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The Facebook page The Northwest Side of Chicago posted this photo of The Buffalo today, and the moment I saw it I was catapulted into my past.

When I was a little girl, living about two blocks from this corner, the Buffalo occupied the corner space, the place that is girded by that neon sign that says “BUFFALO – SODAS – BUFFALO’S OWN MADE ICE CREAM” If I remember correctly, it had ten old, high-backed wooden booths with black marble-topped tables, and jukeboxes affixed to the wood-paneled walls at the center of long, tiled mirror panels.  There were coat hooks on the posts between booths.  At the very back there was one long table for big groups, with a long booth on one side and bentwood chairs on the other.  The floor was tiled in black and white hex tiles with black grout that had probably been white originally.

There were two wooden phone booths on one side, next to a long candy counter which had ceased to be used for candy before I was born.  I think they had stuffed toys displayed there, but it’s hard to remember.  That was where we’d line up to wait for a booth, so it was just as well nobody was trying to do business there.  Across from the defunct candy counter was a counter with stools.  That was where the magic happened, with freezers, pumps for the various toppings, mysterious machines, a big vat to keep the hot fudge sauce hot, stacks of glasses and dishes, and soda water spigots with pull-down handles that always fascinated me.  We almost never sat at the counter.  When we did, I felt like I was being let in on a huge secret as I watched the soda jerks work their magic

My parents and I went there about once a week.  It was one of the only places where my dad was willing to stand in line which is a testament to their ice cream.  Yeah, you could get sandwiches, too, but we went for the ice cream and so did most of the other patrons who would stand in line out the door and down the block on a hot summer night.  Once you got a booth, you’d give your order to a high school boy who never wrote anything down (hoping he’d get it right; he usually did) and fed a quarter into the jukebox for three plays.

I usually ordered a chocolate a la Boston soda.  I don’t know what made it Boston style, but I do know I loved it with a passion that endures to this day.  My dad was a soda man, too.  My mom liked her banana splits.  When I got older, I wanted to try some of the “creations” like the “Hubba Hubba” but my folks always said they were too big.  I never did try the Hubba Hubba, but I remember I did try the “Chop Suey – Not Chinese or with celery.”  I can’t remember if I liked it.  Mostly if I wanted something really fancy, it was hot fudge.  That was when hot fudge tasted like… fudge.  It doesn’t anymore.

I loved their malted milks too, so thick your spoon would stand up in them.  Since the advent of high fructose corn syrup sweetened chocolate syrup, shakes and malts haven’t tasted the same.  And I still remember the packet of cookies that came with them.  One Nabisco butter cookie and one Oreo wafer.  No cream filling, just the single wafer.

Later they expanded.  They took the space behind and the one to the west.  They did all the carry outs from the rear, and the new dining room area was relentlessly modern and I never liked it all that well.  But every year, on the last day of school, we went there for lunch and hung out for the afternoon the way adolescents had done, probably since the place opened.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, this print is for sale.

Later they opened a bar and grill, but I never went there.  I’d moved out of the area and going there wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.  Then Shell bought the property and tore the building down to put up a service station so there’d be three corners with gas stations  at that intersection.  What a boost to the neighborhood!  I’ve had a grudge against Shell since 1978, when the parlor closed

There have been other ice cream parlors in the Chicago area, Chicagoans love their ice cream.  There’s even another Buffalo out in Buffalo Grove, owned either by the same folks who owned the original, or by relatives of theirs, I’m not sure which.  They have a lot of the same ice cream creations, like the Hubba Hubba, and there’s a Boston shake, but no Boston sodas.  But none of them come close to the Buffalo for me.

I can still remember being sent down to buy a pint of hand-packed ice cream, and I can remember how good it tasted.  Most ice cream doesn’t taste that good anymore.  I remember how beautiful the place was with its dark wood paneling and warm incandescent lights.  And the crazy thing is, I can still remember how that place smelled.  It was a cool, dark, ever-so-slightly sweet aroma that seemed to float around you as you walked through those double doors on the corner.

Like most of the other great things about my childhood, it’s gone forever.  And like those things, I miss it.  I miss its magic.

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Day 18 of the Pantry Project got me to try a new bread recipe.  Why?  Because I have admitted defeat in the dry milk arena.  Stuff's undrinkable, in my opinion.  I literally gagged trying to drink it and ended up turning it into eggnog to mask the flavor. Still, I can't throw it all away, so I put a call out there and the lovely and talented Jeannelle pointed me towards King Arthur Flour and the classic white sandwich loaf which uses up to half a cup of the stuff  (more if you substitute milk for the water, less if you use half potato flakes instead.)  I was completely out of bread, unless you count flatbread, which today I wasn't.  I wanted something to spread some peanut butter on.  So first thing this morning I took the butter and yeast out of the fridge and got the process going. The dough came together pretty easily, and kneaded up very well with the dough hook.  I got my gluten windowpane without having to hand knead anything.  The dough uses not only dry milk but honey, so it had a heavenly aroma.  A few minutes of prep, ten to fifteen minutes of kneading, two rises for a total of three hours, and 35 minutes to bake.  What I got was a loaf with a firm, moist crumb, a soft crust and a wonderful flavor.  Half the loaf went to the housemate and what's left of the other half will probably be gone tomorrow.  This has become my go-to sandwich loaf because it cuts like a dream and holds together perfectly.  I just had a slice with some homemade ham salad, and it was delicious. While it was rising, I cut up an English cuke and salted it.  Then I made cucumbers in sour cream with very thinly sliced red onion and some dill.  None of it came out of my pantry except the dill and the cider vinegar, but it was exactly what I wanted, and it was all fresh. I finally pulled the boneless ham out of the fridge and cut it up.  It wasn't as good a ham as I'd hoped, but it wasn't inedible, and I reasoned that with the scallions, relish and Miracle Whip, it would be fine.  I broke out the grinder and went to work.  Now I'm not a big ham salad fan.  I'm not even a big fan of ham period, but I've had a taste for it recently, and the salad part is really nostalgic for me. When I was a little girl we lived in a 30s era apartment on Chicago's NW side.  It was one of those ginormous buildings which now are often taken over by gang bangers and meth heads.  But back in the 50s there were mostly families and elderly widows.  Everyone knew everyone else, they watched out for each other.  This really doesn't have anything to do with ham salad per se, but I'm writing it to explain some of the nostalgia. In the kitchen there was a door in the wall and when you opened it, there was the ironing board!  When Mom wanted to make ham salad or roast beef hash, she'd lower the board and put a big, iron, hand-cranked grinder at the end of it.  Then she'd feed chunks of meat through it into a bowl.  She always let me help.  I loved turning the crank, or trying to anyway.  Sometimes it was harder than I could manage.  At the end of each batch, she'd put a few saltines through the grinder to help clean it out.  I loved that part the best.  I loved the taste of the saltines that came through at the end. She always used Miracle Whip, and pickle relish.  I don't recall her using onions in her ham salad.  Maybe a touch of mustard since we were a mustard-lovin' family.  But that was it.  We'd eat it on white bakery bread, and it used up every last bit of the Easter ham.  It was a good lesson in economy. While I was grinding today -- a far easier process with the Kitchen Aid to do the hard work for me -- I thought about that time.  I didn't have any saltines, unfortunately, but it didn't matter.  I made something from memory, something that my mother had made for me when I was little.  The process, the flavor of the ham salad on my fresh bread made me very happy.  I don't know if I'll ever do it again, but I'm glad I did it tonight.  I feel like I reconnected with something.
 This is what I ended up eating for lunch: warm bread with good butter and a fresh pear.  Aren't you jealous??  Also, I have five small cups of ham salad in the freezer.  That ham was bigger than I thought.
In memory of Mom and her cooking lessons, I'm going to share her cucumber salad recipe with you.  Use it wisely, my children, for it is  Good Noms.
Mom's Cukes in Sour Cream

2 large cucumbers
1t salt
1C sour cream
2T vinegar
1T chopped chives
1 t dill seed
1/4 t sugar
Dash pepper

Peel cucumbers; slice thin.  Sprinkle with salt and let stand 30 minutes.  Drain. Combine sour cream, vinegar, chives, dill seed, sugar and pepper.  Pour over cucumbers and toss.  Add salt to taste. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

I use very thinly sliced sweet onions (I use a mandoline for the cukes and onions both.)  instead of chives, and dill weed instead of seed.  Other than that, it's the same salad.


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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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