At the end of the day or mug or keg, what really draws us to any frothy beverage is the quality of its flavor. Of course, all things being equal, we always prefer beer that is handmade, that honors tradition and that is brewed close to home. But, in addition to all that, there’s another thing that really tickles our fancy, and that’s beer that comes in cans. This explains part of our love for September’s featured brewery, Oskar Blues.
Perhaps it’s the memory of greener days when that’s how we all thought of beer. I suppose I’m dating myself, but once upon a time beer always seemed to come in metal cans with pull top tabs.
Those are long forgotten and reckless days – days when we were still immortal and rode Big Wheels unsupervised, accelerating furiously down the steep inclines of the Little Mountains behind the old home place, always just missing a stretch of ancient and rusty barbed wire fence that marked the end of our course. They were the kind of days that would send me into massive panic should my own young tribe attempt to repeat them today.
They were also days of long, unaccompanied hikes and explorations of forgotten sheds and barns were we would sometimes find a dusty, old skin magazine amid a pile of rusty beer cans. I never drank beer when I was young and tender – I was, at least in the formative years, a slow learner in the ways of the world. But we scoured those cans for treasure. One of our gang, a cousin from up north who visited every summer, collected beer cans, and every time we found something that looked old, we also found value. Who knew, maybe this can was worth some money or would occupy a place of honor in our cousin’s collection?
We were full of optimism then and never daunted by the fact that these old cans were too common and too poorly kept to mean much of anything. But the thought really counted – we could see that at the beginning of summer when we offered our trove to our favorite summer co-conspirator. The way we showed affection when we were boys is really sweet to remember.
So even when beer in cans had lost its place in the cool kid’s corner, we had an enduring passion- even if cans had become aluminum and only contained the kind of beer our friends described as, how do I put it, equine urine.
But that all changed when we met Oskar Blues. This brewery began the modern “beer-in-a-can-craze.” Cans, as they say, “keep beer fresher, longer by eliminating the damaging effects of light and ingressed oxygen while being infinitely recyclable and portable…taking them where your next soul saving adventure takes you.”
And the beer is good, craftsy too. And Oskar Blues has an interesting business model, too. You probably know that while the brewery originated in Longmont, Colorado, it has a satellite location in Brevard, North Carolina and has purchased other breweries in Michigan and Florida,as well as Austin, Texas. Of course, that smacks a little of corporate acquisition, but in an interview with Market Watch, Dale Katechis, founder of the brewery, indicated that Oskar Blues basis for selecting these purchases had nothing to do with typical corporate, ahem, ethic: “…we all sat around and said: ‘Would we be able to travel there and spend our lives in this town?’ And the unanimous answer was ‘yes.’ That’s really how those decisions get made.”
He also said that “From a cultural standpoint, what I believe Oskar Blues is made up of is beer, bikes, food and music, in no particular order. Just things that I find fulfilling about this world. I think we’ve built a pretty interesting culture around here and I think people feel the same.”
Well, that’s enough to make us love these guys in theory. But the fact is that the beer is good, so our buds are satisfied, and it comes in cans so we can sip our tasty adult beverage even as we wander through the memories – and barbed wire – of our reckless youth. That’s sweet in a whole new way.
For September we’ll be featuring Oskar Blues on tap and in cans, including a limited amount of the Passion Fruit Pinner. It’s a happy marriage but limited partnership of Pinner Throwback IPA and the cheery personality of Passion Fruit that you’ll want to get before we run out.
We’ll also have these brews (cheerfully described by the brewery):
“This AmeriCAN take on the Belgian Classic Wit, featuring orange peel and coriander spice emanated from the basement blues music legacy Dave McIntyre (Oskar Blusologist) built at the original Oskar Blues Grill & Brew in Lyons, CO. On draft for over a decade, Priscilla’s zesty citrus and light fresh baked bread aromas mix with spicy, fruity fermentation. Light bodied with a subtle savory spice accent and a dry, lightly tart finish you can nearly feel the flicker of the neon and sounds of the King. White Wit Wheat.”
“…delivers a hoppy nose and assertive-but-balanced flavors of pale malts and citrusy floral hops from start to finish. America’s first-craft-canned mountain Pale is a hearty, critically acclaimed trailblazer that changed the way craft beer fiends perceive portable beer.”
Mama’s Little Yella Pils
“… an uncompromising, small-batch version of the beer that made Pilsen, Czech Republic, famous. Unlike mass market‚ “pilsners‚” diluted with corn and rice, Mama’s is built with 100% pale malt, German specialty malts, and Saaz hops. While it’s rich with Czeched-out flavor, its gentle hopping makes it a luxurious but low-dose (by Oskar Blues standards) refresher.”
And we may even have a few more, all while supplies last. You better come on in and check…
Cheers! We’ll see you soon.
August 20th is a subtle food holiday. Whereas most of the time we’re celebrating a particular thing we love to eat, this day honors those who do the eating. And while we’re certainly all about lifting people up, it just doesn’t seem right to give bacon lovers, of all people, their own holiday. After all, they revel in the joy of eating every time they sit down to their favorite treat – an official recognition smacks of indulgence or perhaps a little insider trading. Bacon enthusiasts are very well placed – even, we’re told, among the illuminati.
Perhaps it’s too much to assume that there’s a secret society at work – after all, there is no arcane knowledge about the food. It announces its presence boldly with rampant assaults on the olfactory bulb that travel to the brain like wild fire to enflame craving and ignite desire. As far as I can tell, babies with candy are safe, but little ones with bacon are sure to be without it soon.
Of course, this part of the world is particularly subject to bacon love owing to our proximity to the center of the known bacon universe. Our charming neighbor to the south, Madisonville, may seem like a quiet place, but it’s a hotbed of bacon agitation and the home of many, very smoky revels. Benton’s Bacon is one of the most odiferous examples of this already odiferous edible, and it acts on the average person’s nose in much the same way that the sirens’ call ensnared sailors of ancient seas.
If you consider the subject carefully, bacon love is really more cult-like than anything as it lures even the strongest of hearts into its web of longing; there’s a good chance that Meatless Monday has been thwarted more by bacon than anything else. Still, some of our favorite people are ensnared by this compelling food obsession – even folks we call family – so we tolerate this obsession and do our darnedest to love them the best we can.
Given the nature of this love that not only dares to speak its name but proclaims it loudly, one wonders if the purpose of the holiday isn’t so to acclaim the bacon lover but, instead, to call attention to their plight.
Regardless, as far as we can tell there’s no cure for this food affliction until the afflicted themselves have had enough. And until that day, we do our best to treat them well and make sure that the bacon they get is at least of good quality, acquired legally, and not taken out of the mouths of babes.
As for Tomato Head, admittedly we’re enablers. Really big enablers. We serve Benton’s Bacon as an a la carte brunch option, a topping for salad and pizza, and as an essential part of the “OH!” in our Oh Boy sandwich. All bacon has excellent crunch potential, but Benton’s takes that texture an extra step and becomes both crunchy and softly yielding in the same bite.
And then there’s the fact that Mr. Benton delivers a smoking that permeates not just the bacon but the entire dish – sometimes the whole room – suffusing it with flavor and memories, too. Just the smell of this bacon ignites bonfires of glory days long past, fireplaces filled with crackling flames and romance, and campfires redolent with comfort, bonding and adventure. Even its appearance recalls the memory-laden, failing autumn light, a dusk horizon streaked with shades of umber, ochre and Sienna. But edible. Really edible.
While naturally, WE do not suffer from bacon obsession, we understand and sympathize with those who do. Thus we raise rashers to those who love the bacon on this their special day. And though it’s easy to malign the bacon-addled, today we encourage you to show love and tolerance and to embrace them even if their hands are greasy and their breath, smoky.
Unlike hummus, baklava or even falafel, fattoush is a word that hasn’t quite made it into the common food vocabulary. Like the other foods mentioned, fattoush is an important dish in the cuisine of Levant – a broad and imprecise area that includes much of the eastern Mediterranean. The word Levant doesn’t get used so much anymore in English – apparently the French still like it, though I didn’t actually ask them – and, according to an article on PRI.org, “It literally means “the rising,” referring to the land where the sun rises. If you’re in France, in the western Mediterranean, that would make sense as a way to describe the eastern Mediterranean.”
And all of that makes perfect sense if you’ve ever eaten fattoush; it’s a simple, summery feast of color, flavor and texture that brings a lot of the rising sun into each bite.
Fattoush is part of a larger group of dishes, like panzanella, that are basically bread salads, all born of frugal food sense and a no-waste kitchen economy. These dishes stretch the dough, literally and figuratively, to make stale bread not only useful but delicious. The secret starts in the toasting, of course, but what happens after is the real magic – the kind that comes from sunshine.
Good fattoush is simple and combines crispy pita, olive oil, tomatoes, and cucumber. There are other ways to dress up the salad, but those four essentials are what make or break the dish. The key is freshness – not only of the produce but of the composition itself. Sure the pita can be stale, but it must be freshly toasted – and the whole salad has to be tossed together just before serving so the bread doesn’t turn to mush.
When it’s made correctly, it’s a dish that you can eat like nachos – picking up pieces of pita piled high with summer veg and dripping with olive oil. The combination of cool, crisp cucumbers, and tomatoes ripe from the vine slick with the sun-packed flavor of oil makes for a textural match made in food heaven when joined in a single bite with the crunch of toasted pita.
It’s a remarkable dish that’s straightforward, pantry friendly, and simple but all the more elegant because of that. It’s a feast for the eyes too: the colors are bright and shiny with oil and reflect the best rays of the summer sun.
If your appetite is activated now, just wait until Saturday when you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today. Mahasti is back on the air after a brief sabbatical, and she’ll show us all her secrets for one of her favorite warm weather meals. We hope you’ll tune in, and shortly thereafter, chow down!
Tomato Head’s Fattoush
2 cups quartered cucumbers
2 cups quartered or diced tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped onion
¾ cups crumbled feta cheese
1 TBL chopped mint
1 TBL fresh lemon juice
3 TBL olive oil
1 TBL Balsamic Vinegar
1.25 tsp salt
1.5 – 2 cups Stacy’s Pita Crisps
Place cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, feta, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic
vinegar, and salt in a large bowl and toss well. When ready to serve, add pita
crisps, toss and serve.
Serves 2-4 people
Like many artists before her, Lesley Eaton, our featured artist for August, questioned her vocation. It was in college when those pangs of doubt hit her – but like many other creatives, instead of leading her to some truly profitable and practical study like accounting, Eaton says, “I decided studying English literature and creative writing was more practical than art.”
Thus, the call of wild and the creative urge stayed with her and when the Savannah College of Art and Design opened a campus in Atlanta, where she was living and working, Eaton applied and was accepted to pursue an MFA in illustration. We’re very happy to see some of the results of that decision hanging on our walls this month.
The exhibit is entitled “By Land or Sea, a collection of painted paper collage by Lesley Eaton.”
For Eaton collage is a specific, detailed approach: “I paint all of my papers and then cut out and glue each detail. The painting is very free and expressive, and the cutting and gluing is very meticulous. I like the balance of my process and the balance of the result, with the sharp clean edges of my design complimenting the chaos of the painterly papers. The fact that my work is all cut paper is very subtle. I’m always telling people to look closely to see the detail. “
In addition, the exhibit will include a handful of her older collage pieces, and she says, “I’m experimenting with some more expressive designs and am excited to see these hanging next to my other peppered paper pieces.” In some ways this style represents creative recycling because, she says, “My peppered paper is a collection of papers originally used as a type of drop cloth. I use butcher paper to cover my drafting table as I paint my papers, so it catches all of the spills, splatters, and brushstrokes as I paint. The result is this paper covered with a beautiful mess of color and texture; it’s ‘peppered’ with paint.”
The process may sound chaotic, but, while there’s certainly an element of the random and unpredictable, Eaton’s eye creates order out of all these shapes and colors and textures. “The image or idea comes first, then it’s trial and error until I find the perfect piece of ‘peppered paper’ for each part of my object. On my drafting table now is the body of a lobster and part of a shrimp that didn’t make the final cut. Most often I have an idea for what color I want each piece to be, like, ‘I really want these antlers to be bright blue with lots of texture,’ but in the end it’s more important how the piece is coming together as a whole.”
Eaton’s work is vibrant and alive with color and detail. She says that she’s drawn to sharp, delicate edges: “I like how graceful and clean these shapes are when crafted out of cut paper. Clean, sharp lines are a unifying element in most of my collage pieces: whiskers, antlers, antennae, claws, petals, thorns, guitar strings.”
Still, Eaton’s art isn’t chained to precise representation, though, she says, “Most of my work isn’t super realistic, but I like to have the right number of strings on an instrument and legs on an insect.”
You can see “By Land or Sea, a collection of painted paper collage by Lesly Eaton” from August 7th to September 4th, 2016 at the downtown location and September 5th to October 3rd at the West Knoxville location.
The oddity of food holidays, who decides what food gets a special designation and the odd times that those days appear in the calendar of celebrated comestibles is a common and whimsical lament in our blog. But this particular day, Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, is no mystery to us – among these fanciful food fetes, this particular festivity makes perfect sense.
Unlike most popular foods, the Chocolate Chip Cookie has an identifiable lineage – its creator and its rise to popularity are known quantities. Arguably it is the Great American Cookie and, during World War II, for many soldiers, it was America in one semi-sweet bite.
Restaurateur Ruth Wakefield created the cookie as an accompaniment to ice cream to serve in the Toll House restaurant that she ran with her husband in Whitman, Massachusetts. There are any number of myths about how the semi-sweet chocolate landed in the cookie dough, but it was most likely the result of planned recipe development. (You can read more on the subject in Carolyn Wyman’s, “Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book.”)
The cookie famously caught the attention of Marjorie Husted (Betty Crocker) and then Nestle, and then the nation. All of this was happening in the 1930’s in the midst of the Great Depression, when a single bite of richness was an indulgence extraordinaire. I’m no scholar or psychologist of history, but I suspect that the cookie came to represent everything that Americans held dear about their country as a land of plenty, of hope, of shared opportunity and prosperity. Whatever it was, this cookie became an essential morale booster and taste of home as it found its way into mess kits and gift packages for soldiers who crossed the oceans blue to fight fascism and oppression and, thus, earned a special place in the pantheon of American icons.
Today, we take the cookie for granted, and toss its name around without regard to quality. Just walk down the grocery cookie aisle and you’ll find hundreds of hard little discs called chocolate chip cookie. Some are better than others, and a few might achieve greatness – I don’t know about all those cookies. What I do know is that nothing touches the special longing of my inner cookie monster like a rich, made-with-love-by-real-bakers kind of Chocolate Chip Cookie.
At the Tomato Head we’re committed to cookie equality for all, so when we do chocolate chip we do it in all sorts of ways for all sorts of people.
Of course we serve a good old-fashioned cookie made from a traditional recipe that comes loaded with chocolate chips in a rich brown sugar batter that will transport you to the long-gone days of sneaking bits of dough from wooden mixing spoons in Grandma’s kitchen. That goodness also pervades our Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie and our Vegan recipe, too; both of which give the same kind of memory thrill and homey flavor that comes from our original recipe.
But if you’re really celebrating the day, then you may want to engage in the great American pastime of making the good even better by trying a bite of our Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie. The first bite and delicate crunch of this chocolate bomb gives way to a gooey, brownie-like center that bursts with a perfect medley of milk chocolate, white chocolate, and semi-sweet chips. And if you’re feeling really excitable, go ahead and grab a “Rock Your World” cookie which combines chocolate chips with walnuts for a big mouthful of happiness.
Today, throw caution to the wind and grab a friend for a cookie date. It’s a tasty way to show some love and treat yourself to a little bite of American history – and there’s enough diversity in our Chocolate Chip Cookie selection to make everyone feel great!
It is an unfortunate truth that many Tennesseans regard some of our neighbors to the south as less than friendly. Perhaps it’s a persecution complex, an enduring legacy of a long tradition of gridiron rivalry fueled by fears of more than one Red menace. These things are difficult to understand, but they can’t be good for us over the long haul. Fortunately, there are good people in the world, even in Alabama, people who don’t bear a grudge or worry so much about old wounds at the goalposts. We know this because they evince that most noble gesture of reconciliation and friendship: they share their beer.
In August we celebrate a special bond of foamy communion with our friends in Alabama by sharing the good work of Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing.
Of course, you may know that Alabama itself is called the Yellowhammer State. It takes its name from the state bird, also known as the Northern Flicker, whose association with Alabama dates back to the civil war. (To read more, check this link: http://archives.state.al.us/emblems/st_bird.html).
Like many success stories in the world of craft brewing, Yellowhammer is a collaboration that started with some thirsty professional’s hobby. Brewer Keith Yager, once a graphic designer at the Huntsville Times, was a little disappointed with beer selection when he moved to the South. In an interview with Southern Brew News Yager said, “I’m from Pennsylvania. When I moved down here I could not find much good beer outside of Samuel Adams. My mom got me a homebrew kit for Christmas. I don’t think she had any idea where it would take me.”
The journey from a happy holiday package to Yellowhammer wasn’t a direct route. Yager started his homebrews in 1995, and it took over a decade for him to form the idea that his passion could also be his paycheck. Yellowhammer came into being just about 6 years ago when Yager and partners Don Milligan, Challen Stephens, and Ethan Couch renovated an old cabinet shop to produce their froth. In December of last year they upgraded to lovely quarters and an excellent taproom at Campus 805 – a new development that repurposed an old middle school to beautiful effect.
You may want to take a drive to Huntsville to check out this rapidly growing enterprise. Of course, you should do some initial research at our place. This month our taps will flow with one of the best things about Alabama – you’ll find that all these brews are friendly characters. We’re fairly certain that if you give them the chance they’ll treat you just right. After all, Southern hospitality is a real thing, especially where the craft brews grow…
Yellowhammer Belgian White: This beer offers a twist on a traditional Belgian staple. Instead of adding hints of orange and coriander, the Yellowhammer white ale derives its spice from Kaffir lime leaves and fresh ginger. Perfect on a hot day.
Midnight Special Black Lager: A German-style schwarzbier, or “black beer,” brewed with a blend of German Munich malt, Vienna malt and huskless roasted malts, which give the beer a smooth toasty character.
Rebellion Red Lager: A red lager inspired by German brewing tradition, this year-round brew is crisp and refreshing. The aroma holds light malt and caramel notes, and the beer is capped with a light hoppy bitterness.
Hops Fell Lager – this is a new sessionable hoppy lager – come write your own tasting notes, eh?
Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles sound like things that would drive you to the health department in search of an epidemiologist or a good dose of penicillin – depending on what you’ve been up to. Despite the fearsome names, these two characters are beneficent parts of the mystical world of probiotics and also essential building blocks of one of the world’s favorite dairy treats, yogurt.
Simply put, Lactobacillus and Streptococcus are friendly cultures that turn warm milk into thick and creamy yogurt. You can see them work in your own home by heating some milk and adding plain yogurt (or a packet of yogurt culture) to it. The culture will grow and thicken and turn milk into yogurt. It’s not as nice as water into wine, but it’s a pretty nifty thing to see. In addition to creating a delicious edible, these cultures, these probiotics help make the food good for you.
Probiotics are good bacteria, the kind that make your gut a better place and, therefore, your life a little better. They help with all sorts of digestion issues and may even have a calming effect on parts of your digestive system that may become irritable from time to time. Nice stuff, probiotics. Though how and how well these particular probiotics really work and what they work on is still under investigation, here at the Tomato Head office of Instagram Affairs we’re pretty certain that, in addition to their many good works in the digestive tract, these particular probiotics, especially as they appear in our house made yogurt, may have an addictive quality for some people and may result in strange behavior in certain individuals.
Consider Exhibit A – our frequent guest and Instagram Stalker Angie posted a photo of a hand written message, one clearly composed in distress. In the note Angie, in the heated throes of yogurt withdrawal, threatens to post a series of “Tomato Head Nudes” that would, she suggests, include some particularly provocative shots with a Kepner Melt.
Like many good things, perhaps our cultured friends Lac and Strep have a dark side – one that grips the very heart of some poor souls, creating desire and diminishing modesty. It’s hard to say, harder still to see.
And so, though the wisdom of complying with such demands is certainly questionable, we became very concerned about the general welfare, especially for our poor and much beloved Kepner. Suppose that we did let Angie post her nudes, and Instagram deleted her account – where would that leave the poor dear? Would she take to Market Square with nothing but a manic smile? So for her own sake, for the good health of the Kepner Melt, and the peace of the realm, we yielded.
And yet, Angie’s need goes unassuaged. Soon after we helped her avoid a citation for public indecency, Angie began again. This time she threatened to shave her head, which, of course, isn’t really a threat – some of our favorite people have already shorn their wavy locks in favor of a clean and lean pate, one that’s free of gel, scrunch and other life complications of the hirsute. Instead, we see this as a sign of progress, of hope, of healing. So again we offer yogurt.
She also wrote a special post for us to include here. And since artistic expression is often a part of the healing arts, we’d like to share Angie’s own words with you:
“The Tomato Head is proud to announce the return of our beloved yogurt. As it turns out, people miss the fresh taste of happiness on Saturday morning so we have decided to bring it back the last weekend of every month. And because one of our loyal customers loves it so much, we’ve decided to name it after her indefinitely only changing the “occasion” in the middle. We’ve already had “Angie’s Birthday Yogurt,” which we will stick with in October and most recently the “Angie, Keep Your Clothes On Yogurt.” You can check out our Instagram if you’d like to know how that name came about. Next month in July, we will be featuring the “Angie Shaved Her Head For This Yogurt” and so on and so forth for the remainder of 2016. More importantly, we would like to apologize for taking away your little bowls of happiness for so long and we would like to thank Angie for reminding us that it really is the little things in life that make us happy. So here’s to life, liberty, and the pursuit of yogurt!”
This weekend for brunch we are, in fact, offering Mahasti’s delicious “Angie Shaved Her Head For This Yogurt” with all of its probiotic impact – not just for Angie but for all people of good heart, good taste and good gut health. The yogurt will be loaded with good stuff, lots of fruit – Angie, we suspect, will provide the nuts.
If the sugar cookie could talk, I suspect it would express some bashful surprise at the fact that we honor, even celebrate, it. The often pale and unadorned sweet might even blush to know that we toast its very existence today on National Sugar Cookie Day.
The Sugar Cookie, at least as we most often like it, appears as a simple treat made of ordinary ingredients that’s sometimes finished with an ordinary glaze, perhaps with a bit of color or, in a fit of holiday madness, there might be a jazzy sprinkle of brightly hued sugar that, like a festive hat, bedecks the cookie for a fete.
But even when the cookie takes on a less than modest appearance, as a star shape or perhaps in the form of a snowman, a tree, or a Santa cap, the fact of its transformation remains rooted in the simplicity of its making. The simple dough is easy to cut and shape, and so bakers who lived long before the first cookie cutter could easily customize their baking. Sometimes simplicity promotes longevity.
One of the earliest American examples of this sugary disk, the Nazareth Cookie (now installed as the official cookie of Pennsylvania) was created by Moravians in Nazareth, PA. It’s not much more than sugar, flour, eggs, butter, leavening, and, maybem salt and was a part of a tradition of simple recipes for jumbal, jamble, jemelloe, or gemmel cookies that date beyond the 17th century – perhaps as long ago as 7th century Persia. The popularity of the style cookie grew from its longevity – they could be cooked until they were dry and, admittedly, tough enough to handle a long journey. It may be that, like some of your ancestors, the sugar cookie’s sires came over on the Mayflower.
Variations on the cookie became matters of pride – that’s certainly true in the South where the simple cookie morphed into the stately tea cake. But even with an elevated name the cookie remained a relatively simple recipe – so much so that even the poorest larders might stock the ingredients to create tea cake for special occasions. There are some culinary historians who opine that the sugar cookie or tea cake was one of the few holiday solaces that might grace a slave’s table in America.
It’s surprising, perhaps, to the modern palate with its cravings for flavor fireworks assuaged only by a multiplicity of radical tastes that the sugar cookie can have lasted so long. And yet in its earliest incarnation, the cookie would have cajoled even the most jaded hipster palate. Often English jumbals were touched by exotic spices like caraway, cardamom, anise or perhaps rosewater. Sometimes they weren’t even what we might call sweet.
For such a simple recipe, the sugar cookie bears a complex array of culinary and social history: the cultivation of sugar and the establishment of a spice trade mingle with joy, sadness, the travails of forced labor and slavery, religious oppression, the founding of a nation along with some stabs at utopia along the way.
This food celebration comes with much to contemplate – there’s a lot of history in this cookie. So it’s best to start eating right now. Happy Sugar Cookie Day – we hope it’s a sweet one.
It’s hard not to love a spoon.
From small to large, the spoon is the bearer of many good things – heaped with sugar, wrapped in honey, filled with soup or mounded high with sour cream, spoons contribute much to the life worth living. So much do we love the spoon that we’re decorating our walls with them.
In the month of July, Tomato Head Market Square will feature the functional art of Kellan Catani. Kellan’s exhibit does, in fact, include many spoons and other small kitchen wares like rolling pins, ice cream scoops, and cutting boards, along with some very special wall mounts; what binds these pieces together is their combination of beauty and simplicity as governed by Catani’s overriding principle: authenticity.
Catani works with wood, mostly walnut, and only with wood that’s sourced domestically and ethically. For this artist, beauty rests far below the surface and present manifestation of the piece – both the wood’s interior and its history are essential components of anything that Catani would call beautiful and authentic.
“To be authentic is to be just who you say you are. So [in my work] what’s on the surface is what’s underneath. There are no facades.” In addition to meaning that if the piece is made of walnut, it’s made of all walnut, core to surface, Catani also means that he doesn’t stain the wood. “If you stain a piece, then what’s on the surface is not what’s underneath.”
“Almost all of the pieces are dark, so people just assume they’re stained,” but they are not. Instead, Catani blends his own bees’ wax and mineral oil balm which makes a piece kitchen worthy without covering the wood’s natural beauty. Catani also tries to highlight the organic complexity of the wood’s grain by keeping the designs relatively simple.
In talking to Catani about his work, it’s easy to imagine him in a kitchen with walls hung with attractive, handmade kitchen wares that he takes down and uses. Time to chop an onion? Grab the cutting board off the wall. Catani’s passion makes him earnest about using beautiful, real things in what he calls “The artisan kitchen – if you’re making beautiful food, If you’re going to put so much time into making the food look beautiful having beautiful tools as you go along makes sense as a part of the journey.”
In addition to his functional kitchen art, this exhibit also features a unique reunion as some very special parts of the original Tomato Head come back home in an apt tribute to the final weeks of our 25th anniversary year. Catani lived downtown during our remodeling and, most importantly, at the time that the contractors were removing the flooring. “I’ve studied a lot of the flooring wherever I go, and downtown flooring is usually the coolest – because its patina is so good and old. Of all the flooring I’ve ever seen that [Tomato Head’s floor] was the coolest… The differences in color, its patina were really cool.” Catani was able to salvage much of the floor and to repurpose it in a fashion that we find aesthetically pleasing and beautifully nostalgic, too.
Kellan has used our old stomping ground, literally, to create several wall mounts that, for him, highlight the flooring’s unique colors and gradients. For us, it’s a poignant reminder of the many footsteps we’ve taken and the thousands of other feet that have traveled with us on this 25+ year journey.
Catani’s functional art will hang on our Market Square walls from July 4th through August 7th. He will then move to the West Knoxville Tomato Head from August 9th through September 5th. To learn more about the artist and his work, visit his website, purebredwood.com.