Monday, January 18, 2010

From now on, my weekly columns will be posted at .

See you there.



Friday, October 09, 2009

I did it. I made it 30 days without eating meat, no seafood, either. A lot of you out there didn’t think I could do it. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

Now it’s over and, after today, I can start writing about something other than my intimate relationship with vegetables. This navel gazing has gotten old, even for me, who has spent my entire writing career navel gazing.

Unfortunately, the navel that I am gazing into today is a little deeper than the one I was gazing into 30 days ago. I didn’t lose weight. I actually gained one pound as a vegetarian.

Many have written and asked about my re-entry into the carnivorous lifestyle. I heeded the advice of many of you who suggested I do it slowly. Though I probably didn’t do it as slowly as I should have.

After a breakfast and lunch spent nibbling on a sausage patty and taking a few bites of a gyro sandwich, I found myself in the Renaissance Center in Madison, Mississippi in the middle of the afternoon, sitting in the new Five Guys burger franchise eating a hamburger and French fries.

Of all of the burger chains, Five Guys is my favorite. The burgers are good, but what I love are the fries (maybe it’s my newfound vegetarianism). Five Guys serves the best fries on the planet, bar none, end of discussion.

I’ll have a full review of Five Guys in a future column, but the afternoon snack of a hamburger ended up being the last meal I’d eat that day— so much for a slow re-entry.

A doctor friend of mine told me that my 30-day vacation from meat left me with no enzymes in my system to help me digest animal-based proteins. I won’t go into any details here, but the friends who warned me to take it slowly were right.

Jimmy Buffet had a hit with a semi-novelty song that he still performs in concert. Cheeseburger In Paradise was written after spending several weeks at sea drinking carrot juice and eating sunflower seeds. His craving was for charred beef and cheddar mine was for ribs.

I had been dreaming about barbequed ribs for three weeks. On day two of my carnivorous re-entry, my wife threw a surprise birthday party for me at Leatha’s BBQ Inn, home to my favorite fall-off-the-bone barbeque. I ate well— I had earned the right to do so.

The theme of the evening was meat and more meat. There were cow balloons and gag gifts and plenty of good-natured ribbing (pun intended). A very talented local gourmet cake baker— Kathy Davenport of Sweet Creations— baked a birthday cake that looked exactly like a large baked ham, studded with cloves and finished with a pineapple ring and cherry on top— amazing. It was the perfect finish to an interesting month.

My aim was true. I took the vegetarian challenge and didn’t waiver. I expected to get a month’s worth of comedic material for this column, what I got was the knowledge that limiting meat in one’s diet is probably a good thing.

Will I ever become a full-time vegetarian? No. Will I take one or two days a week to eat only healthy vegetables? Probably. Do I still love ribs? Yes, especially when it’s followed by ham cake.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Remember to Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

It’s a Christmas Eve feeling, this thing I’ve got. Remember when you were seven-years old and couldn’t wait for Christmas morning— so much so, that you couldn’t sleep the night before. That type of anticipation and excitement is rare for those of us who have passed the third grade. There’s an anticipatory energy one feels at that age. It’s in the air, it’s electric and it’s magical, it’s running through your body, and it’s real.

I feel it today. Christmas is 12 weeks away, and third grade is a distant memory, but the anticipation and excitement I am experiencing right now— this very second— feels the same.

It’s meat, or at least the thought of meat. And not just any meat, ribs. Coming in a very close second to ribs is steak. Oh how I love steak, let me count the ways.

Welcome to day 28 of my 30-day journey into vegetarianism. Three days left, I can’t wait.

Just a little less than a month ago, I took the PETA Challenge. The group posted a billboard in Florida with a fat woman in a bikini with the headline “Save the Whales Go Vegetarian.” Many were offended. I was amused. Somewhere along the way, I read of the PETA 30-day challenge: Go veggie for 30 days and lose weight.

I certainly need to lose weight, and not being one to back down from a challenge, I took it. So here I am, four weeks in, still alive, with all of my wits about me (my wife would disagree), still able to engage in a fairly intelligent conversation (many others would disagree), and still a vegetarian— for at least three more days.

Amazingly enough it hasn’t been too hard. That statement surprises me even as I type it. I had probably never gone two consecutive days without eating some type of meat.

What has surprised me most is that people didn’t believe me. Many thought I was just doing it as column fodder, and secretly scarfing down bacon behind the scenes. I’ve had countless people walk up to me in restaurants over the last month. “Is there any meat in that?”

I was in a Waffle House last week— that’s right, Waffle House, it’s where we vegetarians love to eat (waffles don’t have any meat in them, hash browns, either). My two children and I had finished eating and were about to get up when a gentleman and two ladies walked over to the table, “Got any sausage or bacon over there?” The Veggie Food Police are everywhere.

Much to the surprise of my family and friends, I have not cheated. Not even a bite of animal based protein. I wouldn’t even let my wife cook peas with bacon or use chicken stock in the beans.

The problem is that I haven’t lost weight. At one point over the last four weeks I was up four pounds. Today, I’m hovering at the same weight I was when I took the challenge.

I didn’t set out to prove PETA wrong. I certainly didn’t do this to gain weight. I just thought it would be a fun challenge. I will be the first to admit that I would have lost weight had I lived on a diet strictly made up of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I might have gone insane, but I would have lost weight. Instead, I ate a lot of bread, candy, and fried food— but no meat.

I haven’t missed chicken at all. Sausage? No problem. Bacon? Once or twice. Hamburgers? I mainly miss the convenience.

I want some ribs. I’d like to eat a steak, too. It pains me that I have missed the best month for soft-shell crab we’ve had in five years. I will be eating crab in three days, count on it.

While researching this column, I read where PETA planted fruit trees in honor of people who went vegetarian for 30 days. Over the last few weeks I have become pen pals with the PETA president, Ingrid Newkirk. I wonder if Ingrid will plant a fruit tree for me. And if so, what type of fruit tree does an overweight carnivore with a new respect for vegetarians warrant?

Barbara Jane’s Layered Cream Cheese Spread

2 TBL olive oil

1 /4 cup onion, minced

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 1 /2 tsp Creole seasoning

1-10 ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 /2 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1 /3 cup mayonnaise

3 Tbl sour cream

1 Tbl Creole Mustard

1 Tbl parsley, chopped

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1 /4 tsp salt

1 /2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

1 /8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 /2 cup peach or apricot preserves

1 /4 cup green onions, minced

1 /4 tsp ground nutmeg

Line a 9x5 inch loaf pan with plastic wrap.

Heat olive oil in a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat. Cook onions for 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic and Creole seasoning cooking two more minutes. Stir in spinach and blend well. Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, toasted pecans, Creole mustard, and parsley. Blend it very well, and spread half of this mixture into the bottom of the lined loaf pan.

In a separate bowl, combine one package of the cream cheese and the cooled spinach mixture. Blend well and spread over the halfed cheddar-pecan layer of the loaf.

Next, spread the remaining cheddar mixture into the loaf pan.

Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat remaining cream cheese until light and creamy. Add salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, preserves, green onions, and nutmeg. Spread final layer into the loaf pan and wrap very tightly with plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for 4-6 hours before serving (also freezes well, must thaw eight hours before serving).

To serve, sink the loaf pan into a warm water bath for 1-2 minutes. Do not let water seep into plastic and reach mold. Unmold onto serving platter and remove plastic wrap.

Yield: 20-25 appetizer servings

Monday, September 21, 2009

Zombies, and Skydivers, and Bears, Oh My

Welcome to day 21 of my 30-day journey into vegetarianism.

I have learned a lot over the last three weeks.

I have learned that there are many in-the-closet vegetarians out there, and if one writes about becoming a vegetarian, they will out themselves. They’re like zombies in a low-budget horror movie. When the sun goes down the zombies come out and wander slowly through the streets. With vegetarians, after you become one, they will show themselves to you. Vegetarians don’t wander aimlessly like zombies, but they do walk a little slower, I think it’s the lack of meat-based protein.

Note: Save the emails. I know that Zombies aren’t vegetarians. They are carnivores. They eat people. Vegetarians would never eat people.

I might be the only person in history who has successfully cited zombies and vegetarians in the same column.

I have also learned that vegetarians are like skydivers. They want to talk everyone who is not one, into becoming one. I have had several friends through the years who became skydivers. They spent half of their waking hours talking about jumping out of planes and the other half trying to convince other people into jumping out of planes. Vegetarians are the same way. They want to draw you in; it’s their passion. I respect that.

I have learned that I love ribs. No, I really love ribs. I mean I really, really love ribs. If I weren’t married I would move to Vermont and enter into a legal and binding marriage contract with ribs, right this second.

I miss bacon a little bit. I could eat a hamburger or two, and I plan on eating a ribeye steak the size of Pensacola in a few weeks. But what I dream about is ribs.

My newfound vegetarian friends have warned me to ease back into my carnivorous lifestyle at the end of the month. I trust that they know what they’re talking about. But my birthday is October 2nd and I plan on spending the entire night in Leatha’s BBQ Inn dousing myself with barbeque sauce, dancing on the tables, and eating a mastodon-sized slab of ribs— my honeymoon.

I have learned that once you announce your vegetarianism, people will send you food. I received a huge ice chest from a Canadian company called Gardein. The chest was filled with several of their products. As I write this column I am eating Gardein’s “Classic Style” Buffalo Wings.

Meat-free wings— I’m not sure what they’re made of, but they look kind of like Buffalo Wings. The package says “water, soy protein, wheat gluten, and ancient grains.” I don’t know what ancient grains are, but I think that there’s probably a reason they didn’t make it into the modern world.

Actually, Gardein’s meat-free Buffalo Wings tasted a little like what I remember Buffalo Wings tasting like. The texture was slightly off. My bookkeeper said that they tasted like the thigh of a chicken. No problem, there. I love thighs. Maybe it’s been so long since vegetarians have eaten chicken, this will suffice. Final verdict: Vegetarians will love this stuff.

My friend Jill Conner Browne took pity on me and sent a vegetarian care package filled with all-natural Indian sauces and rice products from a company called Tasty Bite. Good stuff, that.

Nine more days.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Life Through Spinach-Colored Glasses

Welcome to day 14 of my 30-day excursion into vegetarianism.

Here are some observations from the other side.

Observation 1.) I’ve actually become a carbotarian. As long as it doesn’t have a face or a tail, I’m eating it. Pancakes, French fries, bagels, hash browns, nachos, Cap’n Crunch, and cheese pizza all have one thing in common— no meat. My motto this September: No meat, I eat.

My wife said, “That’s cheating. You’re supposed to be eating only vegetables.” Who said so? I have several good friends who are vegetarians. They love pancakes and stuff like that. I’m just following their lead. No veggie burgers and soy patties for me.

Observation 2.) People walk up to me in restaurants and check my plate. “Got any meat on there?” one man said last week. Nope, just waffles, eggs, and hash browns.

Observation 3.) I forgot how much I love seafood. I don’t think I’ve ever gone 14 days without seafood. That’s 14 days with no shrimp, no fish, no oysters, and no crabmeat. No crabmeat.

The one consolation going into this challenge was that it’s been a bad year for soft-shell crab. At least I won’t be missing soft-shell crab, I thought. Wrong. After a spotty spring and summer, now in the fall, when soft-shells are usually dwindling, we’ve got abundance. It’s some type of late-season fluke that we haven’t seen since way before Hurricane Katrina. It’s killing me.

Observation 4.) Forget water-boarding, I know true torture— sitting in my restaurant eating the Vegetable Sampler— sautéed spinach, roasted asparagus, mashed potatoes, and sugar snap peas, while the table of four next to me is eating Soft-Shell Crab.

When we added all of those vegetable options to the menu, I had no idea I would be relying on them so much. I have become the best customer for the Crescent City Vegetable Sampler. Fried Green Tomatoes, Cheese Grits, and steamed broccoli don’t have a face or a tail, so they’re all fair game. Book it, October 1st, I’ll be eating soft-shell crab for breakfast.

Observation 5.) PETA, the group that has sent me hate mail for 10 years, now loves me. I received an email from the president of PETA this weekend.

Yes, people are joining you: Steve-O just did (see new blog on He has lost weight, but he did cut out the dairy and eggs too. Kind regards, Ingrid Newkirk, president, PETA

Observation 6.) The folks at PETA are obsessed with people who eat dairy and eggs.

Observation 7.) I am not going to give up dairy and eggs.

Observation 8.) If one writes in the newspaper that he is going to become a vegetarian for a month, many will follow. It’s amazing. There have been over 100 people who have written or approached me in public to tell me that they are going vegetarian with me in the month of September. Fools.

Observation 9.) People who eat fried chicken live longer. I just read an Associated Press story about the death of the world’s oldest person. Gertrude Baines died last week. She was 115-years old. The article stated that her favorite foods were, “Fried chicken, bacon, and ice cream.” I knew it.

When the doctor visited Baines last week, she only complained of two things: Pain in her right knee, and her “bacon was soggy.” Think about that, you make it 115 years, and— despite all of your potential maladies— your top priority is the crispness of your bacon. God bless that woman. There’s a special place in heaven for her, and plenty of bacon, too.

Observation 10.) I miss fried chicken

Observation 11.) No Southerner should ever have to give up fried chicken. It’s against some type of law or code we have down here, I’m sure of it.

Observation 12.) Actually, I don’t have an Observation 12; I just needed an even dozen to end the column.


Creamy Tomato Soup

18 Tomatoes, ripe

1 tsp Canola oil

1 1 /2 cup Onion, minced

1 /2 cup Carrots, shredded

1 /2 cup Celery, minced

1 Tbl Garlic, minced

1 /4 tsp Dried Basil

1 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground

1 /8 tsp Dried Thyme

1 quart Hearty Vegetable stock

2 cups Robert St. John’s Bloody Mary Mix (can substitute V-8 juice)

1 /2 cup Butter

3 /4 cup Flour

2 cups Cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and roast 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cooled remove the skin. Rough chop the tomatoes and set aside, reserving as much juice as possible. In a large heavy-duty stockpot heat canola oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, salt, pepper and dry herbs. Cook for six to seven minutes, until vegetables become tender. Add chopped tomatoes and their juice continuing to cook for 10 minutes. Stir often. Add in broth and V-8 juice and bring to a slow simmer.

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat and stir in flour to make a light blond roux. Stir the roux into the simmering mixture and continue cooking for 10 minutes.

Add cream and bring back to a simmer. As soon as soup reaches a simmer, remove it from heat and serve.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Unlikeliest Vegetarian Part I

Welcome to my life as a vegetarian, day seven. Strange things are happening.

I am living life as a vegetarian during the entire month of September. I am eating nothing with a face or a tail, and believe it or not, I’m still alive and breathing.

The following is what I have learned, so far, as a neophyte vegetarian:

1.Cinnamon rolls aren’t made from meat.

2.) Neither are French fries

3.) One can easily gain weight on a vegetarian diet (I’ve gained two pounds in one week), see numbers 1 and 2.

4.) When one announces in the newspaper they are to become a vegetarian for a while, others will follow. Many others.

5.) When others are following your eating habits, the pressure increases tenfold.

6.) Football games remind me of barbeque ribs.

7.) I miss barbeque ribs.

I am the unlikeliest of vegetarians. I don’t believe I have ever even gone two days without eating some type of meat. Correction, I have now gone seven days.

The Special Projects Coordinator for PETA sent an email on my second day. Jenny Browning stated that she was “delighted” that I had become a vegetarian. In the next paragraph she said, “Although cutting meat—and its loads of saturated fat—from your diet is likely to result in noticeable weight loss all by itself, milk and eggs are similarly laden with fat (and cholesterol), so most people get the best result by choosing to eat only plant-based foods.”

No way, sister. I’m not giving up milk. Sure milk and eggs are laden with fat, but I’ve already given up steak, ribs, bacon, and cheeseburgers— did I mention ribs? There’s no way I’m giving up milk.

I gave up drinking and other recreational vices 26 years ago. I quit smoking 14 years ago. I got married, and basically gave up sex. Now I have given up meat. Bank on it, I’m going to drink milk, and I’m going to eat scrambled eggs while I do it.

Browning went on to state, “It can be a bit challenging at first to learn to cook and eat without meat, eggs, or dairy, so our Web site,, is filled with useful information, including recipes, shopping tips, and restaurant guidance, for people who are new to vegetarian cooking and dining.” Do you see how she snuck the no-milk-and-eggs line in there, again? Now it’s implied that I’m going to give up eggs and milk. Not gonna happen.

She says that she’s sending me the PETA Vegetarian Start-Up Kit and two cookbooks, but she better hurry, I only have 23 days left.

I have also been featured on the PETA website. Talk about strange bedfellows, I’ve been getting hate mail from these guys for years. In “The PETA Files” Karin Bennett says, “for 30 days the meat-loving columnist will forgo the bacon and buffalo wings, which means that some pigs and chickens will be spared from winding up on his plate. Our advice to Mr. St. John? Stay away from dairy foods too, Seriously, you could gain two pounds just by looking at cheese fries.”

Three points:

1.) There they go with the milk thing again. What’s up with these people?

2.) Note to self- cheese fries don’t have meat. Thanks, Karin, I hadn’t thought of those.

3.) I don’t eat Buffalo wings.

I wonder if members of the Beef Council or that pork group, you know, the-other-white-meat guys, are going to send me letters and books when I come back into their fold the first day of October. Then again, maybe at the end of September, I’ll decide to go another 30 days. Stranger things have happened.

Stuffed Tomatoes

6 large tomatoes, not too ripe

2 Tbl Olive Oil

1/4 cup Shallot, minced

2 Tbl Yellow Onion, minced

1/4 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground

1/2 cup Tomato Pulp, scooped from tomatoes and chopped

1 Tbl Fresh Orange Juice

1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce

1/4 cup Pesto

1/3 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs

Remove the core of the tomatoes, and slice across the very top of the tomato.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out about one tablespoon of the pulp from each tomato and roughly chop it

Over low heat, heat olive oil in a small sauté pan. In the sauté pan, cook the shallot, onion, salt and black pepper for 5 minutes. Add the tomato pulp, orange juice Worcestershire sauce and cook 4-5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto.

Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed-out tomatoes. Sprinkle bread crumbs over tops of the stuffed tomatoes.

Prepare the grill. Cook tomatoes over direct medium heat for 5 minutes, rotating tomatoes one quarter turn and cooking for 3-5 minutes more. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Monday, August 31, 2009

Vegetarian II

I write this on the eve of one of the most daunting and challenging days of my life.

The sword of Damocles is dangling above my head. I am encompassed by a sense of foreboding and live in fear that much wailing and gnashing of teeth is looming just around the corner.

Our country might be in the worst financial straits its seen since the Great Depression, but that is the last thing on my mind, today. Tomorrow the boom is lowered. Life, as I have known it for 47 years will cease to exist. Pain and suffering are real and near and I’m counting the hours.

I haven’t been asked to appear in court as the defendant in a complex legal matter. I’m not about to run a marathon, or compete in an iron man competition. I’m not getting prepped for major surgery, and as far as I know, the Attorney General and I are in good standing.

My pending doom is much worse than that. Tomorrow I will become a vegetarian. This hunter-gatherer is abandoning the hunt and embracing his inner gatherer. My Damoclesian sword is made out of bean sprouts.

Several weeks ago, I made the decision to become a vegetarian for a month. That day has finally come. I began to have second thoughts yesterday, but it’s been printed in over 30 newspapers across the South and I’ve spent three days answering questions and emails about my upcoming dalliance into the world of herbivores. I’m locked in.

I know nothing about being a vegetarian. Up until now, I have always believed that “Vegetarian” was just an old Native American word for “Poor hunter.” I come from a long line of carnivores. My daughter tried to be a vegetarian once. It lasted two weeks. Once she learned that vegetarians aren’t supposed to eat bacon cheeseburgers, she threw in the towel.

Actually, I have learned that I will be a Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian— no beef, pork, poultry, fish, or seafood— nothing with a face or a tail. I could have been a Lacto-Vegetarian, but I like eggs, and milk and I’m going to need all of the non-tofu protein I can get.

Being a Vegan was never in the cards. I’m a milkaholic and staking my success on copious amounts of cereal, oatmeal, cheese, scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs with cheese, and ice cream. Besides, the name “Vegan” sounds like a villain on Star Trek. Weren’t the Vegans those green-skinned people from the Crab Nebula?

One of my all-time heroes— Paul McCartney— is a vegetarian, and has been for a long time. I will draw inspiration from that

I’ve received a few dozen emails from readers who plan to “go veggie” with me during the month of September. Who knew that I, a lifelong and devout carnivore, would ever be the Pied Piper of the Bean Sprout Set? I hope I don’t let them down. I don’t think I’ve ever gone two days without eating some type of meat.

The newspapers that publish this column do so on different days of the week. No matter which day it is published, it is always written on a Monday morning. Today’s column is being written on Monday, August 31st— my last day before crossing over to the dark side. Depending on which paper you are reading, I might have been a vegetarian for one day or six days. As for this day, I am on my way to eat a bacon cheeseburger— my last one for at least 30 days. I had both sausage and bacon for breakfast, and I’ll be eating steak tonight.

Keep me in your prayers.

Spinach Madeleine

2 packages Spinach, frozen and chopped

3 /4 tsp Celery salt

4 Tbl Butter

3 /4 tsp Garlic salt

2 Tbl Flour

1 /2 tsp Salt

2 Tbl Onion, chopped

1 Tbl Jalapeno, fresh, minced

8 oz package Cream cheese, cut into pieces

1 can Evaporated milk

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Vegetable liquor

Red pepper to taste

1 /2 tsp Black pepper

Buttered breadcrumbs

Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain and reserve liquor.

Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour, stirring until smooth and blended. Add onion and cook until soft, but not brown. Combine milk and vegetable liquor until you have one cup of liquid. Add liquid slowly to onion/flour mixture, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Add seasoning and cheese. Stir until melted. Combine with cooked spinach. Place in casserole dish and top with buttered bread crumbs. Yield: six servings

Monday, August 24, 2009

I am about to be a vegetarian.

I’m not going to be one of those I-still-eat-chicken-and-fish vegetarians. I am going to be a die-hard, I-eat-nothing-with-a-face-or-a-tail vegetarian, a hardcore vegetarian, a no-turkey-with-my-tofu vegetarian.

For the entire month of September, I will abstain from eating beef, pork, poultry, fish, or seafood of any kind— nothing with a face or tail. For those who have followed this column for the last 12 years, this development will come as a 90-degree fork in the road. Some might think it a ruse. It’s not. While veg-heads have always been an easy target for this column, I am doing this for real. I’m taking that fork in the road and loading it with broccoli. This devout carnivore is about to become a yogurt and sprout eating bunny hugger.

There’s been a big stink in the news lately. The animal activist group PETA, posted a billboard in Florida with a photo of an obese woman in a bikini with the tag line, “Save the Whales, Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian.” A lot of overweight people were offended. I’m a fat person, and I thought it was funny. If I had my choice, I’d rather see PETA’s scantily clad model campaign, but I don’t mind a good chuckle at the expense of a fellow fat person.

I wasn’t offended, though I was intrigued by the premise. Could I lose the blubber by going veggie? It sounded like a challenge to me, so I’m going to take the challenge.

The next five columns will chronicle my journey into the dark side of living as an herbivore. No ribeye steaks, no barbeque pork ribs, no cheeseburgers, no bacon sandwiches, not even a can of tuna fish. As of September 1st, it’s sayonara sushi, hello beans and greens.

Some people might find it easy to make a decision like this at the spur of the moment and hang in there for a month. Not me. I have put a lot of thought into it. My career revolves around food. Creating food, serving food, writing about food, and— most importantly—eating food. For the past 47 years beef, pork, poultry, and fish have been at the center of my writing, the center of my heart, and in the center of the plate.

As I’ve pondered this, I have actually begun to look forward to the challenge. I like the hip, cool way that I say, “I’m going to be a vegetarian.” Sometimes when I’m feeling really hip, I just say, “I’m going veggie.” I think it makes me sound like I know what I’m doing. My wife says it just makes me sound like a dork.

I feel cool typing it. V-e-g-e-t-a-r-i-a-n. Ahhh. I’m no longer the overweight hunter-gathering carnivore. I’m a vegetarian. A 21st Century man. I’m going to find my Birkenstocks, buy some clothes made from hemp and break out the nuts and seeds.

I’m taking the PETA challenge. Some friends have asked, “Why now? Why September?” Others have guessed that I chose a month with only 30 days. Stay tuned for answers to those questions and many more.

Two things are for certain— on August 31st, I’ll be eating steaks and hamburgers, and a month later, on October 1st, I’ll be eating sausage, bacon, and ribs. But in the meantime, I’ll be living off of legumes, fruit, and bread. I’ve got a free pass on the cheese train. Hello pizza. Hello French fries! I might actually be the first vegetarian who gained weight by giving up meats.

Pineapple Pico (grilled fish topping)

1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, small dice

1/4 cup red onions, small dice

2 Tbl green onion, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp fresh garlic, minced

2 Tbl. cilantro, chopped

2 tsp fresh jalapenos, seeds removed and minced

1 cup pineapple, small dice

1 tsp lime juice

1/2 tsp Salt

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve. Best if made 2-3 hours in advance. Serve atop grilled fish.

Canned Peaches

My friend David invited me to lunch at his club in Jackson. The club was nicely decorated and comfortable. In one room there was an upscale buffet and in another a salad bar.

I don’t eat at many buffets. Actually, since my neighborhood Thai joint changed hands, I don’t eat any buffets. I have nothing against them; it’s just a personal quirk.

As I was browsing through the club’s salad section, I saw a bowl full of peaches— not fresh peaches, even though we’re in prime summer peach season— canned peaches. I was ambivalent about the salad bar anyway, so I looked at the canned peaches and said— why not?

I skipped the lettuce, chicken salad, slaw, cheese, and creamy dressings, and opted for a small plate filled with peaches.

Back at the table, David looked at my plate, and then looked at me with a quizzical stare. “It’s peaches.” I said

“Yeah, but they’re canned peaches,” he replied.

Note: If you are a chef or a restaurateur, or a cookbook author, or a food columnist, people study what you eat in public places. If you’re all of those things at once, people scrutinize your choices even more. They ask questions like, “Why are you eating here?” To which I reply, “For the same reason you’re eating here.” Some people expect me to eat different foods than most. I don’t. I might eat more, but what I consume on a daily basis is fairly basic.

Back to the peaches.

“I haven’t eaten canned peaches in years, “ I told him. “These taste good.”

As a child, my mother followed the food pyramid of the day and made sure we ate fruits and vegetables. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in the 1960s, availability of fresh fruit was limited, so we ate mostly canned fruit.

Supper at our house always consisted of one portion of canned pears, peaches, or fruit cocktail. It was automatic, if supper was being served; one of those items was going to be on the plate.

There were no low sugar options back then. It was a can filled with fruit and thick, sugary syrup. I imagine there was some degree of health benefit, but it was probably overshadowed when I was found flopping around on the bed like Linda Blair on a sugar high, trying to go to sleep after drinking all of the peach/pear juice from the can

Canned peaches don’t really taste like peaches, but they taste more like peaches than canned asparagus tastes like asparagus. Canned asparagus tastes nothing like asparagus. It tastes like English peas.

I hadn’t eaten canned peaches in a long time. It took me back to my youth. Our taste buds seem to have a direct line to the cerebrum. I can go decades without eating something and then can be instantly transported back to the last time— or the most memorable time— I ate that dish.

I love fresh peaches. To me, nothing tastes more like summer than fresh peaches. Whether they come from Chilton County, Alabama, Georgia, or South Carolina, they are my favorite fruit. I have spent my adult life waiting for summer, and the peach harvest. That day at the club, I made a vow to extend my summers and eat the fruit of my youth— canned peaches— more often.

Peach Ice Cream

2 cups Peaches, fresh, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 /4 cups Sugar, divided

1 Tbl Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbl Peach Schnapps
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 /2 cup Milk
1 /2 Vanilla Bean
2 Egg Yolks

In a bowl, combine peaches, 1 /4 cup sugar, lemon juice, and peach schnapps. Cover and refrigerate 2- 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove peach mixture from refrigerator, drain, and reserve the juice. Return peaches to refrigerator.

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and— in a medium-sized saucepan— combine remaining sugar, heavy cream, and milk. Heat just until just boiling.

In a separate bowl, vigorously whisk egg yolks. While whisking, slowly add 1 /3 of the boiled cream mixture. Stir well. Add remaining egg mixture to cream mixture. Return to low-medium heat and continue stirring for 5-7 minutes. Just as it begins to simmer, remove from heat and strain into a bowl set over ice. Add the reserved peach juice. Stir well until completely chilled.

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. After the ice cream begins to stiffen, add the peaches and continue to freeze until done. Remove the ice cream from the ice cream maker and store in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Frozen peaches can be substituted

Monday, August 10, 2009

The St.John International Culinary Field Trip of 2009

I just took a trip around the world with my family.

We ate in Italy first, then Japan on the first night, followed by Mexico, India, Austria, Viet Nam, China, Cuba, Morocco, France, with a few stops in different regions of America and at friends and family’s homes along the way. We were supposed to eat in Spain and Ethiopia, but last-minute changes to our schedule got in the way.

Actually, I took my kids on a culinary field trip— 10 days, nine states, 2,500 miles— with the intention of eating in as many exotic and international restaurants as possible.

The plan was developed for two reasons: 1.) We were on our way to Washington D.C., to see the Paul McCartney concert and were going to be in the family truckster for 10 days. I didn’t want to live off of fast-food drive-through crap. 2.) I wanted my kids to experience as much of the world’s cuisine as possible. Well, actually three reasons: 3.) I wanted to eat as much of the world’s cuisine as possible.

My 12-year old daughter has a sophisticated palate. She has always eaten whatever we have ordered. The eight-year old boy, on the other hand, usually decides he doesn’t like something even before he has tried it. The battle ensues, we make him try it anyway, and seven times out of 10 he says something like, “Hey, that’s good. I like that.”

For the purposes of this trip, we gave the boy one veto and one fake stomachache. He used the fake stomachache at an Indian restaurant in Asheville, NC, but never used the veto. Good stuff, that.

The daily journal entries from the trip can be found on my Facebook page for those who are friends, or my blog .

The Top 10 Highlights of the St.John International Culinary Field Trip were:

10.) Sweet Potato Pancakes with Cinnamon Cream Syrup in Nashville

9.) Milk Chocolate Mousse lollipop at my friend, Donald Barickman’s restaurant, Cypress.

8.) Tie: Indian food in Asheville at restaurant Mela— and—Watching my kids eat Mexican popsicles for the first time.

7.) Pork Belly appetizer with a port wine reduction at Muse in Charleston.

6.) Thai in Winston-Salem at Downtown Thai.

5.) Sunday brunch at Kuba Kuba in Richmond, VA

4.) Breakfast with my friend in Winston-Salem (a lady made my grandmother's brownies for the road)

3.) Lunch in D.C. at a friend's house overlooking the Potomac. Beautiful

2.) Watching my son sing "Hey Jude" at all-out, full volume, while he thought no one was watching during the Paul McCartney concert.

1.) A 12-course dinner at Cypress in Charleston with cousins I haven't seen in a long time— the most memorable item being a Candied Pork Belly appetizer. Great food, close family, and engaging conversation, always make for an excellent evening.

My children might score the trip differently. I am sure that Mexican Popsicles in Nashville, burgers and fries at Top Chef winner, Spike Mendelsohn’s joint in D.C., or the Milk Chocolate Mousse Lollipop would reign supreme on their list. But I’m betting that the family memories we created in those 10 short days will follow them well into adulthood, and way past the food recollections.

In our Washington hotel, just above the breakfast buffet, there was a humorous photograph of a man in an old-world setting who was holding a dining table off of the ground using only his teeth. Basically, he had the whole table in is mouth. That image became a metaphor for the trip.

I am the man with the entire table in his mouth. It’s my lot in life— that, and being a dad. Good stuff, indeed.

Pilates, anyone?

Candied Pork Belly with succotash fricassee

Courtesy of Chef Craig Deihl, restaurant Cypress, Charleston, SC

Succotash Fricassee

6 cups water

3 tbsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup butter beans

1/2 cup crowder peas (black eyed peas are a good substitution)

1 cup hominy

4 tbsp. butter

¼ cup minced chives

2 tbsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. white pepper

1. In a heavy bottom saucepan combine butter beans, crowder peas, water and salt.

2. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 25 minutes, skim off any scum that rises to the surface. The beans should have a firm skin with a soft and creamy inside. Remove from heat and shock the beans.

3. Mix the beans and the hominy together.

4. With a sauté pan over medium high heat add the butter until melted, add the hominy mixture and cook until hot. Add the chives, salt and pepper. Incorporate evenly, taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Pork Belly

2 Lb. Pork Belly (skin On)

2 tbsp. kosher salt

1 tbsp. White pepper

1 tbsp. Fresh sage Chopped

1 tbsp. Fresh thyme chopped

2 tbsp. Garlic crushed

¼ cup honey

2 tbsp. Sherry or Apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp. Butter

2 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

2. Using a sharp knife score the skin of the pork belly in a checkerboard design.

3. Rub the pork belly on both sides with salt, pepper, sage, thyme and garlic until evenly coated.

4. Place pork Belly in a roasting pan skin side. Place in the oven and back for 3 hours, turn oven to broil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the skin puffs up evenly.

5. Remove from oven and let rest for 30-40 minutes at room temperature.

6. Using a serrated knife Cut the meat into a ½ inch thick pieces and reserve.

7. Place the honey, vinegar, butter, salt and pepper in a large sauté pan. Place the pieces of crispy pork belly in the pan.

8. Place over high heat and cook until honey is syrupy and glazes the pork belly.

To plate

Place a small pile of succotash in the middle of a plate. Place the pork belly on top of the succotash. Using a ladle, nape the pork belly and place some of the sauce around the plate.

Yield 6-8 people

Sashimi Tuna and Kumomoto Oysters

with cilantro lime glaze and pineapple wasabi

Courtesy of Chef Craig Deihl, restaurant Cypress, Charleston, SC


1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/2 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons squeezed limejuice

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

3 tablespoons mirin

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon Sambal chili sauce (Sriracha Chili paste can be substituted)

2 tablespoons fish sauce

  1. To make the glaze combine all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. Place in the refrigerator to chill.
  2. The glaze can be made a day in advance.

Pineapple Wasabi:

3 tablespoons pineapple juice

2 tablespoons ground wasabi powder

  1. To make the pineapple wasabi combine pineapple juice and wasabi and incorporate evenly.

20 fresh Kumomoto oysters (in shell, stored on ice)

small bowl salt water

1-pound sashimi grade tuna

4 cups crushed ice

Cilantro leaves

  1. Scrub the oysters free of dirt and debris using a small brush.
  2. Using an oyster knife, remove top shell of oyster; detach the bottom of the oyster leaving it in the half shell. Check the oyster for any shell or grit. If there is excess grit, rinse with saltwater; otherwise leave the oyster in the shell.
  3. Cut the tuna in 20 equal size blocks, about the same size as the oysters. Place the tuna on top of the oysters.
  4. Place 1 teaspoon of the glaze on top of each oyster. Finish with a small dot of the wasabi.
  5. On 4 serving platter place the crushed ice and top with leaves of cilantro (this will be used to keep oysters cold and from sliding). Place all of the oysters on top of the cilantro and crushed ice and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 Servings

Culinary Field Trip- Day One

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 8:42am

We hit Birmingham around lunchtime. I had a quick business meeting and then we went to Bottega for lunch.

I am a fan of Frank Stitt and have eaten at Highlands Bar and Grill, often. The meals have always been great.

Bottega was an overall disappointment-- slow, unconcerned service, long waits from the kitchen, and only one entree that was memorable.

Strike One.

We made it to Nashville late in the afternoon and I wanted to take my kids to Las Paletas to have Mexican popsicles-- closed on Mondays.

Strike two.

We went to Gi Gi's cupcakes instead.

To cover the Vietnamese leg our our international culinary tour, I had planned on dining at Kien Giang. This was high on my list. They, too, were closed on Mondays.

Strike three. We're out!

We ate at a sushi restaurant in our hotel-- Hotel Indigo on West End Blvd. They had a band in the lobby and an art gallery opening, too. Good rates, large rooms, wireless internet. Highly recommended.

My iPhone is acting quirky when I try to upload photos. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Here's hoping that day two will be more productive. We're on our way to the Pancake Pantry for Sweet Potato Pancakes before heading to Asheville.

Culinary Field Trip-- Day Two

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 10:09pm

Breakfast at The Pancake Pantry-- it was the kids first trip there, they loved it. Sweet Potato Pancakes with Cinnamon Cream Syrup rock!

Lunch at a Mexican chain-- kid's choice, tableside guacamole, though-- excellent! Good salsa, too.

Mexican Posicles at Las Paletas-- I had a plum popsicle, son had mango, daughter had lime, wife = strawberry and cream. All are homemade and made fresh every day. I am glad there's not one of these at home, I'd be 100 pounds heavier and singlehandedly change Mississippi's obese statistics.

Long drive across TN and western NC in the rain

Staying in a new hotel in Asheville-- The Grand Bohemian, just across from the Biltmore's front gate... a little garish, though cool in areas... best in-room a/v system I've ever seen... ever... worth the tackiness.

Dinner at Mela-- Indian cuisine-- killer naan, daughter loved the Tandori Lamb, son was not a fan of Tandori Chicken, but he ate it anyway. I have given him one "free no" to use on this trip. He decided not to use it here. He did, however, have a fake stomachache. Good shrimp.

Hitting the road early in the a.m., so hitting the sack right now.


Culinary Field Trip-- Day Three

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 9:53pm

Breakfast in Asheville-- Bavarian, potato pancake, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese, and a poached egg... Austrian chef, Austrian-owned hotel. Typically, I'm not a fan of German/Austrian food, this was good, though.

Lunch in Winston-Salem-- Downtown Thai-- killer Thai cuisine, nice visit with the owner, great downtown, heavy on the arts... good stuff, that.

Afternoon snack at Five Guys-- great homemade french fries. My Buddy, Bill Latham, has purchased the franchise rights to Mississippi... can't wait (my waistline can, though).

Dinner with friends in downtown W-S.-- Meridian--The plan is to visit as many international restaurants as possible -- 10 days, nine states, two children. Tonight's meal was continental (I didn't choose). Though we went to a place for dessert-- Sweet Potatoes-- that was Southern (sometimes considered a foreign country).

Tomorrow-- Breakfast in Winston-Salem, lunch in Durham, dinner in Washington D.C. (hoping for Spanish tapas).

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to eat it.

I'm going to need a colonic!

Culinary Field Trip-- Day Four

Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 9:58pm

Breakfast in Winston-Salem-- met my friend for coffee at Chelsee's while the family was sleeping... joined by several locals, one of whom had read my column about how my grandmother used to give my family a batch of brownies for childhood vacations. Before I left the coffee shop, she handed me a Tupperware container filled with brownies she had prepared the night before-- I was very moved, and extremely grateful. Thanks, Gena, they were great-- as good as my grandmothers (by the way, I just realized I spelled your named incorrectly when signing your cookbooks... sorry)

Across the street to my friend's loft for breakfast-- eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, and sourdough toast-- good food, great company.

Headed to Durham for a business meeting, toured the Duke campus at the request of my son. He says that's where he's going to college, said a quick prayer for future college scholarship opportunities

Ate a few brownies.

Hoped to do Brazilian for lunch, but my daughter got sick to her stomach in the van, and again, and again. Said a quick prayer hoping it wasn't a stomach virus, grabbed some fast food (three of us, at least), and headed north.

Ate some more brownies.

At the recommendation of friends, we ate dinner at Four Sisters in the D.C. area, to make up for the Vietnamese dinner we missed in Nashville on Monday night. Joined by the friends, the day ended up being a success, despite the noon setback.

Brownies for dessert.

Sharing a meal with friends is one of life's greatest pleasures.

Culinary Daily Field Trip Day Five

Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 7:29am

At the midway point, we were forced by our schedule to take a break from the International food mission.

Breakfast at the hotel.

A driving tour with my son highlighting all of the D.C. landmarks. I gave him a lecture on representative democracy (he actually payed attention... was interested, even)

Lunch at a friend's house high above the Potomac. Beautiful.

A quick visit to Good Stuff Eatery for a mid-afternoon snack

Dinner with family in Maryland. Fun.


Family, friends, food, and fun... all day long. Great day.

Culinary Field Trip Day Six

Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 10:32pm

Smithsonian air & Space, and the National Gallery

Lunch in Chinatown-- Eat First... great food... the real deal

Had to skip dinner to drive to Maryland for the McCartney concert. He was 1 1/2 hours late! We could have eaten dinner after all.

Got home at 1am

Not much time to squeeze in food

Paul McCartney Set List

Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 12:14am |

01. Drive my Car

02. Jet

03. Only Mama Knows

04. Flaming Pie

05. Got to Get You into My Life

06. Let me Roll It/Foxy Lady

07. Highway

08. The Long and Winding Road

09. My Love

10. Blackbird

11. Here Today

12. Dance Tonight

13. Michelle

14. Mrs Vanderbilt

15. Eleanor Rigby

16. Sing the Changes

17. Band on the run

18. Back in the USSR

19. I'm Down

20. Something

21. I've got a Feeling

22. Paperback Writer

23. A day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance

24. Let It Be

25. Live and Let Die

26. Hey Jude

1st encore

27. Day Tripper

28. Lady Madonna

29. I Saw Her Standing There

2nd encore

30. Yesterday

31. Helter Skelter

32. Get Back

33. Sgt Pepper's reprise/ The End

Culinary Field Trip Day Seven

Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 10:38pm

Trying to squeeze in as much International/exotic cuisine as possible, we ate at a great Cuban restaurant in Richmond on our way to Charleston-- Kuba Kuba. Great food. Great atmosphere. A small, corner joint in a nice neighborhood. Unconcerned service, but it works in this atmosphere. Grumpy chef in an exposed kitchen- looked like Jerry Garcia. Friendly waiter working the floor looked like a young Castro. Interesting. One of the best meals of the last seven days.

Dinner at a Mediterranean place in Charleston-- Muse. Ate late. Great Hummus. The sauce with the Pork Belly appetizer was one of the best I've ever tasted. Made with a Spanish port.

Drove all day-- 12 hours due to traffic outside of DC. Worn out (yet full and happy).


Culinary Field Trip Day Eight

Monday, August 3, 2009 at 10:37pm

Breakfast at the hotel on King Street

Lunch at Fast & French-- hot ham and brie on a croissant. Great Cream of Broccoli Soup.

Dinner at Cypress with Charleston and Carolina cousins. The candied bacon and the milk chocolate lollipop were as good as any dish I ate at The French Laundry two weeks ago

Sashimi Tuna & Oysters

cilantro-lime glaze, pineapple wasabi

House Cured Salami

Barolo, Tuscan, Coppa, pork puffs, arugula

Candied Bacon

bbq Sea Island red peas, melted leeks

Beef Spring Rolls

spiced cucumber, soy caramel

Scallops & Bacon

hominy fricassee, pork reduction

Almond-Fried Brie

cranberry-walnut chutney, baby greens, champagne vinaigrette

Lobster Bisque

Carolina shrimp, fresh chervil

Dry Aged Ribeye

roasted cauliflower, mustard butter, steak sauce

Filet of Beef

Boursin cheese, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, Madeira sauce

Steak Diane

New York strip, wild mushrooms, Gruyère potato fondue, truffle peppercorn cream

Keegan-Filion Farm Chicken

andouille gumbo, okra & tomatoes

Bread & “Butter”

grilled Tuscan points, pork butter

Crisp Wasabi Tuna

edamame, shiitake mushrooms, ginger-garlic glaze

Beef Oscar

jumbo lump crab, asparagus, crispy potatoes, béarnaise sauce

John’s Island Canteloupe Sorbet

compressed local canteloupe, basil-mint syrup

Coconut Tapioca Crème Brûlée

local peaches, blackberries, white peach sorbet

Milk Chocolate Mousse Lollipop

house made dulce de leche, chocolate chip cookie crumbs

Thanks to Donald and:

Craig Deihl ~ Executive Chef

M. Kelly Wilson ~ Pastry Chef

Onward to Atlanta

Culinary Field Trip-- The Last Entry

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 7:42pm

Great lunch in Atlanta at Papi's-- Cuban

Dinner last night at Nava-- Southwestern, killer lobster tacos, a great banana dessert

Lunch at Taqueria Del Sol-- Fish Tacos, yumm

Highlights of the 10-day journey:

Indian food in Asheville

Thai in Winston-Salem

Breakfast with my friend in W-S (a lady made my grandmother's brownies for the road)

Lunch in D.C. at a friend's overlooking the Potomac

Watching my son sing "Hey Jude" while he thought no one was watching during the Paul McCartney concert

Dinner in Charleston with cousins I haven't seen in a long time, but look forward to reconnecting with in the future,

The food item of the trip was a candied bacon (pork belly) appetizer at Cypress in Charleston

I'm going to eat nothing but oatmeal for the next few days... nah

2,500 miles and no major arguments from the back seat.

I will find out how much damage was done when I step on the scales in the morning. I'm guessing six pounds.

RSJ signing off