My healthful intentions are spurred by headlines yesterday about modest good news on the obesity front — except in Arkansas.
A new study showed that, for the first time in 30 years, the nation's obesity rate held steady in every state — except Arkansas. We edged closer to Louisiana and Mississippi as the most obese state, with 34.5 percent at that level in 2012, up significantly from 30.9 in 2011.
I'm happy to say that my own roller coaster ran against the trend in 2012. But every day is a new day. And it's not easy when you read the deliciously coincidental news in the Democrat-Gazette this morning about the coming midway lineup at the Arkansas State Fair.
After the obesity news on 1A came the story on 1B about the coming State Fair and the usual food lineup come-ons — fried banana splits, fried pineapple upsidedown cake, chicken and waffles, gravy fries, pork chop sundaes, the "deep-fried hog," a 1.5-pound fried pork chop on a stick, cheese balls, burgers on Krispy Kreme donuts, fried mashed potatoes and deep-fried hot dogs on a bun.
The showstopper, however, will be the megaburger, a confection featured in television advertisements that will hit the airwaves shortly, Lyons said. The creation includes four hamburger patties totaling two pounds of meat, topped with four slices of bacon, chili, five slices of cheese and fried onion rings. Lyons said the meal weighs in at about 3 pounds.
A reader inquired about the May 28 departure of the Starbucks outlet from Baptist Medical Center. Baptist spokesman Mark Lowman explained:
In renewing the Starbucks franchise licensing contract we were asked to make upgrades in the design of the coffee shop location which we felt was not necessary, too costly and not a viable business decision. Our response to the terms of the new contract was not accepted by Starbucks and therefore, Starbucks decided to end the relationship after 10 years and move off our campus. Our new Coffee Corner in the same location features Westrock Coffee, a company based in North Little Rock that was founded by Scott Ford, the former CEO of Alltel. Westrock Coffee supports Rwandan coffee farmers and has made an impact on Rwanda’s economy by creating a crop-to-cup business model that provides training to farmers and a nurturing of the coffee industry in that country.
(And surely no Arkie has ever filled an empty Bombay Sapphire bottle with Old Mr. Boston gin for pouring to home visitors.)
The New York Times reports that the operator of a popular restaurant/bar chain in New Jersey has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a consumer complaint about just such routine, profit-enhancing substitutions. Time was, this bait-and-switch was hard to detect.
But technology has entered the picture.
In this case, investigators — ordering their drinks “neat,” with no ice or mixers — took 150 samples from 63 licensed bars.
They tested the samples in a device called the True Spirit Authenticator, which is manufactured in Britain and was recently made available on the commercial market. Mr. Halfacre said he believed it was the first time the machine has been used in an investigation in the United States. Samples were also sent to brand manufacturers, where more tests were conducted.
In all, 30 of the 150 samples were not what they purported to be. In most cases, cheaper brands were used instead of high-end labels like Bombay Sapphire gin.
Arkansas ABC, got one of these on order?
This raises a whole set of other question about whether the expensive stuff really is better and whether drinkers are really as discerning as they say they are. I'm reminded of Calvin Trillin's important reporting on the inability of wine drinkers to tell the difference between red and white wines in blindfolded tests.
KISMET: An industry news release informs me that today, Aug. 1, is the 80th anniversary of Arkansas's vote to ratify the 18th Amendment and end Prohibition. Today, the alcohol business produces $97 million in taxes annually in Arkansas, the industry release notes.
But before he gets there, he checks into Craig's in DeValls Bluff for a barbecue pork sandwich.
It was just a lunch stop en route from Louisiana to Memphis, where finding good, cheap barbecue was one of three goals I had set for myself. But thanks to Craig’s I realized cheap was as much a function of the right order as the restaurant. So a pork sandwich, served hot, with slaw, would become my order for the next three days. It never cost me more than $5. Add a bottomless iced tea, some sides even, and I rarely broke $10.
...But to a barbecue amateur like me, culinary differences did not matter quite as much as atmosphere. And Craig’s, an hour and a half outside of Memphis, had set the minimalist bar: if a smoky kitchen, some bare tables and a no-nonsense one-person wait staff would do, why aim higher?
Lots of joints in Memphis reviewed. And other low-cost attractions.
I should report on the Arkansas Times' first farm-to-table dinner last night at the Scott Plantation Settlement: Good eating.
Shown above is an opening course: Heirloom tomatoes from organic farmer/publisher Alan Leveritt; watermelon and sweet onions from the Barnhill farm; locally raised arugula. It was dressed in a light citrus vinaigrette made by chef Brian Kearns, whose day job is head chef at the Country Club of Little Rock.
Heirloom tomatoes also figured in gazpacho "shooters" passed to guests with champagne on arrival. Ratatouille featured local squash, eggplant, onions and tomatoes. The grits were from War Eagle Mill. An uncommon succotash with black-eyed peas and corn was a hit. The centerpiece was a roasted heritage hog, injected by Kearns' special blend of pork stock and a few other light seasonings, but not so much to shout down the essence of pig. A peach pie topped by Loblolly Creamery salted caramel ice cream completed a great meal, with tables adorned by locally grown flowers. Four wines paired with each course, from salad to dessert.
Small touches make the difference in special meals. For me, it was the tomato preserves dolloped on top of the platters of pulled pork (and the crunchy bits that I tried my best to monopolize.) Kearns cooked down tomatoes with sweet chili sauce and a touch of curry. I could eat it by the jarful.
The air was dry and a nice breeze made for a surprisingly lovely setting under a tent on the lawn of the collection of historic farm buildings. From where I sat, the sun set behind the outline of an old barn shed — in the distance, acres of rich farmland. It was pure dee Arky.
I hope we can continue working on this formula and enhance it even further. (I'd have added some bread from any of the many great local artisanal bakers.)
Another treat was Bonnie Montgomery's music.
You shouldda been there.
Caesars Entertainment Corporation announced it will rebrand the Paula Deen's Buffet at Harrah's in Tunica.
... "While we appreciate Paula's sincere apologies for statements she made in her past that she recently disclosed during a deposition given in response to a lawsuit, after thoughtful consideration of their impact, we have mutually decided that it is in the best interests of both parties to part ways at this time," said Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive vice president of communications and government affairs for Caesars Entertainment.
She had a tearful appearance on the Today Show this morning, by the way.
UPDATE: This is much bigger for Paula Deen. Walmart is giving her the heave-ho and will buy no more of her products after current orders are filled. Ouch.
Time is running out to get a seat at the Arkansas Times Farm to Table Dinner Party Saturday, June 29, at the Scott Plantation Settlement.
Leslie Peacock's story on the event is right here.
This link gives you the menu for the four-course feast, all food matched with choice wines, and a form to order tickets — $110 each.
Brian Kearns, the Country Club of Little Rock chef who won our Heritage Hog cookoff, is overseeing the dinner. — Canapes, heirloom tomatoes, ratatouille, Heritage hog, peach crostatata and Loblolly Creamery ice cream, all washed down with champagne and a different Napa wine for each course, Finger food and bubbly begin at 5:30, with dinner at 6:30.
Dean Cline is back at work making potato salad and chicken salad according to the recipes of the legendary Cordell's deli. I've confirmed that he's gone to work on the deli staff at Terry's Finer Foods at Country Club Station in the Heights. He's at work and made batches of both salads today, but word has spread quickly, so I can't guarantee what you'll find if you head up there this afternoon.
When we last visited, a deal to supply the salads through a former owner of Browning's had fallen apart.
If you don't know from Cordell's, long a fixture in Riverdale, it's your loss. Time was a tray of thinly sliced roast top sirloin and a tub of potato salad was the tried-and-true Old Little Rock sympathy platter for both funereal and celebratory occasions. I think I even eventually stumbled on the secret ingredient that explains the smooth and unwatery texture of the potato salad dressing. But replicating the taste of potato salad time after time — not to mention the firm, but not crunchy texture of the potatoes — is a real art. Cordell's had it down.
Who says there's never any good news?
UPDATE: I dropped by Terry's, bought some pints of each and talked briefly with Dean. He's going to be managing Terry's deli. Platters will resume and other catering. In a week or so, he hopes to start making Cordell's style sandwiches. He's already cooking the whole top sirloin roasts. Salt, pepper, garlic and plenty of pink inside make a pile of this beef, sliced thin, the star of any sandwich but also the perfect cold plate accompaniment to potato salad. Some asparagus and heirloom tomatoes complete the picture.
Brian Chilson has lots of photos from Fleetwood Mac's show at Verizon Arena last night at his Facebook page. I notice Twitter feeds that say Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the house, or so it was announced when the band played "Don't Stop," the theme song to the 1992 presidential campaign. UPDATE: I now see, thanks to our all night readers, that the Stevie Nicks Facebook page has a photo by Paige Lafleur of the Clintons in the house applauding.
Boomer fan comments on Twitter were enthusiastic about the show, which ran more than two hours.
But all that was yesterday.
Time's running out to get advance tickets for the Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast on May 4.
11 teams of local chefs will be roasting whole heritage-breed farms from Falling Sky Farm at the Argenta Farmer's Market at Sixth and Main, NLR, starting very early Saturday, May 4. Gates open at noon with music by The Sound of the Mountain, the 2013 Times Musicians Showcase winner, and the Grammy-nominated Lost Bayou Ramblers. Craft beer and wine will be available.
At 3 p.m., judging of the pork will begin, along with servings, plus sides, for all ticket holders. The feed will last until 7 p.m., or until the pork is gone. Music will continue into the evening. The entertainment line-up includes Mandy McBryde, Davis Coen, Bonnie Montgomery, improv from The Joint, Riverboat Crime, The Sound of the Mountain and Lost Bayou Ramblers, who'll play a full set starting at 8 p.m.
Advance tickets for all-day admission, plus food, cost $25. They'll be $30 at the gate. Tickets for music only after 7 p.m. will be $10.
You can click right here (link fixed) to order advance tickets on-line.
OK, you may not always like our politics, but I think you'll like our cooking.
We've got a heckuva dinner party coming up May 4 and you better get your tickets early.
12 chefs will be roasting whole hogs — Falling Sky heritage hogs — at the Argenta Farmers Market. Music includes the Grammy-nominated Lost Bayou Ramblers. Craft beer and wine will be sold. Music-only entry costs $10. If you want to eat some pig meat with trimmings, it'll cost you $25 ($30 day of event). Doors open at noon. Feasting should start at 3 p.m.
My attention was called by someone who was there to the waning minutes of the Little Rock Board of Directors meeting Tuesday, when Director Ken Richardson took the mike to ask for a reminder for the board about a policy directive concerning contact between directors and city departments.
Directors, in theory, are supposed to work through the city manager or department heads, not directly with staff members, and not micromanage city government. Policy making, not management, is the ideal.
But, said Richardson, he'd been contacted recently by food cart vendors in his ward who said they'd been "repeatedly targeted" for inspections or observation by the city and he suspected another member of the board was responsible. "Every time they're inspected they get a clean bill of health," Richardson said. But he added that the vendors, all Latinos, said they were beginning to feel "some form of discrimination" was at work. "I'd like to look at this before it becomes a serious liability for us."
I talked further about this Thursday with Richardson, who declined to identify specific complainants. They fear retaliation, he said. I asked City Manager Bruce Moore for a record of requests on taco truck inspections. He later provided a three-year list of violations by traveling food vendors that showed only two in 2013, neither for a Latino vendor. I haven't heard back from Moore, however, on my followup question: whether there was a record on the specific complaint Richardson made — multiple visits to vendors who were NOT guilty of any rule violations.
Richardson said he couldn't say where the complaints have originated. Since he suspected a city director is responsible for inspection requests, I turned first to at-large Director Joan Adcock. Adcock is known for aggressive involvement in City Hall business. She rose to political power from Southwest Little Rock, a big chunk of which Richardson now represents and home to many taco trucks and wagons. She once was an opponent of a Latino nightclub in the rapidly changing neighborhood, now heavily minority after beginnings as a working class white community. She is not particularly noted for sympathy on minority issues. She was a student at Central High during the 1957 school crisis and has been cool to events commemorating that episode, including a symbolic city board repeal of a pro-segregation resolution approved by the city board more than 50 years ago.
I sent Adcock questions and left her a phone message. Late last night, I got an e-mail response that said, "Sorry I am so late it has been a very busy day. I am not the person you are looking for."
Richardson said the person responsible is less important than the action itself.
Sure, city directors have broad portfolio — and a 1st Amendment right — to go to anyone in city government with a complaint about a city business.
But, said Richardson, special requests for city inspections "create confusion for staff, add workload and are ridiculous," he said. More broadly, he said that the message of the repeat visits is, "You're not welcome here, even if you're playing by the rules."
Richardson, himself a graduate and former student body president at Central High, says the city regularly observes anniversaries of the triumph of the rule of law in Little Rock in the school crisis. "We talk about how far we've come. These kinds of actions are a stark reminder that we might have farther to go to move our city to a level we want to move."
He said city pressure on Latino vendors comes as the city school district deals with allegations that it has been insensitive to bullying of Latino students. "I don't want that same kind of activity or perception from city government," he said.
Richardson and I agree on a purely personal level about the gravity of equal treatment of taco trucks. He says he likes them as much as I do. For illustration, I've used one of our file photos of my favorite taco wagon, Taqueria Samantha, which sets up on Geyer Springs Road in Richardson's ward. He tells me that it's his favorite, too. (Steak quesadilla for him; carnitas burrito for me.) He said he'd checked with Samantha's operator and it has not been a target of recent inspections. But he said the advent of warmer weather and more activity at the food carts seemed to have spurred the scrutiny.
"Specific targeting of Hispanic food vendors is a bad practice," Richardson said. "I don't want us to get in the bad habit of — or being perceived as — practicing discrimination."
UPDATE: Director Adcock responded further to a followup question I posed after receiving her brief response last night. She says she HAS gotten involved in vendor issues in the past, though not recently. She writes:
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