Thursday, January 3, 2013

It was the first crisp morning of fall. The woods were colder than when I had been walking on the open road, and so I tilted my head to the sky when a ray of light would trickle down through the turning leaves, hoping that the sunshine would warm my slowly numbing nose. I had about two miles behind me off trail, and still no sign of chantrelles. I had found some earlier in the week closer to town, and now that I was in the highlands I was beginning to think it was too cold. Tired of climbing up and down the steep hills of Wilderness State Park, I began to follow a ridge to rest. 

I came across a thicket of green, where there was some soft moss for me to lay on my back and look up at the canopy. I needed to find these mushrooms, my friend had given me a hen (not without me having to assist in killing it) but never the less, now I needed to find the rest of the dish to feed me and my friends. I breathed slowly, inhaling all the dank, moist magic of these Northern Michigan woods I had grown up in. Now that I am older and have moved on to a less remote part of the country, I am painfully aware of the lack of peace I have. The moist, intoxicating breeze that would sweep across the fresh, pure water of Lake Michigan and then roll up and over the rich and fertile hills of those sprawling forest's is something I have never again felt touch my soul in quite the same way. 

After sufficient rest and rolled myself up and made my way over the ridge and down into the next ravine. It wasn't for another hour that I had lost hope and bent down to tie my boot before I was about to turn around and head back to the main road. Looking down at my muddy and tattered boot, without even moving my eyes, I could see yellow in my peripheral. My heart began to palpitate, just like when I would round the corner in jr. High and unexpectedly see Aaron Bayko, who I was desperately in love with. I turned my head and got down on all fours, they were small, but in perfect condition, I cut them with my knife and placed them in my paper sac. This spec of hope rekindled my initial motive and I kept moving, it was only a few feet before I came across the honey hole. More yellow feet than I had ever seen in one spot in these woods. Again plummeted to all fours and began picking furiously, trying to keep my blade steady as my hands shook. It was mid-week, but I would hate for another picker to come along and see me desperately picking mushrooms that I had no intention of sharing. 

When I was done I hurriedly hiked back to the main road, hopped in my truck, opened the now, slightly soiled sac and smelled its rich, briny, earthy beauty. I was the hero that night. Chicken, farm fresh vegetables, and pan roasted chantrelles all from my back yard. I was starving and sore from my day on the farm and in the woods and I could feel the energy of my food be absorbed into my body and nourish me. Most of my meals back in Michigan were like that. When I moved to Nashville, I wanted success, which I have gained. But without the woods, water and ingredients of Northern Michigan, I am lacking. I am half passion, half writer, half girl...and I dream of the day when I return to my beautiful and enchanting life and adventure of the North. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Food Snob

                I was recently waiting in line at Porter Road Butcher and the women in front of me casually addressed the two men behind the counter.
“So is this just like a pork roast from Kroger?” she asked while confidently chewing her gum.
One man just stared at her with disdain and annoyance. The silence was long and uncomfortable. Finally his colleague jumped in and replied:
“Yes Mam, you would cook it in the exact same way, but the flavor and nutritional benefits are better.”
                This conversation has had me thinking for days. The slow food movement is a refreshing and wonderful surprise in our culture after decades of TV dinners and the Fast Food uprising. However there is one huge problem with our new craft cocktail, boutique butcher, food blogger nation: condescending assholes.
                Ok, yes, the women’s question to the butcher initially caused my eyes to roll and I was slightly dumbfounded like butcher #1, however I realized something. This is a movement that we want to spread, not cease. By making the uneducated feel intimidated to ask questions, we are pulling the reins on the important process of empowering small farms, encouraging our children to learn about where their food comes from and therefore helping them to make healthier choices…not to mention putting a dent in the everlasting David and Goliath battle between Mom and Pop and (insert big bad corporation here). Butcher #2 gave the women a simple answer without any level of superiority, ensuring her return as well as coddling her potential curiosities about local, organic meat.
                Every server, bartender, boutique butcher, or savvy food blogger, needs to rethink that arrogant expression that involuntarily envelopes your face every time a newer, greener diner asks for an order of pom-as-frytes, or if they don’t know what a Jerusalem Artichoke is. At least they are trying something outside of their comfort zone, I appreciate them for that, and your snarky tone isn’t making it any easier on them. Oh, and bar keep, not everyone wants a twenty minute lesson on Peruvian Pisco. If they want to slam that cocktail without dissecting the minutia of every one of those thirty-six ingredients and order another, guess what….that’s a good thing! Build that bar tab babe.  Almost nobody gives a fuck if you just got back from a four day seminar in New Orleans on Amaro, and you should be able to recognize your customers who do. Using care in your selection of when, where and with who you choose to share your knowledge with takes great maturity, reading people is an important part of the human condition, and the more you nurture that skill, the more rewarding your relationships can be.
                A good friend has always said that the most important phrase a human can admit is “I don’t know”.  I agree with him, sharing this candid fact, all though difficult and sometimes embarrassing, is what will ensure that individuals continue to learn, rather than stifle their opportunities to grow.  I appreciate every man, woman, child, and animal that has contributed to the warm, thoughtful and inspiring love that is the slow food movement. Please, let’s not pollute its purity with shameless ego that has no place in what is suppose to be the world’s only truly nourishing art.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ugly Mugs

                Window clad garage doors are open on a 70 degree November day. Business men with beards and long hair are on the patio smoking cigs, and two hot moms wearing leather just walked in. They are sipping espresso while their tots play at the kids table that is ridden with toy trains and Dr. Seuss literature.  The warm breeze gently runs through my hair as I sip hot coffee and survey my fellow coffee house dwellers. I am still new to the city, still unemployed, and still without internet. The end result of this unfortunate trifecta: it’s another cozy day at Ugly Mugs.
                Ugly Mugs has sweet and friendly employees serving up a great cup of coffee always with a smile and witty chit-chat. The pleasant company of the employees and other patrons has provided me with the illusion of being at home. Feeling like I am in my old neighborhood instead of the new girl on the block, Ugly Mugs also has the added bonus of having the best coffee in East Nashville. It’s always smooth, fresh, and hot.  

Ugly Mugs:
1886 Eastland Avenue  Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 915-0675

Monday, November 14, 2011

Welcome to the South

My glass of bourbon is half full. My cigarette is burning in the window sill as I try to drown out the noise of my fellow drinking companions in the bar I am in that is down the alley from my new home. It’s difficult because the young man two tables down is describing the beginning of an evening long relationship with a 50 year-old woman. I don’t need to continue eavesdropping to know how it ends, as he is hanging his head, referring to her as “this old lady” and having trouble looking his buddy in the eye. Hopefully she got something nice out of it because Billy over there sure didn’t. Traffic is cruising by at a slow pace, a football game is on and no one is watching, most people in here have on a plaid shirt, a slouchy hat, smokes an off brand cigarette,  and says “bro” a lot. I, admittedly, fit in well. Welcome to East Nashville, where the man is hated more here than at a Black Panther meeting and people don’t get up in the morning unless they are out of tomato juice and need a bloody Mary(do you capitalize Mary? I guess so, the woman has saved lives…) from the bar that only serves organic, local food. I made the mistake of telling my Brazilian waxist that I was interviewing at a, wait for it, corporate restaurant…and I swear she took skin off on purpose.  It’s a far cry from the Cowboy hat ridden streets that I grew up envisioning, not that doesn’t exist here, it’s just on the other side of the river. This little area has managed to compartmentalize itself with its distinct clan of young twenty something’s with an enormous sense of entitlement and a shared love of glasses without a prescription.  I love living in a neighborhood where being cute is considered a negative and weirdness prevails. Fuck you pretty popular ones who wouldn’t sign my year book, fuck you.  What’s a hipster neighborhood without judgment and a little self-loathing? Not to mention the ever-crucial component of “I’m mad at my Dad”.  
                Despite my sarcastic and cynical view on my new surroundings (out of character, I know) I really do love it here. My observations of the community are dead on, however there is a twist. The people here are psychotically friendly and go out of their way to welcome me to Nashville. I thought that the mid-west was nice. Which I verbaled to the local barista yesterday and somehow he charmingly conveyed that the mid-west is nice, but somehow they are nicer. The creative energy down here replaces the competitive one of Chicago, New York, and LA.  People want to get ahead, but not without saying “excuse me” first. Nightly, I sit on my deck and hear a different neighbor finger his bass, stroke his keys, or sing a long and throaty note through her well conditioned vocals, as though they are on stage at the Ryman. People have soul here, the south has soul…and it’s doing good things for mine. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Wedding

I looked down at the highball glass in my hand, filled with homemade raspberry vodka.  I noticed the glass was obscenely condensed and tightened my grip as I brought it to my lips, slurped and grimaced in delight to that offensive perfection that is moonshine.  The hot afternoon was consistently relieved by cool Lake Michigan breezes, flooding the Willow laced field that served as our host for a beautiful celebration.  
                As usual my concern for the cocktail was initial , which happily subsided when I realized that this was true of the bride and groom as well, whom I knew little of, as they were introduced to me only last year.  However in the time that I had spent with these two people, I felt love immediately.  Almost all my time with the two of them involve soulful music, unassuming, unguarded conversation, cocktails and a porch…I suspect this is true with most of their social encounters.  As I spent more time with this couple I realized that music and food were their preferred medium to express their joy for life and I fell in love with them.  These are also the very reasons that I knew that this wedding was going to be what is known as, a shit ton of fun.  So having my cocktail needs fulfilled, I began kissing, hugging, and story-telling my way over to the appetizer table.
                The table was filled with vegetarian delights created by our hosts. Local Michigan cherries, Italian summer truffles, cheeses of only the highest caliber and sauces were prepared so carefully that the depth of flavor forced you to close your eyes and sigh. They were all present in the wave of flavors that set the tone for the evenings’ culinary jubilation. 
Once I had eaten enough to continue safely sipping on moonshine for the next five hours, I began to observe the jovial guests greet and embrace the evening.  We all sauntered (slightly unsteadily) outside and underneath the pavilion. A large and beautiful man charmed us all into an untamed dance.  As the sun sank into the horizon the night stayed hot with the soulful rhythm inspiring spinning bodies that had been browned from days on the beach.  As we danced I couldn’t help but survey the romance among the people.
Each one of them had a hint of rose in their cheeks, I noticed. Possibly from the variety of moonshine, the over-indulgence of food, or the ninety degree day, but mostly I think it was from the over-exercised cheeks muscles as they reminisced over their shared times together. Watching old friends and close family come and live in this weird and wonderful couple’s world for a day made me realize how strong and nourishing good food and music really are and the importance of sharing them with the ones you love.  I watched these people revel in the positivity and the love and I was content. And then I realized….I didn’t even miss the bacon. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Decapitation

My breath became shallow as my hand gripped the chickens neck. Randy held down the body as her feathers wildly flapped. I tightened my grip, silencing her. Leaving her with no outlet for her fear she violently released her bowls with impressive distance. She was enormous. After months of free range feeding without any restraint she had reached a point far beyond gluttony. If chickens believe in hell there is no doubt which circle lie in her very near future…and I was going to send her there. Her breasts were bare from them dragging on the ground, tearing out all her feathers, leaving the skin raw and bloody. There was a spasm in her gullet so strong it felt like a boney, arrhythmic heartbeat and it made me wince. Randy slid the knife he sharpened only seconds ago to and fro beginning to sever her neck and suddenly a vicious sense of urgency overwhelmed me as a feverish heat wave spread all over my body…I wanted to kill her. I pulled hard for a few seconds and suddenly the resistance was gone causing my arm to fly back behind me. Startled, I felt my heart beat drop and go into reverse causing me to release the head and run, falling face first in the dirt as a result of the panic. As the headless bird continued to spastically flap its wings still holding on to her last thought of escape…laughter ensued. I know this makes me appear heartless and cruel and even sick… laughing at an ending life…a life that I took. But it was all I could do to keep from slipping into a dimly lit, dank dungeon of guilt. We strung her up and Randy gave me my first lesson in butchery. She gave us three meals and all were delicious.
I have been fascinated and enchanted by the recent revolution of ‘Farm to Table’. The fact that people are caring about what they put into their bodies again warms me. Just as religious connection is a comfort for some, my connection to this Earth is what feeds my energy for inspiration, generosity, and overall balance. It restores my peace when I need it to and what better way to do that than by eating her beautifully unprocessed resources.
Having said that, I realized I do say that often, but other than shopping at local farmers markets and farms, what have I done to be a part of the process? If the government collapses tomorrow and we go back to a more remedial lifestyle of hunting and farming…would I survive? I realized I couldn’t go on talking, reading, and eating what others put their heart into. Killing this chicken made me see that the connection between our food and our selves runs deeper than understanding phrases like “free-range”, “organic” and “vegetarian fed”. It’s about caring, loving, and raising our animals and produce. It’s giving them a good life while they are under our care because we owe them that debt for the nourishment they will be giving us. Progressive health will come from eating food that we cared for…a life that was positive and meaningful will yield better product, plain and simple. So please support your local farmers, when you are hungry look to the dirt, and go kill some chickens.