Some Thursdays when I’m driving home from my ukulele time with the kindergarten and first graders, I will stop at the blue cart with the big red Michoacan on the front.


The menu is printed in red on the side: Red chicken. Green chicken. Red Pork. Green Pork. Pepper and cheese. Each costs a dollar.

An elderly lady stands behind the blue cart.

If there is a parking place I will pull over to buy three tamales for lunch. I love the pork with red sauce.

Today there was a parking spot.  I pulled over and waited in line behind a young woman who buys one tamale.

It was chicken I think.

About four feet away sat an elderly Black lady in a lawn chair by her apartment entrance. As the young woman walked by, the elderly lady asked if they were good. “She doesn’t speak any English,” said the elderly lady, as if to explain.

The young woman nodded in the affirmative and walked on.

The elderly lady in the lawn chair then turned to me. “I’ve never had one. We both have been here for a long time, but she doesn’t speak any English. Are they good?” she said.

I said, “Let me get you one. Would you like pork or chicken? Red or green?”

I was amazed at thought that these two women were a few feet from each other all day, day after day, and never spoke to one another.

“Chicken, thank you,” the elderly lady in the lawn chair said.

I turned to the tamale vendor and asked for three tamales, pork with red sauce and one chicken with red sauce.

She reached into the plastic cooler, lifted a towel covering a black plastic bag and pulled out the four tamales. She put three in a clear plastic bag and wrapped the bag with a single paper towel and put the chicken tamale in another bag and wrapped it in a single paper towel. Even though she knew I was buying it for the elderly lady she handed it to me.

I walked over and handed it to the lady in the lawn chair.

“What is this?”

“It is a corn husk,” I explained. “You just unroll it and the rest is corn meal, chicken and sauce.”

“She never had?” the lady vendor asked me.

“No. Never,” I said.

“I will pay you the dollar the next time you stop,” the elderly lady in the lawn chair promised me.

“No, no. My treat,” I said. I handed the vendor a five dollar bill and she gave me two back.

“I bought four,” I reminded her.

She smiled at me.

I’m looking for a new brat supplier. Johnsonville supports Scott Walker.

For over a dozen years we have had a tradition at my school.

We do it on the last records/planning day in June. The kids are off and the teachers are doing report cards and getting ready for the end of the year.

The guys in the building (and as in a typical elementary school, there are not many guys) prepare lunch for the staff. The custodian pulls out the old Weber grills from the basement. We fire ’em up and char up about a hundred bratwurst.

Although we guys always argue about it, there is a standard traditional recipe. You cook the brats in beer and onions. We usually do that the night before, since the idea of bringing a case of beer into the school kitchen might not be looked upon with approval by somebody, somewhere.

One year we cooked them in the kitchen and a board member’s wife saw us coming out of the grocery with the case of beer. She never said anything and neither did we. But it felt a little awkward.

Then we put the beer and onion cooked brats on the hot grill, long enough to put major grill marks on them. Some we cook light. Some we char up real good. We get a few requests for hot dogs from some folks who don’t like brats. You can’t please everybody.

You can always count on some district administrators showing up. Free food, y’know.

We put out some chopped onions. Mustard. Even ketchup. Although I always object to the ketchup. I always get out-voted.

We dish up some cole slaw and potato salad that we get at the local Jewel. Some bags of chips. A few people will volunteer some cookies or cake.

It’s a fine end of the year tradition.

We need a new brat supplier.

I’m the one that get the brats. I usually go to Costco and get the party-packs of Johnsonville brats from Wisconsin.

But no more.

Johnsonville is a major supporter of Governor Scott Walker.

I’ll be damned if we’re having a teacher lunch with brats from a Scott Walker funder.

Have some in Congress found their spine? May fight for food stamps. UPDATE

You couldn’t find it mentioned anywhere else. It would be easy to believe that it was blogs that exposed the plan to pay for teacher jobs by cutting $12 billion to the food stamp program that made a difference.

The Hill is reporting this morning:

Liberal Democrats said they will vote for a $26.1 billion state aid bill when the House reconvenes this week but are committed to restoring the food-stamps program funding that is being used to pay for it.

The jobs measure, which passed the Senate on Thursday, includes $10 billion for states and local governments to help them stave off teacher cutbacks, and another $16.1 billion to help states with their Medicaid obligations.

Nearly half of the state aid bill’s cost is being offset by taking $12 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name for the food-stamps program. The bill finds those savings by ending in 2014 a stimulus program that has increased food-stamp levels.

Whether a commitment to restore the food stamps can be translated in the next 24 hours into actually restoring the money remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Jobs bill passes House. Food Stamp program slashed.

LA liberty.


The late Chicago crime boss, Sam Giancana.
The late Chicago crime boss, Sam Giancana.

After five days in San Diego at the NEA RA, I need some liberty. My daughter flew in, we rented a red VW rag top beetle and headed up the Pacific Coast Highway.

LA was our destination. Food was our quest.

Hard to do when I’m trying to lose twenty pounds over the summer, but I focused on serving size for this week. If I can stand on the scale when I get home and it says the same thing it said when I left, I will feel good about it. If it says I gained some pounds, I’m still going to feel good about. I love food in LA.

Not that small plate, celebrity chef, goo-goo food. I’m here for the people’s food.

Last night we went to an Iranian restaurant in Westwood. Did you know that there are about a half million Iranians in the LA area? Westwood Boulevard south of Wilshire is home to lots of Persian markets and restaurants. We had a delicious meal at the Flame.

Whenever we stay in Venice, we skip the free “breakfast” at the place we’re staying and head over to The Cow’s End on Washington. It’s totally local. The coffee is okay. The oatmeal is oatmeal. But the local characters and their dogs make it all worthwhile. It’s a morning commune and anyone can join in. There’s a guy. He’ll give you the skinny on how Sam Giancana tried to get Castro killed at JFK’s request. He’ll explain how he knew all the guys in the Chicago mob back in the day. I don’t want to give you too much of description of the guy, if you know what I mean.

Today we were at the Grand Central Market on Broadway. It’s where I had my first onion rings when I was nine. Today it was goat birria tacos, even though the special was pig snout tacos.

Tonight we’re having burgers around the corner at Hinano’s.

Here’s what a Yelp review of Hinano says.

Hinano’s has the best cheese burger in the Northern Hemisphere. They may also have the coldest beer south of Prudhoe Bay.

These burgers are super juicy and amazingly delicious. They are true “don’t let go” hamburgers. Each burger comes with a dill pickle, a side of jalapeno peppers, and a bag of chips. Get ready to use a handful of napkins.

Not only are the beer mugs frosted, but so are the pitchers! You will also find a fantastic selection of draft and bottled beers. One of the beer taps had an icicle of frozen beer… Nirvana.

The atmosphere is biker bar lite – dark, sawdust on the floor, pool tables in the back, and free popcorn all around.

So why has Hinano been reduced to just four stars?  Because they also have the slimiest plastic mustard & ketchup dispensers on the planet. Yikes.


Is the source of pig flu factory farming?

Mike Davis writes in the Guardian:

Last year a commission convened by the Pew Research Center issued a report on “industrial farm animal production” that underscored the acute danger that “the continual cycling of viruses … in large herds or flocks [will] increase opportunities for the generation of novel virus through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human to human transmission.” The commission also warned that promiscuous antibiotic use in hog factories (cheaper than humane environments) was sponsoring the rise of resistant staph infections, while sewage spills were producing outbreaks of E coli and pfiesteria (the protozoan that has killed 1bn fish in Carolina estuaries and made ill dozens of fishermen).

Mr. Beef goes to Washington.


It sits over on Orleans Street north of the entrance to the Kennedy Expressway. A wood-sided building with an enclosed attached patio of picnic tables. At lunch the parking lot is filled with cars, cop cars and taxis.

Mr. Beef. A Chicago landmark and tradition.

A french roll filled with peppery Italian beef and dipped. Sweet or hot peppers. Rolled in a couple of sheets of paper. You can’t eat this neat. Juice goes dripping down your chin and you need a pile of napkins. Fries and a coke.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of Italian beef places in Chicago, but none as good as Mr. Beef.

Midwest Bank wants to foreclose on Mr. Beef. Midwest is owed $650K. But Midwest Bank is a recipient of TARP money. One of the purposes of TARP was to encourage lenders like Midwest Bank to loan money to small businesses in trouble like Mr. Beef.

If Mr. Beef closes, Midwest Bank should rot in hell.

Have you had cemitas?


I’m taking today off. No teaching. No blogging about important issues. Just a few words about Cemitas Puebla.

It’s on North Avenue in West Humboldt Park. We went by today for lunch. 

What are Cemitas?

They are a Mexican sandwich from the state of Puebla. Kind of a torta, but better. The roll is covered in sesame seeds. They spread avocado on the bread. Next is a layer of chipotle pepper mashed with a home-made adobo sauce. Then meat of your choice. I had it al pastor. Leigh and Candy had pork milanese. Then a layer of shredded Oaxacan cheese. Unbelievable.

We also had a plate of chalupas. Five of them with different sauces and cheese.


Speaking of little shacks where good things can be had.

I cooked up a quick dinner for Anne and me tonight. Tossed some shrimp in bread crumbs, garlic, red pepper flakes, parsely and olive oil. Under the broiler for two minutes and turned them for another two. Tossed them with some linquine. Some cooked broccoli and garlic in a pan, then under the broiler for a minute or two until the parmesan cheese melts.

“You know what we haven’t had this summer,” I said to Anne.



We haven’t had a summer without Mario’s in 35 years. This was not going to be the summer we would miss Mario’s.

Ulysses rode in the back. We headed down to Taylor Street in the old Italian neighborhood on the Westside.

Anne had the lemon.

As usual.

I had the cantaloupe.

As usual.

Chicago hot dogs. No reservations.

Anthony Bourdain at Hot Dougs.
Anthony Bourdain at Hot Doug's.

Years ago Hot Doug’s was a hot dog place over on the edge of Roscoe Village near Lane Tech High School. Doug, the owner had graduated from Kendall chef’s school and had decided to open a neighborhood place that sold what he called “encased meats.” There were his goofy dogs made up of foie gras or veal. But the fact was that he made a pretty good Chicago dog and the fries were OK.

A few years later there was a fire at the place and it closed down only to reopen about a year later further west on California near a Commonwealth Edison power station.

By then Doug’s rep was huge and the line for lunch went down the block. In the words of Casey Stengel (didn’t I quote him last week?), it got so popular nobody goes there anymore.

Except apparently for Anthony Bourdain, the guy from the Travel Channel’s No Reservations. A show I love.

Luckily there is no shortage of hot dog places in the hot dog capital of the world. So I don’t miss Hot Doug’s.

If Bourdain had asked I would have taken him to Sam’s, a little shack on Armitage near Western. Nothing fancy. No place to sit down. A steamed dog (the kind that snap when you bite into ’em) with mustard, onions and sport peppers wrapped in paper with a bunch of fries and a Pepsi for four bucks.