National Bacon Lover’s Day

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.

Allan Benton in the Smokehouse (image by smokeymountaineer)

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.

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!

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design