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Hello Asheville!

Gosh, it’s great to be back! I missed you guys, and this wonderful little city that we live in! The food, the people, the food, the fresh air….  my pet turtle… the food. It’s nice to travel, but it’s always great to get back home, especially when home is Asheville, WNC! Who, me? Where was I? Oh, didn’t I mention…

HASHTAG FAMILY TRIP!

If you follow me on Instagram, or FaceBook, you may have gotten inundated with my #familytrip photos and updates. I tried to keep them mostly food-related, but I did end up posting assloads of pictures of artwork from the Venice Biennale, and several snapshots of vulgar graffiti from the Dolomite mountains, as well as some family croquet-court antics, and even a  picture of me in my patriotic underpants. “Ciao, Italy! You got a package from America!” #familytrip

I used a lot of different hashtags while doing my travel posts — #castleselfie, #stuhelmanddawnroeinthedolomitemountainsyo, #cthulu — but I tried to use “#familytrip” every single time, in order to bunch my precious memories all together on one cloud in hashtag world. For whatever the fuck that’s worth.

Anyhoo…

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Clockwise from the top right window of Aikwood Tower in Selkirk, The Borders, Scotland: nephew, other nephew, mom, Stu Helm, Dawn Roe, step-dad, bro-in-law, sister #familydorkout

My whole family went on a dang over-seas trip together. My mom, my step-dad, my sister, my bro-in-law, my two nephs, and of course Dawn Roe and Stu Helm all hopped on a plane…  and then another plane… and ended up in “The Borders” region of Scotland, where my wonderful mother rented a dang castle called Aikwood Tower for us all to stay in for an entire week! We had the whole place to ourselves, and it was an authentic 500 year-old, blood-has-been-spilled-on-these-steps, 5-story, stone tower that medieval Scottish motherfuckers used to barricade themselves in, and shoot arrows at raiders out of tiny holes in the three-foot-thick walls from, and hack at besiegers with swords and shit in defense of. Whoa. It kinda put our stay at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn into a leeetle bit of historical perspective. Some parts of the world have old buildings. Some have really old buildings. Like, really old.

Anyhoo… after a week in our Scottish castle, we disbanded into smaller family units and went on different adventures. A bus-tour of the Highlands for the Mom-Unit, and a seemingly endless hike in some very windy looking places including the Isle of Skye for the Sis-Unit, while the Stu-and-Dawn-Unit jumped onto another plane, and then another plane, and then a long train ride until we finally ended up in a mountain city in Northern Italy called Bozen-Bolzano. After a few days in that Alpine burgh, we got back on the train and went to the wonderful city of Venice, mostly to see the Biennale, which is a giant-sized contemporary art exhibit that includes entries from all over the world. It was a great trip, and of course we ate stuff the whole time! A lot of stuff.

So, let’s talk about the food.

I’m gonna start with something we all know and we all have an opinion on: Airplane Food.

Most people will tell you, “Airplane food sucks.” And it does. To be sure. I mean, who likes airplane food? Nobody. Crazy people. Me.

Well, “like” is perhaps too strong of a word. How about… am rarely disappointed by?

I live my life according to a handful of cliches that I apply as needed to whatever type of situation the universe might throw my way. When it comes to airplane food I like to bust out this old gem: “Lowered expectations yield higher returns.” Fucking genius.

When I get on an airplane, I expect to eat airplane food, so when they serve me airplane food I’m not the least bit surprised or disappointed, and therefore I enjoy a relatively high return in my personal food satisfaction levels.

I took a total of 8 different airplane rides in two weeks and ate the following food items…

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One of Philip’s famous crab cakes. It don’t look like much, but it might be the best bite in the whole airport.

Well, first we ate some airport food at Philip’s Sea Food, located between gates C13 and C15 in the Charlotte Airport, and enjoyed their “famous” crab cakes. I think everyone can agree that airport food is usually a combination of really terrible and completely awful with a healthy dash of insanely expensive added, just to really stick it to ya, but the crab cakes at Philip’s are actually pretty fucking good, and Dawn and I look forward to them every time we have to fly out of Charlotte. Yes, they are insanely expensive, but they’re well done and basically delicious, so if you have to eat before flying out of Charlotte, do yourself a favor and have a crab cake at Philip’s.

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This meal looked and tasted anywhere from barely edible, to drab, to not half bad, with at least one hint of “hey that was actually pretty good.” Expectations: met.

On our first transatlantic flight we were given a choice of chicken or pasta. I opted for the chicken and it wasn’t bad, but I had pasta envy the minute I saw it, because it looked all hot and cheesy and actually kinda tasty. My nephew confirmed that it was “pretty good.” Damn it! Oh well. The chicken came with rice and veg, as well as a passably fresh green salad, plus some cheese and crackers. I found the bun to be the least edible item on the tray. What would I personally change to make this meal much better? How about… cook and serve it in a restaurant on the ground with a complete staff and fully equipped kitchen? No? You say you can’t do that because we’re 20,000 feet in the air hurdling through time and space in a tiny metal tube that shakes when the wind blows? Oh, well in that case, I wouldn’t change a thing. You nailed it. My expectations were either met or exceeded on every level.

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Even though the contents weren’t awesome, it was nice to be brought a box full of food that literally said “Good Morning.” Now I want one every morning! With better stuff inside.

In the morning we got a box that said “Good morning” on it, and contained yogurt, granola, a “mixed berry” muffin top and some dried fruit. It was fine. I ate some of the stuff in the box until I was less hungry, which was all I required at the time. I gave my muffin top away, in order to curry favor with my nephew just in case there were tasty items up for tradesies later on in the journey. Being on a plane is like being in prison, where you gotta trade cigs for toilet wine… or a muffin top for a potential ice cream treat. #notatalllikeprison

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An efficient lunch from KLM airlines consisting of a tiny coke and a skimpy sandwich. Also pictured: I decided to read Game of Thrones to distract me from thoughts of airplane crashes during our 8 flights. It worked! For the most part.

On board KLM for our shorter European flights, the merry Dutch “cabincrooo” gave us sandwiches that came in attractive, compact, text-heavy boxes that boasted of “happy cows,” from a “special place on Earth,” and organic bread baked by somebody named “Carl Siegert.” The yoghurt and cheese sandwich we got on the way to Italy was better than the egg sandwich we got on the way back, both were decent enough, and the bread was indeed the highlight. Thanks, Carl! The KLM sandwiches exceeded my expectation in terms of quality, but both were a little skimpy on the cheese and egg filling respectively. There wasn’t any there there, as we say here in America… where we know how to make a sandwich… at the very least. I mean, c’mon, KLM, squeeze another slice of “beemster” outta one of those happy cows for me.

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Breakfast on board USAir/American was a little strange in that the plastic box on the right contained scrambled eggs, a sausage, and potatoes… with tomato sauce. Tomato sauce? Whatever. I put it in me.
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I ate most of this lunch offering. The laughing cow & crackers were the best part, followed by the chips. The sandwich on the right had two giant slabs of cold butter, and a schmear of chicken… or turkey… or maybe ham…
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Here’s one of those two cold butter slabs.

On the 7 hour flight back, we got fed pretty damn well, I have to say. And by that I mean: There was airplane food aplenty. Almost none of it was “good” by normal standards, but it was there, in front of me, arriving at regular intervals, usually right before I was hungry. When I opened my mouth and placed these food items inside of my body, I had less hunger-sads, and that was a good feeling. Yes, there were some issues with the food (#buttersandwich), and I’ll admit that even I was starting to lose my positive attitude by the end of all this flying, but I knew we’d be home soon, and back in Asheville where I can get all my fave stuff and eat some of the best food in the fucking world, so I tried to zen-out and enjoy my butter sandwich. Ommmm… Things did get better…

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At first I was, like, “Beckleberry? Okay, now, what the fuck is a becklebeh… oh… never mind.”

For one thing, the ice cream treat that I had hoped for during the long flight to Scotland did eventually come back my way on the even longer flight back to JFK in New York City, when USAir scored a touchdown by unexpectedly serving tiny cups of delicious vanilla ice cream to us! “YAYYY! ICE CREAM!!!” I said to myself, or possibly out loud. I scarfed mine down in zero point zero seconds flat, and then I heard someone behind me say “Hey, Stu do you want Hanson’s?” In the blink of an eye, I had my wee plastic spoon fervently digging away at a 2nd cup of sweet, cold, whiteness. It turns out, my nephew didn’t know it was ice cream. He thought it was yoghurt. Poor kid. #sadtrombone

The next thing I remember from our globe trotting adventures is being naked in JFK International Airport.

True story. By the time we got back to ‘Merca, I was very hot and grimy and I kinda smelled like cat piss, so I took off all of my clothes, and just stood there — in JFK International muhfuckin’ Airport, naked as a got-dang  jay-bird — under a stream of hot water inside of a locked, private shower room, located within the Admiral Club lounge in the USAir terminal. Yeah, Man, I took a fucking shower at the airport. It was awesome. I suddenly felt human again.

The Admiral Club was Dawn’s treat! She always says, “If you’ve got an (insert ridiculous number of hours) lay-over, pay the $50 and go to the lounge.” There’s free snacks, coffee, and other drinks, plus cushy chairs, climate control, TV, books, magazines, charging stations, nice, clean bathrooms, private showers, and best of all: fewer people and more space in between you and them.

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R2D2 made me a frothy caffeinated drink.

While we were at the Admiral Club, I ate three bowls of soup, and drank two cappuccinos. We also snacked-out on crunchy stuff, and Dawn had a drink, I think. The soup was actually pretty good, for airport soup. The broth was savory as fuck, the vegetables were not reduced to complete mush, it was good enough that I really wanted that 3rd helping. The cappuccinos came out of a machine, and they were also pretty good… enough… good enough… because… well, when I placed my cup under the spout and selected my preferred beverage by pressing a button, a shot of espresso came squirting out of the machine and then some steamed milk came shooting out next. Simple as a pimple, and as I said, good enough. It made me think that maybe one day we can train machines to do other things that are even more complicated than making a halfway decent latte. #buildingcarsforexample

Anyhoodles… There you go, that’s the basic scoop on the airport and airplane food that we ate on vacation.  Here’s the super-BID:

• I recommend the crab cakes at Philip’s in the Charlotte Airport

• KLM uses organic bread, and eggs from chickens raised by farmers who care.

• Lower your expectations and you might enjoy the food more in general.

• Treat yourself to the lounge when needed.

• Have a great trip!

It’s nice to be back in America, where everybody knows my name (yeah, so fucking what if I just a made a “Cheers” reference?), and it’s especially nice to be back in Asheville, where I’ve already eaten a few of my favorite things from Ingles, Wholefoods, and The French Broad Food Co-op, as well as some amazing dishes at Curate, Sovereign Remedies, and Chai Pani.

The food in our little town compares favorably to, or is better than, all or most of the food that we ate abroad, and we ate some great shit out there! In my next installments, I’ll tell you all about the food we ate in Scotland, as well as the Italian and German food that we ate in Bozen-Bolzano, and Venice.

And yes, I did eat haggis. #yum

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stu_helm_2013Stu Helm is an artist and writer living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook. 

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2 Comments

  1. Why am I not surprised to find you in Border Reiver territory, you rogue! Anywhooo…

    I hungrily await your comments on Brit food. I was in Scotland (the more northern parts) last year and my eyes were opened wide. The Haggis was no BFD (the PROCESS may SOUND gross but it is just ground sausage, oats and herbs), but I developed a LOVE for Stornoway Black Pudding (cooked in BLOOD! Ozzie, Ozzie…!)

    I tried to describe an American-style biscuit to my tour guide (over there a biscuit is a cookie) and she said it was called a breakfast roll, but when I ordered a breakfast roll, I got a hamburger bun.

    If you ask a Brit for iced tea, they look at you like you just ate their baby.

    People who know me ask me if I could one day move to Scotland to live. I could NEVER live in a place without biscuits and iced tea. Barbarians!

    Still, it was an awesome trip. My only regrets were that, as we were fed so many wonderful meals in our hotels and restaurants, I never got to a) try a British McDonald’s to see how it compared to ours, and b) try a Costa Coffee shop, which is their version of Starbuck’s, and reportedly superior.

    Toodles, Laddie!

  2. Christopher D. says:

    “I live my life according to a handful of cliches that I apply as needed to whatever type of situation the universe might throw my way. When it comes to airplane food I like to bust out this old gem: “Lowered expectations yield higher returns.” Fucking genius.

    When I get on an airplane, I expect to eat airplane food, so when they serve me airplane food I’m not the least bit surprised or disappointed, and therefore I enjoy a relatively high return in my personal food satisfaction levels.”

    Thank You Stu! I have been trying for years to explain the fact that I actually like airplane food and cafeterial food, and all kinds of food everyone else claims not to like… and i couldn’t express myself as beautifully as that.
    Also, it helps that I’m usually really hungry by the time I eat on airplanes.

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