Find a grocer (FBC1)

My mom is a relentless and talented cook, very creative and able to stretch short budgets into long meals. She was raised in Germany during WWII and still carries a “waste not want not” sensibility. Food was nourishment but always delivered with interest and as a social thing for our family. When we traveled to different regions of the U.S., I learned it is fun to sample the new things I might encounter there—often unheard of, usually enjoyed, sometimes best forgotten.

I became an adventuresome sampler. Perhaps my favorite such surprise was a New England dessert called Indian pudding. I had it in a sandwich shop in Vermont and it slayed me. November in my house now is not certified until I’ve made Indian pudding for the family. I’ve added my recipe to the Recipes discussion.

Indian pudding
Indian pudding: My oh, my. It’s served piping hot, tastes a lot like pumpkin pie, and has a vanilla ice cream garnish. Photo: Elise Bauer,

After traveling a good amount as an adult and living in different regions of the U.S. and twice in England, I discovered that the best first thing to do when I go somewhere new is . . . visit a grocery store. Go shop for food where locals do their shopping. If you want to get a crash course in the basic parameters of a group’s foodways, go where they get their eats and look around.

Chinatown NYC streetscape.
China Town, NYC. (Photo: C. Antonsen)
This Chinatown open market shows the importance of fresh seafood in local foodways. (Photo: C. Antonsen)

In Chicago’s and New York’s downtowns, you’ll find small, cramped stores with an economy of high-interest items targeting those who live within a few blocks (see the featured image, above). In Germany, you’ll find a preference for mouth-watering baked goods and fresh meats. In England, the fare seems bland until you discover they sell beer in plastic litre bottles like we sell soft drinks. And in the American South: A better selection of biscuits (fresh and frozen) than anywhere else.

In the long run, I’ve discovered I am a foodie and enjoy experimentation. What I love best of all when away from home is “reading” how a community’s or region’s foodways grant us insights into what makes the locals tick. It comes as no surprise to me, then, that I find myself teaching a university-level foodways course.

Featured image info.: Inner-city groceries like Westside Market in New York often spill out onto sidewalks to draw passers-by into the incredibly maze-like warren of goods. (Photo: Grocery Headquarters)


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: