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



My eyes are burning, and it’s hot—air-blasting-and-windows-open hot. On the stove is our biggest pot, a four-gallon stainless, with a half-pound of chilies de arbol simmering in vinegar-water and salt. Two other burners hold pots of tomato-slurry: our hand-crushed fruit, maple syrup, mustard, and spices. The heat, the burn: these are the sacrifice of homemade sauce—tart and spicy, deep with smoked paprika and tellicherry pepper, sound in tomato’s natural sugars. After our summers of struggling to create our perfect sauce, I believe that we can now put our Dreamland on the shelf and cook through the discomfort.

Which reminds me of the first days of the spice company, when we worked out of Niedlov’s Breadworks. In one corner of the 1600-square-foot space was an oven the size of a mini bus; there was no ventilation system in the facility: no AC, not even a window unit; no fan; no open windows. Mid-summer, the temperature reached easily over 100 degrees and, as we ground spicy blends like our Memphis Dry Rub, the particulates would rise and settle on our arms, moist with sweat; on the apples of our cheeks; and sometimes, god forbid, in our eyes. And would it burn. Needless to say, with two young couples and the heat, emotions ran high—ecstasy and humor, hysteria and annoyance.

It was a great time. Rent was low; labels were homemade; and we still felt awe that people wanted what we were making. As I’ll feel Saturday, carrying my three gallons of Alchemy Chili de Arbol Vinegar Sauce to christen the pig. Glasses up; let’s eat some pork.


Saucing the Pig

Chris and I are commissioned to prepare three gallons of vinegar-based barbeque sauce for Saturday’s Pig Roast at Crabtree Farms. For several seasons, we’ve struggled with creating the perfect sauce. Often ours are too spicy, too tart, or simply too complex for a good stand-by sauce. However, for our current attempt, I decided to start on a new path. Borrowing from the salsas of Mexico, I began by boiling chilies de arbol in vinegar and water. When soft, I pushed them through a sieve to produce a spicy—but fruity—liquid and pulp. This pulp mixed with tomatoes, vinegar, mustard, and seasonings produces a hearty sauce with a punch of back-of-the-tongue heat and a good balance of vinegar and sweet tomato. I suppose I may be sorry about my give-it-some-muscle sieving process halfway through the three gallons but that can be Chris’s contribution to the saucing!
Lastly, here are pictures of the spit being assembled for the big day!

New Camera & Colors of The Chattanooga Market: June 15, 2008


Struttin' Good Fun

Last night’s Strut exceeded our expectations; we started at 5:00, before the first band had strum a note, and left with the police sweep at 10:30 (yes, a hundred cops walking behind a row of cars with blue lights strobing ends a party). The Strut is, I’m proclaiming, our favorite night in Chattanooga, and this morning, thinking about it, I realized that Chris and I value raw, unpolished fun. Wine Over Water, a genteel fundraiser hosted on the walking bridge, doesn’t entice us; hob-nob with local professionals, no thanks. But the opportunity to hang out in Maggie G’s—a hole-in-the-wall stand-by in the African-American community with pumping music and 40-ounce beers—and see our white thirty-year-old friend Mike grinding with a 60-year-old black woman, now that’s a good time!

And the barbeque. We waited for an hour for two of Lin-Way’s sandwiches which we ate on a couch on the sidewalk, watching the sweep approach. Sloppy with slaw and sauce, the barbeque was the perfect therapy following our hours in the sun and humidity, the abundant beer and laughter that left us exhausted. Perfection.


Strutting in Chatt-Town

Tonight is one of Chattanooga’s best: The Bessie Smith Strut. A multi-cultural reverie of drinking and strutting (walking, really), music and street food on MLK Boulevard. The strut takes place on Monday of each Riverbend, the city’s week-long music festival and is, without question, the best of the festival. Why?

First, you may see anyone. The city’s famous and infamous: the one-man-band with no teeth and a cowboy hat who sets up his amp-in-a-cart rig and hopes to drum up party gigs (see above); stumping senators and state reps; Sandy, the buff once-Marine whose bike sports pom-poms (not just from the handle bars), a full-size flag from the seat-back, and, frequently, a weed whacker; the Scuppies of revitalized neighborhoods with their babies in Bjorns; project-folk alongside Lookout Mountain old money, bling Jesus and Tiffany & Co. rock-studded cross.

Second, all this, to celebrate Chattanooga’s beloved Bessie Smith (Cecil Giscombe, wherever you are, take note), the great African-American blues singer of "Give Me a Pig’s Foot and a Bottle of Beer" fame. Bessie, fellow Chattanoogan, here’s a PBR and a brisket wrap to you!

Look for this year’s photos tomorrow, maybe midafternoon...


Recipe Testing and Halibut-Habit

Earlier this week, I sent out my first round of recipes for testing. My lovely and willing testers include

· my sister Maria and her husband John;
· my parents;
· my father-in-law (my sweet mother-in-law will taste but not test);
· my sister-in-law Kara and nine-year-old, already-cooking-up-a-storm
nephew Drew;
· my friend Susanna, a Chattanooga mental health professional;
· my grad-school-buddy, potter, and work-at-home-daddy Joel in Traveler’s
Rest, SC;
· my childhood best friend Erin in Warrenburg, Missouri;
· and, lastly, my wonderful employee and friend Warren!

To my great delight, I have two soon-to-be testers as well: my new friend Mary Margaret, a lawyer in Atlanta, and Birmingham-Matt who hiked the AT with Chris last week. With nearly 100 recipes and, I’ve decided, at least two tests per, we have a lot of cookin’ cut out for us! Terrible work, huh?

In another vein, I started constructing a halibut recipe this week. Halibut has been off our menu list for quite some time as Chris spent his nineteenth summer in Alaska working in a fish cannery. Having arrived in an old VW bus, long-haired, and eager—his mom terribly anxious back in Alabama—Chris found himself broke and hungry. At the cannery, he asked the foreman for help until payday. The foreman’s offer? A thirty-five-pound slab of fresh-from-the-Pacific halibut! Needless to say, in spite of the fact that he shared the huge portion with all his cannery buddies (they, in return, fed him until pay day), he tired of halibut for, oh, a brief ten years—though I’m sure the three months of gutting didn’t wet his appetite either. Now, at thirty-three, he’s ready to establish a good halibut-habit again.

Endgame: I purchased a new Kenmore Elite gas range (5th high-BTU burner; convection; warming drawer) with my grant money last Saturday. It will arrive this coming week with its accurate oven (imagine!) and won’t-flicker-out burners. Even better, the total cost of the unit was $450 less than I was originally quoted, so I was able to purchase a fancy new-to-me Nikon D-50 camera as well. Look for a plethora of pictures soon as I attempt to understand my fancy new digital contraption!