Gourmet Magazine’s Private Dining Room

Eat Those Words!

It was a day that marks a life passage in a boy’s adolescence. It was spring and I was helping my father remove storm windows and replace them with screens. Robins mined for worms, Dizzy Dean or some other drawling baseball once-great honked from a radio, power lawnmowers chorused. We stopped and refreshed with a lemonade and he — haltingly — told me: “Son, you are reaching the age when I think it is time that you know some of the facts about being a man.”

I laughed. “Oh, I already know all of that, Dad.”

Are you sure, he replied. “Barbecue is really an art.”

I confess that I have always been more of a food voyeur than a chef, barbecue being the exception. As a child, while other kids stuffed Playboys under their mattress, I pored over Good Housekeeping, leering at juicy cuts of tender meat that looked decidedly different from the gray slabs of roast beef my mother scorched as if she were performing exorcisms.

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Fried Green Tomatoes al Pesto: Charlotte, North Carolina

 New South 2004 - Old South 1967- R. Johnson
New South 2004 – Old South 1967- R. Johnson

No coffee, no toast, breakfast time is over, said the man at the deli when I tried to grab a brunchtime bite. Even if I could have scored a Krispy Kreme (an ethnic food here), there were few chairs in which to sit.

Once office doors open in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, the streets around Bank of America, First Union, Wachovia Securities and other towers of trade and arbitrage empty out, save for clumps of lumpy office workers taking smoke breaks. In contrast, I earlier spotted a formation of perhaps fifty trim, smokeless BofA executive trainees dressed and made up like TV weather reporters march off to a meeting. Deli-man says 20-minute lunch breaks are the rule here…if that. “What would Jesus do?” was the corporate motto of BofAs scion Charles McColl, whose company occupies a tower right out of Superman’s Metropolis. Jesus, achiever that he was, would have probably lunched at his desk.

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Fresh Squeeze from California

 “Accordions don’t play ‘Lady of Spain,’ People Do.”
Tee shirt at the Cotati Accordion Festival

The accordion — the “the squeeze box,” the “stomach Steinway” — may be may be due for a comeback. Accordions reached their peak in the pre-rock-and-roll 1950s when primitive infomercials, featuring twangy guys with Brylcream hair, flogged instruments and lessons while squeezing out “Lady of Spain” or “Beer Barrel Polka.”

I once interviewed Brazilian gem mogul Hans Stern in his office in Rio. He said that he sold his accordion back in the ’50s and, with the proceeds, founded H. Stern.

Yeah, right.

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Dearth Valley

If less is more, what is NOTHING?

Every place I revisit these days — as little as a year later — has changed to become almost unrecognizable. Every little buttcrack town has heard the sucking sound of globalization with a premium outlet mall, a Starbucks and a KFC/Taco Bell combo store.

Almost.

I had not been to Death Valley since 1970. Except for a couple of luxury hotels, a motel that in any place with trees would be named “The Shady Rest,” lots of huge crows and a passel of coyotes, it could be Mars.

Nothing has changed.

But, in this age where less is more, nothing can be truly something.

AUDIO: DEARTH VALLEY

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