Monday, May 23, 2011

Someone’s Always Watching

Our daughter is 15 now, yet I still remember her first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. If she was nervous, she didn't show it. She's always had an independent streak about her. She was excited at starting a new adventure. All day at work I thought about how she was doing, whether or not she made any friends, if she liked her teacher. I was very interested in hearing all about her day when I got home. How the first big day of kindergarten went for her. We sat down to supper and I asked her how her first day of school was.

She suddenly got very serious and formal. I had to keep myself from laughing because it was so strange to see her acting like that. She said, very seriously. “Mom, dad, I am going to marry Matthew.”

My mouth fell open. I had gone through in my head all the things I expected her to say. I remember reading my baby book of how I described my first day of kindergarten. You want to know what I said? “It was great, we even got two desserts, jell-o and pudding.”

I expected her to talk about what they served for lunch, what her teacher was like, what kind of games they played at recess. Never in my wildest dreams, did I expect her to come home with a marriage announcement. For quite awhile neither my wife or I could say anything. When I was able to recover my voice, I told her that 6 years old was a little young to get married. She gave me this look like I just wasn't getting it. She said, “dad, we're going to finish school first, but I'm going to marry Matthew.” As if I didn't have anything to say in the matter.

If this young man was going to be my future son-in-law, I figured I should try to find out something about him. So later that evening I was talking some more about Matthew and asking her what made her so sure this was the boy she was going to marry. She said, “I want to marry him, dad, because he reminds me so much of you.” I confess, at first I got a little prideful, I thought, “this is is a smart girl I've got here. She wants to marry someone like me.” But later after we had all gone to bed I really thought hard about this. I do some of my best thinking in bed. If my daughter is looking for boys with the same qualities as me, as boyfriends or potential husband material, you had better believe I need to make sure I’m acting like the sort of man I would want my daughter to be interested in. It really put a whole different spin on this kindergarten marriage planning. Things suddenly got very serious indeed.

Our children and grandchildren are watching every move we make, whether we know it or not. Children learn by example and by copying those around them. I remember one evening we gone over to my wife’s aunt and uncle's house for supper. After the meal, we were sitting around drinking coffee and visiting. The kids were at the table also with drinks of their own. My son was studying me like he was about to take the most important test of his life. He held his cup exactly the same way I was. When I took a drink, he took a drink. When I set my cup down, he set his down. He never took his eyes off me. It made me wonder how long he was studying me before I realized it. Our children are watching us all the time. And when we start to think no one is watching us or cares about what we are doing, that's when we need to be especially mindful of our actions and the words we say, because they are probably looking at us closer than ever.

The point of this whole message was reinforced with sledgehammer-like blows just a few weeks ago. My daughter had just gone through a very messy break-up. Things were not happy in the Meissner house. This was one of the occasions we are so fortunate to have a two-parent household. My wife was in charge of damage control. My job was to get the men out of the house. So I said to my son, “let's go fishing!”

Later that night, during the “dad’s de-briefing”. My wife told me during the most difficult part, with tears streaming down her face,  our daughter cried, “Why can't I just find someone like dad?”

As these words met my ears, I felt the heavy weight of fatherhood so much it was as if I would be crushed by it. I feel as if I'm being measured by a standard I can't possibly live up to. But I have a family depending on me, so I have to do my best to try, don’t I?

The next morning, I had to take our daughter to band practice and I asked her how she was feeling. “Better than yesterday,” she said. I felt like I should say something. So I reached way down deep for the best piece of fatherly advice I could manage, and said, “you may not want to hear this, but it doesn't matter if it takes until you are old and gray. Good guys are worth waiting for, and you don't deserve anything less than a good guy.” Not bad, huh?

And as she left for school and I drove off to work, I resolved once again to be the best husband and father I can be.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sandwich #3–Comet Morehouse

I’m very behind in blogging. I’ve got several things I wanted to write about, but alas, have not found time to get it done. But I’ve used that excuse too many times already so I’ll just press on.

To review, I’m on a quest to consume all 16 sandwiches at Erbert & Gerberts (E&G) sub shop. As a card carrying member of the sandwich society, I get a free sandwich if I try every one of the sandwiches on their menu. In blogging terms, I’m on sandwich #3, but I’ve actually had 3 more sandwiches since the last blog so I’ve got some “catch-up” writing to do.

My last sandwich was tuna fish which has been the worst one so far. I was much more excited about the Comet Morehouse. The ingredients were more to my liking. I’ve said before, these sandwiches aren’t fancy. They try to use simple but fresh ingredients. The Comet Morehouse was your basic ham and cheese. Ham, provolone cheese, tomato, lettuce, and, of course, Hellmann’s Mayo.


First, the good points. IT WASN’T TUNA! Ham and cheese is right up my alley. There was plenty of juicy deli-sliced ham. Provolone cheese isn’t my favorite (I’m partial to aged cheddar or pepper-jack), but was just fine mixed with the other fillings. They put just the right quantity of mayo, not too much, not too little.

I also got a kick out of the "bag". I'm so glad they labeled it. I'd hate to confuse this brown paper object for any other purpose. A few weeks later, I got 4 sandwiches for the whole family and chortled when I received a bag labeled, "big bag". I suppose it must be more for the sandwich makers to make sure they grab the right size bag for the "to-go" orders. Still, I love a business with a sense of humor.

Then, the bad. The tomatoes were awful. Pale colored, mushy, and no flavor whatsoever. Granted, I ate this sandwich February 18, so it really wasn’t tomato season, but I’ve had better tomatoes from other places. I also went with wheat bread. Probably the last time for awhile. It was dry and hard, just like my last sandwich. The “guts” were even a bit dry. Usually the inside bread scoops are the softest, tastiest bits of bread. According to the nutritional information, there really isn’t much health benefit compared to the white, so I’ll be eating white bread the next time. 3 out of 5 stars.

Now for the story. If you remember from the Bornk Sandwich blog, I had to sneak into the women’s rest room to get the story from the plaque hanging on the wall. It was amusing but very embarrassing. I was delighted to buzz out to the E&G web site and find they now have the stories for each sandwich posted for curious individuals to enjoy. I sent two emails to their customer service and received no response whatsoever, but me and quite possibly several other people, finally got through to their marketing folks and they got their web site changed!

Strangely enough, the cute coloring sheets they did have are no longer there. How hard would it have been to just add the stories, but leave the sheets? Good grief people! Alas, I don’t have a coloring sheet link, so you’ll have to click here for the story, and an “already colored” picture of Comet Morehouse is below.


Here are the story highlights. Comet Morehouse is the evil villain. His name and character are based on an actual comet spotted in 1908. I’m a closet astronomer and so I can’t resist talking a bit about it. Non-geeks may wish to skip to the next paragraph. Comet Morehouse appears to be a parabolic orbit which is essentially a curve, meaning it won’t be back. If it is a closed elliptical orbit (race-track like) it won’t be back for several million years.

Geek-speak off. The villain Morehouse had always been extremely upset that Halleys Comet (another sandwich) got to return to earth every 76 years. Watching Halleys comet get all the fame and notoriety fueled his anger and resentment. Several eons ago, Morehouse was taken over by demons and now attempts to foster evil and cause harm wherever he can. Fortunately Halley’s comet, along with Erbert and Gerbert, always arrive in time to save the day.

I still haven’t found a sandwich better than my beloved Flash, but I’ll keep eating.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Making Sausage

I had the opportunity several weeks ago to participate in something I’ve never done before. My brother-in-law recently acquired some sausage making equipment and my mother and father-in-law came into possession of large amounts of ground beef as well as some venison that was still in the freezer. It was time to make some sausage. Me and my son, Brian, got invited over for the fun.


It was quite the process, let me tell you. All the recipes they used required a certain amount of ground pork. So the first stage of the operation called for grinding massive quantities of pork shoulder. As with most things, having good equipment makes a world of difference. Here we have an electric grinder making quick work of the pork. I imagine the venison also had to go through the grinder as well.

Next came the mixing. This looked like the most arduous part of the procedure. They made the venison (deer) sausage first. Ground venison, pork, some seasonings, including an interesting mixture called “freeze ‘em pickle”. I had to research this a little bit because I’ve never heard of it before. It is a curing agent consisting mostly of sodium nitrate. It adds flavor to the meat and acts as a preservative. A few years ago, they also started adding some shredded cheddar cheese to the mix. This was really good. It melts inside while the sausage is cooking and really gives the sausage a nice juicy flavor.

All this was mixed by hand along with some water to keep the meat moist and to aid in the stuffing process. It looked like a lot of work. Kind of like mixing a meatloaf for a small army.


Then the fun begins. You load up the mixture into a canister and put it into the stuffer. Then you slide the casing over the stuffing tube and turn the crank. It does work best with three people. My father-in-law, Jim, is working the crank, brother-in-law, Dave is feeding the casing, and my son, Brian is coiling the sausage. They look they’ve done this before.


Another shot of the stuffing crew.

After the venison was finished, it was time for the beef. Their plan was to make slim-jims and summer sausage. I really like slim-jims but I know they aren’t for everyone. They are a bit on the spicy side. This recipe called for beef and pork and slim-jim seasoning purchased from the local butcher. I was also told some more pepper was added for a bit more “zing”.

More mixing, and mixing, and mixing. Then we took a handful and fried it up to see if anything needed to be added. It was delicious but wow, what a kick! It was quite spicy and everyone agreed nothing needed to be added. I don’t have any pictures of this but the process was the same. The stuffing tube was just smaller.

After the spicy was done, they mixed up a batch of teriyaki flavored. A sample of this was also fried up for taste testing. It was much sweeter with a hint of brown sugar. Really good for the mild palate. Into the stuffer with that.

Next on the agenda was summer sausage. Beef and pork again, along with summer sausage seasoning with some mustard seeds thrown in. Mixing, mixing, mixing. Then into the stuffer. This one called for the big stuffing tube.


I got to take a turn at the crank.


After the summer sausage was stuffed, the ends had to be tied. Here’s Brian keeping it upright so the tying could take place.


Stuffing completed, time for stuffer disassembly and clean-up.

It was a lot of fun. The slim-jims and summer sausage went to the butcher for smoking. The deer sausage went through a vacuum sealer.

Thanks to my generous in-laws, we were rewarded for our efforts with a portion of the proceeds. I haven’t had a chance to try the deer sausage yet, but am not worried. It’s always been delicious in the past. The slim-jims were probably my favorite. After the smoking process, the spice wasn’t so overpowering. The raging inferno was tempered to a slow burn. I do like spicy sausage and they really came out nice. We had them all eaten within the first 2 weeks.

My wife and son liked the teriyaki flavor better as it wasn’t as spicy. It was good, but my preference is still the heat.

The summer sausage was fantastic. The seasoning and smoke were mixed really well. We probably wouldn’t have any of this left either but I’m rationing it. I only take a log out of the freezer every so often so hopefully it will last a little longer.

I’ll probably fire up the grill and cook some of the deer sausage this weekend now we’ve been blessed with snow-melting temperatures. It may rain, but that shouldn’t stop me.

I must thank my wonderful in-laws for the experience and gift of meat. It is most sincerely appreciated. I look forward to another invitation to a sausage making party.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

False Advertising

Wednesday night I had the pleasure of dining at our church potluck. One of the signature items was a tricked out hot dog. My son was raving about them having sampled one at a youth event last week. He said they were good but made him awfully thirsty.

I seem to be on a roll with my food reviews so I’ll try another one. I needed a break from Erb and Gerb’s sandwiches for awhile. I’m a little hesitant to go back there anytime soon after having to sneak into the ladies rest room. For full details, check my last blog.

Here they are, all beef hot dogs, bacon, sausage, mozzarella cheese, french fried onions, mustard, ketchup, garlic mayo, and pineapple sauce. I have a hard time stepping out of my comfort zone, but when it comes to food, I will always try something at least once. Believe it or not, they were actually quite tasty, I went back for seconds. This combination of flavors, even the pineapple sauce, was very good. The only change I would make is a few more drops of ketchup. The downside is it’s probably not the healthiest choice on the menu. People with cholesterol or high blood pressure might want to pass these by. My rating would be 4 out of 5 stars.

Would you believe the very next day, I get an email from Arby’s promoting their new sandwich, the angus 3-cheese & bacon toasted sub. If I bought the sandwich at regular price ($4.99), I got a free curly fries and drink. The similarity between this and the hot dogs was kind of spooky. But I enjoyed the hot dogs, so I took the bait and went to Arby’s for lunch.

This is what I got. Ok, I know all about advertising and marketing and the whole point is to put your food in the most positive light. But come on, this isn’t even close to the picture in the ad. I think every restaurant is guilty of this to some degree, but fast food chains in particular seem to blatantly dish out items that never look like the picture, ever. When was the last time you got something in a fast food place that looked like the picture on the menu?

The curly fries were great, my absolute favorite type of French fry is the curly variety. The sandwich was good too, it did have pretty good flavor. It just was not worth the $5, even with the free fries and drink, I won’t be getting this again. Rating is 2 out of 5 stars. My recommendation is to stick with Arby’s value menu. For $5 you can get 5 jr. roast beefs or 5 jr. ham and chedders. In my opinion a MUCH better value, and maybe just a bit better for you.

On another note, my old car turned over 222,222 miles. It’s been a good reliable car, but probably on it’s last set of wheels. The windshield is cracked all over the place, 2 out of 4 speakers don’t work, the radio works, but not the cassette player, no CD, sorry. The cruise control stopped working about 80,000 miles ago. And it leaks drops of lubricant all over.

All the above I can put up with if not for the fact the digital dashboard is going out. The gas gauge and speedometer are the same digital readout as the mileage above. When you first start the car, the whole dash is black, which means there is no way to tell how fast you’re going, or how much gas is in the tank. Probably not something you should take on a cross-country journey. After it’s been running about 10-15 minutes, the dashboard suddenly lights up. I’m still driving it, but am not sure for how much longer.

Keep checking the blog to see if the car lasts long enough for me to try the remaining 14 sandwiches at Erb & Gerb’s. Good eating everyone.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sandwich #2–Bornk

Continuing the saga that started with Around the Universe in 16 sandwiches, I once again entered the doors of Erbert and Gerbert’s (E&G). As a member of the sandwich society, I get a free sandwich if I try all 16 sandwiches on the menu. My first sandwich was the Boney Billy, turkey breast, alfalfa sprouts, tomato, lettuce, and mayo. It was pretty good and I gave it a 4 out of 5 rating.

Next on the menu was Bornk, tuna salad made with California tuna, celery, onions and incredible sauce (their words, not mine), topped with lettuce, tomato, and sprouts.

Out of all the sandwiches, this is the one I really did not want to order. I am not a big tuna fish fan on the best of days, and I have never ordered one at an eatery before. The only tuna salad I’ve ever had was made in somebody’s home kitchen. But I’m on a mission and I am determined to see it through.

Here it is, note the “guts” which is the affectionate term they used to describe the bread that is scooped out to make room for the sandwich filling. Those guts were the best part of this sandwich. I always nibble on the soft bread first. Once that was done, I tackled one half of the sandwich. I'll try to say both positives and negatives about each one. I liked the fact it didn’t have a strong fishy taste. I prefer mild tasting fish. I enjoy sprouts, as I’ve said before. I also liked that the celery and onions in the tuna salad were chopped very fine. I really detest big hunks of celery and onion in things. That's all the positive I can say.

Unfortunately, negative comments are easy. It was extremely dry. When I make tuna salad at home, I usually use more mayo than the average person. I also didn’t taste anything incredible about the sauce. It tasted like plain old mayo. I ate the whole sandwich, because I never throw away food if I can help it. But it was not a pleasurable experience. I give it barely 1 out of 5 stars. Sorry E&G but I will never order this sandwich again.

If you read my first installment about Boney Billy, you’ll know each sandwich is named after a character in childhood stories, that were told by the franchise owner’s father when he was growing up. Getting these stories is only possible by going to the restaurant and reading the plaques on the walls. I’ve sent emails to the company website suggesting it would be great publicity for them to post the stories online. I’m still waiting for a response, traffic must be slow in cyberspace.

As I was waiting for my sandwich I walked around reading the plaques looking for Bornk. Would you believe he wasn’t there! I walked around the store again just to make sure I didn’t miss it. They called my name and I went to pick up my own Bornk, and, on a whim, ducked into the men’s rest room. Sure enough, there were two additional characters in there. But Bornk wasn't one of them!

A cold feeling of dread washed over me as I left the store. Bornk was almost for sure in the women’s room. How on earth was I supposed to get in there? The last time I checked, I was still a member of the male side of our species. This was all a few weeks ago. I talked over several ideas with my adorable wife and the only one that made sense was that she would go and get a sandwich and check the women’s room when she was there.

So I waited, but the opportunity for her to visit the store never occurred. I really wanted to get this blog done, so this morning I called E&G.

“Thank you for calling Erbert and Gerbert’s, will this be for delivery or carryout?” The friendly voice said on the phone.

“This is going to sound like a very strange question, but I was wondering if the story of Bornk was in the women’s rest room?” I said, very sheepishly.

This really cracked her up. I was happy I could bring a laugh to someone’s day. “Oh yes, we always keep our tuna in the ladies room.” What an odd thing for her to say. But I got a chuckle out of it. “Hang on a second!”

I waited a few seconds and she came back on the line, “Yep, he’s in there, along with Jacob Bluefinger,” (another sandwich character).

“I don’t suppose I could ask…” I was going to ask if she would be so kind as to read and tell me over the phone what the stories were, but she didn’t give me the chance.

“Oh sure, just come on out, get a sandwich and we’ll let you in the ladies room so you can read the stories.”

“Um… Ok, I may stop by this afternoon.” I stammered.

“Great! thank you for calling.” she hung up.

Oh dear, what was I to do? I really wanted to find out about these guys, so this afternoon I drove out to E&G. I ordered my 3rd sandwich, the Comet Morehouse, which I’ll be blogging about next time. Then I asked if someone would let me in the women’s room so I could read the stories. I was directed to the manager who was a pleasant chap who did his best to ensure customer service. He pounded on the door to make sure it was unoccupied. It was, and he let me in. There was Bornk and Bluefinger. I read up on both of them so I wouldn’t have to go through this again when I got the Jacob Bluefinger sandwich. So with much pain and embarrassment, here is the story of Bornk for your reading pleasure.

Erbert and Gerbert do a lot of time traveling. One day they decided to make a trip to prehistoric Spain. They met up with Bornk, a cave man who could only speak guttural sounds with his voice. They named him Bornk because of the BOOORRRRNK sound he made whenever he wacked something with the big club Bornk carried. Erbert and Gerbert spent some time with Bornk and were pleasant enough to him, but they didn’t think much of him because he couldn’t communicate very well.

One day, Bornk led them deep into his cave and smeared some greasy powder from his pouch on the cave wall. He then ignited the powder and it glowed with magnificent colors. It was a picture of the head of a bison and it was a masterpiece. Which goes to show you, that you can never judge a Bornk by it’s cover.

Here is a coloring sheet of Bornk if you want to see what he looks like. Stay tuned for Comet Morehouse, sandwich #3.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Around the Universe In 16 Sandwiches

One of my fellow bloggers, Rodents Of Unusual Size, recently had a post encouraging us to try new things. This really struck a nerve with me. Mostly because I remember my younger days when I thrived on new experiences. They truly were the events that kept life interesting. Even things that went badly, usually helped me with the lessons I learned from them.

I still enjoy new experiences. I love traveling to places I’ve never been, and I make a point to hardly ever order the same item in a restaurant. I also take pleasure in reading a book for the very first time.

Sadly, as I grow older, I'm finding I receive more and more comfort in things that stay the same. I like surprises less and less. Wrenches thrown in to mess up carefully laid plans really get me upset these days. So, when I receive the advice to try something new, I get a little irritated. Partly because new things require me to step out of my comfort zone, and partly because I long for my youth and the excitement a new adventure would bring.

Nevertheless, I do see value in stepping outside the box, even if it is a baby step. I enjoy food, and judging from my increasing waist line, food most definitely enjoys me. I get tired of fast food burgers and enjoy a sub sandwich from time to time. Right now my favorite sandwich place is Erbert and Gerbert’s (E&G's). As I said, I always try to order something I’ve never had before unless I have a particularly strong craving for something. For some reason, fast food places are the exception. I’ve got my favorite item and I don’t usually deviate it. With E&G’s, my favorite sandwich is called the “Flash,” a spicy Italian club made with Capicola ham, Genoa salami, and tomato, with smoked ham, cheese, onion, lettuce, mayo, and oil & vinegar dressing. It is delicious and so good, I’ve never felt the need to try something else.

Recently, the franchise started their own version of a “frequent flyer” club, called the sandwich society. It was too enticing to pass up. You get a free sandwich just for signing up, a free sandwich on your birthday, a free sandwich for every 10 purchased at regular price, and a free sandwich for trying every one of their 16 sandwiches on the menu.

It just so happened I read the ROUS blog about trying new things shortly before going to lunch and finding out about the sandwich society. The challenge of trying every sandwich off the menu was quite intriguing. So I thought I would use this blog to chronicle my experience.

First, a bit of history. The business started 20 years ago in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Kevin Schippers and his wife, Beth created the franchise from the ground up. The weird names for each sandwich come from stories Kevin’s dad told him when he was a child. Each sandwich is named after a character in the stories, and I thought it would be fun to give a review of each sandwich along with the story behind it’s name.

I really hate making decisions and the last thing I wanted was to waste precious lunch time minutes trying to decide which new sandwich to try. Since I have to try all of them, I started at the top of the menu with the Boney Billy, turkey breast accompanied by fresh alfalfa sprouts, ripe red tomato, crisp lettuce, and Hellmann’s mayo.

Erbert and Gerbert (E&G) Herbert are two brothers who are the heroes of the childhood stories, interestingly, no sandwiches are named after them, only the characters E&G come across. Boney Billy is a skeleton the brothers meet after finding themselves trapped in a cave. Boney Billy was making objects fly at them through the air. They eventually became friends and Boney Billy was instrumental in helping them escape Comet Morehouse (another sandwich), the evil villain in the stories. Proving that sometimes, it can be a good thing to have a skeleton in your closet.

Click here for to see what Boney Billy looks like and print out a coloring sheet. The sandwich was quite tasty. I’m trying hard not to compare it to my beloved Flash, which I still prefer, but Boney Billy was very good. You have a choice of white or honey wheat sub-style bread or sliced honey wheat bread. I went with a honey wheat sub because I've always had white before and thought I was being so healthy. It turns out, from the nutritional information, honey wheat has slightly less calories, but a couple more grams of fat. Oh well. To make the sandwich, they scoop out some of the inside to create a pocket in the bread to stuff the fillings. This results in a nice, neat sandwich that is easy to hold and eat. They also wrap the “scoopings” in with the sandwich so it doesn’t go to waste. Some people throw this away anyway, but I enjoy nibbling on the bread, it’s so very soft and sweet.

In my opinion the bread is what sets E&G’s apart from other sandwich shops, it truly tastes freshly baked. The outside is a firm crust and the inside is soft enough to melt in your mouth. The ingredients inside the sandwich also taste fresh and you don’t get the feeling you’re eating something that’s been processed and shrink-wrapped for several months before serving. You will not like this sandwich if you’re not into alfalfa sprouts. I’ve found people either love them or hate them. For my part, I enjoy sprouts very much and usually take a hunk for my salad if I happen to see them in a salad bar. The sprouts went perfectly with the turkey and just the right amount of mayo.

Although not as good as the Flash, it was very tasty rating 4 out of 5 stars. Stay tuned for Bornk, my next sandwich adventure.