A Pastel Pumpkin Field and My Rib Shack

Illinois Pumpkin Fields Canned Pumpkins

So my wife and I went on a mini road trip a few weekends ago to visit an apple orchard two hours from home and then another 45 minutes to The Bar-B-Q Rib Shack in Galesburg, IL. On our way between the orchard and the rib shack we were surprised to pass two huge fields filled with what barely looked like pumpkins.

The pumpkins were so pastel I couldn’t believe it. I had to pull the car over and go in for a closer examination. How could someone mistakenly planted a huge field full of an unseemly variety of seed. My wife suggested they were for canning, which made more sense. But had we stopped our adventure right there, I’d have seen just about everything.

Pumpkins for Canning Illinois Fields

But we didn’t. We continued on to the rib place I’d talked up to my wife since we met but only fantasized taking her. Now the time had come, I imagined, where she might appreciate the unique charm of this place. When we first met, I was relatively certain, however, that she’d have found the neon sign, the mere idea of ribs, and the community seating a little more than off-putting.

To me, this rib shack is just about everything. The food is phenomenal. And the seating, unique. The small town picnic table seating, when packed, has you enjoy your meal side-by-side with complete strangers or soon-to-be new acquaintances.

The Rib Shack Neon BBQ Pig Sign

I was a little nervous. I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to everything I remembered and relived since I’d eaten there last. I was really hoping that their glory was real and not existent only in my head created by time and wishful thinking. The Rib Shack Galesburg IL Community Seating

Luckily, my fears were completely unfounded. It was everything I’d remembered and more. The lady who waited on us made us feel at home. The ribs were beautiful. Succulent, zesty, and not a bit greasy. I was proud as a peacock that my baby lit up and enjoyed herself thoroughly. She loved the slaw and she loved the ribs. I don’t think she would have appreciated The Rib Shack when we met but it made me feel good that she did now.

BBQ Ribs The Rib Shack Galesburg IL

B-Q Rib Shack on Urbanspoon

Late Fall Retrospective

So about four weeks ago, I was walking across the still-damp yard first thing in the morning.  Something felt different. I looked down and noticed the leaves were different. They weren’t colorful, and they weren’t still-alive. They were wet and had shriveled from bright yellow to crinkly grey. It was the feel I’d noticed. Instead of the velvet brush of new fallen leaves against my shoes, they crackled. I realized that fall comes in phases.

Early fall is full of color and brilliance and warmth and life. My wife and I struggled to pick an avalanche of ripening tomatoes. I relished getting to harvest two little watermelons from our garden. We went on walks and marveled in the color collages.

Suddenly in that Saturday morning moment on the lawn I noticed that fall comes in phases. Previously, I thought it was one thing, and I didn’t like it. Thinking of fall made me feel depressed. It meant I’d be in the dark after five p.m. and freezing cold for the next seven months. It was my least favorite season.

My wife mentioned time and again while we were in Louisiana that she missed the fall colors. I didn’t notice the difference too much and was on a mission that she could find all the fall colors she needed there. She remained unconvinced. I must say that getting the chance to experience our fall in Illinois with new eyes, I too am captivated by the colors and the beauty. For the first time I noticed little things. A brilliant ivy against a limestone wall. Specked leaves against a green watermelon. A chorus of leaves having fallen to the sidewalk from brilliant weeds along a chain-linked fence. A yellow leaf sun-catcher caught by the wind. Beautiful was everywhere. Fall, I can say, warms my soul.

Great Greater-Chicago Happy-Hour Sushi

So my wife and I drove into the Chicago suburbs for me to attend a conference this weekend. We’d been looking forward to this because we were hoping to go to Nagoya, a sushi buffet that was one of two sister locations we’d enjoyed back in Baton Rouge. We’d never been to the one in Illinois so were were excited to make it to the Naperville location at four yesterday. It was just opening for dinner. Supposedly it had steamed lobster on the buffet, allowing me to rationalize the splurge of $30 a person.

Walking in the door they had a large saltwater reef tank just like the one in Baton Rouge. We were stoked. I asked if we could sit by the fish tank and they said no. The buffet area in Baton Rouge was bright and beautiful. Here it was dark, leaving us uneasy. The deal breaker came when we got to the end of the buffet and there was a hand made sign written in sharpie saying, “One Lobster per Guest per Visit.”

My wife’s terrible disappointment was magnified by her hunger. While I was finishing up the conference, she’d missed lunch. I had one chance to get it right and I was feelin’ my stars. I told her the new plan was to go a mile back down the road to a sushi place we passed on the way here that made my spidey senses tingle.

I had a feeling it would be awesome and was glad we’d get to double back and check.

The restaurant turned out to be Shinto Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar and it hit the nail on the head. The second we walked through the door, everything was turning up us. It was happy hour. All of their regular rolls were half price along with selected appetizers. We went nuts. We were excited to be able to eat sushi like a buffet only with incredible quality accompanying our quantity. The wasabi pork dumplings were a wake up. The wasabi sauce on only two dumplings did it for me. I depended on the hot green tea to reset my palate for the sushi.

My wife and I are generally not impressed by the pomp and fanfare of specialty rolls. Their tempura fried innards, mayonnaise sauces, and high prices don’t do much for us.

We’re quite satisfied to stick to regular rolls. We appreciate the clean, natural taste of the fish, and the rice, and the seaweed. Point in case, the chives in the yellowtail roll, juxtaposed beautifully with the clean white flesh of the fish and the subtle tang of the sushi vinegar. Any more would be less.

The spicy hotate-scallop nigiri turned out not to be what I thought I’d ordered. Though, I thought I’d ordered a plain scallop nigiri, I appreciated its visual presence on the plate.

The salmon rolls were simple and gorgeous. The cucumber crisp. Perfection.

Overall the sushi plate was a dream. The spicy tuna was actually incredibly spicy–a first for me. Great california rolls and tuna rolls.

Lately, however, I have a bad habit of judging a sushi place based on their white tuna. Done right, it is simple, buttery, and amazing. Here it was just that.

We enjoyed ourselves throughly. Though we’re not sushi snobs, we seek to maximize quantity and quality while managing cost. Here, for happy hour at least, we were able to address all three considerations in a way I’d only envisioned but never encountered.

Even during happy hour, the quality and beauty of the rolls were phenomenal. Based on our time at Shinto, we’re tempted to make the three hour commute again soon.  Shinto made our day, and your’s too, I hope:)

Shinto Japanese Steak House Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Maya Baby Carriers: A How To

WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CARY AN INFANT OR CHILD BASED ON THESE DIRECTIONS.

So, this post is for theoretical use only. Please do not try this at home with real children.

I posted earlier on my fascination with woven baby carriers, or cargadores de bebes, used by the modern Maya and wanted to post a step by step post on how to fold the baby carriers.

I am no expert and at this point would NOT carry any child in a baby carrier that I folded. I learned how to fold them in Guatemala, but by no means am an expert.

And That’s A Post specifically states that you should not mistake this post for training on how to fold a cargador de bebé for real use. Please, get trained by an expert if you ever intend to use this method to transport a child. DO NOT jeopardize the safety and well-being of any child by placing them in a baby carrier based on this post. If not used correctly, an infant or young child could potentially fall out or suffocate in a misused carrier.

Now, most woven textiles in Guatemala used for carrying babies are two long textiles woven on a back-strap loom. Both textiles are stitched together along a side to form a large square textile. The textile is opened into a square and then one corner is taken diagonally across the cloth to meet is opposite corner–forming a large triangle.

The baby is placed in the center of the triangle with its head facing out on the hypotenuse. The two ends to each side of the baby are then pulled to meet over the baby. They are tied in a square knot.

Right over left and left over right.

The knot is then pulled tight.

Now, the right angle part of the triangle, is pulled up and folded over the baby’s feet. This secures the baby in the blanket.

Lift the sling up supporting the baby with one arm. Slide your left arm through the sling. This will enable your right arm to be free for other tasks while you are carrying the baby. Place the knot over your right shoulder. This is for carrying the baby in front. This is particularly useful for breast feeding or holding the baby while sitting down.

If you would like to carry the baby on your back, de la espalda, then grab the knot with one hand and place your other arm under the baby. While rotating the knot forward over your breast, rotate the baby backward over your back.

You may then want to untie your earlier knot and pull the baby tight against your back. Then retie your knot very securely.

Right over left, and left over right. Tighten securely.

And here you have it. My happy, secure baby. Or, well pillow.

WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CARY AN INFANT OR CHILD BASED ON THESE DIRECTIONS.

Our Savvy New Natural Latex Mattress & Wool Topper

So we did it. Everything came together amazingly. The day after we got home from trying out our first natural latex mattress in the store, we did a nationwide craigslist google and found one for sale two and a half hours from home. It was quite serendipitous. Usually there are only a couple for sale at any given time across the whole United States, so it was awesome to find one so close to home.

It had been listed for a month. We sent out the email on Sunday, got a reply later that day, and agreed to make the drive back up to a half-hour past Madison to pick it up the next day.

The lady we bought it from was particular. A stage ahead of my wife and I in life, she had two young children. She seemed to be in her early to mid thirties. She told us over the phone she was selling the mattress because had been looking for a new set of night stands to go in her bedroom and ended up buying a complete bedroom set that included a new king mattress.

She said she hadn’t been to impressed with her latex mattress. Her major complaints were that it was an inch too wide for the cover which made it bulge at the edges and that she wanted it to be firmer. After buying this king Savvy Rest, she’d gotten a natural latex twin Flobed for her son. She highly recommended buying from Flobed saying that the design of the mattress was seamless and that the company would do anything to make their customers happy. We definitely took note for the future but were happy to buy her Savvy Rest to do a little less damage on our savings.

Since we’d never slept on a latex mattress, we also hated to spend too much money in case we didn’t like it. Seeing as latex mattresses last decades and resist dust mites, we didn’t mind buying a used one from a meticulous person.

We lucked out again because the firmness levels were the exact same configuration we determined to satisfy us the most at the store the day before. It had firm and medium dunlop topped by a three inch layer of soft talalay. Too crazy lucky. By waiting a day and striking an incredible vein of luck our natural latex mattress set us back $780, counting the gas it cost to go get it, opposed to the $2500 it would have cost for a new queen. We were pleased. 

Online, a lot of people mention the sweet-latex smell that natural latex mattresses give off can be quite bothersome. Unfortunately, I have to agree. Three and a half hours in the car with the latex made me nauseous. Now that the bed’s been together for a couple of weeks, the smell seems to be a little more subdued but still ever-present. The smell is definitely one ironic downside to going natural.

The first week we had it home, we had to have it on the floor. We lacked a proper platform bed. I prowled craigslist again. I didn’t have too much hope and came close to just buying a simple wood platform bed from Bedworks of Maine. I couldn’t quite justify the $699.95 for such a simple bed, especially when I wasn’t crazy about the look. The fact that it was going to take a few weeks to get the bed from them, gave me the necessary faith to find one quicker and cheaper on craigslist.

Four days later, bingo! I found one in Milwaukee. My baby and I hit the road and headed east. We picked up an interlocking platform bed frame for $300, including the gas and Mexican food it took to pick it up. It’s got a pretty neat design. It doesn’t require any tools to put together and is pretty solid.

We put the cotton/wool shell on the platform frame and added our latex layers. We waffled each layer into place as shown on the Savvy Rest website and low and behold they fit perfect. They definitely need to be waffled into place. It seems to compress the latex into place over the whole surface area of the bed. If you don’t waffle the layers, you end up trying to push in the sides, forcing the edges to bulge. Add the top of the shell, zip it up all around and you have yourself a diy mattress.

When we woke up each morning for the first week, we felt like someone had snuck in our room and beat us all over. Every last muscle in our backs and legs were sore. My back, however, didn’t hurt like it did with the old mattress, which was a plus. But we sure were sore. I think the latex supports the body differently, so our bodies had to do some muscle rearranging. It got better and we were sleeping pretty good, but needed a softer top to the mattress. I don’t know how it wasn’t firm enough for the lady we bought it from but it sure is firm to us.

It was back to craigslist, for a wool topper. We tried a wool mattress topper at the store when we tried out the latex mattress, and thought it felt damn good. I found a very nice one a guy was selling along with his wool comforter out in Portland. I shot him and email and then called and asked him if he could ship it to me in Illinois if I paid him in advance via Paypal. He said he didn’t see why not if I didn’t mind the cost of shipping.

He’d had it less than a year and was moving back to Florida where he was from and said he wouldn’t be needing them there. He didn’t have any pets, so it seemed like a go for us. A week later, we got our new wool topper in the mail.

We got it on the bed and my wife laid sprawled out in bliss. The wool really does feel nice. New that sucker is $830 and the wool comforter is $420. We got both for $515. Definitely not cheap, but we figured we were still under budget.

We added a thick Suite Sleep organic cotton mattress protector to cover the wool topper and latex mattress below. It and some simple white sheets were the only things we bought new. I’m surprised we bought it, seeing as it was $190, but thought it’d be our mental insurance guarding the money already spent.

So that’s it. We have our natural latex bed and wool topper that’d been in the mental works since Young House Love put the idea in our heads back in ’09. So far so good. We like it, it’s different, but we’ll see how it goes over time. Here’s to a good night’s rest, no matter the mattress.

Meeting Our First Dunlop/Talalay Latex Mattress and A Symphony of a Sunset

So my wife and I went up to Madison two weekends ago to do a little research on getting a new mattress. We’d been fantasizing about getting a natural latex mattress since my wife and I read a blog post three years ago of a young couple who wrote about, and then revisited, how much they loved their new natural dunlop latex mattress. We thought it was time to check one out for ourselves.

Natural latex is supposed to be really supportive, last a really long time, not release Volatile Organic Compounds–as petroleum based mattresses do–and not retain the body heat of synthetic latex mattresses. They are made from curing white milky liquid of the rubber tree into either dunlop latex or talalay latex.

I’d been researching them online and it seemed like a lot of people were pretty happy with them. The downsides I found were the cost and the odor. The cost for a queen starts around $2500 and apparently natural latex gives off a rather strong sweetish latex smell. Some say there is no odor, other say it goes away, and others say it doesn’t.

In Louisiana we’d been sleeping on a sketchy mattress that we bought of craigslist knowing we were most likely only going to be there a couple of years and didn’t have much money. Back here we’ve been sleeping on my wife’s double mattress from adolescence. It has a terrible permanent sink in the center of it. A good night’s rest is impossible.

So to Madison it was to try one out for ourselves. The sales people were kind and helpful. We took our time and tried out a number of different mattress firmness configurations. The most comfortable configuration was a layer of dunlop firm on the bottom, followed by a layer of dunlop medium, and then topped with a soft layer of the talalay latex. Online, they say to order the layers of the mattress softer than you’d think you’d like. I like a firm mattress, so I was surprised to find one of their softest combinations to be plenty firm for me. I can confirm: definitely err on the side of soft.

In fact, the softest possible layer topping the mattress left it even a bit too firm for me. When they added the 4″ think wool mattress topper to the bed, that’s when we were really talking. The wool made it the perfect supportive yet soft bed.

We were sold. On the mattress at least. We weren’t quite sold on spending the money, if there was any way around it. We decided to wait on making the purchase. Maybe we’d do some scouting on craigslist now that we knew it was something we wanted.

 

We drove the two hours back home right through a symphony of a sunset. We were surprised to see a wind farm had gone up in Stephenson Co., IL since we’d moved to Louisiana. I was offended to see the giant robotic force invading the landscape.

But as we got closer and the sun sunk into it’s magenta bath, the light silhouettes of the turbines worked in concert with the fields and sky. The sight was suddenly more beautiful than offensive. In that moment, I saw how they too might become a comforting symbol of land and home.

Madison’s Got It’s Thai

So my wife and I were up in Madison, WI last weekend for her to take some graduate tests. We got a chance to do a little hanging out and exploring. I got to check out about every tropical fish pet store the city had to offer and she got to thoroughly enjoy her massive, reasonably-priced Frugal Muse bookstore.

While we were in Madison we thought we’d scout the place to try our hand at finding a hidden gem in a pretty trendy town. I had my doubts but ended up hitting the jackpot. On urbanspoon I found Suwanasak Thai Cuisine, a place that’d only been open since March with 12/12 likes, no reviews, and one dollar sign indicating most entrees are under $10. This told me it was probably as authentic as it gets, and we wouldn’t be paying for any pretense, which is nice every now and again.

So this place is it. It’s mostly carry out with a couple of tables to wait at while the food’s being cooked or eat at when it’s ready. The wait’s twenty to thirty minutes, but it’s a nice wait. Between the gap in cloth curtain separating the dining area from the kitchen one can watch the whole family work feverishly together preparing the orders while speaking Thai.

I only know enough about Thai food to know that I love it. Though I hope to one day spend some time in Thailand letting my taste buds indulge me on a culinary orgy, I imagine this food’s about as close as it gets to approximating what I’ll find. My wife got the pad see ew gai and I got a squid stir fry. They were both awesome and both had some amazing spices I’d never seen before.

I was impressed. Anyone who checks out Suwanasak Thai Cuisine will not be disappointed. In fact, I imagine, just about everyone who tries it will be scheming to get back before they finish their meal.

Suwanasak Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Summer Froyo In The Berg

So Galesburg, Illinois is one of currently struggling midwestern towns that had formerly been brought to glory by the railroads. What distinguishes it from other railroad towns is that in Galesburg you can set your clock to the many trains that still bisect the city day and night.

Though the town’s reinvention remains uncertain as it struggles to survive in a post-Maytag era, Galesburg has more than a couple things going for it.  In addition to being the birthplace of the American poet Carl Sandburg and home to Old Main, the only remaining structure from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it also claims a handful of great fooderies. One of our favorite is the seasonal frozen yogurt stand we’ve been pinning for   for the last three years. Coming back from a wedding in southern Illinois a weekend or so ago, we had the lucky chance to nab a couple cones at our little Kastle Kreme.

Whatever the flavor, chunks are speckled throughout, giving the cone texture, body, and flavor. Though lighter and smoother than ice cream, you wouldn’t guess it’s yogurt. And a whole cone leaves you full.

My wife lights up for peppermint. And no peppermint makes her light up better than the beautiful little flakes of peppermint throughout the smooth, creamy, tasty peppermint froyo at Kastle Kreme. In the pic above it doesn’t look like much, but it is. Other places would add the artificial color necessary to signal to your eyes what your taste buds are in store for, but this place serves it it up as-is. And as-is is pretty amazing.

I love the berry. Be it the raspberry in the top picture or blackberry or pineapple, all boast beautiful chunks of fresh fruit mixed right in the machine and twisted into the cone. Whenever we have the rare pleasure of finding ourselves down in The Berg, we enjoy a little froyo at Kastle Kreme.

Kastle Kreme on Urbanspoon

Louisiana Plate Lunch Mecca


So, growing up in the midwest, I’d been accustomed to school and work lunches consisting of not much more than a cold cut or a PB&J. On my own, I’d grown to like taking left overs from the previous night’s supper for lunch at work. It was, at least, a step above a cold cut.

Louisiana, however, had me one-upped. There, along with the south more generally, seem to be the last remaining hold-out of the sit-down hot lunch. In the south, food and rest often take precedent to work. To say things are laid back, would be an under statement.

My wife and I soon learned of the plate lunch phenomena. Leave work with your colleagues around lunchtime and come back an hour later. Or leave and come back with stacks of styrofoam to-go containers for yourself and everyone else. Though we forwent the ritual during the week to save money and heath by packing our own lunches, one weekend, outside of Beaux Bridge, we managed to enjoy the best plate lunch place I can imagine. Period. We spotted the above white sign, and knew we had to stop. We found Glenda’s Creole Kitchen definitely tops the who’s who of southern creole cooking.

So the hot lunch is alive and well in the south. It remains largely the last holdout in the nation practicing the tradition of the hot lunch.  The southern hot lunch phenomenon was recently chronicled in an episode of the NPR radio program The Splendid Table. Feel free to click on the above link for their take on it.

We pulled in five minutes after two. Coming up to the door a kind middle aged lady opened the door and greeted us as if she’d been expecting us and was glad to see us. “Are you Tony?” she said. After the initial confusion, we learned Tony’s loss was our gain. Where we otherwise would have been there after close, we were able to buy the phone-in order Tony hadn’t picked up.

Every day has a set menu. They make large batches of two or three dishes, sides, and desserts. The hours are from 10:30 am to 2 pm but when the food is gone, Glenda’s done. Amazing business model. Amazing food. We were there on a Sunday and Sunday means BBQ. I had the BBQ stuffed brisket, my wife the BBQ half chicken, and we both got another chicken for the road.

The dirty rice was so rich and tasty. The creole flavor’s so foreign to my tongue. It was reminiscent of the bahamian rice we’d had on vacation the year before. Whatever mashed animal parts and seasons make there way into that rice are heavenly. The cornbread stuffing was good, too.

The brisket and the chicken were delicious. The brisket and the rice went well together. Juicy, tender, and tasty. I’m now scheming how I can make it back every day of the week to get to enjoy the whole menu. Only problem is, it’s a thousand miles further.

Glenda's Creole Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Our Not-So-Camping Experience at Wyalusing State Park

So my best friend from high school and his wife live up in Minnesota and went to a woodsy far northern university for college. They are outdoorsy and do some pretty serious camping on their time off with their old college friends.

When we knew we were moving back from Louisiana, I gave him a call to suggest we plan a weekend this summer for my wife and I to go camping with them. They had a pretty tight schedule so it worked out that the weekend after we moved up here was the best time for them. So up to the Wyalusing State Park it was.

I was excited to see the Native American effigy mounds and the view from the top of the five hundred foot high palisades overlooking the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.

We all arrived at 11pm on a Friday. I soon learned that when I suggested we should go camping together, I hadn’t really meant camping per se. But camping we were.

My wife and I had a never-opened two person tent she bought in college while thinking to the day she would be backpacking alone in the mountains of Thailand. I had mentioned to my friend I was considering picking up an inflatable air mattress, but he made fun of me so I foolishly scrapped the idea.

There we were with our tiny tent, no mattress, no pillows–we had forgotten them–and a complete lack of ventilation that made it so hot we were practically naked on top of the sleeping bags trying to get to sleep. They, on the other hand, brought a 5+ person tent with plenty of ventilation, a double air mattress, and no intention of inviting us over.

Two of the most sweaty, miserable hours ensued. We shifted from position to painful position and vacillated through all levels of consciousness yet never reaching that most coveted of levels: sleep.

The weekend before we pulled an all-nighter driving 18 hours back to Illinois and I was not about to endure another all-nigher, knowing it would make it impossible for us to function the next two days.

This was precisely the moment I realized that when I had suggested we meet up to go camping, I had really envisioned staying in a hotel or couchsurfing. I couldn’t take it any longer. I told my wife it wasn’t worth it and asked if we could go to a hotel. She said she could make it through the night but said she thought she was going to be the first one to crack. I insisted, both because I was about to go insane and because I didn’t want the smoke building up in our tent from the surrounding campfires to upset her asthma.

We sent a quick text to their tent to inform them we were heading out to Prairie du Chien to find a hotel and would be back for breakfast.

Now although it felt like we were wussing out on our friends and had failed to impress them with our ruggedness, I suggested that while they live in the suburbs and occasionally go camping, perhaps we’d been the ones to live a little too rustically for the past three years. Their tent, I noted, was more bug proof than our shotgun house in Louisiana and I’m sure they’ve never had a bug in their house. I for one, felt we were okay.  Our friends, initially gave us a little flak, but understood and had a good time with us.

The weekend went on. We enjoyed hiking, the views, and the park’s observatory where we caught an impressive view of Saturn in the night sky. I learned that polaris will only be our north star for another 10,000 years or so. Not to worry, it will return as the north star in 35,000 years.

We ironically caught Prairie du Chien’s 2nd annual Cajun Fest and ended up making some great pizza sandwiches on the campfire with square sandwich pie irons. Take that marshmallow roasting sticks! So all in all, all’s well that end’s well.