Eat Arkansas wishes the Times a happy 40th! | Rock Candy

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eat Arkansas wishes the Times a happy 40th!

Posted By on Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 10:52 AM

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In all honesty, it’s Max Brantley’s fault that you have to put with my ramblings on eats, treats, and sweets. In 2004, the year the Arkansas Blog debuted, I was unemployed, living in a double wide down in the Ouachita Mountains south of Hot Springs, and completely disgusted with pretty much everything. I’d tried the restaurant business, but after one failed startup and a back surgery, busting heavies on the line for 14 hours a day wasn’t possible anymore. I’d gone to school for teaching, but found out that all those rules that never made sense to me as a student still didn't make sense when I was on the other side of the desk. I’d published some poems in a few places that only paid writers in contributor’s copies, and I was suffering from a pretty severe case of malaise brought on by the sensory deprivation of country living, a complete lack of opportunities, and a hefty dose of what we now call “the George W. Bush era.” Max probably doesn't recall it, but he and I had a nice e-mail exchange about anti-gay marriage activists who were breaking the law in Hot Spring County by campaigning right at the doors of polling places – a fight we lost that year but are closer than ever to winning in 2014.

It was during this lonely period, nursing a hefty UAMS-sanctioned painkiller addiction and trying to figure out just what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life, that I stumbled upon the Arkansas Blog. Full disclosure: I come from a family that took the Arkansas Democrat daily, disdained the Gazette as “too liberal,” and besides all that, I was really just a kid when all that “newspaper war” business went down – so I had no clue who Max or the Times were. I just knew that in my disaffected state, the Times was doing a damn good job at pointing out exactly what was up and exactly what was wrong. The blog became the first thing I checked in the morning with my coffee-and-Vicodin, and it was usually one of the last things I read before going down for the count in the evening.

By 2007, I was divorced, adrift, and staring at 30 years old with the understanding that unless something changed, I going to have significant troubles. I'd kicked my bad habits, but I still felt like I was running in place. I met a girl named Jessica Miller and hatched the ludicrous idea of moving to Central Arkansas with $500 (loaned to me by my long-suffering mother and father) and the excellent plan of “we’ll figure something out.” We found jobs, Jess started school at UALR, and I tried to make the most of our paycheck-to-paycheck existence by cooking up high class food in a small apartment kitchen – after all, we couldn't afford to go out to eat. After posting a few pictures on Facebook, Jess and I decided to start a food blog, Arkansas Foodies, as a cheap hobby that we could do together, and after a dry spell of several years, I was actually writing again.

My first mention on the Eat Arkansas blog (which was also launched by Max) came in 2011 from Kat Robinson, a true Arkansas traveler who has become a good friend and mentor in the years since. When Kat left the blog, I sent the Times an e-mail on a whim, saying that if they were ever in the market for freelancers, I’d love a shot at it. A few months passed, and I honestly forgot about the e-mail – until one day when Lindsey Millar contacted me with an offer to be a part of the Times’ blogging family.

Since then, I've juggled multiple jobs, getting married, a move from Saline County to the People’s Republic of Hillcrest, and a whole host of other things that come with a busy life. In 2014, publisher Alan Leveritt approached me with the wonderful opportunity to help launch a new magazine, Arkansas Food and Farm, which has just been picked up for four more issues in 2015. During this time I've met chefs, farmers, writers, and foodies of all stripes. I've made a lot of friends, I've irritated more than a few, but above all, I've developed a love for the state of Arkansas that gets deeper all the time. There's no amount of gratitude that can cover what I feel for the people who make this paper work day in and day out.

The voice of the Arkansas Times is a necessary one for this state, and that voice is expanding. In just a couple of weeks, we will be launching the Arkansas Food and Farm blog, a companion to Eat Arkansas that will go behind the scenes with growers, artisans, and chefs to tell the stories behind our growing local food scene. I’m just a small part of this great organization, and reading through some of the history that’s in this week’s edition, I’m humbled by the work and sacrifice that has made the Times what it is today. I've never been prouder to have my name associated with anything – and here’s to 40 more years of the catfish!

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