thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Friday Photo: Troegs firkin tapping at Al’s Pizza and Subs, Enola

Troegs sales representative Jon Hoey

Imagine going out to dinner one evening and noticing a miniature beer keg resting on the bar.  As you watch, a gruff-looking man (because of course he’d have to be gruff) approaches the keg, raises a massive wooden mallet, asks the crowd for a countdown, then drives a spigot into the keg’s side with a spray of foam.  Once the applause dies down, this man will probably explain that he just “tapped the firkin,” or prepared the keg for serving.  A firkin is a traditional 10 gallon, 72-pint specialty keg that is filled with beer and conditioned with ingredients ranging from hops to spices to add an extra dimension of flavor.

Here, Troegs sales representative Jon Hoey taps a Hopback Amber Ale firkin at Al’s Pizza and Subs, Enola, on Wednesday, April 25.  The firkin had been dry-hopped with Pacific northwest cascade hops and conditioned for a minimum of one week.

Friday Photo: Midstate hot dogs recall Chilean street food

Santiago, Chile, 2011

An April 18 article in The Patriot-News profiled the mid-state’s zany hot dogs, just in time for warmer weather.   Referencing local hot dog varieties such as the gyro dog from DK Dogs, Harrisburg, with tzatziki sauce, feta cheese, tomatoes, and onions ($3.75); or the chihuahua dog from Dewz Dogz, Wormleysburg, with cheese, house chili, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream ($3.99), author Julia Hatmaker writes, “It’s what’s on [hot dogs] that counts. While one can’t go wrong with the usual mustard and relish toppings, sometimes you want something a little extraordinary.”

Chileans couldn’t agree more.  The photo above, taken in the capital city of Santiago, is of a stand featuring nothing but hot dogs.  Oh-so-naive, I had assumed that hot dogs only came two ways, 1) with a trio of mustard, ketchup, and relish, or 2) burnt.

Chile set me straight.  Hot dogs with avocado and mayonnaise (completos)?  No problem!  Hot dogs with sauerkraut? Why not?  An italiano, with tomato, mayonnaise, and avocado?  Why would you even ask?  And if the hot dogs at the stand in this photo didn’t suit you, you could visit the stand next door, or the seemingly-identical twenty other stands that lined this pedestrian street next to the Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s main square.  (Variety is the spice of life.)

What is remarkable about hot dogs is that they are portable as well as versatile.  Even when hot dogs are eaten over a paper plate at a picnic, they spend more time in your hands than out of them.  For Chileans, hot dogs are meal food, snack food, and night clubbing food.  I saw students eating them on street corners, parents feeding them to their children, grandparents buying one and an empanada to split.  In Chile, at least according to the article “A history of the completo,” hot dogs aren’t necessarily a cop-out meal — they are a labor of love.

I often don’t take hot dogs seriously, but after returning to America, the country did inspire me to do my first central PA hot dog review, profiling the deep-fried hot dogs from Arooga’s Grille House and Sports Bar. 

Chile’s hot dogs taught me the validity of traditions — especially of those that I do not understand.

Chilean youth eating hot dogs, 2011

Chilean youth eating hot dogs, 2011

Friday Photo: Little Amps’ ‘Cold Jar,’ Harrisburg, is a refreshing summer drink

Little Amps owner Aaron Carlson, 2012

‘Tis the season of clear plastic cups of iced coffee sipped with green straws.  However, this season, treat yourself to a coffee that is more than just cold.

Evoking the chilly haze of a rustic icebox, Little Amps’ “Cold Jar” ($3.75) is made in the tradition of an Italian caffe shakerato, an iced espresso that is often mixed with cream in a martini shaker.  Here, it’s a shot of roasted-on-the-premises espresso poured over ice, sprinkled with brown sugar, flooded with cream, and shaken vigorously in a pint Ball mason jar until thick and frothy — and served in the same jar.

So rich it’s nearly chocolatey, Little Amps’ “Cold Jar” shakerato is Italian elegance blended with those summer afternoons of canning cherries on my family’s farm.  Enjoy with one of Little Amps’ featured apple tarts, quiches, biscotti, or macroons by Short and Sweet Bakery, Lemoyne.

Little Amps
1826 Green Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102

Monday-Friday: 6:45am-2pm
Saturday: 8am-2pm

Encore! Home School Productions have appointment with death

Encore! Home School Productions, an independent theater group composed of home schoolers from across Central PA, will perform Agatha Christie’s “Appointment with Death” at Trinity High School in Lower Allen Township from April 19-22. The group’s 2011 performance, “First Impressions,” earned them three Apollo Award nominations, defining the group’s perseverance as an acting group and team. Click here to read more on

This article was first published in The Patriot-News on Friday, April 6, 2012.

Amber Emerson, Lewisberry (top left), discuss the plot with Austin Cassel, Hummelstown (left), and Forrest Davis, Palmyra (right), at Grace Chapel, Conewago township.

Honey Nut Cheerio Childhood

I stopped eating Cheerios somewhere around middle school.  This was because somewhere around this time, Post Foods released their Selects line of cereals, which included products with alliterative names like Cranberry Almond Crunch and Blueberry Morning. These cereals were chock-full of nuts and dried fruit and appealed to me much more than a mono-color cereal stuck on a single letter of the alphabet.  However, last week, I found myself standing in an aisle at Karns in Lemoyne with a glossy box of Honey Nut Cheerios in front of me.  At 21 ounces, it was the size of a small wall, the kind I used to hide behind when building cereal-box forts at the breakfast table, and it was a box that I hadn’t taken note of in years.  I threw the box triumphantly into my cart and marched toward the check-out counter.

Who knew that Cheerios float on the top of your milk instead of sinking to the bottom like granola?  I do.  I used to pretend that Cheerios were little inner tubes, thrown into a milk pool for a colony of children who lived in my cereal bowl.  As a five-year-old, I ate the Cheerios in layers, from the powdery dry Cheerios on the top of the mound, unspoiled by milk, to the moist rings beneath that held up the weight of the others.  These Cheerios sopped up milk like sponges and clung to the bowl’s edges until you broke them apart with a spoon.  Once I had eaten the Cheerios down to a single layer, I’d marvel at the difficulty of separating one Cheerio from the others, for in my milk colony, one Cheerio needed to stand solo on Sunday mornings because he was preaching. I’d eat all the O’s around the preacher and then note how the last remaining O would scoot naturally to the edge of the bowl, driven by hidden milk currents or loneliness; then I’d eat him with a certain definitiveness before drinking the remainder of the milk and wiggling out of my chair to play.

Cheerios has recently dedicated a portion of their website to explain why children still love Cheerios, citing that the cereal is, among other things, a comfort food, a food to play with, and a family tradition.  I loved breakfast cereal, Cheerios included, because of imagination.  In my world, the big biscuits of Post Original Shredded Wheat that my Grandma Charles flaked apart and drizzled with honey were actually bales of hay.  (The cows on the family farm had packaged them up for us to eat as a sign of secret rebellion, and I was the only one who was noticed.)  Sifting flour over Chocolate Whacky Cake — one of the first Mennonite-inspired items I learned how to bake — I created a landscape of falling snow flecked with cocoa powder dirt that I then flooded with oil, vanilla, and vinegar, drowning all those who lived within.  Even after cleaning out paintbrushes into a glass of water that turned an odd shade of purple, I would carefully pour the liquid into the kitchen sink and wonder if the people who lived in my drain (they were imprisoned) would drink the water because they thought it was grape juice and die of poisoning. (They would have deserved it.)

But where has this imagination gone?  As a high school teacher, I push myself to be in touch with the way I used to feel as a child — the curiosities, the misunderstands, the aggravations — in order to better relate with my students, and I’m realizing my imaginative timeline in a way that I hadn’t sensed before: the me I’m trying to tap into (the one of hay forts and secret clubs) changed drastically around the time of lockers and junior high lunch.  Due to peer pressure, the need to become critical and logical, and the different commitments of a teenage life, it seems like a child’s active imagination shifts to something more internal, perhaps, or for some, disappears entirely — although I do vaguely remember pretending that my life was a movie up until high school.

“A Child’s Creative Mind,” a blog post written by Pamala Kinnaird, explains that imagination is a very important tool — it aids children in exploring their relationship with themselves and the world around them, allowing them to better understand their own likes and dislikes on a hypothetical level.  Through imagination, the mind’s ability to create something out of nothing seems to me to be deeply connected to an individual’s later ability to think outside the box, develop new solutions to old problems, and push boundaries.

But how do we, as adults, as teachers, tap into this?  Michelle, author of the blog “Scraps of My Geek Life,” presents one solution. “Where does our imagination go?” she writes.  “Do we lose our imagination as adults or are we just afraid to let it soar? I hope we are just afraid to let it soar because that means if I let myself think freely, all that great imagination I had as a kid will come flowing back to me.”

She taps into the idea that losing our childhood imagination is connected to fear.  We all need to see the world as attainable and to be able to distinguish fact from fiction.

But I still want to see Cheerios as inner tubes and Shredded Wheat as bales of hay. If imagination can’t start at breakfast, where will it?

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