This Infernal Heat
July 7, 2010
There should be a point in our lives that the infernal heat stops bothering us so much. When we go about our day to day lives without discomfort from the elements it is because of air-conditioning. This unfortunately has not taken place. Growing up on a farm there was always something to do in the hot weather. Mowing the fields was a job best left to the professionals. How they did it, in the relentless heat, back and forth without a care it seemed. It was part of the job.
The songs that were sung while cutting the fields may not have been the cheery ones that populated the radio dial. They had an inner meaning. Our household help came up from Slavery. From Southern Georgia. These songs that I grew up with made the time go by and the sweat flow.
There was a root cellar on the farm, cool from the soil that surrounded it, I found myself exploring the dark, damp low ceiling rooms as a child. The shelves that drooped off the walls were at one time filled to bursting with the bounty from the fields “put up” as we say, for the cold weather times that are always months away. Canning is something I’ve never done- no reason to with supermarket shelves offering the latest in “fresh picked” technology. On hot days like what we are enduring right now, this root cellar would be particularly inviting. It was always about 55 degrees in that root cellar. In retrospect- the root cellar would make an excellent wine cellar. 55 degrees year round, dark, without any road vibrations. This makes for wine that evolves instead of just aging.
A wonderful dream that would never take place.
In the dark of the root cellar I could be alone- away from my parents fighting as they always did. I would disappear for hours, reading by candlelight at the little wood table that I still have today, conjuring up visions of whatever children conjure up. The root cellar is mostly collapsed now.
The earth gives and the earth takes away is a phrase I’ve heard mentioned. The walls of the root cellar gave in to the pressure of the greater power and movement of the earth around it.
Acorns are dropping from the trees in a symphony of clatter. This is not supposed to happen in July. Last year, I commented that a cold winter was coming because the squirrels were going crazy in May. Somehow, growing up on a farm taught me about the natural rhythms of the earth, the planet and the solar system. Gazing up at the stars- I could see far off places- yet undiscovered. These visions of the undiscovered filled my heart with possibility. I consider myself lucky to have been able to not only see the night sky, but have the memories of looking to the stars for greater inspiration.
Peaches are coming into season. Yes, they are early this year. Sweet with ample juice- they are the best in recent memory. With the lack of rain, plants are stressed out. The sugars go to the fruit. They are delicious. Who knows what will happen to the trees after the harvest. We’d better get some rain soon.
As I grow older, the heat seems to cause my body all sorts of discomfort. Even a dip in the pool is not to drop the temperature, but to wash the sweat off. Our home is not air-conditioned so coming inside to escape the heat is an experience that is profoundly different than what exists for most other people. It’s always hotter inside than outside. I’ve closed most of the windows to regulate the flow of moist, hot air from outside. There will be no relief until the heat wave breaks.
In many ways, this heat wave is like growing up on the farm. Summers seem to last until they are done for the year. Things go s l o w e r.
Digging a root cellar might be a good thing to do. There, surrounded by the cool underground air, at least I can get some writing done.
If I lived down South, like my friend Annelle Williams, I’d be used to the heat by now. I offer her a cooling Mint Julep for this lovely piece she sent me. Thanks Annelle.
Closed on Tuesdays
We have a real treasure here in Carteret County, North Carolina. Along with the beautiful seacoast, balmy coastal weather, seaport history, and friendly genteel locals who are just as nice as they can be even to the visitors who come yearly to partake of the magic that surrounds the Crystal Coast—the secret treasure is Chef Charles Park.
There’s no shortage of delicious food in Carteret County, but Chef Park adds two special elements–locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, paired with appreciation for his family’s food history to produce the ‘wow’ factor. He says he realized the importance of these special elements after he finished his formal culinary education at the CIA in New York.
The ’secret’ may be out. Recently, Beaufort Grocery Company, one of Chef Park’s two restaurants, became a finalist in the North Carolina Best Dish, sponsored by NC Department of Agriculture. One of the important criteria for the contest is best use of products grown and processed here in North Carolina. I love the idea that Chef Park is way ahead of the ‘fresh and local’ curve. The winner will be announced in the October issue of Our State Magazine—which brings me to another honor recently bestowed on one of Chef Park’s creations—in the July issue of Our State Magazine, Beaufort Grocery’s Apple Granny Chicken Sandwich was listed as one of the 100 Foods You MUST Eat in 100 NC Counties (they must not have tasted his Tuna Napoleon, but that would have made it 101!).
Last Thursday morning Chef Park and I met for a cooking lesson—I’m trying to learn all I can about preparing some of this wonderful local seafood. We met at Chef Park’s other restaurant, Shephard’s Point, in Morehead City. And we met EARLY—at 8:00 AM, because that was the only free time he had this week. Hence, fish for breakfast—local grouper and local clams—two of my favorites. I’m being spoiled.
I’ve never met a less pretentious, more generous, friendly person. No secrets, he loves to teach and share. And at every turn he was anxious to give credit to others. This man is a realist who has most assuredly done his time, and while he is still working very, very hard, he is reaping tasty results.
First things first, fresh herbs from the raised bed herb garden just behind the restaurant. In Beaufort, the herbs grow right at the front door. He placed the clams in water just for a few minutes to allow them the opportunity to spit out a little sand. (No pork in this dish, so it’s acceptable to fishaterians/pescetarians—I didn’t miss it.) White wine, shallots, sliced garlic, cold butter, fresh basil, pepper and toasted baguette slices completed the ingredient list.
We shared a Mess o’Clams as soon as they were plated. It took just about the same amount of time to make the dish as it did to toast the bread. Chef Park showed me how he really likes to eat clams, piling some of the shallot and basil on the clam, filling the shell with wine broth, and then slurping it down, biting the clam loose with his teeth. He assured me that it was perfectly acceptable to eat oysters, clams, and mussels using fingers and slurping. Then he demonstrated soption, an original family word emerging from the verb ‘to sop’, which is also acceptable as well as necessary when eating anything with such a delicious broth. We vigorously participated in both soption and slurping.
Next dish was Pan Seared Grouper with Dijon Dill Sauce. I wondered if Chef Park even realized all the little details he was sharing as he cooked. Searing versus sautéing, using the oven to finish dishes, making pan sauce from the fond, using nonstick spray appropriately, when to salt, when not to salt, cold, cold butter added at the end to make a creamy sauce without cream, when to add fresh herbs, how to plate the dish for the best presentation. I tried to get it all down, but sometimes I was so busy eating, I forgot to write. Fortunately, as I think through the process, I’m remembering.
But good news for me, and anyone interested in learning more about Chef Park’s local dishes, all taken to a higher level: he has just released a new cookbook, appropriately named Closed on Tuesdays, since that’s the day Beaufort Grocery closes each week. Even the book gives off a sense of local pride, from the painting of the restaurant by a local artist adorning the front cover, the great local photography, and certainly the recipes, shared with love, right through to the little ‘you oughtas’ at the bottom of most pages—’you ought to do this’ tips he received from his brother.
I would gladly have paid the price of the book, Closed on Tuesdays, for my two favorite recipes, the Tuna Napoleon, featuring fresh yellowfin tuna, wasabi slaw, and crisply fried wontons; and Collard Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings and Slivers of Country Ham.
Chef Park has a twinkle in his eye at 8 o’clock in the morning in the already warm kitchen. I don’t believe he would have that sparkle if he weren’t very happy with what he’s doing. I do know he’s doing his work very well, and his work is putting contented smiles on lots of faces. He’s making this wonderful local bounty taste fabulous!
For more information on Chef Park, his restaurants and Closed on Tuesdays, visit www.BeaufortGrocery.com. I would also like to add that along with his restaurants, and a healthy catering business, Chef Park was invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York in 2008. His menu was beautiful, featuring North Carolina products. This is quite an honor in the culinary profession.
Mess o’ Clams
48 fresh clams
One-half cup white wine
2 large shallots, chopped
2 T chopped garlic (Chef Park actually thinly sliced the garlic)
2 T cold butter, sliced
1 sprig fresh basil, chopped
pinch of pepper
1 loaf French bread, sliced and toasted
Wash the clams and place in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the wine, shallots and garlic. Cook, covered, over high heat just until the clams open; do not overcook. Discard any clams that do not open.
Spoon the clams to a serving dish with a slotted spoon, taking care not to stir up the cooking liquid. Drain the liquid into a smaller saucepan, leaving any sand in the larger saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir in the butter gradually. Add the basil and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the clams and serve with the toasted bread. Garnish with sprigs of basil.
Enjoy with a cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc from California.
Bio for Annelle Williams:
Annelle Williams writes: I’m a retired pharmacist, turned cook. I’m a daughter, sister, wife, mom, and friend who loves to feed her friends and family. I grew up cooking with my grandmothers–good, traditional southern food–but I’ve always been interested in eating and then learning to cook new and different things. My idea of fun is a day in the kitchen preparing an old favorite, or working on a brand new recipe. I was finally able to go to Italy, precisely, the Chianti region of Tuscany, and cook with ‘Mamas’ there (Tutti-a-Tavola). It was a wonderful experience, and I’ve returned several times to learn more and share recipes with these wonderful women! I also write two monthly food columns for local papers.
I started a blog, Annelle’s Table, one year ago when I turned 60. It’s about tried and true recipes that will make your table a happy place to gather and share life…after all, we MUST eat to live, so let’s enjoy every single bite!
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
COCKTAIL WHISPERER, Editor
Apothecary Cocktails: Mexican Sleep Cure
Billy Reid: Bourbon, Branch and a Splash of Southern Lore
Blue Hill/Stone Barns: Time Exists in Harmony with Nature
The Cocktail Whisperer asks Anthony Bourdain Four Questions about Scotch
The Five Questions: Andrew Bell, American Sommelier
The Five Questions Catherine Reynolds
The Five Questions: Lincoln Henderson (Master Distiller)
The Five Questions: Natalie West (Foppiano Wines)
The Five Questions: Randall Grahm
The Five Questions: Sustainable Sushi
A Glass of Bourbon, Branch, and History
Midnight in the Bronx: Visit to Hunt’s Point Wholesale Fish Exchange
A Modern Day Absinthe Alchemist
A Summer Cocktail Party for Artie Shaw
Tales of the Cocktail: New Orleans, Louisiana