Jerel Says, ‘It’s a nice place to visit’; Tea

Nordic Lodge Entrance

It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

-Twilight Zone, ep. 28 ‘A Nice Place to Visit’

So there’s this great episode of Twilight Zone called ‘A Nice Place to Visit’. In it, a lifelong Twilight Zone Nice Place to Visitsmall-time crook finally has the law catch up with him after an attempted robbery, and after being shot by a cop, wakes up seemingly unharmed and in a bright white place, with a luxurious apartment, a gourmet meal, and a busy bustling casino. His guide, a mysterious figure named Pip, explains that this world was built entirely for him, and that anything and everything he could ever want would be provided for him. No one in the world is real, but they’re all meant to satisfy his every whim. He can eat whatever he wants whenever he wants, he lives in the most beautiful luxurious high end apartment, he can have any woman instantly fall in love with him, and no matter what he can never lose a single bet at the casino. Figuring this must be heaven and somehow he managed to get himself in despite how he’s lived his life, the man goes on to fully enjoy his seeming reward.

Of course, after about a month, he starts to grow bored. There’s no thrill without the possibility of loss. He no longer derives any joy from having his every whim instantly satisfied. He tires of the fake crowds, always cheering him on, always into him, always ‘on’. He tells Pip he’s tired of heaven, tired of this unsatisfying existence, and asks to be brought to ‘the other place’. And this is where and why this episode sticks out as one of my all-time favorites. This is where that signature Twilight Zone twist comes into play and you realize the horror of it all. Pip starts to laugh as the man struggled with the locked door trying to escape and says with self-satisfied glee, ‘Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!’

Ooh, that always gave me shudders. Now I was really young when I first saw that episode. Always wondered what could possibly be so wrong with getting all of your wishes to come true. How could having everything you’ve always wanted spread right in front of you be a bad thing?

Then, many many many years later, I was watching Travel Channel’s Buffet Paradise and there was a particular buffet that caught my eye because it was fairly close by in Rhode Island, and it seemed to me like the buffet straight out of my wildest dreams, serving and focusing almost solely on the things I loved the most.

So of course, on my way back home after two weeks in New England, I decided to extend the stay one extra day for personal reasons and finally take the opportunity to go to this buffet. I’d been dreaming of this place ever since I first saw the Buffet Paradise program back in 2013. I would often tell friends and family of it if the topics of New England, Rhode Island, or seafood ever came up. It was one of my goals to finally make this pilgrimage.

But it was on this journey that I finally understood the torture Valentine had to live through in A Nice Place to Visit. Because at the Nordic Lodge in Charlestown, RI you walk in thinking it’s heaven, but you crawl out feeling like hell.

Nordic Lodge Viking

Look into the cold, wooden eyes of the Devil

Words cannot describe my initial elation to finally be walking up the path to the Nordic Lodge. I couldn’t believe years of dreaming and yearning were finally about to be Nordic Lodge Lakefulfilled. The location is absolutely stunning. The restaurant is a giant wooden lodge on a beautiful stone foundation right next to a large lake. On the other side is a man made lake with a shooting fountain and the entire property includes a couple wide open acres of farmland with horses, alpacas, and sheep roaming around. If you’re thinking to yourself ‘oh this is lovely, a great setting to walk around and walk off my meal’, that’s what I thought too. You’re wrong. It’s to lull you into a sense of false security.

The inside is just as remarkable but for wholly different reasons. The Lodge looks like a

Nordic Lodge Round 1

Round 1: Prime Rib with sauteed mushrooms, shrimp and scallop scampi, 1 1/4 lb lobster

hunting lodge. There’s a stuffed grizzly in the bar area and mounted heads of various animals decorate the walls. It’s an all wood interior which is homey, comfortable, and nostalgic. The people are incredibly friendly. Everyone greets you with a smile, from the hostess who takes your money and gets you seated, the server who greets you with an all-too-knowing grin and gives you a personal tour of the layout of the buffet and knows just when to refill your iced tea without you ever having to ask, to the many buffet attendants who are all too happy to pile prime rib, lobster, crab legs, oysters, hot foods, or ice cream onto your plate.

Nordic Lodge Round 2

Round 2: 1/2 dozen oysters and king crab legs

This is not your Vegas style fly around the world smorgasbord. There are at best, maybe around twenty different dishes. But what they lack in variety they more than make up for in actual noticeable quality. All of their grilled meats are certified Black Angus beef and the prime rib is juicy, tender, and cooked to a nice medium rare with a gorgeous amount of pink. You can dress the meat however you choose, with horseradish mustard,

Nordic Lodge Round 3

Round  3: More of the same BUT with the addition of bacon wrapped sccallops

sour cream, au jus, sauteed mushrooms and onions, or more butter. The scampi is sweet, buttery, garlicky, and full of fresh plump shrimp and scallops. There are bacon wrapped scallops that are fatty, meaty, crispy, but still sweet, soft, and buttery. The lobster are bright red and hefty, full of meat and juices. There’s nothing like cracking into a fresh lobster and knowing there’s going to be a good amount of meat inside. The lobster juices (what experts and aficionados call the tamale) inside the head taste like the sea. If you’re lucky and get a female, there might even be some super sweet lobster roe inside too. The claws are meaty and the tails are plump and slide right out of the shell. The Nordic Lodge also prides itself in its raw bar, and the oysters were sweet and meaty and full of great flavor and the oyster liquor is never spilled or wasted. The crab legs, giant meaty king crab, are sweet and salty and freshly steamed and pop right out for you.

Nordic Lodge Round 4

Round 4: More than a 1/2 dozen oysters and another pile of crab

After the first bite, I was in heaven. After the first lobster, experiencing nirvana. After the first plate, convinced I was in paradise. Around the third plate I was beginning to wonder what I had actually gotten myself into. By the fourth, I knew my soul had been lured into a trap. Long distance runners will tell you about hitting ‘the wall’. A mental

Nordic Lodge Round 5

Round  5: Haagen-Dazs coffee milkshake, Haagen-Dazs butter pecan with whipped cream, strawberry topping, and crushed Oreos, lemon bars, and strawberry shortcake sandwich

barrier that threatens every runner’s resolve and could spell disaster. The mind wants to shut down and every step feels like a leap. Well, eaters have the same thing. Every small bite feels like a pound of food in your mouth. Swallowing becomes arduous. Sweet becomes sickeningly sweet. Salty becomes super salty. Textures become warped and take on sinister mental implications. By the time I made it to the dessert bar, not only had I hit the wall, but I felt like it had fallen right on top of me. But, my mind implored, it’s Haagen-Dazs! Who gets to eat all you can eat Haagen-Dazs? We should probably get some anyways. Ooh and look at all the pretty baked things! Everyone at the dessert bar funnily enough had the exact same look. A dead, thousand-yard stare just trying to look beyond the void and read the list of available Haagen-Dazs flavors and toppings. We’re all beyond the ability of standing on our own accord, leaning against the wooden counter just to make sure we don’t fall over from the sheer weight of our stomachs. We all look at each other knowing the pain we’re going through and yet we can’t help but get a scoop of ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, a spoonful of strawberry topping, and some of the baked desserts too.

This is literal and figurative hell at this point. You’re so full of food nothing makes sense anymore. You have an existential crisis in the middle of the restaurant, questioning everything you know. Suddenly all the mounted heads feel like they’re looking right at Louis CK Fullyou. Every one of the god damn staff is so god damn nice and polite and cheerful you feel sick. They’re so happy! Why are they so happy?! I’m miserable! What is going on. Stop smiling at me. You bastard, you know what you’ve done to me. I wonder if behind their smiles they take secret pleasure in causing so much pain. I just want to stumble around in pain and misery but everyone keeps greeting me and saying hello and asking how I’m doing and if I’m happy and if I’m enjoying and joking about the food and I want to wring their necks. I’m laughing and crying at the same time. I feel like all the constituent parts I’ve eaten have reassembled themselves into whole animals in my stomach. I don’t know how to walk anymore. I see more and more people coming in and Full CatI want to yell out warnings, tell them to turn back, abandon all hope ye who enter here, but all that comes out is a mighty burp that only slightly relieves the pain. I’ve never spoken in burps before but I fear I’ll never get rid of all this pressure. What was at first a gorgeous expansive property is now just a vast wasteland separating me from my only means of escape from this hell. I finally reach my car and become one with the chorus of moans and cries echoing from all the weary drivers in the lot. This buffet did what I thought wasn’t possible. What I failed to understand about that Twilight Zone episode from my youth. That you can actually be destroyed by having too much of everything you’ve ever wanted.

I am a big fan of The Twilight Zone. I love how it never tried to be explicitly, overtly scary. It was never about monsters or ghouls, ghosts or zombies, Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. Instead, it wanted to get into our heads, peel back our innermost fears, terrify us not with the extraordinary, but with the ordinary. It was pure psychological horror in TV opera form. It might not get you while you’re watching. It might not even be the subject of that night’s nightmares. But eventually, inevitably,  you’re going to feel that immeasurable dread like you, too, are caught…in the Twilight Zone.

Jerel says, ‘it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there’.

Day 214: The Man and the Daily Catch Daily Prompt; ‘Lovingly’

Today’s dish is a wonderful introduction to the rich, fatty, super umami, and uniquely Filipino ingredient known as taba ng talangka.

This bright orange, slightly granular paste is made from tiny freshwater crabs that grow along the rivers in the Philippines. It used to be a major product of the Pampanga region but after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and the resulting dredging of the Pampanga region, it is now more commonly harvested in Bicol. Regardless of where you get it though, the process of harvest is pretty much the same. These tiny crabs, no bigger than two inches across, are harvested, painstakingly peeled open and then the tiny amounts of crab roe inside (even though taba in Tagalog translates to ‘fat’ and talangka are the crabs, this is not crab fat but crab roe) are harvested and then sauteed into a paste with plenty of garlic for flavor.

Alone, the flavor is incredibly deep, rich, and complex. It possesses the kind of rich sea umami of say, Japanese uni but with not as much of the saltiness. Super fatty and best enjoyed in small doses a) because of how rich the taste is and b) because too much of this and you’ll have a cholesterol-laden one way ticket to the emergency room. The texture is slightly grainy, but when cooked into dishes it smooths out and almost disintegrates, leaving a slight aroma but deep orange color and permeating flavor. In the Philippines it is traditionally served as is, spooned over warm white rice and mixed together to melt and combine. I’ve also seen it prepared as a pasta sauce but most recipes call for a whole jar just for one serving!

My goal was to find a way to introduce this wonderful ingredient and taste in a way that would not be too foreign and too off-putting. I wanted it to simultaneously be the signature flavor star but not the main focus. The idea of mixing it with rice made me think of fried rice, which is a common item in the Philippines as well as any Asian country, and so playing on the Filipinos’ love of fried rice, I made my own version of seafood fried rice with the taba ng talangka mixed in!

Taba 1.jpg

Ta-da! This is the final result. First, in a very hot wok I saute garlic, onions, ginger, green onion, and labuyo (a tiny but super spicy and tasty Filipino chili pepper) until fragrant. I then add squid, scallops, lump crab meat, and shrimp. Next come the bean sprouts. Finally I add the rice, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and a generous heaping portion of the taba and mix and fry. The taba melts and colors each grain of rice that wonderful orange color and flavors the entire dish while still letting the seafood come through. Once it’s all cooked and the rice is loose and every grain is separated, I lovingly sprinkle some green onion on top.

traba-2

This is at once an homage to Asian-style fried rice, Spanish-style seafood paella, and yet also a distinctly Filipino dish in taste. I used a quart of day-old rice because older, dry rice is much better for fried rice and now I have some great leftovers to look forward to having for lunch.

If you are an adventurous foodie or a big seafood lover, I highly recommend visiting your local Asian grocery store and if you’re lucky, you might find this in the Filipino aisle. If you’re not, you’ll have to hope I open up a restaurant near you. Hahah. Either way, I definitely think that this could be one of the best unknown ingredients for the enterprising chef and is definitely a flavor worth exploring.

Bon apetit.

Day 214

Man: 182 Loneliness: 32

Day 205: The Man and the Poseidon’s FEAST; ‘Automatic’

Happy weekend everyone! Hope you’ve got something fun on your itinerary. As you may already have read, I’m using this time alone at home to do some serious cooking!
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Sides dishes tonight. Sauteed Chinese spinach with sesame seeds/oil. Pickled garlic. Sauteed bean sprouts. Shredded mushrooms.

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The main course! Poseidon’s feast. A lobster boil for one. Clams, shrimp, crab, lobster, and spicy andouille sausage. I saute some onions and garlic in butter then add all the ingredients and top it off with a quality beer. A local brewery opened up nearby and I’ve become a regular. They have this great witbier with a slight hint of honey that was perfect to cook this with and to pair it with. Just watching some movies and cracking into everything with a cold beer is an automatic win for the weekend. Plus you know that the leftover stock is going to make an incredible base for lobster bisque!

Wish you all a good weekend!

Day 205

Man: 173 Loneliness: 32

Day 30: The Man and the Lobster

A little rain never stops my group when we make plans. Annual summer lobster boil didn’t exactly go as planned with on and off rain and intense humidity in my slice of NJ.

It’s crazy to think how much can change in a year. The lineup was a little different for sure. I had just started hanging out again with one of my best friends from elementary school. We had grown apart in middle school and hadn’t seen nor heard from him since, but my other friend went to college with him and brought him back into the fold. I was also seeing a different girl and this was the first time I introduced her to my friends. The relationship ended about a month later after she went crazy in Atlantic City during a school trip, and just to further illustrate how relationship crazy I was/am, in the year since I’ve dated four others. That number is going to be significantly less by next year’s lobster boil. I was working as the manager for one of our family’s ice cream stores. I hadn’t even considered being a travel agent yet. So I know I’ve already stated that I am the real food enthusiast and culinarian in the group but that doesn’t nearly elaborate enough about how little some of my friends know about food. Hahah. In fact I remember last year when we decided to do the lobster boil two of them the week before watched non-stop videos on YouTube to learn trips tricks and hacks on how to crack and peel lobsters and crab legs. I guess they didn’t want to have to ask me to do it for them. It was fun seeing them try their new techniques. We had a cooler full of beer, a pitcher of white sangria, a gallon of sweet tea, and afterwards we built a bonfire and just relaxed outside.

Those were simple and fun and beautiful moments. You don’t forget nights like that. Nights that engage every sense of your being. You remember the sound of cracked shells. The smell of the butter and the beer we used to boil the seafood. The bright reds of the crab and lobster, full and rich and plump. The taste of each salty sweet piece of meat. How tough the shells were in your hand and the satisfying reward of breaking through the armor. I was blissfully happy and simplistic. No experiment. No blog. No thoughts. No worries. I don’t know if I’d want to go back to that. Sometimes a little awareness, no matter how painful, is worth it.

I think I did much better yesterday than I did the first time my friend brought his new girlfriend over though. I didn’t let myself dwell on what I did or didn’t have. I didn’t concern myself with the world turning without me. I focused on my passions and joys. Cooking. Enjoying good food. Being a good host. Entertaining and being entertained by friends. It was a great night and I didn’t let anything affect my enjoyment of it. No negative thoughts here. Just good times. I have to admit, it is nice to have someone new in the group. I can bring out all my old jokes again!

No matter what changes, the lineup, the weather, our statuses, what doesn’t change is my time-honored perfect lobster boil recipe. This relationship blog is about to delve into food blog territory, but bear with me. I know what I’m doing and maybe one day someone will pay me for it too. Until then this one’s on the house.

Annual Lobster BoilLobsterBoil
For 5 people (or more depending on who’s in your group and who starts dating). Next year we might have to cook for more.

A lobster per person (I usually go 1 ½ lbs)

Snow crab legs (1 – 1 ½ lbs per person)

Clams (I prefer the smaller little necks but you can also do cherry stones). This year I did cherry stones because they were on sale. Depending on which, ½ dozen to a dozen per person.

Potatoes, corn. Sausages (I do a mix of Polish kielbasa and French andouille). Know your group and love your appetite fillers.

In your largest (and I mean largest) pot, start by melting a stick of butter. Sautee some chopped garlic. When fragrant (but not brown) add the chopped sausages and cook until they begin to brown. Add the potatoes, washed and quartered, and corn, split in half. Pour around 18 oz of beer (I do one bottle of lager like Corona Extra and one bottle of a lighter sweeter beer. In summer the Schofferhoffer Hefeweizen, a grapefruit beer, is an excellent choice not just for cooking but for keeping cool and refreshed. Cover and let simmer until potatoes are almost fork tender and corn is a vibrant yellow. When potatoes and corn are almost ready, add the lobster, crab legs, and clams. Pull off heat when lobster and crab legs are bright red and the clams begin to open. Let cool, and serve with reckless abandon right on top of your super amply wrapped and waterproofed table. This is a) for the sheer look of serving a mountain of seafood right on your table like a feast from Neptune himself and b) for easier cleanup: when you’re all done just wrap and roll up the table covering and trash.

This is very important: RESERVE the broth left in the pot! Begin by ladling some into small bowls and serve alongside the feast as a dipping sauce. More flavorful than butter. Can’t speak to its health but…definitely more flavorful. With the rest, well, it’s an incredibly strong and powerful broth with the most intense and pure flavors of seafood. I’m not entirely sure what to do with it yet. Open to suggestions. But if not I’ll find something and when I do I’ll do a supplemental for it. I’ve poured the broth into quart containers and frozen it for now.

Day 30

Man: 23 Loneliness: 7