Something Wing Day this way comes (FBC1)

They say that a father’s deepest desire is to provide a better life for his children than he had. If that is the essence of parenting, I am hereby done. My two sons have grown up knowing the crusty, saucy, savory-sweet, hot, sticky, handheld messes that are Buffalo wings (capitalized because they originated in Buffalo, New York). Whether those my family enjoys come from a restaurant or are homemade, when we chow on this dish, it brings us together and fulfills us for a little bit. The ambience mostly sounds like we’re agreeing a lot but without any real conversation: Oh, yeah. That’s right. Mmmmm hmmmm. Yes.

We all have to have something to blame and resent our own parents for, right? I didn’t know Buffalo wings until I got to graduate school. That’s on my parents. Square. Honestly, I don’t get how I found meaning in my life as a younger person without them.

It was a muggy, gray summer night in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1990s, and my fellow folklore Ph.D. students and I hopped out of Jim’s car and walked to the restaurant. . . . The joint was known colloquially as BW-3 (for Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck, a story of its own and then another), now known as Buffalo Wild Wings. I found out while writing this entry that that Columbus location was the very first BW-3. Now the chain has more than 1,000 outlets—wings are big business.

Picture of the first Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck restaurant
The original Buffalo Wild Wings (and Weck), Columbus, Ohio. (Photo credit, below.)

Anyhow, we went in, and I had no idea what to expect. I’d never had anything remotely like Buffalo wings. It was crowded, freaky crowded. Jim and Larry and I ordered draft beers, and Larry ordered a basket of wings—fifty of them—with the traditional red-peppery hot sauce that characterizes Buffalo wings. That sounded like an awful lot. We drank, shout-talked, and had a great time while we waited for the food.

Then the wings came. Fifty of them. I discreetly took one and ate it. It was an unfamiliar but transcendently holy experience of flavors unlike anything I’d ever had or imagined. I could forgive my parents. They hadn’t put wings before me, but they’d sent me on that road that led to wings. Larry, Jim, and I chowed and laughed and had a ball. We finished the 50 wings with surprising ease.

Then came fifteen more with the hottest sauce they made. Our happy talk, taste for wings, and of course the beer had primed us perfectly for this next adventure. We knew we were real men for whom an oral death trap of fiery heat and destruction would be child’s play, a sort of dessert to top off Realmantime. Into my mouth went one fiery hot wing. That abruptly ended our dinner and our fun. Nope. No way. No Realmantime. Not that night. Not ever. Big mistake. Life is a series of lessons, and that was one of them.

Nowadays, my family and I eat wings out when we can and make them at home several times per year. We go with traditional sauce, spicy but fit for Smartmantime. It’s a family event that we all look forward to. Next Sunday’s Wing Day occasion is the Super Bowl, but that’s really just an alibi. We want wings. We don’t care about the Super Bowl teams this year. It’s a better world with wings on Wing Day at my house, whatever day it may be.

Restaurant photo source: http://www.citypages.com/news/buffalo-wild-wings-and-the-triumph-of-the-chicken-wing-6746668.

A small drink is for savoring

Years ago when I was in college, I was in a special singing group at the University of Illinois called The Other Guys. In one year, we sang a hundred or more shows in the Midwest, on the West Coast, and in Europe. It was an exhilarating time for the eight of us.

On a trip to the San Francisco area, we sang for a distinguished group of Illinois alumni and had a ball hobnobbing at the St. Francis Yacht Club on the bay. We felt like big shots. Although we had a sumptuous dinner there, I can’t for the life of me recall a single thing we had. The food was surely good but must have been unremarkable. We were among strangers.

What I do remember well, and it made a sizable impression on me, was a single shot of espresso.

The scene:

My best Other Guy friend, Mike, and I were hosted for two nights by a husband-wife pair of surgeons who lived on a swanky ridgeline overlooking the city and bay area. The first morning, we arose to find a lovely breakfast on a spare table facing an entire windowed wall. Beyond the glass were the city, the bay, and the distant mountains:

View of San Francisco from Diamond Heights
The view at breakfast was much like this.

The male Dr. M. (host) invited us to sit and produced a single shot of piping hot espresso for each of us and himself. They were presented in the little ceramic demitasses customary for espresso, each accompanied by a pair of sugar cubes and a sliver of lemon rind. Neither Mike nor I had ever tasted espresso, so Dr. M. gave us a tutorial:

First, twist the peel to break the cells and rub the oils on the rim of the cup. Check.

Second, sip the espresso carefully—it’s hot!

Third, hold a cube just so one corner contacts the surface of the coffee. Watch it leech upward to saturate the cube (fascinating). Decide what you want to do: either drop it into the cup or pop it into your mouth.

Finish what remains in peace and contentment.

In that way, we shared wonderful, warm conversation and learned a little bit about savoring—a strong, flavorful treat, a view, one’s companions, and an everyday moment that can be special every day. This was a big lesson for me which I try to employ as regularly as possible.

Pic of mocha maker
A good moka maker. Italians differentiate between moka and espresso.

FWIW, I don’t have an espresso machine (I’m holding out for a real one, a very expensive one). I do have an Italian mocha brewer. It’s an excellent and inexpensive stand-in. I’m still waiting to get that Diamond Heights view out my own window.

Food as reminiscence

Although consuming food is done in the moment, right now, mouth chomping and mind activated, all of us know that food connects with memory and emotions. Lots of you will recognize this place: Great American Donut Shop in Bowling Green, locally known and beloved as GADS. My family lived in BG for almost a decade while I was a full time professor in Folk Studies there. We have many happy memories in Bowling Green, especially since my two sons did a lot of their growing up there.

We get back to town every few years and visit WKU and colleagues, old friends, and return to some favorite haunts. Most of those favorites are food establishments, highlighted by Yuki and GADS. We always make sure to step into the tiny little retail floor of the donut shop to get the tasty treats. We all agree that, for us, they’re they best donuts anywhere. Are there better donuts by many different measures? Sure, but that’s valuing them according to specific criteria like sweetness, flavor, appearance, texture, what have you. On those grounds, we think GADS is pretty great, but it’s more than that.

GADS gives us the whole bundle: donuts we love and the familiar surroundings that hosted lots of happy times in our young family’s life. Going to GADS, we get lots more than yummy donuts. We get to remember and feel things that made us who we were when we were all younger . . . and when we all fit more easily at one of those small booths for four.

IMG_2017.jpg
Toby and Tris are a lot bigger now, but they still love their GADS.

Food is definitely about more than nourishing the body. It’s part of who we are and who we have been, and we can often summon that with a bite.