The evolution of the not dog

Chicago style hot dog

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My mom loved hot dogs.  When I was little, and we went to the park, she’d either bring our little hibachi grill and cook the hot dogs right there, or we’d buy them from the vendor who sat outside the park every day.  Later, as she grew older, and Chicago pretty much eliminated all street food I’d make hot dogs every couple of months and we’d sit down and share them, have a little convo about everything and nothing, the way you do when you and your mom are sharing food you both love.  It was nice.  I honestly think that’s the thing I love most about them.  They remind me of Mom.

So, fast forward to the present.  Glinda doesn’t like hot dogs, and I’m not crazy about the idea of downing enough nitrate-ridden encased meat to make buying a package worthwhile.  I found Yves Good Dogs, which are tofu-based, and I have to say they taste pretty much like the real thing.  There’s a difference in texture, the Yves dogs are softer, and there’s no snap when you bite into one, but on the whole the flavor is pretty close.

I’m a Chicago girl and grew up on the Chicago-style hot dog.  If you’re not from here, let me explain:  The Chicago-style hot dog begins with a poppy-seed bun.  Now I’m a great believer in tradition but this is one point where I can easily diverge from it.  I don’t really need the seeds; I can make do with a plain bun.  And then there’s the hot dog.  Everyone likes a different one and you won’t get any argument from me about which is better, though you might from other Chicagoans.  Chicago is home to the Vienna Beef Co., and Oscar Mayer was headquartered here for over a century giving both of them a bit of a hometown edge, though Oscar Mayer is owned by Kraft Foods now, and their dogs don’t really count as a hometown product anymore.  Don’t even ask most Chicagoans about faux hot dogs.  Just don’t do it.

On top of dog and bun we put the following:  yellow mustard, pickle relish (I tend to prefer pickle-colored relish, but neon green relish is quite popular here.), chopped onion, chopped or sliced tomato, a kosher dill spear, sport peppers and a sprinkle of celery salt.  Not for nothing is this hot dog referred to as “dragged through the garden.”  However, and this is important: You must never ever, under any circumstances, have ketchup on your hot dog.  I’m serious.  At best it marks you as a naif, a child of nature who must be gently but firmly corrected (or a tourist to be laughed at.)  At worst it can get you run out of town on a rail.

So you see my problem?  Here I am trying to get away from meat in general, and processed meats in particular, but I have this comfort thing going on with the Chicago-style hot dog, a dog so tradition bound that it’s hard to separate the eats from the experience.  Also I happen to like that combination of flavors.  So anyway I’ve been eating the Yves dogs Chicago style, and they’re not really bad, though they don’t really add much to the mix except protein.

So today I thought: If I’m mostly enjoying this hot dog, but the dog itself isn’t really adding anything to the experience, why not take it out of the equation and the bun?  I steamed a bun, squirted it with yellow mustard, and instead of the hot/not dog I laid the pickle spear along the fold.  Then I added generous amounts of onion and pickle relish, sliced tomatoes and a sprinkle of celery salt.  (No sport peppers in the house, alas.)  The result?  Tasty.  The pickle spear gave me back that snap I was looking for at the center of the pile, and the flavors were right.  There was a light smokiness that I missed but it wasn’t a huge deal for me.  In short, I think I  can live with this particular version of not dog.

I’ll still very occasionally get a hot dog when I’m out somewhere.  I’m really fond of the ones from Portillo’s.  And street vendors?  Any time, bubba, any time.  Yes, we’re getting our street food back.  Go Chicago!

The author enjoying a picnic with her mother, circa about 1960


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Birthday Wishes

foto tomada del sitio de chavela vargas el cua...

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I’m a day late, but a happy belated birthday to Chavela Vargas, the owner of what is one of the most amazing voices I have ever heard.  If you’re not well-versed in Latin music you might not know who I’m talking about, but you might recall hearing her singing La Larona in the film “Frida.”






There’s a birthday tribute to her today at Band of Thebes.

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Review: Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey

Cover of "Sandman Slim: A Novel"

Cover of Sandman Slim: A Novel

So imagine one day Mickey Spillane wakes up and decides to write a fantasy.  Could’ve happened, right?  In some alternate universe where magicians make deals with fallen angels and alchemists’ accidents lead to immortality?  I pretty much figure that he might have produced something very much like “Sandman Slim.”

We meet the protagonist, James Hickok, commonly called “Stark” as he’s escaping from Hell where he’s been held prisoner for eleven years for the amusement of the resident hellions.  The thing is, Stark’s not dead.  He isn’t a cursed soul who’s slipped back into the world of the living but rather a man who rubbed a lot of powerful people the wrong way, and got sold into slavery in what he refers to as “Downtown.”  In fact, Stark apparently can’t be killed, so when he returns to earth, determined to take his revenge, there’s not too much that can even slow him down, much less stop him. You’d imagine that would make him unstoppable and the story pretty darn short, but the truth is that he’s a man who is hungry to be human, to feel human things again, to forget the eleven years of slavery and get on with whatever sort of life he can manage.  And what slows him down most are the bonds of affection, and a sense that things aren’t quite what they originally seemed, that there was more to the deal that sent him to Hell than he ever imagined.

Kadrey has a clean noirish style that suits his subject matter, and Stark is far more than an avenging spirit or mindless killing machine.  He’s smart and thoughtful, and he makes mistakes.  The rest of the characters, including an alchemist who is Eugene Vidocq, the man who created the Sûreté — the French national security bureau — are mostly pretty well fleshed out and interesting.  The exception is the man Stark most wants to destroy, but as we see almost nothing of him through most of the book, and know him only by reputation and Stark’s memories, it’s not easy to get much of a handle on him.

I enjoyed the hell out of this book (Excuse the pun.) and am looking forward to reading its sequel.

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Wait… What?


Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I’m from the What the Hell Are You Talking About? Department, Ms Bellafante, and I’d like to talk to you about your recent NYT post about “Game of Thrones.”  You seem to be implying that most women couldn’t care less about this alternate universe, medievalesque fantasy series.  Indeed your derision for what you term “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” couldn’t be more clear, and you seem to think that the rest of  the XX chromosome crowd agrees with you.

What the hell are you talking about?  Most women I know are going to watch “Game of Thrones” tonight because they love a good fantasy, even the sword and sorcery type that you seem to disdain as fodder only for adolescent males.  Many of us are looking forward to it.  As for your comment “I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first,”  all I can say is that your world seems pretty narrow to me.  But then my friends and I don’t really join book clubs.  Most of us don’t really see the point.  We have more than enough opportunity to talk about the books and movies we love with each other either in person or online, by phone, in email.  We love all manner of fiction and non-fiction.  We are some of the most voracious readers you’ll ever meet and we love high fantasy, science-fiction, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, the new weird… well most speculative fiction, really.

I’m not sure you’ll understand any of what I’m saying here, and I’m sorry for that because it means you’re not in the company of some of the smartest, funniest, most creative women I know.  But then I doubt you’d understand any of us, either.  Your loss, Ms Bellafante.  And for the record, when Peter Jackson’s video about the production of “The Hobbit” hit the internet this week, every woman I knew rushed to watch it, and many of us wept with happiness.  I’m truly sorry you will never, ever understand that feeling.



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Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.

Scanned image of Barack Obama's Birth Certific...

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Birtherism is the new holocaust denial.  Birthers are the rockstars of the non-tinfoil conspiracy crowd, particularly now that The Donald has joined their ranks.  I presume that he’s done this to woo the lunatic fringe into voting for him in 2012 because I doubt Trump gives a rat’s ass where Obama was born.

Clarence Page’s column for today discusses this point, and also the mechanism by which this huge conspiracy might have taken place:  “Indeed, to make their fantasies bear any resemblance to reality birthers must conclude the entire Hawaii government has been in on the grand scheme for more than 50 years, plotting with superhuman abilities in the pre-Civil Rights Act 1950s to fake birth certificates and newspaper announcement in Hawaii for a half-African baby to someday be president.”

I can do that too.  Where was Donald Trump born?  He says it was New York but how do we know that’s true?  Sure there might be a birth certificate but how do we know that’s real and not manufactured?  I mean, he comes from a rich family, right?  Surely they could easily have bribed people into producing all that evidence just so Donald could someday be President.  I say he needs to prove to us that he has the qualifications to become President, and even if he does, I won’t believe that they’re not fake.  See how easy that is?  All you do is abandon all pretense of rationality and babble a little, and you’re a birther.

This is the same sort of addled thinking that the holocaust deniers engage in.  To believe that the holocaust is a conspiracy you’d have to believe that at a time when most of the world was at war, a bunch of Jews in Europe decided to get together and manufacture evidence that Germany was carrying out a program of genocide, not just on Jews but on literally dozens of other groups of non-Jews who had nothing at all in common with each other except that the Germans wanted to be rid of them.  Or, if you’re a denier, groups the conspirators added to the list of victims for their own insidious and incomprehensible reasons.  Karen Silverstrim, from the University of Central Arkansas lists the non-Jewish groups that were also victims:

“The Holocaust was more than a Jewish event. Records kept by the Germans prove they exterminated millions of Communists, Czechs, Greeks, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mentally and physically handicapped, Poles, resistance fighters, Russians, Serbs, Socialists, Spanish Republicans, trade unionists, Ukrainians, Yugoslavians, prisoners of war of many nations, and still others whose identity may never be recognized. Their victims, according to one survivor of four different concentration camps, “were of some thirty nationalities, from Nepalese to Andorrans, and of a variety of racial and linguistic stocks ranging from Basques to Buriats and from Ladinos to Lapps”. When people were not immediately exterminated, they were sent to work and/or concentration camps. There the prisoners were divided into six penal categories and given patches on their clothing for identification purposes. Ordinary criminals were assigned green; political prisoners wore red; black was worn by asocials (slackers, prostitutes, procurers, etc.); homosexuals wore pink; conscientious objectors wore purple, and the Jewish people wore yellow.”

So at a time when the world was going insane, security was enormous and resources slim, this group of conspirators had the resources and the freedom to manufacture millions of pieces of evidence, build faux death camps and fill mass graves with… well  I don’t know where the bodies came from.  Were they sneaking into the cities during air raids, risking their own lives to steal bodies to throw into mass graves?  Or is it possible that the American soldiers who liberated those faux camps were in on the conspiracy?  Did they lie about what they’d seen?  Was there enough money left over after years of war and the engineering of all this false evidence to buy off hundreds of G.I.s? Or perhaps the soldiers were in on the conspiracy from the start.  Perhaps Hitler was a nice man with a funny mustache who only wanted to live peacefully, who never invaded Poland or Czechoslovakia or Russia, who just wanted to sit unter den linden and become a Bodhisattva.  Maybe the conspirators framed him and the kindly German people for the whole war!

Of course this still begs the question of what was the purpose of manufacturing the holocaust.  There had to have been some motivation to try to frame Germany for these crimes, right?  Nobody was doing it for grins and giggles.  What would the conspirators gain?  When someone can come up with reasonable answers for all these questions, I might sit down and listen. When someone can come up with  a reasonable explanation why the Hawaiian government would engage in a conspiracy over the course of half a century just so some Kenyan kid could become President, I’ll be happy to…  No wait, I will never be happy to listen to any sort of explanation for either situation.  I have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of bigots try to make their prejudice look respectable.

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Looking in the mirror and seeing warts

I’m a member of a forum that discusses local issues.  I’m an active member; I talk a lot about a lot of things.  Today someone posted something which was not only kind of stupid, it was clearly:  I’m-not-racist-I’m-just-pointing-out-that-these-people-were-______ (fill in with race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion of your choice) and I called him on it.  Not in so many words, but rather I asked first what the exact nature of the problem was since he was quite vague about it, and second why he felt it was necessary to tell us the race of the people involved.  As I expected, he responded with hostility, but accused me of being hostile.  I pointed out that I had made no value judgment, I was simply asking for information, but since he brought up the subject I said bluntly that I disliked it when people cited  one of those aforementioned facts for no discernible reason.  Several other people took him on as well.  He has not responded.

Where are the warts? you ask.  Well, I’ll tell you: I’m disappointed that he didn’t respond.  Not overtly, not to the point where I’d pursue the issue without his participation, but in some hidden little part of my twisted soul I wanted a good fight tonight in which I knew I had the moral high ground.  See, it rained for much of the day and because of that I hurt.  My joints are achy and I have a sinus headache.  I want to punch someone, if only verbally.  It’s an ugly trait and I don’t like it in myself, but it exists, and I have to deal with it.

Unfortunately now I feel restless and dissatisfied, which means I have to go to bed with an a one-sided argument running through my head.  My devastating retorts remain unwritten, my disdain remains unexpressed.  Maybe I am hostile after all. Maybe he sensed that under what really was a perfectly reasonable request for more information I was expressing anger and trying to provoke him.  Part of me is embarrassed, part is glad.

And part of me wonders if I did more harm than good, or vice versa.  I’m not going to examine too closely all my motivations; it might make my headache worse.  But I have to wonder if you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, is it still right?  If you do it for mixed reasons — wrong and right — can you still think of yourself as a decent person?

I need aspirin and a good night’s sleep.