Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bromancing The Stone

I cannot tell you how much a bromance can make a marriage stronger. I am at the point that every time me and the boys hang out it's all about the finer things...cigars, great Bourbon or Scotch, Wine, Steaks...anything that is great...but this more than about food today.

I just wanted to shout out the boys who helped me grow up, cope, regress, and grow stronger.

In your darkest times and in your best, things are always better with people. Lots and lots of people. Call it being dependent, or just call it the need for social. Me, I left rural for city...and I am convinced I am always "CITY". I always need that college community. Is that why Facebook happened? As much as my mother says, "Your father and I never grew up in the dorm life"...I'm glad I did. Loneliness is the balls in life, and in all honesty, I am deathly afraid to be alone.

So many times in life my friends have bet the odds on me and taken their losses. And when things kinda came sour on my manloves, I kinda bowed out...most of the time for the best..but sometimes a little too chicken.

I have never bet on someone who was down...I always bowed out. Or, if I bet, I hedged.

This weekend I decided to bet on the off horse...and...I think he was the better horse, it just wasn't his race.

It inspired me to write this post to everyone who bet on me, and those who made my life better,
and I think it was worth it.

If it's not, the money I laid down was worth it in itself. Because, hats off to my wife, she made me take risks, she made me open my eyes to the terror of bad happen, and she made me cope. Deal with this MattyJakes she said, you can lose, but you will live an epic life in trying.

0% chance she is wrong, 100% chance she is right.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bros, In Different Area Codes...

In college it was man city. I once passed out with my best friend spooning, and pissed the hell out of the girl trying to sleep with me. I thought it was classic, hell we all did in some homoerotic manly way. Now I look around, single night, no wife around, and there are no dudes to hang out with. Literally, last night I sat at home drinking Rum and Cokes, watching March Madness, and stalking my cat in order to Furminate. Honestly, I would sneak up on her, hold her down, and de-fur our bad little Maine Coon Cat.

Meg got home at 1am and literally all I could talk about was grooming our cat. "Look at all this fur! Oh My God!"

What has happened to me?

What the hell happened to those nights of male camaraderie? Where did the dudes go? Are you telling me that until I have kids I will be spending Mantown with my dog and cat, Jack and Coke? Surely I can't hang out in bars as a married dude. I've tried that, it's weird, And I don't really like it. Just like in the dating world, you generally don't meet your future wife in a bar...meeting reputable guys in a bar who don't already have a manlove? Next to impossible. Should I start going to church? Maybe cool guys hang out there...

Did all the good guys get married, start popping out babies, and reform? Do I have cooties? I have married the hottest woman in the world, surely if I can pull that off, can't I get a Mandate? In five years one bromance fizzled out(his wife was the pits), and I have one budding romance with my buddy JP...but he travels due to it's like a long distance relationship. So, all of my bromances live in either Chicago or North Carolina. I got bros in different area codes (Rest in peace Nate-Dogg).

We talk of moving down to North Carolina almost on the daily and are making strides towards that goal and the little kid in me gets excited that he might get to reunite with his man friends once again...

Until then, and until I find the answer regarding what happened to all the quality brohams, I will continue to sit home, sip cocktails, and chase our cat around as "The Furminator". Yes, I do pretend I'm Arnold Schwarzenegger...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lobster...and Head on Shrimp

This will be quick, no pictures necessary, but I'm totally gonna plug Rick Moonen's Book "Fish Without A Doubt".

Rick Moonen is a god to the seafood world and has a great restaurant in Las Vegas. Have I been there? No, but my wife has, and she met Rick, and yeah she got his book and he signed if for me saying, "To Matt, Best Wishes, Enjoy the Ocean One Fish at a Time".

He is the beatnik chef who preaches sustainability and teaches the same. His book is a compendium on how to purchase, clean, and prepare fish any style. Don't know how to debeard a mussel or shuck and oyster...there is eduMAcation for that. Wanna know how to butter baste or butter poach? Sure...not a thing.

He thinks like an ocean creature...recreate the cooking environment to how they lived...example...Lobster.

I got no pictures, but I do have something new...

Salinity. Maine Lobsters live in salt water...if you're gonna steam them please, I beg of you try this out.

For every quart of water you use (Preferably 3 quarts for two 1.5lb lobster), throw in a 1/4 cup of salt (So that's about 3/4 a cup, seems like a lot, but this really works). We're all used to steaming this bad boys and girls, and we always see that whitish albumin looking stuff after the steaming. Do it this way, and you will be amazed. No white coagulated stuff, and they seem to come out of their shell easier.

Bring the water to a rolling boil, throw in the Lobsters, wait till the water rolls again and keep them for 1 minute, take them off the heat, and let them hang out in the hot water for ~10 minutes...drain, dry, eat till your are content (might need more lobster).

I have never had a better lobster, the salinity and clean taste was unprecedented.

Next preaching point, head on shrimp. "Ew, heads, yuck, you guys are so adventurous with your eating"...Not really, ball up guys, try something new.

1) Head on Shrimp are generally cheaper
2) The flavor the head gives changes the dish to something way better than the Cost- Co Shrimp Cocktail.
3) Prepare them with a little garlic, lemon juice, and butter in a pan after cleaning them.
4) Pull the head off and suck...

Bon Appetit

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Double Rainbows and NOLA Cooking...

After the rain finally subsided, Meg and I needed to get out of the house. We had brought our P90X workout video and bands, but were so tempted to go hiking. Like always, we made a game of it...

1) Hike new trail

2) Find good place to eat, have a post hike beer

Okay, Gorges State Park...Rainbow Falls..."Wonder why they call it "Rainbow Falls"?"

Yup...that's why, and once we topped the falls and returned back down, the rainbow was gone...effing cool!

2) Thirsty, must have post hike beer to replace valuable burned calories...must find decent place to eat...

Meg pulls out the iPhone app "Vicinity" and starts naming places off of Main Street in Brevard, NC...we can't find half of them, and as Main Street is starting to fade into residential oblivion, we spy "Hobnob".

The husband/wife team are from Buffalo, NY, and NOLA...the chef is from Maryland and trained in San Diego...sounds like a pretty good resume of culture. Combine that with a healthy list of local beers (Asheville NC, right around the corner was named the top beer city in the US...imagine my excitement).

And imagine our excitement when we saw "Po Boys" on the menu. Unfortunately in New Orleans, we were disappointed with our Po Boy experience as the first was closed, and the second was BYOB and they were out of their signature MEAT (Roast Beef). Alas we settled for Catfish and Shrimp Remoulade...not bad, but we wanted fried Shrimp and fried Oysters.

And there it was...Po Boy bread imported from New Orleans, seafood flown in daily...even the owner felt she got better seafood in landlocked Western North Carolina then she got on the coast....

Here here!!!

Shrimp and Oyster Po Boys!

Oh Boy!

Food Buzz...

And you bet, better than we had in New Orleans!

Friday, March 11, 2011


Can we call the James Beard Foundation? Seriously, I want them on line 1!

You all have read my blog, and know I come from a strange religion, wore glasses as a kid, and hated the south for the small towned mindedness it exerted on my freewheeling soul. My wife now talks of moving to North Carolina...yeah, we live in Annapolis, I know it's not technically the north, but I have reticent feelings on going back home...

"You a Yankee now? Think you're better than us?" (Say it in Southern...cringing)

The south = my worst nightmare...cold sweats, nightmares, banjo music....ughghghgh!

Then we went to our mountain house. "The Hillbillies" my Swedish Grandfather called them...."Mountain People"...back in the day, Cashiers, North Carolina was never the bustling center of culture. Even the surrounding areas, you couldn't hope for much. Now you can see where this blog is headed. And I am eight years too late, as that was when Cypress opened. Cypress gave me hope, quelled my night sweats, it is the Ambien with a Valium chaser to my horrific flashbacks of ridicule.

The shit has changed, and I was the one who was small minded. Cypress is the beacon of hope that has helped open my eyes to see I am now 32, not 5 years old with glasses and unable to keep Christmas and birthdays. As I have changed so has everything and like the mountain terrain, Cypress is perhaps that seed that somehow sprouts into a beautiful tree growing off the side of the cliff. "How did that grow"? Everyone says? It had no chance...we have all killed more plants in our back yard with the best fertilizer and the hell did that tree grow?

Chef Nicolas Figel had a dream just like everyone I guess. He consummated that dream in Highlands, North Carolina...about 30 minutes from our mountain house on Lake Glenville. Listen, before I start telling you about his hopes and dreams let me just say he cooked for us, and we sat at the chef's table of open aired kitchen. Between artful dances with his staff and sous chef as he cooked, he talked with us, shared philosophy, and got jazzed that we took pictures like Japanese tourists. We didn't ask him soul searching questions like Matt Lauer and Larry King. But what he told us, he spoke with his food. We said, "We would be honored to have anything you would fix us, you have Carte Blanche to make us what you like."

He makes peasant food from around the world. That is what drives my wife and me. Comfort food...the chef's eyes lit up when I told him my last meal on earth would be my grandmother's pot roast or Swedish Meatballs. That is my blog. I don't have much more to add. Chef inspired me through his example of cooking for "Small Minded Mountain People"...he said, "Hell, I'm taking a chance, maybe just maybe this place will fly".

He opened in 2002, and he stayed open through the "Twitter" and "Facebook" era...wireless, direct tv, get the point. A pioneer, a hero who makes me feel about this big when I think about how small minded I have been about where I come from.

We walked into the restaurant and the ingredient du jour was featured. Fresh Tilefish...clear eyes, red gills, julienned green papaya (How the hell did they get that into Western Landlocked North Carolina?). The dishes were completely complex, something reminiscent of any great James Beard award winning restaurant we have ever been to. However, that seems like such a left handed compliment. This was different, original, clean tasting and a concept we have maybe thought of in dreams, but have never seen it carried out.

Okay's the deal, this is what Meghan had, in pictographical order:

Malaysian Coconut Dumplings filled with Spiced Beef on Grilled Mango

Tilefish Over Lobster Salad with Green Papaya, and a Mint Cashew Sauce

On to my dishes: Spanish Tapas; Calabras Blue Cheese, House Made Spanish Flatbread, Roasted Roma Tomato, Olives, Serrano Ham

Korean Hot Pots....Tomato, Thai Basil, and Mint Broth, Beef Jerky set with Smoking Oak Chips, Jasmine Rice and Fried Shallots (Oh my god, mini Onion Rings!)

Not Pictured because we ate it too fast:

Lavender Ice Cream, Shortbread Cookies, Drizzled with Honey

Mexican Chile Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sauce...this is a horrible description to the beauty we ate, it's like saying, "Yeah, the Mona Lisa is a picture of this plain looking lady from a long time ago." The slow burn on the back side of the throat as we ate this cake was amazing...holy shit...I wanted to be on my mind we were on television...the meaning of finding this gem and the epiphany it gave me was something that comes around a handful of times in someones life.

A peasant food menu? A skeptic would say, "That's too many's like a restaurant with 50 menu items, but only 3 things are palatable".

I'm sure they are the same skeptics who thought things in the south would never change...

God Bless you Chef Figel for giving me an insight to a bigger world.

Foie Gras Dogs, courtesy of Maiale

All hail the Salumeria!

Years ago when learning about Mario Batali, and his voyage to Italy in order to learn and hone the Italian Craft, I learned about his parents. They have a Salumeria in Seattle, and people line up outside of the store daily. Mario's mother as well as other meaty crafters will slice treats for the patient patrons and bring "strip mall" Esq samples around the line that oft winds its way around the corner.

I have longed to go, I have urged and begged friends making the trip to please sample their weirs. No one has even taken the bait.

Then came Maiale (My-All-Ay).

Last summer, in Rehobeth, Meghan and I found Billy Rawstrom, proprietor of Maiale. He was searing some of his sausages on a portable burner at a local Farmer's Market. Tentatively I sampled his creations. My mood was kind of down...rainy colder day at the Beach, not really into shopping, and when I heard "Chicken, Spinach, Red Pepper, and Sharp Provolone Sausage", I was kind of bored. I have had that sausage before (never with sharp provolone). And to be honest, it had always given me the shits, and the taste was a salty muddled flavor, blah!

Not this time. Fresh, clean...that sharp Provolone just killed it, and in a good way. He also had a North African spiced Lamb bango as dad would say. I took his card, and serendipitously kept it. A few months later, after we consumed the meat, talked about how AWESOME IT WAS and how we wanted more, I cleaned out my wallet. And there was the had an email address, it had a website.

50 dollars later we just received a HEAP of different sausages shipped on dry ice.

Today we climbed the mountain, today we had the "FOIE GRAS DOGS".

It's a rich smokey meat bomb that needs a little and sweet to counter the savoury. We paired these meat tubes of love with a local grilled baguette, slaw of homemade green cabbage and carrots (mixed with a little honey, olive oil, salt, and pepper), then we thinly sliced a Granny Smith Apple and sauteed it with sweet onion (seared in olive oil), just enough to caramelize the sugars.

Paired with a local deli Mac and Cheese, and more importantly with a Petit Manseng (Charlottesville, Va, Whitehall Vineyards) and Aprihop Ale from Dogfish Head Brewery (you could go with a good IPA and/or Reisling or Gewurztraminer)...

I have nothing left to say except I finished the meal and ran to blog, it was that good I had to share.

An Ode to Special Friends...

Beef, Bacon, Dirk, and Alaina...

Now that is a hot title for a porno. Alas, read the title of my have to know it refers only to the special meat associated with the two aforementioned friends...wait a minute...that too could insinuate porno, damnit!

Well, doulbe entendres be damned, Dirk, and Alaina broughteth the Berkshire Pig and the glorious bacon and ham it provideth, along with a tasty steer comprising 70/30 ground beef...and of course, with good friends, they brought so much more.

The story of Dirk and Alaina Barth in our lives started at our honeymoon in the Ambergris Caye in Belize. Coincidentally, we all were married on the same day (in different places), and they showed up to the resort twelve hours before we were hit with two major tropical storms. I remember meeting them in the bar/lobby of our resort...they were checking email and fretting about the upcoming weather...I said something like, "Email and isn't gonna save you here, we're going to town to explore and shop for a suitcase (ours busted on the flight in), wanna come?"

The rest of the friendship was cemented via duck and dive eateries and bars, one shady cigar shop (Dirk and I both swear the cigars were laced with Cocaine, Alaina just thinks we're both pussies), an even shadier place to buy a suitcase, and home made trash bag ponchos. In such instances we shared stories about our love for travel, eating, drinking, and in general having a good time through thick and thin. As the storms grew closer, we did too (amazing what booze, food, and shady establishments do for friendship).

The randomness of meeting complete strangers on our honeymoon, and the unlikeliness of remaining close and perhaps growing closer perhaps mirrors every danged thing that happens to me...Generally unplanned and random, yet somehow great!

True story, every time we get together, bad weather ensues for about a day...hence our most recent visit.

Unbelievably, Dirk and Alaina agreed to drive out to our mountain house 5 hours in order to stay overnight and leave the next day(due to work constraints). Alaina is in her second trimester (most of my friend's wives would have nixed that trip due to hormones and the general distaste that their husband would booze it up with MattyJ and his dad while she painfully watched sober), so her okaying the trip was unprecedented. And of course, as they drove in, torrential downpours had ensued. We had planned to go boating, and or hiking. Yup...Belize part two, except we couldn't all booze it up with abandon with the baby on board. Alaina is special, I cannot emphasize that enough.

Instead, we went for a quick walk on the beach shielded with more than trash bags this time, though Dirk and I thought about fashioning out some old ponchos for posterity sake. Armed with random nostalgic stories and some good cigars, Dirk said, "Though it's shitty weather, I can see why this place is special". After about 45 minutes of soggy walking we headed home.

Prior to embarking on the soggy voyage of Gun Point (the coined name of the point our house is located on), we had planned an election of eatings. Dirk and Alaina had purchased a quarter of a steer and a quarter of a Berkshire Pig from the local 4-H in Ohio (where Alaina is from). It was like being on Iron Chef with the secret ingredient of "4-H MEAT"! Literally I was excited about planning this menu for about 2 weeks prior.

The Menu:

Fresh Guacamole, Red Pepper Cream Cheese Dip, Truffle Mousse Pate, Cheese, Homemade Cheese Dip, Fresh Roasted Peanuts, Homebrew (Dogfish 60-Minute IPA Clone, Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Clone)

Farm Burgers (Sweet Beautiful Beef, Alfalfa Sprouts, Herbed Goat Cheese, Toasted Onion Roll, Topped with a fresh Hen's Egg laid at my parent's friends house)...and the most beautiful thick cut Berkshire Bacon...some of the best I have consumed. It was like candy, sweet sweet candy.

Parmesan Truffle Fries

Swedish Sunday Cake (Much like Strawberry Short Cake with fresh Whipped Cream

And Snoots....and more beer....prior to his first snoot, Dirk said, "What's a snoot?"

Snoot: The coined phrase for a shot of liquor, and a requirement for all guests to partake in upon their arrival (excluding pregnant women and teetotalers).

After such a wonderful dinner we all engaged in some card games, watched dad go into an epileptic fit as UNC beat DOOK, and proceeded to imbibe more. The girls all went to bed and the guys had "Man Town Campout with Gas Passing Action" on various homemade cots, couches, and air mattresses. The testosterone was magical, there were no complaints about cigar breath, "drunk leg", or snoring. Even awaking at 6:30am due to my mother and father's incessant need to eat breakfast that early could not keep me down.

For breakfast...Russet Potato Truffle Hash, Pan Fried Berkshire Ham Steak, and Easy Over Eggs

Oh God...I pause, grasping for words. I could go on and on and on. I still have visions of taking that steak and sopping up the creamy yellow yolk.

As Dirk and Alaina packed up to go (leaving the bacon, what great friends, woulda snuck it out of their bag had they not), we got a call from our caretaker that the dirt road was washing out. Knowing the road and the detours, dad and I set out as escorts in his pickem' up truck(man town in full effect), steering our friends to safety!

Two hours later the downpour subsided and the sun came out.


Yet somehow, we keep and remain friends with these really special people. Good friends hardly come often, and we find ourselves more and more frustrated that as we grow older, it's harder and harder to find people willing to look outside of their own worlds to share a laugh, dinner, similar interest, crappy ass hike in the rain...or even their Berkshire Pig and Special Beef. Yet here they are, Dirk, Alaina, Beef, and Bacon...

Matty and Meghan...


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Mountain House...

I feel like such a turd every time I tell people, "We're going to our "Mountain House" this weekend, yeah, it's located in the Smokeys, it's our family's house." But that's what it is. My grandfather is a legend and when looking up the phrase "American Dream", his picture sits next to it.

Born in Tuberculosis Era Sweden, he lived through a lot of shit. His dad died of T.B, leaving his mom to raise he and his brother. 8th grade education, yadda yadda yadda, immigrated to Canada, then to Florida, eventually to North Carolina, he stepped into so much shit along the way and always smelled like a rose.

Thusly, this house is his legacy and testament to a lot of who he is and was. It's located on a lake, next to a couple of ponds, and I've been going there since I was four. Oh could I bore you with sentimental stories of learning how to fish, crashing my bike while humming the "A-Team" theme song while careening down a mountain road...

But what I find even more compelling is that I have gotten to be part of something so special all of my life. I get to sit there and pretentiously say things like, "Oh we'd so like to get to our mountain house more, but it's just such a far drive"...and inside I laugh about how absurd that sounds, and how I'm not meaning to be absurd at all. It's like a big guard saying, "There is something bigger to this, the smoke and mirrors of saying, "Mountain House" is just to distract you from the bigger picture of what this place is." It's the part of me that never grew up, or old, it just grew along with me. Everytime we go, I get giddy for all of the nothing we actually get to do. The smell of the woods floods my mind with magic nostalgia and all of the things in my mind's eye blurs with color and pleasure.

It's the shenanigans my dad and I have pulled, "Feats of Strength, Who can Knock Down the Dead Rotted Tree"..."My dad's black eye from drinking too much and hitting his eye on the deck railing" (how do you do that?) Grandfather giving me life lessons through our daily walks...taking my wife and sharing such a special place in my has been my Walden Pond...and as I pack our bags for our trip this weekend, the colors start to blur, and the smell of goodness starts to fill the air.