Gas Station Gourmet: Fried Chicken Gizzards and Livers

Disclosure: you can deep fry pretty much any quasi-edible-thing and dare me to eat it and I’ll do it (or at least try to). That may seem like an overstatement, but last year when I was traveling through Cambodia, I astounded and disgusted a small gathering of strangers by consuming ¾ of a fried tarantula.

What was on the line? My pride.

(I didn’t manage to swallow the last ¼ of the spider. I’d already eaten the head and legs, which were similar to extra-crispy French fries, just a tad hairier. All that was left was the abdomen. I took a bite of that rounded area and, as I did, bravely glanced at my food for the first time. The insides were the color of egg whites. As I begin to chew, the thickness of the body, soft but firm, like Gumdrops, stuck to my teeth. I found the nearest wastebin, spat it all out, and chugged a beer.)

Alas, a failure. But this episode provided me the courage to take on many a deep-fried mammal meat with elegance and grace. Or so I’d like to think.

The deep frier is the great neutralizer of the weird-eats world. Not only is deep fried food usually a safe bet (what bacteria can survive those high temperatures?) but, to be Gas Station Gourmet candid; what doesn’t batter and oil immediately make tastier?


Some of my favorite mouthgasm-inducing-masterpieces include fish-n-chips, fried oreos, fried crocodile, fried chicken, and corn dogs. So when I wandered through a gas station in backcountry Illinois and noticed a particularly-greasy smelling selection of hot foods, I couldn’t resist. And when I found out that I could purchase a paper baggie of deep fried chicken gizzards and livers for only $2.50 (and it came with a free dipping sauce), I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Not only did this dish meet my standards of gross and questionable, but a side sauce like jalapeño mustard can make any bad decision, at the very least, tolerable.

(And after my rendezvous with the tarantula, fried chicken gizzards and livers felt like mere child’s play.)

I paid for the goods, grinning maniacally, and hopped back into the passenger side of the car. Here, I unwrapped my prize.

I’d eaten plenty of liver, so I was prepared for the soft-but-thick texture that juxtaposed with the nuggety-crunch of the outside crisp. It was salty, with an earthy, musty flavor and smell. The insides were the predictable gray-purple hue. Nothing outlandishly gross, nothing special. But once dipped into the jalapeño mustard, the liver bite was delightfully creamy and spicy. The sauce, as expected, both enhanced the crisp and masked the chew.

I could already feel my snack lying heavy in my stomach after a single nugget and my fingers were slimy with grease. I wiped them down on a napkin, and shook the bag, attempting to distinguish livers from gizzards. They were all pretty nugget-like.

I can’t say with certainty that after my long, convoluted street food history, I hadn’t eaten a gizzard before that moment. But I was still surprised by the intense, never ending chewiness of my first bite, like ripping into a chunk of the fattie grizzle of a steak. It took all my perseverance to keep going at it. And some bits were harder than others, with a consistency and crunch similar to that of cartilage. I tore at the flesh, which was much drier than the liver. As I did, I re-evaluated my assumption that animal organs were mostly soft. And I realized I had no idea what a gizzard was.

(I’m kind of glad I found this definition after my encounter with fried chicken gizzards.)

Fast Forward Two Hours Later. I can’t stop. Every ten minutes or so I find myself digging back into the crinkly paper bag, my fingertips desperately reaching for those golden bits of texture-and-flavor-explosion. However, I don’t know how much longer I can do it. I’m almost out of jalapeño mustard, which is key to this experiment.

I’m also beginning to feel nauseous and sleepy. Like when I binge drink and go way past my limit and my body starts shutting down, forcing me to pass out and stop consuming alcohol before I hurt myself.

Can’t write more. Must sleep. When I wake up, I may regret this.

  • Cost: $2.50
  • Tastiness: ***
  • Weirdness (Sights, Smells, & Texture): *****
  • Car-Safety: ***
  • Digestion: **
  • Overall Edibility: ***
  • Value: ****

Conclusion: It’s a great deal if you’re looking for a meal that’s a bang-for-your-buck and a taste of grease-heaven. But keep in mind that a power so mighty as that of the deep frier must be respected by us mere mortals. If you order a bag of these organ-nibbles, make sure to share them with an equally-curious-and-courageous friend. Otherwise you may fall victim to the tryptophan-nap, like myself.

Un-Patriotic Reflections on Mount Rushmore: My People

Black Hills, South Dakota

by Cassia Reynolds

My friends and I stared at Mount Rushmore for the recommended 10 minutes (how long can you really look at a statue in the distance?). After we perused the equally gigantic maze of the accompanying gift store, we wandered back onto the crowded walkway where I immediately lost my buddies in the mob of tourists. I couldn’t see over the sea of shoulders (thanks again, genetics) so I climbed on top of a stone post for a better view. After a few futile minutes of scanning the masses for familiar faces, I gave up and sat down on the pedestal to wait for them.

While I waited, I flicked through the images on my camera. I noticed I’d only taken a few snapshots of the actual monument. This didn’t concern me; it was like photographing the Mona Lisa or the Statue of Liberty. Pictures just don’t do justice to an in-person visit to such a grandeur piece of history.  

Instead, my memory card was chock full of photographs of random tourists who were hanging out at the national memorial. And that’s when it hit me: a profound understanding of why I felt that visiting Mount Rushmore was such an important cultural experience. The actual presidential portraits were just happenstance. It was the swarming hordes of American people who, like me, had flocked to this place, drawn by a desire to witness this historical landmark. It was the fact that though we came from totally distinct parts of the country and lifestyles, we all somehow felt so connected to Mount Rushmore that we traveled (sometimes for weeks) through plains, forests, mountains, and deserts to see it. This place was truly a crossroads of American life.

And so to conclude my Mount Rushmore series, I give you my interpretation of this American cultural experience through a collection of scenes:

The Bud Light Retirement Fund

The Classic Unhappy Toddler

The "Road Tripper Burnout" Stance

moments of reflection

Un-Patriotic Reflections on Mount Rushmore: A Kooky, Racist Visionary

Black Hills, South Dakota

by Cassia Reynolds

Check out my first Mount Rushmore installment: Unnatural Habitats.

The sun’s rays shone bright on the pale, creamy stone faces set against the Crayola Cornflower Blue backdrop. Afternoon shadows accented an overhanging brow, a stern jawline, a pensive gaze. A soft, surreal daze settled over me as I stood on the viewing platform before Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, ruminating on the postcard perfect scenery.

Do these sculptures feel so familiar because they’re accurate representations of the presidents whose faces I’ve memorized over the years? Or has Mount Rushmore so shaped my mental image of these presidents that looking at it in person just affirms my vision of these men?

It wasn’t until later that I learned the incredible efforts undergone to position Mount Rushmore to leave viewers like myself so spellbound: the visionary’s tireless quest for the landscape with perfect lighting and texture; the two full years of sculpting that went into the original bust of Jefferson, just to be dynamited and repositioned on Washington’s right; and the thousands of measurements that were calculated and then multiplied by twelve to recreate the original model of the four figures. (Check it out.)

But in the present moment a vivid but brief movie clip materialized in my memory. It was a scene from the 1994 Macaulay Culkin classic, Ri¢hie Ri¢h. Ri¢hie and his mother were perched on the edge of one stone eye socket in Mount Ri¢hmore, clinging desperately to each other. Ri¢hie’s dad dangled perilously (and ironically) from the carved glasses on the nose of his own likeness.

I squinted hard at Mount Rushmore, wondering if my childhood truths could possibly have grounding in reality. But if there were any doorways set in the pupils of the monoliths, they were invisible from this distance. The sixty foot replicas of America’s great leaders stared blankly ahead, unwilling to give even the barest of hints.

So instead I Googled. And not only did I find out that in 1998 the National Parks System constructed a Hall of Records within the memorial that contains sixteen porcelain enamel panels detailing the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other historic records, but also the background of one of America’s most iconic national memorials.

As with most wildly passionate, ambitious projects, a crazy man was at the center of all the fuss. In this case, a crazy Dutch-American man named John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum: an Idaho-born, eccentric perfectionist, Ku Klux Klan sympathist, nativist, painter, and (of course) sculptor.

Borglum was, while extremely qualified to construct larger-than-life replicas of famous national figures, also known for being hot tempered, egotistical, and more than a little batshit. He’d actually quit the last project he’d been commissioned to work on in Georgia (a memorial to the heroes of the Confederacy with a side altar dedicated to the KKK) in a rage after a dispute with the association, smashing all his clay and plaster models during his dramatic exit.

Side note: As unfortunate and disrespectful as it is, given Borglum’s history, it makes sense why he chose the American presidents for his work instead of the Native American leaders whose sacred land he worked on.

Borglum was born in 1867 to one of the wives of a Mormon bigamist. His father worked as a woodcarver before attending Saint Louis Homeopathic Medical College and opening his own practice in Nebraska. When he was sixteen, Borglum studied art in Los Angeles, specializing in painting, and married a divorcee eighteen years his senior. After a few more years training in Paris, Borglum made a sudden switch to sculpting (rumors go that it was just to compete with his younger brother, Solon, who was already an established sculptor). For more information on Borglum, check out his biography on PBS.

In a selection from a Smithsonian article on the history of Mount Rushmore, his son, Lincoln Borglum, describes his father’s perspective on art.

Borglum was of the mindset that American art should be “…built into, cut into, the crust of this earth so that those records would have to melt or by wind be worn to dust before the record…could, as Lincoln said, ‘perish from the earth.’” When he carved his presidential portraits into the stable granite of Mount Rushmore, he fully intended for the memorial to endure, like Stonehenge, long past people’s understanding of it.

As I learned about Borglum, I began to think of his as a true American frontiersman tale, one that follows the age-old rule of the Wild West where he built his tribute: there are no rules in Freedomland. If you’re crazy enough to dream it and persistent enough to find a way to fund it, you can do it...even if your dream is to construct presidential portraits that withstand written human history. Though it’s still to be seen if Borglum’s work survives past modern American textbooks, to one day become as mysterious in origin as Stonehenge, it is already as internationally renowned.

I’m left wondering what’s really crazy here. Is it Borglum’s grandiose dream? Or that almost a century after the artist first laid eyes on this piece of granite, I’m standing before it, contemplating how Mount Rushmore has shaped my perspective on American patriotism?

Your Guide to Strange Travels

by Cassia Reynolds

Have you ever felt the sudden urge to throw together an overnight bag, pull on your favorite hoodie, and take off for a weekend? No particular destination mapped out in your head, just visions of the open road and an unyielding desire to rock out to your favorite jams? Or even if you had a destination, have you ever wondered what it would be like to not plot out a direct route and just see what happens along the way? And did that moment pass because you hesitated, unsure where to even begin not-planning, and instead went back to your Netflix marathon?

Well, I’ve been leaping from one travel adventure to the next for two years and I’ve come to believe that with wanderlust, the more freedom and the less planning, the better. But I also learned some things the hard way and have gotten myself into misfortunate situations that could have been avoided with a basic understanding of the do’s and don’t’s of spontaneous travel.

We all love crazy times, but we also want to live to tell the tales. So here’s some advice that will help keep you wild and free without the extra stress of “oh God I’m going to die right here, right now. Why do I make so many bad life decisions?” (Full disclosure: this is a direct quote from my life.)


1. Music is Love. Music is Life.

Don’t even think about turning your key in the ignition without first checking that you’re stocked up with at least several hours’ worth of kick-ass tunes. This is a road trip necessity as crucial as gasoline. You don’t want start driving, decide to take the two-hour-extra-long scenic route through a particularly beautiful mountain pass, and realize ten minutes in that you only have two of your old high school CDs and radio static to entertain your ears. The “wait, I remember this, oh no, is this whole mix just Bowling for Soup, Gwen Stefani, and Soulja Boy WHAT HAVE I DONE?!” moment is pretty soul-crushing and can transform your personal vacation into the wrong kind of Highway to Hell.

Another mistake you don’t want to make is throwing together your tunes. Playlists are golden. You don’t want to be hitting the “next” button on Shuffle for seven hours straight. I set my playlists according to time of day/activity. Here’s some examples of a few of my recent lists for your inspiration:

Grooving on Long Hauls

  • “1998” by Chet Faker
  • “Wine and Chocolates” by Theophilius London
  • “Orange Crush” by Daft Punk
  • “Gooey” by Glass Animals
  • “You & Me” by Disclosure (Flume Remix)
  • “Action Bronson” by Baby Blue feat. Chance the Rapper
  • “Air Valley” by James Welsh
  • “New Dorp, New York” by SBTRKT feat. Ezra Koenig
  • “Girls Your Age” by Transviolet
  • “Wicked Games” by The Weeknd

Coffee, Yoga, & Early Morning Drives    

  • “Do You Realize??” by The Flaming Lips
  • “Girl” by Jamie XX
  • “Holocene” by Bon Iver
  • “Youth” by Daughter
  • “Easy Easy” by King Krule
  • “Lonely Press Play” by Damon Albarn
  • “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheehan
  • “Don’t Wait” by Mapei
  • “Follow” by Tom and Laura Misch
  • “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel

‘Fuck Yeah’ Jams for the Interstate

  • “i,” by Kendrick Lamar
  • “Fuckin’ Problems” by A$AP Rocky
  • “212” Azaelia Banks
  • :”Monster” by Kanye West
  • “No Role Modelz” by J. Cole
  • “Novacane” by Frank Ocean
  • “PARTYNEXTDOOR” by Recognize feat. Drake
  • “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi (Steve Aoki Remix)
  • “IFHY” by Tyler the Creator
  • “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West

Laid-Back Tunes for Backcountry Roads

  • “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen
  • “Snow” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “Out of My League” by Fitz and the Tantrums
  • “London Thunder” by Foals
  • “Gold on the Ceiling” by The Black Keys
  • “Colours” by Grouplove
  • “When I’m Small” by Phantogram
  • “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” by Tame Impala
  • “Bambi” by Tokyo Police Club
  • “Do the Panic” by Phantom Planet



2. Apps are Awesome

Here are two travel applications that I adore and that can change the way you look at your journey into the unknown:

Ever felt that itch to explore but unsure where to start? Roadtrippers can be your muse. You just type in your location and magical pins drop on the app map, laying out everything from quirky restaurants to scenic overlooks to strange tourist attractions. All the pinpoints are rated and you can read user reviews before you take your time to visit a spot.

When you’re roadtripping without a specific destination, it’s great getting lost in the scenery for a little while, but you definitely want to make sure you can get back on track. Maps.Me is perfect for those looking to go off the grid for a bit, especially down backcountry roads where mobile data just doesn’t reach. It’s a GPS guide that works without an Internet connection. I’ve used it in Laos, Vietnam, and America, and it’s never failed to put me back on route to civilization.


3. Always Pack Light

I know, I know, you’ve heard it countless times from every travel blogger and backpacking extraordinaire. And, as yet again you kneel over your overstuffed suitcase, realizing you can’t possibly fit one more piece of clothing in it but you haven’t even packed your socks yet, you throw your hands in the air and cry out to the gods-of-all-things-travel “but seriously, what does packing light even mean?”

I’ve been there plenty of frustrating, mind-boggling, stressful times. And I’m here to help.

When you prepare to pack, ask yourself this question: how many places will you visit where it won’t be be possible to do laundry? And why are you bringing anything that can’t be worn twice without washing (underwear excluded - I usually overpack on those)?

Balance is key, especially when you’re preparing for travels into the unknown. You’re not totally sure what you’ll need, what weather you’ll encounter, and what kinds of activities you’ll end up partaking in. So you have to take a cold, calculated look at the amount of space available and ask yourself this: is it worth carrying with me? And if it’s not, leave it.

If you do have to prepare for several seasons, bring clothing that’s durable and packable. (And that doesn’t mean you can’t be chic!) Thin cotton tank tops and shirts are perfect for layering, as are denim and flannel button downs. A good button down can double as both a shirt and a sweater. And of course, if you’re into hiking, there’s (my personal favorite piece of travel gear) yoga pants. Light, non-wrinkly, comfy-as-all-hell, and strangely fashionable at the moment. Seriously, I’m so into the crazy print yoga pant fashion trend. It’s changed the game for backpacker ladies, everywhere!

If you have to leave everything else behind, bring the following items (in order of importance): water, a GPS device, sunblock, bug repellent, a portable charger, some sort of camera, and an extra hoodie.


4. If You’re Headed into Nature, Bring Extra Water & Snacks

Some of my favorite high-energy hiking snacks include: cashews, instant coffee, Clif Bars, pre-packaged tuna-and-crackers packs, Quest Bars, and dried mangoes. Keep hydrated, stay smart, and make sure you don’t get into a situation where you pass out alone on a less-traveled mountain path.


5. Last But Not Least: There are More Good People in the World than Bad

This is not an excuse to do stupid shit, like hitchhike alone at night or get blackout drunk with a group of total strangers that you meet on the road. It’s just a reminder that there’s no reason to be paranoid or scared of stuff you really don’t have to be. A smile or kind gesture can go a long way when you’re alone in a foreign place. Never be afraid to ask for help and always keep an open mind when traveling. It’s this kind of new-experience-craving mindset that leads to the most incredible, unexpected adventures.

So take backroads, greet strangers with smiles, try out the mom-and-pop restaurants, and don’t make yourself more of an outsider than you have to be.

Cheers folks! Make sure you never miss out on another spontaneous adventure, whether it’s a day trip tooling around a part of town you usually don’t venture through or a weekend getaway with a destination chosen at a whim.