Notes on a New Year

Sick. It’s a lousy way to start the year. 

Well, except for the part where The Empress of Whisky keeps bringing me whisky-laced coffee. 

Mmm. 

I should probably eat something, though.  

Plenty of choices. Two days ago I made a large batch of dressing (using my mom’s recipe). I intended to take half to a New Year’s Eve party, but, well, sickness. 

Instead we stayed home and The Empress beat me at board games. At midnight we toasted each other and our kitty. 

For New Year’s Day, I made black-eyed peas, not because I am superstitious, but because they are delicious. Also: turkey breast, the aforementioned dressing, potatoes, several vegetables for The Empress … quite a holiday feast, most of which happily doubles as good comfort leftovers for sick people. 

I’d like to tell you I’ve been sittting here, planning my year, looking ahead … but mostly I’m just fighting the kitty’s advice to nap again. 

Outside, rain falls. 

All together, it’s a good enough day. A quiet place to start what promises to be a noisy year. 

We’ll see to tomorrow, tomorrow.  

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 29: You Might Like It

A whisky tumbler with a double measure of The Glenlivet 12-Year-Old sits on a desk before a half-size bottle of same and a stuffed Yoda keeps watch. Background: Bookcases.

Today’s dram: The Glenlivet, 12-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: Do not fear to drink this. Perhaps maybe try this if you’ve never had Scotch whisky before. It is the definition of approachable — an easy-to-enjoy whisky exemplifying the basics of a style, in this case a single malt from the Scottish Highlands.* Smell it, and it will take you to a warm happy place. Sip it, and feel that warmth flow into you. Hold it in your mouth briefly, savor the heat and subtle sweetness. Swallow, and feel smoothness with just enough of an edge to let you know it is actually Scotch whisky.

Today’s thoughts: Growing up I was a picky eater. That is a true statement, but it also rather understates both the past and present. When I was a kid, I hated eating almost everything. Ever heard a parent lament that their kid will only eat chicken nuggets and ketchup? Yeah, I hated those, too. Especially the ketchup. Bleh. And I still hate it. I hate nearly all condiments, in fact. And yes, hate is the right word. It’s not a word I ever really go for, but I will allow myself to be an absolutist and use that word in regard to those things. Ketchup? Hate. Mustard? Hate. Mayonnaise? Hatehatehate!

Send me food with any of that on it and tell me to just scrape it off? Fuck you. Scrape your face off.

My younger sister told me at Thanksgiving that her two-year-old son can’t stand mayonnaise, and she thinks he might be allergic because he throws up when he encounters it. When she said that, I wanted to run to him and hug him and tell him, “You are not alone! Uncle Jon also knows this pain!”

But he’s two years old, so I didn’t.

I will as soon as he gets a handle on this language thing, though.

What I will try not to say to him are things like “Try it, you might like it” and “Your tastes will change.”

How I loathed those phrases, which were thrown at me so often in my youth.

And yet … I now grudgingly admit they hold glimmers of truth.

I mean, I did finally learn to like pizza, a burger in a bun rather than separate, potatoes, pecan pie …

Oh, and whisky.

Contrary to appearances, I was never against trying things. I just wanted people to listen after I tried a thing and said, “No, this isn’t for me.” Usually, the gag reflex got the point across, but people are surprisingly persistent when you tell them you can’t stand a thing they love.

Here is where I nominate my mother for sainthood, because wow did I ever make her life difficult, what with the not eating most of what she ever put in front of me, which necessitated an awful lot of cooking something extra just for me, and so much special ordering at restaurants, and entirely too many patient conversations explaining my eating habits to other people, and … god, how is she not completely mad?

She is made of steel, that is why.

But under her steel beats the softest heart in the world, and she never let me go hungry or forced me to be miserable just because I was picky.

I am going to go call her as soon as I post this.

Today’s note on meeting the expectations of others: Fuck ’em. Yeah, me included, for telling you to try Scotch whisky. Don’t want to? Don’t. Grinning and bearing is overrated. Graciously decline where possible, threaten to stab as needed, repeat as necessary. And always, always, to thine own taste buds be true.

Today’s toast: To picky eaters everywhere: May the person who takes your order always listen carefully and get it right!


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* — Speyside. I know. But if you know enough about Scotch whisky to know Glenlivet’s sub-region, then that paragraph really isn’t for you, now is it?

Review: Chips and Cheese

The chips are Xochitl blue corn chips — organic, no preservatives, no cholesterol, no trans fats, no GMO. 
Not bad.

I picked up a bag on a recommendation that they are among the highest rated corn chips, but, honestly, for the price — about twice typical corn chips — they don’t impress. 

They are very thin, however, which means a one-pound bag contains a lot of chips, and, when you’re dipping them in cheese, the chip-to-cheese ratio nicely favors the cheese. 
Mmm … cheese. 

Speaking of, I used a Serious Eats cheese sauce recipe that’s pretty good. (Tip: If you’re careful, you can make that work in the microwave.)

Overall: Recommended; would eat again. 

Eat More Tolerance

I didn’t grow up with Chick-fil-A, though I did grow up in the South.

The smallish town I’m from did not have — and still does not have — much in the way of restaurants, fast-food or otherwise … nor much in the way of shopping, entertainment, and a hundred other things that are not relevant at the moment.

This isn’t about my hometown.

This is about a sandwich.

A good sandwich. A fine sandwich. Hold the pickles.

A sandwich I have loved since at least my teens, when I would look forward to trips outside my hometown to places where this treat was attainable.

A sandwich I splurged on in college whenever the campus newspaper ran two-for-one coupons.

A sandwich I could afford in the days when I was a poor newspaper writer.

A sandwich I could rely upon in recent days amid the otherwise mediocre offerings of the cafeteria in my office building.

A sandwich I have given up.

Not that Chick-fil-A may notice, certainly not today, as some crowds are loyally observing “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” blithely indifferent  to — or worse, supportive of — the restaurant’s stance against gay marriage, a stance evidenced by its CEO’s statements and its history ($5 million and counting) of financial support for organizations that seek to block and roll back equal rights.

I recognize my decision may be insignificant — what difference do a few dollars make in a pile millions high?

May as well ask what difference one vote makes in a pile millions high, yet we are taught early and reminded constantly that “every vote counts.”

So I am voting NO on Chick-fil-A’s anti-equality stance.

Anti-equality stance.

Putting it that way is entirely too kind — let’s be honest here and use the proper term.

Bigotry.

A deliberate choice to actively scorn and deny equality to a group of people based solely on the fact they are different is nothing else.

Bigotry.

Bigotry whose adherents expect a pass by claiming it’s based on a religious principle.

No.

A bigot hiding behind religion is still a bigot.

And a bigot who whines for freedom while actively seeking to deny freedom to others deserves no respect, no sympathy.

But, by all means, bigots, whine on.

Speech is every bit as free today as yesterday, and may it ever be so.

But the loveliest thing about free speech is that everyone gets it, and while the bigots freely speak, so shall enlightened minds.

And we will watch as this bigotry battles enlightenment in the marketplace of ideas, and, as every manner of bigotry before it, loses.

Maybe slowly, certainly painfully. But definitely.

History will march, and such petty, terrible injustices will be dust on the roadside.

Mommy Bread

My interest in cooking goes back to college, where it flared up a year or so after I moved off-campus and began to tire of frozen pizzas and similar fare.

I admit I was pretty terrible at first, fumbling my way through a few simple dishes I grew up with, succeeding only by the most loose definition of success. (In those days my attitude was very much akin to Hannah Hart’s: “This whole cooking thing is a matter of opinion. There is no right, and there is no wrong. There’s just food and inedible.”) (If you aren’t watching “My Drunk Kitchen,” please, by all means, rectify.)

In the years since, I have continually worked on my kitchen skills, coming to understand that food work, like so much else worth discovering, is a life-long pursuit, not a simple skill set swiftly mastered and filed away before flitting to another goal.

Along the way, I studied a lot of cook books, followed a few cooking shows, and bought my weight in kitchen gadgetry. During my journalism career, I spent the better part of a year soliciting advice from my paper’s worldly wise food editor. Gradually, my methodical, detail-oriented personality drew me to cooking idols such as Alton Brown and J. Kenji Alt-Lopez.

My first and most lasting cooking influence, though, is my mother. I still periodically call her for advice, and I often set my sights on replicating some dish of hers I fondly remember from my childhood.

Sometimes that’s easy, but other times … well, other time’s it’s Mommy Bread.

My mother makes a bread the likes of which I have not encountered in any bakery, restaurant, home, or street stall. It is light, pillowy, wonderful. And, according to my mother, simple to make.

Well, it is. For her.

For me, every time I have attempted it, it has been a hot mess.

Part of the problem — okay, most of the problem — is that my mother knows this recipe so well that she makes it without thinking. She throws a few things in a bowl, no measuring, and it comes together. Every. Damn. Time.

I have watched her, and I have tried to estimate amounts, and procedures, and it has driven me near to madness. (Not a long drive, but still …)

So, this week my mother was in town, and I decided that, before the week was over, I would figure this bread the hell out.

I finally came to the delightfully simple answer to my problem: I had my mother throw things together as usual, but, before each addition, to her great amusement, I put the work bowl on my scale and measured.

Some math later, I had a proper recipe.

Last night, to my great delight, I followed that recipe and achieved the dream.

I made Mommy Bread.