Monday, April 30, 2012

I'm back...

I'm back from the honeymoon in Santorini. I wish I wasn't.

I'll post a few things from the trip, but this trip wasn't about reviewing things. It was about having a great time with my wife. That being said, we had some awesome adventures, awesome food (and some TERRIBLE food, as well), awesome stories, and awesome adult beverages.

I'll get back at you soon, once I get back into the flow of real life (which frankly sucks in comparison to honeymoon life...). Thanks for your patience!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sorry ladies (and a few bears), I'm off the market

Today I get married to the most amazing woman in the history of the world. Wish me luck...

I'll be out of touch for a short while, since we'll be honeymooning. But who knows - there may be a post or two from overseas!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pastor Hamilton’s Bar-B-Que – St. Paul, MN

LowVee and HotGirlsBrother needed to come over to the Eastern Bracket region for the next Bar-B-Quest challenge. In fact, I had never been quite so far on 7th Street in St. Paul, until now. Pastor Hamilton’s is a lonnnnnng way past the Xcel Energy Center, in case you’re wondering.

Inside, the place has a handful of tables to sit at and lots of info on the walls to read. There is a large Plexiglas window in front of the counter, which allows the good Pastor to post all kinds of notes near the menu. And for the record, he IS a pastor, so feel free to read all about him on the website or come into the store and take a look at all of the articles written about him.

We got our usual half slab (each) which comes with two sides. We got potato salad and baked beans. They don’t have coleslaw, or we would have gotten that. We also got an order of 8 chicken wings, since all of the articles rave about the wings. Plus we were really hungry. And he talked us into getting chocolate chip cookies, as well. The Pastor takes the orders and then disappears in back to go finish making everything.

The food came to the counter in to-go boxes, which is fine with us. We’ll start with the sides, as usual. The potato salad was one of the best we’ve had. Not the TOP of the list, but getting really close. This stuff was quite good. Big chunks of potato and seasoned really well.

The baked beans were also really good. Very solid performance on these, and they’re near the top, especially after some duds we’ve had recently. Really. Good smoky flavor with great texture, and not from a can.

The chicken wings were pretty outstanding. Lots of meat on them and REALLY hot (temperature). These things retained the heat until we were done eating and we left the lid open so they’d cool off, defying all laws of science. They were super crispy on the outside and really juicy on the inside. There’s a reason these things get articles written about them. They’re really quite good.

On to the ribs! These ribs are really packed with meat. They are super thick without being fatty and they were cooked to perfection. The meat falls off the bones pretty easily and cleanly – no bits of meat left to gnaw off. Very few bits of cartilage were found in the meat, which is always a bonus. The sauce itself is one of the best ones in the Twin Cities. Really great flavor, even without a ton of spice to it. Pastor Hamilton came out to see how we were doing and told us he learned how to smoke ribs in the ground back in Arkansas. He’s a backwoods wizard, apparently. He knows what he’s doing. If I had any money left over, I would have grabbed a couples jars of BBQ sauce for the road. It really is that good. I’m worried I’d be putting it on absolutely everything if I bought a jar though. Maybe that’s not a bad thing… LowVee and HotGirlsBrother were equally impressed with the ribs and we left a large pile of dry clean bones on the plate at the end of the meal.
I’m glad we went here. A fantastic showing of BBQ ribs!

Finally, we all got to eat one of the chocolate chip cookies we bought earlier. They were delicious and a great way to finish the meal. I think they may have had something sweet or coconut-y in them. Not enough to taste like coconut (thankfully for me), but something a little unique. I’m glad he talked us into buying them.

Here’s the bracket for the Bar-B-Quest. Pastor Hamilton will go up against Hickory Hut when next we meet (meat), so I’m looking forward to seeing who comes out on top of this challenge.

Top 5 things about Pastor Hamilton’s
1. Rib meat and flavor
2. Generous and delicious sauce
3. Baked beans
4. Fried chicken wings
5. Potato salad

Bottom 5 things
1. For some reason, the white bread in a bag tasted a little off to me (and had no butter)
2. It’s a really small place
3. We all kept yelling at each other for swearing
4. I’m bummed we missed the BBQing out on the sidewalk which happens on Fridays
5. Only open Thursday through Saturday, so make sure you’re not sitting outside on a day he’s closed

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Weetacon 8 (Infiity) – Green Bay, WI (Day 3)

This morning, I tried to wake up and go play disc golf. It wasn’t going to happen. When I woke up a second time, it looked like when I walked into my room last night, my clothes had exploded off of me. I imagine this is how Hulk Hogan finds his clothes every morning – they just exploded off his muscles. You get the picture.

This is traditionally, when you stumble down to the dining room of the hotel and “enjoy” breakfast with whoever is conscious at this time. There are a lot of dark glasses and grunting and incredible amounts of coffee and water being consumed. Why is it so loud in here?!?!?!?

Once people get their rooms settled and paid for, Weetabix begins the awards ceremony. There aren’t points for anything, and there are only a few long-standing traditional awards. Most of the awards are made up for doing something memorable, being awesome, being helpful, spending the most at the raffle, having the raffle prize with the most tickets, and the annual coveted prize of “Miss Congeniality” (which I will have you know I was nominated for). This is where you forget about the hangovers and relive all of the awesomeness that had happened over the weekend. Phrases from the entire weekend become prizes and things you just do as part of your everyday life are celebrated with a thrift-store trophy with a printed out gold sticker on it. It makes your LIFE and you hoist it in the air with pride. I seriously put my trophies on top of my television (yes, I’m the only person with a CRT television in the country), so people can ask me about it. Then, I get to talk about how awesome Weetacon is.

Then, there are the tears. People head back to cars and airplanes all across the country (no internationals this year, sadly). This is where we all put our cameras away so we don't remember the saddest part of Weetacon (plus no one wants to be photographed sobbing uncontrolably in the fetal position in public). We may not see each other for another year, but the smack-talk will continue. The kind words will also continue. And this year, Weetabix got us to write down things we want to do over the course of the next year and give another Weetaconer your goal – I’m looking forward to holding Shawn accountable this year for kicking ass at roller derby out in Los Angeles. I know she’ll do it. She’s a tough lady and has more heart than most people I know.

It’s a blog writer’s convention, but it’s so much more than that. It’s friendship with people who don’t see the light of day for weeks. It’s breaking out of your shell and doing something you might not do but once a year. It’s a place where I plan to be every year until Weetabix goes on a stress-induced killing spree, in which case, all of us will do equally heinous crimes in Green Bay, so we can continue the Weetacon tradition under the funding of the government – thank you in advance, tax payers – and drink toilet-wine and sing songs from the 80’s that you’ll never be able to get out of your heads. (Next year, I swear to god I’m singing the hamster dance…)

Thank you for another amazing Weetacon, friends. I applaud your swarthy doggedness and look forward to one-upping 2012!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Weetacon 8 (Infiity) – Green Bay, WI (Day 2)

I woke up really late and had a shower meat stick and some cheese curds. I was up in just enough time to go catch lunch with some Weetaconers at The Urban Frog – vegetarian, vegan, and healthy foods. I had a club panini with ham and turkey and some mustard sauce on it with some blue corn chips. Pretty good sandwich. No complaints, though I do have the feeling that I stole my neighbor’s sandwich and she got mine. Sorry about that if I did. I had forgotten what I ordered. I also got an orange pineapple yogurt shake. Really delicious.

We headed back for the Weetacon raffle. You buy raffle tickets for a dollar and each item has a paper bag next to it into which you can put in as many entries as you’d like to. There are some items that only get one or two tickets and some items that get hundred of tickets. So it’s pretty competitive. There’s a lot of trash talking and threats of slap fights, but it’s all in good clean fun a and the profits go to support a local food pantry in Green bay. Again I know this sounds corny, but this is one of my favorite events of the weekend. There is soooo much yelling and cheering!!!!!
There were a few items which people get very possessive of, even before any drawings have been made. Seriously amazing gifts are donated from attendees, past attendees, corporate sponsors, and local folks. An incredible group of home made, purchased, and discovered items including hotel, iTunes, Amazon, and Target gift certificates, knitted hats and scarves, books, toys, pottery, artwork, photography, spices, and a ton of other things I can’t even get into, mainly because it's in the over-21 section of the room (where the adult toys and alcohol are).One of the big ticket items this year was a quilt someone had made and donated. It was called “The Manliest Quilt In All of Creation”. It also came with a matching pillow case. I ended up putting in a lot of tickets in that bag since it was so incredibly mind blowing. And then I started smack-talking – that’s how this whole thing works. As it turns out, I won the thing in a triumphant hail of cheers. It was fantastic. I hope no one was REALLY mad that I won (I did put in more tickets than I will divulge to D.Rough), but people were really hoping to win that item.

Consequently, I also got an awesome paloma making kit. D.Rough and I have put back some palomas in our day, so I knew she’d be thrilled about this.

The raffle was followed by the annual Igigi fashion show. Igigi makes clothes for the fuller-figure lady and donates some merchandise for the fashion show so people (who oddly enough are BLOGGERS) will write about the clothes and market it for them. It’s a super awesome partnership and I think everyone wins. The clothes are awesome and the ladies in the fashion show really step up to the plate while we all cheer, and cat call, and ask for more spins! And yes, many of the audience members DO partake in an adult beverage of sorts during this time.

It was dinner time, so we all headed to the Prime Quarter Steak House. It is one of those cook your own steak kind of places. A few people were trying to get me to do the challenge – a 42 oz steak with a baked potato and trip to the salad bar. I wasn’t in the mood to die that night, so I didn’t even attempt it. (My record is a 36 oz porterhouse, so it’s at least within the realm of possibility.) I DID however pay a little extra to have someone cook my steak for me. Why would I pay a bunch of money to ruin my own steak? – I’d leave it to an expert. And I’m glad I did. It was delicious. No complaints at all on any part of the meal.

We headed back to the hotel so people could change into their outfits for the evening’s theme party. In previous years, we would go to a dive bar and get sloppy with the locals. However, last year, there were a few "incidents", so the Weetacon planning committee decided to throw their own party – which they did in amazing fashion. We took over the upper floor of the Fox Harbor Pub and Grill in downtown Green Bay (within walking/stumbling distance of our hotel). The planning committee had also arranged for a photo booth so people got ridiculous after a bit. Rob from Green Bay Photo Booth had a bunch of props and a pretty sweet set up that printed out your photos for you and saved all the shots on a disc in high-resolution for downloading later. Brilliant – and I’m guessing he’s seen it all before, but we had a good time in there.

In the private bar that we had, they were dancing and running 80’s trivia and snapping photos left and right. These people really know how to have a good time.
A lot of new drinks were tried by folks. A lot of shots were tried by folks. A lot of yelling happened.A lot of shenanigans ensued. And then we all go out for pancakes. Really. It’s been termed “Pants Cakes” by this group for as long as I have been going, and it basically entails our group heading over to the Blackstone Family Restaurant at bar close and eating something hearty and breakfast-y to soak up as much alcohol as possible.
It’s a glorious way to wind down the evening in Green Bay. The food here is amazing diner food and they don't skimp on the portions. And yes, this usually means we roll back into the hotel (through the use of strategically planted designated drivers) about 4am+. Some people are not so shiny in the morning after this big Weetacon blow-out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weetacon 8 (Infiity) – Green Bay, WI (Day 1)

Once a year a group of insane and socially-challenged blog writers get together in Green Bay for Weetacon. We call it a writers conference only because it’s easier to explain to people in a single sentence. If we had to explain everything, it would take forever and would probably confuse people more than it’s worth. Weetacon is the brainchild of Weetabix – a person, in this case, not a boring brown cereal.

Before I even made it into my hotel room at the lovely St. Brendan's Inn in downtown Green Bay, I ended up acquiring a lot of loot from the welcome bag, and from the charity bake sale. Sometimes this happens.I got a couple of magnets, a liquid bottle (I won't call it a water bottle since we filled it with ...uh ... non-water), bacon chocolate chip cookies, a caramel samoa cupcake, squeaky cheese curds, meat sticks, bacon rice crispy treats, Jameson cookies, strong cheese, and U.P. Heroin (it's an addictive meat and vegetable seasoning that won't likely get past the TSA since it's packaged in dime bags for distribution).

We start with morning announcements and pre-event ceremonies. There is some touchy feely stuff about smiling and having a good time, but honestly, it isn’t corny. It truly IS easier to make someone smile than to frown – it’s very true. Also, if you’re older it’s easier to make someone smile, which I’m sure was what Weetabix was trying to prove. Weetabix makes everything fun.This weekend is about friends, food, drink, and fun. She reminds people to make sure to hydrate (they never say what to hydrate WITH) and then we head outside for a group photo.

After a quick lunch and some photos, we headed to what was being called “gym class”. This year, we went to the Rola-Rock roller skating rink. While we waited for the owner to open up early for our special party (“special” is the operative word), we got a driving tour of the Green Bay Packers campus while the bus driver cracked wise about the Vikings and Bears. While skating, a couple people went down hard, but despite the fact I haven’t skated in more than 20 years (I’m not kidding), it was like riding a bike. …A bike with a bent wheel and the chain keeps grabbing your pantleg.

After skating, we headed out to Rock K Ranch for a hay rack ride pulled by a team of horses. I know this sounds rustic, but we all were packing serious amounts of alcohol. Just swig and pass the bottle - and intersperse with pulls from whomever brought a flask (or three) (that would be me).
We went back inside the lodge to eat an amazing dinner made entirely by Esteban’s folks. Booyah is highly prized in Wisconsin, for good reason – it is like the most delicious chicken stew and it takes 5 days to make.They also made pineapple fluff, as in 10 pounds of it. That’s serious. For dessert, they made East End bars, which our resident Canadian kept yelling “They’re Nanaimo Bars!!!” whenever anyone would call them East End Bars. Canadians clearly can't get the metric conversion of BAC in America correct. You double it and add thirty. Come on!

With food in our guts, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before Karaoke insanity began. And when it did, it began in force. People at Weetacon seem to lose their shyness after a few dozen drinks. They do their writing behind closed doors, but its’ clear many of them also sing a lot behind closed doors.
Sometimes the costumes come out...Adele, Duran Duran, Carly Simon, Sir Mix A Lot, Styx, and ton of other ones you’d recognize. The drinks were flowing freely and things wound down at bar close. The folks running karaoke have worked for our group before, so they had a hotel room reserved – they knew what would happen. That allowed them to have as good of a time as us, so at the end of the night, we closed the doors to our small party room and decided to grab the karaoke equipment in the morning (which it already was). None of us were in any shape to be carrying expensive electronics down any flights of stairs in the dark.
It was a long day of awesomeness, which is why I slept REALLY late.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Louisiana Kitchen – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I were in the mood for some Sunday brunch before heading out and doing some last minute wedding shopping. She had good luck at the Louisiana Kitchen (and by “luck”, I mean a Groupon), so we headed over there. The place was packed, so we had to wait 10-15 mintues for a table. That’s a good sign, right?

We got seated all the way in the back of the restaurant by a large window and looked at the menu. A ton of things sounded good on this menu, but I kept coming back to the Cajun Breakfast. When the waitress came back to check on us, we had decided. I got the Cajun breakfast, D.Rough got the Crab Cakes Benedict, and we decided we needed to split a cookie dough pancake. Hahahaha. Yeah, a cookie dough pancake.

The place was packed, so we waited a little bit for the food to come out. No worries at all – except that we were starving. Thankfully, we pulled through.

The pancake looked pretty good. It had a bit of whipped cream all around it and was drizzled with chocolate sauce. We tore into this thing with reckless abandon. We were disappointed to find only a few pieces of cookie dough in this pancake. It was mostly chocolate chips here and there and an occasional piece of dough. Bummer, but that didn’t stop me from finishing the whole thing after I poured syrup all over it. Hahaha

D.Rough’s Crab Cake Benedict did her well though. She really loved this thing. It’s got some delicious hollandaise sauce on it, but not enough to make a giant pool of it, like we’ve had at some places. She said there was faint hint of lemon in it which went really well with the generous sized crab cakes that were on her English muffins. The whole thing looked pretty good and was hearty enough to put a stop to her eating about half way through. I got a few bites and it was pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.

My dish was pretty good. I won’t say it was amazing, but it was a generous portion of grilled veggies covered in a generous portion of hashbrowns, covered with a generous portion of cheddar cheese, covered with two over easy eggs, and then some sprinkles of Cajun powder. I had asked for the hollandaise on the side, since I like a really small amount of the stuff on my food. The sauce was good, but I’m glad I got it on the side – that stuff is super rich! The wheat toast I had ordered was really good, even though I had to add a ton more butter. But with the rest of the food, the whole thing was a great start to the morning. I was very happy with my meal, but sometimes, I just wish places would make things more Cajun than just sprinkling some red powder on the top. That’s just me though.

The Louisiana Kitchen is in the same family of restaurants as The Uptown Diner in Minneapolis, and the food is pretty similar. No complaints at all, and since it’s way closer than the Uptown Diner, we’ll most likely be back here before we hit up the Uptown Diner. Both are perfectly wonderful restaurants!

You’ll also be amused that I didn’t realize I had a completely bacon-free breakfast until dinner that night. See, I’m NOT an addict. I can stop whenever I want (especially when I forget).