March Artist Rick Whitehead

This month on Market Square, Tomato Head will be the home to an intriguing exhibit by artist Rick Whitehead; it features a dramatic series of pictures from the equally dramatic tornado season of 2011 when funnel clouds and hail descended upon Knoxville in nearly Biblical proportions. “It’s a series of photographs that I took over the course of several days. There’s no zoom and no cropping. I call the series the ‘Tempest Solarized’,” he says, “and that refers to the technique pioneered by Man Ray in the 20’s and 30’s. It’s an effect [that happens to the photo] when you’re in the dark room and open the door to the light for a few seconds.“

This is the first time that he’s had the chance to show the pieces together as a group, and it’s an exciting opportunity to see the sky through Whitehead’s lens. The collection owns an almost surreal effect that’s a natural element of cloud gazing – particularly on the stormy days when Rick was shooting. He remembers that “these were all very close by, all the churning clouds. The formations were very dramatic… this one reminds me of a landscape and this is just the churning of the tornado. And others become more like abstract shapes that you don’t recognize as clouds.”

Photography is only a small part of Whitehead’s métier – painting and drawing are his principle foci, and his show will include some of examples of that work. “I’ve been experimenting with pressed charcoal and I’ll have some of the latest pieces and also some from my Aboriginal Series. I didn’t want to keep the show completely in the clouds.”

Rick draws inspiration for his painting from many sources, including dream-life: “There are dream pieces that are directly from dreams, but mainly I think it is that when I look at certain things, especially a lot of the series of landscapes, they’re more like visions.” Still, the quality of the dream seems to pervade much of his work, which, at least to this eye, gives the whole exhibit a vast array of associations.

Whitehead is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and his work has been exhibited throughout the country and internationally in Belgium and Spain. And while the exhibit that we’re hosting is only a small part of his work, it’s enough to make us want to know and see more. And while you can see more on his website, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to these absorbing works in person.

Rick’s show will hang downtown through April 4th and then transfer to the Gallery through May 2nd.

Banana Bread

As a child, I never liked the mushy texture of bananas unless, of course, my grandmother transformed them into a magical loaf of sweet bread that was as good to eat hot from the oven as it was toasted and bathed in butter the next day. Banana bread has all the qualities I require in a breakfast repast, a mid-morning snack, a treat for lunch and… honestly, banana bread knows no particular mealtime allegiance; it’s good all the live-long day.

Like muffins, biscuits, pancakes and scones, banana bread is a quick bread – one that gets a swift rise from a leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda that, unlike yeast, doesn’t require time to rise. In terms of baking, this means instant gratification. That the bread is quick is only an incidental pleasure where this treat is concerned. It’s also a great tool for the smart manager since it shows its finest qualities when made with fruit that’s over-ripe. So when little Ella, Stanly, Pat and Bing are mortified by the sudden appearance of big, black spots on the once cheerfully yellow fruit, the time for our favorite kind of recycling effort has come.

When the countenance of the banana changes, there’s something sweet going on beneath that darkening peel; all the fruit’s starch is mutating from complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. And not only is the fruit getting sweeter, it’s getting softer –thus, all the nasty mushiness, too gross to eat as it is, will go a long way to making a moist loaf of irresistibly and deliciously sweet character. Talk about sweet water from a foul well – this is it on a plate.

Banana bread makes a fine kitchen staple – it’s a reasonably healthy snack (even with a little butter), but it also makes a neat base for dessert – think a scoop of ice cream with a drizzle of honey or some warm pineapple preserves or cherry jam and a dollop of whipped cream. That assumes, of course, that you and yours don’t succumb to the very powerful temptation to eat it all just after it emerges warm and fragrant from the oven.

There are lots of variations on this particular quick bread, but if you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today, Mahasti will show you how to make her favorite version. Here’s the recipe in case you wanna have everything ready to bake along:


1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Clove
1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbl Sugar
2 eggs
½ cup Canola Oil
1 ½ cup Mashed Banana (about 3 bananas)
2 TBl Sour Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, sift Flour, Baking Soda, Cinnamon and Salt – add the nuts, stir with a wooden spoon and set aside.

In another medium bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar, and canola oil. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla and whisk well. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients all at once and stir with a wooden spoon just until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 1 to 1 hour and 10 minutes (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean). Check the banana bread at 40 minutes, if it is getting too dark, tent it with some foil and continue baking.

Cool the banana bread for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, and then remove it from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature.

Serve at room temperature or toasted with soft butter.

Leap Day 2016

February 29th always brings frogs to mind. That bears no great metaphorical truth; it’s just that I can’t think Leap Year without thinking of Leap Frog – it’s a remarkably unremarkable and simple word association that has stuck with me since I first became aware of this calendrical adjustment. For me though, it’s the only simple thing about the varied ways we account for irregularities in time-keeping.

Like passing the International Date Line, the appearance and disappearance of days baffles me – even though I am perfectly aware that it’s really just an adjustment like hemming a skirt or tinkering with a slow clock to get things into order. I do understand that it takes the earth 365.242 days to rotate the sun, and just like anybody, I want to save that time and keep my day planner in tune with the movements of the sun!

Even so, it’s hard for me to compute that we assign and create days – naturally, I realize that all we’re really doing is labeling and adjusting labels to match our perception of the passing of day into night and one season into another. And despite my urge to rational thinking and behavior (something at which I excel at forgetting), Leap Day remains magical. Like Brigadoon, the mystical Scottish Village that appears out of the mists of the beyond only once every 100 years, the quadrennial arrival of 2/29 strikes me as an auspicious, even charmed occasion.

It’s easy to observe the world around us, and this particular day through the lens of facts alone. But romantic that I am, I see this day as a gift. And I like to spend it that way. Just like a 10-spot that I find in last year’s coat, I like to spend 2/29 on something special for someone special.

Maybe I’m getting sappy in my middle age, but I want more magic in my life – and I want the people in my life to be magical, too. But, to repeat a theme from our Valentine’s Day Post, if you want magic, you have to start by making it. I’m not a Luddite – just try to take my phone – but for this day maybe I’ll turn it off when I talk to friends. And by friends, I mean those people who are physically present in my life. I have enough friends on social media who don’t even know me when they see me in person to appreciate real friends who can tell if I’m having a tough day by the way I enter the room (instead of by reading my pitiful posts).

Of course, most of us love technology, but like real food, real friends take a little of the kind of work that you have to be present to complete. So as you contemplate Leap Day, we encourage you to come meet real people for real food that really cooks while celebrating a day that emerges from the numinous whirl of the celestial dance once every four years. It might look like an unremarkable adjustment and seem as mundane as a game of leap frog – but it’s a gift. Grab it.

National Tortilla Chip Day

Although many people celebrate National Tortilla Chip Day with big bowls of yellow or white chips, we like to pause on this auspicious day and ponder the chip less taken; the blue tortilla chip.

My own journey away from the yellow and white chips of my errant youth began in my mid 20’s during a visit to Santa Fe. It was the first time that I had eaten blue food. Of course, I don’t count the many bowls of strangely colored cereal, including Boo-Berry, of my childhood – in retrospect I’m not sure that they qualify as real food, though, in fairness, I loved them. But during that New Mexican fall, when an afternoon cocktail demanded salty afternoon snacks, my traveling partners and I encountered a basket of strangely hued, corn tortilla chips for the first time and learned the reason for this oddity; it was blue corn that did it.

I recall that, unlike my compatriots, I wasn’t surprised by the idea of blue corn because my dad had once planted flint corn, a multi-colored variety which he knew as Indian corn. Even so, the blue triangles prompted a lot of conversation about the merits of corn chips themselves, and, if I recall correctly, we concluded that a blue chip was heartier than a yellow one and that we liked them, especially after a couple more of those afternoon cocktails.

Blue Corn itself is a fascinating vegetable that has more protein than yellow or white corn and has a lower glycemic index. The color comes from anthocyanins – the same flavonoid and anti-oxidant that makes red wine red and blueberries blue, too. Though, to be fair, by the time a blue corn kernel becomes a blue corn chip, it may not have all the qualities that have made anthocyanin a nutritional darling in recent years. But who eats tortilla chips for their anti-oxidant qualities anyway?

Blue corn is in fact a variety of flint corn all of which share a thicker exterior than its yellow and white cousins. That thickness can make it a little harder to grind, and contributes to the textural difference in the resulting chips. And, according to some tasters, the flavor of blue corn has a nuttier quality than paler varieties.

So, despite being under the influence of Santa Fe’s beauty and booze, we weren’t completely off our noggins to conclude that blue corn chips, color aside, seemed somehow different than what we normally munched while swilling tequila. Admittedly, I haven’t reached this conclusion via the scientific method and exhaustive taste tests, but most of the blue corn chips I’ve met, even without a margarita, have more heft and a heartier crunch than the average yellow crisp.

That’s certainly true of the Garden of Eatin’ blue chips we serve at the restaurants. Made from organic blue corn, they have a hint of nuttiness and pack a wallop of crunch that’s perfect with a scoop of hummus. As you celebrate National Tortilla Day in your varied and personal ways, consider joining us in making the party a big blue crunchy one. You may just gain a new perspective on tortilla texture and find, as we have done, on a day like today where crunchy happiness is paramount, that blue has made all the difference.

Biscuits and Gravy Day

One of the many beautiful things about food is that not only can it tell you where you are, it can also take you where you want to be. Biscuits and gravy tell me that I’m at home in the South, but, on many of my long spells living away from home, that same dish helps ease the homesickness that seems to afflict Southerners in a particularly poignant way.

Part of this dish’s magic comes from the memory-summoning charms of the smells that fill a house where it’s being made properly: warm aromas of buttermilk biscuits rising in the oven followed by the fragrance and sound of country sausage popping in an iron skillet. It’s a hearty dish, too – the kind that fills you up like only a grandmother’s cooking seems to do. In a way, for me at least, it’s one of the miracle foods; it fills me up, warms my heart, and floods the mind with happy thoughts of people and places that I love.

Ultimately, it’s a simple dish that, like much of Southern food, was probably born of hard times or a least a keen sense of frugality that rests in the memory of times when “waste not, want not” was neither proverbial nor cliché. Just imagine a harried cook over a wood burning stove with a handful of flour left over from rolling out biscuits alongside a pan of fat remaining from frying up pork sausage. With just a little milk and a couple of minutes, there was not only more food to put on the table, there was also nothing to throw away.

Like all classic foods, this breakfast staple has been and will continue to be modified and reinvented with riffs on the breadstuff itself and all sorts of mutations of the gravy, too. And while we Tomato Heads are all about some innovative cooking, we cling to tradition in the basic approach to this most classic of breakfast foods. All it takes is six ingredients and a little bit of love.

This Saturday, Mahasti will present her simple and simply delicious recipe for Biscuits and Gravy on WBIR’s Weekend Today so you can make it yourself. Here’s a link to the recipe for The Tomato Head’s Sausage Gravy. But if you find that your craving is stronger than your will to roll out biscuits, just come on down to either Tomato Head. We’ll share ours with you! And while we can give you all our happy memories, we’re happy to help you make some of your own – one biscuit at a time.

Jordan Kear – February Artist

This month, the walls of Tomato Head Downtown will feature the work of an emerging artist with a unique style that, he says, is still in development.

Jordan Kear, a graduate of the Appalachian Center for Crafts at Tennessee Technological University, works primarily with wood in a style that he hasn’t yet tried very hard to define or pin down. The show itself, he says, is a kind of mélange.

“There’s a lot of sculpture and some figurative sculpture as well. All in wood. There’s ash, walnut – a lot of hardwoods that are native to East Tennessee. And I’m using a little exotic wood just for the flair of it; they have really good grain, really good colors. In this show I’m using wood and paint – I intertwined them. Sometimes it’s all paint, sometimes just small portions. I’m just trying to find that fine line – I really don’t know where my work’s going. I’m young – my work is sort of everywhere right now.”

It would be an overstatement, perhaps, to say that Jordan’s interest in wood developed from growing up in the woods in Townsend, Tennessee, but it is fair to say that he grew up around a lot of sawdust. “I grew up with woodworking tools in my hands. I’ve been around woodworking, carpentry and construction since day one. My family’s built three houses and my mom’s salon.”

Though he grew up on the “Quiet Side of the Smokies”, Jordan isn’t connected to any crafts tradition that defines his current output. And while his show features some of the staples that you might anticipate seeing from an artist with a woodworking background, it also includes a number of figurative pieces including some that come with a touch of whimsy – especially in his Golden Girls series. It’s a four piece collection of white wood sculpture set against a bright background that offers a unique perspective of the colorful TV characters’ faces.

“They’re sculptural pictures. They’re three dimensional and stand off the wall about 6 inches. I got my inspiration for that from Andy Warhol’s Lip Series. My thesis show was entitled From the Neck Up – everything was facial features. I anthropomorphize everything. I see faces everywhere I go – like in a beautiful piece of wood – I’ll find a face in it. Faces, lips, mouths draw my attention.”

Most of the pieces that Jordan includes in the show are eye-catching, with some that feature an intriguing sense of movement. In addition to his unique artistry, the work showcases Kear’s fine craftsmanship in some very detailed and loving carved wood. Don’t miss it.

Jordan’s work will be on view at the downtown Tomato Head restaurant on Market Square from February 7th through March 6th. After that the show moves to the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from March 7th through April 4th.

Valentines Day at Tomato Head

For some of us, Valentine’s Day elicits a cynical response. It’s a holiday of strange expectations, most of which fail – often miserably. In the spirit of those failures, I admitted to a friend that I had once received an electric can opener as a Valentine. She laughed and replied that she had once gotten a 2 inch teddy bear from a drug store checkout line. At least, she opined, the can opener was (probably) useful. And to be honest, I had suggested to my beloved only a few weeks earlier in a post-Christmas rant that I didn’t need any more tchotchkes; I preferred practical gifts. Admittedly, then, it was a thoughtful, if decidedly unromantic gesture. You do, in fact, reap what you sow.

Of course, even if I mouth the words “the holiday doesn’t mean much” or “please don’t go to any trouble”, it’s hard for me not to want some small but well considered gesture that shows just how much you love me.

You do love me, right?

I suspect that deep down, many people share the thought; and so, perhaps, the bouquet of long stemmed roses or the big, beribboned box of chocolates is worth the expense and effort. But to my mind, the real gift of love in this harried and hurried era of regular smart phone alerts is the gift of undivided time and attention. So, consider a Valentine date and dinner with your phone turned off and your attention turned on your beloved.

Naturally, I think that sitting down to a meal of real food, made by real people who care about what they do is the best way to celebrate any day – so, sharing one of our pizzas and a Kepner Melt followed by a luscious Valentine cupcake or two makes an ideal date. But, even if you stay in or go out for sushi, keep your eyes on what you really love, and the day will be a success – even if there’s a can opener under that bow.

A wise friend once shared some ancient wisdom that says if there’s something that you really want, you must first give it away. So if you think about it, time and the attention are the only gifts that keep on giving.

Happy Valentine’s Day – hope we see you and yours soon.

National Bagel and Lox Day at Tomato Head

First of all, we’re early – but we’re okay with that. National Bagel and Lox Day is actually on February 9th, which is this coming Tuesday; but that doesn’t feel right to us at all. Seeing as Bagels and Lox are really one of the essential parts of a worthwhile brunch menu, we reckon that whoever decides these holidays ought to take a cue from the way Labor Day works and figure it as the first Sunday in February or something like that. But no matter – we celebrate this classic combination every weekend of the year, so this go round we’ll just make a little merrier as a prelude to the actual day itself.

The list of Bagel and Lox’s loveable attributes might start with its place as a metaphor for the American experience.  If you think of all the influences that go into putting together this dish you’ll have to consider input from at least Polish, Scandinavian, Italian, British, and Jewish sources and perhaps more. It’s a veritable melting pot of its own.

Like much of the American commingling of influences, it would appear that the Bagel and the Lox first hooked up on the streets of New York probably around or just before the time that Ellis Island was getting into full swing, when bagels were the hot ticket for easy to carry and eat food. But when that happened is impossible to say and, ultimately, not very important to the appetite. It is almost certain that the addition of cream cheese to the mix didn’t happen – or at least not very often – until after 1872 when, according to an article in the Jewish daily, Forward, “a dairyman named William Lawrence, from Chester, N.Y., accidentally invented cream cheese while attempting to make a batch of French Neufchâtel. Legend has it that he erroneously doubled the amount of cream in the recipe and was delighted by the results of his mistake.”

Although cream cheese and variations of it had probably been made in American homes for a century or more before Lawrence’s happy accident, his result lead directly to the commercial product that we know and love today – especially it shows up smeared on fresh Flour Head bagels piled with beautifully smoked salmon, tomato, capers and onion..

It makes one of those magical combinations that manages to fire many of the cylinders that make our food brain run happily ever after. It’s a textural head rush from the first bite and crackly snap of the bagel’s incomparable crust and soft, chewy interior all the way to the creamy rush of the cream cheese, the luxurious, almost silky feel of the lox, with a cool, crisp crunch of onion and the bright pop of capers.

Likewise, it’s a feast for the taste buds. The flavor of a fresh bagel, somewhere between the fantastic worlds of fresh, crackly baguette and big, chewy pretzel, brings a light salty flavor that’s just tinged with sweet that marries perfectly with the slight tang of cream cheese, the rich, smoky and heady flavor of the salmon, all of which benefit from the meaty and sunny savor of tomato, the zesty sweetness of sweet red onion and the caper’s briny exuberance.

Now – that’s quite enough with the words; let’s get this party started. And if there’s anything else to be said about bagel and lox, let’s say it with our mouths full.

Tomato Head’s Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

A quick glance back over January used to distress me. The opening month of the New Year was littered with broken promises; all the assurances to myself that the New Year would bring a new me lay in ruin alongside the detritus of failed resolve: candy wrappers, self-help books, and, in one particularly ambitious year, a 15 pound dumbbell.

Happily, I wasn’t alone – according to a handful of articles I read to find out what was wrong with me I learned that only about 8% of resolution makers manage to make those resolutions stick for any length of time. For most of us, the first week is devastating, let alone the whole month, which is, as far as I can tell, really just a build up to more and more football parties and an endless parade of party food led by what may be the cruelest resolution wrecker of them all – cheesy Rotelle dip.

So at my house, we’ve given up the annual resolution game. We take a cue from a certain friend of ours who calls the month “Eff-it January.”  She eschews all the pressure to make a brand new start on January 1 and starts her return to healthy eating in February – though, admittedly, she is seemingly immune to the siren call of Super Bowl snacking.  Rather than try to strap ourselves to a new diet or reinvent our eating lives overnight, we do just what she does and start with a return to healthy eating – not for the whole year, but one meal at a time.

And the best meal with which to start that program is breakfast.

Folks who know better than I do will always tell you that eating a good and healthy breakfast is one of the simplest things that you can do to make your life better. Of course we all know that, but motivating ourselves is a whole different kettle of fish. That’s why we keep breakfast interesting. So during this week’s visit to WBIR’s Weekend Today, Mahasti will show you one of the ways that we like to make the first meal fun, filling, and worth just a little effort: Quinoa Breakfast Bowl.

It’s a great thing to make in quantity with the family on a weekend – that way you can easily assemble and reheat leftovers on the busier weekdays when the early morning rush to get out of the house can lead straight to the sugary start.

The bowl features a base of Quinoa, a beautiful and protein packed seed that comes from the same food family that contains spinach, Swiss chard, and beets. In addition to having plentiful protein, quinoa is generally nutrient rich with good levels of several B vitamins, vitamin E and dietary fiber along with calcium, magnesium and manganese.

After the quinoa, this breakfast of champions is one layer of good stuff after another with sautéed kale, mushrooms, luxurious slice of avocado and a fried egg topped as much Sriracha as makes you happy.

It’s a healthy, filling and luxe way to start the day. It might not be as fun as lifting a few sets with a 15 pound dumbbell, but it tastes good. And while it probably won’t ease the craving for snacking on cheesy dips when they appear before you, a good breakfast can help keep you from diving in headfirst with a spoon. And, to steal a phrase from a certain celebrity, that’s a good thing.

Tomato Head’s Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

To cook Quinoa:

½ cup Quinoa

¾ cup water

¼ tsp salt

Place quinoa in a strainer and rinse under cold water. In a small pot, over high heat, bring rinsed quinoa, salt and water to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, place a lid on the pot and simmer the quinoa until all the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes.

4 cups Kale, rinsed and chopped

1 Tbl Vegetable Oil

¼ tsp Salt

1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

In a large skillet over high heat, sauté kale with oil just until the kale begins to wilt. Add the salt and balsamic vinegar. Continue sautéing for one minute longer.

2 cups Button Mushrooms, washed and sliced thick

1 Tbl Vegetable Oil

½ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Black Pepper

In a large skillet over high heat, sauté mushrooms with oil, salt and black pepper. Continue sautéing for 3-4 minutes until mushrooms have browned and are starting to crisp.

2 Eggs

In a small skillet, over medium heat melt 1 Tbl of butter. Crack eggs into pan, and cook according to taste, over easy, medium or hard.

To assemble Dish:

1 Avocado

Cooked Quinoa

Cooked Kale

Cooked Mushrooms

Fried Egg


Divide cooked quinoa between 2 plates or bowls. Divide kale and mushrooms and place on top of quinoa. Divide avocado in half, remove pit and slice each avocado half; scoop avocado on top of quinoa. Place fried egg on top of pile of ingredients and serve with a bottle of Sriracha, and some additional salt and pepper for the egg.


© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design