Exploring Maine

Yours truly photographing our daughter as she climbed along Giants Stairs, a dark basalt formation of 30-foot cliffs over a thousand feet in length along the Atlantic coastline on Bailey’s Island in Harpswell, Maine, April 28, 2018.

With Mary having become a Traveling Nurse this past April, we’ve gone pretty far out of our comfort zone. Since late April we’ve been living in Maine while she works her first assignment and, as people have been telling us, we’ve seen a lot more in the short time we’ve been here than some have seen in 40 years of living here.

It always does seem that way regardless of where you go.

In taking notes and documenting our trip in pictures and videos, one project I’ve taken on is building a Guest Directory for the long-term apartment we’re staying in. You know, one of those binder thingies you find stuffed into the drawer of the desk in a hotel or motel, one that never has the info up-to-date and is covered with pizza sauce and other … ummm … well, anyway …

This is the current atate of the Directory for this apartment. There are a few placeholders yet for places we want to go to but haven’t gotten to. And honestly, even though this says it was assembled by “a guest”, some of these places were suggested by our hosts, especially after I told them of this project.

So if you’re ever coming to Maine, these are some of the places we liked best. And if you’re already here, you’re welcome.

Note: There’s a little symbol at the top-right of the PDF viewer below which will open it in the Google viewer full-screen. There’s also a download link below it so you can save it for later.

Download (PDF, 161KB)

Dishing On Pork Belly, With Recipes

Oven-Roasted Pork Belly at our house. The recipe is below.

Back when I was a kid, when all the good radio stations were still on the AM band, dad would listen to the Farm Report. Well, he had it on in the mornings, and he may not have been listening to it while he was only waiting for the Polka Hour from Frankenmuth to start for the morning. But there it was nonetheless. Dad came from a family of German-Russian farmers, and had partly grown up on farms in the area surrounding Alpena, Michigan. The family farm, with its outhouse and old red barn, had been located in Hubbard Lake, a place I have fond memories of.

I understood the majority of the Farm Report when dad would have it on. We played an old card game called “Pit”, which had been originally released by Parker Brothers’ in 1904. The game basically duplicates what occurs at agricultural auctions, and you end up getting the “corners on” barley, oats, wheat, corn and the like. The game is now available again, and we do have a newer edition of it.

But the game doesn’t cover other types of markets. So the concept of “pork belly futures” didn’t make any sense to me for quite some time. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would be interested in such a thing.

It wasn’t until I entered the restaurant industry in the spring of 1979 that I learned what many people who eat pork don’t understand themselves:

Pork belly is the cut of pork that streaky, side or slab bacon is made from, which is what most Americans who eat bacon enjoy. It’s also used to make salt pork, which is popular for many uses.

And yet, the inevitable occurs … Squeamish Americans will hear the term “pork belly” and immediately ask “How can you eat something that’s gross? Eating a fat pig’s belly?? Ew!!!” When asked if they eat bacon and they say yes, I give the explanation. “But eating just the belly … That’s nasty. I’d never do that.”

I end up shaking my head almost every time.

Throughout history, in many cultures, eating pork belly in its many preparations has been quite a normal occurrence. Nose-to-tail eating has been prevalent since the dawn of time, and it’s only been in about the past century or so that people in western cultures, particularly the U.S., have seen fit to be so elitist as to find it unappealing. So-called “adventurous eating” is now a “trend”, and people now search out “nose-to-tail”, “farm-to-table”, and other such establishments in an effort to follow that trend, to be part of that clique, to eat “organically” as part of that clique.

The truth is, that’s how people have always eaten. It’s not just a current “trend” to be part of. Pork Belly is a staple in many cultures outside the U.S, particularly eastern and Mediterranean cultures.

Pork Belly served as a respected ingredient in an unpretentious Starter in a restaurant setting, from Chef Aaron Lawson at Brim House, Toledo, Ohio, September 25, 2017.

Fortunately though, pork belly on its own is making a comeback as part of these “trends”. Pork belly as part of a ramen dish is astonishingly simple, while cured and slow-roasted variations are popping up on many menus. I first ran into this in about 2009 when I’d notice a half-pound pork belly sandwich on a local burger joint menu. The pork belly was given a rub, slow-roasted under extremely low heat, and then seared to order. To say it was a joy to eat this buttery gem is an understatement.

I saw it a few times afterward on other menus as well, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I felt the time was right to experiment with it. I’d spotted it on my supplier’s ordering site at a cost of $2.49/lb for a case of three sections of approximately 8.5lb each, and as the Father’s Day buffet was approaching I felt we could have some fun without too much expense.

The Pork Belly & Beans at the Father’s Day Buffet it the Skyroom at the Indiana Beach Amusement Park in 2015. The recipe and other photos are below.

Chef James and I decided we’d go for a pseudo-artisanal Pork & Beans for one of the buffet dishes. The baked beans themselves would be Bush’s Original straight from the can, which most dad’s really enjoy. But the pork was where we’d get a little more creative.

I thawed down one of the belly sections and cut cross-hatched slits in the fatty side. I then made a simple brown sugar rub with salt, peppercorns, granulated garlic and a few other spices. Once rubbed, we let it sit in the cooler overnight. After searing all six sides on the flattop, we then got some cheap beer from the barkeep, mixed it 50/50 with chicken stock, and let it sit in a 350-degree oven for three-and-a-half hours. At one point someone checked the temp and told us it was done, but we’d understood leaving it the whole time was best. We only needed to replace any evaporated liquid with either chicken stock or beer, it didn’t matter which. We just made sure to keep it covered with liquid. We then pulled it from the oven and let it rest before cutting it into half-inch cubes to toss with the baked beans.

The result blew everyone away. We just stood there eating the stuff, tossing back the buttery, pillowy cubes of fatty goodness like they were pieces of popcorn at a movie. I had to make the staff stop eating them so we’d have enough for the Pork & Beans.

Chef Janelle in the Skyroom kitchen grilling up her Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly for sandwiches on the buffet in 2015.

We did another batch of Pork & Beans at a later date, the same way, and it was again a popular offering. A few weeks later Chef Jenelle, from Jamaica, asked me in her beautiful Jamaican accent if there was any pork belly left. There was one more chunk, and I gladly let her have it. She mixed up her grandmother’s Jamaican Jerk seasoning, rubbed the belly with it and let it marinate in the cooler overnight. The next day, she cut it in half lengthwise, then each half into ¼” chunks. She then grilled the pieces and put them on the buffet alongside hoagie rolls, tomato slices and shredded lettuce for sandwiches.

Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly sandwiches. An amazing concept that works really well.

One of my many hunks of raw pork belly from Stanley’s Market in Toledo, Ohio.

I’ve been able to play around with pork belly since. The most I’ve paid for it so far is $3.29/lb, the same day another butcher in Toledo was asking $5.29/lb for the same cut. It would seem that particular butcher was falling for the “trend” surrounding pork belly and nose-to-tail in general, and possibly escalated their price accordingly. The $3.19 price was at Stanley’s Market, a venerable Polish butcher shop and bakery that Mary’s parents shopped at while she was growing up. Stanley’s is the kind of place to seek out when looking for real food at reasonable prices.

(I do have to mention though that the same large cuts of pork belly we used at the Skyroom are generally available at Costco for reasonable prices as well. Just cut them down into portions and freeze the portions in batches to prep and cook later.)

Because of the size of the pork belly cut and variations between animals butchered for it, cuts can be rather inconsistent. But you can still cut portion sizes based on weight, not thickness. Most good pork belly preparations won’t be affected by thickness variations as they’re mostly low-and-slow processes. Still, the butchers at Stanley’s generally allow me to choose between three or four different slabs. I’m then able to get the one with the most consistent thickness from edge-to-edge even though it doesn’t much matter.

Using the Rubs

Score crosshatches into the fatty side of the pork belly. Using your hand (gloved if desired), fully combine the ingredients of the selected rub. Apply a generous amount of rub to all surfaces of the belly. Cover the belly in plastic wrap and store in a refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Brown Sugar Rub

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup Diamond Kosher salt
3 Tbsp whole peppercorns
3 Tbsp granulated garlic

Savory Rub

1/2 cup Diamond Kosher salt
1/4 cup whole peppercorns
1/4 cup granulated garlic
1 Tbsp Rosemary
1 Tbsp Marjoram

Braised Pork Belly

A general-purpose preparation, this is what we cut into cubes to add to baked beans for the Pork Belly & Beans dish for the Father’s Day buffet. But you can also cut this as chunks to serve on sandwiches, burgers, to top ramen with, or other dishes, searing the cut pieces if you’d like. Variations are endless.

Using one of the rubs described above (or using your own), generously rub all sides and edges of the pork belly. Refrigerate it overnight, but no longer than 24 hours.

Heat a skillet, griddle or cast iron pan to 425F. Remove the plastic wrap from the pork belly and sear all sides, using tongs to hold it while searing the edges. Set aside to cool.

Heat an oven to 250F. Combine 32 oz each of beer and chicken stock (not broth). Place a rack or oven trivet in the bottom of a 6-quart oven-safe pot or roaster. Place the pork belly on the rack and add the braising liquid. Ensure the braising liquid is above the pork belly by at least an inch … If it isn’t, add more liquid in the 50/50 ratio to achieve that extra inch. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, ensuring a tight seal around the edges of the pan. Cook in the 250F oven for 3-1/2 hours.*

Remove from the braising liquid. Finish and serve as desired.

* We’re not looking for a specific temperature for the pork belly here, it will reach safe temperature about halfway through this amount of time. We’re looking instead for a pillowy texture, so just let it go.

Oven-Roasted Pork Belly

Adapted from Momofuku, by David Chang and Peter Meehan, 2009

Using one of the rubs described above (or using your own), generously rub all sides and edges of the pork belly. Refrigerate it overnight, but no longer than 24 hours.

Heat an oven to 450F. Place the pork belly on a rack, then place the rack on a foil-lined sheet pan. Roast at 450F for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 250F, than roast another 60 minutes.*

Remove from the oven and serve as desired.

* Prop the oven door open slightly for the first ten minutes here so the heat inside will drop more quickly.

Recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf

An end piece of Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, with the requisite greens.

Meatloaf is fun to make. Take some ground meat, throw in some bread or cracker crumbs, some chopped onions, and some other spices. You can then bake it as a loaf, grill it as burgers, or bake off individually-formed servings for buffets or catering. It’s simple, filling, and satisfying, and different versions go well with a large number of sides.

At Mary’s request I’ve recently been focused on variations on Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf. Her boss was going to have surgery and I, turning into my mother and doing what she would have done, offered to cook a few meals to get the boss and her family through about the first week. My selections were my Chicken Noodle Soup, a simple BBQ pulled pork from a slow-cooked shoulder (along with the necessary buns), and a good meatloaf. While I was putting the meatloaf together, that’s when Mary suggested wrapping it in bacon.

Because of the size of the family, that first meatloaf weighed just over six pounds. There were two lbs each of ground beef, sausage, and bacon, along with half a box of saltines, eight eggs, and the seasonings.

I’ve since settled on one lb each for the basic recipe, while ensuring the recipe itself is truly scalable for larger needs. But there are a huge number of possible variations.

Choice of meats can vary, but pork and veal seem to be one of the standard combinations. Groceries sometimes sell that combination on a foam tray, while others add beef as a third meat in the same package. Combining beef with lamb would give a good flavor, with the beef needing a higher fat content to give a good juiciness. Combining goat or other meats with beef would be interesting as well. Ground turkey or chicken? Sure, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The basic recipe presented here, outside of the bacon wrapping, is rather generalized. Change the meats, change the spices, use applewood or hardwood smoked bacon, wrap it in prosciutto if you’d like … Whatever. Be creative.

The trick, though, is to slow-cook the loaf, particularly if it gets rather large through scaling the recipe. At some point though, making multiple smaller loaves makes more sense.

Just have fun with it. I certainly do.

Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf
1 lb sliced bacon
1 lb ground beef, 80/20
1 lb sausage
4 eggs
1/4 lb (1 sleeve) saltine crackers
1 medium onion
3 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp granulated garlic
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp ground mustard

Add all but the bacon, onion, and crackers to a medium mixing bowl. Peel and coarse-chop the onion and add it to the bowl. Put the crackers into a gallon plastic food bag, and roll with a rolling pin till the crackers are fine crumbs. Add the cracker crumbs to the mixing bowl. Don’t mix what’s in the bowl yet, just set it aside.

Preheat an oven to 250F. Grease a small cooking rack and set it in a roasting pan, deep casserole, or enamel pot. Lay two slces of bacon next to each other in the middle of the rack.Lay the other slices perpendicular to the first two, five on each side, side-by-side, with the inside end at the far side of the first two slices. If you have more than these twelve slices of bacon, add four more slices, two on each end, to extend the length of original two slices.

Use your hands (with food-handling gloves if desired) to fully mix the meat mixture. Form it into a loaf, which will be about 7 inches long and just over 3 inches in diameter. Lay the loaf in the middle of the bacon over the first two slices. Then, pick up the rest of the bacon piece-by-piece and fully wrap the loaf.

Cover the meatloaf, and bake in the 250F oven for three hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 160F. Then go ahead and bake it for one more hour to crisp the bacon.

Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to rest before slicing with a serrated knife and serving.

Recipe: Authentic Florida Rum Runners

Our bartenders for this development: Bree, Kim, and Mary.

A habit we’ve started getting into the past couple years is vacationing on the east coast of Florida. As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful little duplex on the Indian River in Ft. Pierce. We had come here just over a year ago and fell in love with St. Lucie County and the surrounding area, along with really appreciating the people here, both the locals and those who are also habitual visitors. Arriving here from Michigan again last week, the duplex made us feel as though we had come home. Because of this feeling, we’re already making plans to come back next year as well.

The duplex is owned by our friends Kim and Bill. Kim and my wife Mary had gone to high school together, and Kim and Bill rent the duplex out to various people throughout the year while living in their own home up the river. Built in the 1950s or early 60s, this quaint little duplex is simple, with hurricane-resistant concrete block walls covered with stucco, and poured terrazo floors. But the couple has really warmed up the interior with just the right furnishings that give it that strong feeling of home.

On The Edge Bar & Grill, as seen from the Ft. Pierce Inlet, April 12, 2016.

On our first full day here last April Kim had driven us up the road a piece to the On The Edge Bar & Grill for lunch. Located on the north end of South Hutchinson Island along the Ft. Pierce Inlet that allows for boating and small ship access (Coast Guard cutters, heavy barges, small cruise liners, deep-sea fishing vessels, etc.) to the two-mile-wide Indian River, the restaurant is open-air with two levels.

My Hoisen-Glazed Yellowfin Tuna at On The Edge Bar & Grill on May 9, 2017: Sushi-grade Ahi Tuna seared rare, with hoisin glaze and wasabi mayo, topped with a seaweed salad and served with sides of wasabi mashed potatoes and grean beans.

The food at the restaurant is seriously good, especially the seafood. From their Facebook page:

“All of the fish served at On the Edge Bar & Grill is fresh, locally caught & never frozen. Our Mahi-Mahi, Swordfish, and Tuna, in particular, are caught in deep water, approximately 150 miles offshore to the northeast of Fort Pierce. These fishing boats consume about $6,000 in fuel for a round trip that can last up to 3 days.

If you don’t understand why fresh seafood can be expensive, read that again. But also understand the prices on the menu at On The Edge are extremely reasonable, and are actually comparable to those at better seafood restaurants in places like Toledo and Ann Arbor. The seafood at On The Edge is better though, and worth the trip.

It was at On The Edge during that lunch with Kim that Mary had her first-ever Rum Runner. Legend has it that the Rum Runner was first developed at a place called the Holiday Tiki Bar in Islamorada (“ah-lah-mor-ah-dah”) sometime in the 1950s when there was “an excess of rum and certain liqueurs that needed to be moved before the arrival of more inventory.” This makies sense, as a lot of dishes, from casseroles, to “Chef’s specials”, to Polish paczki for Fat Tuesday, were created this way and always will be.

Some of the Rum Runners from our trip here in April 2016.

Throughout our travels here over the past couple years, from here at the duplex through the 220 miles to Mile 0 at the southern end of US 1 in Key West 90 miles north of Cuba, Mary, Bree and I have tried quite a few Rum Runners at various establishments. There are apparently countless variations: One bar here in Ft. Pierce also has a package liquor store, and they specifically told me they use the Ron Corina 151 dark rum in their version, and sold me a bottle. This made for a Rum Runner that was far too strong, and not at all like Mary is used to.

In trying all those other Rum Runners though, the flavor profile we appreciate most goes right back to On The Edge. We ate there again yesterday evening with a friend of Bree’s from high school who lives down here now and came to visit. The Rum Runners were, to our taste buds of course, absolutely perfect.

Shish Kebab party! May 7, 2017, Ft. Pierce, Florida

A couple evenings ago we hosted a shish kebab party for Kim, Bill and their two sons. Bree and I prepped chicken thigh meat, 51/60 p&d shrimp, as well as fresh veggies from the renowned Ft. Pierce Farmer’s Market. People made up their own kebabs on bamboo skewers, which I then grilled for them, serving with chips and hummus. One of the neighbor families also showed up, which was a good thing as Bree and I had prepped a lot of food!

Between us we had also put together the rather expensive list of ingredients needed for Rum Runners, as laid out on the Florida Keys Guide web site. Restaurants and bars with larger liqueur inventories will certainly be able to have most of this on-hand for various beverages. It does get a bit unwieldly for two or three people, but if you regularly enjoy Rum Runners this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Bree, Kim and Mary put together the Rum Runners, and the flavor was extremely close to what On The Edge serves. Yup, it made for a fun evening!

The ingredient list below is fairly specific. This combination comes quite close to what On The Edge is doing, but we make no claim to it being exactly the same. Make substitutions as is necessary or as you see fit. Your own recipe may be completely different. Amd that’s alright.

Authentic Florida Rum Runners
Add one ounce of each of the following to a glass, or add multiples of one ounce each to a pitcher, and stir well:

Add one cup ice to each glass, and serve.
If the frozen slush version is desired, pour the completed drink with ice into a blender and run until the desired consistency is reached.

Home Cooking vs. Fancy Cuisines, plus ca. 1923 Toledo Public School Recipes

At QQ Kitchen in Toledo, a serving of Tong Soo Yo — Deep-fried pork loin with Napa cabbage, Wood Ear, Cucumber, Pineapple, Green Onion and Carrots, in a Korean Sweet and Sour Glaze. A beautiful and accessible “home-style” dish.

It was March 1983 when Sony’s Compact Disc audio player hit the U.S. market, after first being made available in Japan the previous October. Dr. Toshitada Doi’s development of the digital audio system would continue from Sony with recordable CDs, along with the related DVD format and recordable versions of those as well. CDs have since become less available with the advent of the mp3 file format, giving rise to the iPod and smartphone-based mp3 player apps.

Movies have followed suit. When Lucas directed “Star Wars II: Attack Of The Clones” for its 2002 release, it was one of the first feature films shot using all-digital cameras. These were the Sony HDW-F900, which were then modified for Panavision to become the HD-900F camera system. The finished film was only converted to film for distribution in theaters. Since then, films have become all-digital, from the Red EPIC cameras currently used in production, through completely-digital editing, to digital 4k projection systems in theaters, not using a single frame of Kodak film stock along the way.

But some things haven’t changed in the “digital era” since 1982. Electric guitarists understand this. The best sound for their instruments are still processed via vacuum tubes, and many popular guitar amps and amplification heads for speaker stacks use, strangely-enough, old Russian military audio tubes in their designs. The Russian 6L6 medium-power tube (20 – 25W outpout), known as a “Groove Tube”, has been used in popular amplifier brands such as Fender since the 1960s. A matched pair of 6L6 tubes runs about 60 bucks.

Lately, these things have begun to revert back their previous forms. Vinyl albums are making a comeback, and there are numerous turntables for analog amplifier use which also have USB ports to transfer the music into a digital system if desired. And “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens”, released in December 2015, was shot entirely on film stock, with the effects shop at Industrial Light & Magic returning to the use of miniature models for many of their sequences.

What Does This Have To Do With Cooking?
Quite simply, even with the popularity of eReaders such as the Kindle, cookbooks have not successfully made the transition to digital formats. People still want physical cookbooks and publishers have obliged, developing new presentation styles and tapping solid, honest cooks and chefs for content.

For a while it seemed as though cooking in the U.S. was itself headed in the wrong direction. After TV dinners became popular, frozen and processed foods were all the rage, and every home kitchen gained a microwave on its counter or above its electric range. Basic tastes really didn’t change though, and with Food Network and other cooking channels showing up people realized they wanted to “really” cook once again.

But a split happened, a dichotomy of sorts, pitting home cooks against restaurant-style cooking, which in many ways followed what Food Network and others were producing.

“Worst Cooks In America”
This show is a prime example of what’s wrong with a lot of the programming on Food Network today. The competitors are people who can’t even cook their family a decent meal. But instead of taking them through what used to be considered a Home Economics cooking class, they teach them restaurant techniques, finishing with a “restaurant-style meal”. In recent ads a competitor is berated for not knowing the difference between a scallion and a shallot, neither of which many home cooks have ever even heard of. Meanwhile, the competitor’s family probably wants meatloaf, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, grilled pork chops, pancakes with bacon … The basics. Nothing requiring scallions, shallots, or a wrapping of caul fat. (No, you likely don’t know what that is either, but it’s taught on the show.) What the families want is what’s important to everyday cooks in their own kitchens.

What these families want to eat is how normal people eat. The concepts of the “training” in the show certainly don’t reflect this.

Fortunately, some of the few actual cooking programs on the network are largely unscripted and present honest home cooking. Nancy Fuller is excellent in this regard in her show “Farmhouse Rules”, as is Damaris Phillips in “Southern At Heart”. Celebs Trisha Yearwood and Valerie Bertinelli also offer unpretentious dishes in shows taped in their home kitchens.

Most of the rest of the network’s programming, however, has drifted considerably far from the concepts presented in these few shows.

At the same time, Americans’ affinity for burgers spawned the excellent Sonic and Five Guys burger chains. Local burger joints have begun cooking butter burgers and topping burgers with slow-cooked pork belly and locally-smoked bacon. And home cooks began to learn that a 50/50 blend of ground sirloin and chuck made for the best-tasting burgers from their own grills.

This has happened in other areas of cooking as well, burgers are simply a good example. But it then becomes apparent some well-known “trending” statements about cooking simply aren’t true.

Bocuse d’Or 2017

The offifical photo of part of team USA’s winning creations from the 2017 Bocuse d’Or, “Presentation On A Tray”.

Yesterday, January 25, 2017, Team USA won the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition hosted in Lyon, France. This was the 30th anniversary of the Bocuse d’Or, and it was also Team USA’s first-ever win. It really is one Hell of an accomplishment.

No, I have no desire to detract from what Team USA has accomplished. They worked long and hard to get the win, and that hard work is no joke.

But as beautiful as the above-pictured Team USA dish is, I couldn’t make head nor tail of what it was. No one I’ve shown it to have been able to either, chefs included. Someone said “Well, the individual dishes look like oyster shells, so those must be some kind of oyster.”


“Those things on top … Prickly pear?”


It’s chicken and crayfish. I kid you not. Here’s the official description of this particular event, lifted from the Bocuse d’Or web site:

5 hours and 35 minutes, not a second more: that’s the time allotted to prepare a recipe using the imposed main product. Top quality meat or extra fresh fish, the recipe imagined using these superb products will be presented ‘à la française’ on a tray.

2017 has a big surprise in store for its fans but more importantly for the participants. As for the presentation on a tray, the Bocuse d’Or will proudly state its Lyon and French identity. To celebrate its 30 years of existence the participants will work with ‘Bresse chicken and shellfish’ based on an interpretation of the famous Lyon recipe for ‘Chicken and crayfish’.

My friend who’d originally reposted the above photo of the reinterpreted “Bresse Chicken and Shellfish” took issue with my lack of appreciation of the dish:

“The appeal is the creativity, the artistry, the innovation. Like the haute couture that influences what we wear (as Meryl Streep described in The Devil Wears Prada), these techniques trickle down. It’s fascinating to watch, like an art show meets the Olympics!”

Sorry, but haute couture has never influenced what I wear. I might wear a suit for a special event, and my wife does make me wear khakis on occasion. But I’m normally in jeans with a t-shirt or flannel shirt. And there’s likewise no real innovaion here either … Fads maybe, aka temporary “trends” … But the reality is that people, carnivores of course, will still gravitate toward steaks, fried chicken, broiled or grilled fish, pulled or grilled pork, stout sausages … and burgers. This plate will fade into history, and people in 2117 will still be ordering medium rare steak grilled over open flame. That’s the reality of how people really want to eat.

As pretty as food really needs to be: Seared Ahi Tuna at 12A Buoy in Ft. Pierce, Florida.

Once in a while, I don’t mind if food is pretty, especially if it’s a surprise in what’s an affordable ($21) dish. We were visiting friends in Ft. Pierce, Florida, in April 2016 and they suggested a late lunch at a place called the 12A Buoy. We were seated outside about 20 feet from the Indian River, an estuary that runs more than 100 miles along the eastern coast of Florida. I ordered the seared Ahi tuna in toasted sesame seeds. I was not expecting what’s in the above photo, especially at that price, but we took that pic immediately after the dish hit the table.

It’s a great presentation, downright pretty, and I can tell exactly what it is.

Which brings up other issues I have with Food Network programming. In the competition show “Chopped” chefs are expected to transform the ingredients in the various baskets. If they don’t do so, they’re berated for it and, in many instances, “chopped” in that round for not transforming items. They’re also expected to include some kind of sauce to just about evry dish they create.

These particular requirements show complete disregard for the following phrases I’ve learned and understood elsewhere:

  • Ingredients need to not only be respected, but showcased as well.
  • Not everything needs a sauce, a concept which is more French than is necessary.

These two phrases fly in the face of what many believe, but they hold true more often than not. Take a look at the images in this post. No sauces (except the barbecue sauce on the ribs), not even with the Bocuse d’Or tray presentation. But the Bocuse d’Or tray presention is the only one that can’t be identified by looking at it.

One of most odd competition shows recently was “Battle Of The Grandmas”. Transformation was part of the show, for example, “Using everything you’d use for Green Bean Casserole, create a dish that’s not Green Bean Casserole.” That’s entirely unnecessary. Have each of them make their Green Bean Casserole, and see whose is the favorite. Transformation shouldn’t be part of the equation for grandmas, as it doesn’t respect the women and their skills as they are.

Home-Ec Cooking Courses vs. “Culinary Classes”

Two historical public school Home Economics cookbooks from my collection.

The bottom hardcover book in the above pic, the 527-page “Experiences With Foods” published in 1956, includes photos illustrating the process for making yeast breads. The top book is the 1923 “Home Economics Cook Book for Elementary Grades” published in 1923 by Toledo Public Schools. The pages shown are those describing how to select a chicken, using flame to remove pin feathers, then finding and removing the birds’ innards piece-by-piece as birds were purchased unprocessed at the time.

I remember Home Ec cooking classes in middle school. There were multiple home kitchens in that room. We were put together in groups of two or three students, and taught how to cook different dishes, like simple pancakes from scratch, eggs, and burgers. I don’t recall what the textbook was, but given the time period it could very well have been the 1956 textbook in the above image.

Cooking is making a comeback as an available course in middle and high school levels. But in too many cases, this is a culinary course intended as a starting block for a professional career, not a home cooking course. These are indeed two separate concepts, the latter being too seldom not taught at home.

Every student needs to learn how to cook at home, much in the same way as they need to know how to write and execute a grocery shopping list, clean a home kitchen, balance a checkbook, do laundry, change the oil in a car or at least know how to check the various fluid levels … simple everyday skills that are sorely missing in today’s eucation.

How people actually cook at home: Hickory-smoked barbecued spare ribs with collard greens and cornbread.

I grew up on the kind of food in the above pic, as did my kids, and many other people we know. This is how people eat. And there’s nothing here from any competition whatsoever. Instead, this is nothing but old-school techniques, like most home cooking.

Steak and potatoes has remained steak and potatoes. Meanwhile, David Chang has brought ramen forward to be respected using old-school techniques, Kin Khao in San Fransisco received a Michelin star with her family’s authentic Thai recipes about eighteen months after opening, farm-style and southern kitchen cooking shows are popular … People are rediscovering real food and real cooking from non-French influences. That’s what’s accessible and possible for everyday cooks, regardless of what trend followers want to believe.

Cultural Respect: Respecting the Ingredients

Lengua Tacos, lengua meaning tongue, in this case beef tongue, at Esmeralda’s in Monticello, Indiana.

Respecting ingredients, showcasing some items while contrasting them with others, making certain parts of a meal shine … This is what real cooking is all about. Other cultures have been doing this for millenia. It can be found every day in what we call “ethnic” restaurants in authentic pockets of those cultures throughout the U.S. They also exist in more rural areas as well, showcasing local game and historical preparations unique to those areas. These communities are where honest and historical cooking exists today. And they’re making a comeback, just like vinyl, just like real film stock …

Just like what used to be called Home Economics.

We need to continue to encourage this comeback. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Recipes from the 1923 Toledo Public Schools Cookbook

Baked Apple
Wash and core sour apples, beginning at the blossom end. With a sharp pointed knife remove the stem. Score the apple near the top, by cutting a ring completely around the apple. Fill the cavity with sugar (1/2 tbsp. to the apple). A wedge of lemon may be placed in the top of the cavity. Nutmeg or cinnamon may be used in place of the lemon. When apples are at their best, do not use any flavoring. Place the apples in a baking dish, cover the bottom with boiling water, and bake in a hot oven until soft, basting often with the syrup in the dish. Test with a pointed knife. Serve hot or cold with the syrup, with or without cream.

Oyster Soup
1 qt. milk
2 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 pt. oysters
2 tbsp. butter

Clean the oysters. Heat the milk. Boil and skim the oyster liquor till clear, and add to the milk. Add oysters, and cook till the edges curl and the oysters are plump, but do not boil. Add butter and seasoning and serve at once. If the soup has to stand before being served, make the soup, but do not add the oysters until just a few minutes before serving.

Ham Kentucky Style
Select a piece of ham one inch thick. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. dry mustard in the bottom of a pan, then a little brown sugar, and a little pepper, put in the meat, cover with brown sugar and add milk to come 1/4 of the way up the side of the meat. Cover and bake 1/2 hr. or until tender.

Boston Baked Beans
1 pt. beans
1/4 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt 1 small onion
1/4 c. molasses
1/4 tsp. mustard
1/4 lb. salt pork

Pick over, wash beans and soak over night in cold water. Drain, add soda and cover again with cold water. Boil 20 minutes, or until the outside skin cracks. Cook the pork 20 minutes, saving the water in which it was cooked. Put the onion and pork in the bottom of the bean jar. Fill with beans and pour over them the molasses, with which the seasoning has been rnixed. Cover with the water in which the pork was cooked, and bake slowly for 5 or 6 hrs. Cover while baking and add boiling water as needed. Brown sugar may be used instead of molasses.

Swiss Steak
2 lbs. round steak 1 to 1-1/2 in. thick
1 c. flour
1/2 onion
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. fat

Pound the steak with flour and add salt. Brown onion in the fat in the frying pan. Add meat and brown on both sides. Barely cover with water and bake from 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. or until tender. Peppers, tomatoes, onions, peas or mushrooms may be added. Reduce liquor to make a thick brown sauce to pour over the meat.

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