Reverse engineering food and life

Sometime in early May when the newspaper I used to work for informed me that at the end of June they would no longer carry my column I wasn’t sure what to think.

I mean there isn’t really much you can do when someone says they no longer want to run your column.

I wondered how I would feel, after almost 18 years of writing columns and 22 years total at the paper, when I finished my last column. I also wondered what I would do on my first weekend of “retirement”.

Would I mope? Would I worry? Would I feel sorry for myself?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, sometimes I kill myself.

Here’s what my wife and I did on my first weekend of “retirement”. We got up early on Saturday morning and drove to the Webb City Farmers Market. On the way we decided we would let the Market determine our weekend meals.

That’s right. We reversed engineered our menus.

We strolled through the Market pavilion and bought whatever caught our eyes. Here are some of the things that caught our eyes: Plump, bright red tomatoes, large green cucumbers, purple and yellow onions, a breakfast pizza on a homemade crust, a crusty rye baguette, a spicy goat cheese spread, a jar of smoked cinnamon, six ears of sweet corn, a box of so-good-you-wanted-to-eat-them-right-out-of-the-box-blueberries and what I could only assume was a ripe, juicy watermelon.

Holding up a box of bright red, ripe tomatoes at the Webb City Farmers Market.
You say “tomato” I say “salsa”.
A table fo bright green cucumbers at the Webb City Farmers Market
In a day or so a few of these guys will be in a nice salad. Hey, it’s the circle of produce.
Ditto for these onions.
You should try some of the goat cheeses from Terrell Creek Farm. They’re not baaaaaaaaaaaaaad.
My wife decided to buy a baguette and an apple pizza … because…well because she could.

Then we devised our meal plans.

My wife would use the onions and the cucumbers to make a-follow me here-onion and cucumber salad. I would use the tomatoes, some of the leftover onion, along with a few of my wife’s homegrown poblano peppers to make a grilled shrimp salsa.

The idea was to have the cucumber and onion salad for dinner on Sunday and have the shrimp salsa on Saturday along with the rye baguette, and spicy goat cheese.

And some smoked cinnamon.. Again…because she could.

Sadly they don’t sell shrimp at the Market but we happened to have a bag of some in our freezer.

When we got back to Carthage, we drove out to West Fairview Avenue and  stopped at Cloud’s Meat Processing to pick up something to go with my wife’s onion and cucumber salad on Sunday.

I love Cloud’s. Sometimes I go to Cloud’s with a specific a purpose and sometimes I let Cloud’s find my specific purpose for me.

In keeping with our reversed engineered menus, I decided to let Cloud’s find my specific purpose. It turns out on this particular Saturday my specific purpose was a 3-pound pork loin roast.

When we got home, we put our purchases away and, because it was still early, thought about we should do next.

Looks like we bagged our limit at the Webb City Farmers Market and at Cloud’s.

It took us about a second to decide that we should drive down to the Square for bloody mary’s and breakfast at the Woodshed.

To paraphrase the late Dan Jenkins, “It can’t be all work and worry. Sometimes people need to unwind.”

Sometimes it’s good to stop and smell the celery.

About an hour  later, we returned home for a few hectic hours of lazing in our backyard. But before we lazed, I cut up some watermelon and my wife and I used it to make a pitcher of watermelon mojitos from a recipe we came across in a recent issue of “Southern Living”.

Have you ever had a fresh watermelon mojito on a warm summer Saturday afternoon?

You should. It’s good.

Then, I iced down a few bottles of Budweiser, and we commenced with our lazing.

Lazing method # 1:  Watermelon mojito.
Lazing method # B: Beer. Gee. Go figure.

After we lazed part of the afternoon away, I started a fire on one of our grills, then I went inside and started putting part of the shrimp salsa together. When the fire was ready, I grabbed one of my wife’s poblano peppers and grilled it until the skin was black and blistered. Then I put it in a large bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and let it cool. While the pepper cooled, I grilled a small mess o’ shrimp.

When the shrimp was done, I took it and the pepper inside, chopped them up, put them back in the bowl added the other salsa ingredients  I  prepared earlier, topped the whole thing off with plenty of fresh lime juice and put it in the refrigerator.

The whole process took about 40 minutes so, of course, when I was finished, I had to go back out and laze some more.

A few hours later, I took some fresh corn tortillas, cut then in the triangles and fried them in hot oil.  Meanwhile my wife made a fresh watermelon salad topped with goat cheese and, just like that, dinner was ready.

This is how I figured we should serve dinner.
This is how my wife served dinner. It’s all about the presentation. I’m told.


Early Sunday afternoon, my wife made her famous cucumber and onion salad and then joined me in the backyard for some more lazing.

Later that evening, I prepared the pork roast. I really didn’t have a recipe for the roast. I just seasoned it with salt, pepper, some rosemary and thyme. Then I placed some fresh lemons on the top of the roast and placed in a roasting pan on a bed of sliced lemons and put it in the oven.

Pork loin roast on a bed of lemons.
Speaking of presentation: Look what I did to the corn.

While the roast cooked, I started a fire on one of the grills and, when it was ready, tossed six ears of corn on the fire. When the corn was done, I sprinkled a spicy barbecue rub I found in the same Southern Living magazine on the corn, cook it a few minutes more, then we served it with the roast, my wife’s cucumber and onion salad and a couple of glasses of Chardonnay.

“How was it?” you ask.
“What do you think?” I ask.

Hey, again to paraphrase Mr. Jenkins “Nobody said life wasn’t going to be semi-tough.”

So, no, I don’t think I’m going to spend much time moping. Instead, I’m going to continue the reverse-engineering of my life.

And lazing.


As promised, here are a few recipes.

Watermelon-ginger mojitos

This recipe is from the July 2019 issue of Southern Living. My wife only loves it.

1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 fresh mint sprigs, plus more for garnish

8 cups seedless watermelon cubes

3 cups (24 oz.) light rum chilled

1 (12-oz.) bottle ginger beer, chilled

1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from 4 limes)

Ice cubes

Small watermelon wedges, for garnish

Bring 1/2 cup water and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over high. Simmer, stirring often, until sugar dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat; add mint and stir until submerged. Refrigerate until mixture is completely cool, 1 hour. Pour mint mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl; discard solids. Chill mint syrup until ready to use.

While syrup cools, place watermelon in a blender, and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup, pressing gently to squeeze out juice. Discard solids and refrigerate 15 minutes. Repeat straining procedure. (You should have about 4 cups juice.)

Stir together mint syrup, watermelon juice, rum, ginger beer, and lime juice in a large pitcher.

Pour evenly into 10 highball glasses filled with ice (or one really big glass); garnish each with a mint sprig and small watermelon wedge cut to sit on rim of glass.


Fiesta Shrimp Salsa

I found this recipe, a few years ago, in Weber’s New Real Grilling cookbook.

1 poblano pepper

24 large shrimp (21/30 count) peeled and deveined, tales removed

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

1 small Fresno chili pepper, seeded and diced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced

¼ cup finely diced red onion

1 large glove of garlic, minced or pushed through a press

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Tortilla chips


Grill the poblano over direct heat with the lid closed, until blackened and blistered all over (the pepper, not you) 10 to 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Put the pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to trap the steam. Let stand for 10 minutes. Peel away and discard the charred skin (Again, from the pepper, not from you) cut off and discard the stem and seeds, and then cut the poblano in a ¼ inch dice. Put the poblano back in the bowl.

Lightly brush the shrimp on both sides with olive oil. Grill over direct heat, until they are firm to the touch and just turning opaque in the center 4 to 5 minutes. Cut shrimp into ¼ inch pieces.

Then, to the bowl with the diced poblano, add the shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, the tomatoes, Fresno and jalapeno peppers, the onion, garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper; toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro. Serve the salsa immediately with tortilla chips.

Note: If I can’t find a Fresno pepper, I add another jalapeno pepper. Also you can settle for tortilla chips from a bag but I prefer to fry my own. To steal part of a Steve Martin joke “My doctor says I’m not getting enough fat.”


Mike’s Pork Loin Roast

I took part of this recipe from a Giada De Laurentiis cooking show. I once saw Giada (I can call her that) roast a spatchcocked (not as dirty as it sounds) chicken on a bed of sliced lemons, so I figured it would also work with a pork loin roast. The lemons, not the spatchcocking.

1 pork loin roast, 2 to 3 pounds

Salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme. To taste. By the way, in recipe-speak “To taste” means “As much as you damn want”.

1 large lemon

Season the roast all over with the herbs and spices (Wasn’t there a music group in the 60’s called “Herbs and Spices?).

Slice the lemon into slices. Place half the slices in the bottom of the roasting pan and set the roast in the pan. Place the other half on the top of the roast and bake in a pre-heated 325-degree oven for about 1 to 2 hours or until the meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees.


Grilled Corn with Smokey Barbecue Rub

This recipe also came from the July 2019 issue of Southern Living.

Working with six ears of corn take one ear  at a time, grab the silks at the top of the corn slowly peal back the silks and husks. Discard the silks; pull the husks together to form a pony-tail-handle. Tear off 1 small husk piece and use it to tie a knot around the husks.

I did this when I fixed this recipe but I think it’s mainly for show. If you wanted to you could just pull the husks all the way off.

Coat the corn with cooking spray and place on the grill. Grill, uncovered, turning occasionally until charred in spots. About 15 to 18 minutes and remove from grill, add the smoky barbecue rub to each ear and return to the grill, turning occasionally, until the sugar melts. About 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from grill and either serve immediately  or wrap each ear in foil with a generous pat of butter and keep warm until ready to serve.


Smoky Barbecue Rub

Stir together 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar; 1 tablespoon smoked paprika; 1 teaspoon fresh lime zest; and ½ teaspoon each of ancho chili powder; kosher salt; black pepper; and garlic powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over the corn.


My Wife’s Cucumber and Onion Salad

Since this is my wife’s recipe, she wrote all of it for you. For the record, when I asked her to include her recipe she said “You shouldn’t need a (bad word) to make cucumber and onion salad” Read at your own risk.

This is the way I cook – Mike’s eye roll here)

Take two cucumbers.  Wash and peel.  Cut off ends, cut in half and then slice down the middle. Take a table teaspoon and rake to remove the seeds.  Then slice the cucumbers into half moons.

Put them in a glass Anchor Hocking bowl.  Add 1/2 of a preferably red onion, by cutting in half and then slicing so they are pretty little half moon shapes.  Sprinkle lightly across the cucumbers.  Sprinkle veggies with celery seed to your liking.  You can add cracked black pepper, as well.

Cover the veggies with Nakano Rice Vinegar.  (Sounds fancy, but you can find it in a big-box store with the other vinegars.  You could use plain vinegar and add sugar, but if you can buy and use the Nakano Rice Vinegar, why not?)

Put the lid on and shake like hell so it’s mixed well.  Best when chilled at least all day while drinking beer outside, or overnight.

Enjoy!  “Mike’s Wife”