His/Her/Their Cheeseburger

More than a month ago, I was going out to a restaurant to watch the Super Bowl because I don’t have cable in my apartment. This place was recommended by a friend of mine and since I’ve discovered other great places through him, I thought I’d give this place a try.

So I sit down at a table, after the host asks if I want to sit at the bar, and I look at the menu. My friend had recommended I get a burger with feta cheese, so I order that. My burger comes to my table and I bite into it.

It’s dry. It’s not juicy. The flavor is coming from the feta cheese and what the hell did I just bite into?

There were cucumbers on my burger.

This is why you should read menus thoroughly.

I finished the burger and then ordered two rounds of fries before leaving early after having an allergic reaction to something. But the burger was incredibly disappointing.

Prior to December, I have had to abstain from consuming beef and pork because my body was having a hard time digesting it. Come Christmas, my mother makes rouladen, which has beef and pork and I have no problem digesting rouladen. As a result, I’m pretty sure I had beef or pork five days in a row while I was in Milwaukee on winter break.

While in Milwaukee, my family went to Major Goolsby’s, which is a well-known sports bar on the same block as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel building. I look at the menu and decide to order the Major Cheeseburger. The Major Cheeseburger isn’t anything fancy, but it’s a good old-fashioned burger. The patty is thick and juicy, greasy even. The cheese is melting and, importantly, the burger is warm. So now, whenever I go to Major Goolsby’s, I order the Major Cheeseburger because it’s a good burger. (Also, if you ever want to watch a Packers game in Milwaukee, go to Goolsby’s. The energy in there during a game is amazing.)

I haven’t been to all of the burger places in Chicago, although my friends did give me some suggestions on Facebook a while ago. I don’t see anything wrong with a gourmet take on anything; I liked the grilled cheese at grahamwich. You just have to do it correctly. So, for starters, no cucumbers on cheeseburgers. Cucumbers have a cool, refreshing taste to them, which clashes against a warm, juicy burger.

Although I have yet to go to the location in Andersonville, I love the Meaty Mushroom Burger at Hamburger Mary’s, which I’ve only ever been to in Cedar Rapids. The burger is large enough that it’s easier to slice it in half to eat it. It has mushrooms, a patty, their special sauce, which always gets on my fingers; and cheese. It’s also a burger that works with both a beef patty and a veggie patty. I once took a friend there before going to a play at Theatre Cedar Rapids’ Lindale location* and she ordered the burger with a veggie patty. Being a vegetarian, she was in love with the sandwich and remarked to me at one point that “It actually tastes like food!” Seriously, if you can make a burger that tastes great even with a veggie patty, you win.

Cheeseburgers can have lots of dressings on them. But like with any food dish, you have to work on how the flavors go together. There’s a reason why a slice of cheddar cheese on a beef patty worked so well. It tasted good.

*The Hamburger Mary’s in Cedar Rapids is across the street from where Theatre Cedar Rapids’ Lindale location was. As a result, it was a great pre- or post-show meal.

The Perils/Joys of Being Allergic to High Fructose Corn Syrup

Back in early November, I had picked up some Toaster Strudels at the grocery store. I thought that they would be great to eat and I hadn’t had any in a while. The morning after I picked up two boxes of two different varieties, I put one in my toaster, put frosting on it, ate it and headed off to a lecture at the Newberry Library.

I then spent half of that lecture in the bathroom, feeling absolutely miserable. I headed back to my apartment, cancelled my tickets for the play I was supposed to see that afternoon, and stayed home, assuming it was the pizza I ate at a (non-alcoholic) party at DePaul. The next day, I had another Toaster Strudel (the wildberry, I think) and had the same reaction, meaning I missed one of my lectures and only went to my second lecture of that day.

I then had an appointment with my wonderful internist to check-up on my condition after I had been sick for a month. I told her about what had happened and she looked up the ingredients online.

“Do you normally not do well with high fructose corn syrup?” she asked.

“Not really, but it’s never this bad,” I replied.

She then told me to cut out high fructose corn syrup from my diet and eat probiotic yogurt. I have been trying to follow her suggestions as well as I can. I eat probiotic yogurt either everyday or every other day and as a result, I can now eat pork and beef, which used to cause gastrointestinal problems for me.

The high fructose corn syrup thing is a bit harder.

For those of you curious, I cannot consume the following: Heinz Ketchup (unless it’s organic), Oreos, Toaster Strudels, Pop Tarts, Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Ice Cream, some jams, various breads, and popular sodas, except for the throwback soda and Sierra Mist (THANK YOU, PEPSI!). I have to check the ingredients labels on everything I buy, unless I go to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, where I’m now buying most of my groceries. And even when I pick up groceries at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods I still check the ingredients list.

So now when I go out to eat, I’m more prone to ordering pasta salads instead of french Fries simply because I can’t put ketchup on my fries unless I know it’s organic. (Although a really good french fry probably doesn’t need ketchup.) I now drink water or tea when I go out to eat, although if I’m having brunch, I’m probably having tea with my meal anyway. I even had to ask at grahamwich if the sodas were made with pure cane sugar to be able to have soda with my sandwich.

I even carry Benadryl with me because I can’t always know what’s in something I’m consuming. In short, the allergy is an inconvenience in more ways than one because things I loved (see: Cherry Garcia) I can no longer have.

But I’ve discovered other wonderful things.

Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee makes a root beer that is made with maple syrup that tastes amazing and has no high fructose corn syrup. Because of how wonderful it is and my inability to find it in Chicago, my mother brought a 12-pack of the root beer with her about a month ago. I now go to Whole Foods more often and try different things when I pick up items I didn’t/couldn’t get at Trader Joe’s. My favorite item that I’ve discovered so far are Joe-Joe’s, which are the Trader Joe’s store-brand version of Oreos. The cream for the Joe-Joe’s is made with real vanilla, and that’s what actually makes it stand out. I could list every amazing thing I’ve discovered, but that’s a different blog post. The nice thing about eating natural and organic items is that they taste better and fresher. Also, the organic apples sitting on my table are making my apartment smell quite nice.

Is my allergy annoying? Yes. Does it mean I’m starting to eat healthier? Yes. I’m actually preparing more things and eating less processed foods at the moment. And, as my internist told me today, it’s actually not that bad that I’m allergic to high fructose corn syrup since it’s not a good thing to be consuming. As I learn to get used to it, it’s something that I’ll learn to embrace even more.

Food and Memories

Behold: a grilled cheese sandwich.

A few years ago, I was visiting my grandparents in Southern California with my sister. One day, my grandfather had decided that him, my sister and I would visit Chinatown in Los Angeles. However, he needed to do something before we took the Metrolink into Los Angeles and my sister and I spent time in Downtown Upland.

After looking at the various shops, we became hungry and decided to walk into a place called Deli Zone. We decided to order a root beer float and a grilled cheese sandwich, which was swiss cheese on sourdough bread.

Sitting outside, we took sips from the float and consumed the delectable sandwich. After this trip, I then tried to find a grilled cheese on sourdough bread that came close to the taste of the one I had at Deli Zone. So far, the closest I can get is one that I make in my own kitchen using sourdough bread from Trader Joe’s and swiss cheese from anywhere.
I identify as a native Californian and adoptive Chicagoan. I always felt out of place in Iowa and spent at least 11-12 of the years I lived there wishing I was back in California. For me, any time I eat a grilled cheese sandwich, it brings a nostalgic bliss from being reminded of Southern California, which I would move back to if I didn’t have to drive. The same thing goes with eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with Knott’s Berry Farm Boysenberry preserves. The latter has resulted in me searching every grocery store in Chicago that I even stand outside of waiting for the bus to see if they carry Knott’s Berry Farm Boysenberry preserves because my local grocery store doesn’t. (I eventually did find it, unfortunately it costs as much as a box of the tea I buy. But it’s worth it.)

Because of what those foods remind me of, I find preparing and consuming those dishes to be very comforting. After I’ve had a tiring day of research, lectures and homework, sometimes I just need a grilled cheese sandwich, even if it’s 90 degrees outside and the air conditioner in my apartment is on full blast.

And because of my mother’s cooking, various foods remind me of my mother or of home, such as marzipan candies or apfelstrudel or latkes. (I’m not Jewish, but when teaching my sister and I about Jewish holidays and traditions, my mother made latkes, complete with applesauce.) I would assume that if I ate homemade tortillas or hamantaschen, I would be reminded of cooking in the kitchen with my mother.

Similarly, when I eat out, certain foods remind me of good times. Crème brûlée at Lockwood makes me think of the lighting design for Spring Awakening, which I gushed over while consuming a crème brûlée at that restaurant. I associate food at Ann Sather, particularly the cinnamon rolls, with good times because anytime I’ve ever been to Ann Sather since my preliminary visit has been with friends or family and I’ve always enjoyed being with those people. When I eat at Mexican restaurants in Chicago, I tend to see if they have fish tacos because I also associate that with happy memories in my mind.

There are certain things that trigger memories of events. They can be as simple as someone mentioning a word or phrase or an action a person does. But the scents and tastes of food and their triggers are currently something that’s fascinating me.

What are some foods that you associate with memories?