Monday, November 21, 2011

Random Billy Pilgrim Sidebar

An addendum to the post about visiting the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library:

In the early 1990s, my husband had a rock band in Chicago called Billy Pilgrim. One day, he got a letter from Atlantic Records: relinquish the name, and the label would pay him $7000. It seems Atlantic had just signed another Billy Pilgrim - a folk rock duo from Georgia (one of the dudes is now the guitarist in Sugarland) - and needed to trademark the name.

We think Vonnegut would smile at the situation: poor Chicago rockers get lots of beer money for a character name Vonnegut invented. Meanwhile, vintage Pilgrim tuques remain on the Windy City's streets.

Friday, November 18, 2011

So It Goes at the Vonnegut Library

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis is small but mighty. Offbeat tidbits from his life stock the displays, such as his Pall Mall cigarettes, Purple Heart medal, and the box where he kept his rejection letters. Each month the library frames a different letter and hangs it on the wall, ie:

"I was glad to read your story To Dust Return. I am sorry that I cannot write to you about it with enthusiasm.... I'm afraid you have tried to substitute novelty for real dramatic narrative. This sometimes works but very seldom. I'm afraid that I must, therefore, tell you that you should look elsewhere for an agent.... Yours, Larabie Cunningham, McIntosh & Otis Inc., NY, NY"

The library also replicates Vonnegut's office, complete with checkerboard carpet, red rooster lamp and blue Coronamatic typewriter. Visitors can sit at the desk and type Kurt a note, which the library then publishes via Twitter from the name @kurtstypewriter.

A few months ago, the library formed a Banned Book Response Team to give away free copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to students in Republic, MO, where the book is restricted. Yes, Billy Pilgrim and friends continue to cause controversy by swearing and having sex, even 42 years after publication.

Click here for a random, rock-n-roll Billy Pilgrim sidebar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Pie-Five for Route 66's Birthday

What better way to honor of Route 66's birthday tomorrow - officials christened the Mother Road on November 11, 1926 - than a pie-filled road trip? You can practically follow the trail of crumbs from one diner to the next.

Launch from Lou Mitchell's in downtown Chicago. Yes, it's renowned as a breakfast place, but since more than 35% of Americans admit they've forked into pie for breakfast, according to the American Pie Council, there's no need to be shy about ordering the fruity, a la mode slice-of-the-day (weekends only) to chase your double-yoked eggs and complimentary donut holes.

Motor on to Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook. As comfort food connoisseurs, the Rhea family knows deep-fried bird and mac-and-cheese can only be capped by warm, buttery, blueberry pie. At least that's what filled plates recently; the selection rotates.

Next up: the Old Log Cabin in Pontiac. Coffee, conversation and Crisco-based crust are its recipe for success, along with loads of classics to choose from. Banana cream? Butterscotch? Cherry? Rhubarb? All here and accounted for (until lunchtime).

When you hear a collective "mmm" rising from the cornfields, you've reached Atlanta and the time-warped Palms Grill Cafe. Thick slabs of gooseberry, peach, sour cream raisin and other retro pies tempt from a glass case. Bonus: Tall Paul, a giant statue of Paul Bunyan clutching a hot dog, watches from across the street.

Then it's on to the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, one of Route 66's oldest restaurants. Post meatloaf dinner, the waitress hauls out a big ol' dessert tray stacked with Reese's, Snickers, apple and other pies. Consider it fuel for the long drive onward, because friend, you're still in Illinois. You've got 7 states and 2000 miles to go to reach the end of the road.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bhut-y Call

I've written before about Jake Melnick's Corner Tap, where the spicy buffalo wings are sauced with the bhut jolokia, the hottest pepper on earth. For reference, it's about 200 times hotter than a jalapeno.

On Sunday, November 6, Melnick's hosts the "Battle of the Bhut" wing-eating contest - an official event on the International Federation of Competitive Eating circuit. Last year's winner, Erik "The Red" Denmark, chowed 35 nuclear wings. They're typically served alongside a bell - you ring it for a shot of cooling milk, in case the pepper incapacitates your vocal chords.

Oddly, while chilies inflame the mouth, they're thought to have the opposite effect on the reverse end of the body. This goes back to French Army officer L Stevenel, who wrote in the 1956 Bulletin of the Society of Exotic Pathology that West African locals' lack of hemorrhoids was does to their red-chili-rich diet.

For more on dishes hot enough to repel elephants, check out the World's 10 Fieriest Foods.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Museums for National Sandwich Day

Sure, you can celebrate November 3 with a couple slices of meat-filled bread. You can even add a piece of cake to honor John Montagu's 293rd birthday (Montagu is the 4th Earl of Sandwich, the 18th century Englishman who invented the dish as a way to eat with one hand while playing cards with the other.) But if you're serious about sandwiches, visit these Midwestern museums to pay proper homage to the holiday:

National Mustard Museum, Middleton, Wisconsin - Born of one man's ridiculously intense passion, the building houses 5300 mustards, kooky condiment memorabilia and a mustard bar to sample the spreads. CMO (chief mustard officer) Barry Levenson is usually on hand to introduce you to Mustardpiece Theatre, Shakespearean mustard references and the rest of his condiment shtick.

Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota - Learn how the peculiar, blue-tinned meat has fed armies, become a Hawaiian food staple and inspired legions of haiku writers. What's more, you can chat up the staff (aka 'spambassadors'), indulge in free samples, and try your hand at canning the sweet pork magic.