Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pittsburgh, Solid

We have water, resources, affordable living spaces, friendly people, and, somehow, our economy is a great example of sustainability. See the story:

Time Magazine Story About Pittsburgh Economy

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rachel Ray and Soundgarden

At the gym tonight, trying to treadmill away a few bottles of wine, I clicked on the TV to the food network. I normally don't do this, and normally can't stand the treadmill for more than five minutes, but I was armed with a new set of headphones and wanted to try out the individual treadmill TV with said headphones. I usually try to run to CNN with no sound - no 'phones = no sound - and the 4 minute news cycle is perfect for my limited appreciation of the charms of the treadmill.

But tonight, I switched on the Food Network and there was Rachel Ray (hereafter referred to as RR). RR was making chili mac. She didn't call it that, just kept referring to the combination of pasta in meat sauce with chili. But it was true chili mac, and a nice one. I watched, listening through the new headphones, for a good fifteen minutes. At the commercial break, I popped the plug out and back into my ipod. I picked Soundgarden's "Badmotorfinger". Easily one of the best three albums of all time. I kept running, picking up the paste with 'Rusty Cage".

Then RR came back on. Silent, of course, but digging the food and the camera, moving lushly around the kitchen, smashing a garlic clove with that huge smile, and leaning over to show that huge rack, and I got it. Again. I love RR. And I love Soundgarden. And the modern heavy metal grunge of Badmotorfinger fits perfectly with RR' curves and obvious love of food.

Confused? I was too. Now, four hours and two glasses of wine later, I am working to tease the connection out of my mind. Why? I love Soundgarden. Great sound, great album (BMF) that changed my perception of music forever. Blasting and morose and brutal and beautiful. Described by one reviewer as a "funeral dirge for the millennia" or somesuch. Peak of their creativity and of grunge heavy metal.

I also love RR. She is fun and loves food and loves life and laughs loud and a lot. I'd like to spend a long weekend with her in a t-top Camaro touring northern Arizona with a bottle of vodka in a bag of ice on the floor. Rob a convenience store with squirt guns and hole up in a Holiday Inn. Laugh all day long and grab burgers from the diner and sleep 'till noon. Not creepy or sexy, just blasting through the sun and having a ball and throwing litter out of the car as we finish burger and beer.

How do they go together? I feel it, but struggle to say it. The small town teenboy, cruising McDonald's Friday night cranking Rush and digging the girls with the tight Chic jeans, too young yet to run to fat but definitely headed there, he digs them both. The chef that just wants his music and his food to be bold and powerful, simple and strong on the surface with a complex detail accenting the basic, he digs them both. The man that longs for the simple, solid sounds and tastes, but unable to let go into solid stolidity, he digs them.

Rachel Ray and Soundgarden.

For President.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Grandma Pie

My grandmother, Ruth Marie Ball Fuller, died recently. She was old, 85, and had lived a long, hard-working life. In the end, she just decided to go to sleep. It had been some time since I'd seen her. In fact, it had been a long time since I was around the family and the hometown at all. I was one of those, "When I graduate I am outta here!" small town kids that really never looked back. In the intervening years, my memories of my relatives faded to gray as I lived outside the verbal history loop that families use to remind themselves of who they are.

Grandma shot crisply back into focus when, at the viewing and at the funeral, the preacher, my dad and uncle and aunt, family friends, cousins, and neighbors laughed and joked about Grandma Fuller's famous sweet tooth. Seems she loved cookies, pie, and fudge. Of course. Who doesn't. And in the aggressively independent DIY life of the Fullers, she made them all herself. Of all of her baking, her pies were the best. Every dinner, it seemed, had a pie or two at the end. Thanksgiving had a table full. Of course, if you didn't eat, there was no pie. And we all ate to eat pie. Even green beans.

My favorite story, one that I hadn't heard in probably thirty years, was of the two pie day. Seems, that after making the pie for dinner one autumn morning, Grandma decided to cut just a sliver to taste it. I guess it was good, because she cut another little sliver. I know it was good, because she ate the whole thing buy lunchtime. Now, the only way we know this story was from testimony of her neighbor. Seems Grandma didn't have enough sugar to make the second and quietly slipped next door to borrow some, hoping to have a second pie ready for dinner before hungry husband and kids returned home. She pulled it off and had the second pie on the table, only to years later be outed by her neighbor. Grandma, I'd have eaten the whole pie too, and tried to sneak a new one out of the oven before I was found out.

I remember the plastic pie rolling sheet that she worked on - opaque plastic imprinted with red circles to measure crust and conversion charts. Worn and floured, every single pie shell was rolled out onto it. And every shell was laid into clear glass pie pans, filled with hand-peeled and cut local (from the yard or down the street) apples, topped with crust, and baked in her old oven. We were admonished to not mess with it until it was cool as we burned our finger to dip in the crust drizzle at the edge.

I ate a lot of those pies. And until her death, never realized how much they were missed. Thank you Grandma Fuller.

(And yes, she was my elementary school Lunch Lady.)

Her obituary below.

Ruth Marie Ball Fuller, DuBois, 85, died Saturday at the DuBois Nursing Home.
Born Dec. 17, 1922, she was the daughter of the late Daniel and Ada M. Potts Ball. She was married to William L. "Let" Fuller. He preceded her in death Feb. 25, 1995.
She worked at Olive Avenue and Highland Street grade school cafeterias for 21 years before retiring in 1985.
She was a member of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. She was a life member of the Sandy Hose Company Ladies Auxiliary and the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she had served as a registrar and as a past regent.
She is survived by two sons, William L. Fuller Jr. of New Bethlehem and Ronald J. Fuller of Lemoyne; one daughter, Mrs. James (Susan) McLaughlin of Knoxdale; 12 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.
She was the last surviving member of her immediate family and was preceded in death by two brothers, Daniel and Arthur Ball; one sister, Dorothy Gearheart; and one grandson, Ronald J. Fuller Jr.

FULLER: Ruth Marie Ball, DuBois, died Aug. 16, 2008. Friends will be received from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. today at the Mohney-Yargar Funeral Chapel Inc. in DuBois. Daughters of the American Revolution will hold a service at 2:15 p.m. today at the funeral home. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home with the Rev. Ron Lindahl officiating. Burial will be in Morningside Cemetery, DuBois. Memorial donations may be made to Agape Community Services, 320 W. Long Ave., DuBois PA 15801 or to a charity of the donor's choice. On-line tributes may be made at www.mem.com.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

Not my idea originally, but fun. My comments are in italics.

Here is the original link:


The Omnivore’s Hundred

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (Aligator, yes)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Of all of them, I am a little embarrassed to have missed horse, insects, Blue Mountain Coffee, Roadkill and Haggis. I will definitely look for Phaal on any and every Indian menu I see (but I believe that it is probably only really good in India, maybe London).

And I have to try poutine.

Looks like I have some eating to do!

Monday, July 7, 2008


Growing up, we had no butter in our house. It was too expensive. Period. We always bought only what was cheaper. This included but was not limited to whipped margarine, mealy hot dogs with secret bone chips, discount grocery store brand pop, off-brand spam, white bread, and endless bologna. Butter cost twice margarine and that was that. I didn't have it until I left home at seventeen.

I, of course, never thought much of it. I knew that Country Crock was better than the supermarket brand. But I knew too that, while it was better, I never really liked it. We put it on white toast though, in great melting heaps, and passed the toast to our mother to cover with a thick layer of sugar and cinnamon (which we always kept handy) then drizzle the mess with coffee. The best result of this was a thick layer of coffee-moistened sugar - not dissolved but melted into a thick, sweet sludge with oily yellow margarine streaks. At times, however, there would be a gap in the sugar or the coffee would pool and punch through the sugar to soak the toast to mush. Or my mom would try to save money by buying a cheaper brand of margarine resulting in a slimy mouth-feel.

I found butter at the Occidental. There was never margarine in that restaurant, and butter everywhere. It went into everything. Everywhere. I learned to cook with butter there; in sauces, to finish a vegetable, to brown with oil sauteeing fish, everywhere. At the Occidental, we used only Beaver Meadow brand butter, manufactured in DuBois, PA. My hometown. How did it end up here? We stockpiled the labels as we unwrapped the blocks, using the red, white, and blue wax paper to cover foods as we cooked and held them. When the mashed potatoes were finished and placed in sixth pans, we'd cover them with butter paper. A piece of sauteed fish, waiting on a resting rack to be picked up, was protected with a butter paper. Poaching sweetbreads, you get the idea.

But, "if there was so much butter, why did we eat only margarine in DuBois?" I didn't much like it at first. Soft, it wasn't firm enough and spread mushy. Cold it wouldn't spread. Pain in the ass. Needs management. Not engineered to be spreadable at all temperatures. Why? But we kept pans of butter out at kitchen temperature. It softened, sometimes warming too much and melting. But we worked long days, with little time to eat. One quick nibble was always available - bread. A piece of bread coming off the table, grabbed from the server as they returned from the dining room, swiped through the butter and sprinkled with kosher salt, keeps the line cook motor humming.

So, I digress. Margarine. I never touch the stuff. Butter, butter. When it was reported a few years ago that, no duh, butter was healthier than margarine, I was overjoyed. Margarine sucks.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Local Chicken Stock in a Box

When asked what to use instead of home made stock, I usually suggest Kitchen Basics brand chicken stock. Clean, simple flavor without a lot of sodium, MSG, and other junk, I use it at home if I am a little light on homemade. I found out today that they are based in Brecksville, Ohio, a little south of Cleveland. Who knew?

The image “http://www.kitchenbasics.net/images/new8chicken.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pig Roasting

I roasted a pig this weekend. Slow cooking and all day discussion of the pig, what it will taste like, is it going too slow, and man does it smell good. Thursday night we prepared our sacrifice. We splayed it flat, inserted serrano chilies and cracked garlic cloves into slits in the exposed inside flesh, rubbed the whole thing with chopped garlic and black pepper, and covered it with sliced limes, thyme, and oregano. We placed the head in the belly and tied the whole pig back 'round to marinate. Sunday morning (7AM), we built the pit, wired the pig on the rack, started a fire with good charcoal and McConnell's Farms apple wood, and prepared to start the pig. We were on schedule, the pig looked great, and the machine of this long day had been properly set in motion. In a burst, I decided to put a little more charcoal on before we started the cooking. Get it going good. My opinion was met with disapproval.

I didn't listen.

We placed the pig over the pit, covered her up, and started the rest of the day. I returned about 20 minutes later to find the bottom of the pit on fire and the back of the pig blackened. Emergency operations ensued - putting out the fire, opening the sides of the pit to allow the heat to escape, putting out the charcoal. Once the disaster was stalled, we turned the pig to look. Crispy black and smoking. Three previously excited chef faces looked and me, crestfallen. Really crestfallen, never a more appropriate time to use the word. The day had stalled, collapsed, disintegrated, and died in the pit. I didn't look at them, I felt them trying not to look at me, trying not to look at each other.

Only one solution, move forward. We surrounded the pig and removed the burnt skin with fingers and tiny tongs. For a final rinse, we stood the pig rack up and washed her down. The pig was returned to the pit skin side down, a light, smokey apple wood fire re-kindled, and we proceeded gently.
It turned out mostly fine. The meat was tender and delicious, especially in the belly, of course. There was a nice smoke flavor with no trace of acrid burnt skin aftertaste. but the golden, smoked, browned, crackling, fat-seeping skin was not there, giving us a sad, ugly pig to serve.

Every day we seem to re-learn what we have known for our whole lives. Take the slow things slow, start solid, and follow along. Fast processes go fast and slow go slow and respect must be paid to each type in turn. Start the pig slow, catch up as the day goes if you need to, be flexible with the finish time.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Read This!

Nice article on cured meats and Parma by Virginia Phillips in Pittsburgh Quarterly.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Two Signs of Spring

A pretty little girl in an Easter dress and freshly popped crocuses.
Posted by Picasa

Pig Shirt

In case you can't read it, the box is a pig butchering key. You can get one at the link below.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beef, it aint for dinner

So, I am now grossed out. After sufficient footage of downer cows being cattle prodded, shoved with forklifts, and walking on seemingly backward-growing legs; after seeing bizarre fatty tumors in the middle of a muscle on a loin of supposedly USDA Prime beef as I cut it; after recalls and recalls and recals; I am done. I am no longer choosing beef as a meat. I will eat it for professional reasons, but not indiscriminately.

Of course, I will look for options in humanely raised beef. I will seek out grass-fed, well-tended flocks as soon as I can. I will bring to the table clean and safe beef. As a chef, it is my duty.

But as an eater, I am completely in love with the pig right now. It is a holy animal, edible from tail to snout, easy to grow, easy to preserve, easy to eat. Why worry about infected beef supply when we are already cooking pork to safe temperatures and the lure of tartare is not there? Why have a steak when a sexy young generation of butchers are creating poetry with swine? Why worry about marbeling and pay $25/# for Prime steer loin when well-marbled pork loin is at most 1/4 that price? And what is the beef equivalent of jambon serrano, prosciutto, or Virginia ham? And the beef equivalent of bacon? We pay a bunch of money for beef steaks and turn the rest, some 85%, int cheap burger meat. Completely unsustainable.

Viva la Swine! The only thing you can't produce out of a pig is good whiskey.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ten Food Goals for 2008

So it is February 3. I don't care. Here is what I will be doing about my relationship to food in 2008:

1. Convert my home eating to more local. Call it laziness, or lack of planning, but I got awfully far from being a good locavore. We do way better at the restaurants than I do in the house. I'll subscribe to a CSA, order my swine and chicken from farmers, hit the farmers' markets at least once a week, and get back on the program.

2. Focus on the quality of every single ingredient. This is obvious, and I should do this with every waking second of my work life, but I am going to go back to previous decisions and touch consider every over-looked ingredients to make sure we are cooking with the best products possible. This is the year I switch Mad Mex to all local pork. This is the year I get Elysian Fields in Mad Mex. This is the year I make the spices better. I am going to get a better avocado. This is the year of the perfect ingredient.

3. Eduction. I have the unique position that my ruminations on food can reach a lot of people. Not, of course, from this little lark, but from speaking at various events, the newsletter, and TV. I will continue to talk about great ingredients and good eating, but never preaching. I believe that there is an eating crisis in the US, that people eat junk all day every day, and that we all need to reconsider what goes in our bellies. But I think that I can lure that horse along with the fresh carrot and avoid the preachy BMI stick as much as possible.

4. I will increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet and make a better example to all around me. If it kills me. Really. I will also eat fewer slabs of cold, braised pork belly from the walk-in cooler. Because this will kill me eventually.

5. I will drink better wine, and maybe a little less of it. I will expand my wine palate to the enjoyment of new regions and grapes (to me). I will pay even more attention to the pairing of wine and food. Goodbye savings account.

6. I will become as much an expert on Mexican food and tequila as I can. (This is a vow every year, but worth noting every year).

7. I will cook more. Home, work, wherever.

8. I hope to transition my food writing to more humor, more information, and more quality of content. Less schmaltzy remembering and silly commentary. See item #3.

9. Like things more. I want to enjoy what I eat more. I'll still identify opportunities for improvement in my/our cooking and act upon them but in general I'll really dig what it is that I am eating for what it is. See the person in the food, respect that, and praise it whenever possible.

10. Get my kids to eat more vegetables.

Maybe the last one should be first.

It is going to be a great year. I feel a huge surge of excitement for the world of food and cooking and think, through my many channels of contact to the bellies of the people around me, I can fill them with happier product.

Time to eat!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Why Hungry

In 1984 I left my hometown with some clothes in a backpack, a new mac card, and my thumb stuck out. I was headed to Seattle to live with high school friends. Powered by Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Bob Dylan, I was on the road, tangled up in blue, ready to fish for my own trout in the 300 million streams of America. I was setting out in the full regalia of young naivety to discover the world, become a man, and have some fun. Hopefully, a girl or two would figure in at some point. I figured it would take a week or so to hitch to Seattle, I told my post-operative breast cancer mother, and I'll call you on the way.

Amazing, that point in my 17 year old life. I can remember it pushed through the tammis of 23 years, 8400 days. But that day, that June day I stopped by to see my mother in the hospital and had my sister drive me out to the Interstate, that day I cannot recapture in any memory of mine. What was I thinking? How did it feel? I don't think I realized I was bailing on my mother, sister, and brother, leaving them to tilt at cancer, the eventual cause of my mother's death. I would be absent for that healing, as I would always be. I can't imagine what I, today, in my grown up calculus would say about that young man. As a father, I would be disappointed. As a man, angry that the eldest son left at such a juncture, such a point in time where his mettle was to be tested. The leaving, from this vantage point, was a failure. The man that I am now judges that boy and says "You failed." But that coward(?!), that nervous boy, that runner, he became me. Can the tree denounce the seed?

I wasn't some stoned out hippie, lost from family and friends. Just a normal kid, fairly good student, not too much trouble. I wasn't running from a pregnancy, a court date, a bad home. I was happy to depart my hometown, of course, small of course and poor it was as is the American legend. But not running. Not trying to get away and afraid that my actions would disappoint so many around me. Not running.

It was a going towards. A desire. Hungry. I wanted. What? Wanted. More room more memories more space more hope more perspective more food more. Wanted. Not greedy, for the greedy have and need to hold and ache for more. Not desperate, for in desperation hope is lost. Not hopeless on that sunny June morning I walked up the exit ramp onto I-80. Not angry not lost not scared.


My life has been defined by hunger. Hungry for food in our poor, poor childhood. Hungry to feel, to taste, to see, to try. Hungry to make a warm place and secure, to build a stockpile, to have and trust. Hungry.

The many numbered days have been filled with tastes. Some reckless, really foolish, the dirty acid death just missed. Really. Some warm, the soft umami of flesh and peace and love. The salt of blood and sweat with the struggle to make, to land, to be. Tastes of spice and sugar from great adventures in life where the oceans and mountains and sun and rain all existed in that moment to be beautiful for me to scream "Life Is!" and I take it to fill the belly of that day. Nude girls eating seaweed cross-legged on the floor in a circle around my not naked nervousness. My first sushi eaten to get a girls attention. Ingera for the first time - same reason. Krishna kitchens waiting through stupid sermons for free Indian food. Burritos from carts, stolen Baked Alaska eaten over the dish machine, the daily burger practice test of the young grill cook, papusas, the squid cart, dim sum chicken feet, the progression of fluke at Le Bernardin, ribs and ribs and ribs. Crab feasts and Virginia ham and long nights of Barcelona tapas and eating eating eating. Corn and tomatoes, every year is delicious. Ramps. Pig roasts. Tacos.

Eating is best told.