Resolutions are tricky things. Every year about this time, we list what we want to change about ourselves over the next year, fully knowing that there’s little to no chance we’ll actually change. They’re mostly a panacea for our dissatisfaction, written down to make us feel better about our ambitions and goals, or to make us think we have ambitions and goals, only to be tossed aside sometime in early to mid February.
So I don’t really have much interest in making a set of resolutions this year. I could write down how I want to run more or read more non-fiction, or start that book, but if I really want to do those things I’ll do them, and having them down in a Moleskin isn’t going to make that more (or less, really) likely to happen.
But maybe if I focus in a little tighter, I actually can get a more focused look at some resolutions for 2012—more specifically, take a segment of my life and find ways within it to improve rather than just writing down blanket things about myself I want to change. In this case, I’m thinking about food (when am I not, though), and what I want to do differently in 2012.
2011 was definitely the most radical year for my diet. At some point in the year I pretty much cut out all soft drinks and tea (probably after another nightmare kidney stone from someone in my family), and as Jessica progressively emerged as a vegetarian, so did I—not completely, by any means, but more omnivore than carnivore.
The start of a new year is a great time to take a look at what I did in 2011 and ways to keep it going. Here are five changes (or continuations) I want to make in 2012. Five food resolutions, if you will.
1. Focus on water. Giving up soft drinks and tea was a major change for a guy who grew up on Mountain Dew and sweet tea. Water, honestly, was not part of my diet growing up save for the hose in our driveway. Last year, we just stopped buying drinks and turned to our Brita pitcher for what we wanted to drink. I feel bad for the company we have over, but it just kind of happened. Now when I think about drinking a Mountain Dew, my stomach hurts.
I still drink an occasional soft drink if we’re at a restaurant, and coffee every now and then, but there’s no doubt that 2012 will be the year of water for me. Four days in and it’s all I’ve had so far. I might track all the non-water beverages I have this year to get a concrete look at what I’m actually putting in my body. So far, that number is zero.
2. Break up with meat. This was another radical shift for me last year. I didn’t give up meat completely, mind you, but there were solid stretches of weeks upon weeks where I didn’t have it at all. Being married to a vegetarian is the primary reason for this, as when I’m back on my own for meals every now and then I’m heading back to Chick-Fil-A or Zaxby’s, but having Jessica in my life has all but eliminated meat from our cooking. And I really don’t have a problem with it.
The main thing I’ve seen in eliminating meat from my diet is how it’s affected my portion control: I’m fuller faster now when eating it. Less of it goes further. I will say, however, that on New Year’s Eve I discovered the best hamburger in Nashville and maybe the best I’ve had in my life, which makes this kind of hurt my heart to think about, but the next 12 months will see less and less of me eating meat. Again, four days in and I haven’t had the slightest bit.
3. Get to know breakfast. This is one that’s actually going to take a change for me, and that change honestly starts with me becoming a morning person, which has long been a goal of mine. I’ve always loved breakfast when I’ve eaten it, I just happen to eat it about 10 days out of the year. This year, it becomes a bigger part of my life. Whether I’m grabbing a biscuit on the way into work or just this granola bar and banana on my desk, this is a no-brainer for 2012 for me.
4. Don’t cave to convenience. Here’s a hard one, and it’s honestly one of the biggest things holding me back from transforming my diet completely. Caving to convenience is a huge problem for what I eat, and mainly I’m thinking about lunch here. Often I’ll have no plans for lunch, and there’s a McDonald’s about 500 yards from my office, and…well…you can connect the dots. Either way, this story ends with me feeling horrible in the afternoon and vowing to never eat anything but cucumbers for like a month.
This year, I need to find ways to fight the temptation of convenience—lunch is my main problem, but I’ve caved on quick dinners to Zaxby’s or Arby’s before, too. Figuring out a way to navigate this one will transform me as much as anything on this list.
5. Add to my recipe arsenal. We talk about recipe arsenals here a good bit, and 2012 is a chance for me to transform mine. Jessica is building a national army of killer recipes, and the next 12 months are a chance for me to do the same. Last year I devoted a month to cooking Asian food and got an amazing Javanese glazed salmon and bahn mi out of it. I need more of that this year.
So there’s a good start: five things I want to do in the kitchen in 2012. We’ll see how it goes long-term, but I’ve got high hopes four days in to the new year.
What are your food resolutions for 2012?
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I don’t get in to Black Friday. I prefer to, you know, stay at home and not die rather than go out and battle 10 million people for things I don’t really need. But Black Friday is a full-fledged phenomenon, bolstering big-box sales at Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and the like every year as crowds flock for discounts as early as the afternoon before.
But there’s another midnight rush at Wal-Mart, as reported on the great “Rock Center” by Brian Williams—a food stamp rush, where at 12:01 a.m. on the first of the month, many parents and families are flocking to Wal-Mart to get their month’s supply of groceries.
The video won’t embed, so you can watch it here.
America’s food-stamp situation is turning into a crisis, with 15 percent of the country on federal assistance for food. And, as the video shows, it isn’t always people who aren’t working who are receiving assistance. The recently-fired, the blended families, the underemployed — in a down economy, lots of demographics are relying on them. Educated, previously employed people are relying on them.
They’re buying responsibly: milk, cheese, vegetables, tortillas, frozen meats. Some abuse the system, sure, but most—including the ones in the report—are doing it the right way. They’re using SNAP to bridge the gap and get them back on their feet.
The food stamp debate is a touchy one, and we’ve hit on it here before. But the video report and accompanying story should be required viewing for every American, whether you have an interest in food or not. This is the country we live in. Out of every 100 people you pass on the street, 15 of them—with jobs and without, with degrees and without—are on federal assistance for food. Stores like Wal-Mart have changed the way they do business because of them. It’s a new normal for America, ushered in by a struggling economy and lagging job market, and “Rock Center” does as good a job as I’ve ever seen at capturing the human side behind the situation. Watch it.
Ah, Thanksgiving week. The week when stressed amateur culinarians (yours truly most definitely included) freak out over the menu-planning and kitchen timing of the ginormous meal they are about to undertake. There are plenty among us who laugh in the face of planning and building an elaborate meal—moms who can do it with one hand behind their backs; wives (like mine) who anticipate the opportunity to prove, year after year, that Thanksgiving is nothing to fear.
Well, that doesn’t include me. I get intimidated by big kitchen projects, and there’s none bigger than Thanksgiving. If you’re like me, you might be thankful to know that there’s a resource out there that can help—an online database of questions and tips, videos and recipes, all built to accompany you as you tackle the turkey. Really, any site seriously devoted to food is going full-Thanksgiving this time of year, and there are countless online resources to help you. But here’s a good one known more for their news acumen than kitchen how-to’s: The New York Times.
I love the NYT Dining & Wine section and read it almost daily. Like most sections of the paper, it has its finger on the pulse of the food world, both in and out of NYC. This Thanksgiving, they’ve put together a holiday repository, if you will, full of resources to help you get through the day with ease.
In addition to letting you submit any question to the NYT staff, the site is also full of great Thanksgiving FAQs. Some examples:
The site has literally dozens of Q&As like the ones above. Check it out if you need it, and good luck on Thursday!
Anyone who has spent any decent amount of time in Nashville knows that you can’t hardly pass an intersection in this city without seeing a vendor for The Contributor—Nashville’s street newspaper that empowers the homeless community and features their contributions. Now, a former homeless chef who worked his way up to the No. 2 position at Fleming’s downtown is about to give the city’s homeless population another opportunity: the same one he got.
The Tennessean featured Brett Swayn’s story earlier this month. Swayn, he says, moved to Nashville in 2002 with the clothes on his back and a Bible. After a night in a Greyhound station and many at the Nashville Rescue Mission, Swayn was offered a position at Fleming’s, where he worked his way up to the No. 2 spot in the five-star restaurant’s kitchen. Now he’s giving back in one of the most creative ways I’ve ever seen: a culinary school for the homeless, to train (and perhaps even house) more of Nashville’s homeless in the culinary arts and help place them in kitchens where they can work.
Says Swayn in The Tennessean:
“I didn’t know I had a talent. I just picked up things quickly and was given good teachers,” he said. “We want to give others the same opportunity for restoration that was given to me. We want to show the homeless hope exists.”
The Cookery, which already has a location, will teach homeless men and women how to budget, as well as provide counseling and health care. What is so great about The Contributor is that it places current and former homeless men and women in situations where they can work and contribute immediately. The Cookery will do similar, while at the same time giving them a skill that makes them stick out in the workforce. It’s a great idea that will hopefully transform a city’s homeless population that needs it.
A word, too, about the Nashville Rescue Mission, which does some of the greatest work for the city’s homeless population every year. There are tons of ways to give on their website, and the Great Thanksgiving Banquet that the organization puts on every year for the homeless is one of the best non-profit events of the year. Read more about the banquet here.
My list of favorite food movies is shorter than the sides menu at Dreamland.
In our DVD collection, which at last count stood somewhere greater than 120, we have exactly three food movies: a silly romantic comedy, a Pixar movie, and, well, a silly romantic comedy that at least has Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. What is the deal? Where are all the good food movies?
I have a favorite movie, a favorite sports movie, a favorite action movie, a favorite guilty pleasure movie, a favorite sequel, a favorite historical movie, a favorite disaster movie, and a favorite superhero movie. I need a favorite food movie, Hollywood. There’s got to be more to culinary cinema than Ratatouille, great as it is. There are some great food documentaries, one of which we saw a couple weeks ago. But in the area of originality, Hollywood gets an “Unsatisfactory” on their comment card. Help me out, Hollywood. Let’s put a good food movie out there.
There has to be some interesting story out there for a producer to latch on to: A rogue chef, trying to rebuild his career, takes a chance with a new restaurant that will change his city—and ultimately himself—forever. That sounds like a good movie! A culinary school dropout down to his last shot befriends a strange old man in an alley and seeks redemption through a set of Cutco knives and a fishmonger who will change them all. I would totally watch that! A food truck on the loose…a TV chef exposed for corruption…there has to be something here.
There’s no excuse for Real Steel to be a movie. Harold and Kumar are on like their third movie. Can we right this, please? Food culture is hot right now. Here’s hoping it spawns a couple of good food movies along the way. There’s only so much Julie & Julia a guy can watch.
What are some of your favorite food movies?
Last Friday, Jessica and I went to what was easily the best concert of our lives, thanks to a wild and entertaining show from The Avett Brothers at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. After dinner at Savarino’s Cucina, a local and authentic Italian dive featured on the Food Network that most definitely will show up on this blog down the road, the concert was the perfect fall Friday night event. There are always cool things to do in Nashville, and of course great bands that come through town. But we had been waiting to see The Avett Brothers, and thanks to a lucky call I made into Lightning 100 on the way to work one morning, we won two tickets and were finally able to experience them. It won’t be the last time.
When you watch The Avett Brothers, there are a few things that stick out. They look like Civil War veterans, yes, if Civil War veterans ever discovered skinny jeans. Their energy is undeniable, as is their talent, and the music has hooks that infect you and stick with you. What you might notice first, however, is Joe Kwon—the enigmatic Korean cello player that spends all night stage right and accompanies the music with often-intense, sometimes-subdued cello playing that has become so recognizable with The Avett Brothers’ rise.
While reading up on the band a little yesterday, I made a discovery about Mr. Kwon that was both surprising and awesome: he’s a foodie. Kwon keeps a blog, Taste on Tour, documenting the different places the Avetts eat when they’re on the road, as well as posting his own recipes and behind-the-scenes pictures. There’s even a place for you to leave recommendations for him to check out when he’s in your city. (And someone’s dogging on Burger Up. As the band would say: Shame.)
So here’s to you, Mr. Kwon. You’re always welcome back in Nashville and here on SCJ. And to answer the request you make on the “Contact” page of your site, if we ever have a plus-one for dinner at Per Se, you’re the first person we’re calling.