French toast, with sourdough bread from the Farmers’ Market.

It’s sure quiet in my house this morning.

For the first time in more than a week, I have no children here. Well, I do, but they’re of the grown variety, and thus are sleeping soundly. All the campers from Camp KayKay have gone home, or in any event to other grandparents’ homes. There are no toys in my living room floor.

It’s kinda lonesome.

But I have a lot to do today — two work projects which didn’t get done last week, because I was chasing tiny tornadoes hither and yon, plus figs that need to be washed, jam made from them, and canned, purple hulled peas (a half-bushel of them) that need to be shelled and stashed in the freezer. The half-bushel of peaches can wait until a little later in the week, which is also filled with lots of things I  need to do, which I hope will involve significant cooking.

Because there sure wasn’t any last week.

The above photo is one of the three times my stove was turned on last week. The other two were to boil eggs for AGC3, and to make a grilled cheese sandwich for AGC1. I did make potato skins one night after everyone had gone to bed and it occured to me I’d forgotten to eat. And while there was plenty of fast/junk food, there were also two good meals out, both Mexican in nature, at Colorado Grill in Hot Springs and at the old faithful Ark-Mex standard, Pancho’s, in West Memphis.

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Barbecue time!

May 28, 2017

Dinner. Yes, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

It’s pretty much canonical, in this part of the world, that Memorial Day weekend, sometime, you need to consume some meat that’s been up close and personal with a grill or a smoker.

I will wager that not too many folks got as good a taste of that as I did today. Not that I can claim any of the credit for the barbecue — just the sides — but I had what I believe is just about as good a pork barbecue as I’ve ever had in my life.

How it was, was, like this. A month or six weeks ago, when we had all the flooding in Northeast Arkansas, some friends of mine who live an hour or so to the north of me had 5 1/2 feet of water in their home on the Eleven Point River. This is the third time they’ve gotten water in their house, which is built well above the 100-year flood level; the other two times, it was a foot or so, and they’d elevated everything on blocks and moved everything moveable upstairs. A pain in the butt, but manageable.

Oh, and the insurance company cancelled their flood insurance after the second event.

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Blue Q chicken, soaking in its sauce.

I love me some blueberries. I love me some chicken. I never thought about putting them together. At least, not until I purchased Deep Run Roots, the cookbook from Vivian Howard, chef at Chef and the Farmer and star of “A Chef’s Life” on Food TV.

I pause for an unsolicited endorsement. If you have a cookbook-loving cell in your body, buy this book. Not only is it filled with really cool recipes, the recipes are not those which require a pantry-full of exotic ingredients or a spice cabinet with stuff you can’t pronounce and y’mama ‘n ’em never heard of. She relies on a lot of salt, pepper and fresh herbs you can grow in your flower bed. Her recipes let the ingredients, time-honored ingredients any Southern cook knows, like pecans, tomatoes, sweet corn, greens (well, I won’t testify for the greens recipes, as I detest cooked greens in any shape, form or fashion) and grits, and uses them in different settings and combinations to create great new dishes.

Besides which, sista can WRITE. I took the cookbook to bed with me and read it cover to cover in three nights.

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Bread pudding. Yes, it’s as good as it looks.

It had been the Day From Hell.

I’d been going at a dead run since 8:30 a.m. I’d made an unexpected two-hour trip I hadn’t really planned on making, and got started later than I really wanted to start. I was looking at being way late for a dinner engagement with a couple of friends.

I texted them about 5. “I’m going to be late. Not sure how late,” I announced.

One replied, “Do you still want to meet, or just reschedule?”

My reply: “I wouldn’t miss it. Been thinking about ravioli all day.”

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Your Intrepid Dining Correspondent takes in Mardi Gras.

Your Intrepid Dining Correspondent takes in Mardi Gras.

Those of you who are my Facebook friends will have to just bear with me, as you’ve seen these photos already. Believe me, they represent meals that were good enough they’re worth revisiting.

Flew to New Orleans on a Wednesday for a Thursday evening event, solely to give myself time to amble about the city and hit some of my favorite restaurants. Which I promptly did for a late lunch on Wednesday, hooking up with some friends to go to Dragos.

Now, there is nothing that will get folks riled up about New Orleans cuisine faster than espousing a specific restaurant as the home of the best oysters in town. I’ve had Felix’s and I’ve had Acme’s, I’ve had Deanie’s. I’ve not had Casamento’s, which I know gets lots of nods. But I am here to tell you, it would be real hard to find any oysters better than those at Drago’s. The big seafood restaurant on the ground floor of the Hilton in downtown NOLA has a massive array of seafood choices, and it’s real hard to go wrong with any of them, but my preference is the chargrilled oysters.

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Aaaaaaaahhhhhh. Tamales!

January 20, 2017

History, tradition, soul food and damn good stuff, all in one dish.

History, tradition, soul food and damn good stuff, all in one dish.

Business took me to the old river town of Helena, Arkansas, today, where I spent a worthwhile day, not least because on the way home, we spied a Pasquale’s Tamales food truck.

And that was the name of dinner tonight.

Mississippi River Delta tamales are a long tradition, one whose beginnings are lost. They were part of the fabric of everyday life in the 1930s, when Robert Johnson put voice to the hard work and poverty of the sharecroppers, in what came to be called the blues. It’s thought they may have dated back to the Mexican War, when Southerners traveled south to fight at Vera Cruz and Chapultapec, or they may have originated as a way for slaves to take a midday meal to the field, to stop briefly and eat in between chopping or picking cotton.

Tamales were poor folks’ food. Cornmeal, lard and the scrappy cuts of pork were cheap.  For years, they were “soul food,” found mostly at African-American diners and church dinners.  For a time, there was a friend of a fellow employee who came by with tamales for sale once a week or so, fishing them out of a big water-bath canner in the trunk of her car. And they were a mainstay of black church fundraising dinners; I became known for frequenting the ones which turned out, in my estimation, the best tamales.

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And I forgot to bring a cookbook for an autograph!

And I forgot to bring a cookbook for an autograph!

Well. I’m back from NOLA, where a large time was had by all. Notably, I got to meet John Besh (Restaurant August, Luke, Best Steak, Domenica, Borgne, La Provence, Willa Jean, Johnny Sanchez, Shaya, and he plans to open eight more in the next two years!). More notably, dumbass that I am capable of being, it did not occur to me to get a copy of his newest cookbook and bring it for him to autograph. Fail.

Had a couple of good meals, but not exceptional. We ate one night at Desire Oyster Bar, because it was close and we were exhausted. I had a seafood Louis salad, which was full of shrimp and lump crabmeat in a nice remoulade, and it hit the spot after an eight-hour drive. The next night, we went to Antoine’s, but I wasn’t overly hungry, having eaten something at lunch that didn’t sit especially well, so I ate from the appetizer menu and had shrimp and crab au gratin. That’s so rich, in that gorgeous bechamel with lots of cheese, that the appetizer was plenty. Not to mention it was not so heavy but what I could eat about half of a creme caramel for dessert.

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