Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dundy County Fair

Even though it's not the Iowa State Fair, the Dundy County Fair offered up a buffet of fun for me and my daughter. We ate Rainbow Sno Cones,

free popcorn,free watermelon,

and a funnel cake.

A good time was had by all, butsome had more fun than others.

keep on the sunny side,

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Greasy Five: Road Snacks

My daughter is out checking cattle with her grandfather, and I'm sitting on the front porch jotting down ideas for my writing and soaking up the big, open sky of southwest Nebraska. Even though there's a disturbing absence of trees, life is good.

(Highway 36: East of McDonald, KS.)

In Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, he advises readers not to fuel their bodies at the same place they fuel their vehicles. In my daily life, I tend to follow this advice. No good can come from eating a Polish dog that's been circulating on a convenience store roaster all day and washing it down with a 48 ounce fountain drink. However, during a road trip, I tend to chuck this advice out the window. Eating whatever the hell I want is part of the charm of being on the road.
When I'm on the road, I like to indulge in the following five snacks:
  1. Beef Jerky: This is the perfect food to help me maintain my High Plains Drifter persona.
  2. Peanut M & M's: I like to store them in the cooler, so that they're nice and chilled when I pop them in my mouth.
  3. Soft Serve Ice Cream and Shakes
  4. Regional Specialities: Whoopie Pies in Maine. Boudin in Louisiana. Tillamook Cheese. You get the idea.
  5. Chili Cheese Fritos or Cheetoes: It's always nice to have a salty ying to complement the sugary yang. Although, if I'm driving, I can't eat either of these snacks. I can't stand the way they leave the steering wheel with an oily sheen. It drives me nuts!

Honorable Mention: Twizzlers. Yes, I have a sweet tooth!

As I grow older, I practice a little more restraint when I'm eating on the road. Experience has taught me well. During a 2004 trip to coastal Maine, I consumed 2-3 Whoopie Pies a day in for an entire week and gained about eight pounds Now I exercise a little more will power. On our drive to Nebraska, I only indulged in one of the above treats; we stopped at the Dairy Queen in Colby, Kansas, and I ordered a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone.

Now I'm trying to perfect the art of eating a driving. Typically, when I eat and drive, my shirt usually ends up resembling a Jackson Pollack painting by the time we reach our destination. I know that when my daughter reaches her teens that this might embarrass her.

What's your favorite road snacks?

The road goes on forever,


Monday, July 28, 2008

Road Trip

As you read this, I'm on the road to southwest Nebraska to visit my in-laws. Since I hate taking photos for my blog, I've hired a photographer for the trip. I just have to pay her in Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, play the occasional Johnny Cash song for her, and abstain from listening to any NPR podcasts. I can manage all three, especially playing Mr. Cash.

I've already started thinking about where we'll eat. We're considering these following options:

Brookville Hotel

Brookville Hotel

Al’s Chickenette

Cozy Inn

Gella’s Diner and Liquid Bread Brewing Company

Take care,
muddy waters

Friday, July 25, 2008

Artist Lunch

Today was my daughter's last day of preschool for the summer. Next year she'll be in a new room, so today was the last hurrah. The last-day-of-school energy pulsed through the school, so I stole a little bit of that vibe, walked out of there with a little more bounce in my step, and carried it into my day. I've learned to seize such opportunities in life.

From there I drove to The Community Mercantile to purchase items for something I call an artist's lunch. With an artist's lunch, I indulge my Bohemian urges. About once a month, I like to pack myself a simple, inexpensive, spartan-like meal, and I spend the morning or a few hours just reading and writing. After expending my creative energy, I enjoy a simple meal. Here's a look at today's artist's lunch:

First I stopped at the Merc to visit their cheese case:

At the very end of the case is a little box where they sell little "nubs" of cheese that are leftover after slicing cheese into wedges. I've found that this is a inexpensive way for me to sample new cheeses. For this small town boy who consumed a steady diet of Kraft cheeses and Velveeta growing up, these artisan cheeses in the little box at the end of the cheese case are a revelation.
The pickings were slim, but I found a German cheese called a Butterkase, which according to its label tasted like butter. For the record, if you want to absolutely convince me to try a new food, tell me it tastes like butter or bacon, and I'll be sold.

Then I spent time browsing the store for inspiration and other items for lunch. In the deli I spotted some roasted sweet potatoes in a ancho chile vinagrette that looked tasty, but at $3.50 they were too expensive for this artist. However, this would be a great recipe to tackle in my kitchen . I ended up purchasing a black plum and a roll called a Brotchen that was baked by Wheatfield's Bakery. I spent $1.95 for my lunch (I usually shoot for a meal under $2). More on lunch later. First I had to earn lunch, so I walked up to the University of Kansas campus and spent my morning at the library. I always try to find a place to sit with a big window and a pleasant view.

After 3 hours of being an artist/writer, I headed home. It's essential to slow down on these days, and I try to observe things that I would typically overlook, like this tree:

In my backyard, I found a cool, shady spot to enjoy my meal.
I ate with my hands; thus engaging all my senses during my meal.
During the entire meal, I kept thinking:

It's great to be alive,

P.S. This fall I'm determined to bake Brötchen, a German roll traditionally served at breakfast. I love the nutty, whole grain texture of this bread, and I've started to research for a recipe. I also found a 1968 Time magazine article titled "Brotchen from Heaven." The article explained that West Germans were forced to eat day-old Brötchen because of a law prohibiting commercial baking between 9:00 pm and 4:00 am. The article went on to report a recent agreement made with East Germany to import over 60,000 Brotchen a day to West Germans in Berlin. Needless to say, the West Germans were thrilled. When food can bypass the Iron Curtain, you know that food is more than food.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flatbread Fanaticism Week Day #3: Frybread Redemption

Today I'm allowing my imagination to run wild.  Please be patient.

I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, have mercy now, save poor Bob if you please
      ***Robert Johnson
It may have been the smoky odor that still lingered in the house after yesterday's picnic wrap disaster. Or maybe the visions of my gnarled wraps (For the record, each wrap resembled fake, rubber vomit in appearance and texture) that danced through my head spawned last night's dream. Who knows what strange magic fuels our dreams?

In my dream I'm standing at the crossroads of two rural Mississippi roads. It's a sultry, full-mooned evening, and Satan smokes a cigarette as he leans against a late 70's primer-gray Trans Am complete with t-tops. He's grinning at me. I think I detect BBQ sauce at the creases of his smile, but before I can ask if it's a vinegar or tomato-based sauce, he asks, "So, boy. I've been expecting you. What's it gonna be? What's your soul worth?"

"Well, I've always wanted to bake great breads. You know. Pita, challah, naan, roti, French baguettes, focaccia, ciabatta, whole grain, multigrain, and maybe the occasional croissant. That's all."

Satan takes one last drag from his cigarette, flicks the butt to the ground, and then reaches inside the glovebox of the Trans Am. He emerges with a flask. He takes a swig, and then he grins at me again, "It seems foolish to me. You do know that I'll offer you more for your soul. Wealth, fame, the ability to charm women, eternal life. Hell boy, if you just want to cook, I could make you a culinary superstar. I just don't get this baking bread business. Hell, all you need to bake bread is a little yeast, water, flour, and salt. Are you sure you don't want more?"

It wasn't the first time someone didn't understand my obsession. "No, sir. I just want to bake great bread."

Satan rolled up one sleeve on his flannel shirt and stuck out his hand, "Well, I guess you have yourself a deal."

I stepped toward him. He smelled of gasoline, bbq, and whiskey.

Of course, I never really had this dream. If I did have a dream combining food and religion, this would be a good one.

At one time in my life I taught 7th grade English, and the kids loved to end their stories with: Then I woke up. Kids would pull the old Dallas, Bobby Ewing in the shower, and everything was just a dream ending. I eventually prohibited this type of ending in my class in an effort to encourage something a little more original. If a 7th grader had written this, the story would have ended:

I woke up. My hands were caked with flour, and there was a loaf of perfectly baked bread on the pillow next to me. My bedroom smelled of gasoline, bbq, and whiskey.

Anyway, thanks for being patient and allowing me to entertain myself.

I am still haunted by yesterday's experience making wraps, so today I'm setting out to redeem myself by making Frybread, a recipe often associated with Native Americans. Recently Frybread has been the source of a controversial debate. For an exploration of Frybread significance in Native American culture and background on this debate, checkout the following article at the Smithsonian:

Frybread: This Seemingly Simply Food is a Complicated Symbol in Navajo Culture

The article should convince you that once again food is more than food.

Even though my blog is titled The Greasy Skillet, I don't do a lot of cooking that involves grease. I'd like to still be cooking well into my 90's, so I try to make healthy decisions when it comes to what I eat. Also, I want to instill good eating habits in my daughter. I might deep fry something once a year, so this is a real treat. I did my frying in my dutch oven outside on my camp stove since I hate having the house smell of grease.

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
  • 3 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 to 3 cups vegetable oil or shortening for frying
  1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and dry milk in a large bowl.
  2. Using a fork or pastry blender cut in the shortening until the dough resembles coarse meal.
  3. Pour ice water and stir until dough forms a ball.
  4. Gather dough and knead lightly.
  5. Wrap the dough and let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
  6. Roll out dough until it's 3/8 thick and cut it into 5 or 6 inch rounds.
  7. In a large, heavy skillet or dutch oven, heat 1-inch of oil or shortening to 350 degrees.
  8. Cut two 1/2-inch slits in the center of each circle of dough, and then place in the oil to cook.
  9. Turn over frequently to keep the dough puffy, and fry to a deep golden brown, 3 - 5 minutes.
  10. Drain on a paper towel.
We ate bits of this bread dipped in honey for dessert. It's a treat that I don't see myself preparing again. I prefer light, airy sopapillas to sop up my honey. Sorry I didn't include pictures; I didn't feel like taking any this evening.

Keep your skillet good and greasy,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Flatbread Fanaticism Week Day #2: Picnic Wraps

At the start of today I was still riding the euphoric wave of yesterday's pita experience. I woke up tickled and amazed that yesterday I was able to bake bread without heating up the kitchen on a day when the official temperature reached 100 degrees. The scent of fresh bread wafting through the house in July still lingered in my mind, so this morning I strutted around the house with the swagger of Mick Jaggar, oblivious that today would be my Altamont (I guess, I am exaggerating a bit. There weren't any Hell's Angels involved and no one was stabbed).

Now you'd think that I'd ride the wave of confidence from yesterday right into day #2 of my week of Flatbread Fanaticism. Folks, I did ride that wave, directly into a jagged reef. My day ended with my skillet smokin', my confidence shaken, and some charcoal-scarred scraps for my dog.

Today I set out to prepare the Picnic Wraps from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, an essential book in my kitchen. The recipe is a play on the traditional flour tortilla. I don't know why I decided to make wraps. I've never ordered a wrap sandwich at a restaurant, and I find the idea of calling a tortilla a wrap foolish. I guess, I attempted this recipe simply because it was a flatbread, and I liked the simplicity of the recipe.

To give myself some variety, I split the recipe in half and prepared two flavors (I loosely use the term flavor).

Ingredients for Chipotle Wraps (Makes 4):
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
Ingredients for Plain Wraps (Makes 4)
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. In a medium-sized bowl mix, together combine flour and oil. Gradually add and mix the salt and water.
  2. Knead until the dough is smooth.
  3. Divide the dough into four pieces. Round them into balls, cover, and allow them to rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat an ungreased skillet over medium heat. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it out into a 8 inch-diameter circle.
  5. Fry the wrap for about 45 seconds on each side until it begins to brown and bubble.
  6. Cool and store in an airtight container.
Despite my lack of success with this recipe, I decide to still post a full report, complete with pictures. I want to be honest in my successes and failures.

First, my skillet was smokin' hot, which wasn't a good thing. My kitchen filled with smoke:
(Note the charred aftermath of The Great Wrap Fiasco of 2008).

Once smoke filled the kitchen, my dog arrived at the scene. She knows that when there's smoke in the kitchen there might be tasty debris tossed her way.
When the wraps made it through the heat and smoke, they resembled rubbery, fake food. Perhaps, kneading the dough longer would prevent this from happening.
Now they did taste OK -- not great, just OK -- and I did like the color of the chipotle wraps. However, they needed more chipotle powder to kick the flavor up a few notches.
Overall, I don't see myself making these again. I just can't get past the rubbery texture of the wraps. I'm a traditional tortilla or old school bread guy, and I don't see this recipe becoming part of my repertoire. Despite all of this, I appreciate the experience; my struggles have taught me much. Now I just need to lick my wounds, circle the wagons, and ponder my move for day #3 of Flatbread Fanaticism.

Keep your skillet good and greasy,

Monday, July 21, 2008

Flatbread Fanaticism Week Day #1: Pita

I'm not the sharpest knife in the block. My mind works at a simmer, never a rolling boil. It takes me time to have those ah-hah moments, but I did have a flash of brilliance Saturday while I was grilling some pizza outside. As the crust crisped on the grill and achieved a shade of brown that would make George Hamilton jealous, a mostly monosyllabic monologue played in my head, "I like to bake bread. Do not bake in the summer. Too hot. Do not want to heat up house. I should bake bread outside on grill. Flatbreads."

This was a revelation. This week I decided to satisfy my craving to bake and eat homemade bread by baking a variety of flatbreads.

For ages cooks around the globe have been baking flatbreads, so I took comfort knowing that I wasn't entering unchartered waters. I opted to bake pita bread first. I consulted several cookbooks for pita recipes, and there seemed to be little variation. One recipe did call for a dough relaxer, but I decided to relax my dough by playing some Kenny G during the kneading. In the end I decided to go with a recipe that used bread flour. I thought the higher protein content of a bread flour would help develop the gluten needed for the pita to really puff up and create a nice pocket.

  • 3 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  1. In a mixing bowl combine all the ingredients until you've formed a shaggy dough.
  2. Knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes or by machine for 5-8 minutes.
  3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and allow it to rest for 1 hour. It will become quite puffy, but it may not double in bulk.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide into eight pieces and roll each piece into a small ball.
  5. With a rolling pin, roll each of the pieces into 6-inch circles, and then place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Let them rest uncovered for 15 minutes.
  6. Preheat grill to 500 degrees.
  7. Gently place each piece of dough on the grill. I didn't have enough room on my grill for all the dough, so I had to grill my bread in two batches.
  8. Close lid on the grill and allow the bread to cook for 2-3 minutes. Open lid, and flip the bread. Allow to bake for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  9. Remove bread from the grill and serve.
Note: If you don't want to prepare this recipe on the grill, just use your oven.

My pita puffed, but I didn't get a nice, natural pocket out of my bread. I guess, my attempt at pita failed. I'll need to give it another shot later. Despite this, I ended up with a great bread on a 99 degree day and I didn't heat up the house. The bread was fragrant, light, fluffy, and it tasted better than any pita bread I've ever purchased in a grocery store. And here's the best part: It was simple. I never broke a sweat during the entire process. I plan on preparing this bread again the next time I grill.

NOTE: I read where the dough for this recipe could be prepared 3-4 days in advanced and stored in the fridge until you're ready to bake it. I'll give this a try next time.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Yesterday I promised to post a new cocktail, and today I'm delivering you a Sunsplash, a perfect companion to a summer evening. It's a light, sipping cocktail that will slow down the hands of time.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vodka
  • 1/2 ounce of lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce of triple sec or other orange liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce orange juice
  • 1/2 ounce cranberry juice
  • lime wedge for garnish
  1. Fill cocktail shaker with a bit of ice.
  2. Add all ingredients, except lime wedge, to the shaker. Close your eyes, visualize sunsets, and then shake ingredients until the cocktail shaker becomes frosty.
  3. Pour into glass, garnish with lime wedge, and serve.
  4. Enjoy the company of friends.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Good Spirits by A. J. Rathbun

I exercise tremendous restraint when purchasing cookbooks. If left to my whims, I could easily purchase 2-3 new cookbooks with each visit to or a book store. My restraint isn't rooted in strong willpower or firm resolution. Instead, it boils down to one fact: I only have so much space on my kitchen bookshelves.

While I'm blessed to have ample bookshelf space in my kitchen, I know that restraint prevents my bookshelves from being cluttered with books I never use. Therefore, I apply a simple rule to cookbook purchases. If I buy a cookbook, I have to take one of my cookbooks (not one of my wife's) off the shelf. As you can see, this leads to some difficult decisions. I'm emotionally attached to my cookbooks, so it breaks my heart to see one get dethroned and relegated to the basement bookshelves.
No book is safe. Even the mighty fall. Rick Bayless, Peter Reinhardt, Bobby Flay, and Emeril. All have books that didn't make the cut, so they sit collecting dust in my basement. It's a cruel world, but a man who strives to live by Thoreau's doctrine of "simplicity, simplicity, simplicity" doesn't tolerate cookbooks that don't contribute to family meals on a regular basis.

I satisfy my craving to purchase cookbooks by checking them out during my weekly visits to the library. This works well. It's free, and I know that the books are just a temporary guests in my home. However, this past week I found a book that might take a place of honor on my bookshelf. The book is A. J. Rathbun's Good Spirits: Recipes, Revelations, Refreshments, and Romance, Shaken and Served with a Twist. I know what you're thinking. Do I really need a book for cocktail recipes? Can't I find most drink recipes online? These were my sentiments before I picked up Mr. Rathbun's book. Typically with cocktail books, the pictures or drink ingredients motivate me to try a new cocktail. With this book, it's Mr. Rathbun's witty, well-written introductions to each cocktail that have me doing an inventory of my liquor cabinet and planning to make a drink.

The following introduction for a drink called a Social illustrates my point:
For many, it's Mondays. For me, it's Tuesdays. For some, even Wednesdays are that deadliest day of the week, the day lips don't even form "hello" when walking past friends in the halls or city streets, where the number of words one feels like speaking could barely fill a thimble (if words had weight and took up space, that is). Circumvent your normally silent day by prescribing yourself a few Socials before any socials situation. They loosen the tongue and lighten the spirit.
The above charm isn't reserved for the drink introductions. Charm is splashed throughout the book, even in the instructions for preparing drinks. For a drink called a Nutty C, Rathbun tells the reader, "Stir with a song in your heart and a stir stick in you hand." I love it.

As you can see, Mr. Rathbun brings a poet's passion, beauty, and grace to life. Don't we all need more passion, beauty, and grace in our lives? This book is a welcome addition to any bookshelf. Now I just need to determine which of the following books will be dethroned.

P.S. Mr. Rathbun is a Kansas State University grad. When a diehard University of Kansas fan, like myself, can recommend something associated with KSU, you know I'm serious about it. Buy this book.

Later today I'll prepare a cocktail from the book and post a blog entry about it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Delta Tamales: Onward, Mississippi

Hot tamales and they're red hot, yes she got'em for sale
Hot tamales and they're red hot, yes she got'em for sale
I got a girl, say she long and tall
She sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall
Hot tamales and they're red hot, yes she got'em for sale, I mean
Yes, she got'em for sale, yeah

***Robert Johnson "They're Red Hot"

This summer I've significantly scaled down the number of road trips I typically take during the summer, so I've been reliving past trips by flipping through old photographs. During the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd share a few "foodie" moments I've experienced in my travels.

In the Spring of 2001, I took a trip through the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans. During this time of my life my love for food hadn't blossomed into an obsession, and the digital photo age was still a few years away for me, so I don't have many great photographs to share. However, I scanned some old photos, and I still have much to share with you.

I love the Delta. I know Mississippi is a much maligned state for various reason, but I have some great memories from that state. Not only is it a beautiful state, but my experiences with the people there have been extraordinary. I've yet to travel anywhere where people are more hospitable and friendly.

Today I want to talk about tamales. I realize that tamales and Mississippi might be an odd combination, but I've learned that this culinary oddity is a deeply rooted tradition. For more information, checkout the great website the folks at the Southern Foodways Alliance have put together: The Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail. Following the Delta tamale trail would be an amazing road trip.

Anyway, back to my 2001 trip. After spending a couple days in Clarksdale, MS, we drove south on Highway 61 towards Louisiana. About two hours into our drive south we made a pitstop in Onward, MS, which consisted of just a gas station/grocery store.

When I walked into the store and spotted a simmering crockpot of boiled peanuts at the register, I knew we were in for something special. The lady at the register let us Yankees try our first boiled peanuts, and I have to say that I didn't acquire a taste for them. I'll have to get back on that horse later. Now the real treat came at the back of the store, where patrons could order food at a counter.

On the menu board in big, red handwritten letters -- set apart from the usual Southern fare -- was the word tamales. Even though it was ten o'clock in the morning, I couldn't pass up a chance to sample tamales at small Delta grocery store, so I ordered a half dozen and split them with my road trip partner Bucky.
(Bucky and me sharing some tamales)

Before I praise the glory of these tamales, allow me to digress a bit. Bucky is a perfect road companion for a variety of reasons. I love traveling with him because he feels obligated to eat 6-7 times a day when traveling through a new region. While some readers might find this gluttonous, we feel an obligation to connect with the region or country we're exploring, and perhaps the best way to do that is to share a meals with the locals. If you want to understand a culture, belly up to the table, break bread, and quaff local beverages. Bucky pushes me to leave no culinary stone unturned, so we return from our travels with grand, appetizing stories that leave our listeners wide eyed and with growling stomachs. .

Back to the tamales.

Instead of traditional corn husks, these tamales were wrapped in parchment paper and were about the size of cigars, which (in my opinion) helped achieve the perfect ratio of corn masa to meat. At the ends of the tamales a little bit of ground beef protruded out the blanket of masa, and through some miraculous process these ends were crispy. I know this defies logic because tamales are steamed. I have no explanation for the crispness. Chalk it up to immaculate crispness.

(Crispy ends via immaculate crispness)

I didn't contemplate the crispness long; instead, I relished the savory crispy ends, and their flavor propelled me into a transcendent state where I felt that all was right with the world. This might seem like an exaggeration, but stop and think about your favorite meals. At some point during those meals didn't you figuratively remove yourself from the table and take stock of the beauty and grace of the moment? Didn't you feel that all was right with the world? I like to think that every meal I eat has the potential to provide this type of moment.

I will return to the Delta to eat tamales, but until then I'm grateful that I can relive that memory of sitting on a porch in Onward, MS, eating tamales with my friend Bucky.

P.S. Onward is also the birthplace of the Teddy Bear legend.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Soul Kitchen

It all began with Ray Charles soulfully boasting that he got a woman way cross town that was good to him. That's when Mo, the guy installing my bathroom tile, joined in this raucous proclamation and began singing along with the music blaring from my speakers. By the time Billy Preston began instructing us on the mathematical truth that nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin', Mo stood in my kitchen watching me prep food and cook for my wife's birthday party we're having tomorrow.
Being from Nashvillle, Mo appreciated the soul music from the Memphis-based Stax Records that comprised a big part of my playlist.
We talked for about 15 minutes about our preference for the Stax sound over Motown. Gradually, the conversation shifted from music to food. I talked about the food I was preparing and Mo sampled some of the food, which triggered a rush of memories from Nashville. Mo began passionately extolling. Prince's Chicken Shack and the various meat and threes spread throughout middle Tennessee. I was in foodie heaven.

(Photo from the Southern Foodways Alliance)

Eventually, Mo and I got back to work. The tile was installed. The food was prepared. Then we went our separate ways. With this experience, I'm reminded that food and music can unite strangers. Once again food is more than food.

PS. . .

Party Menu

I'll try to post pictures and recipes later.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Skinny Dip

Beer, if drunk with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.
***Thomas Jefferson
I'm currently rereading Ken Wells's Travels with Barley, a nonfiction book that shares the author's travels along the Mississippi River as he examines the brewing history of America and the culture of beer. Put this book on your essential summer reading list. I challenge you to read this book and not crave a cold beer. Needless to say, Travels with Barley inspired this week's cocktail of the week, Skinny Dip, a beer brewed by New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Is there anything better than swaying in a porch swing, sipping on a beer, and enjoying unseasonably cool July weather?

Spicy Asian Noodles

A few weeks ago I developed an intense craving for Spicy Asian noodles. While I have a few places in Lawrence to get good noodles, I'm an independent, self-sufficient soul, so I scoured the internet and my cookbooks for the perfect recipe.

A lot of recipes called for multiple types of soy sauces or exotic ingredients. While I don't mind using such ingredients, I wanted an economical recipe that utilized ingredients in this Kansans pantry. I eventually found such a recipe in Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything. The only new ingredient I purchased was fish sauce. The following recipe makes two big servings:

  • 6 ounces wide rice noodles
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pressed garlic clove
  • 2-3 small dried hot red chiles
  • 1 chicken breast (or substitute other protein source)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce and 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, or a combination of either
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice or other vinegar
  • 1 chopped green onion
  • 1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
  1. Prepare the noodles according to the directions on the package. I soaked the noodles in very hot water for 15 minutes or until they were soft. Drain noodles and toss them with half the oil.
  2. Heat the remaining oil until hot over medium-high heat in a deep skillet. Crush the chiles using your favorite method. Add the garlic and chiles. Stir and cook for about one minute.
  3. Add the meat and turn down the heat to medium.
  4. When all traces of pink disappear in the chicken, add soy/fish sauce and the sugar. Stir and then add the drained noodles. Toss everything to evenly combine.
  5. Add vinegar and most of the basil.
  6. Serve garnished with remaining basil.

Overall, I'm happy with the recipe. I would like the noodles to be more colorful and saucier, so I'll work on it. With recipes like this I'm a tad bit outside my comfort zone. I like this. This child of the Great Plains grew up on food seasoned primarily with salt and pepper, so using these basic Asian flavors expands my culinary range.

Pass the soy sauce,

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Reflections on Watermelon

My love for watermelon is encoded in my DNA. My grandfather never failed to stop at a roadside fruit stand advertising watermelons, and he waxed poetically about the heavenly taste of Black Diamond watermelons.

Like the poets who write of unrequited love, I abstain from indulging in my love of watermelons. Even though you can find watermelons in the supermarkets as early as spring, I don't buy my first melon until July. Mother Nature, not man, dictates when melons are in their prime.

I'll never buy one of those personal, tiny watermelons I sometimes spy in the grocery store. To me watermelons are about community and sharing. Eating watermelon shouldn't be a solitary endeavor. Watermelons, like most foods, taste better when eaten with friends. Beside eating a watermelon without sharing is selfish.

I think a watermelon tastes better when it's been iced down in a cooler.

Watermelon is best eaten outdoors.

I love holding a watermelon. When I carry a watermelon from my car to my house, I feel ripe with opportunity and anticipation. Maybe this is much the same way a pregnant women feels when she lays her hands across her protruding belly. Or maybe not.

A giddy, life-is-good euphoria overwhelms me when I slice into a watermelon. I love it when that sweet, subtle scent wafts from the melon

Are watermelons and cucumbers relatives? Not only are they similar in appearance, they both possess that subtle, fresh scent that I love.

I see recipes for watermelon sorbets, watermelon margaritas, watermelon mojitos, and various other concoctions, and even though I find them tempting, I prefer to enjoy watermelon in its purest form. If I could eat them off the vine, I would.

These are just a few of my thoughts on watermelon. Next year I might take the plunge and turn into a poem, an ode to watermelon.

Support your local fruit stand,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Education of Little Tree & Watermelon

Today I'm sharing a passage from The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter, who created the literary character Josey Wales, a character made famous by Clint Eastwood. The Education of Little Tree is a nonfiction account of the author being raised by his Cherokee grandparents after being orphaned. The book has been accused of being more fiction than nonfiction, and it's been criticized for its portrayal of the Cherokee Indians.

Despite this, I'm still sharing a passage where the author shares a description of working with his grandfather to select a ripe watermelon from the garden. If you've ever stood in front a produce bin for 15 minutes trying to select just the perfect melon, you'll relate to the following passage:

He thumped it hard. He didn’t say anything, but I was watching his face close and he didn’t shake his head, which was a good sign. It didn’t mean the watermelon was ripe, but no head shake meant he hadn’t give up on it. He thumped it again.

I told Granpa it sounded might near like a thunk to me. He set back on his heels and studied it a little more. I did too.

The sun had come up. A butterfly lit on the watermelon and set there, flexing his wings open and closed. I asked Granpa if it wasn’t a good sign, since it seems to me I had heard that a butterfly lighting on a watermelon near about made it certain the watermelon was ripe. Granpa said he had never heard of that sign, but it could be true.

He said as near as he could tell, it was a borderline case. He said the sound was somewheres between a thank and a thunk. I said it sounded like that to me too, but it ‘peared to lean pretty heavy toward the thunk. Granpa said there was another way we could check it out. He went a got a broom sedge straw.

If you lay a broom sedge straw crosswise on a watermelon and it just lays there, the watermelon is green. But if the broom sedge straw turns from crosswise to lengthwise, then you have got a ripe watermelon. Granpa laid the broom sedge straw on the watermelon. The straw laid there a minute, then it turned a ways and stopped. We set watching it. It wouldn’t turn anymore. I told Granpa I believed the straw was too long, which made the ripe inside the watermelon have too much work turning it. Granpa taken the straw off and shortened it. We tried it again. This time it turn more and might near made it lengthwise.

Granpa was ready to give up on it, but I wasn’t. I got down so I could watch the straw pretty close, and I told Granpa it ‘peared to be moving, slow but steady, toward being lengthwise. Granpa said that could be because I was breathing on it, which didn’t count, but he decided not to give up on it. He said if we let it lay until the sun was straight overheard, about dinnertime, then we could pick it from the vine.

This is quite the process.

At this time, I don't have any advice to help you choose the perfect melon. Before I give advice I want to have it backed by a little science and research. However, there are various websites out there that claim to have the key to picking the right melon. The following site contains a video on choosing the right melon:

How to Choose the perfect watermelon

I'm still skeptical of the thump method.

Keep on the sunny side,
muddy waters

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

First Watermelon of Summer

Today I purchased my first watermelon of the summer. I greet the following Mark Twain quotation about watermelon with an exuberant hallelujah:

It is the chief of this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.
May you pick out the perfect melon,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Generation Kill by Evan Wright

For those unfamiliar with The Greasy Bookshelf, I simply share interesting food passages from books I'm reading. About 70 percent of the books I read aren't cookbooks, so some of the passages are excerpted from books that might surprise you. Today's passage is from Evan Wright's book Generation Kill, which is now a HBO miniseries. This non-fiction book follows twenty-three Marines as they invade Iraq. The following is my food passage from that book:

As mortars continue to explode around us, I watch Garza pick through an MRE. He takes out a packet of Charms candies and hurls it into the gunfire. Marines view Charms as almost infernal talismans. A few day earlier, in the Humvee, Garza saw me pull Charms out of my MRE pack. His eye lighted up and he offered me a highly prized bag of Combos cheese pretzels for my candies. He didn't explain why. I thought he just really liked Charms until he threw the pack he'd just traded me out of the window. "We don't allow Charms anywhere in our Humvee," Person said in a rare show of absolute seriousness. "That's right, "Colbert said, cinching it. "They're fucking bad luck."
For the record, I was unsure of what Charms were, but after some quick research, I learned that they're simply Blow Pops, those lollipops with bubble gum in the middle. Also, for the record I've never tried Combos, and I think, they would be more infernal than Charms.

If I fought in a war, I would heed to all superstitions involving food. In a situation like that I want good mojo. Don't mess with the mojo.

However, in my daily life, there aren't really any foods that hex me. If I indulge in too much junk food, I do lose a little bit of my swagger, and there are foods that put a little more bounce in my step. For example, later this week I'll purchase my first watermelon of the season, and I'll be euphoric for 2-3 days.

Pass the gravy,

PS. . . I apologize for the profanity in the excerpt.