Category Masticating With Mellzah

Chicago: Designer toys, metal burgers, and buckets of blood

Situated at the corner of W Belmont and N Francisco in Chicago, the original Kuma’s Corner has been dishing up gourmet burgers with heavy metal flair for fourteen years, and I swear I’ve been hearing about it from my local friends for just about that long. At least one of those friends even made a special trip for their Bleeping Blagojevich burger in “honor” of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office and is currently serving fourteen years in prison for corruption for what basically amounts to trying to auction off former President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat to the highest bidder–that burger was topped with a thick slice of salty balogna, had grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun, and was served with a dollar symbol emblazoned in mustard on top. Just like the cost of that Senate seat, the price of the Bleeping Blagojevich was negotiable, but not available for free.

Kuma’s Corner stopped serving that particular burger a while back, because you can’t rest on your laurels and also because no one remembers a political scandal longer than a week anymore. Our group had tried to get in a couple of evenings previous at their West Loop location (also on a corner) but it was so full that we ended up at another nearby restaurant whose name I have forgotten which is for the best because I couldn’t say anything nice about it even by accident, how do you cut up a sausage for a slider and not notice that it isn’t cooked through?  …ahem.

We found it much easier to pop into the original Kuma’s for lunch on a Monday, metal blasting from the speakers, movies playing on their screens instead of sports. Their walls are painted crimson, their ceilings and fixtures black. On the wall behind the bar, a disheveled bear reaches with arms outstretched to wrap them around the beholder, its mouth and chest covered in blood as it proclaims its desire for MEAT. Adjacent is the chalkboard that informs patrons which charity they’re helping if they order the monthly draft special. 

Kuma’s also stocks Jeppson’s Malört, Chicago’s most infamous liquor. Originally advertised as a “challenge to the braggart who claims he can drink anything”, Malort is flavored with wormwood (not gasoline, as is rumored). It doesn’t appear that any bar or restaurant outside of Illinois serves Malort, so I decided to seize the opportunity, ordering a shot along with the recommended beer to wash it down. Malort tastes like bitter dirt that is on fire somehow, and that fire infuses your tissues from your tongue all the way down. Malort’s flavor is so aggressive that its own creator concedes that “The first shot is hard to swallow!” but ominously adds “Make it past two ‘shock-glasses’ and with the third you could be ours…forever” which sounds like exactly the kind of devil’s bargain that goes down in a metal burger bar on a Monday afternoon.

I kept up my goat streak and ordered the Goatsnake: a thick, medium rare patty of their proprietary ground beef blend, topped with a hockey puck of herbed goat cheese, poblano sweet corn relish, a Cholula lemon vinaigrette, and buttermilk breaded deep fried red onions on a pretzel bun. The resulting burger is THICK, hard to pick up, hard to eat, but harder to put down because it was so delicious. It’s the kind of burger that you need to smash down a little and then hold on for dear life. I loved the flavors at play here–it brings a lot of tang to the table between the goat cheese, the lemon vinaigrette, and the buttermilk breading which pairs so beautifully with the richness of the beef. I love a mountain of fried onion so this was going to be a delight to me regardless, but that hearty pile was exactly the right amount of crunch to balance all that soft cheese. 

Hell Kitty Kitty

The same beer from above plus a shot of Malort.

The beer from above minus the Malort plus the Goatsnake and its fried onion mountain.

After lunch, we walked to nearby Bucket O’Blood Books & Records, a resale shop with a curated collection: sci fi, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, metal, punk…you get the drift. I have some thoughts on why “romance novels” were specifically called out as an entire genre that they do not accept even though, for example, books like Kushiel’s Dart have fantasy and blood to spare, but instead of getting into it, I’ll just say that I think it boils down to a pervasive problem that rhymes with “schizogeny“, even if it’s unconscious schizogeny.  We browsed for a while; I didn’t end up leaving with anything* as I was saving my limited carry on room potential for our next stop, Rotofugi. 

Rotofugi is the other kind of adult toy store, the kind with limited edition art toys and a gallery of original work by current and emerging artists and two full aisles of blind box toys. If you’re not familiar with the concept, blind box toys are an assortment of toys sold in identical boxes but you don’t know what you’re getting until after you open it. It’s like gambling except instead of winning money, you end up with a bunch of the same toy you didn’t want, because the odds of getting the really rare toy you do want are approximately the same as you being crushed by the toy factory falling from the sky. Trading cards but non-biodegradable. They can be fun if the concept is unique or you’re not overly invested in what you get–I bought a Stink Box featuring art by Jason Limon and any plastic kitty pooping in that box would be just as funny as any other. I also bought a blind box of tiny glow-in-the-dark realistic looking magnetic mushrooms that now cling to the side of my fridge. But generally I feel that blind boxes are just ways for manufacturers to hide what they’re selling to you so they can (1) get you to spend more money and (2) sell out the edition so retailers don’t end up with a stock of less-popular figures/poses that they can’t move. The art toy world does lay claim to starting the blind box trend but I honestly can’t help but think of the utter wave of trash this trend has created and will continue to create when people get tired of having fifty dusty reminders of a TV show they used to watch. Or of a plastic kitty infinitely squatting in a cardboard litter box.

I really enjoyed browsing their art gallery, and I seriously debated buying a Jason Limon original, Cinq. It’s a 2013 piece and especially interesting to me as I didn’t know sculpture was in his body of work and yet his style translates to it clearly. I didn’t bring it home but I still think about it sometimes and I feel like it belongs in a room next to a plant in a macrame hanger.

Sea Horse Tim Shumate

A Star in the Darkness Tim Shumate

Cinq Jason Limon

*I know it’s basically a Crime Against Books to admit this but really old paperbacks that don’t belong to me gross me out, especially when they turn that awful yellow-brown and they get that extra soft texture on the page that kind of lingers on your fingers along with that musty book smell. I get that some people really dig the smell of old books but I cannot ride that ride with you. I bought a book from 1943 online for a friend for her birthday about a goat who goes around causing mischief, and when it arrived, I intended to read it (so we could later discuss goat mischief) but I could not read more than a few pages at a time because the experience of handling it was just too awful. And then, to top it off, I ran into the passage where Billy Whiskers gets racist because why not ruin an otherwise charming story about a whimsical goat with some casual racism? So of course I couldn’t even send it to her because it’s not going to be Auntie Melissa’s fault her kids learn old timey racial epithets. NO. 

The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin

My hometown has one of the best Renaissance faires in the country, and I was so excited when Dee suggested going there for one of the days Dianne and I were going to be in town. YES. YES. It’s so great. I remembered it being really good but it had been fifteen years since my last visit and many of the details had faded, no doubt dulled in my mind and muddled by my feelings that nothing that great had ever come from my hometown*, myself included. I had even blogged about my 2004 visit but that post got ‘lost’ in a digital purge because pretty much nothing about how I portrayed myself from that era of my life was a good look for me or anyone around me. Regardless, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is not merely really good, it’s great.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After we parked in one of the fields that serves as their lot, I strapped on my (mandatory) jingly bellydancer’s coin sash to jangle my way around medieval-adjacent times. Not only does wearing one make me feel like I’m throwing a parade for my ass,  it also makes me a lot easier to find in a crowd, as without it I can just disappear, like any short person. It’s one of our powers. Stringing myself with noisy metallic coins that crashed about at the slightest movement was really the only responsible thing to do, so as to aid the people who didn’t know me well to be able to track me and simultaneously deny they know me if I start to sound too much like Santa Claus at a bell convention.

As the renaissance faire exists so that we might feast like kings, shop like lords, and befoul ourselves like…most everyone, we immediately set to feasting upon entry. Dianne and I got some some surprisingly good iced coffee (“surprisingly good”, my Seattle is showing) and Dee beelined directly to these amazing deep fried cheese fritters which she shared and I gladly partook. They were crispy, dark brown, stuffed with gooey monterey jack, and came with honey mustard and barbeque sauce for dipping on the side. You go to Wisconsin, you eat fried cheese. It’s what you do. Fried cheese is the Eiffel Tower of America’s Dairyland. 

There wasn’t any cheese eating on at least one of my previous Bristol faire visits with my family.  I was about twelve or thirteen, and my mom had us all on the cabbage soup diet.  If your family never participated in group disordered eating, the cabbage soup diet is basically a week of starving yourself with as much bland, horrible cabbage soup as you care to eat with extremely rigid rules about supplementary eating. Day two is the hardest day, when your food for the day is cabbage soup, raw or cooked vegetables, plain, with an emphasis on leafy greens, and, in the evening, one medium baked potato with a tablespoon of butter or oil. That sad potato was the high point of the day, the rest of it being spent alternatively peeing gallons from all of the extremely low calorie soup you’re eating, trying to generate enough saliva to swallow dry leafy greens, and wishing you could eat something that would actually stop the gnaw in your stomach so you could forget you were on a diet for even five minutes. And of course it’s all for nothing because you’re mostly just shifting water around and the weight you lost comes right back on when you start eating normally again.

This is the diet the whole family is in the trenches of in the middle of this renaissance faire. Everyone was hungry and crabby, and our misery was compounded by all of the awesome smells wafting on the wind, reminding us of all the things we couldn’t have. It was day four: banana day, the day that with your soup, you can eat unlimited bananas and drink unlimited skim milk, both of which were verboten every other day. That morning post-soup banana was almost heady, intoxicating, after days of it literally being forbidden fruit, but it couldn’t hold a candle to funnel cake. I don’t remember precisely how it went down, but I remember my younger brother and I inhaling funnel cake while my parents made disappointed noises about not finishing the things we start and willpower, like the cabbage soup diet was something we wanted to do instead of something in which we had no choice but to participate, like somehow any one of us was going to peel off enough weight over the course of this week to make a difference, to make this utter misery worthwhile, to ruin an otherwise grand day out. We went home shortly thereafter, missing the final joust that I’d very much wanted to see. My parents were too hungry to stay any longer.

Also absent from that trip with my parents was any activity that cost an additional fee above and beyond the cost of admission, because it was understood in my household that those things were for suckers and no self-respecting person would spend money on them. As a person who lacks self respect and understands that additional fees tend to be opportunities to try something novel, I jingled straight up to the first knife throwing booth I saw, even if it was luring me down the path of financial ruin, five dollars at a time. Those of us participating were given a basic rundown on how to fling a knife with deadly force and accuracy and then we were set loose. We didn’t get to choose our targets; mine was an innocent merperson. I fired a good seven warning shots and never delivered a killing blow but I did manage to stick a knife to the target which was significantly better than I did axe throwing at the 2018 Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire when I accidentally hurled an axe into a field.

I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about the three-legged roving crotch target in the middle, what it could represent, and ultimately decided that when rotated and viewed from another angle, it probably looked like this** (not NSFW but at first glance it could register as somewhat obscene, but what did you expect from a crotch monster?) keeping with the mostly water creature vibe they had going on.

Sassafras, one of many beverages I genuinely enjoy for about three sips.

This instrument is a hurdy gurdy and I want one.

We made sure to get decent seats for the joust, which made us a captive audience for a variety of vendors. The first was the flag seller, a foppish red leather crown on his head, his deeply low cut medieval toppe baring his chest, which also glistened red in the sun. He beseeched us for five dollars for a flag to support the knight of our section, Sir Maxmillian, by telling us that the funds raised would go toward the feed and care of the horses, and that after the show, Six Maxx would autograph them. And another five dollars I crept toward financial ruin.

After him came the meat wench, a box of three flavors of beef jerky strapped to her waist as she walked through the crowd bellowing “MEAT.” “MEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.”

After her came the pretezel vendor, bearing a wooden pole, crossbraces strung with salted pretzels, and a satchel filled with individual portions of liquid cheese for dipping (Wisconsin), and after her, the flower crown vendor with a similar setup minus the cheese (I think), and in the distance “ᴹᴱᴱᴱᴱᴬᴬᵀ“.

The joust was full of pageantry and fanfare and feats of athleticism and at least two very cool people seated directly behind me who made certain to audibly mock me every single time I led our section in cheering for our knight. And the real kicker is, why am I the one who feels shame when I was contributing positively for the enjoyment of all, including the turd golems behind me and all those guys contributed to was my desire to turn clear and just skulk about for the rest of my days cosplaying as a ghost? But I’m the one that’s gonna go read a self help book about it while those walking chaw stains are just gonna continue to inflict themselves on people by existing. Regardless, our team’s knight won and I didn’t stop cheering him despite knowing I was going to get jeered and that seems like two kinds of victories.

After the joust, we did wait in line to meet Sir Maxmillian. I told him that I wanted to get into his line of work (true!) and about the horse I was potentially looking at to buy. (Dragon at the time.) He gave me a business card and told me to drop him a line, which I have yet to do but have a feeling I’ll get around to soon. The stick for the flag that he signed was too long to fit in my carry on, so I got to cheer him with my flag waving all through the airport.

Goddamn we looked sultry in this swamp. I’m not dripping buckets of sweat, MY SKIN IS DEWY.

 

On our way out, we stopped to see part of a fire-whip-cracking show that looked quite promising–there was actually a lot on their entertainment schedule that I didn’t get an opportunity to see. The only thing for it is to come back! And no one had better be on a diet. 

 

 

 

 

 

*And then I looked it up and it turns out all these very cool people came from my hometown, like Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo, and both the inventors of the answering machine AND the QWERTY keyboard! And a whole bunch more but you could just look at the Wikipedia page yourself.

**You have no idea how much I regret attempting to draw in those insect mandibles. No idea.

Chicago: Boating & Goating

Ever since the first AOL disc was inserted into my dad’s work laptop, I have lived on the internet. Back then, the closest thing we had to social media was email message boards, where people of a common interest would sign up to be part of a group and then you’d get a digest email of messages from group members. It was like the comments section came to you, daily, and all those commenters had your email address, but you were excited about it instead of horrified. My special interest/obsession at that point in my life was The Smashing Pumpkins, and one of the things I did after I first fumbled onto the internet was join a Smashing Pumpkins email group. I was thrilled to have all of these strangers’ opinions of albums and songs and band member rankings delivered to me daily, but the overall group size was a bit overwhelming, and eventually I broke off with a smaller group onto a different Smashing Pumpkins-but-not-exclusively list, and these people transformed from strangers into friends I’d never met. We haven’t all kept in touch over the past twenty years, but some of us have. So when the Smashing Pumpkins announced a reunion tour and one of these friends floated a suggestion that we meet in Chicago to see their hometown show and make a weekend of it, I immediately agreed, because I feel like if someone is planning to abduct and murder a person, gaining their trust at 16 is a good move but twenty years is too long a time to lie in wait, so I could probably risk it. 

Our party was three: Me, Dianne, and Dee, a fellow Pumpkins fan and someone Dianne had met through their mutual interest in Sphynx cats. Dee lived in the city and wouldn’t be able to join us on the first day because of work, so we decided to hit up some tourist spots and see where the day took us. First, we walked to the riverwalk to buy tickets for a riverboat architecture tour–the next available time was in a couple of hours, which was more time than we wanted to spend just dinking around the waterfront but not really enough to do much of anything else. 

So we walked south to Millenium Park and spent a little time there. Its most well-known feature is Cloud Gate, otherwise referred to as “the bean”. Cloud Gate was designed by artist Sir Anish Kapoor and officially unveiled to the public in its final polished state in 2006. When I looked up that date to confirm it, a little bell went off as I know I had seen it before then, in 2004–it turns out, I had seen it during the brief window it was unveiled to the public before its seams were polished off.  

2004

It took me a minute to find me but then I couldn’t stop seeing myself everywhere.

August 2018

People were zumbaing across the great lawn as we walked to the Lurie garden. I grew up in a town about an hour drive north of Chicago and had an almost visceral reaction to the garden, as no smell is as immediately familiar as the smell of the sun warming the plants and dirts of your childhood, the years when you spent the most time out in among those plants and that dirt, skinning your knees, picking cattails and growing up. My nose took me back decades in an instant.

Before the architecture tour, we decided to grab a quick beverage and a snack somewhere, and settled on Le Pain Quotidien, where they defy the very laws of nature and existence itself with how long it takes them to whip some dragon fruit into a smoothie.  Parties came and went and I drank my entire turmeric latte and Dianne ate her meal and still my gloppy snack had yet to arrive. I tried to cancel the order but they took another ten minutes to pack it for me to go and carry it on my lap in the hot sun on a boat for an hour and a half and threw away afterward because for some reason a long slow warm-up in the sun doesn’t do much for an amalgamation of coconut yogurt, key lime, avocado, and cashew butter.

We made it back to the boat with mere minutes to spare before boarding…and still we were not the last in line.  When the queue got to our turn, we sat front and center on the boat, as most of the seats to the back and either side had been claimed already, which was fine by me as it meant no one’s head was ever blocking my view. I bought myself a beer for the tour, which sweated into my hand and onto the bag that held the aforementioned Warm Yogurty Mistake, I got a mild stripey sunburn thanks in part to the fancy shoulder cutouts on my shirt but mostly to my perpetual failure to ever apply enough sunscreen everywhere, and friends, I could not tell you really anything that I learned on this tour which means that I would be happy to go back and do it again anytime and see if it sticks.

We ended up going back to the hotel to freshen up and take a bit of a rest, and the struck out again with intentions to go to Girl & the Goat, a Chicago fine dining restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options which could not be said of the highly-lauded Au Cheval, which is literally across the street and where I wanted to go to all the more because it turned out Girl & the Goat was closed for a private event that evening. Never fear, just down the block was Little Goat Diner, serving diner fare with the same top quality ingredients and care they use at Girl & the Goat. 

Their menu is enormous but I went nearly as goaty as possible, with a little goat latte, a lil caesar salad, and a sloppy goat sandwich on brioche topped with coleslaw. …I may have gone a bit too goaty overall. I think the goat milk from the latte and the goat from the sandwich came from goats who clearly knew and hated one another and decided to continue to butt heads in my guts. It doesn’t look like they have the sloppy goat on the menu at present, but when I had it, I didn’t love it–it was too big, too rich, too soft, the goat flavor a little strong. But I also think that’s what a sloppy joe should be, and thus I can’t fault them for serving me what I ordered. I think I was just bad at picking what I wanted that day.

 

This didn’t deserve its own post: Atlanta, oh nah nah

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate.  All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about Atlanta.

We walked Walter in his stroller to Venkman’s to grab a light brunch and make an art deal

R. Land

This feels like a trap. Is it just me?

Hodgepodge Coffee

Other than the joy of slapping my peepers on a real life blue whale, I did not really enjoy my time at the Georgia aquarium. The bloodcurdling screams to lookin’ at stuff ratio was suboptimal, and surprisingly, my dolphin show experience wasn’t enhanced by being kicked in the back constantly which came as a total surprise. 

Dooley, Spirit of Emory, Lady of Misrule, and officially my favorite college mascot.

Before going to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, we fueled up at Sublime Doughnuts. Clockwise from upper left: Sweet potato cake, salt & vinegar, fresh strawberry & cream, I do not remember this donut at all, chocolate banana fritter. I’m not usually a fan of the cake donut, but the sweet potato cake was the standout of the bunch, moist and spiced with a swirl of cream cheese frosting. It’s full on cake for breakfast but I’m not complaining. 

I have no photos of the most fabulous meal I had in Atlanta, at Atlas in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood. Atlas is located in the St. Regis Hotel, with Christopher Grossman as their Executive Chef. It’s a swanky place, beautifully decorated, with art by masters on the walls, and it’s precisely the sort of place that I feel intimidated pulling out my camera to photograph the interior or my meal, because I guess I feel like I can either maintain the shabby illusion that I am the sort of person who eats in nice restaurants all the time OR I can photograph my meal from three angles but not both. I did the mental math and since I’ve really leaned into Seattle Casual™ the last few years in terms of my ill-fitting regular wardrobe, I landed on “I’m just lucky they let me inside” and left my phone in my purse.

But the food there. THE FOOD. I ate two entrees that evening. Every bite of both. I’m not ashamed. I would be ashamed to leave even a scrap of something that life-alteringly delicious behind. It’s like all of the picky, halfhearted eating I’d done over the few days prior all served to prepare me for this one beautiful meal. I’d never eaten softshell crab before I ate it at Atlas and now if I was to order it somewhere else, Atlas would be the sole point of comparison which isn’t fair to anyone involved, including the crab. My other entree, Atlas’ famous wagyu burger, was breathtaking. It’s a classic American cheeseburger with every component done to its zenith: fresh ground wagyu, cooked medium rare on a brioche bun with house ketchup, American cheese, sliced pickles, and pickled ramp thousand island dressing, with a side of perfectly crispy fries.  It is “treat yo self” expensive (for a burger) but for a meal at a AAA four diamond restaurant, it’s damn reasonable. 

Afterward, we went to a bar in east Atlanta (na na na) at the peak of Havana oversaturation and played it on the jukebox and laughed and laughed.

 

 

And that’s it for Atlanta! All the stuff I didn’t talk about really didn’t deserve its own post. 

Atlanta Beltline to Krog Street Market

Being still a young pup and thus afflicted with a lack of stamina and focus combined with an occasional surplus of energy, indiscriminate eating when unobserved, and intermittent napping meant that little Walter was best suited for longer outings in his stroller than on foot. And I wanted to check out the Krog Street tunnel and the surrounding area, which meant it was going to be a longer outing. Even if it hadn’t been, Walter would have been more comfortable in his stroller, because that baby had all the options: convertible top up/down, memory foam seat, windows fore and aft, protection from wind/rain/Georgia’s many bugs, and it’s camouflage.

Many well-meaning people will tell you that camo makes you invisible, but its properties are more nuanced than that. Yes, of course, if you are wearing a head to toe full body camouflage suit, you are rendered entirely invisible to all but dolphins, as they have never been fooled by a human and they don’t intend to start now. If you’re wearing less than full head to toe camouflage, you are not in fact invisible but you do look like someone who might try to hide from a creditor in some nearby brush. When used as a fabric on a carriage, camouflage grants several benefits. For the pusher of the stroller, you get to look like the sort of person whose day might involve casually walking into a war zone. For the rider in the stroller, it’s more like riding in Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. Or as a mobile bush from which you can stalk prey–which is why I imagine Carrie’s cats particularly enjoy being transported to the vet this way.

About halfway down the beltline trail to our destination, the juicy air broke out into a full downpour. We waited out the worst of it under the overpass, where Walter made many new friends.

J. D. Koth “Khaath”

 Unfortunately I still ended up pretty soggy by the time we made it to Krog Street Market. Which meant that the icy cold air conditioning of The Merchant, instead of being the relief from the hot summer air it would have been otherwise, bit into my wet clothes and left me shuddering around while I shopped. This store was deeply cute though, and I walked out of there many dollars lighter and with some new glasses with birds on them, plus a special tiny glass covered in bugs.

We got lunch from Grand Champion BBQ and I guess that name could be accurate if they were the grand champion of that particular food hall’s barbeque vendors? Maybe? I can’t even say that it’s possible they had the best food in that food court because they’ve got a Jeni’s ice cream and I know for a fact that they make excellent ice cream. It’s ok, it’ll fill a roughly bbq shaped hole.  But I’d try something different next time.

Ponce City Market & Paris on Ponce

The Ponce City Market is a new shopping complex in former Sears & Roebuck with a killer food court, local shops, and even an art-o-mat. After a brief detour to what appeared to be a good sale on Frye boots, I got to learn the hard lesson that their boots don’t accommodate my calves, which is a very fun and not-at-all embarrassing thing to have to discover in front of a smug thin salesperson who was very put out about getting them for me in the first place. This. This is why I don’t have nice things, because salespeople intimidate me out of stores and also because the powers that be in fashion have decided that calves as wide as mine are too freakishly large to clothe. Their (one, people with wide calves don’t want to be burdened with too many options) wide calf boot is even named the MELISSA and it doesn’t fit my calf and as a boot appreciator named Melissa I just want to fall into a hole and die every time I shop for boots because all it does is break my heart. Don’t even get me started on English riding boots, apparently no one with a calf wider than a pencil deserves to be able to purchase proper equipment.

So I guess you could say I was ready to eat some feelings at Five Daughters Bakery, where Carrie and I shared two 100 layer doughnuts, their croissant-style confection. Both their King Kong (maple bacon) and their Bourbon Peach Pecan were delicious if not quite boot-disappointment-erasing. 

From Ponce City Market, it’s bare steps to Paris on Ponce, a carefully curated antiques and other upscale flea market vendors’ warehouse. I had a lot of fun browsing through here, and I ended up leaving with a cool print I’ve yet to frame and hang. I wanted to leave with their chubby pug dog wearing a little french bowtie but somehow managed to resist. 

Barely. Look at that smooshy face!

Atlanta: In and Around The King Center

We started our morning off at FolkArt Restaurant, where I had a truly beautiful sweet potato waffle topped with fried chicken and a whiskey peach compote. Between the heat, the time change, and the drinks the night before, I didn’t feel much like eating and I’m afraid they thought I didn’t like my meal because I ate so few bites. I loved it, and I was angry with my body for not wanting it. The waffle was so tender and flavorful, the chicken was perfectly crisp and greasy in the good way, and the peaches were everything you’d hope for from a Georgia peach, wrapped in a blanket of boozy spice. They were stunning together. And my stomach was jumping around in a way that told me that it was a foolish game to try and eat more than three bites. But those three bites…*kisses fingertips*

After breakfast, we went to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and got tickets for the afternoon guided tour of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home. It was a powerful experience that I’ve been finding extraordinarily difficult to write about, having realized that my education with regards to Dr. King has been subpar to say the least and I’m not going to turn around and pretend I’m qualified to educate others. The King Center was established by Mrs. Coretta Scott King after her husband’s assassination in 1968 to be “no dead monument, but a living memorial filled with all the vitality that was his, a center of human endeavor, committed to the causes for which he lived and died.” The King Center in its present structure (completed in 1982) remains alive and vital. Roses clamber upward, showcasing children’s poems about race and peace. The water around the tombs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King flows. A flame burns eternal, dancing and alive. Inside The King Center, displays invite you in close to interact, to think, to reflect, to take action when you see injustice.

MLK Jr World Peace Rose Garden

The birth home of Dr. King

The Victorian childhood home of Dr. King was recently sold to and is now run by the National Parks Service, and they offer free guided tours every thirty minutes, with groups limited to fifteen people in size. If you want to visit,  get there early to get your tickets or prepare to be disappointed. I cannot emphasize enough how relatively few people get to go inside this home every day. If there’s a tour every thirty minutes, eight hours a day, that’s 240 people maximum. By contrast, The King Center receives 650,000 visitors annually. They’re open 361 days a year, which means that on average there are some 1,800 visitors per day and only some thirteen percent of them will get to tour the home. And visiting the home has real gravitas–to stand where this civil rights leader spent his formative years, to see where his family shared their meals and lived the moments that made up their lives together, all with a knowledgeable guide.  

After the tour of Dr. King’s childhood home concluded, we walked south toward Decatur Street and took in some murals. 

Patch Whisky

I was so excited to finally see a Nychos in person!

@caveal

It’s like his eyes follow me around no matter where I move and also I’m going blind.

Caroline Caldwell

Paper Frank

This was all in a few blocks! After walking around, we grabbed lunch at Harold’s Chicken & Ice Bar so I could have my second fried chicken meal of the day and to discuss our plans for the rest of the trip. I was hot and sweaty enough at the time that I half hoped that this would be one of those situations where the bar, your glass, and your chair are all made of ice. Sadly, this was not the case, and it was on the hard, unforgiving plastic chairs of Harold’s that I learned that my sweatiness was not something I was experiencing just for me, but was, in fact, a gift I was sharing with others, as when I stood up, a horrible, steamy ass print remained behind for all to see. Later, I would take to slowly sliding my butt off of whatever seat I had been resting upon so as to sort of…smear the evidence away, but I was so horrified by this first occurrence that I just kind of tossed a napkin on it and fled lest someone see the basket of partially-eaten food and that distinctive shape in the chair and deduce that they were in the presence of a hungry ghost with a hot crotch.  (It’s probably this kind of top quality content that got me flagged by some workplace filters a while back, but am I going to stop talking about butts? No. No I am not.) 

After lunch, we headed over to the Little Five Points neighborhood to get some coffee at Aurora Coffee, do some shopping at Junkman’s Daughter, and check out more art.  Junkman’s Daughter doesn’t allow photos inside so I’ll do my best to describe it in words. Imagine a thrift store vibe but with new stuff–tightly packed racks of clothes, wide selection of merchandise all looming and touching and intermingling with a 50s raver steampunk stoner costumes-are-for-everyday-wear pop culture local art aesthetic. And then add in a second floor just for loud shoes and a smoke shop in the back. Junkman’s Daughter is so much. I love it. I bought way too much stuff there, including a framed art print of an alien with a ridiculously juicy booty playing with cats. I’ve hung it next to my desk. But there I go again, talking about butts.

There’s a mural by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi between these two on the back of the building, but his work is as dead to me as he is


Atlanta: Popsicles, pupsicles, and Sir Walter of Old 4th Ward

In July, I went to Atlanta to visit Carrie. Of course I was most excited to have hang time with her, but I was second most excited to meet and have hang time with Walter, her french bulldog puppy (@sirwalterofold4thward on insta). This little wrinkled sweet potato stole my heart immediately, along with the hearts of everyone we met, everywhere we went. Walter’s first thought is about whether or not he can eat whatever happens to be in front of him, his second thought is about whipping off into the forbidden bushes where dogs rule and humans’ stubby arms lack the power to stop playtime, but his third thought is pure loveback to food, probably. But among his other interests, he’s willing to accept love from anyone. Although he would probably prefer if you give your love in the form of an edible gift. 

We immediately popped Walter in his skulls & roses shirt (because he was due to outgrow it in about five minutes) and walked to Barcelona to get drinks and tapas. I didn’t take any photos at lunch, but the plate of chorizo with sweet & sour figs and balsamic vinegar was outstanding. Each fig was a bomb of rich, sweet, spicy, salty, tangy flavor. This is the sort of small plate that I really love with a crisp cocktail, and Barcelona didn’t disappoint there, either. 

On our walk back, we stopped at King of Pops to make an agonizing choice between their extensive flavor selection, and to buy a ‘lil King of Pups for Walter, made with bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, and honey. From the way he scarfed it, it was clear that he was in no way ambivalent about the flavor: Walter was all in. I got the raspberry rosewater flavor and it was super refreshing in the hot dishwasher air that is Atlanta in July. 

Northern White, by David Landis 2012

Carrie’s place was just a short walk back up the beltline, and I took the opportunity to check out what had been sprayed on and around the pillars nearby. 

One of many tiny doors sprinkled throughout Atlanta.

BBQ Becky strikes again!

Later we met a few of Carrie’s friends at Bantam Pub. The night was still sweltering somehow and the air conditioning in the pub was broken, so most people chose to sprawl out into the extensive cement and grass patio area, drinking beer from cans dripping with condensation, making the vibe very “chill lawn party”.  From there we hired a ride to The Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, which is exactly the level of permadim it takes to order the fried-to-order bbq seasoned pork rork rinds without having to make eye contact with anyone. They are served still crackling from the fryer and they are leagues beyond any grocery store pork rind experience I’d ever had. Plus, they have built-in portion control: after two, your teeth are so full of them that they automatically lock together. 

A closer look at 2018: An Oregon Weekend

As I’ve talked about before, Navani is from Eugene, Oregon, which meant a road trip to meet her to decide if I wanted to buy her and another when it was time to bring her home. Jason had already gone with me on a couple of trips to meet horses I didn’t buy, and so he elected not to come this time. I could’ve done it in a one day there-and-back trip, but I also didn’t have the kind of time pressure that would make that exhausting round trip necessary. Instead, I drove to Portland the night before which was its own ordeal (driving Seattle to Portland on a Friday afternoon: just don’t do it) and stayed in my favorite hotel for immediate highway access: the Red Lion on the River Jantzen Beach. The hotel itself is fine,  but really it’s that ability to immediately launch myself onto the highway from, essentially, the parking lot that makes it my go-to for this kind of waypoint trip. 

I left early enough in the morning to allow for a couple of stops along the way and still be on time, ideally a bit early. One of the horse-buying tips I learned from the more seasoned people in my circle is that you should try to be early enough that the seller can’t hide or otherwise mask the horse’s behavior. Very high-tempered horses might be worked hard beforehand or even administered a sedative. Horses that are hard to catch in the pasture or are cinchy are already brought in and saddled up. Turning up a little early gives you a better opportunity to observe more about the horse. Hence, blasting straight out of the hotel parking lot onto the highway instead of grabbing breakfast at some amazing Portland restaurant. 

Instead, my first stop was to Sesame Donuts in Sherwood, where I purchased their namesake donut plus a pumpkin spice donut, and a fancy latte that was definitely seasonally flavored, I just cannot remember exactly what those flavors were. The sesame seeds did impart an interesting nuttiness to their cake donut base and really helps fill in that gap in the breakfast spectrum where you aren’t in the mood for a bagel but you still want to get a bunch of sesame seeds stuck in your teeth.

My other pre-Navani stop was at Grove of the States, located off French Prairie Rest area near Wilsonville. Here, they have (or had) the state tree of every tree in the United States along with a plaque featuring the state and the tree name. The grove was initially planted in the mid 1960s to honor Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act (which I got to learn a bit more about at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center when I visited there last spring),  and its creation involved a visit from the attorney general of every state in the nation. Unfortunately, it was planted “in symbolic geographical locations” (I presume in the shape of the United States) without accounting for the long term space and light needs of these non native specimen trees and as a result many of the original plantings have failed over the ensuing fifty years.  

To ensure that the symbolic project lives on for future generations to enjoy, a grove restoration project began in 2016.  Now, new saplings strive upward among the beautiful mature trees of Grove of the States. It’s wonderful to have such a fine place to stretch your legs at a rest stop. I hadn’t known before that several states share the same tree as their state tree–I don’t know why I assumed that each state had to choose a unique state tree and if their favorite was drafted already, too bad, Vermont. Maple is taken.  

I see now that my home state of Wisconsin has taken the initiative of designating a state pastry, which sounds exactly like something my people would do. I can only hope the rest of the states follow suit and then I’ll be able to go to Bakery of the States. That’s how America is going to achieve unity: every single state pastry mashed together in my stomach like the mighty globe of fat, carbohydrates, and sugar I knew it could be.

After meeting Navani and calling everyone to tell them about the horse I was going to buy, I was wiped out, so I drove back to my convenient highway side hotel, ate the other half of the sandwich I’d bought on the harrowing drive there the night before, and passed out.  The next morning, I immediately headed over to Ken’s Artisan Bakery, where the line was already out the door at 8:30am.

I wasn’t bothered by the existence of a line itself but rather people’s shocking behavior in the line, specifically the family behind me, the adult members of which said and did nothing when their 6 or 7ish year old son pressed his face and hands against the glass and then smeared himself like human butter across the entirety of the case, in the style of a Japanese novel, right to left, shoving past me and several other people to make certain he got it all, because nothing makes a pastry look more appetizing than through a film of oily secretions. This child then attempted to scale the structure because surely nothing is more loadbearing than the thin glass on the front of a pastry case, it’s probably the same kind of glass you can stand out on over the Grand Canyon, or that they use to contain the more venomous snakes. It was at this point the dad took decisive action, by picking up his coughing baby and hoisting her completely over the glass barrier, presumably because the glass was no longer serving its function as a clear window to the food beyond. A little known fact is that this glass performs a secondary sanitary role, acting as a physical barrier between the mouth  of the customer (and/or sack of crap strapped to its waist) and unpackaged food so as to reduce the risk of contamination. It cannot provide this function when you lift your baby over the glass to cough directly on the bread. Why not just cough into my open mouth, save us some time? 

I made my selections away from where the coughing action went down and ended up with a couple of marionberry croissants, a maple pecan croissant, and two canneles, since I knew I’d be home by afternoon to share with Jason. Of those items, the marionberry croissants were a standout, the fat juicy berries studding the flaky pastry and making it a luscious pie-like experience.  Plus anything sprinkled with pearl sugar earns bonus points in my book. 

A thick fog blanketed the road near Sauvie Island  that morning, and when I saw a sign advertising a pumpkin patch, I had to pull off to check out what a field of pumpkins looked like in that much atmosphere. 

I don’t know how this ATM works, I assume you tell the witches your pin number and then money shoots up into the cauldron. 

Everything looks super spooky in this much fog. Everything including this cow train, which felt like a Twilight Zone episode where you’d find out that these are the cars the cows, who are now in charge of society, use to cart humans to the abattoir.  Bovine University.

From Sauvie Island, I drove to St Helens, also known as Halloweentown. Halloweentown festivities were in full swing, and I had a blast getting my photo taken in the upside down photo studio, checking out all of the awesome vintage Halloween stuff at the 2CS vendor mall, and catching up with my friend Kat while I went ham buying fancy candles and chocolates at Woodland Cottage Handpicked

From St. Helens, I drove to Longview, the place where I’d once attempted to eat the largest cinnamon roll in the world (with help!). Longview has a series of squirrel bridges up throughout town  to help prevent car and squirrel related accidents. The first was called the Nutty Narrows and it was installed in 1963 for the cost of a thousand dollars.  Every time I have occasion to come through town, I find my way to at least one squirrel bridge to see if I can observe it in action and each time I have been disappointed by no-show squirrels. What I’d really love to see are some webcams monitoring the comings and goings of the bridge, which seems like it’d be even easier than booking Cherry Poppin’ Daddies for their annual SquirrelFest which is in fact a real thing and not something I just made up, where you can “Enjoy: no car/squirrel fatalities!” Thanks, will do!

I walked alongside Lake Sacajawea, enjoying the sunshine, petting dogs, and playing Pokemon until my cell phone battery got low enough that it threatened my ability to listen to Spotify the entire way home, as in their wisdom, Google’s decision to remove the aux jack and route sound through the USB port means that I cannot charge my phone and listen to music at the same time.  All these phone manufacturers arbitrarily removing the aux jack really jacked up my road trip flow, where I want to use battery-heavy GPS and listen to music or podcasts for hours at a time. I like to keep the phone plugged in to a charging source so that I don’t have to worry about the state of the battery and, in the event of some kind of incident, I know that I have a full charge regardless of my location. That’s a thing I can’t do with my Pixel 2.  I can listen to music in my car now if I have a usb-c to aux adaptor (they’re so easy to lose, I asked Santa for three, he brought me one, and I’ve lost it already) and an aux cable, but now that phone aux jacks are going away, they’re going away in newer models of cars, too. The last loaner I had from MINI, I couldn’t connect my phone and the car physically at all, and I don’t feel great about allowing a rental car access to my phone. 

You know what else isn’t a joke? Facing a road trip with no music. #bringbacktheauxjack

A closer look at 2018: ren faire, archery class, Director’s Cut


I spent a summer afternoon at the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire and once again, fully enjoyed myself. I finally have enough body confidence to not care if my ass looks wide if I drape it with a period-inaccurate but very festive jingly coin bellydancer’s sash, so I jingled my way around the shoppes and bought myself a very nice Mongolian horse archery bow which I have yet to really use because I don’t have the right kind of glove to keep my hand from being cut by the fletches (there’s no arrow rest on a Mongolian bow, or any horse bow to the best of my knowledge). I could just buy a glove but I’ve been wanting to get into leatherworking, and the possibility that I could make my own at some point in the future exactly how I want it has prevented me from buying a glove which means the bow has sat. Just buy the damn glove, Melissa. Just buy the glove.


I signed up for a six week introductory archery course at Next Step Archery and half-filled the twelve person class with friends. I was glad to finally get some in-depth instruction as I’d just been shooting from instinct up until that point. My skills really leveled up over the course of class, and it was so much fun to learn with friends. The six weeks flew by. If I had signed up for the next course, I could have stayed with many of the same people, but timing wasn’t good with my France trip and each subsequent class is shooting with a more complex bow with more gadgets and balances and finer adjustments, and the goal I’m working toward is horse archery with a bow with…none of those things. I’m signed up for a two day horse archery clinic in southwestern Washington in June, so I’ve got between now and then to get good enough at riding to be comfortable hands-free at a trot. I’m thinking I’d like to take a private lesson or two with this bow in order to be more comfortable without the rest, which will also necessitate buying the damn glove already.

When I shot from this distance…

…this is what my target looked like.



My archery school was right near Arashi Ramen (perfect dinner for a chilly evening) which is next door to 99 Ranch Market which means I found myself browsing though specialty Asian groceries more often than usual. I had a brief, intense love of garlic cracker nuts (it’s a nut! encased in a shell of cracker!) but I must’ve eaten them too often because just the thought of their taste makes me feel a little nauseated. Because why enjoy something every once in a while when you can have a whole bunch of it at once and ruin it for yourself for life? I’m operating on broken logic.

On one trip to 99 Ranch market after lunch at Arashi with Erika (the same trip where she introduced me to cracker nuts!), I bought this tea, and we discussed that 3:15 is about the perfect time in the afternoon for a little caffeinated pick-me-up. Later in the afternoon, I was feeling a little snoozy from lunch and decided to try out my new 3:15pm coffee milk tea to see if would indeed perk me up and I looked up from the box to find it was precisely 3:15pm. The tea was…not good.

I know for a fact this package says oat noodles. But literally every time I see it, I think it says “cat noodles” and I’m left to wonder what kind of cat demands freshly-cooked noodles. One with fiber issues, I guess.


And here I thought it was a painful reminder to use protection.


I’ve been to Casa Que Pasa a bunch and never blogged about it. It’s this dive in Bellingham that serves as a community art gallery, with many pieces for sale. I go there for their potato burrito, but the best version of it is the deep fried fame: the potato burrito deep fried like a chimichanga, especially when I pony up for added carne asada (for flavor and texture variation, it’s important in a burrito this large!) or carnitas (they’re triple cooked for a crispy exterior and a meltingly soft interior) and get them to slather it with extra potato sauce, because whatever is in it, it’s creamy-spicy-tangy and gives potatoes a reason to strive.



I was able to make it to the SAFE show at Donida this summer to see my friend Alex compete in some rail classes with his horse, Jesse. Would you believe this horse is a senior citizen? He is RIPPED. They took third in their last class of the day!

I’m thinking about going to a show or two with Navani this summer, but I also don’t know how well I’m going to do losing to a six year old.


My husband is the handsomest. 


Leg courtesy Christopher Bragg

I realized at the end of the summer that I’d bought a smoker and hadn’t had a single purposeful gathering of peoples for the consumption of smoked meats. I put together a bbq party for Labor Day weekend, and the plan was to culminate with watching the movie I’d helped crowdfund but had never seen/just received in the mail, Director’s Cut, ideally on a screen in the yard. As it turns out, Labor Day weekend is a popular weekend for outdoor screen rentals and none were available. I briefly pondered buying an outdoor screen setup so that my vision could continue unhindered but now that I’ve seen the movie I can say it was absolutely positively 100% for the best that this was not playing on a screen in my yard where my neighbors could see and/or hear. Its number of strip club scenes rivals or exceeds that of Showgirls and I’d like to remind you that in that movie, the main character was a stripper.