Palatal Influences

My Southern-Tidewater-Western-Mexican-Texican & Italian Culinary Heritage

Palatal: Definition: : of, relating to, forming, or affecting the palate.

My grand daughter Brooke, gives my cooking a thumbs up!

I guess in all truth, my tastes in food run the gamut.  There have been in my lifetime, and remain, several major “ethnic,” “cultural,” and/or “regional” influences on my palate; Southern; (read “Virginia,” “Carolina”) Mexican; (read “Tex-Mex, Authentic Mexican, Arizona Mexican).  LIghtly followed by Italian; (read Pasta in all its culinary forms) and of course, good old American BBQ Grilling (read “propane-powered,” “fire,” “fire-extinguisher,” “rotisserie,” and “man-grill,” which of course, includes just about any kind of burgers, chicken, (especially hot wings!) hot dogs, and always a proper celebration thereof on many of our national holidays, as long as it’s prepared on the grill.

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FireExtinguisherABCPictured Above: The three essential elements of proper grilling – a hot fire, a beer opener, and of course, beer!  And sometimes, I have to add a fourth:  Like the time I was grilling on the lanai and the wind blew a lot of smoke into the house.   All the smoke alarms in the house began going off, and the next thing you know, my neighbor showed up at the front door with fire extinguisher in hand.  He had heard the alarms and promptly responded.  Good to have neighbors like that, and I guess that was proof I had the grill at the right temp. LOL!

Grilling on July 4th is about as patriotic a thing you can do speaking in the patriotic-culinary sense. Well, let’s not forget Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.  P1110969I don’t need much of an excuse to fire up the grill.  In fact I have two – one is a small two-burner model which I use most of the time for Evelyn and I.  The other is a serious three-burner Jenn-Airre, which I use for the more serious stuff like rotisserie chicken and such.

Herring Roe
This was pretty common breakfast fare for us, usually mixed with some scrambled eggs. It used to cost about 50 cents for a can, but now it’s more than $8.00 a can, if you can even find it.

Being raised in southern Virginia, I was certainly no stranger to the wonderful flavors and tastes that came with growing up in that region. We lived in the south Richmond area, in Chesterfield County, about 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, in a area of many rivers – the James, the Tappahannock, the Rappahannock, the Potomac, and of course the Chesapeake Bay.  Needless to say, seafood was also a staple of my growing up years in what is fondly known as the “Tidewater Region,” of Eastern Viriginia.   Virginia’s Coastal Plain extends inland as far as the Fall Line, a narrow zone of small waterfalls and rapids that occurs at the point where the major rivers pass from the resistant granites and other ancient rocks of the Piedmont to the more easily eroded sands, clays, and shales of the Coastal Plain.  The coleslaw made in the Tidewater area is widely used with BBQ’ed dishes, notably “Pulled Pork.”  (Also popular in the Eastern Carolina region, home of some of the nation’s best vinegar-based pork BBQ.)  Growing up in this area exposed me to what we considered very common seafood breakfasts, but you sorta kinda have to have been raised in that area to appreciate these dishes.  I mean, where else could you have herring roe and scrambled eggs, stewed mackeral & cornmeal gravy over bisquits, and  pan-fried salt herrings and bisquits, as your primary breakfast fare?

Growing up in Virginia, with four kids being raised and my Dad the sole wage-earner, my Mom didn’t have a wide range of culinary variety, but we always ate good.  During my school years, we always had a garden, and Mom always canned tons of vegetables every season. 30689_1444131739511_1119645852_31288911_6434023_s It was from this time that I developed my love for fresh vegetables, especially if they are slow-cooked with the right kind of seasonings.  We didn’t know much about anything other than basic Southern food.  I never remember eating “pasta,” but I do remember occasionally having “spaghetti” for supper, but it came from a can and it was called “Franco-American!”

When I was about 10 years old, my Dad took a job in Durham, North Carolina and we lived there for about two years, before moving back to Virginia.  It was there in Durham at Bullock’s Bar-B-Que restaurant that I remember tasting their style of Brunswick Stew for the first time.bullocks bar-b-que-brunswick-stew.tripadvisor   Not only did they have great barbeque, but it was some of the best I had ever eaten.  Sure, I had Brunswick Stew many times in Virginia, but this was different.  I knew it was going to be something I would eat for the rest of my life.  That particular vinegar & pepper chicken-ey tomato-ey taste just got infused into my taste buds permanently, and I’ve never tasted it as good as what Bullocks made!  After many years of searching tons of recipes and trying out different ones, I finally adopted and adapted one particular recipe that is now my “de facto gold standard” for Brunswick Stew; of course I call it Carolina Brunswick Stew.  It is inspired by the recipe found inThe Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners” by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and is the closest taste to the original Bullock’s stew that I’ve ever come across.

I’ve included the descriptive term “Carolina” on many of my recipes, denoting not only the specific regional flavor of those recipes, but also identifying my fondness for those style recipes over those that might not necessarily conform to that specific taste.  There is a lot of narrative on my recipes explaining the Carolina influence on my taste buds, (Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce & Carolina Brunswick Stew, just to name a couple), so I won’t repeat it here; but perhaps a little background is appropriate, in case you were wondering about all those “Carolina such and such” recipes.  In all fairness, I include my southern Virginia heritage in my fondness for recipes from that region, especially when you’re talking about barbeque.  When I say “barbeque,” I’m talking about the vinegar-based flavors of southern Virginia and eastern North Carolina, which I consider the “gold standard” of barbeque.

Olive Garden's Shrimp Christopher
Evelyn and my Mom enjoy a meal I prepared for them at my Mom’s house in Virginia

Later during my military service – I was based at Cherry Point, North Carolina MCAS for two separate tours of about two years each, frequenting the areas around Havelock, Morehead City, and New Bern — then later, when I worked for the FAA I lived in both Raleigh and Cary for a few years.  In addition to enjoying the wonderful Eastern Carolina cuisine that I had grown to know and love, it was actually in Raleigh that I tasted a taco for the first time.  This would have been somewhere in the early ’70’s at a place called “Tippy’s Taco House.”  In thinking back on it, I’m sure that first taco experience was in the same class as the Franco-American can of my youth, but nonetheless, the seeds were sown.  In later years, living in Colorado and some time spent in Arizona, I learned what truly good Mexican food was, and those kinds of wonderful Mexican culinary experiences remain a part of my life even now.  Nonetheless, the regional tastes of the eastern Carolina area have left a lasting impression on me, and to this day I love a good road trip from our home in southwest Florida, up to Virginia to see my mom — which essentially means I get to stop at one of several wonderful barbeque restaurants in North Carolina.

After I retired from the FAA in 1995, my late wife Barbara and did quite a bit of traveling before her death in 2008…we visited 5 different Continents to be exact, and several different countries; Russia, Norway, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, Australia, Germany, Canada, and 48 out of the fifty states.  (And there was Vietnam & Hong Kong during my time in the U.S. Marine Corps.)  I’ve eaten Fish Stew for breakfast in redsquare - CopyMoscow; kangaroo sausage in Australia; water buffalo in Danang; (that was during my tour in Vietnam, where for six months we lived off of WWII C-Rations, three times a day) lobsterbrisishcolumbia1fresh boiled lobster in British Columbia – Canadian style – flown in by a family member in Nova Scotia, we had a lobster picnic where the only rule was – no utensils!lobsterbritishcolumbia You literally had to pull the lobster apart and eat it with your hands; tamales cooked on a grill made from the end of a 50-gallon drum in Guatemala; baked salmon in Norway – we found it nailed to the door of our guest’s home by a friend who left it for us for dinner; and a variety of foods and types of cuisine all over the globe, too many to list them all.  Nothing truly fancy, just mostly food for the common man, but I guess you could say my palate has had a bit of global exposure.

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My late wife Barbara in the kitchen of our New Jersey home with our youngest daughter Tiffany, circa 1995

It was really during and after my military service and being married to my late wife Barbara – who was a “Chef De Cuisine Extraordinare,” who provided me with the wonderful Italian influence that sometimes permeates my kitchen nowadays. She took me from the lowly world of canned spaghetti to the creatively elegant world of pasta in its many forms and a variety of wonderful sauces.  Her recipe for what I call “Barbara’s Bolognese Spaghetti Sauce,” first prepared by her in 1978, still holds an honored place in my recipe folder.

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My wife Evelyn is from Arizona – we were married in 2011

In the present day, my wife Evelyn has provided me with an entire new range of culinary awareness, as she has added  any number of genuine Arizona-Mexican dishes to my recipe portfolio. (You can check out her Green Pork Chile, Albondigas Soup, & Goldwater Beans, to name a few.)

So, my palatal education continues…

Yet…the “southern” thing is just in my blood and Brunswick Stew and the Eastern Carolina style of barbeque still remain some of my favorite foods. But I gotta tell ‘ya, I love the Arizona & Tex-Mex stuff too, and I’ve learned how to prepare various pasta sauces & casseroles on the Italian side as well.  My taste in various kinds of food has literally evolved over a lifetime, and this blog is simply my way of sharing some of the good stuff with the rest of the world.  And also showcasing the occasional recipe from various and wonderfully-talented chefs around the food blog world. (Including my middle daughter Tara, who has obviously inherited her late Mom’s creative cooking genius, brilliantly displayed on her blog, The Butter Dish.) If you try any of the recipes posted on my blog or hers, I sincerely hope you enjoy them!  And as ever-evolving chefs, your feedback is always welcome!

Will

arrogantbastard

2 comments

  1. Hey girl, you just have no idea how much of an incentive you have been in all of this. After years of putzing around, I finally have this blog in motion, and I have you to thank for those gentle nudges and suggestions to “get-r-done.” And while there are still some things I have to learn with the WordPress thing, I actually like it much better than the blogspot process. So, thanks again for all your help and encouragement. Love you too! 🙂 🙂

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