Category Archives: Food

Like many organisms, the Bureau Chiefs occasionally eat food. Unlike many organisms, they write about it.

Tales of Culinary Madness: My Dinner With Lorelei

The “slow food” movement emphasizes careful preparation and choice of ingredients as a response to modern society’s self-destructive tendency towards instant gastronomical gratification. It’s a noble sentiment, to be sure, but there are many times when all one wants to do after a long day at work is to kick back on the couch, watch syndicated repeats of Gilmore Girls, and nosh on some nuke-and-forget delicacies while contemplating Rory’s astonishing resemblance to a Blythe doll.

(Creepy, isn’t it?)

When such occasions arise — 2 to 3 times a week, on average — I turn to the heat-and-eat cornucopia of my local supermarket’s prepared food aisle, where all manner of  food facsimilies can be acquired on the fly.  The best bang for one’s buck is the store’s iteration of popcorn chicken, sold in a repurposed smoothie cup for a quite reasonable $2.99.

Popcorn chicken is of the same culinary phylum as the clam “strips” served at most seasonal eateries along the New England coast — small slivers of meat used as an anchor for globs of seasoned batter and frying medium.  It’s a finger food, usually relegated to appetizer status, though with the proper accoutrements…

…like a tumbler of store-brand BBQ sauce, a can of Mello Yello, and a scale replica of a ’67 Plymouth GTX, it can serve as an entree unto itself.

The batter is acceptably flavorful, providing one finds “a shitload of black pepper and not much else” to be an acceptable flavor.  Those who expect their fried chicken product to have a degree of crispiness will be disappointed by the texture of the individual gobbets, as process of microwaving tends to make the meat a bit on the chewy side.  (I’m an old hand at the nuke-based bottomfeeding game, so meat that doesn’t have the texture and consistency of a grilled gummy bear raises suspicion.)

Despite some obvious limitations, Stop & Shop’s popcorn chicken does fulfill my basic requirements for crash-out fare:  It’s cheap,  it’s quick and easy to prepare,  it panders to the lower end of my palate, and — most importantly — it usually waits until Lauren Graham has finished with her witty rapid-fire banter before expressing its violent disagreement with my enteric nervous system.

Tales of Culinary Madness: Pink Turns to Blue

I spent a significant portion of my senior year of high school — a mythical time when Debbie Gibson electrified the nation’s youth and acid wash jeans were the height of fashion — tooling around Boston’s northwestern suburbs with my buddy Damian in his dinged-up subcompact beater. Most of these trips were videogame-related, made with the intent of seeking out and sampling the latest home console and coin-op offerings. One of our regular stops was a baseball and “non-sports” card shop in North Woburn that did a brisk side business selling and renting game cartridges.

Not only did the card store have a Magic Sword arcade cabinet, it also had an ample stock of the high fructose comestibles favored by the establishment’s regular clientele. These preludes to pancreatic failure ranged from familiar favorites to more enticingly exotic fare… Hubba-Bubba Bubble Gum Soda.

It was exactly what its name suggested — a carbonated soft drink that vaguely approximated the taste and color of its hyper-sugary chewing gum namesake — and I embraced its dubious charms with the earnest vigor of a true afficionado of trash cuisine.  (My teenage drift into punk rockerdom merely reinforced and validated my long-held bottomfeeding habits.)

This love between man and beverage was not meant to last, however.  Within the space of a few short months, the card shop closed down, I lost touch with Damian after he became a LARPer, and Wrigley’s discontinued production of Hubba-Bubba Bubble Gum Soda.   Despite the wistful realization that I would never again partake of the magical pink elixir’s unique combination of artificial flavors, I kept its memory alive in my heart…mostly as an anecdotal smart bomb guaranteed to nauseate weaker stomachs than my own.

Long after I had resigned myself to a world free of bubblegum-flavored sugar water, I happened to stumble across something unexpected in the “healthy” (read: “same shit, higher price”) section of my local supermarket’s soft drink aisle…

…a sale display well-stocked with bottles of Jones Soda Company’s “bubble gum soda.”

Blue bubble gum soda,” to be precise, and the beverage does sport a striking shade of azure that falls somewhere between the Blue Devil and the metallic finish of a 1971 Plymouth GTX.  While the soda’s hue adds a nice level of visual pizzazz, it may create conflicts with the imbiber’s deeply embedded parental instructions concerning the important differences between Windex and Zyrex.

So how does Jones’s product stack up against my hazy and overfond memories of Hubba-Bubba Bubble Gum Soda?   Terms like “better” or “worse” tend to become pointless when nostalgic versimillitude is the standard.  Jones’s bubble gum soda is certainly of a higher quality than Hubba Bubba ever was, but it’s also a very different beverage which just happens to share a similar flavor.

Hubba Bubba was carbonated to a fault, to the point where imbibing more than a sip at a time could lead to pulling a painfully caustic noser.  It was also fairly dry in nature, an experience akin to guzzling a lukewarm can of store brand ginger ale.  In contrast, Jones’s blue stuff is milder in terms of fizziness and richer (i.e. “more syrupy”) in terms of flavor.

The ardent fan of chewing gum flavored soft drinks (a demographic of one) really isn’t in a position to be picky.  Jones’s Blue Bubble Gum Soda does a pretty good job in delivering the “if only Dubble Bubble came in liquid form” goods, even if it falls — through no fault of its own — slightly short of my rose-tinted mark.

My memories of drinking Hubba-Bubba Bubble Gum Soda involve being seventeen years old and playing co-op River City Ransom with Damian on his NES.  My (much more recent) memories of drinking Jones’s Blue Bubble Gum Soda involve taking a long pull from an ice cold bottle and painfully realizing there was going to be a root canal in my near future.  That’s pretty much the definition of a “no contest” decision…

…even if the latter was a direct consequence of the former.

Tales of Culinary Madness: The Shortest Ribs of All

As a child I was a paste eater.  As an adult I lived an entire year on nothing but caramel bullseyes and canned ice tea. I have consumed many things in my lifetime; some of which even bore a remote resemblance to actual food.

The purpose of this occasional feature (besides getting that Ken Lowery dude off my back) is to chronicle my ongoing experiences with the lower end of the gastronomic spectrum, and share the pain and pleasure (but mostly pain) with you, my humble readers.

I’m going to kick off my adventures in bottomfeeding with a recent and unexpected favorite of mine.  When fellow Bureau Chief Benjamin Birdie informed me that Burger King had introduced BBQ ribs to its menu, I was both horrified and intrigued – so much so, that I headed down to the local franchise in order to experience these delicacies firsthand.

I went in expecting something along the lines of the McDonald’s McRib — extruded meat product pressed into vaguely rib-like shapes — but what I got were bona fide ribs-on-the-bone…

…albeit rather small ones, as illustrated by this visual comparison with a 1971 Dodge Demon Hot Wheels car:

Despite diminutive size of the individual ribs, the meat was tender, flavorful, and lacked the high levels of gristle and fat I’ve come to associate with cheapjack ribs.  Granted, it’s nothing that will impress any connoisseur of authentic BBQ cuisine, but what are the odds such an individual is going to hit a Burger King drive-thru in search of his or her carnivorous fix?

My only real issue with the BK rib meal package is its lack of more appropriate side options in place of the customary fries or onion rings.  I’m not certain I’d really want to experience the chain’s take on cole slaw or simulated cornbread product, but it would have been nice to have that choice to make.