This Guy

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Native son to the American Deep South - now living in Portland, OR. Lover of people, sustainability, justice, culture, writing, history, cuisine and coffee.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Two Fat Ladies [Finally a new post!]

There was this brilliant show in the late 90s called, “The Two Fat Ladies”.

I remember my dad watching it on occasion, giggling and moaning, while the “oohs” and “ahhhs” fell out of his mouth like saliva from Pavlov’s tormented dogs.

Watching them nearly a decade later, and with a strong curiosity as a newly birthed gastronome, I totally dig it.
You can safely gather by the name of the show that yes, they are fat and they are indeed ladies. And by watching the show, you can see why they claim such a build.

They cook with the good stuff.

Now, I assume they cook old school.
Meat. Potatoes. Parsley. Garlic. Lard. (…aaand end scene!)

If you have never watched their show (which you can get on Netflix), they basically drive around England in a badass Triumph motorbike with a sidecar. They explore beautiful countryside and dig around in rustic gardens. Both with incredibly strong personalities, share small stories and switch back and forth with recipes, banter and fun little songs and prose. Surely they would have never been picked up for long by the Food Network.

They cook at monasteries, nunneries, campgrounds, restaurant kitchens and do so with a variety of stoves, pots and pans. They use heavy old Dutch ovens and always seem to cook in the most amazing kitchens that are garnished with fresh herbs, spices and lots and lots of fat.

And by fat, I mean bacon…lard…drippings…the usual barrage of cholesterol heart-clogging goodness. “Look at all that good fat…” they’d say.

The food is most definitely English, which means…there’s not much to it. It’s mainly potatoes…tomatoes…cabbage…and again, lots of bacon and fat. There are the things like fish gelatin molds, bean and egg salads and “strawberry breasts” that come off as quite unusual. I suppose I find them a bit more odd than the average Brit.

I assume England has very nice game. [Lots of little birds that are good for eating, but don’t have too much going on as far as taste goes.]
For example…Cornish game hens are rather dry and bland unless you jack them up with something good. In typical TFL style, they would stuff the bird with herbs [rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, etc.] and probably some other type of meat like ground pork or something else fat-tastic. THEN, they’d tightly wrap the game hen in bacon and bake it for a couple of hours. And so this goes for several recipes. Cover with bacon [fat] and cook.

“None of that streaky American bacon”, they’d say. “You must get that old country bacon…”

At the end of each episode…they’d take a sit down…one smokes a cigarette and both hold a glass of gin as they tap glasses to the setting sun and wish to one another “good health to you, daw'ling!”
“Here! Here!” and “Cheerio!”

As I read a few days ago, one of the ladies died in 2000 of cancer – most likely from smoking and a bad diet. I believe though, she enjoyed the life she had and most definitely ate very, very well.

So, here’s to you, two fat ladies for singing your own theme song, showing us how to properly cook with fat, and giving us one helluva’ show…


Sunday, August 1, 2010

On Cooking Well

My essay for Anthony Bourdain's new book, "Medium Raw".

Growing up between the southern lines of Louisiana and Mississippi, I was a product of red beans and rice on Monday and potluck casseroles on Sunday. It was here that I found communion with the food I will always be able to call my own. Collards, black eyed peas and fried chicken – the Holy Trinity.

My appreciation of good food was not always so. I didn’t know where ham came from nor did I really care. I just knew it tasted good between two pieces of Bunny bread. But please, just mayonnaise and maybe some of that yellow cheese we call “American”.

Cooking well in the South was not something attainable by average folk. It was something we watched Bobby Flay and Emeril do on our center-pieced television sets. To cook well took time, money and skill. It involved more than canned green beans, cream of mushroom soup and a box of french fried onions. Eating well was a privilege for those who could afford it.

Like many aspiring bohemians and curious 20-somethings do, I moved to Portland, Oregon. Here, along with marrying my wife, I got a job doing what most Portlanders end up doing; I started working in a café. I was trained to make coffee by (arguably) one of the best roasters in the US. I fell hard into the ebb and flow of the food and beverage industry.
I serve food and drink to wealthy patrons of one of the more high-end districts of Portland. I’ve put my hours in cleaning toilets, washing dishes and digging cigarette butts out of coffee residue. I have painfully smiled away disrespectful and demeaning customers when they find it necessary to ruin your day at all costs.

The people I work with behind the counter have become family. We talk shit and give each other a hard time for messing up an order. We grow enraged over messy eaters and bad tippers. And so it goes, the usual talk of disgruntled workers who rely on tips to pay for their earned rations of cigarettes and beer.

It was here in Portland that my palette changed. I began to respect food culture. Who knew Swiss chard tasted so good in an omelet? And not just any omelet, but one made with eggs from free roaming hens! Yes, they do taste better. I grew to learn, along with my belly, that eating well connects you to a location.

Eating well forced me to cook well, and I loved it. I took a knife skills class and learned how to properly cut an onion. Cookbooks give me hot flashes. Now, obsessed with local food culture and pork belly, I have developed a philosophy of my own. I want to cook well for my family. There is a great calm in being able to do that. I resonate with the words of Justo Thomas, "I got a good job. A good family. I live in peace."