By Matt Stone
In late May I went out to a breakfast restaurant with my family in Nashville. There were lots of us. Like 8 at the table. The restaurant, in trying to be cute and clever, ended up aggravating me a lot more than I tend to get aggravated by small things. In their cuteness and cleverness, they called their seasonal strawberry pancakes “Strawberry Shortcakes.”? After titling the dish “Strawberry Shortcakes” on the specials menu, they went on to describe the “shortcakes” as pancakes.
I didn’t read every word of the description. Not one word of the description actually. Why?? Because I already f’ing know what strawberry shortcake is, and I thought it was quite a novel idea to serve strawberry shortcake for breakfast. One glance and I was sold.
You can only imagine the disappointment when the server?arrived with some blah pancakes with a few, translucent, cooked strawberry slices inside the pancake.
I ranted for a few minutes at the table to the point where my family was convinced that:
- A shortcake is indeed NOT a pancake, and’therefore shouldn’t be called a shortcake and vice versa.I mean, what if they said?”Strawberry?Muffin” and pancakes came out?? What if I ordered a Strawberry?Woman, but found out later that there was small print that said I was actually ordering a Strawberry Man?? Yeah, I’d be pissed.
- I was way more bothered by this than I should have been and need counseling (actually, sleep would have been fine).
The reason I bring this up is that after returning home from the trip I couldn’t wait to make strawberry shortcake for breakfast. Try it out. I did and it was pretty incredible. There is no finer breakfast on earth as far as I’m concerned than putting marinated strawberries atop a warm, 1-minute-out-of-the-oven shortcake and smothering it with sweetened vanilla yoghurt. And by “a” shortcakeI mean like three.
My girlfriend is now totally hooked. We have made strawberry shortcakes about 8 times this month already. I think we’re even experiencing some health benefits from it.
The moral of this story however, is not that strawberry shortcake is the most healthful and life-giving food on earth that you should try to have 4 times a week. It’s really not. But what’s interesting about all of this is that the experience reignited my hatred for how terrible everyone else cooks food -?people that work at restaurants in particular. And even if they can cook, you think they would bake a strawberry shortcake to order so that it was absolute perfection when you sit down in front of it?? No way. Most restaurants that I can afford to go to more than once a year?are performing what I call slop, drop, nuke, and puke (puke being the end-product that is handed off to a server and?delivered to your table)?- and?pumping it all full of’vegetable oil every step of the way.
In the process of regaining my condescending and arrogant attitude towards all those who participate in’the making of food other than myself – processing, packaging, and preparation, I am cooking and eating more food from scratch, and better food, than I have eaten in years. Maybe ever. Consider some of the things?I’ve made this month already, only 17 days in…
- Mesquite-smoked beef rib tamales with chipotle salsa
- Panko-crusted veal parmigiana over mashed potatoes
- Ditto over mushroom risotto
- Mushroom and cheese risotto solo
- Panko-fried buttermilk chicken over cheddar grits
- Handmade papardelle pasta with homemade sauce and meatballs
- Handmade croxetti pasta with butter and cheese
- Lasagna made with handmade spinach pasta
- Flank steak tacos with chipotle salsa and sour cream
- Banana and chocolate chip pancakes
- Gumbo over rice
- 4 rounds of homefries (Rob was here recently, he’ll tell you how good these are)
- Banana bread
- Mango sherbert
- Usually a big smoothie with several bananas and some yoghurt and OJ once a day
- Chocolate cake swimming in warm chocolate ganache
- And of course a jillion rounds of strawberry shortcake
One of the conclusions I have come to over the years is that for some, myself included, eating for health reasons is a health liability. Eating what you think you should eat vs. what you want to eat is you overriding your natural, hardwired, programmed instincts and mechanisms for self-regulating your body’s needs. While we’d all like to think our all-knowing, powerful brains can manage our physical needs better than our instincts can, this just isn’t always true.
Still, I’ve come to the conclusion that eating a ton of packaged food, breakfast cereals, take-out, restaurant food, etc. isn’t ideal either. Not for someone like myself that is healthy and just wants to maintain that in a sustainable way?at least. While I’ve eaten more of that type of food over the last year than I have in the ten prior, eating that kind of stuff is a matter of two simple things for me…
- Laziness (the word “convenience” is often deceptively used here)
It’s good to just chill out and eat whatever for a while, if only to rehabilitate yourself from overly-zealous health fanaticism. I recommend those chewy candies called “Mamba.”? But at some point it’s awfully nice to actually eat something that tastes really good, fresh, flavorful (naturally), and clean.
So excuse me if I talk a lot more about food preparation?in the upcoming months, but honestly, I still stand by the idea that being able to make really good food for yourself is the most important of all dietary interventions – especially if you have more than just yourself to feed (although the waitresses at the Venice, Florida Chili’s I have found to be good for stimulating blood flow – if you have circulation problems that should be taken into account). If you don’t know how to?make good food, read 180 Kitchen. Seriously, this is?exactly why I wrote it, and the thing is legit minus the ancient anti-sugar fetish I had going at the time it was written (February 2009).
That’s it. Strawberry shortcake is a gateway food to wholesome, homemade, fresh,?genuinely delicious?vittles. That’s my case for it as a health tonic.
I make mine like a sweet biscuit or scone by working a stick of salted butter into a half cup of sugar and a couple cups of flour?(been using durum and semolina pasta flour recently with no added iron), then add a mixture about 3/4 cup of milk or buttermilk with some baking powder and baking soda (stir well and let it sit until the liquid has doubled in size due to the leaveners). BTW I never measure anything. Then I roll out and cut them with little ring molds (the dough is sticky, flour it well to play with it)?and bake at 375F until lightly brown on the outside. For the strawberries, I slice them thinly, cover with some white sugar or maple syrup and a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and toss them around until they get soft and syrupy.