Oddities and Obsessions

porkbutt.jpgConfession: I love food that comes in the mail.

I, also love having something in the freezer just in case we decide on a whim to have eight people for dinner tomorrow night. Or tonight for that matter, but this only works if you decide this early enough in the day to defrost whatever it is you have in the freezer just in case you’re entertaining on a whim.

A few weeks ago, I was sent samples from Edwards & Sons Virginia Traditions BBQ. It was summer and I was really excited to get them, especially since the samples included an entire pork roast butt (completely suitable for a dinner party of eight or more).

I don’t write about things that are sent to me unless I love them. Those “crabcakes” from Baltimore come to mind, the ones that sort of resembled a baseball. We tried everything – we even put them in a tomato sauce and put them on top of spaghetti – no luck. A crabcake should not resemble a meatball!

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ImageMy favorite sandwich as a child was a Grilled Cheese. It still is today. I'm continually amazed at how something so basic – bread and cheese – becomes something so sublime. I think I could eat one everyday and never get tired of it. Especially considering all the bread and cheese choices out there. It boggles the mind and whets my appetite. Want something more substantial add a little ham to it. Now, it's a real meal and even more delightful.

Until two years ago, I never imagined this classic pairing could be improved upon.  And certainly not with something so ordinary as an egg. Sometimes food takes you by surprise, though I find this happening less and less as I get older. I was wary of ordering my favorite sandwich, with a fried egg on top– a concoction that was called a Croque Madame – but I was trying to branch out and it was my birthday, so I figured what the hell.

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buttrub.jpgI have known my friend Vicki since we were twelve. Without being excessively specific, that’s a long, long time. I met her when I got involved with our community theater, where she was already in a play (I was, at that point, just providing a baby doll to serve as a prop) and I knew instantly that she was not only taller, but quite a lot cooler than I was. For the next seven years we were in plays, orchestras, quartets and classes together, and spent a fair amount of recreational time together, too. Her legs alone are taller than all of me, she is a math whiz, she is the only person I know who was simultaneously in band, choir and orchestra, she has a rapier-sharp wit, and (perhaps most important) she is a loyal and kind friend, and a really good mom.

We live in the same place again now, after my years of wandering, and she recently returned from a trip South with a bag of goodies for me including fig jam, barbecue sauce and the unfortunately named “Butt Rub.” (Hereinafter “Stuff.”) Since I am a delicate and ladylike person, it took me a little while to get over the shock of seeing the, um, “Stuff” on my counter. (I am one of those extraordinarily old fashioned mothers who will not allow my kids to say the word “butt,” at least not in my hearing). There is also the inevitable, and probably intentional evocation of Desitin to deal with. I am far, far too pure to live in this world of sin and crudity….

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tabasco-production-line-550xOh, Tabasco, how much do I love thee?

The narrow bottle, wedged next to the napkins and salt and pepper, has always been a part of my earliest food memories and proceeds almost anything else on the table. It is a sauced etched in my mind, its hot and tangy flavor surely a part of my DNA by now. I suspect it’s this way for millions of people, too. I’ve just never been able to get enough of the stuff.

I got to spend a few days in Avery Island, Louisiana, home to the McIlhenny Company that makes the Tabasco hot sauce. It’s been made here since its invention in 1868, its recipe unchanged for over 142 years. And if something is good, why change it? To make Tabasco sauce, you only need a few things: peppers, salt, vinegar and time. But Tabasco does indeed have a secret ingredient that makes it so extremely special: the people that have made the sauce for generations.

(and no, there are no people IN the sauce, please don’t get all Sweeny Hot Sauce Todd on me, please)

To visit Avery Island and the McIlhenny Company is like walking into a textbook on regional Louisiana history, followed by a textbook on American history. It’s a family-owned company that was founded by Edmund McIlhenny and is still run by the family today. In fact, many of the employees have been with the company for generations. And Avery Island itself is quite special. Located in Iberia Parish, Avery Island is located on top of a salt dome and has been involved in the salt trade even longer than the production of Tabasco. These two things go hand in hand, we’ll get to that in a few.

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cowpartsThe little bell on the glass door jingled and I became breathless with anticipation.  He looked up just for a second and then turned back, took a large knife off the rack, and started slicing into the beef tenderloin

“Lady, how much you want?” he asked the woman standing in front of him.  Her ruby red lips pursed as she held up her thumb and forefinger with three inches between them.

“This much.”

“Here?” He held the knife two inches in and the woman started to scream.

THIS much!!!” she said, slapping her palm on the counter and shaking her measurement fingers at him again.

He smirked, cut accordingly, tore off a piece of thick, shiny paper, and wrapped the beef tightly.  I could watch him tear butcher paper all day.

“Thank you ma’m.  Next!  Number 68.”

I walked down the display counter, sliding my finger along the cold glass.  So many cuts, so many choices.  What would it be today?  Prime Rib?  Oxtail?  Duck Breasts?  I feel no limitations exist for my fantasies within these walls.

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