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American Craft Beer Week

Here at Tomato Head, keeping track of food holidays is something of a hobby.  Sometimes we decide to write about the day, and other times, we just giggle at some of strange things that get recognized – like National Raisin and Spice Bar Day or even National Liver and Onions Day.

Some holidays are strangely specific like National Baked Ham with Pineapple Day – glazed gam gets its own feast day.  And others are oddly placed; National Zucchini Bread Day is on April 25th, but any gardener will tell you that it’s the great squash glut of late summer that inspires people to sneak that green cucurbit into bread and just about anywhere else they can think to stick it.

Beer, however, is an enjoyment that knows no seasonal confines, which may account for the hordes of holidays that honor its production, consumption, appreciation and proliferation.  This week begins American Craft Beer Week, but already this month we’ve celebrated National Homebrew Day and National Take Mom Out for a Beer Day.  Almost as soon as June gets started so too will SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience in DC.  Virginia sets aside the entire month of August to toast its own 100+ craft breweries and 5 beer trails.

And that’s only a sampling.  Heck, IPA gets its own day, too.

And we love it.  We love it so much that we set aside an even larger Tomato Head holiday to honor the whole of craft beer, a celebration of brew that starts at the beginning of January and ends about a year later – and then starts all over again.  Of course we celebrate everybody else’s hoppy-days, too, but we’re just too much in love with craft beer to wait for an official observance to feast and fete these artful suds.

The fact is that every day is craft beer day at the Tomato Head.  With our regional tap selection of all craft beers as well as a craft heavy bottle and can selection, our revels are never ending.

Of course, we look forward to serving you excellent suds this week; it’s a fine week to be sure.  But we hate that feeling of letdown that comes at the end of every party and holiday – you know the feeling when the shindig ends and the drudgery of daily rote intrudes once again.  So we just don’t let that happen and neither should you.  Anytime you need a beer holiday don’t worry about looking at the calendar, just come on down to see us – we’ve got a craft beer bash going on every day.

Trifecta of Food Holidays

3 is a magical number.  In Roman and Chinese systems, it’s one of the few numbers that’s written with as many strokes as the number represents.  It’s a significant number to Christians, Hindus, Pagans, and Pythagoras, too. In less consecrated  ways, those who fancy a flutter on the gee-gees on Derby Day or anytime Keeneland is open have the option of betting Trifectas – a challenging but profitable prediction of the order of first, second and THIRD place winners.

Even cultural superstitions are pervaded by the number – third on a match dies, celebrities die in trios, and the third time is a charm.

Although we’re not especially superstitious, nor particularly wont to wager, as we consider the number 3 alongside our immediate future, it becomes clear that the prognosis is good, bright, and perhaps even wondrous.  We might even play the numbers.

May 13, 14 and 15 constitute a Trifecta of taste, practically a Tomato Head triduum, which celebrates three of the foods that are dear to our heart and hunger.  First comes National Hummus Day, followed by Buttermilk Biscuit Day, and finally Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.  Can you imagine a better way to celebrate the middle of the lusty month of May?

Hummus remains one of our most popular offerings in and out of our restaurants – you can find it on the shelves of 14 area grocery stores (you can see where here).  Our blend of pureed chick peas, tahini and (sort of) secret seasonings is a wholesome and tasty snack that makes a lot of sense for today’s diet – it tastes great, it’s packed with protein, and, best of all, it’s made by your neighbors.  If you have yet to spread hummus on a sandwich or tortilla come on down to see us on May 13th, and we’ll happily show you how it’s done.  Heck, come any day – Roger Roger and Lucy are just hanging out on the sandwich menu waiting to meet you, while Jose Jose Burrito practically pines for your attention on this special day.

Lucky for us all, May 14, better known as National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, falls on a Saturday this year, so you don’t have to postpone your party.  You can celebrate on schedule at brunch when we have a little bit of biscuit heaven available right here on earth.  We talked about the noble biscuit and shared the best biscuit recipe, too, in this blog entry from September.  Still it’s worth remembering that biscuits are not just an important part of a good southern diet, they make for a party day extraordinaire in Knoxville.  We serve our biscuits in classic fashion with gravy galore, but you can also really throw down with our option to top the biscuit with scrambled eggs, Sweetwater valley smoked cheddar, our housemade breakfast gravy & your choice of either ham, Benton’s bacon, chorizo, housemade soysage, or baked tofu.

Finally, you can wrap up this exceptional trio of tasty days with national Chocolate Chip Cookie Day which, as you may have gathered, falls on Sunday Fun Day.  For Tomato Head, this day holds a lot of significance – not just because of our inner cookie monster but because we can share the day with so many people.  It’s a good day for us to reflect on the value of having Flour Head Bakery in our lives because they give us three kinds of chocolate chip cookies including the traditional recipe along with options for both the Vegan and the Gluten Sensitive folks that we love.

The great thing about this trifecta is that the bets always pay off. And if you’re superstitious, the only thing bad that ever happened to the third person on a cookie is that they had to ask for another cookie.

So, party on.  And if you aren’t inclined to party like a rock star, you can certainly eat like a king. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

Carl Gombert – May/June 2016 Featured Artist

Carl Gombert believes in magic.

And if you were to meet him, in person you might sense some magical vibe – the good kind that tells you if a person has been to Narnia, knows talking beasts and believes in Aslan.  It’s the magic of play and imagination.

Gombert is currently the featured artist at Tomato Head Market Square, and while you probably won’t catch him there to share his personal magic, the works in his exhibit have a magic all their own.  The exhibit consists of rubber stamped decorative pieces that have been Gombert’s focus for the last five years.

Gombert owns a series of little rubber stamps – things like butterflies, guitars, and fish and so on – very much like something you’d buy for your kids.  These varied images become the building blocks of Gombert’s work – he combines them in ever widening shapes.  In one instance the shapes form a circle of alternating banjos and guitars, in another you might find a stamp of a fish next to one of a skull and crossbones.  The results, in both black and white and color prints, are all visually alluring – but they aren’t always what they seem.

The individual pieces vary in size and shape, but they all share a seemingly deliberate structure.  And yet, Gombert insists that “They’re a lot more improvisational than they look.  They look like they’re incredibly planned out – all I can really tell you is that they start with an image in the middle that’s vaguely round and then will get bigger and bigger.  I just try to make decisions that don’t reckon.”

Still, one look at these pieces may make you wonder if Gombert is telling the truth.  He is adamant that he is, but, he adds, “I know now from a lot of experience that certain kinds of repetition and rotation will yield very geometric, mandala like organization; and yet I don’t have a preset idea of what images I’ll use – one thing will suggest another.  And so that improvisational nature versus the highly structured underpinnings really appeals to me as an artist.   I’m all about the dichotomies of planned chaos or ordered disarray.”

One particular piece is an alluring series of what appear to be pinwheels, perhaps even flowers, and yet if you get close to the image, you’ll notice that the prominent stamp is the image of a pistol.  Likewise, a series of decorative triangles, upon closer inspection, reveal themselves to be a series of butterflies.

Gombert avoids defining his work in terms of specific style, but for this amateur observer, it’s hard not to make general comparisons to pointillism or the photomosaic technique which is probably best known through Dali’s Lincoln in Dalivision.  Gombert chuckles at the thought and proceeds to talk about Dali’s work, Mae West’s Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment (which is definitely worth a visit with your favorite search engine).

The dichotomy of things that look like one thing but are really something entirely different appeals to him – but one wonders if the appeal arises from the artist’s aesthetic or comes from a more mischievous place where lions speak and fauns make tea for young ladies who travel via wardrobe.

Gombert, who is also a professor of Art at Maryville College, will display his work at Market Square through the end of May and then the show will move westward to the Gallery for the month of June.

Mother’s Day 2016

My first real memory of flowers coincides with Mother’s Day.  As in many parts of the country, we wore blooms pinned to our lapels or dresses as we went to church on Mother’s Day: red roses if our mothers were still alive or white if they had died.  For my family that meant gathering the buds of wild roses that grew on the property – whites grew amongst the piney scrub on a steep embankment across the road from our driveway, while, in the back yard, the red roses climbed a weathered trestle that stood alongside a little brick-colored dog house with a sturdy, asphalt-shingled roof that my father built for a sweet mutt named Mingo.

At the time, Mom, Dad, Sister and I all wore red roses but we picked the white ones to share with my grandmothers and also to assemble into little bouquets that were destined for the Old Piney Church cemetery where some of my great grandparents rested.  Mother’s Day was, and still is Decoration Day for this cemetery that now holds my father’s parents, his brother and a nephew – my cousin, who was born only three months after me.

That may strike some of you as maudlin, or perhaps more evidence that the predilections of the Southern Gothic are not limited to states of mind in the deeper south.  But for me, it wasn’t necessarily a sad time – it was family time that had some lessons about mortality but mostly I remember my mother’s hand and feeling the comfort and warmth of her presence as we placed the flowers, taking care not to step on anyone’s grave.  Now it reminds me to treasure the family that I can still see.

I’m still fond of holding my mother’s hand, and I’m grateful for that;  nothing quite calms the troubled mind like her big hugs or eases sorrow like a good cry on her shoulder.  But when I look back on those days when I was about 4 feet tall and clad in a blue polyester suit gathering flowers early on Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of just how sweet my youth was, of how fortunate I was to live where wild roses grew, and of how good it was to have a mother who cared enough about the memory of relatives long gone to decorate their resting places with little bouquets – humble and wild though they were.

I suppose there are few of us who can claim an untroubled relationship with mom or dad or anyone, really, but I hope that if you think hard enough you can find one or two, maybe thousands of moments that make you happy to call someone Mom. And perhaps you’ll be seeing that person on Mother’s Day.

Like many holidays, Mother’s Day is easy to phone in or gloss over with a glittery, silly or sentimental card from the grocery.  And if, like my Mom, yours has been forgotten a few times, she may be happy just to be remembered – and really that’s enough.  But, as we’ve often written in this blog, it’s worth taking the time to do something special to really remember the person you love instead of just not forgetting the date or anniversary or whatever.  So, get the card, but don’t forget the kiss.  And if it’s flowers that you give, try to remember her favorite kind.  And best of all save some of your time and spend it with her.

Scones

Lord knows we love a biscuit.  Fluffy, warm, dripping in butter and slathered in jam or glistening with honey, the very thought jump starts the appetite and sets the mouth to water.  And yet, as good as that is – and really, it’s nearly unbeatable goodness – there are times when the human spirit, driven by a blend of hunger and ambition, urges us to go above and beyond the expected, to gild the lily and say damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

It is on those days when desire and determination meet that we make scones.

The scone, a biscuit-like favorite of our cousins across the pond, is no less subject to disputes of origin and authenticity than any other good food of ancient lineage.  So whether you ascribe the origin of the name, scone itself to the Dutch schoonbrood or get your Scots’ pride on and claim the name for the Stone of Destiny (where the kings of Scotland were crowned), we’ll gladly listen to your argument if you don’t mind if we eat while you jabber.

The scone at heart is very similar to the biscuit: its origin, humble and its purpose, nourishing.  They are made of similar ingredients and can produce equal euphoria in many eaters.  Yet, as any true scone lover will tell you, the similarity ends there.  Scones are not light and fluffy, they don’t have buttermilk, and they just don’t match red eye gravy.

Instead a scone is dense with a fine crumb; it sometimes includes egg in the recipe, and, so is, generally speaking, a richer bite.  That’s part of what makes it special. The heavy cream doesn’t hurt either.

If you haven’t had one – or perhaps your mother needs treating – we have a solution for you.  After all, it’s a weekend worthy of treats, and this is a pretty fine way to treat the lovely woman who helped you learn to wash your hands after you went to the garden.

This weekend, we’ll be serving sweet cream scones that we’ll top with Zavell’s farm strawberries, Moore’s Acre honey and some crème fraiche.

Sound rich?  Well, yes it is, but it’s also delicious and has the added advantage of being dressed up by good stuff from our neighbors – sweet strawberries from Blaine and delicious honey made in Washburn.  Scones are always better with friends.

Once you try this, you’ll probably want it in your repertoire alongside your best biscuit recipe.  So make sure you tune in to WBIR on Saturday – Mahasti will be making scones on Weekend Today, so you can get the recipe and see it come to life at the same time.

 

Sweet Cream Scones with Honeyed Strawberries and Whipped Cream

For the scone: 

2.5 cups all purpose flour

¼ cup sugar

1 Tbs baking powder

¼ tsp salt

4 Tbs chilled unsalted butter

1 ¼ cup heavy cream

1 Tbl vanilla

Place flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl.  With a pastry cutter or rubbing with your fingertips, work the butter into the flour until butter is in pea size pieces.  Add the heavy cream and vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour has been moistened.  Turn the dough around a couple of time in the bowl, and then transfer to a floured cutting board.  Bring the dough together to form a ball, then flatten slightly and place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes uncovered.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator, roll it out to ½ inch thickness, then fold it over itself, and place back in the refrigerator uncovered for 10 minutes longer.  Remove once again, and roll out to ½ inch thickness.  Cut the dough out with a 2.5 inch biscuit cutter, and place rounds on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place the cookie sheet back in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees while the scones are chilling.  Place chilled scones in preheated oven and bake for 13- 15 minutes until tops are light brown.

Allow the scones to cool to room temperature.

For the Honeyed Strawberries:

1 quart strawberries, rinsed, capped and sliced

3/4 cup  honey

Place sliced strawberries in a small bowl, toss with honey and allow to sit until juices from the strawberries have been released.

For the whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream

1/8 cup plus 1Tbl Confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Place  heavy cream in the bowl of stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form

To assemble scones:

Place one scone on a small plate

Top with ½ cup sliced strawberries and some of the juice

Top the strawberries with ¼ cup of whipped cream

Serve immediately

Serves 8 – 10

 

 

Cinco de Mayo

For the well-read individual, the historian, and, perhaps, for some champions of authenticity, Cinco de Mayo isn’t an exciting holiday.  In the way of the commercial world, the 5th of May, like a few other notable holidays, may have more of its roots in sales routes than in anything else.  But for us at Tomato Head, this particular Cinco de Mayo is an unusually special day, and, if you remember our second restaurant on Market Square in the 90’s, the beloved if short lived Lula, you, too, may think this Cinco de Mayo is pretty cool.

It’s not uncommon for food and beverage writers to lament that Cinco de Mayo is a trumped up little holiday without much correspondence to the reality of Mexico’s own holiday calendar.  It is not the Mexican Independence Day, which is actually on September 16th, nor is it a huge party day across the Mexican nation.  The common complaint is that May 5th was the creation of beer marketers and, later, further popularized by the caramel colored clown that is our nation’s best-selling tequila.

That’s not entirely true.

It’s certainly a holiday that generates its fair share of American hangovers, but it does commemorate an unlikely Mexican victory over invading French troops in 1862.  The battle is still celebrated in Puebla, the state where it happened, and the locals keep the day in festive array with reenactments, parades, and other celebratory happenings.

But what makes Cinco de Mayo particularly fascinating is the way that it has impacted the United States – and not by booze alone.

The victory at Puebla, though not a major battle in the way that strategists think of such things, was a major symbol in the Mexican resistance to Napoleon III’s attempts to reclaim a debt and establish a colonial power.  It helped energize the resistance, which not only kept France from solidifying power but prevented them from fiddling in the American Civil War.  If France had been able to overrun Mexico, there’s a pretty good chance they would have aided the Confederacy in order to end the Union’s pesky blockade of Southern ports.

That might have been a major game changer in the course of human events.

More recently, and perhaps the reason that beer marketers found the holiday, Cinco de Mayo was an important rally day for the Chicano Movement in the 1960’s.  The movement embraced the day as a way to celebrate Mexican tradition, history, and identity in the United States during their struggle for equal rights.

There’s a lot more to the history of the day than we have room to discuss – and that’s certainly true of the Chicano Movement and its impact on Civil Rights.  But suffice to say that we’re proud to celebrate.

And, to show our joy, and to celebrate a little of our own history (not to mention showing off our shiny new liquor license), we’ll be adding tequila to our small but growing collection of spirits.  It will be a 100% blue agave tequila which we’ll mix with house made limeade for a margarita that will almost reincarnate the very popular drinks that we served at Lula back in the day.

If you don’t recall, Lula, our second restaurant on Market Square, featured a contemporary take on Mexican and southwestern cuisine from mole to margaritas.  Sadly, Lula was ahead of its time (and ahead of the crowds on the Square), and we closed the restaurant in 2000 to concentrate on making Tomato Head the best it could be.

Still, we, and many of our friends, have always kept fond memories of Lula in our heart. Now we’ll keep some at the bar.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  And regardless of what you celebrate, we hope you’ll share part of the day with us!

¡Salud!

Strawberry Pie

Our fresh strawberry pie was featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel! To celebrate the official kick-off of strawberry season in East Tennessee, our very own Mahasti Vafaie shares the full recipe and explains what farmer’s markets mean to her.

INGREDIENTS

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup frozen cranberry juice, thawed

¾ cup water

6 cups fresh strawberries, quartered

 

DIRECTIONS

1 Mix sugar, cornstarch, juice and water in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat whisk mixture until thickened and boiling. The mixture will be cloudy when you start and take on a deep rich color when done. Pour mixture into a medium bowl and allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.

2 Prick bottom and sides of pie crust with a fork. Line with parchment paper or a few coffee filters. Fill with pie weights or beans and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool a little and then remove the pie weights and parchment or coffee filters and bake an additional 5 minutes until the crust looks dry. Cool crust completely.

3 Remove the sugar and cranberry juice mixture from the refrigerator and whisk until smooth. Stir in the strawberries and pour all ingredients into pie crust. Refrigerate pie for 2-3 hours before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Hi-Wire Brewing – Featured Brewery

On October 26, 2015, the world was changed, and it was good.

At least, that’s true for the beer-isphere, because that’s the day when Hi-Wire Brewing announced that their Big Top production facility was on-line and would soon make it possible for Tennesseans to enjoy their beer without a commute to Asheville. Before the Big Top, Hi-Wire worked out of a much smaller facility in the South Slope area that produced just enough lovely beer for a select few. Things are much better now.

The 27, 000 sq. ft. that the Big Top occupies comes with a major upgrade in technology that allows Hi-Wire not only to ramp up their production of the flagship brews that built their following but also to plan for the introduction of new brews including a line of seasonal lagers.

Hi-Wire is one of many dream-come-true stories that have helped define the craft beer phenomena: College roommates love craft beer, drink it; move into real jobs; continue loving craft beer; start making it.

Co- Founders Adam Charnack and Chris Forsacker both have had lucrative jobs: Charnak worked in development of affordable housing; Forsaker was a pharmacist. But when a local brewery put their old equipment up for sale, the friends didn’t think twice.

In under 3 years, Hi-wire has grown by leaps and bounds – and the growth came through good reputation alone. In an interview with the NC Beer Guys Adam said, “I don’t think we’ve spent a nickel on advertising. It’s been word of mouth… And people have been receptive. And we have a strong model, we wanted to do four year round beers that were easy to understand styles and we’re trying to do the best we can with those.” We reckon they’ve done a fine job, so this month we’ll have the four core brands on tap, and what beers they are:

Hi-Wire Lager: This true American Lager is made with 100% Pilsen malt with a delicate body and light hop profile. Lagered in the tradition of the style to full maturity. It’s a break from the typical craft American beer scene.

Bed of Nails Brown: The Brown ale is crafted as an ode to the traditional English brown. Its delicate body allows the flavors of caramel and toffee from our specialty malts to come to life.

Prime Time Pale: Simcoe hops bring a plethora of flavors and aromas from this crisp American Pale Ale. From floral to earthy, citrus to pine, this dry ale is an easy drinker.

Hi-pitch IPA: A Western North Carolina take on the West Coast style IPA. Huge citrus hop aromas make this a Hop Head’s dream. Its full body balances well with the bitterness and allows the drinker to enjoy its depth of hop flavors and aromas.

If you make that commute anyway you’ll find Big Top in the Biltmore Village area. Asheville has long been a “beercation” destination, but Biltmore Village is increasingly offers a central hub for the seekers of quality suds. Big top is one of Hi-Wire’s two locations in Asheville, the other, South Slope, is home to their Specialty Brewery and their acclaimed one time release ales and lagers. Hi-wire made news in January of this year when they announced that they were transitioning South Slope’s focus to the exclusive production of sour and wild beers. It’s a pretty good reason to make the trip across the mountain, but, before you make your plans for a visit, make sure you do your homework with us!

Earth Day 2016

Earth Day makes me sad.

I say that only because this year marks the 46th celebration of what many call the birth of the modern environmental movement, and I am older than Earth Day. That brings to mind unfortunate jokes about being older than dirt at a time when I’m not sure whether to celebrate my age or lament it.

Of course Earth Day is ultimately an optimistic celebration, and so, in that spirit, I think that being older than Earth Day means that I can remember some of the first positive impacts of the movement that led to its creation. Like many Tennesseans of a certain age, my awareness of littering was forever framed by a Tennessee Department of Transportation public service announcement featuring a catchy tune and an unshaven man driving a beat-up convertible. The car was filled with trash that the driver gleefully discarded like so much confetti as he drove along and befouled the otherwise picturesque landscape of Tennessee.

The commercial was set to a memorable tune called Tennessee Trash, which was sung by Ed Bruce (the same fellow who wrote, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and he also played the part of the unwashed litter bug); it first appeared in 1976, six years after the first Earth Day. I can still sing a few stanzas of the song: “A little bit of litter goes a long, long way” and “Lord, there ain’t no lower class than Tennessee Trash.”

I can’t say for certain that the celebration of Earth Day specifically motivated the commercial, as it did another famous PSA from Keep America Beautiful; commonly known as the “crying Indian” ad, it featured actor Iron Eyes Cody standing alongside a highway with a single tear in his eye – the result of a bag of litter tossed at his feet by a passing motorist and a symbol of the gross and public disrespect for the nation’s natural beauty. This ad first ran in 1971 to coincide with the second Earth Day and remains a haunting, iconic memory for those of us who saw it.

(You can see both of these public service announcements on YouTube, and they’re worth a look.)

Fortunately the conversation didn’t die with time, and now we’re a little more likely to think about recycling that litter instead of just picking it up for a landfill deposit. At Tomato Head, we began recycling very early in life, back in the days when Mahasti’s old Datsun B-210 was the recycling vehicle and separation of paper and plastic was the rule. Those memories make us particularly happy about today’s single stream pick-ups. Still, whether it was easy or not, we’ve always tried to eliminate waste – we figure that over the last 25 years we’ve recycled over a million pounds of cardboard, metal, glass, plastic and paper.

Today, like many forward thinking businesses in our town, we consider our business in terms of sustainability. In addition to recycling, we compost almost every scrap of food that qualifies. And when we remodeled our Market Square location we included lots of LED lighting, water free urinals, and more elements that make the building less taxing on the world. In fact, while that remodel increased our space by 50%, it only added about 10% to our utility consumption. We’re proud of our efforts, of course. But more than that we believe in a holistic approach to sustainable business, which is why we support organic agriculture, food grown close to home, and other companies that share our goals of helping create a clean environment.

The “Tennessee Trash” commercial ended with the ominous words, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” While that might be true, we prefer to think of it in a different way, one that reflects the hope and optimism of Earth Day: we have seen the solution, and it is us.

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design