Sunday, June 25, 2006

Do You Want to Be a Food Writer?

I never fancied myself a food writer though I did, over the years, put together a few pieces with recipes included. I also posted a few favorite family dishes at in the Writer's Corner.

Last year, I noticed that Garden & Hearth was looking for some new micro editors. They listed a number of topics. Most were rather general. One was quite specific--Barbecue Master. That one jumped out at me, since we cook outside all the time. I filled out the application, and that's how I got started writing about barbecue and food.

I'm sure a lot of onliners love to cook and eat and toy with the idea of writing about food. It's a fun topic, and it gives you an excuse to eat more. Gotta love that.

A good way to get started is with a blog. I actually did things in reverse order. I started writing about BBQ for Garden & Hearth and then pitched some other micro site ideas. In that list was Southern Cooking, and Kim (the site owner) liked that idea. At about the same time, I was picked up by Suite 101 to cover Southern Cuisine.

Writing articles is a bit more structured. If you're trying to get started in that market, then a good spot to visit is Absolute Write Water Cooler forums. A lot of writers gather there and share ideas, tips, and market leads. I think that's where I found the Garden & Hearth and Suite 101 openings.

If you want to get your feet wet first, then a blog is a good idea. It's less structured. You can write about food and anything else going on in your life. There are no deadlines. It's very relaxed.

Another good thing about blogs is that there are spaces online (like here at where you just grab a template and fill in the blanks. It can seem a little daunting to start with, but it's really easy once you get the hang of it. There is a forum space at Absolute Write Water Cooler where you can lurk or jump in and get help with blogging. Ted (one of the regulars) also has great tips for blogging at Cobwebs of the Mind.

If you're visiting here and thinking, "Hey, I could do this," then give it a whirl. If you get a food space going, then let me know. I always enjoy hearing what others are saying about good eats.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Barbecue Wash Out - Record Lightning Here

My town does not make the news very often. We only have a little over 800 people living here, so it's not like this is a place where the news crews hang out. Our "little hamlet" did get some notice this evening, because two storms converged right over town. The rain is still coming down, and the lightning count for hits here is right near 1000 with hits still coming in. In addition to the lightning, we have hail and high winds.

Of course, we planned to grill this evening. Our plan was to have pork chops. I don't hear many people talk about doing pork chops on the grill, but they really are good. I have directions for doing pork chops at my micro Garden and Hearth site. If you've never tried pork chops, give them a whirl.

Of course we didn't put pork chops on the grill in this storm. We will grill in the snow but not in a lightning storm. None of us have a death wish. Cold is one thing. Electricity is another.

It's very southern to always have a quick and easy back up plan. When it comes to pork chops, there are many ways to cook them up. A southern favorite is to brown them lightly in a bit of oil. Add a can of Campbell's soup (mushroom is especially good) and about half a can of water. Put the lid on the frying pan. Let the pork chops simmer for a half hour on low or so. If the soup gravy is looking too thick, add a little water. If it's too thin, cook a little longer. You can take the lid off and turn up the heat if you need to thicken.

For other southern dishes, see my Southern Cooking space at G&H of my Southern Cuisine space at Suite 101.

My most recent southern recipe is Fried Green Tomatoes. I think a lot of people think that's just a name of a movie, but folks in the south really do pick tomatoes early and fry them up green. I won't swear you'll like them. They are kind of tart. I've found that either people love them or hate them. If you've never tried them, check them out and see what you think.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Barbecue Ribs on the Grill or Smoker

It's hard to beat ribs on the grill. They do take longer to cook, but they're worth the extra time.

These are baby back pork ribs. We also do beef ribs. Those take a little longer to smoke, since they are bigger.

The key to tasty fall-off-the-bone ribs is to cook slow. I wrote up specific directions at Garden and Hearth, since I know a lot of people have trouble getting ribs right.

Another tip is to use a rib rack. You'll see two ribs cooking here, but our rack actually holds four ribs at one time. Two ribs feed a family of four. When we have company we toss on extra ribs. Sometimes we cook extra and freeze. Smoked ribs are just as good (if not better) reheated.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Guys - Spell it Out - Step by Step

Guys take things very literally. If you say, "Get the grill," that's what they do. If you want it cleaned and want the charcoal in there, you better make sure and say just that.

Yesterday I washed the sheets on my son's bed. I gave them to him and told him to put them on his bed. Today I found the sheets. Yes. On the bed. In one big heap right in the middle.

Sigh. I added the directions to put the sheets actually on the mattress. My son cheerfully did this. Now I would think this would go without saying. If someone told me to put the sheets on the bed, I would make up the bed. But, guys will take "put it on the bed" to mean just that. Walk in and toss the sheets on top of the bed in a big old lump.

I live with all guys. Well, the bird turned out to be female. She lays eggs now and then though I was told she was a little male parakeet. And, I have mostly learned to be very clear about what I mean. I have also learned not to ask if the dress looks bad on me. If I don't really want to know the truth, then I ask the bird.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tribute to my Dad who taught me to grill and other life lessons

You know it’s going to be bad news when your Mom calls and says, “Come over. Right now,” and it’s late. When you walk in your childhood home and see State Troopers at the kitchen table, that’s a sure sign that it’s not going to be good.

Still, you hope that maybe it’s only going to be somewhat bad.

On Friday night, June 9, it was as bad as it gets. My father Bob Allison topped a hill near the state line. Traffic was at a standstill. He couldn’t stop. He rear-ended a transfer truck. Dad was airlifted to Baptist hospital. It was too late. He was gone.

I’m the oldest of the siblings, and I live closest to my parents. I just went into autopilot and began making the calls and doing the things that must be done when someone in the family passes.

Telling my boys was the hardest. Caleb and Eli adored their Granddad. He taught them to fish and worked with them on Scout projects. He was going to go to Dan Nicholas Park this weekend to help with Eli’s Eagle project giving animal tours, and he had been helping Caleb get plans together to build a picnic shelter at Cleveland Methodist Church. The guys were planning to go fishing for a couple of days right after Father’s Day. They were really looking forward to that trip.

When I looked at my sister, Katrena’s girls, I kept thinking, “They will not grow up with the joy of having Granddad around.” Dad adored his granddaughters. I hope they will remember, but they are only 4 yrs (Hannah) and 2 yrs (Abigail).

My two brothers (Robert and Matthew), Katrena, and I have our memories, but it’s not the same. I’m okay if I stay busy and don’t stop to think about things like, “My Dad will never knock on the door and give us hot bread that he loved to make in the bread machine. He’ll never call to see if we’d like to come over for grilled steak (his specialty). He’ll never drop by to see if I’ll take a picture of his biggest fish yet.”

Then, there’s Mom. She’s never lived alone. She was 17 years old when she married my Dad in 1960. I can only imagine how empty that big house will seem in the days to come. You don’t expect your lifelong spouse who is still chopping wood, mowing the brush at the land in the mountains, and walking to the Post Office daily to be gone in a second.

Dad was very active in the community too. He played the organ at the church, helped with projects, did taxes for seniors at Rufty Holmes. He was always busy giving a hand here and there. Life does go on, but there will be some real gaps left with my Dad not around. The phone would ring often with someone needing help. Dad always went. I hope others will step up, because a lot of people need a helping hand.

Though Dad was mostly a worker, he did enjoy his fishing. He went three times a week or so. He’d look out and say, “Looks like a good day for fishing.” It could look like a gully washer was headed in, but any day was really a good day for fishing as far as he was concerned.

I’m glad the wreck was on the way back from fishing and that Dad got his last casts in before moving on to heaven. I hope God likes fried trout and hush puppies. I guess He must, or He wouldn’t have called my Dad home so soon.

*If you've got a beef with a family member, make peace. Tomorrow may be too late. The death of my dad has been really hard, but I'm so thankful that he left this earth knowing that he was loved. He popped in a day or two before and gave us some strawberries. He knew the door was always open and that he was always welcome.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pineapple on the Grill

Most fruits are too fragile for grilling. Pineapple is an exception and quite a treat when hit with a little fire.

For some reason, people seem to be afraid of fresh pineapple. OK. Yes. A pineapple does look like some sort of torture device with those spines. But, they are much sweeter than indicated by the cover.

As you can see in the picture, I found the perfect "opener" for pineapples. I hit them with an electric knife. And, you thought those were just for turkeys. Nope. Work just great on pineapples too. You can always use a knife too. It's not a big deal.

Once you have the pineapple cut in chunks as above, brush melted butter with some sugar on the pineapple. I usually melt the butter and sugar on the stove, but it can go to the side on the grill. Seasoning taste good on the pineapple too. You can with things like cinnamon or even hot spicy seasonings.

If you're a shortcut kind of person (love you guys too), then you can buy canned pineapple. Rings can be grilled just like the fresh slices, and they are really yummy on grilled hamburgers. Actually, it's not cheating. I go with canned rings if I'm doing Hawaiian burgers, so don't feel a bit bad about buying a can and jazzing up my burgers.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

We're wet. We're Cold. And, Mom is Dancing in the Mud.

Guys. Gotta love 'em. But when they're done, they're done. After almost two hours in the rain, they were ready to pack it in and go. Geez. And, I was just getting started.

The next Jimmy Buffett concert we go to, I'll bet will be indoors. My fellows do not dance in the mud and do not crawl under tarps with strangers. I had to peek out now and then--just to check. And, above you see my body guards. They do not look too friendly huh? And, my oldest (and very conservative) son gave me the sign.

OK. I so missed "Fins." I had to "hands to the left" and "hands to the right" in the parking lot on the way out. Then I took the fan Buffett shirt and jerked off my wet one and rode home nice and toasty. Hey, the guys turned the dry shirt down. There are times to be nice and times to grab the shirt and smile nicely (especially when wearing a nice sports bra). I waited. Then, I jumped right on the dry Buffett t-shirt. I am not a dummy.

That's our wild weekend. Next one will surely be our typical. We'll grill and be very model citizens. If it rains, we'll go inside.

I knew we should have paid more for the covered seats!

Woudn't you know it. The Buffett concert kicked off right at 8 pm as scheduled (good job there), and the rain started on cue and song one at 8:05. Great weather all day. Perfect for tailgating. The show starts. Down comes the rain.

I just know Jimmy Buffett is sure to check in on my blog. Though he can't control the weather, I would suggest hitting some of the mega hits off the top when you've got a rowdy field of people getting wet clear through to the underwear. The first few songs were the typical "plugging the new CD" type, and that's all well and good unless you're dry and your fans are getting drenched.

Oh well, most Buffett fans are easy. A very few cut out early. Most huddled up and shared tarps or just rolled around in the mud. Certainly, it will be a show remembered by all who stuck it out.

To his credit, Jimmy did skip the typical mid-concert break. Played straight through. And, I know he didn't have to. Gotta give him credit for that. The show rocked on from start to finish and no rest time.

This was an evening more suited to my Southern Cooking than my Barbecue Master page. By the time we got home, we weren't looking to eat. It was right to bed. Monday comes early when you hit a Buffett concert on Sunday night. And that reminds me, Come Monday is another great Buffett song that most folks like.

OH YEAH! It's almost time for the show to start. This is our first time outdoors. It's like one big beach party--but no ocean. You can't have it all I guess.

If you're not familiar with Jimmy Buffett (gasp), then songs you've probably heard are Margarittaville, Son of a Son of a Sailer, and maybe Cheeseburger and Paradise. Best bet on a CD would be his best of, Songs You Know by Heart or Fruitcakes. It's wonderful background music for outdoor parties. Just be sure to toss some meat on the grill. I can get you started or give you some new ideas at Garden and Hearth where I run a BBQ micro-site.

My latest recipe up is for Pineapple Burgers on the Grill. I know. I know. Some of you are saying, "Yuck." It does sound odd, but the flavors blend perfectly. I think even Buffett would give these a thumbs up.

Heads Up - Beach Balls and Buffett

The hill packed out tight before the show. This was about an hour prior, and there were very few grassy spaces left. By the time the concert started, you really couldn't stir the crowd with a stick.

The beach balls were flying as typical at a Jimmy Buffett concert. If you bring a ball, don't expect to return home with it. They travel all over the field. Where they end up? No one knows.

It's also a good idea to call ahead about chairs and such. In Charlotte, you can't use your own unless they are the short beach seat type. If you have ones that sit higher, they check those and give you vouchers for the rentals.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Give me a hug!

Someone is having a blast before the Jimmy Buffett concert. He loaded up on Hawaiian leis (quite popular at Buffett shows) and was trading extras for hugs.

Yes. I got a lei.

This looks like a guy who would love my grilled pineapple. That's my latest barbecue recipe at Garden & Hearth. If you've never tried pineapple roasted over a fire, then you've got to try it out.

Frolicking Before the Buffett Concert

You never know who or what you're going to run across when you tailgate at a Buffett concert.

We were fortunate to be parked near a drummer who was banging out some of the classic Buffett tunes on his drums.

The "Party Patrol" stopped by. The girls were handing out garbage bags. We brought our own, but we chatted for a while anyway. That looks like a pretty good summer job there. But, I'll bet the clean up party patrol wasn't as much fun.

The folks parked right next to us were quite interesting. One of the fellows is a judge up in Winston Salem. He gave me a parrot sticker and a pin. His buddy runs a BBQ joint. So, we got his contact information. Sounds like a barbecue road trip coming up in the near future.

Buffett - Ultimate Tailgate Experience

We went to the Jimmy Buffett concert last night. Now, that is one heck of an outdoor party. Heck. You could just go for the tailgating and have a great time.

We made our Ultimate Burgers. If you ever try hand patting your ground beef with our secret marinade sauce (not so secret--if you click the Ultimate Burger link), then you'll know what you've been missing. Those little dried up puck burgers from the store will never taste the same again. Trust me. It's not hard to make your own burgers, and you'll really taste the difference.

It did seem fitting to go with burgers, since one of our favorite Buffett songs is "Cheeseburger and Paradise." OK. Everyone sing along. "I like mine with lettuce and tomato. Hines 57 and french fried potatoes. A big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer . . ."

French fries weren't really an option, so we made grilled hashed browns. Eli (that's the youngest) cleaned out the pan. Hash browns on the barbecue are one of his all-time favorites. Caleb is more of a meat guy. He put a hurting on the burgers as you can see.

We arrived three hours before the concert and were some of the late arrivals. Those Buffett fans make a day of it. If you've never been, then it's a real experience. Get those tickets early though. They go fast.