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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, June 13, 2017

What Happened to Lunch?

“The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful, and a snootful at the same time?”
—Gerald Ford

Please let me work here!
No one goes to lunch anymore, at least not during the hours of nine to five, Monday through Friday.
Grabbing a burrito at Chipotle while picking up dry-cleaning, or grabbing a sandwich at the corner bodega, or grabbing a protein bar that is scarfed down between emails at your desk doesn’t count. Doesn’t come close. I’m talking about a real lunch at a restaurant with friends, colleagues, or one’s spouse. Do any of us really remember when that happened? 
When did we become so dull?
I’ve come across several reasons during my extensive research for this post (wink-wink): lunch has gotten more expensive; more people are working from home; pressure to be more productive. Yeah, that all sounds good—after all it was written by people who actually get paid to write—but my theory is more intoxicating: no one drinks at lunch anymore. It’s an antique, like the 9-volt battery. 
Back in the day, the three-martini lunch was lunch. Now it’s a unicorneveryone has heard of it, but never seen it. But they did exist, at least according to some wistful old-timers I knew when I first entered the work-a-day world in the mid-1990s.
Believe it or not, work is getting done here.
Of course the three-martini lunch was once more manageable. The drinks themselves were half the size of today’s titanic tipples. One could easily spend two hours at The Palm on Madison avenue and give your liver time to do its magic before that 2:00 p.m. meeting with the client. (In fact, that client was probably with you at lunch and, if you were lucky, there would be no need for a 2:00 p.m. meeting.) And during this two-hour excursion, there were plenty of oysters and steak to soak up that gin or vodka (if you were so inclined). And the nicotine from those Lucky Strikes surely helped. 
R.I.P. Mr. Moore. I miss the 70s too.
The three-martini-lunch was a big deal because not everyone could imbibe. It was typically reserved for the boss…the partner…the CEO.  And yes, ladies, it was pretty chauvinistic. But then again, do you want your boyfriends/husbands hanging out with you while you get a mani-pedi? More importantly, the three-martini-lunch meant that you had arrived; you were somebody because you could eat steak and drink alcohol in the middle of day and not get fired.
And that’s why going out to lunch at work is dead. Hierarchy is dead. Democracy is in. Bosses are now expected to eat at their desks like their “colleagues” in the cubes. (Who, by the way, doesn't get a door to close while eating a ham sandwich.) Really? This is progress? Morale would increase considerably if us plebes were allowed, or even expected, to leave the building for lunch. Besides, most of us would rather do that that read some TPS memo and smell the leftovers from Tuna-Melt-Tuesday. 
The return of the three-martini lunch could even restore some civility and commonsense to our divided politics. Can you image the possibilities if Sens. Mitch McConnell and Bernie Sanders sat down and threw back a few? (Ok, I don’t see Bernie drinking a martini, but maybe a can or two of Schilitz?)
I know bringing back the three-martini lunch may be a fool’s errand. But all revolutions begin in the minds of the nostalgic. So come now my fellow workers and break those shackles that tie you to your desk and a reheated Hot Pocket! Let’s grab a burger and a beer and dare the boss man to fire us!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sometimes Every Dish Hits the Fan

Today is Memorial Day, the unofficial first day of summer. 
The day that the grill gets its first test drive around the block. Who doesn't love to grill? It's virtually foolproof! 

Until it's not.

Let's start with the grill. I know there's a raging debate in America (no, not that one!). Gas vs. charcoal. They both have their merits. Charcoal certainly provides great flavor, and the ritual associated with its preparation is worthy of anyone's attention. But gas is so convenient. And what about smoking? (No, that one!)  I usually smoke a pork shoulder at least once a year, but that requires getting up early on a weekend. Otherwise, your guests are doing the 10:30 p.m. Continental dinner thing. 

At with least grilling on the back deck, with copious amounts of beer, there is a wide margin for error  One reason most red-blooded American males love to grill. A mere 15 feet and you're in the kitchen where, of course, it can all go so wrong, so horribly wrong, so easily.

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 dish 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!

Though I doubt she ever made grey hash browns, Julia Child recounts a similar event in her memoir, My Life in France, which involved eggs Florentine for a friend she had invited over for lunch:  

I suppose I had gotten a little too self-confident for my own good: rather than measure out the flour, I had guessed at the proportions, and the result was a goopy sauce Mornay. Unable to find spinach at the market, I’d bought chicory instead; it, too, was horrid. We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine. I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as “Oh, I don’t know how to cook . . . ,” or “Poor little me . . . ,” or “This may taste awful . . . ,” it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, “Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!” Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed— eh bien, tant pis!
My Life in France, pp. 89-90. 

I think this is valuable advice for amateur cooks everywhere. We cannot be perfect. Besides, us mere kitchen mortals should take comfort in the fact even the great Julia Child made a dish which she described as “vile.”  This pressure to be perfect in the kitchen has become worse in our media-saturated age. As Melissa Clark of the New York Times once pointed out in her column, A Good Appetite, “food porn” in foodie magazines and T.V. shows has created a “cult of foodie perfectionism.” (Melissa Clark, No Apologies Necessary When a Dish Goes Awry, New York Times, p. D1, Oct. 10, 2012) 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 just order a pizza!  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Splitting Rails and Grinding Corn

It had to be done. It couldn’t wait any longer. 

Yard work. 

The two foulest words that any homeowner can utter.

Last summer I got off easy because of the drought here in Alabama. Not once did I mow the back forty because even the weeds wouldn’t grow. This year, things were different. A wet spring and the backyard was in full weedy bloom. I dragged out the lawnmower a few weeks ago, sufficiently motivated to tackle the fecund jungle that is my back yard. After 15 minutes of pulling the cord to no avail, my arm sore, and realizing that my neighbors were likely tired of hearing me curse on a Sunday morning, I gave up.

Fast forward two weeks. I really needed to get my lawnmower fixed. And then my next-door neighbor came to my rescue. 

“Sounds like it could be your carburetor.” 

I looked at him blankly, trying to remember my high school German. I quickly recovered. 

“Oh yeah, that’s got to be it. Damn modern exhaust systems!”

“You have no idea what a carburetor is do you?”

Sadly, I didn’t.

About an hour later, my lawn mower was ship-shape and Bristol fashion.

I then realized that before I could mow the “lawn,” I had to remove the branches and sticks that had fallen from the many trees in my yard since last spring. I then  also realized that I still had not removed the tree that had fallen during a recent storm and thankfully just missed my neighbors’ house by a mere five feet. This required the use of my chain saw and, after two  hours of hauling tree parts to the street, I could finally mow. After this came the weed-whacking. I had some weeds that actually required the use of the aforementioned chainsaw—I’m not kidding! Jurassic Park indeed!. 

So, after three hours of yard work I was done. I was not just done. I was spent. I was exhausted. My best-laid plans of a nice grilled Mahi-Mahi on the back deck were a delirious memory.

How did the heck did the pioneers do it? These people cleared entire forests without the benefit of chainsaws. They grew crops without the benefit of modern fertilizers. They did all this without Home Depot! Granted they didn’t have the IRS, the EPA, or the Kardashians on Bravo (or is it A&E?)

Thankfully, they had plenty to eat. 

They ate what was available and abundant, live beavertail and cod (the former has fallen out of favor thankfully and the latter sadly suffering from popularity). What they brought with them from Europe they quickly combined with what they found here and what came from the Caribbean and Africa, a rich culinary traditions that tragically arrived on the backs of slaves.

And then there was maize, a/k/a corn. The motherlode.

Unlike wheat, corn requires very little manual labor. And the pre-Columbian peoples living in North and Central America devised a creative way to use corn to lend a helping hand in growing their other two main crops: beans and squash. With the addition of corn, this trifecta was called the “Three Sisters.”

The three crops benefited from each other. Corn stalks provided a structure for the beans to climb so there was no need for poles, which had to be made—did I mention there were no Home Depots back then? The beans added nitrogen to the soil. The squash leaves spread along the ground, blocking the sunlight, preventing the establishment of weeds—there was no Round-Up back then either.

* * *

After three hours of yard work, I had closed all three rings on my Apple Watch. I headed inside to my air-conditioned home and took a long, warm shower.  I dried off in clean towels just pulled from the drier. I grabbed a cold beer from the fridge and grabbed my iPhone.

I’m ordering a pizza for delivery. 

Now just think what Davy Crockett would have done with that!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tis Hatched and Shall Be So

Easter and Passover are behind us—the  expectancy of summer is sure to follow. 
Passover and Easter are troubled cousins who sometimes refuse to recognize their patrimony. They both celebrate life or rebirth. Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt—a rebirth. Easter celebrates the literal rebirth—life from death—of Jesus. Both have strong food traditions associated with them, though my Jewish friends tell me I’m not missing much (think gefilte fish and matzo). 
Both holidays, however, also embrace death as a foundational premise.  In Exodus, God helps the Children of Israel escape their slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the ancient Egyptians. The tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born. For protection, God instructed the Israelites to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-born in these homes—hence the English name for the holiday. And for Christians, there’s the Crucifixion. This was a form of execution long used in the ancient world that resulted in a slow, painful death that lasted for hours, if not days, until the victim died of exhaustion or suffocation. I don’t recommend one read Exodus or the New Testament just before bedtime. 
What many of us (both sides of the Old/New Testament divide) often forget are the similarities between the two faiths. It’s no coincidence that both Easter and Passover occur during the same time of the year. They also share a common food: the egg. 
One of the items on the Seder plate (a special plate containing symbolic foods that retell  of the story of the Exodus from Egypt), is beitzah, a hard-boiled egg. This symbolizes the festival sacrifice offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, that was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
Now that sounds pretty familiar to us Gentiles—the Easter egg—a symbol of fertility and rebirth.
Of course, in celebrating Easter (whether secular or not), the Easter egg would be nothing without the Easter egg hunt—a brutal competition to collect more eggs than your sibling. Now that’s the true meaning of Easter for the under-10 age demographic!
But I grew up as an only child, so I missed out on the joy and pain of sibling Easter egg hunts. So I improvised. I employed my competitive desires in other ways: finding all of the two-dozen easter eggs hidden by my mother in record time (record: 10 mins, 15 secs.). There was also the great Sunday School Easter Egg Competition of 1980, weaving together the pagan and the sacred in one spectacular afternoon.
Change was in the air. Ronald Regan was challenging Jimmy Carter. Maybe all of us back then could sense the competitive go-go Eighties lurking just around the corner. And perhaps because of this, my Sunday school class decided to hold a contest for the best decorated Easter egg. Game on bro! 
I was determined to win this thing. This was my year! I convinced my mom to buy an expensive store-bought egg decorating kit (a rule-breaker for sure, as we were a food-dye-and-vinegar family) that involved Day-Glo powder and a Ziploc bag—a shake-n-bake approach to Easter. I even glued tiny gold leaves and silver beads onto that blue egg until it looked like a bona fide Fabergé egg! And yes, I did win in a landslide.
As I mentioned earlier, we were old school when it came to dying Easter eggs. Eggs were dyed the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, using nothing more than vinegar and food coloring. I’m not sure about the brand, but I remember these teardrop shaped bottles. You carefully put several drops in coffee cups filled with hot water and vinegar. There were only four colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. Anything more sophisticated required the guide on the back of the box: two drops of red + one drop of blue = purple; two drops of yellow + one drop of red = orange. You get the picture. To this day, the smell of vinegar takes me back to the spring days of my childhood. It is my Proustean Madeleine.  
The day’s newspaper covered the table so as not to stain it, though I’m sure I did. We rested the freshly died eggs on plain, white paper plates to dry, leaving a light-colored spot where the dye ran, which  didn’t matter because we would place them in the basket in such a way that you wouldn't see the spot. And of course the basket contained green, plastic grass that lingers like death and taxes,  showing up obscure corners of the house months later. The next morning, I was rewarded with chocolate, including a large chocolate bunny proudly displayed in the middle of my Easter basket. 
After taking a few bites of that chocolate bunny (always start with the ears), the Easter egg hunt would promptly commence. We used the real eggs we dyed the night before. My mother took great pride in finding clever ways to hide the eggs, while leaving a few in pretty obvious locations lest I get too discouraged. After I had found them all, then it was my turn. I tried my best to be clever in how I hide the eggs, though my mother lovingly made it seem they were impossible to find. We held these kind of hunts even when it rained, which seemed a rather frequent Easter occurrence now that I think about it. And the hiding places were no less clever when the hunt was indoors sometimes too much so. One year, no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t find that 24th egg. We did eventually—sometime in June. Ugh.
And then the Easter eggs that I had so carefully made and so carefully hidden were now ready for their final role: deviled eggs. 
I looked forward to deviled eggs at Easter as much as the chocolate bunny in my basket. 
My mother kept to the traditional side of things when it came to food. This was no less true when it came to deviled eggs, nothing more that eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper. From there, the debate will never cease. Relish or not. Paprika or not. My mother was  pro-relish and pro-paprika. I am as well. 
I still love deviled eggs. I still make them. I still make them like my Mother did with a bit of paprika sprinkled on top. Anything else would be sacrilegious – as even the Easter Bunny would agree, I’m sure.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Don't Mess with the Classics

“Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?” 

—Robert Benchley

Last month we traveled to New York for my birthday. This time, I wanted to see a play.  There were several good choices that weekend, and we decided on The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I was excited. Not only is this one of the greatest of American plays (and one of my favorites), but the main role of Amanda Wingfield was being played by Sally Field. As I had not read the play in many years, I bought a copy and re-read it on the train. I finished it shortly before we arrived at Penn Station. 

The production we were going to see is directed by Sam Gold, known for his bold reinterpretations of the classics. I'm not opposed to "re-interpreting" the classics—Richard III set in a counter-factual fascist England or Romeo and Juliet in mid-20th century New York. For Shakespeare, this works reasonably well because his plays are about language, regardless of time and place.

We booked the tickets for this play before the reviews had come in, flying blind so to speak. But it was Tennesse Williams; it was Sally Field; it was Sam Gold. That was all the information we needed, right?

Lunch that day was at ABC Cocina, a shabby-chic styled tapas restaurant next to the famed ABC Home design Mecca in Manhattan. At this point, however, instinct suddenly kicked in; my amygdala woke up. “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” Much like my Neanderthal ancestor who grabbed a spear upon seeing a saber toothed tiger, I quickly grabbed my iPhone to read the reviews. 

I know that reviews about plays and movies, much like restaurant reviews, should be taken with a grain of salt—merely one person's opinion—but when three major New York-based publications slam a production for nearly identical reasons, then it's time to pull the fire alarm. The opening paragraph from the review in The New Yorker was especially blistering:

The despair and disgust I felt after seeing the director Sam Gold’s rendition of Tennessee Williams’s 1944 play, “The Glass Menagerie” (at the Belasco), was so debilitating that I couldn’t tell if my confused, hurt fury was caused by the pretentious and callous staging I had just witnessed or if my anger was a result of feeling robbed of the beauty of Williams’s script.


But I couldn’t agree more.

Thankfully, dinner at The Modern did a lot to compensate for what we had just witnessed. It certainly gave us plenty to talk about.

As is my custom, I ordered a martini before dinner. That got me thinking. Just like certain classic plays have no business being “reinvented,” the same holds true for certain cocktails, the martini being the prime example.

With the simplest of ingredients, the martini is sleek, cool, and seductive. It’s like someone poured a Maserati into a glass. Even the glass is elegant. It forces you to be deliberate in how you progress through happy hour. It forces you to be civilized. You must be careful not to spill any of the contents, guiding the glass slowly—but too much so—to your mouth while making a witty, but obscure, comment about Dorothy Parker. This is not some cheap whisky thrown over ice into a double old-fashioned glass at the 19th hole. 

And then it all came crashing down. The martini’s simplicity became its first victim. What followed in the early Aughts was like so many bastards with claims to the throne. There was the ubiquitous "Apple-tini" with an electric day-glo green tinge that looked like it had been cooked up in a meth lab. There was the Chocolate-tini," the “Cinamon-tini,” and the Lemon-tini. The martini was corrupted because it was made complicated.

And this is what Sam Gold didn’t realize when he reinterpreted The Glass Menagerie. He forced complexity onto the audience. He gave his audience the theatrical version of an Apple-tini. The Glass Menagerie is a great and timeless play because Williams’ language distills all of our very sad human hopes, dreams, and fears into a drink that must be handled carefully and sipped slowly. 

There are just some classics that don't work well unless performed in the vernacular. 

And by the way, a vodka martini is not a martini. Enough said. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Spring Has Sprung and so Have the Peas!

Everyone has their hypothetical “last meal” (or at least they should). For me, it would be my Mom’s baked chicken, white rice with gravy, and green peas. I grew up in the 70s and the concept of fresh, locally sourced vegetables was unheard of. Mind you, this was the era of big cars, shag carpet and T.V. dinners that came in aluminum trays with that mystery desert at twelve o’clock.

So my peas came in a can, but not just any can—Le Sueur! This was considered gourmet back in 1976! And my Mom would not dare buy any other variety.

To this day, green peas remain my favorite vegetable. However, I didn’t discover fresh green peas until I was an adult. If you have never had fresh peas, then you don’t know what you’ve been missing. But don't feel bad because there is a a good reason if you haven't. 

Peas are best eaten shortly after picking, but alas they do not travel well and spoil very easily. They are also in season for only a short time during spring. This is why most peas are found frozen or canned. In fact, only 5 percent of peas harvested are actually eaten fresh. It is this rarity that historically reserved them for the wealthy and the royalty. They became quite the rage in the Court of Louis XIV of France. Here’s what Madame de Maintenon (second wife of Louis XIV), said about peas in a letter to Cardinal of Noailles in 1696:

The question of peas continues. The anticipation of eating them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the joy of eating them again are the three subjects that our princes have been discussing for four days...It has become a fashion—indeed a passion.

Peas are best eaten simply and require very little effort. They are good raw in a salad or gently simmered and served with butter and mint or other light herbs. 

Peas are spring’s reward for our survival of winter. So, pick some peas (or more likely grab some frozen in a bag) and enjoy. More peas please!

Here’s a simple recipe for peas called “peas in butter” from Larouse Gastronomique:

Cook the peas in boiling salted water, drain them, and put them back in the saucepan over a brisk heat, adding a pinch of sugar and 3 ½ ounces of fresh butter per 6¾ cups of peas. Serve with chopped fresh mint.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Oryza Sativa (a/k/a Rice)

I have a culinary confession to make. It’s nothing terrible—I’m not talking about serving Spam at Thanksgiving or passing off a cake from the local bakery as my own. No, I’m talking about the fact that I really stink at making rice. In fact, I am a complete bust at the process from start to finish. And wait, the confession gets even worse. I’ve actually purchased (in bulk from Costco), and used, Minute Rice. I’m not proud of it, but you do what you have to do to survive. 

Ok perhaps I’m exaggerating just a bit, and I have gotten better lately with practice because one kid has been asking for rice at every meal here lately. He claims his rigorous soccer practices require more carbs. But the thing is I can’t maintain consistency. Some nights I nail it; other nights there’s a hissing, foaming, overflowing covered pot on the stove that looks like a white volcano. 

And with this in mind, you will certainly ask me, “what were you thinking,” when I tell you that this past weekend I decided to make shrimp risotto. Yeah, go ahead and shake your head in disbelief. I did.

Rice could possibly be the most popular food in the world. And while many folks may associate rice with Asian cuisine, it is the Italians who I think have really perfected it with risottoliterally “little rice” in Italian. For thousands of years rice has been the understudy in Asian cuisine. But in Italy, she has become the quickly rising star. If plain old white rice were a car, it would be a Chevy to risotto’s Ferrari. 

Three different types of rice are used for risotto: arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano (which sounds like a character from The Godfather). According to Larousse Gastronomique, these grains are “characterized by high absorbency and a firm, but ‘clinging’ texture” which are “ideal for achieving a moist, slightly sticky risotto in which the grains retain their separate identity with a little bite.” That sounds like a good description of Rome!

To make risotto requires a certain degree of patience, which I confess (again) is something that I lack. And while there are as many risotto recipes as there are Italian grandmas, there is little variation in the preparation. The rice is first toasted on low heat in a pot with a little olive oil, butter, or both. Hot stock is added slowly, sometimes spoonfuls at a time. The rice is stirred frequently and quickly until the stock is absorbed. A little more stock is added, and the process begins again. After forty-five minutes, you have a creamy sauce with rice just slightly al dente.  


It may have been beginner’s luck, but I nailed this risotto. And based on past experience with plain white rice, this should have been a disaster. But maybe I wasn’t giving the understudy her due. After all, an understudy does sometimes perform and shine. Anthony Hopkins was an understudy to Sir Laurence Olivier and got his big break when Olivier came down with appendicitis during a production of August Strindberg's The Dance of Death

Good rice is harder than I thought, and making risotto—something that I had not tried before and, thus, garnered more of my attention—made me realize that. I may be getting carried away here, but making rice could be a metaphor for our lives. We rush through things. We take things (and people) for granted. Life is not Minute Rice. It requires slowing down; it requires attention. Friendships, families, and marriages take time. They also take patience and the knowledge that, like a boiling-over pot of rice, they’re imperfect and messy. 

Love and chaos. Maybe that’s why the Italians do rice so well.

Buon appetito!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Let the Good Times Roll!

New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”  ― Mark Twain

© 2014 Chris Terrell
That New Orleans is a major gastronomic destination can hardly be disputed. Within its confines, one will find food both low-brow and high-brow, and everything in between. Everything from po-boys and red beans and rice to high-end French. What may be less evident is how New Orleans became the center of creole cuisine that we know today.

It is a port city that, over many, many years, welcomed an immense variety of humanity: French, Africans, Spanish, Portuguese, and Asians. As a port city, somewhat isolated from the rest of the United States, it cultivated a certain openness and joie de vivre that fostered culinary experimentation. After all, the unofficial motto for New Orleans is "
Laissez les bons temps rouler"—“let the good times roll!”

I love New Orleans. I love its insouciance. I love its practiced shabbiness. 

It's been a few years since I lasted visited New Orleans. I miss it, though I'm not sure I would trust myself there this time of year. I still remember the first time I shared my love of New Orleans with my two boys. In was in late January, and we left around 2:00PM on a bright, clear, somewhat warm Friday afternoon. It is not a bad drive from Birmingham to New Orleans. A straight shot on interstate the whole way.

We stayed at a condo in the Warehouse District with my dad and his significant-other, Veronica. The kids were excited for different reasons. My son Hamp, with a strong interest in anything martial, was looking forward to the WWII Museum. My son Forrest, with a strong interest in anything culinary, was looking forward to the restaurants.

By the time we settled in and I had parked the car, it was nearly 8:00PM. We were all hungry. Though I was unfamiliar with the Warehouse District, there was no shortage of places to eat. Wee were not necessarily looking for fine dining, and so we ended up at Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar on the corner of Girod and Tchoupitoulas. This worked out well. Hamp and I both got hamburgers, which were quite good. Forrest got the special: catfish over rice, which was also quite good.

The next morning was another clear, beautiful day. After I had a quick run along Old Man River, we headed off to the WWII Museum. Breakfast that morning was a surprise. We came across the Crescent City Farmers Market at the corner of Girod and Magazine. It is open every Saturday from 8:00AM to Noon. I grabbed a croissant and some chicory coffee. Forrest grabbed a muffin the size of his head. Fully fueled, we headed off to the museum

After the museum, it was pushing noon. We were all hungry. One thing that Hamp (the non-foodie son) and I share is a love—some would say, a passion—for pizza. For me, pizza and beer is one of the perfect food-drink combinations. But beer, pizza, and Saturday afternoon is the perfect food-drink-time combination. After we quick check on Yelp and Tomato (Urbanspoon back then), we discovered Dolce Vita on a nondescript section of St. Charles.

We were not disappointed. This was some of the best pizza I’ve had outside of NYC! Believe it or not, the chef and owner, Bogdan Mocanu, is not Italian, but Romanian! He grew up cooking with a wood-fired oven and was trained in John Besh’s restaurant, Domenica, so he knows what he’s doing. The story of how he ended up in New Orleans is interesting. He had a food truck in Baton Rouge, but it got totaled by a drunk driver. Only in Louisiana! Bad for him, but good for us. 

By this point, my enthusiasm and love of walking and exploring new places had taken its toll on my little tour group. My dad, Veronica, and the kids were tuckered out and ready to nap. I dropped them off at the condo, and after a quick 15-minute power nap myself, I grabbed my camera to take some photographs in the French Quarter—a “target-rich environment” for any photographer. 

© 2014 Chris Terrell
© 2014 Chris Terrell
That night we had 8:30PM dinner reservations at Cochon, a restaurant that I had been trying to get into for the last three trips to New Orleans. Because I had some time, and happy hour had just arrived (isn’t it always happy hour in New Orleans?!), I decided to meet up with two dear friends who live in New Orleans: Victor and Jennifer. Victor is an amazing jazz pianist who teaches at the University of New Orleans and Jennifer owns a children’s clothing store in the Garden District on Magazine called Angelique Kids

We had conspired to ditch our kids and meet for drinks at Delmonico on St. Charles. Delmonico is one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants. Now, I don’t know about the food, as I’ve not eaten there (Victor and Jennifer both agree that its good), but if the food and service is anything like the bar, then “bam!” I’ve got to try it. I had a Sazarac—of course!—and a rum punch (emphasize the word “punch”). Both drinks were perfect. And the service! Usually, I time my second drink so that there is a little bit left in the first one, so as to ensure no lag time. No need!  I had barely taken another sip after I placed my rum punch order and “bam!” there was my drink. 

© 2014 Chris Terrell
As I mentioned, dinner that night was at Cochon. “Cochon” is French for “pig.” An appropriate name, for this place is all about  pork! And speaking of “pig,” we pigged out! 

Here’s what we had: 
  • Wood-fired oysters with chili garlic butter 
  • Shrimp & tasso ham with charred greens & field peas 
  • Fried livers with pepper jelly & toast 
  • Smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle 
  • Rabbit & dumplings 
  • Oven-roasted gulf fish “fisherman’s style 
  • Oyster & sandwich 
  • Macaroni & cheese casserole 
 And for dessert we had:
  • Farmers cheese and Meyer lemon pie 
  • Chocolate peanut butter pie with candied spicy peanuts 

After we stuffed the last bite into our mouths and paid the bill, we then made the long oscitant walk back to the condo, groaning with delight. 

We slept in late the next morning and then headed off to Cafe du Monde for beignets and café au lait. But before heading back to Birmingham, I gave in and took my kids for a stroll down Bourbon Street. Okay, so I may not win parent of the year, but at least it was a Sunday afternoon. Bourbon Street was relatively calm. After picking up some king cakes at Rouses on Royal street, we had to hit the road and head back to Birmingham.

© 2014 Chris Terrell
A few days later, I got to thinking about New Orleans. I recalled that in law school I made jambalaya all the time. It is a great dish—cheap, simple, and sustaining. Having just been to New Orleans, I decided I would make it again. When I made jambalaya back then, I relied heavily on The Joy of Cooking, my one and only cookbook. Consequently, I cracked open the latest edition and looked up the recipe for jambalaya. 

I was a bit  underwhelmed. 

It seemed like such a good recipe eighteen years ago, but not now. It lacked flavor. No worries. I took the basic recipe and improved upon it.  Maybe I've changed. Maybe I'm a better cook. Anyway, here's my version:

The Insouciant Chef’s Jambalaya


3 tablespoons butter
16 oz. andouille sausage 
1/2 cup red wine
1 medium chopped yellow onion
3 garlic cloves minced
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup extra long-grain rice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups warm chicken stock
14 1/2 oz. can of whole tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon of dried thyme 
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
2 tablespoons of paprika
1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste


In a dutch oven, melt the butter and add the sausage and brown. When the sausage has browned, pour in red wine and de-glaze the pan, then add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic and simmer over low heat for about 2 minutes. Then add rice and tomato paste and stir to coat.

Add chicken stock and tomatoes (crushing tomatoes by hand).

Add bay leaf and other spices and simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour until thickened and rice is soft.

Salt and pepper to taste. (Of course, you can adjust the spices as you wish depending on how spicy you like your jambalaya.)

Bon appétit!