20 11 2011

When I was a kid hanging around the drugstore, reading comics off of the wire spinner rack, the old men there, at the fountain, would give anyone a hard time who asked for mayonnaise on their hamburger. “Sissyburger” one of them would declare in mock disgust. Well, I wasn’t a sissy, “Put mustard on mine! Please. Ma’am. Thank you.”

Of course, home alone, as a child, were I to suddenly be seized about the throat by hunger and no nearby emergency mom present with a remedy, I made a simple sandwich. Mayo…well, not really, pseudo-mayo plus sugar means Miracle Whip. Miracle Whip…in Texas we pronounced it more like “murkul”…Murkul Whip on white bread. I would always eat the crust off first, and no one was around to see me eating some kind of sissy sandwich.

As I grew older and my palate matured, “Why of course I will have aioli with my sprouts, toma-a-a-to and avo-ca-a-a-do on whole wheat, old egg. What else?” Then tragedy struck, I was pronounced allergic to dairy and to…EGGS? No way man, no effing way am I NOT eating eggs. But I stopped. And now I travel.

Maoynnaise, that classy old French dressing, is ubiquitous. I travel, a lot. And, in a non-scientific poll of myself…”Hey, Chadao! How often do you encounter sandwiches, in your extensive travels, old bean…how often do you find mayo on a sandwich? Or aioli in the classier joints?”

Chadao: “Nine out of ten times.” So, there you have it folks, in modern America (Murka in Texan) nine out of every ten sandwiches are dressed with mayonnaise or some variation thereof. And me with my allergies. You know, having food allergies is kind of sissy-like…but, for me, make mine mustard. And not that old French’s yaller (yellow), but good old backwoods Texas Dijon. Ha, none of those sissyburgers for me, no siree, and yes, I would like the sweet potato fries, thank you, ma’am.


A Wandering Salesman I

20 03 2010

Snowy Baltimore

I tend to associate the “spring” in “Spring” with the word capricious. Winter is leaving but it doesn’t go away all at once.  Forward and back and back and forward, the sun shines more and the temperature rises then falls back again. Slowly, inexorably, we are now moving toward sunny skies and warmer weather. But like the random leaps of a goat, the capricious bit you see, it doesn’t get from point A to point B in a straight line.

Sunny Baltimore

I was in Baltimore this week. It was quite cool in the morning but Mr. Sun was shining and the temperature approached 70 during the day. How-some-ever, recall that not too long ago, that part of the Northeast was experiencing record snowfall. One storm alone deposited 26 inches on Philadelphia. So as I drove to call on one of my favorite distributors, I noticed the piles of dirty snow sitting in shady sections alongside the road, in residential yards, and in commercial parking lots.

Yes, spring was here, but ol’ pappy winter had not let go complete, yet. But this means yours truly is back on the road with Willie Nelson playing inside myownself’s pea-like and aged brain. On the road. I love traveling. Over 35 years plus of commercial travel I have stumbled through the weeds to view a fresh water spring beneath an old bridge in Waco, Texas. I visited Stovall’s Hot Mineral Baths before fire destroyed it.

The Ghost of Stovall's

One small yet splendid pleasure was an 80 mile side trip to Turkey, Texas, the birthplace of Bob Wills. The country road wound around and up and down on the edge of the Llano Estacado. Coming around a curve in the low but hard-as-my-own-head bedrock, there below and in front of me was the confluence of two rivers. They roared and foamed and must be why all else was stone, but in the V formed by them was a little farmhouse, and I was jealous of the people who got to live there.

Llano Estacado

Then up to the true caprock itself. It was flat and the purple sage waved in a strong wind that must have  been coming straight down from Canada. We got out of the car and looked north across the Great Plains to the horizon and it was so flat with that cold wind blowing in my face and the sage a-dancing around, it seemed one could see into forever. Great Mother of Pearl but what an experience.

The Ginkgos of Tokyo

And I went to Japan. The air smelled…different, alien—but alien in a good way—just not as expected. I always wondered if that scent in the air in early summer in Tokyo was from all the ginkgo trees. And the crows they were gigantic and spoke a different dialect from Texas crows. And the katydids had become “mimi’s” because that is what they said, “Mimi, mimi.” Woo hoo, it was just swell. And so was the country. My friend Masaaki and I hit a fabled little soba joint and sat there for hours slurping down first class soba, sashimi, whatever other tidbits the chef and owner deigned to offer us, and sucking up the best sake I ever had before or since.

The author boards a Tokyo train - "Dosdesukaden"

A young Japanese fellow came over and introduced himself and complimented me on my Japanese-like ability to inhale soba noodles, and could he practice his English? Masaaki and I finally hit the subway headed for Ueno station, but we were so drunk we missed our stop twice and kept having to get on the subway going the opposite way. A little Japanese schoolgirl, going home from a late night after-school class of some sort was the only other passenger in that car with us, and she slept when she could. And the train did indeed sing “dodesukaden, dodesukaden, dodesukaden,” as it clattered along the tracks, and I was in my own little Shinto heaven thank you very much Mr. Kurosawa.

In the Ginza

I will only mention my two weeks in China briefly for that trip requires its own  blog, and I’m not sure if attending the first World Tai Chi Festival on Heinan Island as a member of the U.S. Tai Chi team counts as business travel.

A Ramen Shop in the Ginza

Oh, and in Tokyo I ate a peach, well two peaches, actually, and after having one of those, nothing else for the rest of my life will count as a peach. And eating ramen at a joint in the Ginza where the ramen was flavored with miso and the customers ate with both hands, chopsticks in one hand and porcelain soup spoon in the other. But where was Tampopo?

In "Tampopo" the Master instructs his student

And the beautiful Geisha standing in the unisex restroom proffering a terry cloth towel after I washed my hands. This was whilst we were at Rocky Top in the Ginza where Masaaki and his bluegrass band were playing.

And now I am returning from Baltimore after presenting upcoming book titles to our distributor’s sales force, a bunch of mostly-young, really smart folks who love books and can talk about your product or the industry itself. And they have become friends and the smiles of reunion are genuine on both sides.

Then there is the travel within the travel. When I have to rent a car I am very fearful, having no sense of direction. I always get lost, the only question is when and how bad.

Let us not forget hotels. They are mostly good these days. In my youth, traveling publisher’s reps clued each other in on which place to stay in Amarillo or Lubbock. Who had hot water or even who had any water pressure at all. Today there are numerous fine places to stay at reasonable rates. Many have refrigerators, microwaves, and even small stovetops. At some future date I will write about the fine hotels in which I have had the pleasure to stay. And I won’t forget my friend Maria at the Holiday Inn in San Antonio.

Narita Airport, Tokyo

Finally there are the airports and the airplanes. Certain airports are like old friends and others old enemies. The old friends are best and I will mention DFW in particular. Going east from Seattle, many roads lead through DFW. I usually fly American Airlines and so wind up in the same terminals, A and C. My favorite is Childs Barbecue but Dickey’s Barbecue is very good too. This trip I discovered a new place, Tequilaria, owned by Jose Cuervo. They serve…tequila. But I also had their soft tacos which were fabulous. And DFW has wine bars, and a new fast food place that serves bison burgers. Oh, and very important, recharge towers have popped up all over the airport like chromium trees. The netbook and the smart phone must be fed, too.

And the planes: I used to have a running battle with the planes, what with small seats, scant legroom, bawling children…oy. But I have found that if I sit at the back and get a seat on the right side aisle, all is well. I like 31D on S80s. Today I am in 35D on a really swell 757, so much leg room, and it is somewhat empty, so the other two seats on my side are vacant, well, I could almost live here. Except for the squalling infant several rows up. Ai-ya, now there are screeching children behind me, too. But, that’s why God created iPods.


So winter is done and my clock has sprung forward whether I like it or not, and I am returning home. Another good thing about travel, you get to come home. In the Egyptian by Mika Waltari, our hero, Sinuhe, has just returned to Egypt with his buddy Horemheb from a visit to the Hittites. Sinuhe exclaims, “Nothing tastes so sweet as the waters of the Nile.” “There’s no place like home.” Right Dorothy? But next week, I am “…On the road again, gee but it’s great to be on the road again…”

Waltz Across Texas

23 05 2009
San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio Riverwalk

The spring Texas trip began with a flight from Seattle to DFW. Before changing planes I grabbed a Cousins sliced beef brisket sandwich. Nowhere but Texas, my friends. Also, many of the chairs in DFW airport have an unique design. Instead of long rows, they are grouped in fours with a table between every two chairs. A small thing, but if you travel a lot, this is a real convenience.

DFW Airport

DFW Airport

Then flying on to Austin and a short drive down to San Antonio. Last time I looked, San Antonio was the tenth biggest city in the country. It certainly doesn’t feel that way. The flight selection is terrible and the downtown area traffic is incredibly light. It is often easier to fly in and out of Austin. Of course, this knucklehead got lost for a while, driving back and forth between two toll booths. I had to stop and dig my shaving kit out of the trunk. That’s where I keep all of my change.

Finally finding I-35, I drove the short trip to San Antonio listening to Dan Simmon’s Hyperion on my iPod. The best thing about new cars is the auxiliary jack for iPods.

Visually, there is no separation between Austin and San Antonio these days just mile after mile of Dennys and Olive Gardens, chain after chain after chain. Sigh.

The hotel in San Antonio is downtown, just a few blocks from my next-day appointment. It was late when I got in and I decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant. That was a bad choice. The food was terrible and some kids—teenagers—were sitting at a table next to me with a cell phone on speakerphone and chattering mindlessly to some brain dead individual on the other end. The waitress did not ask them to turn it off, but she did bring me a tumbler full of wine “on the house.”

Calling on the military distributor in San Antonio is always a delight. The buyer is knowledgeable and a good person, and we share many memories of publishing in Texas. The head of the company is a hoot, he is smart and funny with lots of personality.



Presenting our titles went well and then we adjourned to the Riverwalk for an early dinner at Boudros. This restaurant must have the best guacamole in the entire universe. They make it at the table using a traditional molcajete, lava stone mortar and pestle. The guacamole starts with ripe avocados, of course; finely chopped red onion; garlic; lime juice; a mixture of fire-roasted peppers, onions, and tomatoes; and…the juice of half an orange. Wow, this is stab-the-waiter-in-the-hand-with-a-fork-if-he-tries-to-take-it-away good.

The River Walk is a nice touristy attraction. I suppose it is the biggest thing in San Antonio. Lots of great food with boats toodling up and down the river, including boats with full dinners served. In April the temperature is in the low 80’s, so tolerable. Summers in San Antonio can be insufferable with temperatures over 100 and high humidity.

San Antonio has a swell history with great Mexican food all over the place. Chili, Texas chili, the real, genuine, original chili—that’s chili with an “i” my friends—chili began in San Antonio with the Chili Queens selling it on the street by firelight. No beans, just beefy, spicy goodness.

Of course San Antonio is also the site of the Alamo, the old mission around which every Texan rallies. Davey Crockett died there, and Jim Bowie, and the massacre of the colonists foreshadowed the battle of San Jacinto where General Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana and won independence for Texas. Funny, it seems like today most of the visitors to the Alamo are from Mexico.

Leaving San Antonio, I headed back to Austin for dinner with one of our authors, a very famous author. He and his wife have become dear friends of mine and I look forward to seeing them with great anticipation. Four hours at the dinner table turned out to be not long enough to cover every subject. What fun.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

The next morning I stepped out the door of my motel room in Austin. It was warm and humid. A brown grackle was prowling in the grass at my feet looking for food. The air in front of me erupted as a mockingbird chased a boat-tailed grackle away from her nest. Yep, spring in Texas.


Mockingbird-State Bird of Texas

Driving up to Dallas. Traffic is heavy, the roads are badly in need of repair, and thunderstorms are rolling in. Listening to the Groucho Marx version of the Mikado helps.

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

What memories on that stretch of I-35. It passes by Salado, a tiny town noted for the Stagecoach Inn, on the old road where the stagecoaches traveled—the swimming pool is spring-fed, and the wait staff has to memorize the menu, it is not written down—and then past the exit to Killeen where Fort Hood is located. The first thing I ever did as a Ballantine Book rep was to rack Fort Hood, all 13 stores, for Ballantine War Books. The brainchild of one of my mentors, Ian Ballantine, those books sold like crazy. I wish they were still in print.

Passing Killeen and Belton and Temple. Temple was the home of the local distributor and a great place to call on. Ha! Memories of one drunken night in downtown Temple with the book buyer. He drove and managed to bottom out his car on a concrete divider in downtown Temple under the innerstate. When you went drinking with him you were in for it. It always began at the Ramada Inn bar. Every time he finished his beer he ordered another, and one for you. Sometimes I would have three or four beers sitting in front of me. I vaguely remember winding up at a Czech dance hall one night. Times were different then. We would have wound up in jail…or dead, today. Now I won’t get in a car if I had even one drink.

On through Waco, infamous for the Branch Davidian fiasco. But I remember on my first road rep trip south traveling with the legendary Dink Starns, once described by publisher Tom Doherty as a “boulevardier.” Dink took me to some old bridge that used to be a main thoroughfare and we trekked down under the bridge so I can see a spring bubbling on the edge of the river. Dink taught me many things, including how to sell books.

Near Waxahachie

Near Waxahachie

I-35 divides at Hillsboro with the west branch leading to Fort Worth, and the east branch to Dallas. I go east past Waxahachie and the super collider that wouldn’t be. The condition of the road is horrible. Texas always took pride in their miles and miles of miles and miles of interstate and I am sad that the highway system has fallen into such disrepair. At the same time, around cities, they have taken to painting overpasses. What a waste of time and money! Let concrete be. Spend that money on road repair. Now everything that is painted will have to be repainted, or wind up looking as shabby as the roads.

Dallas traffic, as usual, is brutal. Drivers in Seattle are so nice I forget what it’s like to drive in an urban combat zone. You have to be alert, mean, and aggressive.

Up I-35 East past downtown Dallas and the insane interchange there. I exited when I came to Royal Lane. Lordy, how many times have I taken that exit…well I just couldn’t count them. East on Royal Lane, the businesses are even more decrepit than before. Looks to me like the general infrastructure in Texas is disintegrating, but I haven’t seen everywhere.

Bumping over the railroad tracks at Denton Drive. This always makes me think of my friend Gary, who was a US Treasury agent. He picked me up once, at Martin News, for lunch. As we toodled down Denton Drive, Gary kept honking his horn. He knew every hooker in that part of town. He told me a story about searching for a suspect with his partner in that neighborhood. It was Sunday evening and a little hole-in-the-wall church had just let out. It was a hot and sultry Texas evening. Gary and his partner had each bought a beer from a nearby convenience store and were sitting on the curb in front of the church.

One of the congregation, a prostitute, came out, bought a beer, and joined them on the curb. Her pimp walked up and started berating her for not being on the job. Well, this hooker just got tired of him, and pulled a straight razor. She slashed at the pimp, cutting his fancy outfit but missing flesh. In a flash, he took off across the tracks down through the bottoms. The hooker hiked her tight skirt up around her waist, kicked off her high-heeled shoes, and ran after him brandishing the razor. Gary and his partner watched them disappear into the distance. Then they turned and resumed their manhunt.

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

On the other side of Denton Drive there is a post office on the right, at the corner of Gemini and Royal.  A right turn on Gemini and Martin News is on the right. Everything is closed up and the fences enclosing the loading docks are topped with razor wire.There used to be a Dairy Queen across the street from the Post Office where we often ate lunch. Now it is Tacos and Teriyaki, whatever the hell that means.

Martin News was the book and magazine distributor in Dallas, probably since the 1930’s. It began with K.T. Martin, Sr., then his son K.T., Jr., “Bubba.” Bubba Martin was infamous for his temper, but he was also a clever manager of his business and it thrived while he was alive.

Some years after Bubba’s death, the family sold the operation to Anderson News, who recently shut their doors. See my previous blog “Give Me That Old-Time Magazine Distribution”

Tacos & Teriyaki

Tacos & Teriyaki

I first caught sight of Martin News in 1975, when my boss at Trinity News, Garry Wilkerson, pointed it out as we drove past. Garry and I were on our way to open a new Century Book Store on Mockingbird Lane. Since then I spent much time, a whole lot of time at that agency, selling both magazines and books. They offered me a job once, managing a bookstore they were opening, but I declined.

So many of my friends worked in the business and Martin News was a meeting place, especially if you were a book rep. Regardless of other business, all book reps had to gather one Friday a month to show their monthly offerings to the book buyer.

Bubba, himself, did the buying for many years. You never knew what was going to happen. When I was with Ballantine, my boss from New York went in with me once, and got thrown out. I kept my mouth shut, and Bubba’s parting words were, “If I didn’t see Pierce back there working his ass off every week, I would throw you and every blankety-blank one of your books out of here.” Then we went out to the company car. My boss chewed me out for a while for not backing him up. To his credit, he eventually ran down and admitted that I had to work at Martin News and did good to keep my mouth shut. Ah, Fridays at Martin News.



Every time I visit Texas I have to have at least one Whataburger. So I traveled the back streets from Martin News over to Walnut Hill to a Whataburger that has been there since the 1950’s. When I lived in Texas, Whataburger had a jalapeno burger but since had dropped it from their menu. Now it is back. Glorioski!

The last leg of the trip involved a flight to Amarillo to call on Hastings Books. After all these years in Seattle I am always amazed at just how flat Amarillo is, up there on the caprock. Amarillo and Edmonton, Alberta are the two flattest places I have ever been. I mean flat.

I visited one of Hastings’ stores while I was there and was happy to find our Pathfinder books.



My return trip to Seattle went through DFW, but the Amarillo to DFW leg was cancelled and the new flight postponed several times. Hell is sitting in the Amarillo airport. Good thing I had a good book. Bad news is I had planned on eating barbecue at Cousins’ again at DFW, but my flight got in just in time to catch the next leg and head back to Seattle and rain and cool and the place I now call home.


We started off with Willie. Now Buddy Miles and Mike Bloomfield can take it on home. I just got in from Texas, babe, indeed!

Froggy’s in the Well

9 05 2009

Frog in a wellSome years ago, one of my teachers described her childhood in China as being “Like a frog in a well.” When she came to the US her eyes opened wide at all the things this big old world might have to offer. And she was braver than hell, going off here and there all over the place just to see what she could see. That little froggy truly went a-wandering.

I am traveling quite a bit these days and I still feel like a frog in a well, just jumping from one well to the next. So far this year I’ve seen a lot of the South. I am growing to love Birmingham, Alabama with its hills and greenery and Golden Rule barbecue. If you want a great sliced pork sandwich, head on down to Irondale, Alabama, just east of  Birmingham. The people are friendly and the eatin’ is grand.

Golden Rule

Golden Rule

Then drive on up toward Nashville. They are so proud of their little downtown and their nightclubs and their music…but I like to pick up some Nashville barbecue, head back to the motel and watch some Nashville Public Television: WNPT. It always has swell music. My last trip I watched a black and white concert by Sam and Dave and Otis Redding shot in Sweden in the 1960’s. Sam and Dave gave, perhaps, the finest stage performance I have ever seen. It was so good, I called in a pledge.

Tootsies Orchid Lounge Nashville

Tootsies Orchid Lounge Nashville

Next came Baltimore. In my youth, selling books at Kroch’s & Brentanos’ Wabash Street store in Chicago, I worked with a Baltimore lad by the name of Sagar Petersen. One day I referred to Baltimore as “north.” Ha! I thought old Sagar, a Vietnam vet with a bit of a temper–he punched a fist-sized dent in a filing cabinet one day–I thought Sagar was about to be all over me like a duck on a June bug. I finally calmed him down by explaining that I was from Texas and Texas was south of Baltimore. He accepted that and we remained friends.

So Baltimore in April was cool and rainy and darn-it-all, with my egg allergy, I can no longer partake of their very fine crab cakes. The Inner Harbor is a nice little touristy area and I once had a delicious soft-shell crab (in Lousiana we called ’em busters) sandwich there. The DBD Sales force is a fine bunch of folks and there is nothing so fun as sitting around and talking about books.

Flatiron Building New York

Flatiron Building New York

I just got back from Texas and will talk more on that further and soon. Coming up next is the north with New York City and BEA and Texas Hill Country barbecue (not bad) in the Big Apple with a Lone Star pardner who settled in up there many years ago. Then Japanese food and great tea with one of my favorite book buyers. New York is the heart and pulse and breath of publishing. If you are in the business, you just have to go there from time to time to get a real whiff of what is going on.

Then, as summer moves along, Chicago and libraries. Bookstores and libraries are completely different breeds of cat. Their needs are different and they look at books in a completely different way. I used to call on a wholesale book buyer in Fort Worth, Texas who was a librarian at heart. She was very difficult to sell to in a mass market sort of way. She did eventually wander off and settle in at a library.

Chicago Public Library

Chicago Public Library

The maddest I ever made her was the day I told a joke–she was a great fan of the Greek tragedians. So wise-ass young punk that I was, I marched into her office and said, “Hey, a man walks into a Greek tailor’s shop with a pair of torn trousers. The tailor says, ‘Euripedes?’ The man says, ‘Yeah, Euminides?'” She chased me out and I wasn’t allowed back for a week.

But libraries are the soul of book publishing. They make the written word available to anyone who can read. And librarians are book fanatics in their nerdy little bookish sort of way.

So this frog will spend most of this year jumping from well to well. In each well the water is different, but it is always sweet.

How to Beat a Bean

22 12 2008

[This was originally posted 3/22/2008. Now, on a cold and snowy day in Seattle, today, I made a pot of Christmas Lima Beans with salt pork and chile peppers. It was so good, I decided to repost this on my new blog site.]

“Beans are neither fruit nor musical.” Nancy Cartwright

“With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my bent arm for a pillow–I have still joy in the midst of all these things.” Kungfu-tse 

Rice is the food without which most of this world would not turn. But not in Texas. In Texas, it’s beans. Yeah, sure, over there in East Texas as you get close to Louisiana, they start eating rice with their beans, but shoot, they eat pork barbecue too! However, that’s a subject for another day.

Growing up in Texas, if there was one certain thing, as sure as the sun would come up and the land would get hotter than hell before the sun went back down, it was beans on the supper table. Most of my family came from Fort Worth or parts west, out in West Texas where it got really hot. And we ate beans. We called them red beans and it confused the hell out of me when I grew up and went somewhere else and red beans were really red and shaped like little kidneys. 

Anasazi beans. Real heirlooms. Probably the ancestors to pintos.

What we were really eating was pinto beans, God bless them! There’s a lot of ways to cook pinto beans and all of them good. My mother mostly cooked them with a bit of meat, some onion, and tomatoes. We ate them with corn bread.

I remember, when I was little, we had a pressure cooker that Mother was a little fearful of. She would put in the beans, tighten down the lid and leave the kitchen in a hurry. I was young then, but I kind of remember a pressure gauge of some sort that rattled around, and I remember best the day the pressure cooker blew and Mother had to scrape beans off the ceiling.

Then there was the story they always told about my brother Ronnie. Seems one time when he was a baby (16 years before I was born), he was crying. And he cried, and no one could get him to stop. Finally his grandmother said something like “Give me that child!” She took Brother into the kitchen and the crying ended. Everyone rushed in to see what had happened, and there was Mammy (grandmother) feeding my brother red beans.

As I have moved through this life, two steps forward and one step back, I have learned how to cook pretty well. But over the years I continued to struggle with beans. I tried all of the folk remedies: Soak them over night; bring them to a boil, turn it off and cover them for an hour; pour off your soaking liquid and wash them again.

My favorite bean pot. Hand thrown, glazed on the inside.

Well none of these methods worked to my satisfaction. The first thing I learned was, however Mother made those beans with tomatoes, she damn sure must not have cooked them in with the beans. Everyone, all the books, and every bean-cooking expert who ever put a pot on a stove says do not cook your beans with acid, it will make them tough. I ate a lot of tough beans before I gave up on putting tomatoes in with my beans.

Then I moved to Seattle. A strange little juxtaposition occurred. I moved away from red (pinto) bean heaven (Texas) as far west and north as you can get without being in Alaska, and I happened upon an old bean cooking method that dates back at least to New England and probably on over to the Old Country. In Seattle, Washington, I discovered the ceramic bean pot.

I may have discovered a ceramic bean pot, but I didn’t buy it, I just looked at it every time I went down to Pike Place Market and wandered through the Sur La Table store there. I looked at it, wondering if this was it. I wondered if this “thing” was the answer to my prayers. Then along came my friend Chris, a Canadian, who was hankering for a pot of Boston Baked Beans. I’m sure he didn’t call them that, I don’t know what Canadians call baked white beans with molasses, but Chris had a hankering.

A good bowl of beans.

So Chris proposed to buy me that bean pot I was always looking at if I would cook him up a mess of Canadian Baked Beans. I agreed, we had a deal, he bought me the pot and I went off home to learn how to use it. All my life beans had been cooked on the stove top, and always in an open pot, at least ever since the pressure cooker blew. But this thing was meant to cook beans in the oven. I guess that’s where the “baked” part came in.

I decided to give the pot a test run before I invited Chris over.

Following the directions, I loaded all the ingredients into my new pot and put it into a 325F oven. And I waited. And I waited. Then I waited some more and those darned beans had yet to even come to a simmer. So I decided to help them along. I pulled the cooker out of the oven, put it on the stove top where any self-respecting bean pot should be to begin with, and I turned on the electric burner. I put it on what you might call “kind of low.”

Then I left it alone to do its work. Some time later I was in the living room when I heard a sort of “flumph” sound. There was not anything in that kitchen that was supposed to make a “flumph” sound. Fearing the worst, I went in, and the new bean pot that Chris had just bought for me was split down the middle and there were half-cooked white beans everywhere. They were all over the stove top. They were on the floor. They were running down the front of the oven door. And worst of all, they were all over the front burner and starting to do just that-burn! And they were inside and under the burners, too. And…there was molasses in the beans. It was sticky and it burnt.

Well, I cleaned up my mess, trudged back down to the Sur La Table store and bought another ceramic bean pot. This time I decided I would leave it in the oven until hell froze over, if I had to, or, until the beans were done.

It was springtime in Seattle and the sun was making one of its rare appearances. Instead of fretting, I decided to take a nap while my beans cooked. So I opened the balcony door in my bedroom, stretched out on my bed and slept. I slept for several hours and I woke up to the most wonderful aroma. “Man,” I thought, “My neighbor is cooking something that smells really good!” As I got up and headed down the stairs that heavenly aroma increased as I neared the kitchen, and I knew, I knew! That smell was my beans.

I grabbed a couple of oven mitts, pulled the pot out, and took off the little lid. The beans were simmering away and they looked as good as they smelled. They tasted even better.

Shortly after that, Chris got his baked beans and then I gave my new pot the ultimate test. Red beans, I would cook red beans. So I washed and sorted a pound of pintos, cubed a slab of salt pork, chopped an onion and put everything in the bean pot along with water to cover, salt, pepper, and some powdered habanero. Well, it worked. I did not have to soak my beans, I did not have to bring my beans to a boil then wait one hour and wash them again…I just had to make sure to add water if the beans came uncovered and I had to have the patience to wait two hours, three hours, maybe even more. Then I consistently got the best beans I have ever had. The pot liquor was indescribable!

If I wanted tomatoes, I added them after the beans were done. And, like any good Texan, occasionally, when the mood hit me, instead of pintos, I cooked up some black-eyed peas. And they were wonderful too and didn’t take nearly as much time. Oh, and after the beans were done, I cooked up some corn bread in my iron skillet in the oven, too.

Now, eleven years later, I still bake beans, but I use stock and water, and I have fallen in love with heirloom beans. Anasazi-like pintos but richer; Red Appaloosas-smaller, and pretty like their name, and maybe the best beans I’ve ever had, and a whole slew of other heirlooms, some of them ancestors to the pinto, some not. Oh, I still cook up a pot of pintos every now and then, it is my heritage, but there are more good beans out there today than I have time to try.

“Beans are highly nutritious and satisfying, they can also be delicious if and when properly prepared, and they possess over all vegetables the great advantage of being just as good, if not better, when kept waiting, an advantage in the case of people whose disposition or occupation makes it difficult for them to be punctual at mealtime.” Andre Simon (1877-1970) The Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy (1952)

Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.” Aesop

Find good heirloom beans at

I think these are coffee beans, and no matter how long you cook them they’ll always be tough. Did John Woo direct this?


17 12 2008
Glorious cheese

Glorious cheese

Consider the cheese. Some time ago, a very long time ago, a poor farmer most likely decided to carry some sheep’s milk in a sheep’s stomach. This was about 10,000 years ago, so let us set the occurance between the rivers, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, that is. So our poor farmer is walking along with this sheep’s stomach full of milk slung over his shoulder. The day is probably warm and the milk sloshes around in the stomach, mixing with an enzyme in the stomach, rennet. The milk begins to coagulate, and by the time our poor farmer arrives at his destination, his bag full of milk is now a mass of sour curds. Well, imagine his surprise!

 Cheese is widely eaten and highly prized in the Western world. Not so much in some parts of Asia such as Japan, Korea, and China. But we do love our cheese. As the above video illustrates, cheese is available in multitudinous variety. Once again, in the dear old West, we put cheese on everything. Everything!

 Previous posts have asked the age-old question: “Is your dog finally getting enough cheese?” And cats can now choose ready-made chow with cheese and cranberries.

  I love cheese. I love a good hard English cheddar, a runny, smelly Limburger, and the King of Cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano. I love cheese sandwiches and melted cheese, and, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles-macaroni and cheese.

 Unfortunately, oh woe, I have learned that I am allergic to cheese (actually, all dairy, but cheese is what hurts). No, I am not lactose intolerant, I am just allergic to all dairy products. When I consume dairy I develop sinus problems which become sinus infections which cause pain and suffering and sore throats and fevers and sometimes calls for the administration of antibiotics. And so, I have learned not to eat cheese.

 On my deathbed, I will ask for an entire pan full of macaroni and cheese covered with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. Oh, I almost look forward to that day. I also get rashes and my body inflammation goes up, but I might live with the risk were it not for the ensuing illnesses.

 And so I have truly learned not to eat cheese.

 I travel quite a bit in my work, and thus must eat out. In North America, not eating cheese, is, well…un-American! Everything comes with cheese, and it is so ubiquitous that menus fail to inform this hapless traveler. Waiters do not understand this simple sentence, “I am allergic to all dairy.” Recently, in a seafood restaurant in New York City, I asked the waiter to go to the kitchen and inquire of the chef whether or not there was cheese in the risotto. Now, I know that a classic risotto has cheese, but I love risotto, and hope-against-hope, and the waiter returned and said, no, indeed the risotto contained no cheese. And it was lovely, and it was creamy…wait a minute, “This is too creamy, damn it!” And, sure enough, the risotto was made with my beloved parmisiano-reggiano, but that didn’t count, I suppose.Macaroni and Cheese

 My travel also includes conventions. Where standing all day in cavernous, under-air-conditioned convention centers is the norm. The food begins at execrable and descends. So, at the ALA, the American Library Association convention, last June, I was pleased to find them serving hamburgers made with Hurst Ranch grass-fed beef. A small joy in a sea of culinary despair.

  Well, when lunch time rolled around, I marched up and order “one hamburger, NO CHEESE!” Then I grabbed a drink, paid for my burger, and went off to eat. The first bite tasted funny. I looked at the cross-section sans said bite, and there, beneath my Hurst Ranch grass-fed-beef-patty was a small yellow layer. No, it was not mustard. I felt sort of like a geologist examining the strata and trying to decipher what had happened. That yellow layer was, indeed, a slice of good old American cheese. Turns out, the server decided I was just too cheap or too poor to afford cheese, and I was kind of cute for an old fat guy, so she slipped the cheese under the patty, thus escaping the cashier’s detection, and I got free cheese! Well, who in the hell would not want free cheese?

 In Calgary, or as some Canadians insisted it was pronounced, Cal-GARY, we went to a steakhouse.  I ordered a steak with mixed vegetables, dairy-free, please. Well, out it came. The veggies were sprinkled with what was probably a pseudo-parmisiano-reggiano, and there, on top of my steak, was a big pat of butter. Thank god I asked for no dairy.

 In Dallas, last spring, friends took me to a Mediterranean restaurant. I ordered from the menu, looking for the slightest hint of cheese. I inquired and was told that my order was indeed dairy-free. Then out came my salad. The restaurant was dark. I leaned forward examining the salad by candlelight, and there, dear friends, I found tiny bits of…parmisiano-reggiano. I tried to explain my needs to the waitress who froze in terror. She ran for the owner, who came over and solved my problem.

 During the past year, I have learned, over and over and over again, my friend, that I’m in for the cheese of destruction (sorry Barry McGuire). All I can do is do my best and try and minimize my cheese ingestion, and we haven’t even talked about, beyond a bare mention, butter.

 So, if your dog is not getting enough cheese, well Fido can have mine.

Wikipedia says: The origin of the word cheese appears to be the Latin caseus,[2] from which the modern word casein is closely derived. The earliest source is probably from the proto-Indo-European root *kwat-, which means “to ferment, become sour”. In the English language, the modern word cheese comes from chese (in Middle English) and cīese or cēse (in Old English).  Similar words are shared by other West Germanic languagesWest Frisian tsiis, Dutch kaas, German Käse, Old High German chāsi – all of which probably come from the reconstructed West-Germanic root *kasjus, which in turn is an early borrowing from Latin. The Latin word caseus is also the source from which are derived the Spanish queso, Portuguese queijo, Malay/Indonesian Language keju (a borrowing from the Portuguese word queijo), Romanian caş and Italian cacio.The Celtic root which gives the Irish cáis and the Welsh caws are also related. When the Romans began to make hard cheeses for their legionaries’ supplies, a new word started to be used: formaticum, from caseus formatus, or “molded cheese” (as in “formed”, not “moulded”). It is from this word that we get the French fromage, Italian formaggio, Catalan formatge, Breton fourmaj and Provençal furmo. Cheese itself is occasionally employed in a sense that means “molded” or “formed”. Head cheese uses the word in this sense.