Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mini Mart a la Carte (2005)

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Having been a hardcore supporter of the convenience store lifestyle in college, the title of the book Mini Mart a la Carte appealed to me right off the bat! The word "mini mart" instantly sends me reminiscing upon days spent driving around Knox County with a cute blues-organ-and-harmonica player, his recently broken foot and crutch sticking out the window, trying to locate a Pilot gas station where he could stock up on American Spirits and I could refill my ever empty 99 cent Icee Big Gulp (the Icee Corporation lost so much money on me and that cup that summer). While the title sounds a lot like a gift book an aunt would give you for graduation, it's actually a pretty funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek (I hope?) guide to haute cuisine a la the industrial Cuisinart sandwich toaster next to the rotating weenie display at your local 7-Eleven.

Anything! Is! Possible!

Gallatin Goodwill, 99 cents. I bought this and a ceramic, roaring bear's head. Good haul.

I remember in the Townes van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me, TvZ's son (of TvZ himself?) mentioned his family shopping exclusively at convenience stores throughout his childhood. While I was taken aback at first, the practicality of it slowly dawned on me.Think about, if you were really set your mind to it, how many things you can buy at a convenience store that would save you a trip to the anxiety-inducing mega-grocery-store closest your home. Eggs. Milk. Bread. American Singles.Frozen dinners. Besides the standard fare of slushees and Mars bars, there's a world of culinary opportunities awaiting you in those bite-sized aisles. Authors Christopher Rouser and Victoria Traug offer up wryly titled recipes ("New England Spam Chowder", "Tuna Sasserole", and my personal favorite, "Banana Nicole Smith") that use equipment and ingredients found solely within the confines of your local stop-and-go. Wanna see some pics? You know you're deadly curious by now.

"Congealed" is the word that comes to mind...
"Ramen Romanoff" (above) is a kind of beef stroganoff slash macaroni and cheese fashioned from ramen noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. Through most of these recipes I go "AAAAAaaaah! Sick! Sick!" and then think back on what a real recipe for, say, stroganoff, would entail, and realize the authors, however ironic they're being, are not far off the mark in terms of taste similarities. Sour cream seems sick anyway you use it; and yet, if you're going to create a cream sauce, you're gonna have to! Note the condensed-milk milkshake in the background.

I'm mellllllltiiiiiing.....
This little devil is called "The Trojan Horse", for which you need a can of SPAM, 2 ounces of Velveeta, and a toothpick. And a willing audience. "Basically," the text instructs, "You're going to carve up the hunk of SPAM into a horse-shape." I'm gonna what....!! The carving of food items to look like not-food items has appealed to me ever since I first laid eyes on Betty Crocker's fruit peacock (not  a euphemism! My friend Alyx made a gorgeous example of one of these for a past Fourth of July). Note the Olde English six pack pairing-- I love the beverage suggestions in these photos. It reminds me of the "pair blah blah blah kind of wine with blah blah blah meat dish" advice you see in fine dining manuals...hey! Spam and Olde English 88! A match made in heaven/hell itself!

 The "Tooth Grinder" is a submarine sandwich made of one packet mayo, 1 packet mustard, 1 hot dog bun, assorted beef jerky sticks, American cheese, FUNYUNS (really? REALLY?), and optional Italian dressing. Again, I am reminded of wing ding foods made for me by other people's parents on playdates in the mid 90's...you know that mistrustful feeling you had as a child when a strange looking plate of (usually cheese laden) food was placed in front of you and you didn't want to be rude, but you also didn't want to ingest items not-prepared-by-your-own-mom? This would be, like, the KING of those kind of foods. "Try it! You'll like it!" ....Or will you! I think that also may be a Diet Rite in the background....the "cold drink" of choice of either of my diabetic maternal grandparents. "Go get me a cold drink in yonder!" translates to "Can you bring me a Diet Rite from the refrigerator?"

Turn a brighter....shade of pink....
 In the beverage section, besides wantonly suggesting one 1 part grain alcohol (Everclear) to 10 parts slushee to create "The Brain Drain" (and blithely ignoring the South's absolute lack of convenience stores or grocery stores for that matter that sell liquor, due to bible belt alcohol laws), we have, above, the "Pink of Health", a combination of Smirnoff Ice and Pepto Bismol. "Here is a breakthrough beverage that delivers both the cause of and the cure for a hangover." Is it good or bad that no one has thought of this before?

Circle K is actually more popular in these parts, but you get the picture. (source)

Besides recipes, the book also boasts fun facts about convenience stores. Did you know:
  • In 2002, 7-Eleven sold thirty-three million gallons of fountain drinks-- enough to fill over seventy five Olympic sized pools?
  • The first 24-hour mini mart was a 7-Eleven in Austin, TX which, in 1962, was so busy after a University of Texas football game they decided to stay open all night?
  • Up until 1946, 7-Eleven stores were called "Tote'm" stores because customers would "tote" away their purchases?

This book is ridiculously cheap on Amazon...if you can brave some of the more nausea-inducing recipes, it's a cute little read for an afternoon of Slurpee fueled nostalgia. I loved it!

Are you a convenience store junkie? What are some of the weirdest things you've purchased/eaten from a 7-Eleven? Any way out, middle of the night, crazy stories from behind the beef jerky display? Share!

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  1. Wow, these are all nauseating! I used to frequent convenience stores when I was a teen in Ohio. There wasn't much to do in our rural area, so we would stock up on snacks and drive around back roads. I remember discovering the Chic-o-Stick candy. Being a vegetarian I thought that it might have chicken in it! It is more like a Butter Finger sans chocolate. My favorite beverage pairing to my Chic-o-Stick was chocolate YooHoo. It sounds so yucky now!

    1. I know! Rereading the ingredients to list them on the blog, I was writing with a shudder of gleeful revulsion. Funyuns in place of onions, for the love of Mike! Yet, you can't deny the resourcefulness of these folks. I'm going to look up a Chic-o-Stick to see if they have them in TN next time I'm at a gas station!

  2. I love the whole idea of this. Probably because I'm a junk food junkie and get super excited when I have to go inside to pay for gas and get to grab some ridiculous snack pairings. I'd be ALL over that Trojan horse if I weren't a vegetarian! For my entire childhood and teenage years, we lived across the street from a convenience store. If you can imagine. And when I was single, I did all of my grocery shopping at CVS on my lunch breaks from work - which is just about as bad.

    1. Maybe we can make a Tofu-jan (or however you would mangle that to fit the case, I can't decide!) horse for our craft symposium, I'm going to do some scientific inquirin'. I went to Walgreens the other day on my lunch break to grab some salsa and some other non perishables for the larder rather than brave Krogers (I am both loyal to AND HATE Krogers)...I'm glad I'm not the only one!

  3. Whoa these are ummmmmm...amazing? The photo of the Trojan horse makes me feel woozy, as Velveeta and Spam both scare the mess out of me. But, I agree that most of out everyday food has similarities with the convenience
    store fare.

    Weirdest thing I've eaten from a convienice store (or a Jiffy/Lil' Champ as they are known in my home state of Florida) are the potato wedges they keep with the fried chicken. Those are actually pretty good.

    What Lola Wants

    1. Now I want some fried chicken and potato wedges! Also, I love the name "Jiffy" and "Lil Champ" for a convenience store. We had one in Knoxville that had a logo of a running Indian with a bowie knife, but I can't find it online (how is it not online?!).

  4. Oh! The absolute Queen of convenience stores has to be the QuikTrip on 169 highway just south I-35 near Olathe, Kansas. This place is amazing. Every confection, snack and concoction known to man. The more you look, the more you see. There is a BANK of coffee choices, rolling hotdogs by the score. Fresh fruit, yogurt, all manner and make of groceries. The place is immaculately clean. I stop there everytime I go north to load up on delicious pastries and coffee to gird my loins for the horror of the Kansas City freeway.

    1. Mark that on my new vacation destinations list if I ever head out west...!! You described it beautifully! :)



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