Saturday, June 12, 2010

Paella brings a family closer...

Okay okay, so it wasn't the dish...but maybe it was. And like so many epiphanies and special moments I have at home with my parents...this was no different. This time, it just involved Paella, and a yummy local wine that paired beautifully.

The recipe is a bit time consuming (peeling and de-veining shrimp is tedious), but I got a head start with my prep work before my folks got home from work. The rest...was a really nice family event all centered around the grill. And what an event it was...

See, my parents and I have sort of grown up together as life long learners, and the God's honest truth is that they have always been willing to try new foods and life events, no matter what. And as I have grown, they have been there every step of the way trying new uncomfortable things with gusto.

This visit's new thing, was to give them Paella. Certainly not a new dish to the world, but a new experiment in the kitchen for Meghan and I. Equipped with Rick Moonen's "Fish" cookbook (he is the god of seafood), and having cooked it once in Annapolis a few weeks ago, I set out to give them a treat.

You see, my folks live in land-locked Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The seafood is tough to come by..often frozen, often fishy...making a seafood paella is really not tops on the list. So, I loaded my cooler in Annapolis with fresh grouper, head on shrimp, and clams. And gosh darnit everything made the field trip lickity split.

The cooking arena was out on my folks's patio, surrounded by a jungle of flowers, plants, cacti, hydrangeas, and whatever else can grow. My mom was stationed on the deck...kind of the bird's eye camera view. Dad was on the picnic table. And every time I opened the grill to add the essential ingredients (you have to add the seafood sort of in sequence...hence a lot of checking, adding, and re-checking) the aromas would waft towards their ever growing eyes, and rumbling stomachs. Dad would make a few suggestions, and mom would comment on how much she missed my wife and wished she could have made the trip down south.

Then the camera popped out, and mom started ordering dad to take pictures so we could sent them to my wife. "Take more pictures", she said, "Meghan needs to feel part of this event". And I guess that's the magic of what was happening. We were bonding. We shared stories, cried about recently losing my father-in-law Mike, cried about how mom and Meghan were able to settle their misunderstandings and how much my mom really loved my wife and was so glad we got married. And we laughed...and then we started breaking out in true Jacobs form via song (mom had the old Willy Wonka theme song in her head). By the time we got to dessert (grilled white peaches, fresh local honey, toasted pecans, and greek yoghurt), my dad had enough..."I'm going to bed". I actually laughed and said, "Dad, it's 9'o'clock" woke me up 5 minutes later on the was time for bed.

Nonetheless, we were family, we were trying something new, and we were enthused about it all. Although I have been separated from them by a few state lines since I was twenty-two, we have never drifted apart. Though I write that food is the leveler of socioeconomic plains, equalizer of humanity, and bonder of friends and family. You can't unequivically say with conviction that paella and events like this kept my family close through thick and thin. But you can't say it didn't help.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Inn at Little Washington

"Hey Matty, can you write about death of a loved one and how it is bettered by presence of bar-b-qued pork?" Why yes, I think I can. "Well then, how about writing about "The Inn at Little Washington"?"

dead silence....."Hello, Matty? Are you there? Hello?"

I have long dreaded writing about our magnificent experience at "The Inn at Little Washington" because I can really say no more greatness than the thousands who have written before me. In short, the gods of food spoke long ago. Me and my wife, fledgling epicureans as we may be hold no candle to review this long revered international destination. I can highly recommend going and can do nothing but rave on the food and hospitality.

Chef O'Connell is accessible, personal, and genuine. Although we knew we were merely another insignificant set of travelers, spending yet another important event in "our" lives...we felt we were the most important people to ever visit. And that is the magic that is "The Inn at Little Washington".

To describe the dishes in run down sentence snippet fashion is insulting and cheapens the event to nothing more than voyeuristic pornography or a one night stand. Sure...I photograph dishes, write about recipes, and review food on this blog all of the time. However, this was something different. There was a reverence I have seldom felt while dining and staying over. No detail was untouched...and maybe I can only equate it to the act of making love...there's no bragging to the boys on the exploits of exploring the inner most sanctums of you and your partner's soul. It is something for you and your partner only. It isn't reproducible in print nor spoken word. This was a special connection, it was spiritual, personally poetic, and completing.

And that is what Chef Patrick O'Connell probably set out to do. To enhance lives via his craft of food and is his life's work. And to be part of someone executing their life's work with such love in any facet is something very special. It is rare to find, and priceless to experience.

Memorial Pig

On February 13th, 2010, my father-in-law Michael Courtland Bailey (a.k.a Mike Bailey) died. It was tragic, it was catastrophic. I wanted for months to write about how sad I was, and how sad we all were, but I couldn't find an appropriate medium of expressing just what I felt. There was no way for me to find an appropriate way for me to honor him as the man I knew. The blog was to be about him, not about me, certainly not about my sadness.

Yesterday we honored him through memorial, and one of his best friends roasted two 220lb pigs in his honor. You see, Mike was a born foodie. He wasn't a complicated gastronomic moleculizer with foams, froths, dusts, and trendy new frosted hairdos. Nope, he was a "Pit Man". A down home pig roasting, cole slaw makin', pancake and scrapple breakfast griddlin' fool. Knowing Mike, he was a student of any game...a renaissance man if you will. Ex-Marine, Welder, Sculptor, Saw Mill Operater, Motor Cycle Enthusiast, Tractor Puller, Hopeless Romantic, Fox Hunter, Mechanic, and relevant to the pig....A "Pit Man".

As we shared our stories via podium speeches, alligator tears, pictures, gregarious hand laden gesticulations with throw your head back laughter...the smell of the beautifully cooked pulled pork galvanized an epic event of some three hundred odd people there to celebrate a man who met no strangers.

Semantically, Mike was my step-father-in-law. However, to my heart he was my father-in-law, and more importantly my friend. And nothing says a more beautiful memorial service than a million friends showing up to tell stories, drink beer, and roast a pig in your honor...conjuring up the deceased's "pit skills" saying..."This one is for you Mike" if to say, "I only hope it is half as good as the ones you used to roast for us".

The purpose of my blog is to share food, but more importantly share the humanity and emotion tied to food because of the relevance it has to all of us. The emotions associated with food are entwined with our humanity...poor or rich. Yesterday was a profound statement reminding us all of just that. Death was celebrated with friends, tears, laugher, and drink. Most importantly however, a simple succulent multitude of pork honored our beloved Mike. And in many ways it helped heal our sorrow, reminding us of his legacy, and closed the chapter of a life he lived and loved with intense sincerity and reverence.