Thursday, February 05, 2009

Ultimate Burger Smackdown: Extreme Makeover Idol Apprentice Edition

I've never met a Californian -- nay, even a casual Cali. passerthrough -- who would dispute the superiority of In-N-Out's burgers or the overal specialness of the In-N-Out dining experience. The burgers are unique in their construction and ingredients. The fries are fresh and free from fast food flavor crusties. The menu is boldly short and simple, but the super secret rumor-only menu variations give it an insider brotherhood cool factor.

Lately though I've learned from friends of a burger joint here in State College that compares (no one has claimed superiority, merely comparability) to In-N-Out.

Which, no matter how you broil it, is really saying something. This I did not take lightly, the possibility that burgers even a fraction as phenomeal as In-N-Out's were being consumed only miles -- not states -- away from Pine Grove Mills and it's very finest RC car painter's taste buds. No, I took very seriously my duty to investigate and report for the benefit of worldly, discerning burger afficionados everywhere. And for you, both of you, reading the Barking Blog.

So Max and I went out for that rarest of lunches, the Lux Graphics-Sponsored Dude Lunch. We were foiled in our mission by a kitchen fire that had temporarily rendered the Five Guys restaurant unsanitary and unsafe according to our friendly local health inspector. As my son would say, epic fail. This was followed by my complete failure to remember anything about the important mission I've described. For weeks. Maybe more than a month.

On a recent road trip with some fellow ex-pat west-siders, we were lamenting PA's lack of both good Mexican food and of course In-N-Outs. This reminded me of the guys . . . all five of them. The name of the challenging burger pit is Five Guys. Five Guys Burgers & Fries. That is where my mother took me for lunch today, and that is where we were given this . . .

After thoroughly empirical investigation, all solely and sincerely in the name of science and sensory aesthetics, I can testify that the following is true . . .

History, Ambience and Coolness: DRAW. Both establishments have colorful local histories, simple short menus, and youthful cool quirkiness to spare. While I/O has free bumper stickers teens can cut up to say "In-N-Out Urge", 5G has free peanuts to munch while waiting in line. 5G has more room inside and a tad less sterile atmosphere, but I/O has locations up the wazoo so there is often an I/O conveniently on-the-way to wherever you're going.

Presentation: In-N-Out. There is really no contest on this one. Many restaurants fail to present their meals in such a tidy and calculated way as In-N-Out. The burgers all appear to be neatly tucked into beds of hospital white. Whatever combination of burgers and fries you get, it always fits perfectly into their little brown box. No, I don't always eat it in the car. But I say I will, just because I like to see the burgers presented so professionally. 5G's presentation is Wendy's Sloppy-Chic taken to the ludicrous extreme . . .

The tinfoil is enough to offend, almost, until you taste the burger and see how it fits with the whole 5G package.

Fries: Five Guys. Now just put those glocks and nines away for a moment, my LBC crip-walking, regulating Gs and sho'ties. Even you, the most avid and enthusiastic In-N-Out'ers, must admit that I/O fries are a love-hate, hotly contested topic. Even among the devoted. No one on the planet makes fries as fresh and potato'ey and, well, as LEGIT as In-N-Out. Heck they julienne the spuds right there where you can see them from the drive-thru! And you must admit -- it's something to do with a lack of special "coating" or something -- they don't stay warm but a few minutes. And all that freshness, potatotude and legitimacy are just soggy and gross once they are cold. Which is often just a few stoplights away from where they were so attractively presented to you.. Ew.

Even those who LIKE the I/O fries -- hot or tepid -- would have to admit 5G has got it goin' on in the fry department. That grease you see soaking through the bag? That's because they fill your cup of choice with fries, then shower another scoop or two over the full cup, the burgers, and anything else in your bag. Love 'em or hate 'em, there are lots of 'em. They are not as fresh as I/O's, but the skins are still on 'em, they are thicker, and they do have that seasoning-free potato'ey taste. They are a little greasyer, but I swear that helps them to actually stay warm for the duration of your meal.

Burger: In-N-Out. This one is tricky. The 5G burger is definitely special, and for many of the same reasons I/O's are. Both have real, fresh ingredients. The lettuce is green and the tomatoes are red and flavorful (no minor miracle in PA in February). The burgers are fried, but hand-formed and with some broiler-like crunch to them. But overall they have a different character. 5G's burger reminds me of what Eddie Murphy called a "Houseburger". It's the very best houseburger, better than what you're likely to toss together on your own Weber, but the doughy sesame bun and roundness of the patties (another plus, 5G's "regular" has 2 patties) restrain the burger from achieving greatness.

In-N-Out does things to their burgers that are either too labor intensive or just plain innovative for us to do at our own backyard BBQ. This elevates the I/O Double-Double to mythic status. Each thing is seemingly small, but put them together and they do a Gilbert & Sullivan Broadway ensemble dance number on your tongue that will have you singing their jingle all the way to the OTHER In-N-Out that's on your way to wherever you're going. WHAT exactly to they do?

-Buns are made of light foamy dough, then grilled in butter for a slight toasty crunch.

-Non-burger ingredients are placed UNDER the burger. This is a classic deli strategy, and a very effective one. It means you TASTE the ingredients when you bite in. It is not very photogenic however, this is no doubt one of the reasons they wrap all but the first bite of your burger.

-Special sauce. It may be thousand island dressing. It may be ketchup mixed with mayonnaise. But it's more than I'm willing to brew for my own burger, and aside from the Big Mac no one has made it really work for them. I'll eat a Lunchables just for the packet of herb sauce. I'll eat a plate of fish-sticks just for the tartar sauce. And I'll take the long way home if it means a Double-Double's special sauce is "on the way".

Overall: In-N-Out. These are my theories as to what elevates the In-N-Out burger to another plane of burger quality than any other. I'm surely missing some things, and both of you I hope will remind me of them. I WILL be back to 5 Guys as soon as it's affordable, and I will enjoy the burger almost as much as the fries. Their prices are higher than I/O but there is a proportional increase in the serving size so the value is equal and as such higher than most lunch places. I'm pleased to report, however, that In-N-Out is still king of the hill.

Stay tuned for Mythbusters: Extreme 1st Grader Reindeer-cicle Science Edition . . .



Sunday, January 04, 2009

If I Have to Explain, You Wouldn't Understand

Cheese Zombies

2 cups warm water
1/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 to 5 tbs. yeast
6 cups flour
1 tbs. salt
1/4 cup shortening

1. Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water. Add remaining ingrdients and mix with a dough hook for about 10 minutes, until dough is soft and pliable. Let dough rest a few minutes, then divide it into 1-pound portions. Roll the portions into logs. Cut each log into five equal pieces.

2. Place your favorite filling (cheese, barbecue chicken or pork with sauce, ham, sausage, ground beef, pepperoni, Sloppy Joe, scrambled eggs) on top of each dough slice, then pull dough up from the sides to cover filling. Pinch closed. Place zombies pinched-side down on a greased pan. If desired, brush with egg wash.3. Bake in a 350-degree oven until zombies turn light golden brown on top, about 15 to 20 minutes.



Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Danke Schoen and the Brick House

Gramma Gaye thought Max's new hairdo looked like Wayne Newton. Max:

"Who's Wayne Newton?"

This led to a short lecture from Dad about one of the hardest working showmen on the planet, and his somehow-ageless, never-graying, gravity-defying hairdo. I did a google image search, and came across a photo of a very young Wayne Newton. Separated at birth?

The nose is all wrong, and young Wayne's got a better dental plan than we do, but between the dimples and the hair, it's fun.

AK has now officially rocked the Millers Analogy Test, the Graduate Records Exam, and her Math Ed. Graduate interview. She's done all the filing and forms and is a shoe-in for acceptance to the Masters program at Penn State. There is an assistantship she is way qualified for, and she had the whole Math Ed. team pushing for it (it's technically through the Ed program, not Math Ed . . . ) but alas it is only for doctoral students. However, her recommendations and credentials were so glowing that the Ed people are going to try and find something for her to get paid for. That interview is January 16th, giving The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Hults plenty of time to wig, worry and otherwise freak out. Here she is all gussied up like a pro in her new X-mas outfit, new bag, and the earrings her mother left behind at Thanksgiving . . .

OUCH Hot Mama! She's a burrrrr-ICK -- houuuuuuse. She's mighty mighty . . .



Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quelle Difference

Marriage is a complex and confuddling arrangement sometimes. But with all of the confuzzling befusion, I am grateful to have only a small handful of fundamental incompatibilities with The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Hults.

The most fundamental incongruity of our marriage manifests itself in many ways, but most notably perhaps at this time of gift-giving every year. I don't know what to call the mis-match. It goes deeper, but on the surface it's a "Gifting Disparity". Or a "Film Faction". I think it's about our approach to anticipation . . .

See, AK wants her gifts now. NOW. No shaking of the package, no speculation concerning it's contents, no sugar-plums dancing in her head. No anticipation. No hiding of the gifts or keeping of the secrets. And it's not just a preference for her. The things that I relish about gift-giving, the mystery and the delicious anticipation, would cause her great emotional stress. It took me awhile to accept this, but I've slowly come to embrace this as part of The Package. I don't understand it, but I accept it. I'm even learning to like it.

As I said, it manifests itself in many ways. Throughout the year this love-hate relationship with anticipation (I love it, she hates it) shows up in our opinions about movies. It's not that I like one kind of movie and she likes another. No. I like all movies and she likes none. Films are like rides in an emotional theme park to me. Some are wild, some are mild. But all of them take you for a lovely, harmless ride before depositing you right back where you started -- in the real world. I find that these short excursions provide me with inspiration and perspective on my actual life. They teach me lessons, they pump my adrenaline, they plumb for tears of sadness and joy, and they project me into exaggerated realities so that I can learn to be the hero my real-world family needs me to be. I'm sure TLATMH would enjoy this metaphorical movie theme park of mine. But her deep-seated need to NOT BE SURPRISED at any time in any way by any thing prevents it I'm afraid. Should she walk in on me watching a movie, in the final few minutes of deus ex machina plot resolution, she will riddle me with questions: "Who is he? Why is he doing that? Is she going to be OK?". Should she indulge me and settle down to watch a whole movie with me? 5 minutes into the film she's asking the same questions. And she's not asking due to curiosity, she's asking from desperation. Not knowing the ending is legitimately traumatic for her and tantamount to 90 minutes of mental and emotional torture.

I will not speculate as to how this condition of hers came about. And that's hard for me to promise. Because I'm a troubleshooting failure analysis problem fixing mikky fikky, you understand. I won't call it Mysteryphobia or a need-to-control. Nope. I won't. I choose not to.

What I've learned is that those would be the easy choices. The brave choice is to not make this difference between us a problem that needs fixing, but to instead appreciate this difference between us. While so many aspects of our personalities are similar (we never have heated political discussions or finance or parenting arguments . . . ) wouldn't it be BORING if we weren't really near-disturbingly DIFFERENT in some ways? So no, I'm not right and she's not wrong. We're different. She's different from me, and in this way she teaches me the very best, very hardest lessons about life and about myself.

Can you tell I'm still working on embracing the movie thing? Yeah.

But I'm getting there with the gifting. For example, this year, for X-mas, I have already purchased my "big" gift. I purchased it. She will hide it and wrap it, and I will wait until X-mas for it. The old me would have wretched and plotzed a purple brick at the very thought of this. No mystery, it's true. But it's not true that there is no anticipation. I WANT the gift, it's the big thing I want, but I don't GET it until X-mas. There is some hardcore anticipatin' going on here people. In fact, what I now get to experience is the good anticipation minus the lingering fear that she won't get me what I really want. That happens, even in the closest of relationships, and it's fine. When it's happened, and it's happened for each of us, we don't take it personally or blame the other. But it still leaves us without that THING we so wanted and spent all that time anticipating! By leaving behind my immature fantasy that my wife will always read my mind, know exactly what I want in exactly what way, fund the purchase, hide it, keep the secret and "surprise me" -- I've discovered a way to aleviate at least a little of my usual holiday season anxiety.

You know, I probably developed that fantasy watching too many romantic comedies.

I'm afraid I sound selfish, going on about what I want. And I know I sound like a whiner about the movies. Gimme time, I'll get there . . . . But I hope to write instead about the intricacies of gifting and that most important gift, the one we get our spouse. The more I "mature", the more I see that we have to let go of some fantasies in order to learn, change and still grow ever closer to our life partner.

How do you gift with your hubby/wife? And is it the same as it was in the beginning?



Monday, November 24, 2008

Mythbusters: Extreme Poodle Explosion Edition!!!

Actually it's the just the Poodle Edition. But no one watches unless there are extreme explosions these days. With the above title, PETA will probably get word of it, hold a press conference, protest and threaten legal action at the very mention of blowing up domesticated animals -- totally awesome press. We'll kill in the ratings!

Emily is concerned that rash, exaggerated stereotypes of poodles have propagated our culture for years. She'd like to take this moment to clear things up. Poodles have been portrayed as french, fussy, demure, foofy (not fofee, but foofy) and feminine.

Emily would like to assure you that while these things can be true -- as they can for any domesticated canine -- poodles are above all else dogs. Emily eats bad-for-her human food, then throws it up on our carpets. Sometimes she eats non-to-barely-digestible items that somehow come out her other end intact. She farts. She licks people, other animals (indiscriminantly) and her own hoo-ha. And should any poodle myths persist, this is how she spends an astonishing amount of her time . . .

Another Mondegreen As I was driving to Buffalo last Saturday I listened to Elton John's Greatest Hits on my iPod and remembered how baffled I used to be by some of his lyrics. In the days before we could Google any song's lyrics in seconds, we just made up what was close and sang along! From Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting:

"Don't give us none of your aggravation
we've had it with your Death Star plan
Saturday night's alright for fighting
get a little action in

Get about as soiled as a diesel train
gonna get this dance alright . . . "

Mysteries of The Unexplained That was the name of an old TV show, and it bugged me to no end. It's subtitle should have been "From the Department of Redundancy Department".

In my years I've learned a little about business, and one of the things I've learned is that usually things aren't done unless they are profitable to do. This occurs to me every time I get e-mail spam and every time I get a phone call from a machine. My theory would suggest that the company sending e-mail spam and the company with the people-calling machine wouldn't be in business unless there was some modicum of success in their sales pitch. So what I want to know is WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Someone, somewhere, even today as spam has gone down in volume (no doubt to it's diminishing effectiveness as a selling tool . . . ) gets the same e-mail I got and says

"Darn, that's quite a bargain on Viagra, Cialis and Levitra! I'd like to discreetly order some for my erectile dysfunction now"

Do you know this guy? I do not know this guy. Then there is the guy who answers his phone and hears "Please hold for an important message blah blah blah blah" -- and actually waits on hold with the machine that called him, so another machine can play him a recorded message. Are you that guy? Can you help me find that guy? He's out there. He's a member of a substantial market percentage, wherever he is. Otherwise the other 97.843% of us wouldn't be getting those darn calls.

Smart and Pretty That's what Alaska is. I tell her this constantly, but it has little effect on her sometimes fragile/sometimes hearty sense of self because somewhere along the line she concluded that I am certifyably insane. Because of this, my opinions about prettiness and smartitude are skewed and invalid. But today, The Lovely and Talented Mrs. Hults feels as lovely and talented as she is, and however that happened it is a triumph for this at-least-occasionally-and-partially-insane husband to see her glowing so.

I'm betting that the pretty feelings come from her cute new haircut and her new interview/church outfit. And I know that the smart comes from her curve-busting performance on the Miller Analogy Test today. My lovely is trying to get admission to Penn State's Math grad program, and she's also hustling for that rare thing: a Masters Assistantship. She's well positioned for both, and needs only to let her pretty smartness shine through in her departmental interview next week. Huzzah Mrs. Hults!



Thursday, November 20, 2008

Little Darlings

Ben and Milo get to do reading/writing work with the 2nd graders. Which is wonderful, because we adore the 2nd grade teacher. Today she had to share these writing assignments on "Thanksgiving" because she thought them so funny. Not only is it an example of how our identical twins are not so much with the identical sometimes, it's also an example of them spontaneously trading personalities since each is more typically in character for their brother . . .

Here is Ben's:

And here is Milo's:

Usually Milo's much more likely to wax emotional and Ben is more grounded in the material. I'm with both of them. I'm grateful to Heavenly Father for MEATS! I'm totally putting that in my next invocation. If I ever get asked again. Us converts are a little squirrely you know.

Snubbed once again. I can't tell you how many times I've been passed over by these people. Not only am I almost usually the 51st Most Beautiful Person, but on this occasion . . .

. . . I came in as the 131st Smokin' Hot Guy. What can a smokin' hot guy do to increase his smokin' hotness? I'm already bald, Mormon & a unicyclist! Maybe I shave too much.



Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I'll leave it to the academics to correct me, but I think that is a totally documented acceptable word now. And I may be wrong here too, but I think it was originally coined by a columnist named Jon Carrol in my old favorite, The San Francisco Chronicle. Mondegreens are what you thought that song lyric was. Examples:

In the Fairfield Four's "Come On In This House" I could swear he's singing "Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name"

From another room, while Snow's "Informer" is playing, AK yells "What's he singing about a farmer?"

In the 5th grade, Ron Prasky thought Prince was singing about a raspberry parade.

Toddler Max, in his car seat, in the back of AK's Honda CRV, had a love affair with a CD that came free with a happy meal in Iowa. He felt a kinship with the artists, "The Back Seat Boys".

What are your mondegreens?



Pupp Daddy Dog spends his days working as an entrepeneur and as a Dad. He is passionately in love with/obsessively neurotic about his family. Imagine Kicking Bird mixed with Albert Brooks. Oh, and throw in some Notorious B.I.G.


Alaska is the frustrated but caring cat at the center of our canine universe. All of us alternately worship, rely on and ceaselessly whine to her. Her need to control everything is confounded by the fact that she really pretty much does control everything, so in her few free moments, she knits and searches desperately for things to fuss about.



Max is smart and handsome, with a big heart. He is not only growing like a weed, but he has the attention span and concentration abilities of a weed. Despite my best efforts, AK keeps feeding him and he keeps growing. Our plan is to keep him so busy with school, sports & the arts that he won't notice he's a teenager and is supposed to hate us. T minus 2.5 years to teen launch, so far so good.



 Ben and Milo are phenomenal little creatures who remind us minute-by-minute not only how little control we have in this world, but why we should cease our controlling efforts and just laugh at all of God's jokes. Lately, Milo likes to dance and is good on the piano. Ben likes to mimic Max and enjoys manipulating adults and anyone else who has no idea how quietly brilliant he is. Both of them would love your full and complete attention. Really, stop reading silly blogs and join the fan club now. Ok? Ok.








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