This might just be NOT “not your grandmother’s peach pie”

Because there’s in fact nothing wrong with grandmother’s peach pie. Nothing at all. That’s why they call it “grandmother’s peach pie” — it’s a bit of a cliché, and this cliché has survived two generations of pie-makers in your family. That’s why your mother bakes it the way her mother did. And let’s face it, your father, if he was born before 1955, probably didn’t bake anything, so I assume it’s your mother’s mother and not even your aunt’s mother, because then it wouldn’t be your grandmother’s peach pie but rather your great-aunt’s peach pie, and it’s your cousins who cook their grandmother’s peach pie and not your grandmother’s peach pie. And that’s fine. This is the way we avoid fights at Thanksgiving.

But this peach pie has the crust and filling of a very simple pie, like that of grandmother, and the ingredients and a couple key techniques seem to make this special.

The ingredients

Good ingredients give you a head start with any dish, and just like your grandmother used ingredients that were more farm-based and less grocery store-based, so you would do well to adopt this practice. This goes without saying.

Peaches, I’ve learned from being married to a Texan, are better in Texas than from, say, Georgia, even if that’s not verifiable because taste — like anything related to the five senses — is subjective. Texas claims the best peaches, and therefore it is true. Even if I was married to a woman from Georgia, her imaginary sister, who moved to Texas in 1988 to be with her imaginary outlaw country music boyfriend would try to convince you that Texas peaches are best, especially if it’s in the Hill Country at Fredericksburg’s Jenschke Orchards.

Jenschke has been family owned and operated since 1961. There was a store by that name in Kerrville owned by a family cousin as I understand it, but that location was shut down as H-E-B expanded. I’ve heard they still make deliveries to local outlets.

Karen and I went to Fredericksburg a couple weekends ago, because I had a hankering to bake a peach pie that every same day, and it was this that ended up as good as “grandmother’s peach pie.”

I should be quick to add a couple caveats:

  • Neither of my grandmothers cooked peach pie.
    • One of those grandmothers, a well-to-do New England lady, had a housekeeper who also cooked, and to my recollection she made only a cherry pie, which would pass muster with my grandfather, whose opinion carried the weight of a Supreme Court Chief Justice on all matters culinary (and hunting, and hunting dogs, and basically anything related to being alive).
  • I had made only two pies previously, an apple with fruit picked from Cider Hill Farm when we were living in Massachusetts, and a strawberry-rhubarb pie with rhubarb given to me by a colleague who got it from her family’s farm in Vermont.
    • I should note that both of these pies, especially the latter, kicked major ass.
    • But both of these pies were made prior to 2007, and I was a bit intimidated to bake another now, 14 years later, having been focused lately on the improvisational art of cooking and not baking, which truly is a science. (Yes, baking certainly has its artistic side.)
    • Which reminds me, as a college senior majoring in English with two housemates who were civil engineering majors, I’d be up late writing a term paper, in which all I needed to do was outline my perspective and then justify it with selective texts from the source material — this is the “cooking” form of study — while my housemates were cussing their way through thermodynamics — the “baking” form of study which, if not followed to the decimal point, will cause the bridge to fall like a failed merengue. I think you get the point: I could fake my way through an essay, frankly. You can’t fake baking.

You can see from the photos that to eat a ripe Texas peach, I needed to bend over to keep the juices from running down my chin.

I purchased discounted “seconds,” ripe and ready to eat or bake with that same day. Otherwise, you can get peaches that will ripen in two or three days’ time. Being ripe as they are, whatever peaches I didn’t bake, we made sure to eat relatively soon.

The process

Here I’ll share a couple things that helped me turn what would have been a mess into a crowd-pleaser. It comes down to (1) a good crust which, I think I can make even better next time, and (2) a key spice in the filling.

THE CRUST

In some ways it’s the crust that makes all the difference.

Being the pie’s public face, so to speak, either it attracts you or you start eating with a grumpy attitude. Only then, once you commit to it with a fork, does its flakiness count.

I used the pie crust recipe HERE from Cookies and Cups. Again, ingredients are important just as is one key technique that I learned from a colleague who had cooked many a pie.

One of the ingredients called for is, of course, butter. First, as the recipe says, make sure your butter is cold. While an experienced baker can give a more detailed explanation why it should be cold, common sense says it would be more likely to produce the “coarse sand” texture called for, rather than a mush that would surely result from using warm butter. I used Plugra butter, which is now the go-to butter for my serious cooking and baking.

The technique I first learned, also from a colleague in Massachusetts — apparently many of us talked about baking when we should have been working — and that I applied to the apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies, was that one should NEVER OVERWORK THE DOUGH. Most of you reading this probably know that, but it was news to me back in 2005. This means, in practice, to not over-knead it or roll it too much, and if it tears or comes apart, simply use your fingers to gently press back the torn piece onto the larger piece. I.e. don’t use the rolling pin to roll it out again.

What I didn’t do which I will next time was to wrap the dough (I did that part) and chill it longer than I did.

THE FILLING

The nutmeg was in my opinion that item that made for a successful filling, for which I used a recipe HERE from Taste Of Home.

Everyone expects the standard things: sugar, corn starch, salt, lemon juice, butter…even the cinnamon and brown sugar aren’t eye opening. But for me it was the nutmeg, even though it was only 1/4 teaspoon’s worth — in combination with the other ingredients like the brown sugar and cinnamon — that gave it that catalytic “oopmh.” And perhaps it was also that you’re cooking the reserved juice from the peaches, because this means that you’re using the juice from the aforementioned Jenschke peaches, which I’ve already pointed out are the bomb.

And, to be honest, having these peach “seconds” meant that they were ripe THAT DAY, and to wait even a day longer would have produced a different taste. As it was, the juiciness and sweetness of the fruit were optimal.

In sum

If I had to point to four things that made this peach pie a success, and even though I can improve for the next one, I’d say it was the (1) quality peaches, which also positively impacted the reserve juice, (2) dough technique, (3) quality butter, and (4) the nutmeg.

I might be wrong on the nutmeg, since it was such a small amount, but it seemed to jump out at me. And it still jumps around in my memory.

This was indeed somebody’s grandmother’s peach pie.

First time smoking a brisket

This past Saturday evening into Sunday midday was my first time smoking a brisket. As I mention in the standard introduction to my podcast, also called “Biscuit Aisle” on Spotify, I come from the land of pizza and bagels. The main thing that’s smoked there is salmon from Zabar’s and now weed in Times Square. (Apparently, it’s a bit like Woodstock but with fake Spidermen shysters and without Jimi Hendrix.)

Smoking a brisket

Smoking a brisket falls into a cooking category referred to as “low and slow”–low temperature over a long time. Like sous vide but in a smoker rather than a pot of water. Incidentally, in an upcoming podcast episode, I speak to a Danish man who longs for a smoker to make dishes such brisket and pulled pork but, because his neighbors would throw a fit about the smoke, must satisfy himself with sous vide cooking. (Not a bad second at all.)

That’s one of the natural and, I should add, delightful aspects of smoking a brisket: to stand near the smoker and feel and smell all the smoke of the meat becoming more tender and flavorful.

There are of course different kinds of grills, and I have owned three: (1) charcoal: everything from a $25 cheapie you throw out at summer’s end to a quite decent $200 grill we had on our porch in NYC; (2) gas, which I had in Massachusetts and grilled all kinds of meat and fish and veggies, year-round and which I thought I missed; and now, replacing my former love, (3) a Traeger.

Traeger as a brand is near synonymous with the type of grill it is: wood pellet. And it has a following with a hashtag that always says everything about the brand itself: #traegernation. (The only thing that has a fan base as devoted but no similar hashtag is Texas, which is already a nation.)

How I got mine

Family and people I had met through Instagram had talked about Traeger, but somehow the mechanics of it eluded me, and I also didn’t know what the big deal was. Deciding to get a Traeger was more of a discipleship process than actually buying and setting it up. Which, since it came assembled, wasn’t an issue. (More of an issue was getting in it the back of our Hyundai Santa Fe, which we did gingerly.)

I first heard about Traeger from an Instagram foodie friend named Angela Schweikert, who was a pescatarian until she met a pitmaster boyfriend who converted her not only to eating meat again but also to cooking everything on a grill from meat to seafood to something she calls “Bambi Bites” (you can guess) and even pies. You can make in a Traeger anything you can make in an oven. She told me about the grill–as had my brother-in-law Brian some time back, but it didn’t stick–and she referred me to another devotee, an authority named Pat (@Traeger.rage.BBQ) on Instagram. (He plays a role later in the narrative.)

I continued to research Traeger and finally got a Pro Series 34 at Home Depot here in Kerrville, Texas.

I have to say, it is impressive, and my first meal was chicken kabobs, which cooked in about 8 minutes. I like the idea, also, of burning wood and not charcoal or gas. It of course gives it a more pure flavor, and while the fumes are not as clean as real wood, it’s better than standing over a charcoal grill.

First time smoking a brisket

As I mentioned, I first made kebabs on my Traeger, which turned out not only respectable but rather quite good. I then tried smashburgers, which were just ok. I cooked something else which I now can’t remember. But it was time for me to try what a grill/smoker is known for, at least in the nation of Texas, which is brisket.

I must say, I was quite intimidated at first.

Brisket seemed the meat dish that required the most patience, finessing, time and know-how, not to mention a Texas passport. I had only the patience, which came in handy.

I was going to go to a butcher called Bernhard’s Meat Processing up Junction Highway between Kerrville and Ingram, Texas. It’s known for high quality, but I ended up getting mine from H-E-B, which has a 25-yard long waist-high refrigerator with nothing but brisket. I chose a 9.5lb job, and there were choices at least in the 16+lb range. As it was, we still had enough left over after two ravenous sons dove in to give a chunk to my mother- and sister-in-law and also make ourselves chopped brisket sandwiches for two meals. Homemade macaroni and cheese (cheddar and gruyere) accompanied the meat.

I can see how brisket would be the perfect choice for a large group of people.

There are a lot of nuances about brisket that I didn’t know and won’t go into here, such as differentiating between the fat cap and thin end, and other essentials as what kind of rub, and a myriad of variations in how to cook it.

Jedi Masters are real and they sometimes suck as friends

One of the people I had met on Instagram was a well-known devotee within the Traeger fan base, and I sought his counsel on a number of fronts early in my use. I knew I’d need to ask his counsel during this maiden brisket voyage.

He was super helpful until… I was following a recipe on the Traeger iPhone app and also using this man’s basic framework. That was a mistake. There is the Jedi way — which must be the Jedi Master’s way — and there is everything else: the dark side. For example: those who use foil or butcher paper to wrap the meat toward the end, admittedly resulting in different outcomes, each defend their way to the hilt. Especially butcher paper, which is the Jedi way. My sense was that foil users feel less strongly about their way and could be coaxed to the butcher paper Way, but once you are in that camp, to go back is true apostasy.

When I chose to use foil toward the end, because the app said I should and because I didn’t have butcher paper to follow Master’s way, I asked a question related to the app instructions, and his text back to me was curt:

Sounds Like A Good Enough Process.

I don’t do that.

Ciao Brother.

– my “Jedi Master”

Some might write that off. “Guy’s an asshole” and all that. But this was my first brisket and when you get right down to it, I trusted him more than the 27,813 reviewers (really; there were that many) who gave the recipe a 4.8-star rating. Because it’s all too possible for 27, 813 people to follow a recipe and be merely satisfied, giving it a high rating, rather than follow a Jedi Master and get proven Jedi results.

I wanted to learn the Jedi mind tricks necessary to please my eaters. And I did. They were overcome with the result and apparently forgot I was a Yankee making the national meal of Texas.

18 hours and 4-5 N/A beers

Traeger instructions are quirky. In a good way. As you read through the set-up and initial firing up steps, each step is accompanied by the icon of a six-pack of beer, with individual bottles disappearing along the way, showing you how long each step and the entire process should take. Likewise, recipes often have that same time-to-beer pacing icon.

Since I drink only non-alcoholic beer, the metrics would no doubt be different.

Or so I thought.

I found myself, at around 3AM, pacing through my six pack of non-alcoholic Bitburgers. I had probably drunk 4 or 5 since 6PM the previous day. I had never, and I mean never, had more than two at any one sitting. (Which is telling for a guy who calls himself a recovered alcoholic.)

And though I nearly finished off “a six” while cooking, there was no hangover the next day.

Only the smell of smoke permeating the living room (next to the patio and the grill), which I didn’t notice since I’d been breathing it in for more than 18 hours.

“Name this burger”

Some readers might know that Biscuit Aisle is creating a new cuisine called “Spaghetti-Western Food.” People fuse all kinds of cuisines for diners who will pay top dollar for tiny dollops. Like the photo to the right, it’s “Big Plate, Small Bite, Big Bill.” Wolfgang Puck pioneered this format of paying a lot for a little, and outcomes have been heresies like “pad thai taco,” “kimchi quesadilla” or “sushi pizza.” (These are real examples.)

But, as has been said by orthodox Christians about “Christian Science,” it’s neither Christian nor Science.

I love all those dishes separately, but together…? Not so much. In fact, it’s adjacent to scandalous.

Fortunately for Biscuit Aisle, “spaghetti-western food” is not an invented fusion but rather is a mealtime companion to the eponymous film genre whose most famous director is Sergio Leone and whose most famous examples are movies like Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” or his “Dollars” trilogy (e.g. “Fistful of Dollars.” And notice that it’s a fistful, not a pinky’s worth, of dollars).


Lee Van Cleef was the “Bad” in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” He now has a burger named after him. (Though I mixed him up with the “Ugly” character, played by Eli Wallach.) Nevertheless, my hunt for the ultimate ugly burger continues. And the journey must end, of course, with the ultimate spaghetti-western burger, which would be one named after either Clint Eastwood, the star of many movies in that genre–though, notably, not in the most famous “Once Upon A Time In The West”–or director Sergio Leone.

On the occasion of my 100th Instagram post (at bottom), I decided to crowdsource the name, knowing that someone would come up with the favored moniker for the simple but still ugly burger. (I don’t recommend this process for newborn humans, and you will shortly see why.)

Here are the entries, and after that I’m going to ask a favor of you that will come with a reward:

  • Black Forest Bacon Double Trouble Burger
  • Cheesecon Burger
  • Tuscan Baconator
  • Upchuck Corral
  • The Good, the Ham and the Patties
  • Under the Tuscan Bun
  • Grand Canyon Massacre
  • Patty Capone
  • Sundance Burger
  • The Killer B Burger
  • Double Hop-Along Howdy, with bacon
  • El Corozanary
  • Il (capital “I” lower case “l”) Cuoronary
  • Burger You Can’t Refuse
  • The Eastwood
  • The Widowmaker
  • Congo
  • T-shirt Burger

In the COMMENTS section below, please list your TOP 3 FAVORITE NAMES. The person who first suggested the winning name will win a FREE t-shirt–sent to them anywhere in the U.S. at my expense–and I will also send a t-shirt to one of those who pick the winning name.

Honor system: don’t read through the comments to see how the voting is going. :))

So vote today and win a chance at a free t-shirt for yourself or for a foodie friend!

Creation in a new light

Since February 1 of this year, I’ve been taking photos from our backyard looking northwest. More precisely, it’s probably west-northwest.

I take each photo ten minutes after sunrise. Sunrise on February 1 was 7:35am Central Standard Time, and sunrise today was 6:52am Central Daylight Time.

I’ve titled this series — which by no means includes each day but rather does include multiple days from each week since the start — #10MinutesAfterSunriseInTexas. If you go to Instagram and do a search for similar posts, you might find a series called “10 minutes after sunrise,” but there are only four such photos, and they don’t announce mornings in the great state of Texas but rather in places like Maine, where the sun actually rises only about seven days a year, in late June.


So I became interested in what I could learn about the sunrise here.

Previously, only a spectacular sunrise or sunset would earn my attention. It dawned on me that because I pick and choose what I want to see, I might be missing something even more spectacular.

See these two galleries below, followed by an observation I had. I’ll save others for later.

  • Gallery 1 is four photos from the first half of February. (Earliest is upper left and moves clockwise to later dates.)
  • Gallery 2 is two photos from the first half of February contrasted against two from the first half of May. (Earliest is upper left and again moves clockwise.)

To the naked eye, we can see differences, especially when sunrises are separated by a few months.

The camera — machine #1 — picks up differences further still. One day, I was sure it was an overcast-gray only. But the camera picked up more blue than I had noticed. The camera didn’t operate on preconceived notions about what it wanted to see.

It just reported.

Then, I added a second machine to see what I might be missing and to “say” what the camera didn’t have the tools to.

Adobe Capture is an app that allows you to create various patterns from photos. It also can compile a “swatch” of five colors that it deems dominant in that photo.

The series on the left is from early February — February 1 at top, February 14 at bottom. The series on the right, like the gallery, shows the first two February photos at top and the last two May photos at bottom. Move the vertical slider back and forth by clicking and holding the “< >” to compare and contrast.

On left is a machine impression of the February photographs. On the right is a machine impression of the first two February photographs (on top) and two photographs from this month (on bottom).

There are six conclusions I’ve made so far from looking at the photos over time, not through my eyes but through the eyes of two unbiased machines, that of my camera and Adobe Capture. I’ll share just one for now:

The sun doesn’t make the difference; the clouds do.

This was my problem at the start. My idea of a “great” sunrise or sunset not only was that it was sunny, creating a “golden hour,” but also that it was brilliantly so. Nothing wrong with that, granted.

But it is the clouds, playing off the sun, that create various shadows and shades of blues, browns and greens that I had missed until I filtered them through these two machines.

#10MinutesAfterSunriseInTexas is my way of seeing creation in a new light.

More to come.

“We are happy to serve you,” said the coffee cup to the world.

When designing what is now not only an iconic coffee cup but perhaps the iconic one, Leslie Buck introduced a simple concept to start New Yorkers’ caffeinated daily grind: “We are happy to serve you.”

Buck, born Laszlo Büch in 1922 in Czechoslovakia, survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps in WWII, though the Nazis killed his parents.1 He moved to America and ultimately sold cups for Sherri Company, breaking into the large NYC market of Greek-owned diners by designing a cup that appealed to them. In fact, the coffee cup that Leslie Buck designed in the early 1960s was so iconic that now, even after the cup is no longer being mass produced, the company still prints them on demand.

“Service” is not exactly a New York thing, or is it?

My first job out of college was with John Wiley & Sons, Publishers. In the mid-1980s, the global company had its headquarters in two buildings facing each other off 40th Street: 600 and 605 Third Avenue. I worked in 600 Third, the building on the west side of the avenue.

In the lobby of my building there was a coffee shop. Most of us would stop there on our way in and get a coffee and either a muffin or bagel with something on it. The cashier was an older lady, probably around 60 at the time and now probably turning a ripe 130 years (that’s not true).

Truth is, she was ripe then, maybe a bit past ripe, for her remarks were acerbic and you didn’t want to be on the butt end of them.

One morning as I was waiting to pay for my coffee and toasted corn muffin with butter, a delivery boy came back to the cashier and said that Mr. Jones on the 9th floor complained his toast was too dark.

While counting change for the customer in front of her, she said, “Go tell the kitchen to make another order, and tell Mr. Jones that next time, send a swatch.”

“We are happy to serve you” only sounds different in NYC

This might give you the impression that New Yorkers are gruff, mean-spirited people. On the contrary, they are deeply intimate, in-your-face people. They have to be. They ride nose to nose on the subway; they walk shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk; they have jousting grocery store carts in the narrow aisles. (Hence the name for this blog when I first encountered H-E-B.)

For example, many corner delis in New York City are run by Korean immigrants and are highly efficient purveyors of morning meals-to-go, in particular, to the New York white collar customer. One such place was famous for having a cashier, a Korean lady of about 40 or so, expedite the long line of customers getting their breakfast orders, with a clipped and accented, “Step DOWN! Step DOWN!”

Her service sounded quite different from that of a southern diner, for example — “What’ll you have, hon’?” — and was all about getting people into the deli and back out to their workplace which, for a New Yorker, is where they want to be. Her “service” was a function of the location.

Therefore, while it’s unlikely you’ll hear many in the food industry there say out loud, “We are happy to serve you,” they really are.


1 The New York Times

2 PHOTO CREDIT: “Peddler

My peach ice cream and a black man’s spoon in it

Memories often are formed around food or meals. Like when you tried your first bite of cheesecake or tiramisù — can you guess my bias for which course I like the most? — or like that disastrous dinner when you drove from Denver Airport at 5,000 feet above sea level to your buddy’s house another 3,500 feet higher, had an amazing steak dinner lovingly prepared by his wife and then, with sudden altitude sickness, puked it up?

That puking steak thing has happened to all of us at some time or another, or at least it should, because then I wouldn’t feel so naked right now. Please comment below what your most embarrassing food story is. Or actually your most embarrassing story, period. Like, things that have traumatized you to this day. Only five people regularly read this blog, so your secret is safe.

I digress.

Food and meals aren’t always funny or facile tropes in TV shows, like the “look who decided to come home for Thanksgiving dinner” episode.

How about the meal memories that reveal a true weakness? One that leaves you much more naked than admitting to puking up a steak.

“He’s a prince from Ghana.”

Yeah, right, I thought, in whatever the six-year-old, first-grader equivalent was. I was a NYC-savvy grade school cynic.

Dad had taken me to lunch with one of his work colleagues. They worked for a company called Transportation Displays Incorporated, “TDI.” In second grade, our teacher Mrs. Ricciardi asked each of us to stand up at our desk and state aloud what our fathers did for work. An innocent and honest mistake, I said my dad “worked for the FBI” (rather than “TDI”). I got major street cred for that, until moments later when I had to confess that it was in fact “TDI,” a company that sold advertising space. Specifically, they sold “out-of-the-home” advertising space to companies like Time, Inc. and advertising agencies like Young & Rubicam.

Needless to say, this new status reduced my cred. Like, to zero.

One of the benefits of having a dad who worked for TDI and not the FBI is that Dad would bring home commuter rail posters from a completed ad campaign, like the Cutty Sark one shown here. Dad told me that commuters would remove these stiff posters — probably 1/8-inch thick — from their metal frames and would use the horizontal surface to play cards on them during their hour-long ride into or out of the City.

Dad amassed these and other posters in our apartment’s second bathroom, a half-bath which he’d converted into tool shed and curio cabinet, and which was thoroughly cleaned out only after my father died in 1998. Dad was a pack rat but an organized one. Advertising posters were stacked neatly alongside baby food jars holding different sizes of nails and screws, and scraps of plywood, and jars of paint which might have only an inch of gooey Navajo White at the bottom but which could be salvaged with a little thinner, because that’s what you did when you were born in 1921 and saw hungry men show up at your backdoor looking for a meal and your family let them in — total strangers, yes, but strangers whose only likely crime might be to steal a random parsnip.

Dad brought home things like that just because. And also because it was easier to bring home commuter rail posters than bank robbers.

(We need another subhead to say, “He’s a prince from Ghana.”)

Have to continue my thought above. So I met a lot of people in New York City in the 1960s and ’70s. People who were famous, eccentric or exotic. Or exotic, eccentric and maybe famous, like a woman named “Lady Enid P__” (last name intentionally omitted) who was a tall and sultry friend of Dad’s from Australia and used to give my brother and me dollar bills and let us wrestle with her. I mean, tell me that isn’t practically the sexiest thing for an 8-year-old kid struggling to understand anatomy. She was from Australia.

Still not getting to Ghana, are we.

I’m delaying the shame is why.

Dad took his non-FBI colleague John Okawa and me to lunch one day. At the end of the meal, we ordered dessert. (Of course we did. What lame person would not allow their kid to order dessert at the end of a restaurant meal. I mean, please correct me, but that’s just something that should not be tolerated in America. Let your kids order freaking dessert. Like, every time. Kids are dealing with enough already, like wrestling with sultry Australian gentry for pay.)

So we’re ordering dessert and I order peach ice cream. And I am STOKED to get this peach ice cream. Stoked. It’s served, and I take a bite. Maybe two at most. Mmm. Cool. Tasty. Peachy. An amazing restaurant-quality, all-American ice cream experience that had not been denied me.

Then Mr. Okawa, a very dark-skinned man who Dad had described as a prince from Ghana — yeah, right, an African prince is here in New York selling 2×3-foot spaces on the Long Island railroad to whiskey-drunk bond traders — turned to me and asked very kindly, “May I have a bite?”

I was genuinely caught off guard.

Now, you must know, Dear Reader, that as a kid I had a serious Germ Phobia anyway. Like, that was already there. Anyone who knew me would tell you this. But this moment was qualitatively different. Because Mr. Okawa’s request for a bite of my ice cream, even with his own spoon, didn’t just introduce germs, but they were especially germy germs. And I feel it’s important to say this in the context of “race relations” in 2021: this was in 1969 in New York City, and anyone who wasn’t alive then but looking back now and thinks they know what racism is and isn’t should instead worry about what people one hundred years hence will think about their strong belief that avocados are the “good kind of fat.” In 100 years, they will probably say that avocados scream when you tear their flesh from their beautiful, if rough, exterior. They will say to those reprobates then, “Hey, you avocado-eater, don’t ‘rough-rind-shame.'”

Mr. Okawa’s request added a layer of germiness in my mind. He was a dark-skinned man, and I was a very white kid who candidly didn’t have any known dislike of black people. I simply didn’t know many black people — which is probably why Dad had me meet him in the first place — and to have a black man want to dip his spoon, which he may or may not have used on his own dessert already, was a bridge too far.

I hesitated, which was answer enough. I still remember that moment, that hesitation, the millisecond of indecision between “yes” and “no,” and it was in that millisecond that I exposed the brokenness between people who are different in skin color and can’t escape the fact. And, yes, a six-year-old’s actions and words can exacerbate brokenness, or they can heal it. Six-year-olds wield that kind of terrible power.

Of course I said, “Yes.” Yes, he could have a bite. Was a 6-year-old going to say no to an authority figure over something like that and embarrass his father?

But after Mr. Okawa, the Ghanaian prince and ad salesman, took a bite, I said I was not hungry for my dessert anymore. To this day, I feel the shame as I recall sensing my dad’s embarrassment and Mr. Okawa’s… what: pity? anger? frustration? empathy? powerlessness? sadness? at my decision that his Black Person Spoon contaminated my dessert. I avoided eye contact with both men.

That was 52 years ago.

2020 sucked but shone light on us all, and that’s a good thing

I think what brought this to mind was that yesterday I had a long, and I thought helpful, talk with an old and very dear friend about Election 2020 and my support of President Trump. My friend and I had disagreed intensely during the election season, and he sincerely wanted to know now what compelled me not just to vote the way I did but how it was that Trump was disqualified in my mind, particularly because of his racist statements.

I felt, and I hope he did, our conversation yesterday was in the context of love. Much of what my friend brought up were things I couldn’t defend. Some of them were indefensible because my friend was right, and others I chose not to attempt to defend because I thought it would lead down rabbit holes and be unhelpful to explain my vote. But he was surprised — and refreshingly candid about his surprise — to hear that the “fine people” statement surrounding Charlottesville, which President Biden used to launch his candidacy, was once and for all debunked for the nth time during the Senate trial in the second impeachment. At that time, Trump’s lawyers played for everyone present or watching TV Trump’s full statement at the press conference where he was reputed to call white supremacists “fine people,” which he absolutely did not do. (This, of course, introduces the whole media bias thing, which is a rabbit hole and a dead-end hole at that.)

I’m no longer defending Trump — it’s not helpful to anyone — even though I defend my having voted the way I did in 2016 and 2020, because I made what I thought were selfless and patriotic decisions both times and even if I’m proven wrong by history. I told my friend, “I may have voted for P.T. Barnum, but I also feel like he enlarged the tent” of those who felt forgotten or wanted a voice. And yes, Nazis found a voice through Trump. But so did lots of blacks, Latinos and others. Look at the data.

I’m also defending the fearless search for honesty, candor and forgiveness. Humility. Placing relationships before “the Truth.” For who among us knows “the truth”? The truth is a vapor. As soon as you see it, it disappears. It’s more helpful to know that Truth exists “up there,” like clouds, than to try to bottle it up and show it to a friend. Avocados will likely always be good for us and will not be found to scream. But there are avocado equivalents now that will be vociferously denounced a hundred years hence. Will my descendants decide I’m no longer worth remembering because I decided that a black man’s spoon contaminated my peach ice cream? Or because I voted for Trump? Twice?

And the real question for me to answer is: if I knew that in one hundred years my descendants would disown me, would I disown them first?


[photo credit: Justin Shockley]

Tea and cinnamon toast at midnight

We’re about two to three hours past the time that, as a young boy, I’d often find Mom and have a “midnight snack.” “Midnight snack” is a general term, not anchored to 12 a.m. The phrase has a bit of elasticity, like saying “block party” can be anything from a little get-together among adjacent Manhattan buildings to all of the East Village erupting after the Rodney King verdict in April 1992.

That last comparison didn’t really flow, I’ll admit, but as it’s 3:48 a.m. as I write, long past the “midnight snack” range when I might have had a little get-together, I’m rapidly approaching the riot stage of insomnia.

As a kid, I often couldn’t sleep. This hasn’t changed much. Nowadays, naps are often more successful for rejuvenation, especially when I have a 90-pound labrador retriever sleeping next to me. Having Leo as my nap buddy is like taking half a bottle of Benadryl without the life-threatening part.

When I couldn’t sleep then — and “then” means between the age of about 5 until the age I became a blackout drinker, so maybe by second grade (again, kidding/exaggerating, ok? Brain fog.) — I’d either find Mom in bed and rouse her, or I’d find her already in the kitchen.

If I found her in bed, I’d tiptoe past Dad’s side and over to hers and whisper close to her ear, “Can we have a midnight snack?”

As a parent now myself, and as a father who’s much less nurturing than a mother would be — even on a wide-awake Sunday afternoon; I mean, NFL…right? — this sweet little whisper up close at the side of my head while I try to sleep might as well be someone tickling my eardrum with a toothpick.

Nevertheless, I have no recollection of Mom ever saying, “Go back to bed.”

On the contrary, even though Dad never watched the NFL and was very nurturing as far as men go, he too found a way to get me back to bed with minimal disruption in his own sleep, which was to tell me that if I slept on my back, I’d have nightmares. Which really meant, “I know you are only in second grade, but you snore when you come home drunk.” Like I said, practical but loving.

I haven’t told you what the “snack” consisted of. In short:

  • Tea
  • Cinnamon toast

I may have had milk, but I also may have had tea. Kids of American/Anglophile mothers also drink tea. (When speaking directly to her, we’d use the English “Mummy,” not the lazy “Mom” or “Mommy,” and certainly not the more southern, “Mama” or “Momma” — although one cannot distinguish between homonyms at 12:30 a.m.; I don’t know if you knew that. Of course, if the emphasis of “Mama” is on the second syllable, that might become acceptable.)

As for the “cinnamon,” Mom and Dad had mixed that and sugar in a small glass jar that probably had rosemary in it until recently, before my brother and I experimented in the kitchen. We buttered the toast and then sprinkled the cinnamon-sugar mix on it.

Knowing what I know about that midnight snack and its soporific effect, if you tickled my eardrum with a toothpick these days, I’d thank you.

But don’t come over now and try. It’s four hours past snack time and I need to go find Leo.

Toddler. Kitchen step-ladder. Open flame.

Custom countertops and Nazi butt-kicking

My family’s kitchen on East 96th Street in Manhattan was perhaps ten feet wide by fifteen long. But, of course, the countertops took up enough space to make the kitchen more of an L-shaped space that opened at the kitchen entrance — Dad had fashioned swinging doors with louvers, like an Old West barroom — turned right toward the fridge with expandable countertop to the left (Dad made), and took a sharp left toward the window with a copious runway of four or five feet until you reached the stove on the left, double sink on the right. (Window in the middle, looking out over 96th Street.) To the right of the runway, before you got to the sink, was a custom countertop (again, by Dad) with a built-in raised cutting board (Dad) surrounded by inlaid tiles bought in Spanish Harlem (Dad…and me, age 7. Maybe younger brother Jim was there also, but as I am the owner of this blog and therefore seeking glory only for myself, I will avoid any uncertainty about the participants.).

Yes, Dad created this kitchen infrastructure like the architect he always wanted to be. That is, until his father died and he had to drop out of college at age 20 to support a stepmother and three younger half-siblings. That was 1941. Dad was a 4F, which perhaps was fortuitous, because were he not, he’d likely have had to serve or would be faced with the task of deciding whether to stay or go. His poor health made that decision for him.

Going into advertising sales was not his “passion.” Nor was doing so following his “dream.” But it provided for four other people at a time when — having had its ass kicked in the ’30s — America was about to kick some Nazi ass in the ’40s. It also provided for us growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. His valor was demonstrated in flying home from a client in California and then flying off to Chicago two days later. They don’t give out medals for that, just new fiscal year goals.

I remember oregano. Oregano and lots of rosemary.

The kitchen wasn’t all about Dad’s incredible handiwork. (It was indeed incredible what that man could do.) It was also about Mom’s cooking. Mom made great meals for kids and adults alike and, because of that, she required a lot of herbs and spices to be on hand. They sat on four shelves that were easily accessible to any child who crawled onto the countertop and then kneeled. That would get you to the good stuff on the top as well as to the bronze mortar and pestle, weighing as much as a small wood-burning fireplace.

As kids in the 5- to 8-year-old range, we were fascinated by the smells of everything coming from that kitchen. Herbs. Spices. So we would take it upon ourselves to use Mom’s herbs liberally — she had no saffron that I recall — and stir them into a pot of water that we would already have simmering. On a gas stove.

Did I mention that we were too young to reach the stove without using a step ladder? I can’t recall whether we stood on the top step, but any manufacturer warnings about that — if even invented by 1970 — must surely have been printed on the underside. And who stopped for directions when making spice soup?!

Fear not

This is not a story that ends badly, like me with clove-shaped scars on my right cheek or daring my brother to eat a tablespoon of crushed chili flakes. (Well. That might have happened.) It’s not even a story.

Rather it’s a memory of a small kitchen, a family of four, lots of meals, and no devices of any kind.

Mom and Dad never owned a microwave.

“Hands-up” the number 1 best hamburger recipe

Many of us go online to find recipes — rather than looking in printed cookbooks — and when we go online we want to find family-friendly recipes. For kids of all ages, including 57-year-old men, one of the best hamburger recipes is the one I’ve included below, which is not mine, but which I’ve tweaked to near perfection.

First, to get the juices flowing, let’s take a quick survey of the burgers found on Instagram today:

  • best hamburger recipe

My recent big win

My recent Van Cleef Ugly Burger pleased the hometown crowd big-time, and I used the special ingredients I mention below. (P.S. Yes, while this burger was inspired by the movie “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and while Lee Van Cleef played the “Bad” character and Eli Wallach the “Ugly,” I wanted a Van Cleef burger, but calling it a “Bad Burger” wouldn’t play.)

what a burger recipe

Here’s the “secret-not-so-secret” recipe

The secret of my recipe is pork and egg. So, right out of the gate, this might not be the recipe for everyone. You can’t claim to have an “all-beef” patty with this recipe, of course. And if you don’t eat pork as a rule, or if you have an egg allergy, then this is not for you. I will tell you, however, that even without the pork or egg, I have found this somewhat basic recipe to be absolutely the best one I’ve tried.

But having made killer meatloaf with pork (and veal, which is not included here), I think it gives it superior taste and juiciness.

Technique

The following techniques are things I did on my most recent burger, which seemed to help the taste quite a bit. One of the tweaks — smashing the burger — was suggested by my son, who worked at a Culver’s restaurant for a while.

  • SMASH THE PATTY. I never wanted a burger to be so thick it would never get well-done (as I like it) before charring the surface. But I also never smashed down the patties. Once I tried it this time, though, not only did I find that it stayed juicy — I attribute that in part to the pork, as I mentioned above — I found it easier, of course, to offer my hungry home diners double patties with whatever toppings they wanted.
  • TWO CHEESE SLICES per patty, placed 45 degrees off center. I rotated the two slices 45 degrees off one another, to give it a more dynamic look. I also used a variety of cheese with my Van Cleef Burger: cheddar, white American, and of course Manchego, since we were going with a Mexican theme.
  • THE BUN: Most of us overlook the bun. First, I’m not a fan of sesame seed buns. I like the concept of sesame seeds in general, but on bagels and buns, they get stuck in my teeth. So, no. I use Dave’s Killer Bread buns, which are hearty and made by an awesome company. I butter the insides of both halves and then broil them briefly, blackening the edges only slightly. They don’t need a lot of crisping–they’re already firm and feel toasted. But warm and crisp them a little more, and you have the ultimate hearty bun to hold together your handful of heaven.
  • GET CREATIVE. With thin-ish patties and a hearty bun, you can add almost anything in between. (I myself would not recommend corn, as pictured above, but that’s just me.)

Enjoy!

“Biscuit Aisle” podcast launched: focuses on food and family

One of my favorite podcasts out there, offered on Spotify, is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Carlin is a journalist-turned-historian, and he says he likes to focus on extreme human behavior, especially in wars, both ancient and modern. He details these over the course of 5- and 6-hour episodes. Listening to two back to back, you’d almost be able to drive across Texas. Another of my favorites is The Allusionist (about language and words) and yet another is 99% Invisible, which is about the “process and power of design and architecture.”

Likely, I’m not the only one out there who sees something cool and says, “I’d like to do what that person does.” Well, I’m no historian, English language expert, or design guru. One of my main attributes, however, is that I’ve spent more than two decades asking questions and listening as a nonprofit fundraiser. Typically, this happens over a good meal that someone else pays for. Seems tailor-made for a podcast like the one I’m doing now.

This honed skill of probing for truth and then listening for it, between bites, could be turned into conversations that might be helpful, or at least entertaining, for a listener.


I’ve done two interviews so far with fellow “foodies,” who more often than not are much younger than I and who look a sight better in a spaghetti string dress. (I know this to be fact.)

Instagram is the social medium platform I use to post photos of the meals I make, and many of those I’m connected to just happen to live in Texas, Canada, India or the U.K. Typically they are between the ages of 25 and 44, overwhelmingly female, men skewing slightly younger than women, and are active on Instagram chiefly on Thursday mornings at 9:30 U.S. Central Time. This would make sense, given that the times in the U.S. and Canada, the U.K. (6 hours ahead during Daylight Savings) and Mumbai (10.5 hours ahead) are waking hours for everyone in this group.

I say that there are a lot of foodies who fall into these demographics, but of course this is the “audience” that Instagram algorithms have chosen for me based on the small snowball of my early follow choices and which then rolled downhill gaining size and momentum.


Against that backdrop I decided to interview other foodies and hear about their passion for the subject. A lot of food posts on Instagram at large are marked as #foodporn or #burgerporn etc., not unlike others marked as #architectureporn. Anything visual can be turned to an idol of fascination, if the visual is both the first and last stop of engagement (there is in fact no porn itself on the platform). But food posts usually represent a person having lovingly created the dish, which is typically enjoyed at a restaurant with a friend or lover, or at home with family. An #architectureporn photo might be of a glistening skyscraper containing hundreds of people. Or not. We can’t tell from the looks of it. Or it might be of an ancient building that hasn’t heard laughter in centuries.

But food posts have an immediate history and an active present. Lip smacks and closed-eyed smiles, laughter with the person next to you, sometimes grimaces and the word “interesting” being bandied about, and always clearing the plates afterwards.

I’ve conducted two interviews so far on “Biscuit Aisle.” Another episode is coming soon with a man who has become a part of the food scene in the greater Kerrville area. The first two interviews are with foodies from Houston and Toronto. Their Instagram accounts are below.

Please visit their pages, listen to the interviews and subscribe to the “Biscuit Aisle” podcast! Thanks.