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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What Word Goes With Gravy?

“Our senses are never inaccurate, just our interpretations.”

--Stephanie Danler

Recently, I was interviewed for an article in a local magazine. The article, yet to be published (fingers crossed), will be about bloggers in Birmingham. I will be the only food blogger. The writer of this yet-to-be-published article pointed out that my blog is different because it disdains a one-to-one correlation with food. It is “of food” rather than “about food.” This may explain my occasional writer’s block. Writing about anything is hard; writing about food is even harder. 

How does one describe the taste of a ripe, juicy peach eaten at a backyard, family cook-out on a warm June evening? How does it differ from that of a peach eaten in a tart in a Parisian bistro? How does one compare the taste of your first birthday cake with that of your child’s? Does a hotdog at an amusement park with your high school sweetheart taste differently than the one eaten on a cold January night in New York with your fiancée? 

Food, like real estate, is about time and place. But how do we transliterate emotional acreage into what Hemingway called the “truest sentence”? Adumbration is the best we can hope for because we never remember how that birthday cake actually tasted in the same way we remembered what it was like to eat it.

The efficiency of our senses to experience in real time exceeds the ability of our brains to record the experience for posterity. In a restaurant on a Friday evening after a hellish week at the office, a hot and sizzling steak becomes, in a fraction of a second, an emotion that any attempt at prose cheapens the experience. There’s a reason we taste before we speak; a reason we speak before we write. 

Writing about how something taste is pointless, which is one reason I don’t write a lot of restaurant reviews or even read too many of them. I tend to take stock in how my friend’s face lights up when she describes the new sushi restaurant she found. In other words, I find it more valuable to write about how food makes us feel rather than how it tastes or, more importantly, how we think it should taste. So if that makes my writing more “of food” than “about food,” then I stand guilty as charged.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

But Wait, There's More!

Another Thanksgiving is in the books. What was left of the turkey went into chili last night. That bird really gave its last ounce of devotion this year. But last Thursday was just the beginning; only the first three miles that is America's annual holiday marathon. 

Next stop: Christmas.

Every family has its traditions. And every family has its Christmas traditions. White lights or colored lights? Open a present or two on Christmas Eve? Ham or turkey? 


©2013 Chris Terrell
Santa Needs Some Help
And of course, all families have their own culinary Christmas traditions. Like Thanksgiving, there are certain dishes that simply must be made every year.

For me, Christmas was, and always will be, all about the baking—my first true love when it comes to cooking. For me, Christmas is a Bake-a-Palooza!  

When I would come home from college, the first thing I woud do is take over my Mom’s pristine kitchen and demolish it, making pumpkin muffins, candy cane cookies, and mincemeat pie. You should keep in mind that I was an only child and thus there was only the three of us. That’s a lot of food, even for Mario Batalli! 

But each recipe had to be made.

Let’s start with the pumpkin muffins. I found the recipe in The Christian Science Monitor in an article about New England bed and breakfasts. It’s a pretty simple recipe. The muffins had a great flavor, but were very dense. Many years later when I had misplaced the recipe, I Googled it and found out that about two weeks after I had clipped out the recipe (pre-Internet days), I discovered that the first recipe had a mistake. The corrected recipe added about a cup more of flour. Wow! Since then the recipe is much improved. Alas, I don’t make them any more because I think I was the only one in the family who really liked them.

Now let’s talk about the candy cane cookies. For any of my 15 readers who survived the 70s, you may recall those “card clubs.” You know, the ones where you would get a set of cards once a week/month on subjects ranging from great movies of the last 50 years, to great historical events, to great recipes! As part of your introductory offer, you would also get a handsome plastic container to keep all those cards. Well, my Mom signed up for one of these sets. A Time-Life recipe-of-the-month card collection. And buried in one of these sets was a recipe for candy cane cookies. They were red and white and looked just like candy canes! Of course, they required enough red food coloring to keep an entire 1st grade class awake for days! But I made these every year until—you guessed it—the family got sick of them. 

Same thing with the mincemeat pie from a jar. Not many Anglophiles in my family. ’Nuf said.

OK, let’s fast forward to the latest—and more fun—holiday baking tradition: rum cake!
©2013 Chris Terrell
The "Secret Ingredient"
Nothing embodies the boozy side of Christmas like rum cake. I mean really! Alcohol and cake. Who ever came up with this combination was a freakin’ genius! I’ve been making the rum cake for about three years now. Screw the pumpkin muffins! This one gets people excited.

The recipe is from Southern Living which shouldn’t be a surprise because no one does alcohol and the holidays like us folks down South! Keep in mind that this recipe is not without its hazards. For example, don’t let your nine-year old into the kitchen with a distracted dad who forgets that that glass of dark brown liquid is NOT Coca-Cola. Oh wow! Still haven’t lived that one down.


©2013 Chris Terrell
The Finished  Product!
Anyway, for adults, making rum cake is   as fun as it gets. The trick, of course, is to buy more rum than you actually need to make the cake. (I prefer Myers's.) And trickier still is to stay sober long enough to finish it! So, after many years of baking during the holidays, I may have found something to stand the test of time. This year, I put on the faux fire on the TV; some Christmas music from Frankie on the stereo; fired up the oven; opened a bottle of rum; and made a rum cake. And if no one eats it, I don’t care. The holidays are about traditions we keep, even if they go unwanted.  

Fruitcake anyone?

Here are the recipes for the pumpkin muffins and the Southern Living rum cake:

Pumpkin Muffins
 


Ingredients


8 oz. raisins, soaked in water

3/4 cup water



15 ounce can of pumpkin


1 3/4 cups sugar


3/4 cup eggs (about 4 large eggs)


1 teaspoon baking soda


1/2 teaspoon salt


1/4 teaspoon each of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon


1/2 cup salad oil


2 1/2 cups flour


2 teaspoons baking powder
 


Preparation

Place all ingredients, except raisins and oil, in bowl and mix thoroughly. Add oil and raisins, and blend just to mix raisins in. Place in well-greased muffin tins and bake in pre-heated 400-degree oven until golden brown. Makes 2 dozen.

Southern Living Rum Cake

Ingredients

1 ½  cups butter, softened
1 ½  cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
½  cup dark rum 
¼  cup banana liqueur*
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon baking soda
1/8  teaspoon salt
1 cup whipping cream
Rum Syrup 
Powdered sugar

Preparation

Beat butter and granulated sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla, beating until blended. Add lemon rind, beating until blended. Gradually add rum and banana liqueur, beating until blended. (Batter will look curdled.)

Stir together flour and next 3 ingredients; add to batter alternately with whipping cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat batter at low speed just until blended after each addition. 

Pour batter into a greased and floured 10-inch Bundt pan.

Bake at 350° for 55 to 60 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Pierce cake multiple times using a metal or wooden skewer. [Writer's note: I use a fork.] 

Pour Rum Syrup evenly over cake. Let stand 45 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle evenly with powdered sugar before serving.

NOTE: *¼  cup dark rum may be substituted for the banana liqueur [Author’s note: I’ve never made this cake with the banana liqueur. Doesn’t sound good to me.]

Rum Sauce

Ingredients

10 tablespoon butter 
¾  cup sugar
¼  cup dark rum
¼  cup banana liqueur*


Preparation

Melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring often; reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and cool 10 minutes.

NOTE: *1/4 cup dark rum may be substituted for banana liqueur. [Author’s note: I’ve never made this cake with the banana liqueur. Doesn’t sound good to me.]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Beware the Ides of October


"I’ve missed my share of weddings, including some close friends, because they were dumb enough to have it during an Alabama game.”

—John Young

Saturdays are sacred in the South—high holy days. No matter one’s team, we Southerners share a certain gemeinschaft albeit  with limits. 

While I may pray that Auburn/LSU/Ole Miss will fail, I still respect the heartache, loss, and anger that comes when that happens—“there but for the grace of God go I.” Bama may be up one week, and your team down. Next week, of course, it could be the reverse. Maybe…

Food—just barely—is the force that keeps us football-crazed Southerners from breaking the bonds of our better nature. It keeps our zeal from erupting into actual bloodshed. (This is not an exaggeration.) 

Football in the South is very much a social interaction, even though it may consist of nothing more than two guys screaming at the TV about the terrible officiating or arguing with each other about whether the offensive coordinator should be fired. 

As for the food on game day, there also are extremes. Some folks go all out: mounds of barbecue, plies of ribs, heaping plates of wings. Others, just a few bags of Golden Flake potato chips or a pepperoni pizza. Of course there’s alcohol. Beer and—depending on the time of day—“brown water.”


* * *

Afternoon Game:  A blessing and a curse. 

A blessing because I don't need to stay up late watching football before a 16-mile, marathon-training long run. A curse because there is less time to prepare. 

In case you don’t know, this is one of the fiercest rivalries in college football. Alabama and Tennessee have played each other every season since 1901. (By the way, Alabama leads the series 53–38–7.) It is as if the American Revolution, World War II, and the Star Wars Trilogy (Eps. IV-VI) were combined into one big epic battle of good vs. evil. 

Yeah, I hear you Yankees snickering, calling it the “Redneck Bowl.” Looking down on your awkward American cousins and their strange fascination with college football. 

Well….“Bless your heart.” (By the way, that’s not a term of endearment.)

On this particular Saturday in October, I brought my Brinkmann smoker out of hibernation, where it had been for the better part of the four years I lived in a downtown loft apartment. (You can’t really use a smoker in an alley.) The plan was to smoke a pork shoulder with homemade Eastern Carolina-style barbecue sauce, collards, and hoppin’ john.
The BBQ Sauce


BBQ Sauce

Eastern N.C.-style barbecue sauce is nothing more than a simple mixture of vinegar and red pepper. But when I started simmering the sauce, I realized that the pork I had slaved over for the previous six hours—even pausing the game so I could run outside to the smoker—deserved more. My guests deserved more. So, I began to experiment. I got creative. 

I knew that good BBQ sauce was a delicate balance of sweet and sour; sweet and savory; sweet and hot. 
So I added: maple syrup, honey, molasses, ketchup (don’t judge), ancho chili powder, and salt and pepper.
I was deranged. I can’t recall the dimensions of the house I built, but it was good. I may have created cold fusion in my kitchen, combining Piedmont-style BBQ sauce with Easter N.C. BBQ sauce. A hybrid monster.


Collards

Collard greens are about as Southern as it gets, though not without some controversy—either loved or loathed. There are few late-in-life-converts to collards, though Laura may be one. After maybe the fifth serving I’ve cajoled her into eating, she admitted that maybe, just maybe, she likes collards, or at least mine.

After bringing to a boil and then changing out the water, I cooked the collards low and slow with a ham hock and some butter. My friend Jim completed the tableau with some cornbread. Two batches, one made with sugar and another without—always the diplomat. 


Hoppin’ John

Now let’s talk Hoppin’ John.

Hoppin' John is a simple dish of black-eyed peas, rice, chopped onion, sliced bacon, and seasoned with salt. You can also substitute ham hock, of which I’m a very big fan. 

Traditionally, Hoppin’ John was eaten on New Year's Day in order to ensure a prosperous and lucky new year. We would need that luck for the big game with Tennessee.

A few weeks prior to the big game, I came across a recipe in a magazine with a Southern bent that put an Indian twist on the recipe. (Interestingly, Laura came across the exact same recipe at the same time, 700 miles away.) The recipe added such exotic, non-Southern flavors like cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cardamom, and turmeric. It was referred to as Biryani Hoppin’ John. It was good, but was it still “Hoppin’ John?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to fusion cooking, but I think it’s only fair to say that the son may not always resemble the father. I liked the biryani version of Hoppin’ John, even if I can’t really call it Hoppin’ John. Again, it was good, but maybe it deserves a new name. This is only fair. After all, Hoppin’ John is itself a White, new-world version of an old West-African dish no longer called by it’s long-forgotten West-African name.


* * *

After dinner, I sat down to watch Nick Saban’s press conference, which is, in some respects, more entertaining than the game itself. Expecting the typical rant, I was surprised to find Saban… almost….Zen. The camera may have even caught a quick grin.

At this point, the smoked pork, collards, and Hoppin’ John had clearly kicked in, as my increasingly oscitant brain logged off late that Saturday night.

Yeah, so much for getting to bed early for my run the following Sunday morning.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Is It Finished?

©2016 Chris Terrell
While cleaning up from the previous night’s dinner, I paused and looked at the cookbooks in my kitchen (two bookcases worth). I counted 63, excluding all the books I have about food generally.  

If each book held, on average, 100 recipes, that would be 6,300 recipes. That’s a lot! And taking it just a step further, if I cooked a new recipe every night, it would take me seventeen years, three months, three days, and fifteen hours to cook all those recipes. This assumes that I would not buy more cookbooks during this seventeen-year stretch. 

The latest addition to my gastronomic library is Simple: The Easiest Cookbook in the World by Jean-François Mallet, a French chef. This is the English translation of the best selling Simplissime; 300,000 copies have been sold in France since September 2015. No recipe has more than four steps or six ingredients. I’ve tried a couple of things from it and it works pretty well as a cookbook, but then cooking and recipes don’t need to be complicated. (I recall an overly elaborate recipe from Martha Stewart I tried back in law school—terrible.)

However, the best recipes are the ones we carry in our heads—handed down to us from our mothers, grandmothers, and eccentric aunts. (My Aunt Ruth made a  spaghetti sauce that was, in her words, “fabulous.” It took all day and a couple of stiff scotches to get it done.)

Recipes that don’t live in books are more interesting in the same way that real people are more interesting than characters who live in books. Like people, unwritten recipes are never the same. They change. They evolve. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. They are never finished. That’s why it’s so hard to write them down. Once you do, they start to become a relic in a museum. 

Even when a recipe is followed line by line, like holy writ, it will never render itself the same way each time. That tomato in June may taste a bit brighter than the one from the previous September. That onion you add today may be past its prime, unlike the one from the farmers market in the spring. And one night, while the game is on, you don’t measure the cup of flour quite as carefully as you did before football season started.

This is not to say that cookbooks don’t have their place. I would hope so, considering I have so many. Cookbooks inspire, challenge, frustrate, and surprise. They are guides on a journey that never really ends. 

Is it finished? Let’s hope the answer is no.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Maybe the Scots Can Cook (Three in a Three-Part Searies)

The Journey Begins
©2016 Chris Terrell
I’ve never been to Scotland, and I’m about to travel there from the most famous literary train station in the world: King’s Cross Station.  
This station doubles down on Pottermania!

In the main hall, there’s an imitation Platform 9 3/4 (likely because there were so many tourists trying to ram luggage carts into the wall between the real Platforms 9 and 10). It is complete with a dummy luggage cart partially submerged into the wall with a cage and stuffed owl perched on top. Young and old stand in line for at least an hour to have their pictures taken. There’s even a Harry Potter store right next door. Yes, I broke down and bought one of my kids a reproduction of Dumbledore’s wand. 
About 40 feet down the main hall from the Harry Potter Store is a smaller version of Waitrose, a British supermarket chain. It is well-stocked with prepackaged foods and drinks to carry onto to the trainseverything from gourmet sandwiches and salads to cheeses and wine. My favorite? Delightful, pre-mixed gin and tonics in twee little cans. They came in regular and diet. And they were cheap. About £2.50 (about $3.00). I grabbed several for the ride north to Edinburgh.
The more we distanced ourselves from London, the more the landscape resembled Scotland, or the Scotland I remembered from books and movies. North of the once-mighty industrial metropolis of Newcastle, the fecund, undulating hills of the Scottish lowlands obliged the train to rock gently. I fell into a brief sleep. When I awoke, Edinburgh’s Victorian Old Town filled my window. “Harry Potter!” I thought.  The Scotsman Hotel really does resemble Hogwarts Castle!
Edinburgh deceives the casual visitor. The architecture, especially in Old Town, is uniform in its Victorian-facades. It’s as if the city were designed and built by a conglomerate to be the ultimate European tourist destination. But looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Edinburgh is very much it’s own town—eclectic both culturally, artistically, and especially culinary.
Speaking of food. Scotland is all about surf and turf. One night, you can have the most tender, flavorful Angus beef steak; the next night, scallops the size of your palm or braised pheasant; or the night after that, salmon that tastes as if it just arrived off a boat docked outside the restaurant. 
We even experienced a bit of Paris with the discovery of the Café St. Honoré. I don’t recall how we found this little Parisian gem in the heart of Edinburgh, but I’m glad we did. Using a combination that never fails, Café St. Honoré combines French technique with locally sourced food and local tastes. Here’s the lunch menu in its entirety. It’s no wonder it took us nearly a half bottle of beaujolais to decide on what to have.
Rollmop Herring, Heritage Potato Sal, Dill
Pelham Farm Organic Pig’s Head Terrine, Organic Vegetable Slaw
Endive, Walnut, Lanark Blue Cheese & Poached Pear Salad
___
Shetland Coley, Isle of Wight Tomatoes, Spinach, Tapenade
Scotch Pork Belly, Braised White Beans, Local Greens
Local Summer Vegetable Risotto
___
British Gooseberry Foo, Shortbread
Scottish Summer Berries & Elderflower Jelly, Langue du Chat Biscuit
Arrington’s Lancelot Cheese, Chutney, Oatcakes

The Journey Ends
While waiting for the train that would take us back to London, I noticed a group of women in their late twenties all wearing T-shirts with the name “Amanda” or something similar printed on the back. They were holding what we call “go cups,” some in the shape of male “parts.” Slowly I realized that this was a bachelorette party or, what they call in the U.K., a “hen party.” Frankly, I prefer the British term. But I prayed “please don’t get on my car…no, not that way…” I wanted peace and quiet on the train—the previous night involved a lot of food and wine.
"Again, please stay away from our car…." Yep, they marched right in.
We were surrounded. A Hen Party that I failed to spot occupied the car behind us—an escape route closed. We were reminded of our predicament each time the connecting doors opened and the cackling, inebriated laughter scampered into our car like rats abandoning the Pequod. The only true escape route was forward through the gauntlet of Hen Party #1 to the snack car, also know as the bar.
As an American, it is always interesting that Europeans (and the post-Brexit English) can so readily assess whether one is an American. Some of the clues are good (friendly, open); others less so (fanny packs and cargo shorts). When I wandered up front to the snack to order a G&T, I asked for a double (meaning two of those twee little miniatures). The pretty, young girl behind the counter pointed and said “one?” I replied rather sheepishly: “No, two.” 
“Oh, that’s right, you're American.” 
I guess we have a reputation. 
©2016 Chris Terrell
Our last meal in London was Indian. It's hard not to find good Indian in London. So, we headed over to Indian Express in West Kensington. We were not disappointed. Later, Laura and I dropped the kids off at the hotel and had a few whiskies at a hotel that likes to keep its whisky bar under wraps. I wore the kilt I bought in Edinburgh. And yeah, it’s flattering to be asked by two French women if you’re wearing underwear. Even a faux Scotsman never tells.… 
The next day, while sitting on the plane listening to the jet engines spool up, I began to reconsider my opinion of food in the UK. It had certainly improved since the last time I had visited, but then again that was on a student’s budget. 
Let’s hope I don’t have to wait so long for the next culinary upgrade.





Sunday, September 11, 2016

Vinyl Food

This post is not entirely about food. But then again, is food ever entirely about food?

***

A few weeks ago, I bought a turntable. And while this may sound like an impulse buy, it was actually somewhat planned. After all, I’d heard that vinyl was making a comeback. I was a child of the Seventies, after all. I grew up with vinyl. I know this medium. 

But I also grew up with velour, Disco, and the Oil Crisis. Needless to say, I was skeptical.

The first LP I ever bought with my own money was ELO’s Greatest Hits. I must have played that record a 1,000 times. I was a huge ELO fan. (For those of you born after 1975, “ELO” stands for “Electric Light Orchestra.”)

***

After lunch, I walked over to Seasick Records. I had committed myself to a turntable after my second beer. I then checked out the selection of records. I was back in 6th grade—Van Halen and The Police—trying to figure out how to ask Renee C. to the dance.

So what does buying a turntable have to do with food?! Give me time, I’ll get there.

Let’s start with digital. Why do we like it? Because it’s convenient. With my iPhone, I can play anything from Tibetan wedding music to the latest crap from Kayne without getting my ass off the sofa. With analog, I actually have to think about the album. I also have to get up; walk across the room; and flip that disc over. Vinyl also requires you to think about what the artist was thinking. 

Is this guy ever going to talk about food?!

Food is too easy these days. We can go to Whole Foods and grab something prepared, and it's not too bad. Heck, we can get some decent stuff at Publix or the Pig for that matter. There’s microwave this; delivery that. And that’s digital music. Its convenient and not bad. Even food trucks make gourmet easy.

So, what is the comparison with vinyl and food? Vinyl is about getting up and going to the farmer’s market and buying fresh produce. Vinyl is about grabbing that cookbook with the unbroken spine and trying something new. Vinyl is about making up your own recipe. Vinyl is about eating with friends. 

Vinyl requires deliberativeness. It requires you to think about which album (the whole thing) you want to play. What is your mood? Angry? Tired? Conflicted? And it requires you to stick with that album, just like you need to stick with that recipe that you promised your dinner guests you would make.

Vinyl, like food, is about commitment. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Maybe the English Can Cook (Second in a Three-Part Series): London

"My jet lag is getting a bit ridiculous. But, you know, it's first-world problems. It's a wonderful problem, 'Oh I have to travel around the world; how awful."

--Margot Robbie

Bitching about air travel may now be the greatest American pastime. I'm guilty of it as well. We get frustrated with long TSA lines, busy airports, and cramped seating on planes. 

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane one overcast late morning at Heathrow. A mere eight and a half hours before, I was 3,000 miles and six time zones away.  But yeah, jet lag can be a bitch. Here's how we handled it.

***

It's late morning, and I'm tired. I should've slept more on the plane, but I was jacked. Customs in the UK can be tough. Laura is the pro, so I let her do the talking.

Heading out to the taxi stand, the first thing I notice is the temperature—at least twenty degrees cooler than muggy Alabama. It's like I got placed into a time machine—Alabama in mid-December. We pile into one of those classic, black London cabs. They are something out of Harry Potter. When I first saw one pull up, I think: "There's no way in hell we can get four massive suitcases, three backpacks, and all four of us into that thing." But damn if we don't all fit, Bento box style.

We arrive at the hotel but our rooms are not ready. The kids check email; Laura plows through a conference call; I nap on the sofa in the lobby. And then we're off to the Imperial War Museum. We jump right into this thing. Jeta lag? What jet lag?

We skip lunch though not sure why. Maybe we are recovering from the three meals we got on the plane. We do find the tea room at the IWM. (I will discover that every museum, castle, and random tourist attraction in the U.K. has a tea room or café, typically next to, or in close proximity to, the gift shop.)

We eventually get into our rooms. Laura and I unpack...sorta. I head to the bar for some R&R and to edit my photos. 

Dinner tonight is at the Laughing Gravy, a gastropub in Southwark. I'm tired; we're all tired. (Hamp's head droops several times during dinner like a crapulous sailor.) But this place is worth fighting through jet lag to get to. It's a good start for this "The-Brits-Can't-Cook" Francophile. The food and wine list look promising. The server brings me a decent martini. 

Dinner arrives:
Chicken liver and foie gras pate with a cherry glaze, wild mushroom and game croquette, farmhouse crostini and candied hazelnut
Duck faggot ragout with pappardelle, girolles, and spring vegetables (We laugh about the un-PC name of this dish—at least for Americans. We consider asking for a safe space.)
Milk jam ice cream sundae sandwich, candied nuts, peanut butter cream, white chocolate popcorn mousse.

















I think to myself: "Emphasize the "gastro" in gastropub for sure!"

Bellies full. We all sleep well. 

The next morning we are up early, even Hamp. With Laura's knowledge of London's serpentine streets, we quickly make  our way to the Churchill War Rooms. 

On the walk over, I read about them on the web, trying to remember to look left and not get run over as I stare at my iPhone:


Construction of the Cabinet War Rooms, located beneath the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of Westminster, began in 1938. They became operational in August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war in Europe. They remained in operation throughout the Second World War, before being abandoned in August 1945 after the surrender of Japan. After the war the historic value of the Cabinet War Rooms was recognised. Their preservation became the responsibility of the Ministry of Works and later the Department for the Environment, during which time very limited numbers of the public were able to visit by appointment. In the early 1980s the Imperial War Museum was asked to take over the administration of the site, and the Cabinet War Rooms were opened to the public in April 1984. The museum was reopened in 2005 following a major redevelopment as the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, but in 2010 this was shortened to the Churchill War Rooms.

As I walk through this amazing museum, dedicated to a man I've always respected, I realize that, not only did he kick some Nazi ass for five years, but he ate and drank pretty damn well. Cognac. Champagne. Port. Madeira. Wine. Repeat. Repeat. 

I walk around the corner and find a kitchen. A bunker with a kitchen! Churchill had a private cook. Her name was  Georgina Landemare. And she made a lot of dishes with Béchamel sauce. A lot.

And I thought. Maybe the Brits are unfairly maligned for their cooking. Sure, food doesn't fortify their culture the same way it does for the French. But to have fine food and wine during the darkest days of WWII--to show Hitler that "life goes on"; the whole "stiff upper lip" thing—perhaps that makes up for all that boiled meat.