Category Archives: Food

Jim & His Produce Stand

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Looking for something good? Go see Jim at his produce stand over by Don Tyson Parkway. He’s there most days early and until 6 p.m. His place is near the intersection of Ivey and George Anderson. If you’re coming off Don Tyson, it’s toward the eastern end of Don Tyson Parkway, near Butterfield Coach. There’s a balloon-laden sign where George Anderson Road intersects to catch your eye. East Springdale is truly bereft of many of the benefits of the other side of our town, without a doubt, but I sometimes speculate that the new parkway was built just so that people could get to Jim’s with less delay.

This morning, when I pulled up, Jim was out, busily arranging his array of fruits of vegetables: okra, tomatoes, corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, blackberries, blueberries, potatoes, and several other things. He guarantees the quality of his produce. His stand is deceptively spartan; trust me, you’ll find much more than you expected to when you walk up to see for yourself. It’s a trick older people seem to have mastered.

In case I forget to mention it, he also keeps some of the produce in a refrigerated trailer, as well as stocking it with both seeded and unseeded watermelon. In this day of political unrest, I recommend the seeded variety, both for the better taste and for the excuse to spit frequently.

Most people take a casual glance at me and don’t recognize the vegetable fiend that I am. You’d think 75% of my meals are comprised of pork rinds washed down with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. As I often boast, I look exactly like you’d imagine a bowling pro would look like, or the ‘before’ picture in the back of most magazines. Most of my problem is that I’m a lazy eater. Even though vegetables can’t run from me, they do require effort. (I often eat a can of spicy tomatoes directly from the can for breakfast, a fact which causes more than a few wrinkled brows.)

This morning was a fresh 65 degrees, the dew still on the grass, and the produce stand cloaked in the shade of the trees behind it. More importantly, though, the smell of ‘fresh’ slapped me. I wanted to run over and take a bite out of one of the tomatoes on the far end. (He had green tomatoes, too, which made my mouth water and remember Cotham’s and the other kitchens of good cooks.)

It’s not just the produce that’s good. It’s the moments you can stand and talk to the owner, a 78-year-old man with some interesting stories. He might tell you about that fateful day back in ’94 when a drunk driver slammed into him doing 80 mph; his face still carries the scars of the misery, but his voice and laughter erase any misgivings which might accompany them.

I admit I went a little crazy today with my selections. Jim ignored me and insisted that he help carry my purchases to the car. I left with cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, corn on the cob (he has shucked and unshucked), and peaches. I stopped short of filling the car because it’s just two of us most days at my house, although I tend to eat for three myself, just in case the zombie plague hits us without warning – it never hurts to have a small blubber reserve for those contingencies.

But, if you’re looking for something beyond the store produce, beyond even the busy farmer’s markets in NWA, I recommend a visit to Jim’s. It’s hard for me to pinpoint how pleasing it is to drive up to his stand on an early Saturday morning, anticipating not only the delicious variety of food but also seeing the owner standing there, appreciating the words and the business.

PS: I always tip him, which catches him off-guard. Just tell him to pass it along as a gift to his grandson and he’ll smile as he accepts it.

 
You’ll leave with more than you arrived with, even if by some miracle you don’t buy any produce.

Newport Potatoes, Aziz Ansari & ‘Master of None’

 

 
This post will be of interest to those who cook or watch TV, and probably even those weirdos who cook while watching – and perhaps even Peeping Toms who watch those who do either or both. I think I’ve covered the potential fan base of this post adequately, except to remind you to stop cooking in the nude.

Comedian Aziz Ansari’s second season of “Master of None” is on Netflix. It’s one of the most genuinely comedic shows I’ve watched in a long time. It also connects on a deeper level, pinging a depth of emotion and shared experiences that’s difficult for most shows to approach. The nuances are clouded inside a veneer of comedy but I find this to be the case with most shows that I appreciate.

While watching the latest season, I laughed like a diseased jackal when I heard that they too had a recipe for “Newport Potatoes,” a recipe that my mom perfected through countless meals in my youth.

Here’s the recipe for Newport Potatoes: use the regular mashed potatoes recipe, except ensure that a careless and/or drinking chain smoker is in the room and involved in making the potatoes. They’re called “Newport Potatoes” due to the popular Newport cigarettes. My mom tended to make “Winston Potatoes,” though.

(Note: At one point, Newport cigarettes accounted for almost 1/2 of all African-American cigarette sales. I loathe including true facts in my posts, but this one was interesting enough to warrant a detour from my usual tomfoolery.)

So, as I often warn people, check your potatoes before eating, to ensure that it’s black pepper in the spuds instead of cigarette ash. (Not that cigarette ash tastes bad or causes gastric distress.)

Screaming Leaves an Aftertaste

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This isn’t a funny anecdote. I wrote it quite a while ago and like so many of the things I write, I filed it away, almost forgotten. This week, I fortuitously encountered someone ranting on almost the same subject, yet with an inability to capture the essence of what was bothering about her.

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In the book “Like Water for Chocolate” (Como Agua Para Chocolate), Tita lovingly shares her recipes and story. The principle point is that the cook’s emotions and aspirations merge with the food she prepares. Those consuming her food would cry her tears, feel her ecstasy, and experience her life through her food. When I read the book in Spanish the first time, I learned a few cooking points, but I also got a revelation into the content of human spirit – and yet another glimpse into the possible world I would enjoy living in.

By way of full disclosure, I’m unqualified to judge cuisine, as vittles are more aligned with my appetite. I am qualified to recognize the discomfort I have in the way some people decide to run their places of business, though. Charge more for your food if it is necessary and allow those working for you to enjoy a more human experience. I do not want to witness anyone being scolded, berated, or demeaned while I’m enjoying the great luxury of dining. (If I want that, I’ll invite my sister-in-law to eat with me.)

One particular local chef enjoys one of the best skill reputations in the kitchen. (He’s not the chef with an Italian name, either.) Unfortunately, he is also highly regarded as being a mean bastard to many people who’ve worked with him. Like the book (and movie) I mentioned, I don’t relish the idea of frequenting a restaurant owned or operated by someone who might contaminate the spirit of my food with his penchant for tirades. I’m frustrated frequently enough by my own mistakes and anger without ingesting those of another person.

I’ve had people over the years volunteer stories about this skilled chef. None of the stories originated from me inquiring – all of them extemporaneously emerged, so to speak. They all share the common theme of the chef being gifted, yet tormented by a lack of understanding of his inability to treat others as equal human beings. A few times, the stories have sprung forth with swift surprise. One of the most memorable came from a former chef working at Logan’s, opting to wait tables if it meant he could work in a place not dominated by anger and finger pointing. (PS: The food at Logan’s that day was exceptional.)

The last time I entered one of the chef’s restaurants, he was in my vicinity being loudly vicious to an employee who was clearly struggling. No matter how good the food could have been, all I could picture was the employee seriously considering giving the chef a knock to the head with a stack of plates. The chef focused solely on his own angry voice, oblivious to the human distress he was feeding. It diminished everyone witnessing it. That time, I saw and heard the anger – and felt the contempt personally. The stories became true to me. The chasm between allegation and confirmation becomes shallow when you witness the behavior, doesn’t it?

As for the employee receiving the public rant, I wish he would have taken the plates and hurled them like Olympic culinary Frisbees through the windows. It wouldn’t have helped him, but what a victory for decency it would have been. I would have stood and applauded his rashness.

I left with a bitter aftertaste that had nothing to do with the food served that day.

As I see or hear this chef receive praise, I remember that his success doesn’t affect me directly. It affects me as a person, however. I know that he must be screeching at those he hires, saucepans echoing as they clatter against stainless steel counters, plates cracking with the force of dropped velocity. Justifying behavior that diminishes people is indicative of a larger problem, in my opinion.

I would rather eat bologna or cheese sandwiches if it guarantees that no one preparing my food is subjected to the likes of this storied gourmand. Monetary success built on animosity is a hollow measure. I wonder to what great heights this chef might have reached had he chosen a light touch with his fellow human beings.

I never comment on the chef when I see him mentioned on social media. It seems appropriate for me to let it pass and hope that the stories accumulate to some critical mass at some undefined future time. Being human, I will admit that it pains me a little, though. I know that for every word of compliment he receives, he is dishing out an appetizer of avoidable reprimand to someone in his presence. I wonder if he knows in his heart of hearts how many stories are floating around, tarnishing his reputation as a human being. There’s no glaze or gastronomical flourish to remove that bitter taste.