Georgia Pellegrini is one of my current favorite authors. She writes with authority, wit and with the charm of someone who has actually experienced what she is writing about. Her new book, “Girl Hunter,” is a new favorite of mine. I read her first book, “Food Heroes” on my way back from Italy and was instantly hooked with her writing style. So many of the new food authors have a style and writing ability that is on par with anything being critically acclaimed by the New York Times. I wonder; is the creativity and work ethic required to produce consistently excellent food in a restaurant, or for that matter, in a home kitchen, directly translatable to an ability to write?
I hope so. I’ve been writing most of my life and cooking nearly all of it, so I hope that some small smidgen of what some of these writers, including Anthony Bourdain, have obtained in their own kitchens has rubbed off on me.
Speaking of Anthony Bourdain, a common game in restaurants is “What would we do if ‘x’ celebrity chef came in for a meal?” The general consensus is that Rachel Ray would be tossed back out into the street, Bobby Flay would immediately be challenged to a throwdown by everyone there, including the dishwasher, and Giada would be made to wash dishes in the steamroom. Take that image anywhere you like. But speak the name Bourdain – the most vocal of cooks start to stammer. “What would we cook?” is a common theme. A sixteen year-old busboy I work with summed up how the restaurant industry feels about Bourdain. One night, after a sixteen hour shift, he was listening to those higher in the food chain pontificate about what they would do if Anthony came in – and he summarized very well how everyone feels. He said, and I quote: “I would take off my shirt, prostrate myself before his shoes, and ask him to sign my back.”
Well, I don’t think Georgia is quite there, yet. Her books didn’t change my life, nor for that matter, did Bourdain’s. But, her recent book did make me think hard about my feelings about food. People that know me often chastise my attempts whenever possible to buy local, know the farmers from which my meat is grown and often visit the farms from which I buy. I believe that eating well is a forgotten skill and one that is being reborn in the gilded lilies of the haves, while the have not’s look on in peasant scorn.
I beg to differ with that notion. Fresh food and basic staples are much more attainable than McDonalds or frozen processed chicken nuggets. It’s cheaper for me to pick up a bag of local rolled oats, a dozen fresh eggs and bake a loaf of bread, which will provide breakfast for a week, than it is for me to stand in line in Starbucks for the same period of time. Or sit in a drive thru, God help us all. This local, organic breakfast costs about twenty-five cents a day, supports the local farmers and producers, and has about half the calories of a conventional (this should be unconventional) fast food breakfast.
But I digress. I’m on a tangent and that rarely results in good writing. Or blogging. What Georgia’s book did result in is an embracement of who I am and where I come from. I’m the oldest of seven children and I grew up in the coal fields of the Appalachia in the 1970s. We were poor. Yes, I am getting old. We often hunted for our food out of dire need, not sport. My first game animal was a brace of squirrels for my grandmother, who loved them and scrambled their brains with eggs. I’m not kidding. That with red-eye gravy, lard biscuits and the blackest coffee on earth (with egg shells mixed in the grounds) could keep you splitting wood, shoveling coal and digging post holes all day long.
Yet, I never enjoyed hunting. My brother loves to hunt and has an almost animalistic view of prey animals. To him, a deer is dinner. A turkey is dessert. A squirrel is breakfast. Yet, I am somehow the cook in the family. To me, those living animals are just that, living creatures. It has always been very difficult for me to kill anything, even in the guise of supper. I have shied away from raising chickens and rabbits for food, not because of the responsibility of raising them, but from the responsibility of killing them. For me, that’s the hard part. Once something is delivered to me with the life gone from its lungs, it is simply a food item. At Thanksgiving one year, my Dad literally gagged while I was cleaning a turkey – this is a man who can drop a deer at 300 yards and not bat an eye. I can clean the turkey, but I have issues with squeezing the trigger. Or dropping the axe. Or clubbing a bunny.
So this year, it is my goal to build a chicken coop and a rabbit pen, and stop being hypocritical. It’s time to embrace my roots, my sermon and the health of my family and humanly raise a portion of our food supply on my own.
Along the way, maybe, just maybe, I’ll take my wife’s 20 gauge shotgun and harvest a squirrel or two, or maybe eleven. We’ll see. Will I scramble their brains? We’ll see what Laura has to say about that!