My New Approach to Recipes…

I first saw the link on Facebook about two weeks ago, which I cannot find now, that lead me to an article about how recipe measurements have changed over the years and that in fact, those who have mastered the art of cooking seldom use measurements at all.  This statement would of course have to exclude any reference to modern gastronomic cuisine where chemicals and scientific techniques are used in precise ways to change the food completely.  I would argue that in fact “Modernist Cuisine” is a marriage of exacts and ethereals.  You may need an exact temperature to sous vide the perfect piece of fish, but the seasoning, flavors, and cuts are all up to the chef, with no predisposition.

The article went on to talk about how replicating ancestral recipes can become difficult, or impossible, as the way we define measurements has changed and we have lost reference to many of the “old ways”.  To 90% of the country that like to cook this means game over.  Without measurements, many home cooks (and even some chefs) feel that attempting the recipe would be a waste of time as it would not be the way it was meant to be.  What is often overlooked is that this is the beauty of being a cook, and not a handicap.

See, scientific theory tells us that if I follow recipes to a level of exact measure, then the dish will always turn out the same.  The flavors would be the same, the texture would be the same, and the dish will always look the same.  This is a common misunderstanding.  You see, even if you always measure to exact specifications, the recipe will never been the same as how you made it last time.  There are so many environmental factors that can affect the results of a recipe which are out of your control that an attempt at exact duplication is a fools errand (in my humble opinion)

As you can see, this article had me thinking, and appreciative that I am in the 10% who don’t follow recipes, rather I use them for inspiration.  I was once a member of the 90%, as we all have been and most still are, but through frustration and self actualization I have migrated my style to the 10% who see recipes as sources of inspiration, measurements as a rough guide that must always be adjusted, and rely more on our palate then on the exactitudes and specificities that lead to an attempted duplication.

Here is an example: One place my wife and I love to go when in Nashville is The Loveless Cafe. They are widely known for their pulled pork and southern style biscuits.  I wanted to be able to make their pulled pork at home, as well as their sausage gravy.  So I bought their cookbook, went home armed with the recipes I needed, and ventured to make these delicacies that we love.  Each dish will be shared in other posts, however I can tell you that my pork tastes nothing like their pork and my sausage gravy is not even a close semblance of theirs.  The first couple of times I followed the recipes but found that I would adjust based on my taste.  I don’t smoke the pork and it can be said that my sausage gravy has more “kick” than any other gravy tasted.  You see, the recipes went from gospel to inspiration.  When this starts to become the norm, then you know you are now in the 10% and no longer see recipes as mandated gospels that must be followed.

So from this point on, use the recipes in this blog as inspiration, and the measurements will be variable, meaning not meant to be followed exactly.  You may see something like, use double the amount of this than you did of that, or somewhere between 1-3 TBS.  This is not meant to frustrate, rather to allow you to make every recipe your own, bring your own flavor to dishes that I have made and love, and allow you to make it your own.  They say mimicry is a form of flattery, but I have to say that the biggest form for me is to know that my recipe was an inspiration and not a gospel on how to make a dish.  To know that you were able to make it your own, perfect for your own palate, and that you are able to build out your own variations.

Because, at the end of the day, life should be lived as an adventure… by Food!!!

I No Longer Love My Wife Like I Used To…

Yes, it’s true, I no longer love my wife like I used to. Before you pass judgment allow me to explain.

17 years ago today I went on the first date with the person who would one day become my wife. I had no idea at the time that this would be the last first date that I would go on. There are many things in my life that I cannot remember.  You see, my memory is great when it comes to academia, or work, but when it comes to life experiences I remember mostly overviews and miss details.  This date, and the others listed, are some of the ones that I remember everything.

We were joined by two of our friends, Paul and Kellie, and decided to go to Michaels (a restaurant in Rockford that no longer is there). I was 19 and she was 18 so of course we were going somewhere we could afford at that age. Being college students it even limited the budget more. However, I had saved up and was going to show Melissa that I was a man who knew how to treat a girlfriend.

So here is how the evening went…

I ordered an appetizer of Brie Cheese and Grapes, which no one other than me liked. I was okay with this as I love Brie Cheese and it meant there was more for me. When it came time for the entrée the restaurant was out of everything except pork. And yes, I mean EVERYTHING. This was most likely my fault since I forgot to make reservations until it was too late and we did not get in until almost 9:00 PM. So the four of us ordered the pork which was nothing special and called it a night.

You may wonder, did I go in for a goodnight kiss? Nope. To top off the night my date had pink eye and was not feeling well. So I was happy that she at least kept our date and did not cancel.

From that point on our relationship grew. We spent most of our free time together and although I had three strikes against me according to her father (being from California, playing baseball, and being academically ineligible to play baseball) her family accepted me and took me in as one of their own.

On January 19, 2000 I proposed to Melissa and she said yes. And yes, the rumors are true, I proposed to her in front of a public bathroom. I didn’t know it was that when I was proposing, I just knew it was the only light in the park.  This topped off a night where dinner was at The Signature Room downtown, and where Melissa froze.  Walking around Chicago in the winter is never really a great date idea.  Consider that a lesson learned.

On July 14, 2001 Melissa and I shared our vows in front of our closest 250 family and friends. I learned a lot that day, like you don’t have to be Catholic to have a full mass wedding so long as your wife’s Grandparents donate a lot of time and money to the church. I learned that you don’t get to eat at your own wedding, you miss even seeing dessert bars, and end the night feeling too tired to… well… seal the marriage.  After all of that I still look back to our wedding I classify it as one of the few perfect days I have had.  I married my best friend, my partner in life, and celebrated that with of our family and friends.  I danced with my Grandmother, my Step Mother, my Mother In Law, and my wife, all women who are very important to me.

When we were married, and even before that point, we were in love. It was a sort of puppy love where everything your partner does is cute. We didn’t fight, and we worked at being a family. I would say this was surface love. We loved each other to be sure, but it would be compared to the love that someone experiences with a first long term relationship (although this was my second) with the added sense of forever.

Over the next 3 – 4 years what was once cute became annoying and the fact that we never argued was no longer true. As with most marriages our first 5 years were full of rollercoasters emotionally and financially. I still remember us gathering change in the car to be able to just put gas in the car so we could get to work. There were times when finances were such a stressor that it overshadowed the love we had for one another.

As time moved on we of course changed financially and emotionally. Either due to the fact that we were no longer in our early 20’s, or for the fact that I had a stable job, we found that we no longer had to dig for quarters which helped because instead of fighting about finances, we were able to see the other areas that we needed to work on both in our relationship and in our relationships with our families.

Sharing everything in your life with someone is an adjustment and takes time and effort. It was from putting in the effort during these years I found myself having a greater understanding of whom my wife was, what was important to her in life, and I therefore gained a greater respect for her as my lifelong partner.

Over the past 13 years we have added to our family with Azzy, our cat, and Riley, our dog, and although we do not yet have children, we will one day add more members to our family, god willing.  We no longer stress about finances and find ourselves discussing greater topics like mortgages, politics, quality of schools, and of course family. We spend every night together talking about our day unless I am traveling for work. We have grown to have very similar outlooks on life, love, and faith, and have grown to appreciate the differences that make us individuals.  And those little things I found cute at first and then annoying have become the endearing qualities that make me smile when I think about them, and are what come to mind when I miss her most when away on business.

As I said at the beginning, I no longer love my wife like I used to. Not because I don’t love my wife, but because there was no way I could have know just how deeply and entirely you can love someone when I was 23.  There is no way I could have imaged at 19, or 20, or even 23 just how much I would end up loving my wife, my partner, my best friend. It’s impossible to think that 17 years ago I would go on my last first date with the person who would become the love of my life, but it happened. You see, I love my wife more than I ever knew was possible, with the entirety of my soul, and know that I will go to the ends of the earth for her.

I look forward to spending the rest of my life with her, to the exciting times ahead, and to the adventures we have yet to experience. Today, on Valentine’s Day, I love my wife more than I ever knew was possible and for that I am truly blessed.

Our Day at Arrington Vineyards

Welcome to 2014 – The Year of Me

It is amazing to me how quickly the days, weeks, months, and years pass as I get older.  When I was in school it seemed as though the time would drag on and it was so long between my birthday and Christmas.  One of the nice parts about having a July birthday is that it gives me about a half way point in the year between celebrations.  And now, with each year that passes I find myself wondering if I maximized all of the opportunities for success that I had in the previous year: In other words, did I live that year to the fullest?

I have to say that in 2013 my answer to that question is not clearly defined.  In some areas I can honestly say that I achieved a lot in 2013.  However, those areas are mainly in relation to my work.  When it comes to my personal life, my passions, and my personal pursuits, I have to say that I was lacking in 2013.  I did not keep up with my blog, did not add new recipes, did not exercise really at all outside of playing baseball, and I did not work on having a clear line between my work and my personal life.  I allowed work to take the focus.

It is for those reasons that I have decided that 2014 will be a “me” year.  It may sound selfish but allow me to explain.  I am going to take time for me and my family and focus on accomplishing goals in those areas.  While I will of course continue to work hard and grow in my professional life (it’s not in me not to), my time away from work will be dedicated to me and my family.  This is going to be tough as I don’t like to focus on myself and would rather help others, but after 35 years, it’s now time to put me at the center of my focus.

There are no “New Years Resolutions”, no goals that I am not going to keep in the first week.  Simply a change of focus on the year and as a result I hope to be able to look back at 2014 and see a positive change in myself, my family, and my personal life.  Let’s raise our glasses to renewed hope, renewed focus, and the ability to put ourselves in the middle of our focus.  Happy New Year.

~ Aaron

In N Out Double Double

In-N-Out – Its what a burgers all about

Okay, so admit it, when you read the title you couldn’t just say it, you had to sing it.  Right, I mean, I can’t be the only one.  At least I hope not.  Here, Let me help:

Now you have it stuck in your head.  Sometimes after watching a movie where a character is on death row, we often joke about what we would order for our last meal.  For me, its no joke, its a simple truth: Double Double Animal Style, Fries Extra Crispy, and a Large Pink Lemonade all from In-N-Out.  This meal defined my childhood.  It was my go to when I wanted to celebrate, commiserate, or simply indulge in pure burger heaven.

If you live east of Dallas, and have never been west of there, then you have never had the opportunity to enjoy a true In-N-Out burger.  That’s because In-N-Out has a policy that everything is fresh, and no store can be further then a 1 day drive from the nearest warehouse to ensure the best ingredients.  When other talk about fresh ingredients, they lead.  If you want fresh, local, well made Mexican Food you go to Chipotle.  If you want fresh, local, well made Burgers, you go to In-N-Out.

Many will argue that In-N-Out is a cult foodie following and that the burgers are just okay.  These poor people have no idea what they are missing out on, and if it is a cult, then sign me up and I’ll drink the Pink Lemonade.  A menu with less then 10 items, yet dozens of “secret” menu items makes the adventure of going to In-N-Out all the more fun.  Whether you want your burger Animal Style, are hungry for a 4×4, want to avoid protein and go with the grilled cheese, or avoid carbs and go with the protein burger you will never be disappointed.  To those that do not like In-N-Out, well, everyone has something I guess.  Don’t worry though, there is still hope for you to turn around.  Hint Hint Melissa.

In N Out Double Double

My last Double Double Animal Style. Thank you Mike and Becca for the wonderful treat!

Shrimp with Baba Ganoush

British Airways – Royalty of the Skies

From time to time I have the fortunate opportunity of traveling from Chicago to London for work.  This past December I had another opportunity to travel to London.  Each time I fly to London I have been able to fly British Airways and relax in their World Traveler Plus Class.  For those who have not had the opportunity to fly with British Airways, or in their World Traveler Plus class, I would compare it to United, American, and Delta’s First Class Domestic seats.  There is a lot of leg room, the drinks are free, and the meals are always hot and flavorful.

This trip was going to be different.  After having spent 10 days in London working, I logged into British Airways website to check in to my flight home only to see that my seat had been changed.  At first I was worried because I had selected window seats when I booked the tickets and now it appeared I no longer had a window seat.  In fact, I had been upgraded to Club World Seats.  A quick point of clarification, British Airways has 4 classes on their Boeing 777 International Flights: World Traveler, World Traveler Plus, Club World, and First Class.  I had never been in the Club World before and now that I have, I’m not sure I ever will want to fly any other way.

There are so many wonderful aspects of the club world cabin that it would take two or three blog posts to list them all.  However, since this is a blog about Food I will keep this to the unbelievable cuisine.  When I got settled into my Lay Flat seats prior to take off, I was presented with a hot towel, fresh orange juice and a glass of champagne.  What a wonderful way to start a 9 hour flight.  After reaching altitude we were given our menus, yes that’s right, a menu.  There were appetizers  main entree’s  desserts, and wine options which all were decadent.

I decided to go with the grilled shrimp and baba ganoush with olive oil for the appetizer, filet of beef for the main, and apple cheesecake for the dessert.  Wine was a wonderful red Bordeaux from France that paired perfectly.  This was the best meal, by far, that I have ever had on a plane.  The steak was hot and medium rare, the shrimp were done perfectly, and the cheesecake left me wanting more.  Then, to make the experience go over the top, the stewardess came back and gave me a single serving of Dulce De Leche Ice Cream.  Amazing!  When that was not enough, an hour before we landed in Chicago we were served tea sandwiches of prawn salad, chicken and basil, and cheddar and onion for our tea service.   It is a good thing that I have miles saved up as I think from now on I will upgrade my flights when I travel to London for work.  Bravo British Airways, Bravo!!!  Here are pictures I took of my wonderful meal.

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