Monday, February 25, 2008


I have a friend who is fasting during Lent.

I’m not talking about a not-eating-meat-on-Friday fast, or an I’m-gonna-give-up-red-wine-for-40-days-but-still-drink-white-wine fast. No, he’s doing an honest-to-goodness, Mahatma Gandhi-type fast— nothing but water.

Fasting is a method of religious observance, penitence, and purification which is practiced in several religious faiths. I am of the protestant persuasion, so I will focus mostly on protestant fasting.

Fasting was an option for the early Christians, and later became a requirement. In the early church the typical fast lasted 40 hours. It was later changed to 40 days. The 40-day fast in the early Christian church allowed one meal per day. My friend is not allowing himself even one meal. He is on a nothing-but-water fast for the entire 40 days.

As I write he is in the 20th day of the fast and seems to be doing well. He’s walking and talking and appears to be in a good mood. He studied the process well in advance of beginning the fast; he prepared in the days leading up to the fast, and he is under the observance of several physicians during the fast.

I am a fascinated by the entire fasting process. I have never fasted. I have trouble fasting between breakfast and lunch. To my knowledge, I don’t think I’ve ever gone an entire day without eating something. Even during the worst stomach virus I’ve ever experienced, I probably ate a few crackers.

I am humbled by my friend’s dedication. Whereas my lifestyle borders on being gluttonous, he is taking this time to look inward for a long, rigid period of self reflection.

I am a Methodist. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism fasted once a week, but I don’t remember hearing anything about fasting while growing up in my church. It was probably more selective hearing on my part than anything, but fasting always seemed to be something that was done by other faiths and denominations.

My church was all about food. We had a casserole-laden covered-dish supper every Wednesday night, doughnuts before Sunday School, cookies and candy during Sunday School, chicken salad sandwiches, peanut butter crackers, and green punch during Vacation Bible School, and we planned huge lunches after the main service on Sundays. For me, church and food were synonymous. No one ever spoke of fasting, and if they did, I was probably too busy eating to listen.

In his sermon last Sunday, my preacher suggested that we skip one or more meals each week and taking the money that would have been spent on that meal and give it to the Global Aids Fund .
Christian fasting suggests that the faster not bringing attention to himself, but I don’t know any other way to encourage others to give to the Global Aids Fund without saying that I’m going to give this skipping-a-meal fasting thing a shot, and I hope others will, too.

Every five seconds someone, somewhere in the world, dies of a disease of poverty. Every 10 seconds someone dies of AIDS. In several sub-Saharan African countries, as much as 40% of the entire population— men, women, and children— is infected with the virus. Even if we could provide medicine to everyone involved they don’t have enough food to take the medicine. Give to the Global Aids Fund, today, whether you skip a meal or not.

At first, I thought my friend was crazy taking on a 40-day fast. In the end, maybe it was the inspiration I needed to get off of my duff and do something.

Mrs. Lampkin’s Methodist Punch

1 48-ounce can pineapple juice
1 package lime Jell-O
3 cups sugar
1 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 small bottle almond extract

Mix all in gallon container and fill with water to make one gallon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS— I am in a suite in the Venetian Hotel high above the Las Vegas Strip. I don’t gamble, I don’t drink, and I have trouble staying up until midnight. I am not in this city for most of the reasons that people come to this over-electrified desert locale. I am here for one reason: The Beatles.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Beatles fanatic and a devout disciple in the tabernacle of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I could spend the next several weeks discussing the reasons why I am such a dutiful fan to a collection of rock musicians who stopped performing almost 40 years ago, but this a “mostly food” column, so I’ll stick to mostly food.

At Christmas last year my wife gave me tickets to see Cirque Du Soleil’s production of “The Beatles Love.” I loved it. This year, I brought a few friends here to see the show. They too, loved it.

A word of advice: If you are ever within 120 miles of Las Vegas, make plans to see “The Beatles Love” at the Mirage hotel. It is truly a spiritual experience.

This city that was once full of grind joints and cheap buffets has grown into a world-class restaurant destination. All of the nation’s top chefs have restaurants here: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Alain Ducasse, Nobu Matsuhia, Charlie Palmer, Charlie Trotter, Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, Joel Robuchon, Mario Batali, Bradley Ogden, and the lead dog of the culinary world— Thomas Keller.

Keller opened the Las Vegas rendition of his Yountville, CA-based French bistro, Bouchon, in the Venetian Hotel in 2004. When I am in a major restaurant city, I try to make the best of my time and visit as many new restaurant concepts as time allows. There are always exceptions and favorites. I rarely visit Chicago without eating at least one steak at Gene and Georgetti’s, and every trip to New York includes a late-night visit to Balthazar.

When in Vegas, I can’t get away from Bouchon. It draws me in like a Pommes-Frites fueled tractor beam. I had an excellent dinner there last night and a wonderful breakfast this morning. I need to be doing culinary research in other restaurants, but can’t seem to pull away.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. It always has been. A perfect breakfast doesn’t have to include complicated and overwrought dishes using rare ingredients and complex preparations— to my thinking, the simpler the better.

I once ate breakfast with Julia Child at a culinary event in Aspen. Over orange juice, eggs, and wheat toast, we discussed the simplicity and beauty of a perfectly scrambled egg. I always wished that I could have sat in Julia Child’s kitchen and eaten perfectly scrambled eggs prepared by her hands.

Thomas Keller is a true culinary artisan. He has risen to a level where, even the best in his profession, are humbled by his creativity and technique. He is the man. He is at the top of his game. He has only a few peers, and as luck would have it— he serves breakfast here.

Having Thomas Keller cook your breakfast would be akin to sitting in while Mozart performed a private piano concerto, having Hemingway give a personal reading of “A Farewell to Arms,” or hanging out with John, Paul, George, and Ringo during the Abbey Road recording sessions of “I Am the Walrus.” Masters at work.

Most likely, Thomas Keller wasn’t in the kitchen cooking my breakfast this morning. He is probably in Manhattan or the Napa Valley. But a boy can dream, can’t he? The scrambled eggs were underdone just enough to make Julia proud. The pastries were worthy of any Paris patisserie, and the atmosphere and company were spot on.

When it comes to food, I can’t let what happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas. We enjoyed music by the 20th Century rock-and-roll masters at night, and breakfast by the culinary master the next morning.

I am the Egg Man, goo goo ga joob!

Julia’s Perfect Scrambled Eggs

3 Eggs, large
2 tsp Half & Half
1 Tbl Butter
Salt and pepper to taste.

Crack eggs in a small bowl and stir well with a fork until the yolks and whites have just incorporated. Do not stir too vigorously or air will be added to the eggs. Add cream to eggs and stir well.

In a non-stick skillet over moderately low heat, melt the butter and tilt the pan to coat the entire surface. Add the egg mixture to the skillet. Using a rubber spatula slowly scrape the bottom of the skillet until the eggs begin to coagulate. Continue to carefully stir the eggs until they are “just done”. The eggs should be almost fully cooked and custard-like (Julia Child calls them “custardy lumps”) yet have a slightly wet and shiny sheen to them.

Remove eggs from the skillet immediately and transfer to a plate (the eggs will continue to cook slightly for the next 30-45 seconds so it imperative to remove them just before they are done). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Deer Sausage

I am not a deer hunter, yet I have a freezer full of deer sausage.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the so-called Obese Bill (HB 282). In it I offered several pieces of alternative legislation to the Mississippi House of Representatives bill that proposes to ban fat people from eating in restaurants.

In my haste to meet an editor’s deadline, I forgot an alternative bill that should placed in the hopper with the rest: The Deer Sausage Law.

The Deer Sausage Law, HB 282G states: Licensed Mississippi deer hunters, or any of their relatives or assigns, are not allowed to give away any deer meat to anyone, ever, period.

I have a theory: I believe that most people don’t like to eat deer meat. Proof: I have a freezer full of deer sausage and I’m not a deer hunter. People shoot deer because they like to shoot deer. I’m OK with that. I have no objection to people shooting animals for food or for sport.

That said, the point still remains, deer meat is not good. If deer sausage was good— if it tasted like a filet mignon or a ribeye steak, or a hamburger, even— deer hunters would hoard it in their own freezers. Even if deer sausage tasted like pork sausage they wouldn’t be trying to pawn it off on me.

My deer-hunting friends— and I have many— purchase secondary freezers to store the deer sausage that accumulates each deer season. Most of them empty these freezers at the beginning of deer season, throwing out all of the leftover deer sausage from the previous hunting season (read: 90%), and prepare to fill it with a new batch of deer sausage that, again, won’t be eaten.

As I write, I have just thought of an amendment to HB 282G: All of the leftover deer sausage from the previous deer season must be donated to the state penal system. You say you want to crack down on crime? Make inmates eat deer sausage in our state prisons. The crime rate will drop immediately.

I like steak. My friends never try to fill my freezer with steak. Therefore, I also propose a statewide cow-hunting season. During cow-hunting season, my friends who like to shoot things can go out and hunt a few steer. Then they can bring all of the ribeyes, strips, prime ribs, and even hamburger that won’t fit into their freezers to me. I will welcome them with open arms, and a baked potato.

Cow hunting will save money, too. No one would need camouflage or long-distance rifles. Tree stands will be rendered useless, high-powered scopes won’t be needed, and there’ll be no need to soak one’s clothes in urine. Just park the truck by the side of a field, walk out into the field. Shoot a cow. Presto! Roast beef for everyone!

And what about pig season? Pork sausage tastes a lot better than deer sausage. I would love to see one of my hunting friends arrive at my front door with a few slabs of ribs and bacon after a successful week hunting at the deer, oops make that, pig camp. I’ll even purchase a supplemental deep freeze for that hunting season.

Chicken season might be a good idea, too. We can release the chickens from all of the state’s chicken houses and let them assimilate into the wild. The countryside will smell a lot better and you’ll never get stuck behind one of those big chicken-hauling trucks, ever again.

The problem of wildlife walking out in front of your car won’t be so bad during chicken season. A full-sized deer can total an automobile. What harm can be done by a rooster?

My friend Marshall Ramsey says that being on the Natchez Trace after dark is like driving through a petting zoo at night. Actually it might be fun to drive down the Trace at night while chickens are crossing the road. We could implement a statewide points system: 10 points for a Bantam Rooster, 15 points for a Rhode Island Red, and for a Black Breasted Red Cubalaya, 25 points and a new upright freezer.

Question: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Answer: Because everyone was sick of deer sausage.

Three-Meat Meatloaf

1 pound Ground beef
1/2 pound Ground venison (or deer sausage)
1/2 pound Ground Pork
1 Tbl Bacon grease (or canola oil)
1 cup Onion, minced
3 /4 cup Celery, minced
3 /4 cup Bell pepper, minced
1 tsp Garlic, minced
1 /8 tsp Thyme, dry
1 /4 tsp Oregano, dry
2 tsp Steak Seasoning
1 Tbl Salt
1 cup Milk
1 /2 cup Ketchup
1 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
3 Eggs
1 1/2 cup Unseasoned Course Bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the vegetables with salt and dry herbs until tender. Allow to cool.

Combine milk, eggs, Worcestershire and ketchup and mix well. Place ground beef, venison, pork, cooled vegetables and egg mixture into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, squish the meatloaf until you have mixed everything together and all is well incorporated. Fold in the breadcrumbs last.

Shape the meat mixture into the form of a loaf on a baking sheet. Bake 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes of cooking, use a pastry brush and brush the glaze over the entire meatloaf. Return to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes. Again, remove the meatloaf and brush another layer of the glaze over it. Return it once again to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes. Brush one final layer of the glaze on the meatloaf and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove the meatloaf and allow it to rest 15 minutes before serving.
Yield: 8-10 servings

Tomato Glaze


1 tsp. Bacon fat
1 Tbl. Garlic, minced
1 Tbl. Onion, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry basil
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 Tbl Brown sugar
2Tbl Tomato paste
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
2 Tbl. Yellow mustard
1 Tbl. Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup Ketchup

Heat the bacon fat in a small skillet over a low heat. Cook the onions, garlic and salt for 2-3 minutes. Add the basil, black pepper and brown sugar cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir constantly tp prevent the sugar from burning. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Monday, February 04, 2008

We the (Obese) People

My home state has made national headlines once again.

Three legislators in the Mississippi House of Representatives proposed a bill (HB 282) that would ban restaurants from serving obese people.

As a restaurateur and businessman, doing business in a state where more than 30% of the populace is obese, I am adamantly opposed to this law on many levels. As one who is considered by the government’s standards, obese, I am in opposition because I enjoy eating out, and eating out often (hence the obesity).

What are we restaurateurs to do? Keep a set of scales at the hostess stand and weigh each customer once they walk through the door? “Good evening, welcome to Bob’s House of Pork. Three for dinner? O.K., you two heifers come step on the scales, there’s no way you’re eating here tonight.”

If this bill passes, be assured that there will be restaurants which don’t weigh customers. All of the fat people (me included) will know where the non-weighing restaurants are located (probably all-you-can-eat buffets) giving them an unfair advantage in the marketplace. As a kid, I knew all of the places that didn’t check I.D.s, as an adult I’ll do the same, trading pitchers of cheap beer and grape-flavored malt liquor for catfish and hushpuppies.

If HB 282 passes, I would like to propose a few pieces of legislation of my own:

HB 282A: The Hunting Law. Many Mississippians are shot in hunting accidents every year. I propose that IQ tests be administered at all locations which distribute hunting licenses. If the applicant’s IQ is not 125 or above, they have no business walking around in the woods with a loaded shotgun. Talk about saving lives. HB 282A, my friends, will do just that.

HB 282B: The Driving Bill: HB 282B would require that all licensed Mississippi drivers retake the Mississippi drivers license exam every time they travel more than 10 highway miles in the passing lane without passing another automobile. Somewhere along the way, our local driving instructors quit teaching the section in the manual which covers how the passing lane is supposed to work. It ain’t hard, people: Once you pass someone, get back into the right-hand lane.

HB 282C: The National News Media Interview Law: This law would require a minimum of a sixth-grade education and a nominal grasp of the English language before anyone is allowed to speak to a reporter on national television. The state of Mississippi will also publish a list of approved adjectives and similes to be used in such interviews so our citizenry can come up with better descriptions than how the tornado sounded “like a freight train” or how “harshly” the alien’s probing methods were carried out once inside the UFO.

HB 282D: The Delta Heritage Law: HB 282D would require all citizens of the Mississippi Delta to limit their ancestral discussions to a minimum of 45 minutes per dining period. During the allotted time period, said genealogy buff may only go back four generations without receiving a warning citation. If subject traces his or her lineage all the way back to the Civil War during one meal period, a $75 fine shall be levied (Revolutionary War descendant discussions will result in mandatory jail time). This law also applies to relations’ choice of college, which sorority their grandmother joined, and which tract of land their family owned 150 years ago.

HB 282E; The Florence-Richland Bypass Law. This has nothing to do with the others, but while I am proposing laws, I would love to see the highway department build a bypass around Florence and Richland. I have nothing against these two communities, it’s just that it takes me 90 minutes to get to Jackson and 30 minutes of it is spent in the last five miles of the trip.

HB 282F: The Potato Salad Allocation. No more than four batches of potato salad will be allowed in any home during a funeral or wake. The bill would also place a quota on green bean casseroles (no more than three) at any single covered-dish supper.

Three cheers for good government, of the person (me), for the person (me), and by the person (me). Now pass the hushpuppies.


1 1 /2 cups Cornmeal
3/4 cup Flour
2 tsp Baking powder
1 /2 tsp Baking soda
1 Tbl Sugar
1 tsp Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 tsp Creole Seasoning
1 /4 cup Yellow onion, minced
1 /4 cup Green onion, minced
1 cup Buttermilk
2 Tbl Bacon grease, melted (or canola oil)
1 tsp Hot Sauce
2 Eggs, beaten well
Peanut oil for frying

In one bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, Lawry’s and Creole seasoning. In another, combine remaining ingredients. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until everything is combined. Do not over work batter.

Heat oil to 325 degrees in cast iron skillet. Shape batter into small round balls, and drop into oil. Fry until brown, seven to eight minutes. Remove, drain and serve. Yield: approximately 30
SNOWMASS, CO.— I am on a father-son vacation with my six-year old.

My family usually travels in a pack of four. This trip, prior commitments kept my wife and daughter at home and placed the two men, on their own, in a ski resort. It is the first time that he and I have ever spent any quality time away from home— just the boys. I am a happy daddy.

I love and adore my wife and daughter, but there is something special about two guys traveling alone. Things are different. Even though we are staying in a ski-in ski-out Colorado condo, it has taken on the feel of a Mississippi backwoods deer camp. Certain rules don’t apply when the girls aren’t around.

The clothes we wore yesterday, even the clothes we wore four days ago, are doing just fine piled up in the corner of the den. We both know that later in the week, if we run out of clean clothes, we might have to dig into the dirty pile to find something to wear. The kitchen island serves as a perfect luggage rack to keep the duffle bag that holds all of our ski clothes and jeans so we don’t have to bend down while digging for something clean.

There seems to be an unusual amount of empty space around the bathroom sink, and the toilet paper never seems to run out. There are always plenty of towels and washcloths available, and for some strange reason we are on time everywhere we go— early even.

The condo’s refrigerator is stocked with all of the father-son essentials: Milk, orange juice, bottled water, and Coke Zero. In the pantry are two boxes of Cheerios, a wide variety of protein bars, bananas, and a box of Pop Tarts.

My son had never eaten a Pop Tart. If my wife had a clue that I was letting him eat a Pop Tart for breakfast she would fly out here and fill the pantry with yogurt, turkey sausage, and fiber-laden cereals with strange European and vegetarian-sounding names.

When two guys are on their own, eating ends up in a lower place on the activity pecking order. That is a strange sentence for me to type, because, when traveling, eating usually ends up at, or near, the top of the list.

We eat breakfast in the condo every morning, selecting from the aforementioned items. We eat lunch on the slopes, usually burgers, soups, or salads. We have eaten dinner, three nights out of six, at the restaurant located at our condominium.

This is new territory for me. Restaurants and food are usually a top priority when traveling. This trip it’s all about my son. He learned how to snow ski and on the final day and a half, we skied together. Who needs food when a father and son are bonding?

Actually, we are both starting to miss the girls, all of the Pop Tarts were eaten two days ago, the Cheerios are running low, and we are out of clean clothes.

My father died when I was six-years old. I had never been on a father-son vacation in my life, that is, until now.

I am skiing with my son. I am a happy daddy.

A physician once ordered my 90-year old grandmother to drink Beefamato.

Beefamato is tomato juice with beef broth in it. Well, not “real” beef broth, the label states “dried beef broth.”

I am not sure why she was ordered to drink Beefamato. Maybe it contained an obscure vitamin she wasn’t receiving in her regular diet, or an additional protein needed to preserve her 90-year old muscles. One thing’s for certain— the doctor didn’t make her drink Beefamato because it would be another tasty beverage alternative to her already-flavorsome line-up of liquid-refreshment selections. Move over, Ensure, pass the Beefamato.

Beefamato is like North Dakota, you only go there if you have to. Tomato juice and beef do not belong side-by-side in a glass— on top of a mound of spaghetti, certainly, spread onto a pizza crust, maybe, but not in a glass with crushed ice and a cocktail napkin.

Mott’s manufactures Beefamato. They also make a product called Clamato. Yes. Clamato— tomato juice and dried clam broth. I would give half a week’s pay to have been a fly on the wall in that boardroom:

Suit #1: “You know guys, this Beefamato stuff isn’t selling too well.”

Suit #2: “Well, boss, its beef juice and tomato juice combined in a liquid. I tried to warn you.”

Suit #3: “I know what we can do. Let’s find an even-worse ingredient to add to tomato juice. The buying public will be so repulsed by the new beverage, that Beefamato will seem like sweet, cool, nectar in comparison.”

Suit #1: “Number three, that’s brilliant. I’m putting you in for a raise. Now, what foul, vile liquid can we add to our tomato juice? ”

Suit #2: “How about the gooey liquid that comes inside the potted meat can.”

Suit #1: “Not vile enough.”

Suit #3: “I’ve got it! How about clams! No. Wait. How about dried clam broth!”

Suit #1: “Perfect! Son, you’ll be running this company one day.”

According to my research, Clamato is a big deal in the Northeastern states. Coincidentally, that’s also where cranberries are grown.

Ocean Spray blends cranberries into several successful combinations. They bottle Cran-Grape juice, Cran-Apple juice, and even Cran-Tangerine, and Cran-Mango. Maybe the folks at Mott’s were jealous of the creative innovation occurring in the Ocean Spray test labs.

Suit #1: “I’m sick of those guys over at Ocean Spray. They get to have all of the fun. They’re going wild with cranberries over there. I want some new beverage combinations, and I want them asap!”

Suit #3: “I’ve got it, sir. How about Cran-Beef, and Cran-Clam?”

Suit #1: “Number three, you’re a genius!”

We’re not talking about adding cherry juice or vanilla syrup to Coca Cola, those combinations make sense. It’s clam juice.

It’s as if Mott’s— makers of a fine applesauce, by the way— thought of the most disparate flavor combinations available. What’s next? grape juice and dill pickle liquid: Grapickle, clam juice and orange juice: Clamorange, turkey gravy and clam juice: Clamurkey?

I found a news article on the internet that suggested that the new Clamato energy drink could also be used as an aphrodisiac. A sign of marketing desperation? Maybe.

Suit #2: “Boss, the Cran-Clam isn’t selling, either.”

Suit #1: “#$%@*&! I just knew that was our ticket into the beverage-blend big time!”

Suit #3: “What if we tell them that Cran-Clam is the next Viagra?”

Suit #1: “Brilliant, number three! Number two, why don’t you ever come up with ideas like that?”

I don’t drink tomato juice, but if I did, I would want my tomato juice to taste like tomatoes. Not pot roast, or mollusks, or cherries, just tomatoes.

Question: What is the one thought everyone has after taking a sip of Clamato?

Answer: Wow, I could’ve had a V8!

Recently I realized that I can look back over the course of my life and track my age by what I was eating for breakfast.

Some people associate songs with certain periods of their lives (I do that, too), but these days I tend to lean more towards food, especially breakfast food.

When I was a small child I ate kid’s cereal for breakfast. Anything with a ton of sugar and a toy in the box was good enough for me. I lived at home and watched Captain Kangaroo and the Three Stooges every morning.

When we were out of kid’s cereal, I ate my mom’s Corn Flakes. At first glance, they would seem to be the healthier alternative, except that I dumped loads of sugar on them. Left to my preparation, Corn Flakes were ten times as sugar-laden as Fruit Loops.

At the end of a substitute Corn Flakes breakfast, all that was left in the bottom of the bowl was a one-inch layer of white sludge. I, of course, was bouncing off of the walls on a sugar high that wouldn’t wear off until noon. I have a feeling that my elementary school teachers did everything within their means to make sure that the St.John household never ran out of Fruit Loops or Count Chocula.

In junior high school I was into sweet rolls and Pop Tarts, still sugary but quick. By the time I reached high school and had purchased my first automobile, I got into the habit of stopping by the doughnut shop on my way to school.

In my college years I rarely ate breakfast, either because I was not feeling up-to-snuff in the morning, or had yet to roll out of the bed before noon. Due to the fact that I couldn’t wake up before midday, my first attempt at a college career ended abruptly when the university I was attending informed me that they no longer needed my services.

I went through a phase in my 20s where I ate lunch food for breakfast. A local fast food joint prepared hamburgers as early as 7a.m. I lived rent-free in a garage apartment behind my grandmother’s house and rarely cooked anything, especially early in the morning.

At 26-years old I opened my first restaurant. I was working 90-hours per week and pulling early morning shifts in the restaurant. I had a 32-inch waist and more energy than a rabid hummingbird. I lived on cinnamon rolls and drive-thru fast-food in the mornings.

Over the next several years my breakfast eating grew worse and my waist grew exponentially. As I look back to the early days of my breakfast career, it seems that I made one bad choice after another. I spent 40 years eating junk in the morning. It’s strange because breakfast is my favorite meal.

These days I eat oatmeal with protein powder and Splenda if I am home. When I eat breakfast out, I usually eat a bagel, scrambled eggs, or a croissant.

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day. Yet people claim to be too busy to eat breakfast. We keep inventing gadgets to make life easier— cell phones, computerized vacuum cleaners, and heated toilet seats— yet we allege that we are busier than ever.

Maybe we are spending too much time trying to figure out how to operate all of the time-saving gadgets in our lives and not taking time to sit down and share a meal together.

My great-grandmother ate one scrambled egg, two pieces of bacon, and a slice of toast every morning. She lived to be 100-years old. I had a grandmother who ate toast and fresh fruit every morning. She lived to be 96-years old.

Less Stress + More Breakfast = Long Life. Neither of those ladies gave a hoot about time-saving technology. My grandmother once asked me, while pointing to a multi-colored Wurlitzer juke box in the corner of a nursing home public space, “Robert, is that one of those new computers I keep hearing about?”

Maybe it’s time we slowed down and enjoyed breakfast. Put the cell phone in a drawer, unplug the toilet seat, and pass the orange juice.

I spent four decades eating sugar-laden junk in the morning. Maybe it’s time I grew up. Then again, maybe I’ve got just a few more cinnamon roll-mornings left in me.

Breakfast Casserole

1 lb Spicy breakfast sausage
3 /4 cup Onion, diced
1 /4 cup Green bell pepper, sliced
1 /4 cup Red bell pepper, sliced
1 tsp Garlic
1 tsp Creole Seasoning
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
10 Eggs, beaten
1 cup Half and Half
1 tsp Dry mustard
6 pieces White bread, crusts removed
6 pieces Wheat bread, crusts removed
1 /4 cup Soft butter
1 cup Sharp cheddar, shredded
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 tsp. Hot Sauce

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Brown sausage in a large skillet and drain most of the fat. Add vegetables, garlic and seasoning and cook five minutes. Set aside.

Mix together eggs, half and half, and dry mustard in a mixing bowl. Using the softened butter, butter both sides of each slice of bread. Cut the bread into small cubes. Fold the bread, cheeses and sausage mixture into the eggs. Mix well and place in a buttered two-quart baking dish.

Bake for 40-50 minutes. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving. Yield: eight servings
All You Can Eat

“Buffet Bans Fat People” was the headline I came across while surfing the Internet. O.K., I’ll bite.

According to a story on a man in Houma, La was charged double for making too many trips to the buffet line. Ricky Labit, a 265-pound offshore worker, said he had been frequenting the Manchuria Restaurant in Houma for several months when, on his most recent visit, a waitress charged him double for taking too many trips to the buffet. The waitress told him, “Y’all fat, and y’all eat too much!”

The story is filled with all manner of juicy quotes such as Labit responding, “I ain’t that fat, I only weigh 277.”

Labit might have one of those wavy carnival midway mirrors in his bathroom because the waitress said he looked as if he had a “baby in the belly.”

Have you looked around an all-you-can-eat buffet, lately? They’re everywhere. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one in South Mississippi. If they start banning fat people, they’ll lose 75% of their business, including me.

“All-you-can-eat” was invented for fat people. I am chief among the sinners. Skinny people aren’t interested in eating all of the food that they can cram into their gut. That’s why they’re skinny. They want healthy food, and small amounts of it. There are a few skinny people at the all-you-can-eat buffet, but they’re usually sitting with a group of people wearing XXL shirts who talked them out of eating a salad at another restaurant.

Again, I am chief among the sinners. I weigh 247. I wear XXL shirts, and I feel like Ricky Labit— I ain’t that fat (at least not too fat to go back for seconds, or thirds).

The name itself, “all-you-can-eat” is a challenge. “I’ll show them just how much I can eat,” I think to myself. It’s a psychological thing. I want to win. I want to beat the system. I always think that I can eat more than the amount I paid. It’s the buffet-owners hook. Keep bringing it out, I’ll show you how many hushpuppies I can swallow in one sitting.

There is a mood that permeates through approximately 20% of all-you-can-eat buffet customers. One can see it in their eyes. It’s in my eyes when I eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s a look of panic. It’s the frenzied fear that the kitchen might run out of food so I need to pile my plate so high that I can’t easily walk back to the table without spilling half of the food that I was worried was going to be gone in the first place.

Last Spring my publisher sent a photographer from New York to photograph food for my new grilling cookbook. He was interested in the dining customs of our neck of the woods so I took him to a few of my favorite local "joints."

While looking at the menu in a fried catfish restaurant I noticed him staring at the menu and speaking softly— to no one in particular— “All you can eat, all you can eat." The diminutive New Yorker looked up and asked, "You mean they'll keep bringing me food as long as I sit here?"

"Yep," I said. "But they're not too worried about you." He ate mostly cole slaw that night, further proving my point that skinny people eat too much green stuff. That goes double for skinny New Yorkers.

When I was in high school I worked for a man who weighed over 500 pounds. At the time, my hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss. had one restaurant which served all-you-can-eat catfish.

The second Thursday of every month, my boss would take us to the all-you-can-eat catfish restaurant. After the first few months, I started to notice the look of dread on the faces of the servers as we walked through the doors of the restaurant. My boss was a bottomless pit and could keep eating until he got bored. As long as the servers brought more catfish, he could keep eating it. He didn’t look as if he had a baby in the belly; he was carrying an entire litter.

That look of dread was probably the same one that was displayed by the waitress in Houma. Bottom line: If you’re going to offer all-you-can-eat, you have to deliver on that promise (or challenge). Otherwise, skinny 247-pound people like me are going to be offended.

A sign in the Houma restaurant reads: “Food is for eating, not toys for your child.” A handwritten addition is added to the bottom of the sign “Or 20% added.” It looks as though the fat tax they’ve been warning us about for years is finally here. Quick, pass the hushpuppies.


1 1 /2 cups Cornmeal
3/4 cup Flour
2 tsp Baking powder
1 /2 tsp Baking soda
1 Tbl Sugar
1 tsp Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 tsp Creole Seasoning (recipe page XX)
1 /4 cup Yellow onion, minced
1 /4 cup Green onion, minced
1 cup Buttermilk
2 Tbl Bacon grease, melted (or canola oil)
1 tsp Hot Sauce
2 Eggs, beaten well
Peanut oil for frying

In one bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, Lawry’s and Creole seasoning. In another, combine remaining ingredients. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until everything is combined. Do not over work batter.

Heat oil to 325 degrees in cast iron skillet. Shape batter into small round balls, and drop into oil. Fry until brown, seven to eight minutes. Remove, drain and serve. Yield: approximately 30
New Years Hopes and Wishes 2008

In keeping with my annual tradition of not committing to anything that might make me change my eating habits, once again, I will not make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I submit my annual list of culinary hopes and wishes for 2008. Some old, some new, all heartfelt:

1. I hope to finally be able to recreate my grandmother’s leg of lamb.
2. I hope to eat a minimum of one around-the-dinner-table, home-cooked, family meal each day with my wife and two children.
3. I wish more restaurants would serve fresh, hand-cut French fries.
4. I hope that sometime during the year, someone will deliver a homemade chicken pot pie to my house (this actually worked two years ago… I’m keeping my fingers crossed this time).
5. I hope that someone finds a health benefit in eating freshly baked croissants and bagels every morning.
6. I wish that I could still eat donuts and not feel badly afterwards.
7. No head cheese.
8. I hope that every father will take his daughter out to eat in a fine-dining restaurant at least once in the coming year.
9. I wish more restaurants would focus on preparing unusual and flavorful salads.
10. And when they do, I hope that they don’t drown the salads in too much dressing.
11. I wish more barbeque restaurants would smoke their meats in real wood-burning pits instead of using propane.
12. I hope everyone gets to attend at least one covered-dish supper in 2008.
13. I wish positive cash flows on all restaurateurs.
14. I wish multiple bushels of sweet corn for everyone.
15. Two words… Black Grouper.
16. One word: Ceviche.
17. Four words: Second helpings of each.
18. I wish restaurants would place more focus on service and less on atmosphere.
19. I hope Mississippi has a record-breaking shrimp season in 2008.
20. No pates or terrines, ever again.
21. To my friends, gallons of corn and crab bisque, to my enemies— fruitcake, mincemeat pies, and potted meat.
22. I still wish multiple messes of greens for everyone, be they turnip, mustard, or collard.
23. May your chocolate cake be moist and your banana pudding be close at hand.
24. No aspic or congealed salads.
25. I hope to eat home-cooked fried chicken at least once-a-week in 2008.
26. I hope that when I am eating my once-a-week fried chicken, it is accompanied by English peas in a nest of homemade mashed potatoes.
27. Don’t forget the biscuits.
28. It is my New Year’s wish that all “gourmets” and “foodies” drop the pretention and begin to see the beauty and perfection in an expertly made chicken pot pie (friends and family please see wish # 4).
29. I still wish someone would bring back the Marathon candy bar.
30. May you eat boatloads of jumbo lump crabmeat and never once find a shell.
31. I hope that the drought in Georgia doesn’t affect this year’s peach crop.
32. If it does, I hope Chilton County, Alabama has a record-breaking peach year.
33. I still hope that short-order food counters and drugstore soda fountains make a comeback.
34. I wish a minimum of 12 fried oyster po-boys for everyone in 2008 (and plenty of hot sauce on all of them).
35. I hope customers will solidly support the independent restaurants and culinary entrepreneurs in their communities.
36. I hope that every local soup kitchen sees their contribution levels increase by a minimum of 25% in 2008.
37. I wish more non-restaurant businesses would be as focused on customer service as those in the restaurant industry.
38. I hope that everyone eats well, whether at home or in a restaurant, and goes back for seconds, thirds even. Remember— doggie bags are for quitters.
39. Warning: Shameless Plug Alert— I hope that everyone who purchased my Southern Seasons cookbook will purchase my new cookbook New South Grilling, in stores this April.
40. I hope everyone gets plenty of the Five F’s in 2008: faith, family, friends, food and fun.
41. I hope we all do everything we can to see that no one in this country ever goes hungry.

Chicken Pot Pie

1 /2cup Butter
1 /2 cup Flour
1 /2 cup Carrots, diced
1 /2 cup Onion, diced
1 /2 cup Celery, diced
1 /2 cup Butter beans, cooked
1 /4 tsp Thyme, ground
2 tsp. Salt
1 1 /2 tsp Black pepper
2 1 /2 cups Chicken broth, hot
1 1 /2 cup Chicken, cooked, diced
2 Pie crusts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add flour to make a blonde roux. Cook four to five minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add vegetables and continue to cook five to seven minutes. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Slowly stir in hot chicken broth. Simmer 10 minutes stirring often to prevent sticking.

Add diced chicken and remove from the heat. Allow filling to cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Roll out the piecrusts. Place one on the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Fill with the chicken mixture. Top with the remaining piecrust and crimp edges to seal. Using a paring knife cut six slits into the crust so the pie can vent. Brush with egg wash.

Bake one hour. Allow to rest 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Yield: 8 servings