A while back, someone (several someones) alerted me to the fact that there was a “Bacon Critic” job up for grabs. Not one to pass up an opportunity like that, I went ahead an applied! Alas, I did not get the job. However, as part of the application, I did need to write “a short essay of fewer than 600 words recounting your favorite bacon-related memory”.
Favorite bacon-related memory…how can I pick just one? These are the tough questions that only a dedicated Bacon Critic can answer.
I now present to you, “Like Bacon, But Not”, my first (but probably not my last) bacon-flavored essay:
After college, my future wife and I spent a couple of weeks kicking around Italy. In general the food was the best I’ve ever had…with one significant exception.
We were staying at some out of the way hotel in the Italian lakes region. It was close by an Italian lake, but not THE Italian lakes, if you catch my drift. Very remote and un-touristy.
“No problem, we can do this,” we oh-so-naively thought. “The natives gotta eat, right? We’ll do as the Romans do.”
We asked at the front desk and they told us about the “restaurant on the island”, so we set off vaguely in that direction. We found a dock and stood there with no one else in sight until an old guy in a fishing boat pulled up. “Ferry?” he said. “Restaurant?” Despite the fact that those two words seemed to be the extent of his English, we did want to go to the restaurant, so we climbed on board.
About this time we realized that we were completely off the map, and getting further away. We tried asking about return trips and timetables, but this level of detail was completely beyond him. However, he did use hand gestures to insist, repeatedly, that we should take many pictures of each other in the boat. We did it too; no sense in pissing this guy off. Nobody knew where we were, we didn’t know if the restaurant was even real, and this guy didn’t have enough English to say, “I am not an ax murderer.” For all we knew, these pictures could be the only evidence they find when they inevitably dredged the lake for our bodies.
When we finally made it to the island, the menu was naturally in Italian. Eventually we managed to get a hold of the owner’s wife, who had taken some English in high school. She ran down the menu giving us our options: “fish from the lake”, “fish from the lake”, “fish from the lake”, and “like bacon, but not”.
Now, the way I figured it, you could literally not go wrong with “like bacon, but not”. I mean, best case it’s delicious bacon, and worst case it’s delicious ham.
When our food came out, I was presented with a plate of what appeared to be thinly sliced provolone cheese. “I don’t think this is what I ordered,” I whispered to Sara after the waiter had left. I slipped the menu back out and scanned to the item identified as “like bacon, but not”.
Lardo. Literally, a plate of lard.
Now, I didn’t exactly want to eat a plate of lard, but when in Rome, right? More specifically, we were trapped on an island in the middle of nowhere with a ferryman who may never show up again. This might be our last meal.
Gamely, I took some of the bread from the table and made a lard sandwich, spreading the lardo with a butter knife. I gagged with every bite, but I managed to choke down about half of the plate before finally throwing in the towel. I can only imagine that the wait staff was watching from a window, laughing at the dumb American who thinks that lard is something anybody ever consumed on purpose, much less ordered from a restaurant.
Adding insult to injury, it turns out lardo, being a delicacy, was expensive.
The moral of the story is, when it comes to bacon, settle for no substitute! If your bacon is even a little “not”, best to go with the fish from the lake.
As the time came around for this year’s baconfest, we were really struggling to find a weekend to make it work. As much fun as eating a metric ton of bacon is, it actually does take a lot of preparation work: designing the shirts, buying the bacon, doing all the cooking, etc. With a newborn, the whole thing seemed like too much.
On the other hand, I WILL NOT LET THE TRADITION DIE, even if it kills me (and, since we’re talking about eating pounds and pounds of bacon, let’s be clear: it will kill me).
So we did a baby baconfest. Baconfest lite. No taste test, no orgy of bacon recipes, just one meal (prepared by Nate and Amanda), a little bacon with breakfast, and (naturally) some bacon soda.
“Y’all get yer fixins!”
Alex says, “What the crap is this nonsense? Is this seriously the family I was born into??”
Some of us didn’t think it was all that bad (Sara said it tasted like grape soda). I mean, I wouldn’t want to drink a whole bottle of the stuff, but, you know. I took more than one drink (for science!)
On the other hand, most people’s reaction to the smoky flavor of the bacon soda can best be summed up as:
I was also the proud recipient of an “I Heart Bacon” wall calendar, which is now at work.
Sorry I don’t have more posts this year, but the best I could handle was to keep the chain of baconfests unbroken (six down, one hundred more to go).
(Not for nothing, I did wear my “high five if you like bacon” shirt from last year and did get two high fives from strangers!)
So, as mentioned previously, I got a new job.
I didn’t mean to be vague in that post; I just honestly didn’t think anybody would care very much! But since so many people are asking about the job, I thought I better go into a bit more detail.
The long and the short of it is that my job doesn’t really change much. I work on user interfaces for computer programs. Whether those programs are used by rocket scientists, or automotive engineers, or now architects and construction firms, at the core they are still just buttons and checkboxes and pixels on a screen. You’d be surprised at how little difference the domain actually makes on how you program.
So I’m still programming, just sitting in a different location. What I’m not doing is managing. All of the hiring, planning, presentations, supervising, tech support, sales…all of that stuff is someone else’s job now. That’s kind of amazing! I haven’t been able to focus on just the programming for a long, long time.
I’m also really digging the train. I do have to keep my schedule handy, but it’s so wonderful to just leave the house and hop on a train. I don’t even need to bring my keys with me when I leave the house! Crazy. And it’s really nice getting some walking in, to and from work. Always before I just sat, and sat, and sat. Now I get to get out, see the sights, you know? Really…smell the smells of Chicago. And boy are there smells downtown. Yowza.
The job is cool. I mean sooo tragically hip, you have no idea. I keep thinking “this is too good to be true, somebody pinch me”, and then they come around and go, “Sign up on the list, we’re buying everybody smoothies!!” (This is not an exaggeration; apparently it’s monthly.)
The downside of all this tragic hipness, is that it actually kind of makes me feel old. It’s been 9 years since I’ve started a new job, and I kind of forgot how hard it is. I’m used to doing things a certain way, and I’m used to knowing everything, inside and out. I’m used to being in charge. Suddenly I have to figure everything out all over again, and ask all the hip youngsters to teach me how to do these new tricks. I have to keep reminding myself that 1) I just started, I shouldn’t know how to do anything yet, but it will come with time, and 2) getting to learn a bunch of new things is a feature, not a bug.
But that’s really a rather minor concern. I feel very compelled to do a good job, show them that they made a good choice by hiring me, so I just feel a bit of frustration sometimes that I’m not yet operating at peak efficiency.
One of the main things the company focuses on when looking at candidates is personality. Because of that, everybody is super outgoing and friendly. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Company culture is a really, really big deal to them (to us!) so they have a very intense training / orientation period at the headquarters in Pasadena.
So they wanted me to come to Pasadena for 3 weeks, and I said, “my wife will kill me”. They said, “we don’t want your family to feel anything other than excitement over you joining the company” which is pretty damn classy, if you ask me.
So instead I spent 2 weeks in Pasadena, which is a lovely town that is ABSOLUTELY CHOCK FULL of amazing restaurants. I mean, seriously. And I was living out of a hotel room, so I just HAD to go out for every meal. It was a rough life. I may or may not have had 12 year old bourbon WITH BACON IN IT.
I guess we’ll never know.
I also managed to meet up with a dozen or so SoCal writers who I ‘Internet-know’ but hadn’t met in real life. That was definitely a highlight of the trip. Everyone was even more wonderful than I imagined they would be.
All joking aside, two weeks is a long time to live out of a hotel with your wife and kids on a two hour time difference, and I was very ready to come home. With all the new stuff I’m learning, I kind of need the routine and stability of home to balance it out. I knew it would be busy starting a new job and changing up our routines, but I didn’t really realize *how* busy it would be. For the past month or so, I have had very little time (you may have noticed a lack of blogging lately).
So here’s to getting back to the routine, settling in, and letting the ‘new’ become the ‘old’.
::raises a glass::
::eats bacon out of said glass::
I was pretty excited about the spread of this year’s bacon. I drove in to the meatpacking district, and grabbed two from Publican Quality Meats, grabbed a curry bacon from the deli at Whole Foods, and then had two of the “fancier” store-bought bacons. I thought we had a pretty good spread, however, after tasting them all they were (surprisingly!) all somewhat similar. So I didn’t feel like we really covered the “range” of bacon after all.
Although the curry bacon was a bit odd (though not nearly as odd as you might expect!), the strangest bacon was the “Pub” bacon from Publican Meats. Talk about a slab of bacon! It was about 1/2 an inch thick (it’s the second bacon in the picture above). Everyone was a little nervous to try it, but it was much better than expected. Still, we all agreed it was more “ham” than “bacon” and it didn’t do very well in the taste test. However, the next day we chopped some into a charred brussels sprouts carbonara, and it was absolutely perfect.
You know, it seems like we always get these fancy butcher shop bacons, and they always lose to some regular old store-bacon. I don’t know if it’s because the butcher-bacons tend to highlight the meat flavor, and thus downplay the seasoning, or if the fault is mine: maybe my tastes run more towards the bacon I grew up with, so bacons that taste more like that are subconsciously more appealing to me.
Anyway, on to the results:
|Wellshire – dry rubbed, peppered||8||Very crispy, good flavor – solid everyday bacon|
|Publican Meats – Pub Bacon||5||Thick! ery very good ham. Pretty good bacon.|
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||7||Crispy with good flavor. The “pepper” or spice flavor overpowered the meat flavor|
|Publican Meats – Slab Bacon||7||Flat. A lot of meat per slice. Nothing outstanding but nothing negative either|
|Whole Foods Curry Bacon||5||A little tough. Unusual after taste. Extra smokey. Tastes less “piggy” more “beefy”.|
|Wellshire – dry rubbed, peppered||9||Crispy – good flavor w/pepper thing + melt-in-your-mouthy|
|Publican Meats – Pub Bacon||3||This is ham. Not as bad as I thought.|
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||5||Salty + chewy. Meh flavor.|
|Publican Meats – Slab Bacon||4||“Smokey” flavor has taste potential. Good flavor.|
|Whole Foods Curry Bacon||7||Super thick (yet not ham). Salty + not ver smokey|
|Wellshire – dry rubbed, peppered||8!||Good everyday bacon – I really liked it.|
|Publican Meats – Pub Bacon||4||This is like eating the fat of ham. Non-gristly fat, but still fat. Somewhat aromatic flavor. Would not choose for anything but novelty.|
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||6||Hammy flavor. Okay.|
|Publican Meats – Slab Bacon||7||Flat. More melt in your mouth. Tastes a little burnt even though it isn’t. A little sweet aftertaste.|
|Whole Foods Curry Bacon||3||Very sweet. Don’t really care for it. Texture also unappealing.|
|Wellshire – dry rubbed, peppered||6||Melts in your mouth, very salty. Nice appearance – wrinkly, not too flat, looked “real”|
|Publican Meats – Pub Bacon||4||Obviously this is the weird one. V. unusual appearance, more like pork belly, but good. Fatty, but not too fatty. Surprisingly bacony. Not for just eating bacon, though.|
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||7||Similar in appearance to #1. Very good flavor, a good solid bacon, if nothing too special. Barely edged out #1, not quite as salty, not as “melty”|
|Publican Meats – Slab Bacon||5||Flat, crisp, maybe overdone. Meh.|
|Whole Foods Curry Bacon||5||Tough, flavor is…unusual. Dont’ know if I’d want more than that half piece, but it was interesting.|
|Wellshire – dry rubbed, peppered||9||not sweet, spicey!|
|Publican Meats – Pub Bacon||1||not going to try it again|
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||4||soft and chewy|
|Publican Meats – Slab Bacon||5||opposite of 3.|
|Whole Foods Curry Bacon||2||crunchy!|
|Wellshire – dry rubbed, peppered||
|Publican Meats – Pub Bacon||
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||
|Publican Meats – Slab Bacon||
|Whole Foods Curry Bacon||
|Wellshire – dry rubbed, peppered||8.0|
|Publican Meats – Pub Bacon||3.4|
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||5.8|
|Publican Meats – Slab Bacon||5.6|
|Nature’s Rancher – hickory smoked||4.4|
Well, another baconfest has come and gone.
I can’t believe we’ve been doing this for 5 years already. It seems like just the other day we started doing this. Can I just say that I’m *so* not tired of this yet? Best. Tradition. Ever.
Like all good traditions, some parts have fallen by the wayside (e.g. The Watching of the Kevin Bacon Movie), and other traditions have sprung up (e.g. The Waking of Guests With the Talking Bacon — seriously, this is the part the kids look forward to the most!)
It is, however, a mega-ton of work. From planning the menu, to running around buying the bacon for the taste test, to cooking everything for days beforehand, to the smell of bacon leaking into every nook and cranny of your house, your clothes, your very nostrils…yeah, I was a little stressed out.
This year was particularly bad. Not only did the kids have their big ballet performance during baconfest on Saturday, but we also went to see Welcome to Nightvale on Friday night (post to come; I’m a little behind!). Add in the ballet dress rehearsal / costume fitting on Thursday, swim class, etc. and it was just a little much for the week.
Because of all that, the menu was a little light this year. Most of the meals had to be quick ones, so we didn’t overdo it on the bacon this year. I think this might have been the first year that I didn’t feel like I ate a whole pig by the end of the day, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
On the flipside, my heart hardly had to struggle to pump blood through my bacon-clogged arteries, which means it didn’t get any exercise this year and is probably going to grow weak.
For breakfast this year, we basically just had scones. They didn’t even have bacon in them! But we had the taste test as part of breakfast, so that was bacon enough.
For lunch, we had a Bacon Chopped Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette (see above), and it was just about perfect. Really hit the spot. We also had a Spaghetti Squash with Bacon, Spinach and Goat Cheese (see below), and followed that up with Oatmeal Cookies with Molasses & Bacon Fat. The cookies were actually really, really amazing, though not particularly bacon tasting (which actually was okay with me).
Finally, for dinner we needed something simple, since we were coming from ballet, so we just had two dips, with veggies and crackers. The first, the Bacon Cheddar Ale Cheese Spread, pretty much stole the show for the weekend, but the Bacon, Scallion and Caramelized Onion Dip wasn’t bad either. And then more cookies, natch.
Finally, we ended on a game of Agricola, the most bacony of games, which — what’s that? Oh, I won? Oh, oh, I see. I believe that’s 3 in a row for me, which is an unprecedented win streak for anyone not named Sara. I’m like the Sara of Agricola.
No context provided:
Nathan: “Amanda is out of control when it comes to men’s underwear.”
Me: “Yeah, well. She’s not the boss of the bathroom.”
Nathan: “I’m going to eat all of MY number two!”
Ollie: “Aunt Rachael’s skin is the color of sausage.”