin’s uncle kindly let us know about the British Lawn Mower Racing Association which has been around for quite some time. It’s nice to see our friends across the Atlantic get in on the action too.

http://www.blmra.co.uk/

Naturally, I had to find out if there were a United States Lawn Mower Racing Association as well. I am happy to report that there is. However, they soup up the mowers and race on dirt tracks.

http://www.letsmow.com/

I should have guessed that mower racing would have been organized in some way.

Existential garage sale

One of our friends from North of the Border, Ross Murray brings an astute but comforting wit to the blogging table. I always look forward to every new post of his, and I don’t want to keep his name a secret.

Drinking Tips for Teens

en.wikipedia.org en.wikipedia.org

I held my annual existential garage sale last Saturday. It was scheduled – rain or shine, with a set of core values or without – from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., although who can really know the nature of time as an abstract in a physical world? Certainly not those early birds who showed up at 7 o’clock looking for cheap fundamental truths and free will.

And I specifically said in the ad: “No rational egoists!”

Anyway, I always look forward to this sale to clear out a lot of outdated household goods and personal belief systems. I could just throw them in the trash, I suppose, but it feels much better to say goodbye to, for instance, youthful ambition if I can convince someone to give me three bucks for it.

And wicker. All that wicker. I don’t know how we ended up with so much wicker. So…

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This British-American Life in the Kitchen – Mini Jam Tarts

It’s pretty well known that Europe would come to a standstill if pastry ceased to exist. I don’t understand why we would have to consider conventional weaponry and nuclear armaments when some evil genius can tamper with the grain supplies. Let Marvel Comics handle that one.

In the meantime, let us enjoy some mini jam tarts. If you are new to making your own pie crust, this is a great starter recipe because you don’t have to worry about rolling out this huge sheet to fit a pie pan.  All you need to do is get the sheet thin enough to cut out 2″ circles.  It’s easy enough for the kids to join in.

And the result is a lovely combination of fruitiness and buttery, flaky melt-in-your mouth goodness that is perfect with your afternoon cup of tea or coffee.  It’s bite-sized, so you can easily control your portions too.  At least, that’s what you can tell yourself.

What I am using is a traditional British shortcrust pastry.  The ratio is 2:1 flour to fat with enough water to bind and give the dough the right shape and stretchiness.  Lots of people go with a half and half butter for flavor and lard for flakiness.  You can substitute shortening or margarine to get that flakiness or to make it kosher/vegetarian.   Many just choose to use all butter.  Feel free to experiment to find what works for you.

I guess they are.
I guess they are.

Mini Jam Tarts – Karen Style

Pastry

8 oz all purpose (plain) flour

1 healthy pinch of salt

2 oz unsalted butter + 2 oz lard, shortening, or margarine or 4 oz butter

Cold Water

24 tsp of jam

You will also need a 24-cup mini cupcake pan.

First, prepare your pastry.  Mix together the flour and the salt.  Cut the fat into smaller pieces and incorporate the fat into the flour mixture.  You can do this one of two ways.

1.  If you have a food processor, place the flour mixture and the cold fat into the bowl and pulse it until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.  This won’t work if the fat is at room temperature.  I like this method because, like I said before, I am lazy.

2.  If you bring the fat to room temperature, you can incorporate the fat into the flour using a pastry blender, a knife, or a huge serving fork.  Once again, you are looking for a breadcrumb-like texture.

Then add the flour back in the bowl, if you are using the processor method, make a well in the flour, and add about 2 oz of water to start.  Use you hand as a sort of a whisk and gently turn to incorporate the water into the flour mixture.  I am using the Gordon Ramsay method.  He demonstrates it in this 2 1/2 minute video embeded below, and he doesn’t even swear and yell at you.  He just dances around like he has to wee.

Add more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough pulls cleanly from the bowl.  If you are going to make a mistake with this, it is better to make it too wet than too dry because it is easier to add more flour to pastry later on than more water.  Knead the dough gently on a lightly floured surface until it forms together.  Flatten, wrap in plastic wrap (clingfilm), and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

After the pastry has rested, roll it out on a floured surface until the dough is 1/8″ thick.  Using a 2″ round pastry cutter, cut out 24 round circles and line the cups with them, pressing the surfaces to get rid of the cracks.  Chances are, you will have to reroll the dough to do this, unless you are really skillful and play a lot of TETRIS.  Fill each cup with 1 tsp of your favorite jam.  If you have leftover dough, feel free to cut out stars or circles to place on top.

Bake in a 200°c/400°F/Gas Mark 6 oven for 20 minutes.

Now, this is what BBC Good Food site tells you they are supposed to look like with its labeled for reuse photo…with a staff of food stylists and professional photographers.

Your license fee at work, folks.
Your license fee at work, folks.     http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/sites/bbcgoodfood.com/files/recipe_images/recipe-image-legacy-id–592455_11.jpg

 

Here are what mine look like.

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On the left, I had my homemade strawberry jam tarts; on the right were my chunky apple maple jam ones.  OK, they are not prom queens, but they were tasty and made us happy in our bellies.

And they will do the same in yours.

Soccer is a British Word, and Why American Football is Called That Even Though Feet are Minimally Used

Sports fans worldwide like to get on the Americans cases about our lack of enthusiasm over soccer or football, even though things are changing in our corner of the word.  But the playing of the sport is not my concern today.  I want to give a small etymology lesson.

Being divided by a common language, our friends overseas use the word “football” while we use “soccer”.  But that wasn’t always the case.

To make a long story short, when association football (soccer) gained popularity in the upper crust schools like Eton and Rugby, several clubs met in a tavern in London in October 1863 and created the Football Association and the foundation of the rules that we see today.  In 1871, some members of the Football Association split off and formed the Rugby Football Union to differentiate their rules of their game, especially with the whole using the hands and passing the ball thing.  At the time, the names of these games were shortened to “rugger” for rugby and “soccer” (see the “soc” in association) for football.  Eventually, especially with the American troops learning to like soccer while in Europe, our using the word left a bad taste in the British mouths, so they gradually switched over to football like the rest of the world.

In summary, the Britons like to get on our case for using a word they created in the first place.  And they wonder why we rebelled.

Now, the question I always hear is why do we call American football “football” when the ball is passed and carried most of the time?  It’s because of its origins, and the name stuck.  In the first collegiate game between Rutgers and Princeton in New Jersey in 1869, you were not allow to throw or handle the ball, but there was plenty of brute physical contact.  The game looked more like a combination of rugby and association football.  So we preserve our history in our own ways, even though the game changed to include scantily clad cheerleaders and partially inflated balls.  Yes, Tom Brady, I went there.

Look kids, no helmets, padding, or spandex.  And one man and his dog look wistfully to the distance.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Look kids, no helmets, padding, or spandex. And one man and his dog look wistfully to the distance. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

So hopefully, I gave you a little sports trivia to pass along to your friends.  They will be impressed.  They may buy you drinks and be in awe of the spectacle that is your brain.  Or it’s more likely they’ll think you are a wazzock.  You’re welcome.