Friday, May 24, 2013

How To Get Away From The Day To Day - Make It All About You & Them

Travel Helps Disprove The Theory - Life Sucks & Then You Die
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack / You may find yourself in another part of the world / You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile / You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife / You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? / Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down / Letting the days go by, water flowing underground...

In the  tune Once In A Lifetime,  David Byrne & The Talking Heads capture the humdrum of one's existence in one of New Wave Rock's most  iconic tributes to the banality of life and one's submission to that banality. Some may argue my interpretation, but for the purposes of today's post, that's my take.

The Apocalypse Draweth Nigh

I have a  friend who sends me doomsday articles, You Tubes of "brilliant" economists telling us where the next domino in the world is going to fall and other incontrovertible evidence that we are all blindly staring into a black hole of soon to come desolation. It's not a matter of if, but when, we all will be holding a bowl and a big spoon waiting on our next meal. And let's be honest. For those of us who grew up in the fifties, life was pretty good. Post war America was a time of unprecedented optimism and economic explosion. Then we became teenagers and young adults (oxymoron) in the sixties and that's when things began to get a tad squirrely. As Dr. Phil would say - How's that love the one your with and if it feels nice don't think twice workin' out for ya? Fifty two percent of all babies are born out of wedlock, 6.8 million kids are on prescription ADHD drugs and almost fifty million Americans are on food stamps. And, if you have been to the grocery store lately, well, that's another post on another blog on another planet. Now, for the first time in a generation, a majority of people with an opinion don't think their kids will have it better than they did. Imagine that!
So, you may ask - Who is this Nomad Architect, and why is he saying all these terrible things about us, about life, about our times, etc. etc. etc.? Well, after I read or watch some of the never ending barrage of doomsday scenarios postulated by supposedly really smart people, I begin to think of ways to combat the grey cloud of doubt and worry that seems to be prevalent within our culture, especially among those of us who had it so good. So, what to do - something, anything, everything you can possibly do to make yourself a non-believer in the New World Order. I mean, 1984 was twenty eight years ago, and we have made it this far. Now, I am no spendthrift  but, to quote Frank Lloyd Wright, America's greatest architect - Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities. Such wisdom from an architect AND Nomad should never be dismissed, especially as it relates to travel.
So Put the Paper Down , Turn Off  The TV & Hit The Road!
Travel for Curious Nomads and Vagabonds is about disproving Thoreau's admonition - Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them - or as the brilliant original Southern Comic Brother Dave Gardner put it - Man cannot live by bread alone, he must have peanut butter.  Sometimes life can be desperately quiet and banal in the modern world we sometimes endure. Nothing can cure those  - Do I eat cereal or a bagel for breakfast blues? like catching a plane, a train or an automobile to parts near and far. When you check into that little place in Umbria, or people watch from a comfy chair in a Paris sidewalk cafe or discover something new about some part of the Good Ole' USA you didn't know before, it can change the way you view the world. It can help you find your song and that much needed peanut butter as well.

And travel, real Nomadic travel is not just about 300 count sheets and rain showers, it's also about discovery. Discovery of new cultures, new people and, ultimately, yourself. As an architect and vagabond in search of that perfect piece of Eden, I can say, without hesitation, that travel has profoundly changed my world view. People everywhere are the same but oh so different in the way they take in their lives. As I pull onto one of the interstates we Americans take for granted, I often wonder  what visitors think of the massive scale of America when they arrive at the Magic Kingdom or ponder the Grand Canyon. I think they are just as taken with the vastness and uniqueness of America as contrasted with their own homeland, as we are when we take a train through the hills of Tuscany  or marvel at the ruins of Rome. It is not in my nature to "go with the flow", but, when in Venice or Paris or  Seattle, I really try to allow myself to be taken in by the unique cultures created by the people and their history. Talking with the artist/architect owners of the Lumani Guesthouse in Avignon about the love they felt for their repurposed place, their art and their lives in this small ancient city in Southeastern France is just one simple experience that convinces me that travel is ultimately about being curious, listening and learning about a world that is different from your own.
So, the next time you feel like life is not up to your expectations, don't just sit there, get up and go! And try to boldly go where no man (or woman) and your own significant others have gone before. Travel to parts unknown will lighten your step, sharpen your vision and hone your directional skills as a True Nomad when you come to that next fork in the road. Trust me - You'll know what to do.
Livin La Vida Loca

Travel Quote of The Week - Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Video Artist of The Week - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. The band's really good, but Grace Potter can just flat out sing .

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Nomad Architect's Guide to Making The Best Omelette This Side of Bessieres

The French and The Incredible - Edible Egg

Ahh! the French. Western civilization would simply not be the same without the French. In addition to one of history's greatest military leaders,  the French have given us some of the greatest culinary creations ever to come from the fertile minds of simple country folk as well as the greatest chefs of Paris. One creation that ensures the French a special place in culinary history is the omelet - la omelette - l'aumelette. No matter how you spell it or pronounce it, nothing says French and nothing says paradisiaque like the concoction of eggs, oil, butter and other tasty stuff discovered by the great general in the small village of Bessieres in southern France. Marie Antoinette may have said "Let them eat cake", but Napoleon is the guy that ordered up a huge omelet to feed his hungry troops.
I have had omelets of every ilk in fine restaurants and greasy spoons from Atlanta to Avignon, but nothing can compare to the intensity, the ecstasy and the creativity of a great omelet prepared in your very own kitchen. Even if you don't now what you are doing, if you follow a few simple rules, you can impress everyone in your circle of influence with your creation of a food item made with one of God's most amazing creations - the simple, beautiful, elegant egg. Architects, engineers, painters, sculptors and designers of every persuasion have tried to create works that capture the pure natural essence of the egg with virtually no success. For instance, this small, petite little piece of nature from our barnyard friend, the poulete, can hold up to forty five pounds! Now that's engineering. And nutritionally, many call the egg the super
food because of its unique combination of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Trust Me Guys - You Can Do This
The real purpose of today's post is to help my fellow fellows shed their trepidation and boldly go where few guys ever go - THE KITCHEN. That's right. The omelet is one of those rare food preparations that any normal, red blooded man for any and all seasons can make. And, believe me, there is no better way to impress those you love than laying out this delicate concoction on a Saturday or Sunday morning while the real cooks, like my betrothed, offer only technical advice when asked.
This past Mothers Day, rather than take my Susie (aka Karen Sue) out for a meal, I decided to cook up my version of the French delight (which I am still trying to perfect) for  the mother of our two children who worship their mother as both a saint and a kick-ass southern cook. Of course, when they both called to wish her a happy Mother's Day (they live in Atlanta and DC), I could here the envy over the phone upon learning that I was preparing the specialty of the house for their mother . One unnamed source has been heard to say that my one and only daughter-in-law became obsessed with the very idea of omelets after having one of my creations not long ago. I am not bragging when I say it was worthy of said obsession.
And, by the way, you do not have to prepare this ultimate comfort food only at home. If you want to impress, find a place in your travels that has a small kitchen and, hopefully, an omelet pan. If not, go to a nearby market and purchase all the ingredients and then find a cheap omelet pan or prepare another version of this brunch delight, the dirty omelet (more on that later). All Nomad's love to eat in great restaurants, but nothing says "I Love You" quite like serving up this delicacy at your favorite little cabin in the dell. I still have vivid memories of enjoying this gastronomic delight at  a Natural Retreats eco-cabin in the Yorkshire Dales, UK. And under no circumstances must you allow your significant other to come anywhere near the sink when it's time to clean up.
Design Specifications For The Nomad Architect's New Millennium Omelet

The Rules - Like travel with nomads, cooking requires a road map.
  • Do not allow ANY actual involvement of food preparation by your lover, friend and help mate.
  • Make absolutely certain that said help mate is available at all times for technical advice, because, remember, you really do not know what you are doing.
  • Be very organized. Approach this as a project requiring the management intensity of a NASA mission. I always approach it as though I am "designing" the food.
  • Do not hurry. Like any activity of real importance, slow is better.
  • And most critical. DO NOT COOK TOO FAST OR TOO HOT. That is the number one mantra of all cooks.

The Tools - You gotta have good equipment.
  • 8 inch diameter stainless steel omelet pan. Non-stick is allowed for rookies only.
  • Large (10-12 inch) sauteing pan for preparation of ingredients.
  • Small whisk. A fork will work as well.
  • Large, pliable spatula for flipping the omelet. I still have not mastered the art of "air flipping".
  • Smaller spatula for stirring ingredients and lifting omelets during cooking.
  • Medium or small individual bowls for the eggs for each omelet, unless you make a dirty omelet.
  • Simple, sharp knife for cutting ingredients . I still use one we bought in Avignon.
  • Cutting board for ingredients preparation.
  • French Press Coffee Maker. This shows you have good taste and a sense of style.
  • Water Kettle for coffee and tea. I use a very cool red travel kettle by BODUM when we are on the road.
  • Baking sheet for bread.
  • Bread basket. Remember you are serving to your BFF, so details count.
  • Cheese Grater (optional).

The Food - Your stomach and your heart heart will thank you.
          Main Ingredients - Nature's bounty.
  • Eggs. You will need three large eggs for each omelet.
  • Meats and Seafood. The Nomad Architect New Millennium has Italian sausage and shrimp but, you're the boss, at least for today, so do your own thing. Other items might include bacon, ham, crab meat or go veggie if you like. Just make sure that everything is fresh.
  • Veggies. This list is endless - tomatoes, asparagus, squash, spinach, bell pepper, mushrooms, ad infinitum.
  • Scallions.These little veggie will take your omelet up another subtle notch.
  • Cheese. It is preferable to grate it yourself, but, if not, pre-grated is fine. Sharp Cheddar is my favorite, but, again, it's your choice.
          Seasoning - Life must have spice.
  • Milk - not required, but adds body to the eggs.
  • Tabasco Sauce - also not required, but can give the omelet a little kick.
  • Salt & Pepper - preferably Sea Salt and Whole Grinding Pepper.
  • Olive Oil or Butter - there are two schools on this. I think the oil is better and its healthier.
  • Butter and preserves of choice for bread.
  • Lemon
         Bread - The omelet's best friend.
  • Croissants, english muffins, toast - whatever suits you and yours fancy.

The Jazz - Food without music - it just ain't right!
  • Turn off the TV and put on some Diana Krall, James Taylor, Norah Jones or The Lumineers.
  • Rustle up some champagne and OJ for a few Mimosas. Bam!!

The Process - Just Do It!!
  • Set the table. Do this first and get it out of the way. Again, with no help from the little lady.
  • Make the Mimosas and put them in the fridge, if you are having any.
  • Prepare the coffee and tea for pouring BEFORE you start cooking.
  • Cut and butter any bread or english muffins you plan to serve and place on a baking sheet.
  • Set oven to broil. I am assuming you are not going to make your own croissants. 
          These instructions are for a sausage and shrimp omelet. You can improvise with other
          ingredients as you see fit.
  • Crack three eggs per omelet in a small bowl. Add about a teaspoon of salt and pepper, about a table spoon of milk and a dash of Tabasco. Whisk until completely mixed.
  • Remove the sausage (about 4-6 inches per omelet)  from its casing, tear into bite sized chunks and place on a spare plate.
  • Peel the shrimp (about 4-6 per omelet), wash and let dry in a colander or just lay out on some paper towel, then put in a medium size bowl, add a little lemon juice, salt and pepper and let sit for a few minutes.
  • Cut all veggies (about a 1/2 cup for each omelet) and loosely mix in a medium size bowl. Add a little salt and pepper.
  • Cut up about a teaspoon of scallions for each omelet.
  • Grate a small handful of cheese for each omelet and place on a spare plate. Pre-grated cheese is allowed for  non-purists.

Now for the coupe de haute cuisine!
          This is where it can get a little tricky, because, in cooking, like life, timing is everything. 
          Remember, don't get in a hurry and use your multi-tasking skills to ensure a perfect outcome.
  • Preheat the saute pan on low-medium heat and coat with olive oil. After a couple of minutes, pour in the sausage. After the sausage looks about 3/4 done, add the shrimp. Shrimp cooks fairly fast, so don't rush this.
  • Start water heating for coffee and tea. When the water boils, pour in the tea cup and French Press. French Press coffee takes about four minutes to brew.
  • Place the bread in the oven and take out in about 2-3 minutes, depending on your oven. Do not forget about it while you are cooking the omelet, lest you burn it!
  • Preheat the omelet pan on low-medium heat and add olive oil. Make sure the sides and bottom are completely coated. And make sure that you do not over heat. An omelet needs time to cook.
  • When the sausage and shrimp are nearing completion add ALL the veggies and stir . It should take about 3-4 minutes for the veggies to cook. Once this concoction is done, turn down to low heat and let simmer.
  • Pour the first omelet eggs into the omelet pan. As the omelet begins to cook, lift up the egg with the small spatula at the sides and let the uncooked egg "slide" underneath. Continue this process until the bottom of the eggs are firm. Then - and this part takes experience to do well - flip or turn the egg over with the large spatula. One day I WILL develop the skill of "air flipping" as seen on The Food Network.
  • As the eggs firm up, add the meat and veggie concoction - then add the cheese and half flip one side over the other. Let this cook for no more than about thirty seconds and transfer to the plate.
  • Repeat this process for each omelet. Each one should take about three minutes to prepare.
Set the coffee, tea, bread and mimosas on the table, thank the Good Lord for the bounty and those around the table and dig in.
PLAN B - If you have a really large group or you are just a slacker, you can opt to make a "dirty" omelet. This involves simply sauteing all the ingredients in the large pan, pouring in all the eggs after mixing and seasoning and cooking until firm. Use the same flipping techniques and allow the eggs to firm up. One word of caution. Do NOT over stir. It makes the eggs less firm. Le Cordon Bleu will not be amused, but, if it feels nice, don't think twice. By the way, that is NOT me at left.

Happy Trails & Bon Appetit

D.L.. Stafford

Travel Quote of The Week - "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home." James Michener

Video Artist of The Week - The Lumineers. With tunes like Ho Hey, great lyrics and a nod to tradition, this folk rock band from Denver makes you smile while you think.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Low Country High Life For Budget Minded Culinarians

The Middleton Place Restaurant at Middleton Plantation, just fifteen minutes from Charleston, has a pretty sweet deal for people who take their gastronomy serious and need a little relief price wise. Through you can get a couple of coupons to make a great meal less painful when you get the check. One coupon is $25 for $10 and the other is $50 for $25. The only fine print appears to be a minimum order of $37.50 for the $10 deal and $75 for the $50 deal. In the world of fine dining that's a pretty low threshold. If you want to read a few details about this great restaurant and the hotel located on the grounds of Middleton Plantation, check out my previous post Modern Meets Southern Vernacular at The Inn at Middleton Place. So - if you are in or near Charleston,this little restaurant will complete the evening in style for you and yours. Of course, if you want the Nomad Full Monty while you eat and sleep, I highly recommend the Inn as well. If that's not in the cards, I still recommend showing up a little early and enjoying the plantation and the Middleton Gardens, America's oldest landscaped gardens. The elegant landscaping, old buildings, water features and breathtaking vistas are worth an afternoon.
Bon Appetit in The Low Country
d.l. stafford