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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!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Happy Birthday!

© 2013 Chris Terrell
Keeping It  Real in Colonial Williamsburg 
This past Sunday was my 44th birthday. Fortunately for me, the celebration turned out to be a weekend-long affair (more on that in the next blog post). It started with a wonderful dinner at The Fat Canary in Williamsburg, Virginia, continued with a feast with friends in which everyone contributed their own talents, and concluded with Sunday brunch while helping a couple of delivery guys replace the refrigerator that died just as we were making dinner the previous night. 

But there was also another birthday this past weekend. On Friday, March 7, this blog became a toddling one-year old! Consequently, I went back and looked at that first blog post on Thursday, March 7, 2013. This particular passage really struck me: "Not really sure where this blog will end up. In fact, I don't know even know where it will start." And though this blog is still a work in progress, I think it has held up pretty well (and if you think I’m being cocky about that, note that my editor, who is a tough critic, agrees with me). 

It is also interesting to see how this blog has evolved. This blog, along with my cooking, has become more confident; more developed; and more unique as I have thought about what is interesting to me and to my readers, who I thank for their feedback and valuable input (again, my editor agrees!) A good cook, like any good writer, must find his voice.  And more recipes, as I do hear that from my readership as well.

So, in honor of my blog's first birthday, here is my top ten list of my favorite blog posts and my favorite passage from each.

#10 Mastering the Art of French Cooking (March 9, 2013)

I wrote this one while sitting in a local coffee house on a cold March afternoon (on my birthday no less). I was leafing through Julia Child's cookbook, The Art of French Cooking, looking for something to cook for dinner for me and my two sons. It got me thinking...

So, I’m off to the store with my list that, with a little bit of wine and luck and Julia’s help, will be a great meal. If not, then I probably will not know it, nor will those who eat the meal with me. But then again, that’s the whole point.

#9 Food on the "Run" (April 10, 2013)

This one appeared shortly after my two boys and I had returned from Paris. Their first trip. This piece was along the same contemplative vein as #10, but with a bit of humor injected into it. I also poked some fun at my tendencies to "go native" when I travel. I started by noting that grabbing a baguette in America is not quite the same as grabbing one in France:

Well, the first thing is that I had to get in my car, rather than stroll down a tree-lined Parisian boulevard. Not quite as picturesque, but oh well. Next, I had to find a parking space whilst avoiding getting run over by a soccer mom on the phone in her 4,000 lb Yukon. 

And then it hit me:

One of the things I will miss about Paris is more than just the food. It is good, but we make good food here too. It is how they have made food, and have cooked it, and have eaten it as a deliberate part of their lives. 

#8 Cocktails Inspired by The Great Gatsby (May 4, 2013)

Ok, I must admit this one was probably the nerdiest blog post I ever did, though it is not immediately evident. A few days before I wrote this one, I listened to an interview on NPR with Mohsin Hamid, the author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Both of these novels are written in the second person, a very hard tense in which to write anything. So, I decided right then and there, you see, that my next blog post would be in the second person. Really, you don't believe me? Well read it. Why did I pick cocktails inspired by The Great Gatsby? It's my favorite novel, of course! And yes, writing in the second person is damn hard!

You get only three chapters in when you read about the first great party of the book—the one where Nick and us readers meet Gatsby for the first time. And throughout the book, we are introduced to champagne, gin, bourbon, and even absinthe. 

And don’t forget that one of the most dramatic scenes in the book occurs at the Plaza hotel where Daisy, Tom, Gatsby, 

Nick, and company have retired for some libations on a hot afternoon. 

Oh that’s right you didn’t read the book....

Well, anyway, this is the scene where Daisy delivers one of her best lines:

“Open the whiskey, Tom,” she ordered. “And I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself….Look at the mint!”

Ouch!

#7 Some Memories Are Best Served From a Can (January 27, 2014)

I wrote this one after just finishing Luke Barr's book, Provence: 1970, which is about his great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher's time in France in December 1970 with some of the culinary greats of her time: Julia Child, James Beard, and Richard Olney. This book made me channel my own inner-M.F.K. and got me thinking about how my relationship with food has changed since the 1970s, as well as America's:

We shouldn’t let that food-snobbery blind us to what was good about how we ate back in the 70s. I loved my Mom’s spaghetti, even if it come from a jar. However, is spaghetti from the “hot bar” at the local Whole Foods such a big improvement? And yes, vegetables came from a can, but are those kale-carrot smoothies made in a Vitamix a step forward? And with all the recent talk about GMOs and food dyes, gluten-free this and that, I can't forget the Technicolor glories that one could create with FDA Blue #6. 

#6 Meatloaf: Score! (March 5, 2014)

Ok, maybe it was because I was getting close to my birthday again and getting a bit nostalgic, but I really like this one because it really takes me back home. And yes, you can go home again—at least on an empty stomach.

What goes well with meatloaf? Of course, any kind of starch will do. I like egg noodles with lots of black pepper and butter, but when I was a kid, the best, the absolute best, was mashed potatoes. Just imagine. It’s a cold winter’s night, and you’ve finished your homework early, so you can watch the latest episode of Mork & Mindy or Battlestar Galactica (the old one without the hot blond Cylon). You casually ask your mom “what’s for dinner?,” trying vainly to mask the trepidation in your voice—God, please don’t let it be liver and onions; I promise I’ll be nice to my little sister—and, after what seems like an interminable pause: meatloaf. 

Score!

#5 You Say “Tow MAH Toh” I Say “Tow MAY Toh"(February 25, 2014)

I try and stay away from politics on my blog. This was probably the closest thing I've gotten to a rant about food politics, though you have to love the fact that it began by comparing the grocery-store tomato with Scarlet Johansson and the heirloom tomato with Charlize Theron (when she went "ugly" in Monster). 

And while I don’t fault all these movements—they have their merits—they may be based on a false premise. Food has never, truly been “local” or truly “natural.” Even the most non-GMO wheat, corn, barley, or carrots ever grown are all derived from  variants genetically modified over many generations in the ancient world. (Granted, we can do it a lot faster now and maybe faster than our bodies can adapt to the changes.) And food and flavors, like people, have always migrated from place to place. As Faser & Rimas state: “[a]part from inside a patch or two of Amazonian bush or a forgotten New Guinean gully, there’s no such thing as a purely regional cuisine. Promiscuity in foodstuffs is part of human nature.” 

So, when food gets political, as it is wont to do these days, don’t forget that there never was a “golden age” where we were in harmony with food production. Of course, this is not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of the future—just don’t forget about the past. And don’t forget that “ugly” ain’t always better.

#4 Being in Love With Cooking is Never Having to Say You're Sorry (June 21, 2013)

This one came about after finishing Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France. The best piece of advice I got from that book is that one should never, ever, under any circumstance, short of food poisoning, apologize for how one's dish turns out.

My first attempt at hash browns is a perfect example of how bad things can get:

Everyone who loves to cook and cooks often will, at some point, make something that is simply wretched. Something just plain awful and which looks nothing like the one in that glossy photograph in the cookbook. For example, I recall one morning when I had this burning desire to make hash browns. After a cursory glance at a recipe, even before I had my morning coffee (big mistake!), I made something that only barely resembled hash browns—but if only hash browns were GREY!
* * *
So, we should all fight the urge to stress out about the meals we make and by all means, don’t apologize. It’s probably not as bad as you think. But, if it really is that bad, then the hell with it!. Just order a pizza!  

#3 Barbecue (August 13, 2013)

This post was one of several (like Shine On) that was a true expression of where I'm from, and if there is one 2nd year resolution for my blog, it is to write more about the cuisine of the South. In my opinion, it is the only true indigenous American cuisine. Here's what I had to say about BBQ, but more particularly about where it is served: 

Finally, a good indication of the quality of the barbecue served is the diversity of the clientele. Despite the South’s ugly past, barbecue joints and their cousins, the “meat and three,” are some of the most socially egalitarian eateries on the planet. You will find bankers and lawyers sitting next to construction workers and truck drivers. Whites will be sitting next to Blacks and Hispanics. They are all drawn to the same love: barbecue. 

#2 Ho! Ho! And A Bottle of Rum! (December 23, 2013)

This one is #2 because: (1) it's about the Holidays; one of my favorite times of the year: (2) baking, what got me into cooking in the first place; and (3) a rum cake so high in alcohol, that my HR department won't let me bring it to work anymore!

Anyway, for adults, making rum cake is fun as hell. 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?

# 1 If You Want to Work in a Restaurant, Read this First (September 5, 2013)

This one is #1 simply because an old friend of mine who worked with me in a restaurant back in high school—who always wanted to work in the restaurant business and still does to this day—shared this with the staff at his restaurant. That was by far, the best compliment I've ever had about my blog.

And when I look back on those years, my memories of the kitchen are more dear. And I think I learned a lot more. I learned how to use a knife—I mean really use a knife; I learned how to have several things going at once; that wearing an apron and having plenty of kitchen towels on hand ain’t “girly;” being on time is important; and, finally, it is a damn hard job to get food on the table for several hundred people in a three-hour period. So, the next time your steak is not quite perfect, don’t forget how hard it is to work in the back of the house and don’t take it out on the front-of-the-house staff, because it wasn’t their fault.

Well, there you have it folks. The first annual Top Ten List of the year's previous posts. It was not easy, and I could have easily made it a Top Twenty List, but it's getting late here, and I have the next installment of Year Two to write.  Bon app├ętit!

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