Category Archives: Food

Fourth of July Traditions

When I was growing up, our family had five big holidays that we celebrated: New Year’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. New Year’s Day was always celebrated with traditional foods (pork, greens, and black-eyed peas) and with my paternal grandmama’s family. Easter was a holiday for just my parents, sister, and me. We always had ham, macaroni and cheese, and the other vegetables varied. Independence Day was always celebrated with my paternal granddaddy’s family. Thanksgiving was always celebrated with my mother’s family, and Christmas was numerous gatherings with all the different branches of my family. Each of them was a very special occasion that I always looked forward to.

The Fourth of July was always particularly special. My granddaddy had his own barbecue pit and would cook pork and beef ribs. Ive always preferred pork ribs. My grandmama would make the sauce that would go on them. Granddaddy also would grill some corn on the cob, too. Grandmama would make baked beans and potato salad. My mama would make the coleslaw. Daddy would go early in the morning to help Granddaddy barbecue the ribs, while Grandmama made iced tea and lemonade for refreshment. Everyone else who came generally brought a dish and they often varied according to who came that year. After lunch and around the middle of the afternoon, we would usually cut up a watermelon, and many of the years, Grandmama would get out the ice cream churn and make her special ice cream. There is just nothing like my grandmama’s homemade ice cream. Well, maybe Bluebell’s Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, but only the Light Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. The regular is too sweet.

Family would come from as far away as Arizona to be at Granddaddy’s Fourth of July barbecue. All of the nearby family members would have some out of town relative staying with them. Sadly, the largest gathering was the last. My granddaddy died of cancer in 2001 and that Independence Day every member of the clan came from far and wide. Granddaddy was bedridden at the time, so my daddy did the barbecuing. Granddaddy was so sick, he was no longer able to eat much, but he was so happy everyone came that year. He died just three weeks later. He had held on for that last barbecue, which tells you how special it was to him.

While we keep up with most of the other holidays, the Fourth of July has never been the same. It’s always been a much smaller affair after Granddaddy died. Daddy usually still cooks ribs, but they are now made with Mama’s BBQ sauce recipe instead of my grandmama’s. In the last five years, I have only been back for the Fourth once. It’s just not the same.

This year, I will be cooking some ribs, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes just like my mama taught me. Well, the ribs will be cooked in the oven, something unthinkable for the rest of my family, but I do not have a grill. This year it will also be a solitary affair. I found one small rack of ribs at the grocery store. I was surprised the supermarket had a small rack of ribs, but they did and only one of them so, I bought it.

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!


Vermont Cuisine?

As a Southerner, I believe the South has the best culinary traditions in America. I know some people will disagree; they’ll say we fry too many things. And that’s true. We do fry just about anything edible. I grew up on my grandmama’s and my mama’s cooking; both were fabulous cooks. I use the past tense because my grandmama passed away, and these days, mama doesn’t cook a whole lot. In fact, when I’m home, I usually do the cooking. But what I cook, I learned from them. Also, I used to watch the Food Network religiously when it was more informative programs and not cooking game shows like it is now.

When I moved to Vermont, what Vermonters call food was a shock. It is often bland and poorly cooked. The fact is, when Vermonters make anything “fancy,” it has at least one of four ingredients in it: maple syrup, apples, cheddar cheese, or kale. I like apples, especially hard apple cider which they make exceptionally well. I also think Vermont cheddar cheese is some of the best you can eat. However, I prefer turnips or collards to kale, and I like thick cane syrup instead of runny maple syrup.

Many restaurants have a dish called “The Vermonter,” and they are all different; each one usually has at least two of the four ingredients mentioned above—if not all four. For me, those ingredients do not necessarily go together. For example, take this Vermonter: raisin bread, sliced ham, Vermont cheddar cheese, apple slices, and apple butter. Sometimes it comes with a side of maple syrup and sometimes people will even put kale on it. 

Yankee pot roast, invented in New England, is supposed to be one of their most famous dishes, but every time I’ve had it, it was tasteless and under-seasoned. Food here is just bland. If you order an open-faced sandwich which should be on toasted bread with warm sliced meat and gravy, you get plain white bread (untoasted) with cold meat and gravy. Why can’t these people cook? It’s so frustrating. Their only good dish, poutine, they stole from Quebec, and trust me, Vermonters can even mess up French fries.

They do have decent Italian restaurants, but that’s because of the large immigration of Italian sculptors who came here to carve the many deposits of granite. However, nearly all other ethnic cuisine is the worst. I can’t find a decent Chinese restaurant, and don’t get me started on what they call Mexican food. Thai food is hit or miss as is Japanese. I hear the Vietnamese restaurants are excellent, but I’ve never liked Vietnamese food. Those are about the only varieties you can get around here.

Vermont did have one attempt at a “Southern” restaurant in Montpelier once. It eventually closed. It was not terrible, but the owner put a Vermont spin on the food. She tried to make it “fancy,” and it failed. Only the small group of Southerners I know who live up here really understood it was not “Southern.” There are few barbecue places, and truthfully, they are often fairly good, even if they use maple syrup in their barbecue sauce instead of brown sugar. Prohibition Pig in Waterbury is probably my favorite restaurant in Vermont. The only problem with Pro Pig is they refuse to take reservations. It is a small restaurant and the wait can be 2-3 hours. Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington is also good, but the one time I ate there, the air conditioning wasn’t working. It was unbearable. The restaurant was featured on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” but they didn’t make barbecue for the show. They made ramen. WTF!

Anyway, that’s my diatribe on Vermont food. Every once in a while, you can find a gem amongst the rhinestones, but it’s rare. You know it’s going to be bad when the state’s emblem for their most famous food product looks like the bottom half of a man peeing into a bucket.


Quarantine Cooking II

Quarantine cooking has become a thing and, of course, gay men are giving it a twist when they post photos of their culinary masterpieces. So far, I have not posted pictures of my culinary experiments, but I have posted a few recipes.

While earnest amateur chefs and bakers across the nation are posting photos of their perfect banana bread online, gay men are letting the goods speak for themselves. And they don’t mean the pavlova (in case you don’t know, that’s a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova).

Photos of men holding up the treats they’ve created in lockdown are everywhere on Instagram, from #quarantinebaking to #gaybaking. But what many of them have in common isn’t eggs and aprons – it’s usually abs and pecs.

I’m continuing to try out new recipes. Over the weekend, I made ham and cheese scones. They were so yummy.

Ham and Cheese Scones

Ingredients:

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon garlic powder
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• ¾ cup buttermilk
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• 1/3 cup diced ham
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (or 1 tablespoon dried chopped chives)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside, or use butter, Crisco, or cooking spray to grease a cast iron scone/cornbread skillet.
2. In a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, garlic powder and salt. Add cold butter, and pulse until the dry ingredient resembles coarse crumbs. (You can also just use your hands if you don’t have a food processor).
3. Pour dry ingredients into a bowl and stir in buttermilk, cheese, ham and chives until a soft dough forms. (You may need to use a little more buttermilk to get all ingredients combined.)
4. Working on a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 3-4 times until it comes together. Using a rolling pill, roll the dough into an 8″ circle, about 1-inch thick, and cut into 8 wedges. (I have a cast iron scone/cornbread skillet that I use)
5. Place scones onto the prepared baking sheet. Place into oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until firm to the touch and lightly browned. Mine took about 25 minutes. (I used half the dough and refrigerated the rest to use the next day, which I then baked 30 minutes because the dough was chilled.)
6. Serve immediately.

If you leave out the garlic, cheddar cheese, ham, and chives, it’s a very good biscuit recipe.

I also made some cornbread the other day. While I have made cornbread many times with self-rising cornmeal, it’s just too hard to find while exiled up here in yankee land. So I found a recipe for using regular yellow cornmeal. I again used my cast iron scone/cornbread skillet.

Southern Cornbread

Ingredients:

• 1 tablespoon bacon drippings or Crisco
• 2 cups cornmeal
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

1. Preheat pan with bacon drippings or Crisco and butter: Put the bacon drippings or Crisco and butter in a 9 or 10-inch well-seasoned cast iron skillet and put the skillet into the oven. Then preheat the oven to 400°F with the skillet inside. (If you don’t have an iron skillet, you can use an uncovered Dutch oven or a metal cake pan.)
2. Make the batter: Whisk together all the dry ingredients (cornmeal, baking soda, salt) in a large bowl. Pour melted butter and or Crisco into the the bowl of dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk and stir until combines. It may take a little extra buttermilk.
3. Pour batter into hot skillet and bake: When the oven is hot, take out the skillet (carefully, as the handle will be hot!). Add the cornbread batter and make sure it is evenly distributed in the skillet.
4. Bake at 400°F for about 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. The cornbread should be a golden brown color.
5. Rest bread in skillet, then serve: Let the bread rest for 10 to 30 minutes in the skillet before cutting it into wedges and serving.

I also tried something completely different, a crab rangoon pizza. I love crab rangoon and this sounded pretty appetizing.

Crab Rangoon Pizza

Ingredients:

• 1 (16 ounce) package pizza dough
• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 6 tablespoons chopped green onions or chives, divided
• ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
• 4 ounces frozen crab meat, thawed
• 4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
• 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Spread pizza dough onto a baking sheet.
2. Bake in the preheated oven until slightly brown, about 7 minutes.
3. Mix cream cheese, 1/4 cup green onions or chives, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, and crab together in a bowl; spread onto the pizza crust. Top with mozzarella cheese, remaining Parmesan cheese, fried wonton strips, and remaining green onions or chives.
4. Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is browned and melted, about 8 minutes. Drizzle sweet chile sauce over top.

The crab rangoon pizza did taste remarkably like crab rangoon; however, if I were to make this recipe again, I would roll out the dough and cut into individual small triangles, circles, or squares and serve it as a party hors d’oeuvres. I also have to say that I found the sweet chili sauce a bit difficult to find, but that may be because I am in Vermont; however, it is worth finding for this recipe. One other thing, the original recipe called for frying wonton strips but I skipped that step. I hate deep frying anything. I’m not particularly fond of frying many things at all, only country fried steak, pork chops, and chicken.

I also made a very good medium well steak. I started with a marinade. This recipe makes enough for cooking steaks several times. It’s also good on chicken or pork.

1 1/2 cups soy sauce
¼ teaspoon liquid smoke
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons sugar
1 dash black pepper
1 dash paprika
½ teaspoon garlic powder

Simply mix all the ingredients together and then pour over steaks. Marinate steaks for a few hours then your ready to cook your steaks.

Perfect Oven Baked Steak

Ingredients:

• 2 beef steaks, 1-inch thick (any type will do, I prefer New York strips)
• 1-2 Tablespoons canola oil
• 1-2 Tablespoons butter
• Salt and pepper for seasoning

Directions:

1. Remove the steaks from the fridge and bring to room temperature, about 15-30 minutes. Trim any excess fat.
2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a large skillet in the oven while it is heating. Remove pan from oven and place on the stove over high heat.
3. Dry steaks with a paper towel. Then rub the oil over the steaks and generously season with salt and pepper. Once the pan is very hot place the steaks into the pan. Let each side cook for 1 minute, or until seared. Use tongs to flip.
4. Then place the pan in the oven for 4-6 minutes. Flip and cook the other side an additional 4-6 minutes (see notes below for instructions on doneness). Check the center with a meat thermometer or slice with a knife to check for doneness. You want to remove the meat 5° before it reaches the desired temp. Temperature will continue to rise while resting.
5. Remove pan from oven and allow to rest for a couple minutes. Add a slab of butter on the top of each steak or make a pan sauce.

Pan Sauce:

Place cast iron skillet on stovetop with temperature on medium high. Add a tablespoon or two of marinade to the pan along with 1 cup of beef stock. Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Then add three tablespoons of butter one at a time melting each before adding another. Let sauce reduce by half. This should take about 5 minutes.

A Few Notes:

How to test your steak for doneness:
Rare: 125°F (red): Sear outsides then bake about 4-6 minutes in oven until temperature is around 125°F and color is red.
Medium Rare: 130°F (deep pink): Sear outsides then bake about 6-8 minutes in oven until temperature is 130°F and color is deep pink.
Medium: 140°F (light pink): Sear outsides then bake about 8-10 minutes in oven until temperature is around 140°F and color is light pink.
Medium well: 150°F (slightly pink center): Sear outsides then bake about 10-12 minutes in oven until temperature is around 150°F and color is slightly pink center.
Well done: 160°F (little or no pink): Sear outsides then bake about 12-14 minutes in oven until temperature is around 160°F+ and color is little or no pink.

With this steak, I suggest twice baked potatoes and a simple green salad. If you’ve never made twice baked potatoes, they are very simple and oh so very yummy.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Ingredients:

• 2 large russet potatoes
• Canola oil to coat
• Kosher salt
• 2-3 tablespoons butter
• 2-3 heaping tablespoons sour cream
• ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
• ¼ cup bacon bits
• 1 heaping tablespoons of dried chives or 2 tablespoons of fresh chives
• Several slices of your favorite cheese (I like American for this)
• Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and position racks in top and bottom thirds. Wash potatoes thoroughly with a stiff brush and cold running water. Dry, then using a standard fork poke 8 to 12 deep holes all over the spud so that moisture can escape during cooking. Place in a bowl and coat lightly with oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and place potatoesdirectly on rack in middle of oven. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any drippings.
2. Bake 1 to 1 ½ hours or until skin feels crisp but flesh beneath feels soft.
3. Let potatoes cool slightly and split in half. Scoop out potatoes leaving about ¼ inch of potato on the skin.
4. Mash potatoes and mix in sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, chives, and salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
5. Line potato skin with sliced cheese and bacon bits, leaving enough sliced cheese to top potatoes.
6. Spoon ¼ of potato mixture in each potato skin half. Top with sliced cheese.
7. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake an additional 5-10 minutes allowing cheese to melt.


Quarantine Cooking

While I have been working from home, I have had the chance to do some real cooking. I have always loved to cook, but I am often too tired from work to really take the time to make a good meal. However, working from home does not tire me out as much, and I am able to really cook. I can also put food on to cook while I am still working. The other day, I made red beans and rice. It’s a simple recipe: prepare red kidney beans as instructed on the package with andouille sausage, salt, pepper, and one chopped onion. Then simply serve over rice. In all it takes about four hours to cook the beans if you use the quick soak method, otherwise you should soak the beans overnight. Once the beans have been soaked, it’s just a matter of boiling them for about 2-2 ½ hours.

With this post, I am presenting four recipes that I have made recently. The “One Pan Garlic Herb Chicken and Asparagus,” I made last night, it is a recipe I adapted from one on the Crème de la Crum website. The “Broiled Chicken and Artichokes” came Taste of Home, and the “Roasted Chicken with Croutons” came from Katie Lee on the Food Network Show The Kitchen. The last recipe, “Joe’s Tilapia Picante with Salsa Rice” is one I came up with about ten years ago when I was trying to figure out how I wanted to cook some fish. The “Salsa Rice” that I make with it is adapted from a recipe on the Taste of Home website. The green beans that I also serve with this recipe was something I put together when I cooked this dish the other night in order to have something green with my dinner.

None of these recipes are very hard to make. In fact, they are actually quite simple, though some have a lot of ingredients. I hope you will try some of these and let me know what you think of them.

One Pan Garlic Herb Chicken and Asparagus

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients
• 3-6 chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken breasts (breasts pounded to even ½ inch thickness)
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 1-pound asparagus, ends trimmed
• 3 tablespoons butter, divided
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• ½ teaspoon dried basil
• ½ teaspoon dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon onion powder

Pan Sauce
• salt and pepper, to taste
• ¾ cup chicken broth
• ¼ cup white wine
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 2 tablespoon butter
• chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, sage
• 1 jar (7-1/2 ounces) marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained

Instructions
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in garlic and herbs and cook another minute or so until the garlic is fragrant.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken to skillet, and cook for 5-7 minutes, then flip and cook another 5-7 minutes. (Chicken should be nearly, but not completely cooked through by this point)
3. Move the chicken over the side of the skillet and add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the empty portion of the pan. Once the butter is melted, add asparagus. Season asparagus with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, rotating throughout, for 4-6 minutes until tender and chicken is completely cooked through.
4. Set cooked chicken and asparagus aside.
5. To make pan sauce, pour chicken broth and white wine into skillet. Add chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, sage.
6. Add butter one tablespoon at a time until you have added both tablespoons. Add mustard and reduce sauce by half, about 4-5 minutes.
7. Add artichokes and allow them to be warmed through.
8. Slice chicken and place chicken and asparagus on a plate with the artichokes and pour pan sauce over chicken and asparagus.

Broiled Chicken & Artichokes

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients
• 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken breasts (breasts pounded to even ½ inch thickness)
• 1 jar (7-1/2 ounces) marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained
• 1 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon pepper
• ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley or 1 ½ teaspoons dried parsley

Instructions
1. Preheat boiler. In a large bowl, toss chicken and artichokes with oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to a broiler pan.
2. Broil 3 in. from heat 8-10 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in chicken reads 170°, turning chicken and artichokes halfway through cooking. Sprinkle with cheeseand parsley. Broil 1-2 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

Roasted Chicken with Croutons

Prep Time 30 min
Cook Time 1 ½ hours
Total Time 2 hours
Servings 4

Ingredients
• One 4- to 5-pound roaster chicken
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 6 sprigs fresh thyme
• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
• 1 head garlic, sliced in half
• 1/2 medium yellow onion
• 1 baguette
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Pan Sauce:
• 2/3 cup white wine
• 1/3 cup chicken stock
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Serving:
Dijon mustard, as needed

Instructions

For the chicken:
• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. When hot, put a cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat, about 5 minutes.
• Dry the chicken with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper and garlic powder. Generously season the chicken inside and out with the salt mixture. Stuff the chicken cavity with the thyme, rosemary, garlic and onion.
• Slice the baguette on the bias into five 2-inch-thick slices. Spread some butter on one side of each slice. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and arrange the baguette slices buttered side down in the center of the skillet. Place the chicken on the baguette slices, making sure all of the bread is covered by the chicken. Roast until the chicken is golden brown, an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F and the juices run clear, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Remove the baguette slices from the skillet and reserve.

For the pan sauce:
• While the chicken is resting, put the skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the wine and scrape with a wooden spoon to remove all the brown bits. Add the chicken stock and cook until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. If any juices from the chicken have collected on the cutting board, pour them into the skillet now. Add in the butter piece by piece, waiting for each to melt before stirring in the next piece. Stir in the rosemary and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

For serving: Carve the chicken and serve with the baguette slices, pan sauce, Dijon mustard and vegetable of your choice.

Joe’s Tilapia Picante and Salsa Rice

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4

  • Ingredients
    • 4 Tilapia fillets (You can use your favorite delicate white fish: catfish, flounder, etc.)
    • 1 jar of salsa (I like restraint style, but use your favorite salsa)
    • 1 stick of unsalted butter (You can use ½ stick if you like)
    • 1 cup of white wine
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 can of green beans (you can use frozen or fresh if you prefer)
    • ½ cup chicken broth
    • 2 cups prepared rice
    • 1 to 1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Instructions
    1. In a large skillet combine salsa, butter, and wine over medium high heat. Stir until combined.
    2. Pour sauce in a food processor and blend until smooth (this is optional if you want a chunkier sauce).
    3. Return sauce to skillet, reserving one cup for later.
    4. Place fish in the sauce and cover skillet, cooking until fish is done and is flaky.
    5. While fish cooks, in a small saucepan, pour ¼ cup of sauce over green beans and add ½ cup of chicken broth. Cook until beans are to your desired doneness.
    6. Take ¾ of the reserved sauce and combine rice and Monterey Jack Cheese together.
    7. Place a spoonful or two of the rice mixture on a plate with a fillet of top, spooning some of the sauce over the fish and rice. Serve with green beans on the side.


    From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

    As I said yesterday, Susan and I had Thanksgiving dinner at Il Mulino. We started out with a cheese and meat tray and had Caesar salads, thankfully with Boston lettuce and not romaine. It was really delicious. Next they brought out the main course: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cranberry sauce. Then for dessert we had pumpkin cheesecake. All of it was quite delicious. The only thing that I thought could have been better was the dressing. I prefer cornbread dressing not regular bread dressing. But overall, it was sublime.
    We had a relaxing afternoon before heading out to find dinner. We didn’t plan particularly well, and many places were not open. We finally settled for a Sicilian restaurant called Norma’s. We did not like this place. While the salad was good, the lasagna we both ordered was leas than impressive. In fact we could barely eat it.  I’m guessing the noodles were handmade and overcooked. They were mushy and not al dente. The ragu was cheap tasting and the Italian sausage was nonexistent. To make matters worse, the cheese was substituted with bechamel. Overall, it was 15 thin layers of mush and the tomato sauce tasted canned. We gave up trying to eat it. It was just ridiculous, so we left and got ice cream: caramel and waffle cone for me and Cherry Garcia for Susan.
    Then we went back to my hotel room to watch the Egg Bowl. For those of you not familiar with the Egg Bowl, it is the annual rivalry football game between Mississippi and Mississippi State. I was pulling for Ole Miss because their quarterback, John Rhys Plumlee is incredibly sexy. Ole Miss lost.

    Christmas Eve

    In our Christmas tradition, my whole family gathers on the night of Christmas Eve, then my immediate family gathers on the night of Christmas. Christmas Eve is just presents for the little ones and we have an assortment of finger foods. On Christmas morning, we go to my sister’s house to have breakfast and see what Santa Claus brought my niece and nephew. Then there will be a light lunch followed by the major dinner of the holidays. On Christmas night, we start out with shrimp cocktails.  Then we’ll have ham and turkey, chicken and dumplings, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans. We’ll finish off the meal with chocolate pie and sweet potato pie. My mother generally begins cooking days in advance so that she will have everything ready for Christmas night. Besides Thanksgiving, which I don’t get to come home for, this is my mother’s meal to show off her incredible cooking skills. My cooking skills are shown off next week at New Year’s Day, but more on that next week.


    Yummy!

    Yesterday’s two interviews went exceptionally well. As I said yesterday, I expected the second guy to be good looking. He was gorgeous and had the bluest eyes.

    The highlight of my day though was dinner. I started out with a nice Prosecco Bollicini and an insalate Tricolore (Baby arugula, Radicchio, and Endive with olive oil and balsamic). Then with my meal of risotto frutti di mare, I had Vermentino Banfi La Pettegoia, a wonderful Tuscan white wine. For dessert I had the Tiramisu with an aperitif of lemoncello. I haven’t had a meal this good since I was in Italy itself.


    Prohibition Pig

    One of the problems in Vermont is there are very few places where you can get really good food, which is why I cook myself more than eating out. Every once in while though you find a real gem. Last night I found one such gem, Prohibition Pig in Waterbury. Prohibition Pig is known for their BBQ and beer. They have their own brewery in the back and brew up numerous Prohibition Pig beers, though they serve it in very small glasses. I don’t drink beer so, I didn’t have any. However, what I did have was their chopped BBQ pork, which was outstanding. It was spicy without being too spicy and their bacon BBQ sauce was delicious. With my chopped pork, I had collard greens, cheddar grits, and hush puppies. The collard greens were good, but not great. The cheddar grits were not grits and in my opinion were close to inedible. The hush puppies, however, tasted almost like my grandmothers, though they were very oddly shaped. Hush puppies should be close to round, these were shaped like ginger fingers. The BBQ pork was definitely the star, along with their delicious sweet iced tea. If you are ever in Waterbury, Vermont, I highly recommend that you check out Prohibition Pig.


    Down Home


    I went to the southern restaurant in Montpelier for lunch yesterday with a fellow southerner.  The food was good, but the yummiest thing was not on the menu.  It was our waiter. He was fine as wine. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t gay but damn was he good looking. Jet black hair and black eyes. He was model worthy. Perfect white straight teeth and a bit of scruff on his face. I’d love to have gotten into his Fruit of the Looms.


    Vermont v. Alabama 

      
    I received the following comment on my Saturday Moment of Zen post:

    Joe, you have now been in Vermont for a month. What about a post on the differences in the aspects of living in the Deep South and living in Deepest New England? Your comments would be very interesting. Your last post touched on accent and way of speech but what else – not just material things, such as food and the time difference, but the way people behave and think?–The Academic 

    The first thing I had to get used to, especially when driving around, is that I am in the mountains. Where I live is about 750 feet above sea level. Alabama’s highest peak is 1445 ft, whereas where I grew up was about 400 feet above sea level but so was everything else (In other words, it was relatively flat). The mountain that I am closest to, and is part of the university’s campus is 2382 feet. To get anywhere, you seem to have to go over or around mountains, so while a nearby town may only be 10 miles away, it takes roughly 20-30 minutes. That being said, I am not complaining. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, I just have to get used to the very steep hills, especially when they are covered in ice and snow during the winter. Also, while other towns are 20-30 minutes away, I was already used to that where I lived in rural Alabama. The exception being that here I actually live in a small town which has some of the conveniences you’d expect in a small town. An added bonus is that I live less than a mile from work, whereas in Alabama, I lived 40 miles from work.
    Similar to where I was in Alabama, the young guys still drive trucks that are far too loud, and they race up and down the streets in Vermont just like in Alabama. That is one of the things that struck me as very similar to back home. There are a lot of similarities between Alabama and Vermont, as both are rural states. There are churches everywhere, but the ones up here are more accepting of gay people. Sadly though, there are no churches of Christ that I can find. Yes, there are United Churches of Christ, but that’s a totally different animal. It looks like I might be going to a Lutheran church with my boss, at least they celebrate communion each Sunday. 

    Besides the churches, everyone seems to know everyone else. When I went in the pharmacy the first time and explained that I had out-of-state prescriptions, they knew exactly who I was and all about me by the time I returned that afternoon to pick my prescriptions up. It seems that the wife of the university president works there. I’ve lived here a month and already people in the stores and post office know me. That’s a nice feeling. Whereas the same could be said about Alabama, in Vermont the people are genuinely friendly, not the fake friendly that many people are in Alabama. When someone sees you, they are actually happy to see you, not just being nosy trying to figure out what you are doing and what gossip they can either get from you or make up about you. I am stereotyping badly here, but there is a certain truths in it.

    As for food, there are a few differences, like “bombs,” which is a hot sandwich that comes on a roll that is halfway between a hot dog bun and a hoagie roll and is usually filled with a meat and a cheese. They are quite yummy. Also, when they say “greens,” in Alabama, it meant collards or turnips, here it means kale. They put kale on everything up here. I am surprised that I can find a lot of foods familiar to home in the grocery stores here. I don’t think I’ve seen grits, though they do have polenta, but I have seen corn meal. Surprisingly, though what is hard to find is self-rising flour. When I went to the grocery store last night, they had only one kind of self-rising flour, and they did not have self-rising cake flour. They also don’t sell PET milk, which didn’t matter since they did have Carnation evaporated milk and I had already planned on using heavy whipping cream in a recipe instead to give it a richer flavor. One other thing about food, you are much more likely to get local meats and cheeses and many restaurants try to use as many local ingredients as possible. Vermont cheese is phenomenal, by the way. Nearly every town seems to have their own beer brewery, and some places make hard cider, which I like better anyway. Citizen Cider’s Unified Press is delicious, but that stuff will sneak up on you.

    Also, Vermont politics are odd, especially the fact that with my political beliefs I’m considered a liberal Democrat in Alabama and more of a moderate Republican in Vermont. I’ve always said that I was a moderate, but don’t expect me to start considering myself a Republican just because I live in a “hippy-dippy liberal” state now. The town meetings and how they conduct their primary will be quite interesting.

    Now to what I suspect you all really want to know: how do I perceive the way they treat gay people up here? First of all, let me say that Vermont does not have a single gay bar. They do have at least one bar that has a monthly gay night. I’ve looked into this to kind of understand why, because Vermont is a very gay-friendly state, but what I have found, or have been told, is that there isn’t a need for a separate gay bar. As a gay man, and I think many of you will agree with this, you don’t always feel welcomed at hetero bars, but it’s different here. I’ve been in a few bars and such here and it always seemed like there was a good mix of gay and straight people. Everyone is treated the same. Sadly this means that there are no go-go boys dancing nearly naked on the bars or shirtless bartenders, but I can live with that, as I have found the waiters and bartenders tend to be cute and flirty jut the same. Also, there seems to be a wide array of gay groups in the state. I’m thinking of volunteering for Vermont Pride.

    The thing is, sexuality seems to be a non-issue from anything I’ve seen. My boss went out of her way when I interviewed to let me know how open and accepting the university is and how supportive the president is of LGBT issues. I never mentioned I was gay, but I didn’t try to hide it. It’s part of who I am, but it’s not my defining characteristic. I have sort of mentioned things here and there but it was just in normal conversation. One of my coworkers was asking me yesterday how I was adapting and how I liked it up here, and I told her how much I really love it. I told her that “I had wanted out of Alabama, because it’s just not a good place to grow up as a gay boy.” I think she was happy that I confirmed it. I didn’t want my sexuality to be office gossip, but I figured that at some point it would come up. This particular co-worker confided in me after I’d actually said that I was gay, that when I’d had my phone interview and I’d said that the school had put me on charge of the drama club, even though I had no previous experience with the dramatic arts, she knew she wanted to get me out of Alabama and really pushed for me to get the job. They had really liked my cover letter and resume, so all I had to do was back it up and be a pleasant person. I’d already been told that it was a unanimous vote amongst the staff to hire me, but I had no idea that they’d basically decided to hire me after my telephone interview.

    The important thing is that I am free to be me. I can be myself, and I don’t have to worry about hiding my politics to keep my job or hiding my sexuality to keep my job or hiding anything for that matter. I get to be the me that I’ve always wanted to be and do a job that really is a dream job because I am in a job where I am actually valued for my expertise and my work and opinion matters. Most of all, I am happy.
    PS I realize that the winter will be harsh, but so far Mother Nature has been good to me. She is slowly easing me into winter. I’ve been told that Vermont is having its mildest November in a long time, and December is expected to slowly bring us into the brunt of the winter. I am sure that in a couple of months, I will be complaining about the weather and how cold it is, but right now I am looking forward to it.