Grilled Onions

Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone.

You know are an adult when you start ordering grilled onions on your cheeseburger. You may have suffered from alliumphobia as a kid, but sooner or later you’ll grow up. The smell is what gets you. You can trick people into thinking that you’ve been working up a storm in the kitchen by simply putting an onion in the oven. If you’ve ever been at an outdoor festival, it’s the smell of grilled onions at the polish sausage stand that draws you over. Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone. It’s the caramelized onions that draw you.

I hated onions as a kid. I am still not the point where I can take a bite out of a raw onion like Ronnie Spates. Perhaps I’ll work up to that someday. Right now I tolerate raw onion and cilantro that they serve at the taco place, and the occasional slice of onion that comes on that turkey sandwich from Costco. I’m still not overly fond of raw onions, but I am talking about it so that is part of the healing process. Onions are ingredients, not stand alone food. People don’t just walk around eating flour or baking soda do you? I do remember people walking around at Smith’s Grocery eating starch out of the package. The kind of starch you iron your clothes with. “It’s great!” They said. “But my doctor tells me not to do it.” I never understood that. Eating raw flour might make more sense. Do you know any starch eaters?

I remember sitting in the buggy and eating raw hamburger meat straight out of the package at Food World. It was before Lindsay was born, so I guess I was under two years old. It seems like I was mesmerized by the shiny shrink wrap around the ground beef. I poked it with my finger. After a while I made a little hole in the shrink wrap and started eating the raw meat one little nibble at a time. It was the cashier who noticed that the package had a hole in it. Mom frowned at this discovery but never suspected me. I told her a couple years ago. And I just told all y’all. If you are wondering I’m fully recovered. Anyway, I was telling you about grilled onions.

It all started in Winchester, VA. There was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called The Snow White Grill. It had been open since the 30s and they were known for tiny little hamburgers. Imagine Krystal burgers, but good. The burgers are-perhaps were, I haven’t been in a while-made from fresh local beef on a flat top grill. They make about forty patties at a time, and they finish them with grilled onions. They take pride in their grilled onions. There is not an option to have a burger without onions and if you ask for no onions they will look at you like you ate the Lord’s supper.

The Grilled onions on the Snow White Grill cheeseburger is what got me. It was a completely new way to experience a burger. Like seeing your childhood neighborhood in a different city. One with a Chick Fil A. It’s like going from arithmetic to quantum mechanics. Or Perhaps just algebra. I’m not entirely sure what all quantum mechanics entails. Grilled onions on your cheeseburger makes it deluxe. Like the familiar standard model, but way better.

Maybe you already know this and have been putting grilled onion on everything from cheeseburgers to ice cream for years. You probably eat raw onions too. But some of y’all have never tried grilled onions on your cheeseburger, and if you’ve read this far so you might as well go do it. Just be sure it’s at a reputable hamburger place. I recommend Hamburger Heaven or Milo’s. And let met know about it.

Bacon Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions from Hamburger Heaven

Thanks for reading, sharing and supporting.

-Zane Wells

Sweet Tea

We never called it sweet tea at the house, merely “tea”. It was probably the first recipe I learned to make after cheese crackers, which involves folding a piece of American Cheese into quarters, placing them on saltine crackers, and microwaving them for ten seconds. They are still one of my favorite snacks, although I have graduated to Ritz crackers and cheese you have to cut with your knife. My sister once microwaved some cheese crackers for about ten minutes. They didn’t taste all that good since she had deviated to far from the original recipe. Mom taught me to make tea when I was a little kid and still didn’t mind letting her cut my hair. We consumed a lot of tea at home, and it was supposed to be your responsibility to make a new pitcher if you finished off the last of it. Woe to the person who finished the tea and placed the empty pitcher back into the refrigerator.

I’ll teach you how to make tea, it’s a critical skill. You need a pot, not a kettle. You’ll need someone else to teach you to make tea if you want to use a kettle. If you’re learning from me you’ll need a pot, like a Johnny Appleseed hat type pot that you might also use for making green beans. It helps if the handle is slightly loose. Of course you will need some tea, preferably Sure-Fine brand, which is the Piggly-Wiggly store brand. If you get Red Diamond or any name brand people will think that you are snooty. Besides, those fancy name brands do not taste as good. And make sure you get black tea, nobody cares about how healthy green tea is and you’re going to destroy any of those nutritional benefits when you add the sugar anyway. Three tea bags should do it, but don’t get the kind with the strings, cause after you place the tea bags in the pot you’re going to fill it up with water and bring it to a boil on the stove. You can also nuke it in the microwave like Nonna does, but I don’t recommend this, it’s way to easy to mess up a recipe in the microwave. Once your tea has come to a boil for a bit, turn off the heat and let it set on the stove while you pour anywhere from one and a half to two and a half cups of sugar in your pitcher. My sister always did three. Pour the scalding hot tea straight onto the sugar (this is my favorite part). Stir it around with a spoon until you feel the sugar dissolve, it’s therapeutic. You won’t have enough tea in the pot to make a whole gallon-which is the only acceptable amount of tea to make- so you’ll need to leave the tea bags in the pot while as you fill it up with water to dump into the pitcher. You’ll have to do this a few times and while it may feel unnecessary those last couple of times, there are some things you do in the kitchen that don’t have to make sense.

It’s not hard to make tea, the only way you can mess it up is to not put sugar in it. My Dad once put brown sugar in the tea and didn’t tell anyone. I guess he was being resourceful since we were out of sugar. We found out though. My Dad grinned sheepishly like a child that had been caught.

You may be wondering what tea pairs well with if you are new to tea, which is hard for me to imagine. Tea pairs well with breakfast, dinner, and supper.

Sometimes for breakfast, there wouldn’t be enough tea to go around because someone the night before left just enough left in the pitcher to justify not making more tea. Mom would ration out the cold tea into three separate tumblers. I always liked cold tea better than iced tea. Those mornings you would savor it. It probably tasted best then. Sometimes my sister would run late and she would let me have hers, along with her fried weenie and scrambled eggs.

A few months after I got married, I developed an unbearable pain in my lower back. There was nothing I could do to get comfortable. Laying still hurt, walking hurt, using the heat pad hurt, not using the heat pad hurt. I had to call in sick for work. I told my wife that I think I may have a kidney stone. “You would know if had a kidney stone” she said, and told me that I was being dramatic.

The pain lasted for the longest February that I have ever lived through. I’m not sure if tea was what caused my kidney stone, but it’s what I blamed, so I quit drinking tea in an effort to make a plea bargain with this kidney stone.  Finally my suspicions were confirmed when I passed the kidney stone at work. It was immediate relief. It sat in the bottom of the toilet, big enough for me to see clearly. I stooped down closer to get a better look and triggered automatic flush sensor on the toilet, which flushed right in my face.

By the time I finally passed the kidney stone I had broken a twenty year old habit and I decided to see how long I could go without tea or Coke-which is what Southerners call all carbonated soft drinks. That was ten years ago. It’s not that I think other people are bad for drinking tea or Coke, but I just don’t crave it anymore. It would probably be ok if I took it back up again, but I’m going for the world record. If I close my eyes on a morning when I’m running a bit late, I can picture myself at the kitchen table looking at three glasses each filled about a third of the way, and I can still taste that cold tea.

Catfish

There was a restaurant in Childersburg, AL called Whiskers. They named their business after the grossest part of the catfish. To some, everything about the catfish is gross: catfish is a polarizing dish. People generally love it, or are grossed out by it. Although there is only one way to cook catfish, that is battered in cornmeal and fried in a skillet or fish fryer (I am thoroughly resolved on this matter), there is division on how it should be dressed before frying: whole or filleted. When you dress them whole, or bone in, you gut them, skin them, and cut their heads off, leaving the tail that crunches up like a potato chip after it comes out of the skillet. You have to be careful when you eat whole catfish because the bones are sharp. When you eat one properly you’ll be left with a perfect fish skeleton just like the kind in the comics. When you filet a catfish, you slice him right behind the pectoral fin all the way to the spine, then turn your knife and slice him all the way to the tail. Once you reach the tail you flip the slice away from the body and cut the skin away. Once you get real good at it, it looks like one fluid motion. “You waste a lot of meat when you fillet them.” You hear these kind of complaints from people who aren’t cleaning fish at all. I grew up eating fish, not just catfish, filleted. But I’m not so stuck up that I won’t eat a whole one tail and all.

I remember a conversation my dad had with John Smith. John was giving Dad directions to somewhere near Rockford, AL. “Bro. Perry, You know where that Catfish restaurant is on the right?”

“I know where that is. I’ve always wanted to stop and see if they have some good catfish in there.” My Dad asked.

“Brother Perry. Man do they have some catfish! You talking ’bout some good eating.” John began to get excited as he described the catfish in a little more detail.

“Are they good?” Dad asked, now more interested in the catfish than wherever John had been directing him in the first place.

John got a real sheepish grin on his face.

“I don’t know.” he said. “I had a cheeseburger.”