Sunday, June 03, 2007


Unlike most Americans, I try to not watch television. However, I do reserve some time for my favorite shows, one of which has been HBO's "The Sopranos."

It's Sunday evening and tonight's show is the penultimate episode. Next week, the series ends and, hopefully, all questions will be answered. Although, considering it's David Chase's show, there will undoubtedly be plenty of unanswered questions.

There's been much speculation on how The Sopranos will end and I'm going to give in and add my thoughts to the queue.

In the Season Three episode "The Army Of One," after Jackie Aprile, Jr's funeral, Meadow Soprano dresses down Jackie's sister for speaking openly about La Cosa Nostra in front of "outsiders." Since that time, it has been one of my hopes that Meadow would, somehow, rise to take over the DiMeo Crime Family at the end of Tony's rule. Especially since they established that a Sicilian family could be led by a woman in the Season Two episode "Commendatori."

But I think that Meadow taking over is a long shot.

I've been watchin the first four seasons these past couple of days and it suddenly occured to me how the show will end. In the first season, during one of the sessions with Dr. Melfi, Tony reveals that he's afraid of "losing his family." In the episode, the comments infer that he means his blood family of Carmela, Meadow and A.J., but it could be his mob family with the impending war with Phil Leotardo and New York.

I'm going to speculate here that The Sopranos will end not with Tony being arrested by the FBI, not with Tony being killed, but rather with his blood family dead and Tony left all alone.

Right or wrong? Agree or disagree? We're going to find out next Sunday night.

Eating Local

While quality and flavor are high on my list of priorities, I just hadn't been thinking much about "buying local." Sure, I'll buy my silver queen corn from the guy selling it at the produce stand in Hunt Valley, but beyond that, I just don't think too much about it.

Finally, after months of Spike's (of celebrity chef and Artifact Coffee fame) soliliquizing (is that a word?) on the virtues of locally produced everything, I decided to break down and take a visit to Springfield Farm. in Sparks, MD.

It's out in the, well, country - down winding roads, through forest groves and meandering through the lush Northern Baltimore County countryside. It's a fun ride in a truck and I wonder how much better it will be in a Ferrari.

After the twists and turns, the entrance to the farm comes suddenly, then it's a hard right turn into someone's driveway and towards a house. Is this the right place? There's a pond to the left and all sorts of vehicles, ATVs, bed mowers and whatnot scattered along driveway. At first, you're not sure if this is place - 'cause it really looks like someone's house, and maybe they might shoot you.

As you come around the bend, that's when you notice the large metal walk-in cooler and you know this must be the place.

The farm store itself is pretty small. Just a table and a few refrigerated merchandisers holding the products. They've got beef, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, sausage, ice cream - and it's all ready for the taking. Much of the stuff I saw was frozen - evidently, they didn't move as much product over the Memorial Day Weekend and ended up freezing a bunch of stuff.

If it comes from beef, pork or chicken, you can pretty much get what you want. Want some ribeyes? No problem. Need a chicken? Can do. Want an 80 pound pig for a 4th of July roast? Be ready that morning. And all of it coming straight from the farm. Not just some anonymous farm - this farm. Right here. And not too long ago either.

I swear I used some restraint. But I was compelled to try as much as I could, so here's what I bought:

4lb whole chicken
1lb ribeye
1dz large eggs
3pt ice cream
1pk bacon

Then I rushed home to start cooking.

With the chicken, I cut it up and made that fried chicken recipe I've been tweaking. WIth the eggs and bacon, I made those this morning for breakfast. The ice cream I sampled last night while watching The Sopranos on DVD. And the ribeye is still in the fridge awaiting it's time in my hot skillet (with lots of butter, of course).

So, how was this locally produced stuff? Good? Yes, but incredibly different.

Maybe I'm just used to the mass-produced, steroid pumped and feed plumped chicken that you buy at Wegman's because this farm-raised chicken actually had flavor - especially the thigh and leg pieces. But, I'll be honest, that flavor kinda wigged me out a bit. Chicken shouldn't taste like "chicken." It should be plump, juicy but neutral tasting. Or should it?

The chicken reminded me of my trips to the Philippines. Where the chickens aren't plump and they actually have flavor. But this is America dammit, is this how chicken is supposed to taste here???

Well, of course it is, and it was damn good too. Although, I think I need to tweak it with just a little more salt. I ended up adding more salt to the chicken to "pop" its' flavor.

Then there's this morning with the bacon and eggs. Simple right? Wrong. The bacon wasn't that papery thin stuff Wegman's is passing off as good, this stuff was thick - and short so it fit perfectly in my small cast iron skillet. Nice. And the thickness helped it to cook evenly and meaty.

The eggs. These were "large" eggs but, Jesus, these weren't just "large", they were LARGE. Mother Large. So large that the two eggs nearly filled the skillet. So large that, halfway through, I was thinking: Shit, these are large. Note: one "large" egg is enough.

So far, it's been an interesting and exciting journey with locally produced meats. They're beyond my expectation. They're outside of my expectation. It's going to be a brave new world with chicken that tastes like chicken and eggs too huge to mention.

But, this kind of flavor and quality doesn't come cheap. That shopping list above? Seventy bucks. Yes, you read it right: $70. It's not cheap, but it is good.

Guess I just have to buy a Ferrari to make the drive...

Eat My Hot Snake - Hot Doug's

Sliced potatoes fried in duck fat? Sounds like my kind of place. I originally wasn't planning on visiting Hot Doug's (in spite of the insistence of more than a couple of friends in the know), but since I crammed the NRA show into one day (and was thoroughly exhausted to boot), I decided to gallavant around Chicago a bit.

Hot Dougs

Trifecta: French Fries, Rattlesnake Sausage & Chicago Hot Dog.

Woke up with sore muscles from my 24 mile odyssey at the National Restaurant Show and maybe because my friends have been encouraging me to visit, or maybe because I'm just a sissy who's afraid of another day on the show floor, I decided to blow off the NRA Show and do a brief tour of Chicago's food and coffee joints.

Duck Fat Fried French Fries...Jesus, that's gotta be the Touch of God. Problem is, they only serve those duck-i-licious fries on Fridays and Saturdays.

Today is Monday.


Everyone that has recommended Doug has tales of long lines and encouragement to "go early" when they open at 10:30am. That was my intention but lounging around the hotel room is so delicious that I didn't get their 'til 11:30am.

No worries, parking was easy and there were only two people ahead of me. Lucky me.

Doug's got a selection of encased meats, from the hot dog to Italian sausage, Polish sausage, corn dog, hot sausage and his own encased meat selections. There's also a featured dog of the week for the adventurous to try.

Today's "game"?

Rattlesnake Sausage.

Whoa, rattlesnake, you say? That was my reaction too. Smoked Rattlesnake Sausage with Black Currant Mustard and Vodka Currant Cheese. I'll admit, I was kinda put off by this turn of events. I almost didn't order it. Then I reminded myself that "this is not a dress rehearsal" and decided to "go for it."

Hot Dougs

Rattlesnake Sausage with Black Currant Mustard and Vodka Currant Cheese.

There's something ironic about a rattlesnake sausage. First off, what is a "rattlesnake"? Basically, it's encased meat that "snakes" its' way across the ground. So, for a naturally encased meat to be ground up and then re-encased as a sausage seems ironic and comical to me. At least in the latter version, it doesn't make noise and won't bite me with deadly venom - a plus in my book.

The place is small-ish. There's a bunch of faux wood formica tables and small cooking line where a couple of sausage cooks keep things going, with a self-serve soda fountain to their backs and a podium-like spot facing the door where Doug Himself holds court.

Doug's a short guy, about 5'6" wearing dark rimmed glasses and short dark hair. He stands there, taking orders and making chit chat with the regulars and the tourists (like me). Some of the more dense of the tourists (like myself) ask: "Are you Doug?"

Not if you're a process server.

Ah, a kindred soul at last.

The menu is varied with all sorts of hot dog and sausage combinations with cute names, like the sausage formerly known as the "Lucca Brazzi" (no fish) or the "Britney Spears" (maybe tuna).

Standing there, you get the feeling that this place might be like Pat's Steaks in Philly - where you're expected to know how to order properly, otherwise Get The Fuck Out Of The Line. There's certainly a bit of intimidation here - especially with all the locals who know how to order exactly what they want. It's compounded by the fact that the menu items all look tasty and you know you really shouldn't eat them all.

In the end, Doug was friendly and accommodating to this wide-eyed tourist who ordered the Rattlesnake, the traditional Chicago style hot dog, and order of fries and a Coke. There's two sizes of Coke and Doug steered me to the smaller size and told me that there's free refills so just get the smaller one. I certainly appreciate that kind of hospitality.

So how was the food? In a word: good.

Hot Dougs

The Chicago Hot Dog.

I'm really getting into this Chicago-style hot dog thing. It's so different than the Sabrett New York hot dog, but so interesting with it's celery salt, onions, tomato and muther-huge pickle. God knows what a pickle is doing on a hot dog but it's damn good.

The fries were wonderfully done. Blanched and then deep-fried. You can tell just by eating them. They know how to do frites right. God Bless that Doug and death to the fabled process server who wants to take him away.

But what you really want to know is about the rattlesnake. Was it good? Was it bad? Did I start to hiss like I was in a Harry Potter movie? It was good. The meat had great texture and a slight spiciness to it. It was grilled and that was lovely. The black currant mustard and vodka currant cheese were an interesting combination that grew on me as I bit more into the snake.

Hot Dougs

The Rattlesnake Gets Bitten, Bitch.

The rattlesnake, currant and vodka was a combination I never would have thought about and a perfect example of why one must run to Hot Doug's. It's taking something as lowly as the hot dog and sausage - fare usually reserved for griddling with peppers and onions at the neighborhood street fair - and turning it into something new and original. It's taking it out for a drive and never turning back. It's raising the lowly encased meat to a culinary delight.

Run, Run, Run, young gourmand!

And beware the process servers...