I am pleased to say that I am not the only individual so driven by the craving for leftovers that they cooked a second Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, I spoke to quite a few serial-seconds yesterday at market. It’s a natural inclination, I think, for those of us who spend the Thanksgiving away from home. The bustle of the big day (in our case, ten adults and eleven kids) leaves little time for the sort of slow enjoyment that comes from snatching finger-fulls of stuffing from the fridge late evenings and eating it cold in the dark quiet of the kitchen.

Second-Thanksgiving also provides the opportunity to focus on favorites. No rutabaga or sweet potatoes for us. Instead, I made our two family dressings (a French-Canadian meat stuffing of pork, beef, and potato and a simple, buttery bread stuffing); braised cabbage with bacon and veal stock; homemade apple sauce with honey and vanilla; and butterscotch pudding topped with salty pecans. At my preference, we drank red wine, rather than the appropriate white, and fed a few bits of extra meat to the dogs. After a cold, grey day at market, second-Thanksgiving was wholly soothing experience.

And on the subject of market, next weekend marks the final Chattanooga Market of the 2008 season. Though I’ve now celebrated five market-season finales, this year, for a number of reasons, I’m balancing a measure of relief (free Sundays!) and sadness. To start, our good friends Susanna and Joe moved to Bozeman, Montana this week. Susanna was a constant help at the market with her happy, knows-no-stranger outlook, and Joe was actually an inspiration of sorts for conception of Alchemy, having farmed and marketed under the pseudonym “Tomato Joe” for at time. In addition to that, the current economy creates a constant supply of what-ifs for small businesses. Some vendors may return next season; some may not. Needless to say, all of us are hoping for a strong, celebratory conclusion to the year, replete with spirited buying and locally-inspired gifting. If you’re in the Chattanooga area, grab your gift list and head over. If you’re not, find some artisan outlets in your town and give them your holiday dollars.

In closing, the final weeks of market produce came down to apples and popping corn. Pictured above is Rainbow Farm’s lovely, purple popping corn which rises to tasty fluff in a bit of sizzling olive oil. In these difficult times, if you must sit down with the Wall Street Journal or any news for that matter, I highly recommend that you have some fresh, hot popping corn alongside. It’s four ears for a buck, after all. And it really does offer some significant contentment when the final bowls of turkey soup have been slurped.



Think of this blog as your virtual Indian summer. Yes, I know, Pennsylvanians, you’re expecting six inches of the white stuff this evening, but let your mind roll back a few weeks to orchards, the apples within, autumnal leaves, and Christmas card photo ops aplenty.

Fall and winter are hiking season for Chris and me. Freed of my ophidiophobia (yeah for hibernation), not to mention Sunday market, we scour the surrounding counties afoot, bundled and tobogganed, a sack full of odd foods that qualify both as light (weight-wise) and filling (tummy-wise), and we intended to begin our season a few weeks ago at the Georgia commencement of the Appalachian Trail near Dahlonega.

But we were distracted. The first of many roadside apple stands offering fried pies, cider doughnuts, bushels of dozens of apple-ly shades, and*sigh*boiled peanuts was cause for a turn about. We bought a gallon of pulpy cider (the good, unfiltered sort with matter suspended at jug bottom), one of the doughnuts, one fried peach pie (who thought that they’d offer peach in autumn at an apple stand?); a half bushel of Pink Ladies; and a sack of their boiled peanuts.

Now, just to be clear: Chris and I adore boiled peanuts. It’s true, for years we resisted. All through grad school as our South Carolinian friend Joel raved of their goodness, we turned up our noses. To be fair, the canned versions lurking in the canned vegetable aisle—and the only kind Chris and I had tasted—are poor representatives, leaning more on their legume heritage than their nutty nature. But good boiled peanuts are a unique experience, as authentically snacky as potato chips but paired with the feel-good warmth of a shot of whisky. And then there’s the shelling: sucking the spicy juice from them, tossing them on the ground or out the window—an inherent dose of relaxation in the whole process, like pinching Royal Reds from their tails at a beach bar.

(the peanut boiler at Reece Apple House where we bought our second bag)


These peanuts were appropriately, but not overly, salty; they retained their textural integrity; and they were lovely, long, finger-like specimens. We enjoyed them in the car heading hike-ward, though, just as we neared the end of the bag, we were again lured from our quest by B.J. Reece Apple House, which offered not only apples, but apple picking. And so with a half-bushel bag in hand, we trudged into B.J.’s orchards for a good dose of vitamin D as well as Yates, Arkansas Blacks, Mutsus, Fujis, and Braeburns.

Let me assure you, the best way to truly taste apples is among the trees, enjoying one variety and then another in stomach-ache inducing succession. Wash these down with more cider. And continue until your bag is ridiculously full, bursting at its seams. If you don’t have apples rolling round your trunk at day’s end, you’re doing it all wrong.

(apple cannon)

We were nearly to the trailhead when we stumbled across these obscenely large pumpkins at Burt’s Farm in Dawsonville. No, you’re not looking at a Dali here; these 50 and 60 pounders appeared to melt from the earth, antagonists to their own circumference and girth, equally beautiful and ridiculous. When we finally made it to the trailhead and climbed the 600 steps to the top of Amicalola Falls, feathered in ruby and gold, I felt much like Burt’s specimens, fully gorged on the pleasures of peanuts, cider, and apples; plumped; and as utterly autumnal as any swath of squash and scarecrow.



Today, I have been fully successful at being unsuccessful at absolutely anything. Following a two-day Oktoberfest Chattanooga Market, I am simply useless, unable to accomplish a single task: house cleaning, book work, freelance writing—all of it sits untouched, like the lunch dishes yet on the dining table. I’ve been twice, thus far, to the Starbuck’s atop Lookout Mountain. I enjoyed apple pie for breakfast and again post-lunch. And I have played more than one round of Jelly Car on my iPhone.

Needless to say, the sun room is adorned with dog-hair tumbleweeds (oh, yes, I was also supposed to brush the dogs); the recycling may soon collapse in on itself implosion-style; and I will surely resort to bottom-of-the barrel underwear (tie-dye) tomorrow morning. What’s more, and this is simply inexcusable, I have tons of yet-salvageable basil waiting to be made into pesto. There is a chance of a first frost tonight, but still I sit by the fire indulging my lethargy.

Here’s the thing: the anxiety of uselessness builds on itself. I’m now not only not accomplishing anything, but I’m also spending so much time lamenting my inactivity, that, at 3:17 p.m., it’s as if I’ve exhausted all possibility of redeeming myself.

There is a bright spot in the day, however: someone else’s cooking. Though I generally love cooking in any form (talking about cooking, reading about cooking, writing about cooking, cooking itself), there are times when it’s nice to have something prepared for me—something which I won’t have to analyze for its book-worthiness. There are no notes to be taken, no precise measurements, just a little silver tray in the fridge bearing meatloaf, potatoes, and steamed carrots courtesy of my in-laws. They will need to be warmed, of course—twenty minutes or so in the oven. But they’ll be no mincing, no mixing. The flavors will be a surprise (I haven’t paired them after all); the dishes will be minimal; and I will end my day in the perfect do-nothing style in which I began.



Last evening, my friends Monica and Brian hosted their wedding reception at Chattanooga’s Pot House—a lovely log cabin on the banks of the Tennessee River. The party was perfect. In the utterly brisk woods, with an old-timey band (two guitars, a mandolin, a tuba, and sear-sucker suits), we enjoyed corn dogs of various sorts (jalapeno/pineapple turkey dogs, traditional all-beef corn dogs, and veggie corn dogs) and a brilliant autumn-foliage-themed cake with a meringue layer. The crunch of meringue aside a thick layer of silky buttercream—pop rocks step aside, this is the textural sensation of the adult-set.

Previous to this, Chris and I were in Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-Ole’ Miss game. Here, as is standard, we visited Dreamland. Now, deep breath, for me, the Dreamland ribs are an aside; I’m not crazy for ribs after all, with their need for tugging and tearing, their required toothpicking post-consumption. No, for me, the very best of Dreamland is the fresh, cottony white bread and sauce. The sauce provided initially (in its neat, Styrofoam cup) is good. But the sauce that drips from the ribs and pools plate-bottom, flecked with bits of charred meat, is divine. Its vinegary bite, eased by the grease of the ribs, emerges a run-off of twangy-complexity and smokiness. And the quilty-soft sponge of Sunbeam is the ideal transport.

With nary a vegetable in sight, this weekend was pure Southern-style perfection--good parties, football, and an abundance of meaty deliciousness.



Lettuce. (I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but check this out.)

My sweet market-neighbors Carol and Walter of Rainbow Hill Farms sold me this still-in-the-dirt head, and informed me that, as needed, I can pull mature leaves from the bottom, keeping the rest intact. The head will continue to grow and produce (sunny spot, watered and fed, of course) indoors, over the winter, indefinitely. Fresh lettuce via countertop all year long!

Need a few leaves to add some crunch to warm roast beef and provolone on rye? Rather than buying a whole head at the grocery, just clip a few and crunch-away.

Hungry for a salad? Lob the whole head off with a kitchen knife and continue to feed and water the roots. A new head will blossom in a few weeks.

I suppose I should count myself lucky for all the hours I’ve spent peddling spice blends out-of-doors among growers and artisans and bakers and happy shoppers. (At 35+ markets a year, that is roughly a minimum of 6 weeks of my life in total; yikes!) But, I have to be honest, this time of the season, market starts to feel like a drag. Sunday mornings, I want to lay in bed with my husband watching Meet the Press; I want a mimosa-accompanied brunch, damnit; I want to laze in the web of a two-day weekend.

But here’s the thing: just when the season starts to lull and the summer’s tomatoes disappear, there’s something new—be it veggie or bookmaker, coconut cupcakes or big band festival—that makes the market new again. This time, it’s lettuce. And if I can keep it alive and thriving, it is sure to have me satisfied until the first arugula glows its verdant glow on the spring market tables.



The spacing here leaves a great deal to interpretation.
Can't decide? Try the Plates.



This afternoon, I’ll be up to my elbows in Alchemy’s brownie mix, as they’re being featured on onegoodie.com through the weekend. And looking at the One Goodie website this morning, I had that feeling again, the artisan thing, the weird dichotomy of the creator, the did I really make that? moment. I’ve had the same feeling as a writer. Last year, I re-read my thesis novel and found myself engaged. It made no sense! Engaged as a reader in my own writing?

The something-funny with food is easier to nail down. As an artisan, you become, at once, connected and unconnected to the idea of the food as food. Of course, following procedure regarding cleanliness and packaging, etc…, you’re aware that what you’re making is a “consumable,” but you rarely think of the fact that when it leaves your hands it will become a part of folks daily lives: beside them as they’re wearing pajamas, stirring a pot of a curry on the stove; a signifier of what their kids will remember as dad’s cooking; a part of their pleasure of eating dinner in the evening.

When Chris and I were shopping for a house a couple of years ago, we had the strange occurrence of opening cabinet doors (checking out the space, of course) and finding Alchemy spices. Sort of surreal. It’s in these moments that it takes extra brainpower to process the fact that your hands created that blend, labeled that bottle (which now, gasp, looks like a real grocery item!). Kind of like raising a kid, maybe, and finding at some point that they’re their own person; on the store shelf or in someone else’s kitchen, even things you’ve created cease being yours and actually become “products,” unto themselves.

Which reminds me of a story that my college writing professor Dr. S.S. Hanna told; attending a fiction reading, one evening, Hanna was surprised to see the author turn his novel sideways, mid-reading. The author was, of course, including an edit he’d made in the margin of his published book! A wild twist on separation anxiety or, perhaps, pure denial? It makes you feel small after all; regardless of all your concern and care, once something can stand on its own, it's completely beyond your grasp.

BTW, my husband Chris and our friend Blythe kayaked out to what they thought was an unpopulated island last spring and found an organic farm, completed with sheep, chickens, and an airstream trailer. Pretty wild! Here’s an article about the Williams Island crew:

Compare this to the touted Outstanding in the Field experience, a “restaurant” staged in the fields of working farms and charging $200-plus per plate (well, five plates, really) for food that is enjoyed at its source (shouldn’t that be less expensive given the zero-carbon-footprint thing?). While the table settings are idyllic and the food, most certainly, is delicious, I’m awed to see each coming dinner marked “sold out.” The experience is, most assuredly, not an authentic farm experience: it’s polished to a sheen with sterile table cloths, china, and servers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s lovely. But farm-to-table in the truest sense? I think not.



Excesses, it seems, are my M.O. this week. Last night, I canned a bushel of heirloom tomatoes (which melted into 12 quarts). I had considered simply freezing them, but satisfaction-wise there is nothing as fulfilling as rows of home-canned veggies. For both the sake of pleasure and pure, unadulterated conceit, I will store these in plain sight, where guests will be forced to ask, “Did you can those?” (That’s right, bitch, I’m totally stocked-up for winter. What about you?)

Up for tonight, apples. Our good friend Mike found a bountiful apple tree on the property of an abandoned house (location: for a multitude of reasons, undisclosed). On Tuesday, after some pub food and beer, he announced that he had “something” to “unload” on us and “could we go to your car?” Illicit substances? An abundance of marked bills? Paraphernalia? No, a backpack-full of apples. Gatherer Mike was taken with considering the miniscule carbon footprint of the hand-harvested, local fruit. Canning and saving seemed to honor his eco-conscious concern and be a good nearly-carbon-neutral approach, so when Christmas comes around, our dessert will be both succulent and sustainable.

But wait a sec, that’s too idyllic; I’m lapsing into food-writing la-la-land here. About halfway through the peeling and coring, I had forgotten about going green and Mike’s generosity and ailing Mother Earth, all I could think of was the poor bastard who had to sell industrial-strength apple corers to make ends meet. What’s the emotional sell? Door-to-door or phone sales? Key marketing points? And who, exactly, is the audience?

Housewives? At $140-a-pop, Mrs. McCafferty had better be baking more than a few apple pies. And she’d better have some muscle behind those pin-curls as well. Generally, it takes not one but two whacks in order to propel the apple over the blades and into the waiting receptacle. When it comes to the third blow, and you begin thinking, “Damn, I’m glad this thing doesn’t have feelings,” it’s time to change your technique.

Restaurateur? “No really, chef, give it a try. Just insert the apple, then smash the f**k out of it with this handy, maneuverable top part.”

Starry-eyed, hippie-type entrepreneurs? This is where they got Chris and me. Fresh out of grad school, we thought it sounded fun to travel to markets and festivals selling apples with caramel sauce and peanuts. But there’s the residual splatter/spatter (yes, think crime scene here) that makes the whole things less attractive to the consuming public. “Oh, I’m sorry, little boy, but that seed lodged in your cheek is totally lucky. Good thing you had your eyes closed.”

I’m well aware: this may unleash a storm of salesmen on my door step, whispering “Are those the people who bought the apple corer?” So let just me say now, we’re not in the market for grave plots; vacuums; large tubs of popcorn; international orphans needing sponsorship; meat, fish, or pre-seasoned poultry products; encyclopedias; human-grade dog food; or...No? Fruit you say? Well, come on in. I know just what to do with that.



All my life, I’ve heard folks prattle on about their cookware crushes. A French butter keeper? I’ll take it or leave it. Mandolin? Give me a good chef’s blade, and I’m happy. Fancy double-boiler? A pan and bowl, please.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot that I appreciate: good knives, appropriate tools, even my pizzelle maker is valued come holiday time. And I adore my All-Clad copper; it’s perfectly practical and lovely to look at—who could ask for more? I certainly didn’t think that I could—until my Le Creuset came along.

There are three distinct rationales for why my 7.5 Quart Dijon-Hued French Oven is flawless.

1. The light interior. While cooking demands effort from each of the senses, sight is high on the handy-in-the-kitchen list. I like a clear view of how things are browning, crisping, caramelizing, and nothing is as lucid on the flame as the creamy white of a Le Creuset interior. Dimly-lit kitchen beware: I can now cook into all hours of the evening.

2. The even-keeled convection. Let those flames lick. My Le Creuset will distribute them across the surface with ease. Lamb chops on one side, okra on the other—each has its share of heat, and nothing comes out black-n-blue.

3. The practicality. A serious piece of cookware in a pretty enamel coat. Isn’t that what most women are after anyway?

4. The clean-up. Bring on your ugly, your fond and your sear, your sticky balsamic and brown-sugar salmon. My Le Creuset will take nothing more than the coarse side of a kitchen sponge to wax spotless.

I know, I know, it’s the expense, but, at some point in your life, they’ll be a perfect moment: it will start with a glance across the showroom; then a touch, maybe (accidental or intentional?); you’ll think of a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t, but none will matter. When you take her home, she’ll be everything you expected yet full of surprises; and, at some point, a lifetime won’t seem like long enough.



  • Everything is important; nothing is waste: bones, fat, skin, drippings.
  • Low-n-slow isn’t just a pork thing: the fat yields slowly and eases the duck meat to succulent perfection.
  • Think Waits’ Alice: gothic but sophisticated, raw yet refined, as lovely in process as product.
  • Rich food isn’t necessarily rich food (luxurious/$$$).
  • Though generally the thinking is otherwise, time can be not only ally but enrichment to meats.
  • A little duck fat is not enough.
  • In the food world, the things that sound the fanciest are often the simplest; and the simplest are often the finest ala William Carlos Williams This is Just to Say.
  • Old as history; new as yesterday.



Tonight amid duck confit and lamb kebabs preparations, I needed fuss-less, folky fare to balance my food equilibrium. Ta’da: P’Dogs!

P’Dogs (short for Panini dogs) are a close cousin of the Waffle Dog, specialty of a short-lived Chattanooga hot dog shop. In a way, P’Dogs are health food. Deep-fried hot dogs in cheesy cornbread batter too much for your diet? Then try these hot dogs in cheesy cornbread batter that are toasted—not deep fried—to chewy perfection on a hot Panini press. Not enough to soothe your health-conscious soul? Then dip them in veggie-rich, spicy remoulade, and, hot damn, you’re golden.


1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal (not self-rising)
1 ½ tsp. salt (less if you’re using a salty seasoning)
1 ½ tsp. cajun seasoning (preferably Alchemy Bayou Ya-Ya)
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
8 all-beef hot dogs with natural casings (or veggie dogs, of course)
½ cup cornstarch
Wax paper
16 wooden skewers

· Preheat your Panini press; I set mine to medium-high to achieve a crunchy, chewy exterior.
Mix the first six ingredients (dry ingredients) thoroughly.
· Next, toss cheese in with the dry ingredients and, following, add buttermilk. Stir until just combined.
· Insert the skewers into the hot dogs (2 per dog, side by side), pushing them to within one inch of the tip.
· On a large piece of waxed
paper, spread the cornstarch and roll each skewered-dog in the cornstarch until thoroughly cover; tap off excess.
· Empty the batter onto another sheet of waxed paper and thoroughly cover each dog in its entirety.
· When press is fully preheated, introduce the dogs and cook for seven to eight minutes apiece.
· Yep, a bit of batter will puddle at the bottom, all toothsome and crusty and golden. Enjoy it dipped in rich, mustardy remoulade.

· Nota Bene: We order our hot dogs from Chicopee Provisions.


½ cup onion (one medium yellow), chopped
½ cup green onions, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
¼ cup, 2 T spicy mustard
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro
2 T horseradish
2 T ketchup
2 T roasted red pepper
1 T sirachi or hot sauce
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup olive, vegetable, or canola oil

· Add all ingredients except oil to food processor and process until moderately homogenized and smooth but with lovely specks of cilantro-green and pepper-red throughout.
· Add oil slowly—a thin, even drizzle—as if making mayonnaise.
· Serve immediately or store, refrigerated, in tightly-sealed container.



A hundred small choices.

1. Belgium beers
2. muddy espresso
3. good farmstead cheeses (from farmers that moonlight as academics)
4. tellicherry peppercorns
5. freshly-ground cinnamon
6. nutmeg grated on a rasp
7. rosemary that you snip just before you eat it
8. fresh basil
9. melted sweet onions
10. roasted garlic
11. Wagyu beef
12. heritage pork cooked low & slow over a fire
13. vinegary, homemade BBQ sauce
14. tomatoes with names like Old Ivory Egg
15. fish that your dad caught
16. spicy boiled peanuts
17. hot dogs with natural casing that pops
18. gelato
19. Jack Daniels
20. drunken mushrooms with dry red and fresh herbs
21. lamb from a farmer with whom you’ve shaken hands
22. muscadines
23. vegetables grilled on a fire
24. olive oil that tastes of green apples and warmth
25. twenty-five year old balsamic
25. tart, homemade yogurt
26. La Chouffe
27. lobster rolls in Narragansett
28. fried sage leaves
29. perfect salads
30. fresh lemonade with rosemary
31. homemade pierogies
32. warm chocolate chip cookies
33. chocolate pot de creme
34. raw tuna with avocado and spicy mayo
35. Royal Reds at the Gulf
36. baba ghanoush
37. flat bread made in unauthorized kitchens and hidden behind the grocery counter
38. briny dolmas (lamb/rice/hot/ cold)
39. coconut-milk curries
40. homemade paneer
41. avocado
42. chocolate ganache and fruit
43. crispy fish tacos
44. homemade birthday cake
45. dark rye bread with sweet butter
46. Mexican-style shrimp cocktail
47. chorizo and eggs
48. chip wagon poutine
49. buffalo burgers
50. hot baguettes
51. bacon fat
52. duck confit
53. just-mixed vinaigrettes
54. dijon
55. artichokes
56. crunchy slaws
57. maple syrup
58. red beans and rice in New Orleans
59. butter
60. a freezer full of bones for stock
61. lots and lots of cilantro
62. ribs at Dreamland (but only the one where the roof leaks)
63. sesame and walnut oils
64. vanilla powder
65. kielbasa
66. crispy apple fritters
67. wild rice from a reservation
68. sexy, sexy bulgur
69. homemade pasta
70. basil pesto on homemade pasta
71. remoulade
72. gouda that crunches with saltiness
73. pilaf
74. eggy tapioca
75. wood-fired pizza
76. tacos from a road-side trailer
77. crisp, juicy roasted chicken with mustard
78. perfect mashed potatoes
79. lamb stew
80. pork and sauerkraut with applesauce
81. lobster pot pie
82. cornmeal-dusted hot fish
83. risotto
84. homemade mayonnaise
85. crisp, tart apples eaten out-of-hand
86. filet with herbed compound butter
87. roasted asparagus
88. corned beef and cabbage
89. coconut cake
90. plantain chips
91. crispy carnitas
92. jasmine rice
93. ricotta
94. toast with butter
95. salsas made from market veggies
96. ‘nana pudding & chocolate mousse pie
97. roasted peppers and Asiago
98. funnel cakes
99. scrambled eggs with lots of black pepper and ketchup
100. a thick, medium-rare Kobe burger with onion rings

Chris adds:
101. salmon caught from the Kenai River, blackened, and eaten outdoors within four-hours of its final swim
102. sausage
103. fried chicken (beside velvet wallpaper) at Lamar's



Some quintessientially summer pictures that I had to share...
a lovely heirloom tomato BLAT with basil mayo
(bacon, lettuce, arugula, tomato)

kegs, cases, & cans

Driving home for lunch a few weeks ago, I saw this: an overturned tractor trailer of Coors Light. Do you think all of those made it to the trash heap?

farmer's market find

Quite possibly the best farmstead cheese I've tasted: Bonnie Blue's Cave-Aged Camembert--soft, 'shroomy, and silky. This ain't feta, folks.

And the cocktail...

Lem'onade Motlow-Style

These are certainly the dog days of summer--burning, bright, and drippingly humid. Lem'onade Motlow-Style will either cool you down or make you hazy enough to ignore your discomfort.

3/4 cup raw sugar

2--4"stalks of rosemary, washed

1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Jack Daniels

  • Add sugar and rosemary to a two-quart pitcher and muddle them with a wooden spoon to release the rosemary's oils.
  • Next, add the lemon juice and stir until the sugar dissolves fully.
  • Add water to the two-quart mark.
  • To each tumbler, add ice.
  • According to taste, add one to two shots of Jack Daniels per glass.
  • Fill with rosemary-lemonade and enjoy.



The Incomparable La Chouffe

Sweet Grass Dairy Holly Springs, Pecan Chevre, & Hopeful Tomme

We’ve had a couple weeks of ownership shifts and relaxation. To start, my iPod was stolen from our car. Now, we have two other iPods, but mine was a 60-gig. I have a strong instinct to narrate nearly every instant of my life with the exact song at an exact time. There is, of course, a moment when only Dylan’s Frankie & Albert will do (and another when only Taj Mahal’s will). In my life, there are many of these moments necessary to my creative stimulation and overall mental health, and only a big-gig Pod will meet these musical demands. Right now, I’m having severe Felice Brothers withdrawal, “My baby told me, Darling, if you don’t get a pardon better get a parole.” And I truly want to believe that some little brat is going to get a serious slap on the hand for stealing my muse.

Second to that in my lost-and-found theme, a puppy. Down-and-out-dogs are kind of our thing, as you may have gathered. Needless to say, our parents held their collective breath, for our newly-found-on-the-street Adelle (hard A, A-dell, as in “Put your titty up, Adelle,” Brad Pitt in Kalifornia) was possibly the cutest puppy ever: a brindle American-bulldog/pit/boxer mix. Our Gracie loved her; Stella abhored her; Jed was indifferent; and Chris and I were semi-smitten. But our little bungalow is simply too small for four big-wilds. Thankfully, a good forever-home presented itself with a fun dad and a Chihuahua named Whitten. And we were able to send her onward.

We spent last week on a cobbled together staycation (a vacation for the financially-challenged): camping at a kayak-in site on a North Carolina lake; two nights in Decatur, Georgia at one of our favorite bars; and lots of laughing and partying with our friend Mike in the interim. Which brings me to food.

Our days in the forest with freeze-dried dinners and instant oatmeal were a bit surreal. Chris assured me that Mountain House meals were the best on the market (synonymous, it turns out, with the only edible on the market), but, amid a torrential downpour in a 15-year-old tent and bear-proofing, a girl wants something not just substantial but substantially comforting and tasty and fresh. Rest assured, I am now terribly taken with the idea of homemade, pack-in camp food: light, compact, but fortifiably domestic and delicious.

Following the woods, we hit Atlanta, a jarring not unlike our transition from Death Valley to Vegas in 2002. Our mecca was Decatur’s Brick Store Pub—no neon; beautiful punk and Kings of Leon-looking staff; and an all-Belgium bar atop. Plus toothsome, vinegar-drenched fish and chips with house-made remoulade. Plus Sweet Grass Dairy cheese boards and warm baguette. As if that’s not enough, at the Brick Store, each beer is served in its own brewery-issued glass. Perfection.

When we needed a (brief) break from the rich Belgiums, we ventured outward for dinner at Cakes & Ale. Chris ordered the Cakes & Ale Burger with Fries. He often goes burger in upscale joints and judged this brisket-and-pork-belly version to be “good,” though not so good as our own St. John's Meeting Place kobe burger. My meal, however, was excellent: Sliced Wagyu Roast Beef with New Crop Potato Salad, Tomatoes, Horseradish Sauce, & Greens. The beef, at a ¼” thickness, was pink, soft, and buttery. The potatoes and lettuce were tender as only the freshest, small-garden vegetables are, and the horseradish sauce melted airily but distinctly with each element. I loved the meal and would order it again this evening. And tomorrow evening as well.

Following that, we enjoyed three courses at The Chocolate Bar across the street: Goat Cheese Mousse with Raisin Toast and Grape Confit, Chocolate Banana Ganache with Olive Oil Crumble and Banana Sorbet, and Chocolate Pot de Crème. Though I was stuffed and hesitant to lemming-along with the course idea at first, I loved the progression—light to rich, savory to intensely sweet, a patchwork of complexities—and scratched at each serving dish with my little spoon for sticky remnants.

One last note, a found staycation souvenir and something I’ve been searching for: a purse-sized pepper grinder. Yep, I’m an extremist, but I simply can’t endure the stale, tasteless pepper offered in restaurants and bars. Now, I won’t have to. And if you’d like to avoid the same torture, you can find the three-inch GSI Outdoors lexan beauty here (http://www.gsioutdoors.com/detail.aspx?s=7&c2=3&p=73490&lu=%2flist.aspx%3fs%3d7%26c2%3d3&).



A Young Bowser, Circa 1993

We lost one of our family dogs this week. Bowser was 15 ½ years old (a pure mutt of Collie, German Shepherd, Irish Setter, and St. Bernard) and escaped from his pen at my parent’s house in Pennsylvania while they were here in Tennessee visiting. My father kept the news from us the entire four days of the trip, not wanting to ruin our time together; once home, he burst into tears in the kitchen. We still have hope that Bowser will trot back with burrs in his fur; it’s only been a week. Even as I am writing this, there’s been a false alarm: the rangers from Keystone State Park, less than a mile from my parents’, called to say that they’d found him. But it was another dog—shorter, furrier, not our old guy.

My father hopes that, “he’s getting a piece of ass.” I hope that he’s found adventure: deer to chase, a pond to swim in. We don’t say what we fear: that in his deafness and blindness he’s lost, scared, and alone for the first time. My father raised him from birth, after all. His mama, Sweetie Pie, was our dog (a runt hand-fed from an eyedropper by my mother), as was his grandmother, Tassie. Bowser’s the last generation of the family of dogs that extended from my second year to my thirties.

We didn’t treat those dogs as we treat our dogs now: they lived outside, stinky and matted but loved. Bowser’s enclosure opened into my Dad’s workshop and garage. He slept there on an old couch and when my father went into the garage, Bowser would ease up on his old back legs and grin, a really big grin for my father.

I suppose it’s fair to say that my Dad’s often misunderstood in the human realm—interpreted as gruff and harsh, which is really his mask for emotion or social unease. With the family dogs, he’s always comfortable. A few years ago, he began giving them middles names—Maizee May, Kenai Florissa, Gracie Louise, Stella Elizabeth, Duncan Diesel, Jedidiah Linston. And when our Kenai died in May of 2006, he wrote her a song, “Kenai Florissa, we’re sure gonna miss ‘er.” He’s working on songs for all of them now. Bowser’s, too, will be a posthumous honor.

For a dog of Bowser’s size, his life span is off the charts. True, he was never coddled or brushed, but he had his fun killing groundhogs, slipping his collar and tearing across the corn fields, and, of course, barking at anything barkable. It must have worked for him, for he was a happy dog. A few years ago, my sister, Maria, had him groomed—those poor, underpaid groomers!—and tried to gentrify him for a life in the house. Bowser sprayed everything in sight: wood burner, couches, kitchen chairs, walls, doors, and toilets; he feared the tile flooring; and he escaped out the door every chance he got. Back outside, Bowsie Boy was content even as he lost his senses, cooing for attention anytime he sensed a family member. In this late great adventure, I hope he’s sitting tall and proud with his tan mane fuzzily framing his face, grinning at some new unexpected joy and, just maybe, getting a piece of ass.



We were out of place; no question. Even as we walked towards the first car, its truck open, forty men glancing down into its recesses, every head pulled towards us: Chris’s button-down and my all black dress get-up didn’t help; Warren, in his shorts and t-shirt, offered the most credibility to our group. Chris reached into his pocket and pulled a crisp twenty into view, which seemed only to confirm their discomfort. Cocaine? Illicit weapons? Black market baby?

Nope, we were after lunch. And lunch was in the trunk of that car.

There were three cars in the lot actually, positioned strategically to serve hundreds of Hispanic workers at two of Chattanooga’s many condo construction sites. This car, a big old coupe with a cooler of Cokes in the backseat and a trunk-full of three-compartment Styrofoam meals, was operated by a chunky man with a Hawaiian shirt and a ponytail. “No more,” he told us, though a number of containers remained.

His anxiety was no surprise. Chattanooga’s Hispanic community has been on edge since the raid of the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant this spring; over a hundred workers were arrested. Even the Hispanic Festival at the Chattanooga Market, generally bustling and colorful, was reserved, poorly attended, slightly mournful even.

At the next car, a man and woman spoke rapidly to one another at our inquiry, a sort of should-I-or-shouldn’t-I back and forth. Finally, the woman said, “Carne only. Eight dollars.” The gringo price for sure, but we were hungry and pleased at their willingness. We gathered our armfuls—napkins and spoons, foil-pouched tortillas, sodas, and Styrofoams—and went to sit on a flowerbox.

Poor working-man’s food: meat—mostly bones—that most of us would discard, veins jiggling and gristle, in a tasty gravy, floating delicious sauce-soaked chunks of potatoes; rice and elbow noodles with a scattering of bagged mixed vegetables, seasoned with Goya; chubby red beans in sauce; and homemade corn tortillas. I made “tacos” of the rice and beans, dipped them in the spicy red meat stock, and gnawed the meat from the bones.

The workers around us lounged, some napping, in spots with a snatch of shade, enjoying their few minutes before the return to bricklaying and building in burning sun. By the time I went to wash my hands, they seemed comfortable with our presence, pointing me towards the lady’s room and smiling from under the brims of their ball caps. For Chris, Warren, and I, it was a memorable lunch, a lunch of experience: politics and culture, thrift and sustenance, homemade and open-market, beans and rice and bone and marrow.



The Past Week

The past week has been a hectic feast of picnicking and near-miss food adventures, a fall off the cooking wagon as it were. Over the days preceding the Fourth of July, my sister-in-law with her husband and five boys (ages 10, 5, 2, and eight-month-old twins) ascended on my in-laws. Chris and I were invited for dinner each evening and had lovely, raccous times which included bottle rockets and jumping jacks; bratwursts and gazpacho; ‘nana pudding; various magic tricks and associated bets; a rosary presented by our sweet, five-year-old Burkley to help “Gramma Kay quite smoking;" the sneaking of cigarettes; gin-and-tonics; whoopie pies.

In the middle of it all, Chris and I slipped off to Birmingham for Tom Waits’ Glitter and Doom tour appearance at the Alabama Theatre. The first time I heard Tom Waits, I was fourteen, riding in a Cadillac Brougham with my friend Caleb’s dad at the wheel. “Step Right Up” spiraled nearly-out-of-control on the stereo (everyone’s a winner, bargains galore…something for the little lady, something for the little lady, something for the little lady), and I was sucked in; have been ever since.

For the record, Birmingham is a beautiful downtown of potential and nothingness. We found a single bar, packed to the gills with Rain Dogs and a lone slow-motion bartender; no luck. So we were back on the street, searching for dinner, when Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs beamed brilliantly through its grime. Ever on the search for a good dog, Chris was drawn in and even more so when he swung open the door to be hit with the scent of “boiled meat, steamed buns, and onions,” as he describes. Sadly, the hunched, aproned man behind the counter apologized that he’d cleaned up for the evening, and we, ultimately, were left to theatre drinks and dirty-sock popcorn.

We had a similar miss yesterday for my birthday breakfast, when Chattanooga’s Koch’s Bakery was closed for family vacation. It was apple fritters that we were after. I choose the crispiest fried heap that I can find, glazed in simple confectioners-frosting, and feathery soft crumb inside: an ornery treat reserved for birthday morning, serious hangover repair, or early-morning barbeque-team relief. Oh well.

Tonight, we’ll be hoisting back onto the wagon. Tomatoes are here, and, damn, does this first harvest of Brandywines look promising. I hope my sad little basil plants are ready to be ravaged.



Zulu-Lulu Swizzle Sticks

In my last blog, I edited out a statement about the politics of food in the Chattanooga community. But, this morning, shuffling through my desk, I found these: Zulu Lulu Swizzle Sticks.

Chris and I purchased them last fall at an estate sale on Lookout Mountain. They manage to be ageist, sexist, and racist all in one! Congrats 1970’s dinnerware!

Offense aside (all people of color, women, and anyone over the age of twenty-five), these Zulu Lulu’s are a good reminder that food is, in fact, a political medium, and another reason to consider what your food dollars are funding.

A strong advocate of menu-planning and from-scratch meal preparation, I recommend highly that you start weekly menu development at your local farmers’ market, for here, eliminating the middle man, hardworking farmers receive a premium for their products. And you, happy buyer, find ultimate freshness for your buck. Look at your local market as a place to start a menu, not to supplement one!

In that vein, congratulations to Mia Cucina’s staff chef Anna Scott for her win in the Chattanooga Market’s Five Star Food Fight and, more importantly, for demonstrating what gustatory wonders can be produced of tasty local goods. Celebrating our bounty of veggies and other local offerings, Food Fight contestants use market products to create their masterpieces in one hour. Smothered in spectators, simmering in heat, and limited by the resources of a temp kitchen, Anna pulled out a win with her Jerk Chicken & Blackberry-Balsamic Reduction (using Alchemy Spice Company’s Jamaican Jerk blend, of course). Anna’s recipe will be posted on the market site in the next couple of days.




Following sauce- and spice-making, Chris, my father-in-law Jerry, and I—with a bevy of spectators—set out to season a whole hog which would be roasted in a pit for the Crabtree Farms Summer Solstice Barbeque. We weren’t sure what we would discover. Head? Hooves? Skin and hair? Spatcocked, split, complete?

In Crabtree’s walk-in, we found our pig: headless, hair removed, and split into two halves. Our job, then, was to skin her—separating the hide and fat from the meat but leaving it attached at the spine—season her, and pull the skin back over to insulate and moisten the meat during the cooking process.

Chris and Jerry set to work immediately on one half. But, I have to say, I paused. Intimidation, I think. An animal had died, and I, sure as hell, didn’t want to ruin the meat with my inexperienced jabbing and slicing. But Chris said plainly, “Jess, grab a knife.”

As you might expect, the process is a bit like removing a large and well-attached glove. Jerry cut the skin at the ankles, and, from those points, I began easing my knife under the flesh, over the meat. Slowly, the cuts began the appear: the bacon of the belly, the ham, the ribs. And, finally, with the skin pulled back like a blanket, we rubbed the meat down with soy sauce and our Fat Elvis Memphis Dry Rub, replaced the hide, wrapped the entire halves in plastic film, and set them back in the cooler to season.

I left strangely titillated. For this is the core of my love of food: the experience. Achieving greater understanding of the ingredient, getting my hands dirty, learning. Similar to the thrill of the Strut (see previous posts) or eating tamales from the hidden kitchen of a Hispanic family’s roadside stand, the greatness of food is in what living surrounds it. Perhaps it stems from my affection for stories; I have a million of them (my great-uncle abandoned at the amusement park, coming face-to-face with momma bear in Rothrock Wilderness, the stunt pilot with the broken wing: have I told you?). And now I have another: skinning the pig. And this one does earn me some points in the foodie camp, doesn’t it?

I've included quite a few pictures below. Be warned: they're blunt.


Pig Halves
Chris, Jerry, and I Skinning the Pig
Seasoning the Pig with Soy Sauce
Seasoning the Pig with Fat Elvis
Pig Pod: To Hold the Meat Together for Flipping


Our Pig In The Pit
Spit Pig Being Sown, Seasonings Inside
Spit Pig
Spit Pig
Making Charcoal For Both Fires: Scrap Hickory From Local Handle-Making Factory