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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, July 21, 2015

Way Down South....

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”

― William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

In the South lately, the past has been very much part of the present. The most visible symbol of our complicated history—the Stars & Bars, the Confederate Battle Flag, the Rebel Flag; you pick the name—has been front and center in the news. And while the candidness with which Southerners are now facing the issue of what “The Flag” really means is new, the weight of our history is certainly not. 

(Some commentators have gone so far as to say that, but for the peculiarities of the South, the United States would be some kind of North American Sweden. I find this pretty ignorant. There is no special immunity against prejudice that one obtains merely by being born north of the Mason-Dixon line.)

But the truth is that the South is different—in good ways and bad—but no more so than any other region or any other people at any other given time during the long span of human history. However, one way in which we are proudly different is food. Yet, here again, history gets in the way. Most of what we call “Southern” cooking is the result of the forcible extraction of one people from their home and placing them on tightly packed ships to bring them to a foreign land thousands of miles away. Collards, black-eyed peas, peanuts, yams, fried chicken, okra, were brought to this country on the backs of African slaves. Such good food that, when combined with the food ways of the Scotch-Irish, created what we call today “Southern Cuisine.” Without slavery, this so-called Southern Cuisine would have never been. But does that make it bad? Should it be boycotted? I don’t think so, based on the meat-and-threes here in Birmingham, packed with whites and blacks. History be damned.

And then there’s that name: Birmingham. No article or NPR news spot would be complete without a reference to Birmingham, as if this city—like a fly in amber—is stuck in 1964. If you want to know how far removed Birmingham is both psychologically and temporally from 1964, go downtown and eat. You can start by eating sushi, prepared by a chef from Nepal; have modern Tex-Mex prepared by a chef from New Zealand; Indian down the street in a restaurant owned by a family of immigrants. Or if Vietnamese or Korean barbecue is your thing, you can have that too. And in any one of these places, you will find mixed races couples or same-sex couples and no one bats an eye. 

Of course, we still can’t resist some good ‘cue on game day—again, history dies hard down here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Oh the Horror!

"As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.”
—Mr. Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

How many food blogs do you know that start with a quote from Star Trek? Not many, I hope. 
This quote resonates with me based on my recent experience hosting a dinner party. For anyone who has ever hosted one, dinner parties take a considerable degree of planning, hard work, and, most importantly, impeccable timing. The goal is to avoid scrambling around at the last minute or, even worse, spending all your time in the kitchen cooking rather than socializing with your guests. I know this rule, and I know to follow it, but a few weeks ago I broke it like a two-year old with a new toy. Damn, did I screw up!
Typically, I start pulling things together at least several days before the big event. For example, I will buy the non-perishable items and clean and iron the linens about two or three days out. I will make any soups, dressings, or sauces the day before. On the day of the dinner, I make the dessert in the morning and then get the flowers and perishable items and bread that afternoon as well. 
For whatever reason, this year I got a terribly late start. I didn't get started until 10:30AM on the day of the dinner  when I finally walked out the door to do the grocery shopping. Because I got sidetracked with a bite to eat at lunch, I didn't get started until 2:30PM—a mere four hours before the guests were to arrive!
I started with Ina Garten’s recipe for orange chocolate mousse, which I had not made in a very, very long time. It was really like trying a new dessert on your guests, which is a big no-no. Needless to say, it took me a lot longer to make than I thought. The next thing I know it’s 4:30PM, and I’ve not started the chicken with forty cloves of garlic, much less the amuse bouche I was planning to make. Quickly, I made an executive decision and texted my guests to come at 7:00PM instead of 6:30PM. Thirty precious minutes!
©2015 Chris Terrell
This photo is not staged!
Then I panicked. And that’s where the mess in the kitchen started to build up. My mom always preached about “cleaning up as you go along.” It’s also a maxim taught in all the culinary schools and I know it to be true. I’ve tried like hell through the years to live by this rule, but I just can’t seem to do it. Others can. I know, I’ve seen them do it. I can usually follow this advice better when I’m not rushed. As the time ticked away, the pots and pans piled up higher and higher.
Thankfully, the meal turned out fine, especially the mousse, and after a “few” bottles of wine, I don’t think any of us even noticed that I had completely destroyed the kitchen.
©2015 Chris Terrell
Breakfast of Champions!
(No plate because they were all dirty.)
The next day, Laura and I paid the price. After I had a hot dog for a late breakfast, we began the slow, painful process of rebuilding my kitchen. There really should be some kind of culinary Marshall Plan for times like these. 
After an hour, we had to take a break, and in between viewings of old Mad Men episodes, some progress was made slowly through the day. (Full recovery wasn’t achieved, however, until 5:34PM, the next day.) Late in the afternoon, we gave up and ordered pizza and returned to Season 3 of Mad Men.
While I paid a heavy price for my poor planning, it was well worth it. We all had a great time (even if I was a tad bit stressed at times). Spock may be right—it is easier to destroy [a perfectly good kitchen]—but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to create, and even more fun to enjoy that creation with others.
©2015 Chris Terrell
Peace in our time!