Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When The Sum Is Far Greater Than Its Parts

“This is eggplant stuffed with goat cheese” there were other ingredients but the slapping together of my eyelashes and pounding in my chest muffled the voice of the chef as he proudly rattled off the list of goodies he lovingly loaded into one of the world’s creepiest textured vegetables. Eggplant, hate it…I really hate it. Not the flavor so much as the slimy texture and that somewhat tough purple band that holds it together…ewe. There are few things I dislike more, well aside from freaking goat cheese. Dude….

It was at a dinner, the dinner that was put together in part because of my visit to a town that had everyone saying, “You’re going where in July?!” A dinner where I was going to meet “Perfect strangers” that were part of this silly wine blog thing that I do. A bunch of odd components and as I sliced into that “bunch of icky stuff sitting atop a slippery veggie” while sitting around a table full of people I had never met before, trying to not make the gag face as I brought the forkful of “Please don’t let me hork this back up onto my plate” to my lips….the weight of my brow forcing my eyes to take on a Basset Hound like droop. The back of my throat filling with saliva, my chest tight and my puppy eyes scanning the yard for a receptacle should the retching begin….the fork felt heavy on my bottom lip and I found myself swallowing really hard and taking deep sniffs through my nostrils in an almost meditative rhythm. I took my final exhale and flipped the fork tossing the eggplant and goat cheese nightmare onto my palate.

Smoky, meaty, green olive tartness with this wicked sexy balance of crunch and cream, (guessing the creamy part was the cheese but I chose not to think about it) and as for the vessel? Well when was the last time you noticed a chair that was cradling something you couldn’t wait to put your mouth on? Yeah, didn’t taste or even notice the damn eggplant. This one dish was absolutely one of the best things I put in my mouth the whole trip. A dish that freaked me out, a dish that I would never had tasted if given the option…if I had not been sitting at a small gathering with the person that made it….in part because I was there. A dish that was so much more than its parts…it took each thing in there to make it what it was, a mind changing dish.

Each time I thought about this little trip of mine I thought about that dish. Not just because it was delicious…absolutely delicious, but because it seemed like a perfect metaphor or the tip of a needle that wove a complex but thrilling thread that has stitched itself….it’s voices, smells, laughter, faces….memories into this silly chick that finds herself here now, thumping away on her laptop….missing everyone. Grateful to everyone.

I took a sizeable ration of crap from quite a few people when I told them where I was going for vacation this year. I got the horrified faces of those that could not comprehend what would compel me to travel to the south in the summer….even more “Say Wha?!” faces when I told them I was taking a few extra days to visit with (gasp….chuckle) blogging friends. Sure some could understand that I was visiting my son, their heads would do that “Ohhh I see” nod, their eyes sympathetic and mouths slightly pouty to show that they felt sorry for me. I could kind of understand but much like that eggplant dish….I could never know how wonderful it could be if I didn’t take that first bite.

After taking my much needed-too-many-martinis-at-lunch nap after my tour of Memphis ala Kelly, I woke still feeling fuzzy, reapplied my makeup and headed out to meet up with Michael and Kelly for….more cocktails. When we stepped into the Madison Hotel in downtown Memphis I felt like I was in the middle of a Steinbeck novel. White walls, super high vaulted ceiling, stark white but defined molding, low lights and giant slow moving fans. Walking in from the sweltering and heavy air, the hairs at the base of my neck sticking to skin, into this vintage postcard looking space I forgot for a moment where I was, what year it was. I stood there mystified and almost believing that those slow, groaning monster fans where drying my skin…cooling my pink cheeks. Of course it was the raging air conditioner that stopped those beads of sweat from slipping down the small of back, drying them into little salty patches on my skin but for just a second….I was standing in the middle of a novel.

Far too many drinks and just enough food later we were back at Kelly and Michael’s sipping the last little bits of wine left over from the night before. Picking up bottles, pouring little splashes in the glass…swirl, sniff, taste and conversation about how much they had either lost or gained since the night before. The Gruner had lost a bunch of acidity, (too much for my liking) the Chateauneuf-du-Pape had lost some wildness but gained a fierce spice and the Clos Rougeard Samur-Champigny had shed its funk and was showing dark red fruit with a plump but tangy finish. Somewhere in my haze I was able to look across the table at Michael, see the sweet face….the man that had been sharing himself with me, over the web but still sharing, for years…..the sum of the past two nights….far greater than its parts.

Woke the next morning truly feeling two nights of over indulgence, ass….I felt like ass. I pounded water like my life depended on it, which it may have and tried to shake my funky mood as we packed and loaded the car before the long drive back to Nashville. We somehow remembered a breakfast joint that Michael and Kelly told us we had to try and while my husband fought with his girlfriend, (Bing navigation system…..she is one mouthy bitch and she is often wrong. No wonder he loves her right?) I cranked the AC and tried desperately not to think about the long haul we still had ahead of us. The hubby was huffing and puffing, rolling his eyes and grumbling at his girlfriend but he was able to find Bryant’s. I was grumpy, sweaty and starving when we walked up to the counter, in no mood to try and pick what I wanted to eat so I was elated to see that they had a breakfast sampler. No matter that I hate grits, white gravy and have never been a biscuit eater, I didn’t want to have to think so the sampler it was.

Three eggs, pork tenderloin, sausage, two pieces of bacon, ham, potato cake, a pot of grits, a cup of white gravy (shudder) and not one, not two but three biscuits. Fuck. There was not a chance in hell I would be able to conquer the mammoth plate of food but at least I could take a few bites of everything….yes even the vile white, thick, brown flecked goo, and have a base in my tummy to get me through till Nashville. I have to say the meats were a little too cooked for me, not their fault just a preference of mine but the eggs were freaking perfectly cooked and that potato thing, um damn. I was wishing I had toast because you know…I needed more food, to sop up my oozing yolks but figured the biscuits would do in a pinch. I picked one up and I swear it felt like it weighed a full pound. I pulled it in half lengthwise and was taken aback that where most biscuits kind of crumble this one tore into two clean pieces. I spread a little butter on one of the half pound pieces and with trepidation brought it to my lips. My teeth sunk clean through as if the thing was made of air and it positively melted in my mouth…unreal. I shot my husband the first perky Sam face of the day and he immediately grabbed a biscuit and dunked it into his cup of gravy goo. We sat there silent, he scooping heaping wads of sausage gravy, (oh and I still hate that junk by the way…it’s just wrong) and me slipping slices of egg on top of the most perfect biscuit either of us had ever tasted. Ever.

We rolled into Nashville and neither of us really had the energy or heart to see the sights. Nashville was always meant to be a stopping off point for this trip so not getting to really see it didn’t bother us much. We checked into the hotel and grumpy Sam got even grumpier when she found out the internet was down and would likely be down for most of the night. Luckily Call-o can get the internet on his phone so we were able to find a neighborhood pizza joint for dinner. Some tapenade, white been dip, couple of slices of pizza and one beer later we were back in the room and so freaking ready to crash. So not only was the internet down so was our goddamn toilet…awesome. Called the front desk to hear, “yeah all our lines are down so we can’t really call a maintenance guy. Can you hold out until morning?”…um could you?! Call-o was able to procure a plunger but it turned out whatever ailed our potty had seemed to fix itself. I landed in bed with a hard thud, boozed out and in need of a good night’s sleep….so yeah when you are about to see your son after far too many months apart, well you get a little excited. Did not sleep more than two hours that night. No matter I was hangover free and going to see my baby!

Could not get in the car fast enough the next morning. Another long drive but again there was to be something truly magical at the end of it. Skipped breakfast to get some of the driving behind us but pulled off the highway once again when Call-o spotted a Cracker Barrel….I swear that hashbrown casserole has a Jedi like hold on his ass. Our tummies full of breakfast, the party van full of gas we hopped back on the highway and headed for Louisville. As the car hummed along I started thinking….

Had I not started blogging, had I not poured my heart out, had I not befriended “Perfect strangers” over the internet…had I not taken this “Bite” I would never have seen that picturesque hotel and had a Gatsby moment, the Statue of Liberation, the very spot where Martin Luther King was shot, been in a Target in Tennessee, rubbed my toes in the steamy post storm grass while woofing down eggplant and heard the voices connected to the keystrokes I had read a million times over. Vacation in Memphis in mid July may not be everyone’s cup of joe (not a tea girl) but….the things that met me there, the faces, the aromas, the sights….those unbelievably sweet people, that damn eggplant and those biscuits….the sum was by far greater than the parts.


Benito said...

I got the horrified faces of those that could not comprehend what would compel me to travel to the south in the summer….even more “Say Wha?!” faces when I told them I was taking a few extra days to visit with (gasp….chuckle) blogging friends.

"Hey Ben, wanna come over and watch a movie Monday night?"

"Sorry, can't make it. I'm meeting up with a blonde chick from the internet." ;)

Yeah, it's a bit awkward when certain phrases come out of your mouth, in person, rather than as just a mental concept.

That eggplant was awesome, and if I can give a little shout out it was made by the creative duo over at The Chubby Vegetarian, the only vegetarian blog that makes carnivores salivate.

Samantha Dugan said...

Yeah I have a few people that I am terribly close to that just think the whole blogging thing is either silly or just plain stupid. Even one of the friends that met me later on the trip laughed each time they said, "Blogger friends". I try not to get upset, just try and respect the fact that that's just the way they view it....just sometimes wish they were a little less dismissive about my feelings on the subject. Whatever, to each their own right?

That eggplant was divine and thank you so much for linking.

Anonymous said...

Mmm... the eggplant/goat cheese sounds divine. I'll admit, I love that combo.

Thomas said...

Eggplant--goat cheese, and you don't like either. You gotta get out more, Sam.

It ain't what a food is that matters--it's how the cook handles it. Some day, if we ever meet in person, I'll treat you to my "eggplant caviar." A recipe I got from an Armenian friend--fabulous stuff.

Samantha Dugan said...

Use the link Ben provided and find that dish....maybe email them but I assure you it was unreal.

Ah kid it's not about exposure, have had both many times since I was a kid, (Mom was a great cook) and you must not forget I travel a fair amount and as I am sure you know...when in the home of a winemaker you eat what they make for you...some of the stuff I have to eat in Provence and Burgundy were true tests of my intestinal fortitude! I just don't care for them and even this lovely dish will not change that. That being said should you and I ever meet I would be honored to try anything you would be willing to make for me.

John M. Kelly said...

If you can believe it there is STILL one freaking batch of black walnuts I have to chop tonight for the nocino I'm making (exactly 239 of them) but I just found out my local grocery is carrying Carpano Antico and I have a fresh bottle of Campari so I will get through it.

But before I start I'm going to beat Thomas to the punch and describe last night's dinner. Take a small hard eggplant, peel it and cut it lengthwise into 1/2" thick slices. Sprinkle the slices with salt and let them sit on a rack for 1/2 hour while you start the grill and cut up some other stuff. Cut the top off a head of garlic, pour some olive oil on it, salt and wrap loosely in foil. Put it in the 350° area of the grill and forget about it until it smells right. Chop together 2 oil packed piquillo peppers, 1/4 cup flat parsley, 1 Tbsp onion relish and 2 tsp capers. Slice bread, brush with olive oil on both sides and salt on both sides. Pat the eggplant slices dry, brush both sides with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with sugar, and grind fresh pepper over. Grill the eggplant about 2-3 min per side to get nice char marks; let cool. Chop the eggplant in 1/4" dice, mix with the pepper, parsley, onion, caper mix; stir in olive oil to texture and lemon juice and salt to taste. Let the roasted garlic cool. Grill the bread about 15 sec per side and plate. Squeeze 3-4 cloves of garlic onto each slice of bread and spread with a knife. Top with the eggplant mix and a final drizzle of oil. We drank chilled rose with this. Sounds like a lot of work but it didn't seem like it while I was doing it.

Sara Louise said...

You conquered goat cheese stuffed eggplant, meeting Perfect Strangers, and a big ol' plate of southern breakfast... you my dear are a star *

Thomas said...


That eggplant dish sounds right to me. We are having such a hot summer in the Finger Lakes that my hopes are up for a good eggplant crop this year--but I still grow some in the greenhouse, for insurance. And so, to my recipes for the melanzana I will add yours.

John M. Kelly said...

Thomas I don't want to totally hijack Sam's beautiful post for our paean to the purple, but sometimes I mash up a little salt-cured anchovy and balsamic with the roasted garlic before I spread it. Heck, that works without the eggplant.

It's such a cold growing season here we're still pulling beets, leeks and potatoes. Not a red tomato yet.

Samantha Dugan said...

Not a star my dear by I am so glad I did it all!

Thomas & John,
Hijack away kids, I can clearly use the tips!

Do Bianchi said...

and my baby cooks her eggplant
about nineteen different ways
sometimes I'll just have it raw
with mayonnaise.

@Ben in my case, it was a chick from Texas I met on the internet! ;-)