About Me

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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!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Is It Midnight Yet?

“For just one night let’s not be co-workers. Let's be co-people.”

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

© 2013 Chris Terrell
Don't have too many of these at the holiday office party!
This wild ride called 2016 is coming to a close. Some of us will, no doubt, wrap the year up with a traditional New Year's Eve party, an odd tradition that, for many us, means the first day of the new year is spent downing a lot of aspirin or even a little Hair-of-the-Dog.  The one advantage that a typical NYE party does have, however, is this: it is NOT the holiday office party—that annual party many of us survived several weeks ago and, one would hope, has now long been forgotten by its participants. 

There are many different types of office parties depending on where you work and in what kind of industry you work. (Lawyers can be pretty wild when let out of their pinstriped cages.) To better understand the myriad office parties/work parties (or any party for that matter), I decided to compare them to some of my favorite movies. And to keep this blog entry as closely related to food as possible, I’ve quoted a line from the movie that relates to food or eating. I’ve now decided to make this a fun movie game: find the foodie quote in movies not ostensibly related to food.

The Godfather (Part I or II)

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

These are the office parties where your boss expects you to attend. In fact, it is probably required. When you get the invitation, you can hear your boss, sitting in the cold recesses of his top floor corner office, speaking coldly to his secretary: “I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.” These are typically invite-only parties, reserved for “upper management.” This fact creates envy amongst your co-workers who were not invited, thereby adding to the stress of the evening. If they only knew that you would prefer to trade in your invite on some kind of invite exchange and stay home with a six-pack of PBR, a pizza, and the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

The Graduate

Mr. Braddock: Ben, this whole idea sounds pretty half-baked.

Benjamin: Oh, it's not. It's completely baked.

This is the kind of party in which a boozy Mrs. Robinson wanna-be is in attendance. She spends the whole night trying to drag you into the back corner, whilst telling you how bored she is. This particular party guest, however, is in excellent shape for her age (expensive Pilates classes) and shows up one step ahead of the competition in terms of how many drinks she’s had. Her dress is expensive and low-cut and she always stands too close, with one hand glued to the small of your back.  Now don’t get me wrong, I thought Anne Bancroft was hot as hell in that movie and Benjamin Braddock was a fool at first, but it is a lot different when your office party’s version of Mrs. Robinson is the wife of an executive VP who wants you to marry their daughter. Of course, you spend the whole time worrying that you don’t drink too much and do something stupid. To borrow a line from the movie above: “women are more dangerous than shotguns.”

Another use for this movie reference would be the party with the really bad food; food that tastes like…shall we say….plastic? Oh come on, you remember:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Forest Gump

“My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’”

Remember Bubba Blue from Forrest Gump? He was the guy who talked about 2,465 different ways to prepare shrimp: “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it.” Well, this is the party where there’s always that one guest you try to avoid—maybe it’s Bob from accounting or Janice from the mail room—who thinks you are their best friend (or at least the only person too polite not to run away) and who proceeds to talk your ear off, as you try to figure out how to talk to that cute new girl in HR. They will tell you every boring detail of their otherwise dull life, as you try and pull away, reflexively drinking from a beer that you finished about twenty minutes ago. 

Titantic

“Why do they insist on announcing dinner like a damned cavalry charge?”

This is the office party where we know how it's going to end, and we know that it is going to end badly.  Like Mr. Fleet in the crow’s nest who first sees the iceberg dead ahead, the sense of inevitable doom is palpable.  These office parties are more typical for smaller companies  where everyone knows each other; the hierarchy is rather flat; and the workforce is young. Think dot com start-up or even a restaurant. I’ve been to these parties. Eventually, someone gets way too drunk. Someone gets way too belligerent. And someone gets way too frisky. And like The Hangover, Parts 1-16, no one ever remembers a damn thing in the morning. As a result, no one gets fired!

Midnight in Paris

“[B]ut I will say that we both like Indian food, not all Indian food, but the pita bread, we both like pita bread, I guess it’s called naan.”

This is the office party you haven’t been to in a long time, or one in which old friends or a girlfriend plans to attend, or even an party at the company or firm where you worked for many years. As a result, you have very unrealistic, if not downright romantic, notions about what to expect at such a party. As Gil discovers, the idealized past wilts in the blazing noonday sun of the present. But like the dialogue in Midnight in Paris, the conversation amongst old friends is relaxed and nostalgic and, like an old sweater, it feels comfortable even if a bit tight around the middle.

Well, there you have it—the unofficial five categories of office parties explained through the movies. Think of this as a public service announcement.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

What you hear coming from your radio this time of year is not Sleigh Ride or The Christmas Song, but a train whistle of inevitability. With only about 36 hours left, Christmas is coming at you like a Japanese bullet train. And speaking of bullet trains, there is real cause for concern that if I eat one more piece of rum cake and have one more glass of eggnog, that the button on my jeans may pop off and fly across the room and take out someone’s eye.

Christmas is as much about food (and drinking) as it is about presents. But at least the presents don't make us fat! So in the spirit of the season, let’s talk about Christmas food. After all, next month, we’ll all be talking about diets. Ugh.

And when it comes to Christmas food and drink, what two always come to mind (even if we never have any)? Yep, eggnog and fruit cake.

EGGNOG

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, eggnog is enjoying something of a comeback.  In the article, Joe Miller, director of marketing at Trickling Creamery in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is quoted as saying, “[w]e’re getting a lot of coffee shops and restaurants doing interesting things with eggnog.” Really? I’m not sure I would put the word “interesting” and eggnog in the same sentence.

The second question most of ask about eggnog (the first one being, “why the hell would anyone drink that?”), is what is “nog”? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, nog was "a kind of strong beer brewed in East Anglia.” That makes sense, because about the only way to drink this stuff is with copious amounts of bourbon. And spiked ‘nog is certainly helpful at those holiday gatherings. If your Aunt Rita is going on and on about your Uncle Ralph, then slip her a little eggnog with a lot of Jim Beam.

FRUITCAKE

Around the holidays, I try to remember the less fortunate. I get toys for the angel tree at work. I put money in the Salvation Army kettles. I buy a fruitcake, that multi-colored, dusty brick orphan alone on the shelf at the Piggly Wiggly. (I don’t think a new fruitcake has been made since 1978; they just get passed from family to family, year after year.) 

It’s Christmas, and I get sentimental at this time of year, and I’ve always felt a bit sorry for fruitcake. Let’s face it: fruitcake may be the most maligned and ridiculed food in the Western world. But it shouldn’t. Fruit cake is nothing more than cake with dried fruit and nuts, hence the name. And based on that definition, fruitcake has been around a long time. The Romans ate a type of fruitcake that consisted of pomegranate seeds in a barley mash.  From there, it spread to the rest of Europe and then on to Aisle 4 at your local supermarket. 

And while I don’t eat fruitcake very often, when I do it’s Claxton. This iconic fruitcake has been made in Claxton, Georgia, for a hundred years. But just because Claxton has been around a long time, doesn’t mean it's not in step with the times. Claxton now makes something called ClaxSnax, which according to the company’s website is “Claxton Fruit Cake by the slice, individually wrapped for freshness.” What’s next ? One hundred calorie “ClaxSnax” packs? (For the record, that would be a piece of fruitcake the size of a quarter—have you read the calorie count on the back of the box?!)


I’ve been told that fruitcake is not that hard to make and can actually be made quite well. The jury is still out on that one and besides, the holidays are nearly done and I’m done with cooking, so maybe next year. Until then, grab a fruitcake from your local grocery store at half-off and scarf down the last few fatty calories before the new year, when we all will be forced to hit the gym!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Holiday on Ice

“Eggnog tastes 80% better in a collared cardigan sweater.” —Jack Nicholson—



Starting on Thanksgiving morning, with that first Bloody Mary, and ending with that last glass of Champagne on New Year’s Eve, the holidays are a liver-busting, moonshine marathon. There’s rum cake, rum balls, rum punch, red wine, white wine, brown water, and plenty of bubbly. It’s a wonder we remember the holidays at all. But then again, maybe that’s the point. Do you really want to remember your obnoxious brother-in-law and Aunt Ethel’s fruitcake?

Of course, at one point in our nation’s history, such revelry would have landed you in the pokey. We’ve forgotten how much easier (and legal) it is for us to get a little tipsy and flirt with our secretaries at the office holiday party.


And so during this time of giving and giving thanks, it is only proper that we remember an obscure date that went unnoticed about ten days ago: the end of Prohibition. On December 5, 1933, the humble State of Utah adopted the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thus making it possible for many a husband to tolerate his mother-in-law at Christmas. 


But how the heck did Prohibition even happen in the first place? Did we really amend the oldest written constitution in the world to outlaw non-GMO drinks that have been around since ancient Egypt? 


Yep, we sure did.


Party Pooper!
On January 16, 1919, Nebraska became the 35th state to ratify the 18th amendment. And one year after ratification, on the  stroke of midnight on Saturday, January 17, 1920, the manufacture and the sale and the transportation of intoxicating liquor was prohibited in every corner of our great republic. Surely the irony is not lost on me that Prohibition began on a Saturday. 

To add insult to injury, the enabling act for the amendment was called the Volstead Act, named after Congressman Andrew Volstead of Minnesota. It is only fitting that an act to take all the fun out of Christmas was named after someone who sounds like a bad guy from a Harry Potter novel.

Prohibition’s proponents were mostly rural; its opponents, mostly urban—a political divide that endures to this day. And like all social and political movements, there were those who were true of heart in their motivations, and those who were not (in the North, there was a strong anti-immigrant motivation for prohibition; in the South, it was racial).


We all know what happened during the next thirteen years: bootleggers, Al Capone, speakeasies, bathtub gin, Jazz, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway (ok, the last two are not too bad).

What killed Prohibition was money. With the Great Depression dragging on into its fourth year, the federal government found itself short on revenue from the absence of alcohol taxes. And so on December 5, 1933, the State of Utah opened up the taps. Just in time for a holiday on ice. Cheers! 

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
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Shetland Coley, Isle of Wight Tomatoes, Spinach, Tapenade
Scotch Pork Belly, Braised White Beans, Local Greens
Local Summer Vegetable Risotto
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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.