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!

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!