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Who the heck is Action Cookbook?
This Friday's newsletter asks the question you might be asking yourself.
There’s a chance you’re new around here.
Maybe you’re one of the hundreds of people who signed up this week thanks to the (much-appreciated) recommendation of Charlotte at Simple and Straightforward.
Perhaps it’s Saturday evening, you’re at The Merryweather in Louisville for Lou Øyster Cült’s first-anniversary celebration, and you’ve noticed that I’m billed as the guest chef.
Or maybe it’s centuries into the future, and you’ve stumbled on this post as the sole remaining relic of a long-forgotten society, a colossal wreck round the decay of which the lone and level sands stretch far away, boundless and bare.
Whatever the reason: welcome!
This is The Action Cookbook Newsletter. I am Action Cookbook, also known as Scott Hines, a writer and amateur chef based in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve written a number of other places, but now I write here: three times a week, every week.
This newsletter is a few things.
It’s a lifestyle magazine with a staff of one: every Friday, I share new ideas in food and drink, ranging from the practical to the preposterous, along with a selection of other things I think you’ll like from books to music to shows.
It’s what a syndicated newspaper column might look like in the hands of a millennial: just call me the way-too-online Dave Barry.
It’s a place to hang out three times a week, share a laugh, chat, make new friends and feel a little bit better about things for a spell. At least I hope.
I hope you enjoy what you see here.
I hope you enjoy so much that you’ll consider signing up for a paid subscription. Everyone on the list gets one newsletter a week, but paying subscribers get three things a week, every week. That’s 150+ high-quality newsletters a year for only $5/mo or $50/year—we’re talking about roughly 33 cents a newsletter.
What else can 33 cents get you? Half a postage stamp?
This is a one-person operation, with no advertising or outside support: it’s entirely subscription-funded; it literally can’t exist without the generosity of readers like you.
Okay, but I just got here. Prove to me that it’s worth it.
I thought you’d never ask.
Today, I’ve got a great slate of stuff on tap for you.
As I have every Friday here for more than three years running, today I’ve got a countdown of Seven Good Things: a recipe, a cocktail, a musical recommendation, a book, something to watch, a discussion topic and—my personal favorite—a selection of pet photos submitted by readers.
Let’s get on with it, shall we?
7) I’m walkin’ heyah!
I’ve noted here before that my recipes generally fall into three categories:
Things you’ll want to make at home.
Things you probably won’t want to make at home, but would be happy to eat if I served them to you.
Things you’re just glad I did for the sake of entertainment.
Today’s falls into the second category.
A few months ago, my wife and I were sitting at the bar of a local restaurant, idly discussing dishes I might conceive of for future newsletters.
She calmly took a sip of her cocktail, then paused, before cryptically but confidently stating two words: “Walking chowder.”
“Like a Walking Taco, but New England Clam Chowder.”
Hmmm. A reinterpretation of the southwestern fair-food classic, but made with the flavors of the iconic northeastern soup, and tailored for consumption on a warm summer day?
This idea is ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. It’s preposterous!
It… sounds delicious.
That’s right in the Action Cookbook Newsletter’s wheelhouse, folks.
Soon after that discussion, I had a chance to workshop a few dishes with my friend Michael in Lou Øyster Cült’s prep kitchen. Normally, there’s a lot of tinkering involved in developing a new recipe; a little more of this, a little less of that, what’s missing, etc.
The Walking Chowder, though? We nailed it on the first try.
Couldn’t even think of anything we wanted to change.
Note: I’m intentionally vague on the amounts in this recipe, because it largely depends on feel. Where it’s important, I’ll state proportions below.
salt and vinegar potato chips, preferably Cape Cod brand
raw clam strips
corn flour or masa harina
a neutral oil for frying
thick-cut bacon, diced into lardons
fresh sweet corn, boiled then roughly sliced from the cob
celery, sliced thinly
black peppercorns, freshly cracked
Heat a pot of oil—preferably one with deep sides, for cleanliness’ sake—to 350F.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together equal quantities of the corn flour and all-purpose flour, salt lightly, then whisk in buttermilk until you achieve a consistency roughly akin to pancake batter. Set aside until you’re ready for final assembly.
Chop the celery, and cook the corn and remove the kernels from the cob. In a small, deep pot—separate from the oil—cook the bacon until crisp. Remove and reserve the bacon, while keeping the rendered grease in the pot. Keep that pot over low heat, and whisk in a few tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly to form a light-colored roux. Once the flour is fully incorporated and the roux has thickened, whisk in the heavy cream, peppercorns and celery salt; stir frequently, being careful to not let the mixture scald, until it thickens to a spoonable consistency.
Place a nice handful of the chips in whatever vessel you plan to serve this from.
Now, is the oil up to temperature? Great. It’s showtime.
Dunk the clam strips roughly in the batter—don’t be afraid to get them messy; you’ll want a good, thick coating. Move them straight from the mixing bowl to the hot oil, dropping them gently in to avoid splatters. Keep a close eye on them—they’ll cook quickly. Once they’ve reached a golden-brown color, remove them with a metal spider.
Drop the freshly-fried clam fritters onto the chips. Add the bacon, corn and celery, then drizzle the peppercorn cream sauce on top. Snip a few chives over the top, and—
Walking chowder, folks. They said it couldn’t be done1, but then we went and did it.
Now, you could easily make this at home. In fact, I’ve just told you how to.
But doesn’t that sound like a lot of work?
It sounds like a lot of work.
Well, I’ve alluded to it several times already, but if you can be Louisville, Kentucky tomorrow (that is, Saturday, July 16th, 2022), you can simply order this from the Lou Øyster Cült/Action Cookbook special menu at The Merryweather. We’ll be serving up Walking Chowder, Barcelona Boudin Balls, and Fresh Salmon Burgers, in addition to LØC’s usual great selection of freshly-shucked oysters.
Food starts at 6pm, and goes until we “shell out”. These events normally draw well, and the weather looks promising, so we’re expecting a good crowd.
Come early, and come hungry!
… and thirsty, of course.
6) Saturday Night’s Alright for Mai Tais
I’ve mentioned The Merryweather a few times here, and for the majority of you reading this who are not in Louisville, all you need to know is that it’s a wonderful bar in the Schnitzelburg neighborhood whose cocktail menu bears a heavy tiki influence.
My favorite drink on the menu is their expertly-made Mai Tai.
Now, here’s the thing about Mai Tais. For me, they’re like crab cakes. That is to say, they’re something I enjoy quite a bit when done right, but something I’m wary of ordering most places because of how frequently they’re made either too cheaply or just plain wrong. This lovely, nuanced cocktail classic is often bastardized beyond recognition with the introduction of cloying, artificial syrups, inappropriate fruit juices and overall cheap ingredients.
The Merryweather gets it just right. But what if you want to make it at home?
Well, then you have some decisions to make.
A proper, “official” Mai Tai should include rhum agricole, or sugarcane juice rum—that is, rum distilled from fresh sugarcane juice instead of the more common molasses.
Thing is, rhum agricole can be hard to procure; I looked through three different liquor stores and couldn’t find it, and Louisville’s a town that doesn’t slouch on liquor stores. Knowing that you might have the same problem, and might not want to procure a special rum for use in a single drink, I’ll make the perhaps-heretical statement that you can compromise here, and simply use a nice Jamaican rum.
Where you can’t compromise is the orgeat.
Perhaps the essential component of a Mai Tai, orgeat is a sweet, thick syrup made from almonds, sugar and orange blossom water. You can make it yourself, if you really want a project, but most people would simply buy a prepared version. Problem is, a lot of the commercial orgeats? Well, they’re terrible. They’re painfully artificial, with no real note of almonds. Some look like the syrups you’d put in iced coffee at Starbucks; some just plain taste gross.
I’ve sampled a few, and I found that by far the best results came from Liber & Co’s version, a thick, opaque, nut-colored syrup with a distinct horchata-like note to it.
Paired with the only orange liqueur I’ll use, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, fresh lime juice, a bold sugar syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters (another heresy, but I like the added bite), and you’ve got a damned fine drink without hunting high and low for one particular rum.
The AC Mai Tai
2 ounces Appleton Estate Signature rum
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce Liber & Co. almond orgeat syrup
1/2 ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
1/2 ounce homemade Mai Tai syrup (see below)
1 dash Angostura bitters
Mint, for garnish
Tiny cocktail umbrella, for vibes
Mai Tai Syrup
3/4 cup raw turbinado sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the sugar, water and vanilla extract in a small pan over medium-low heat. Whisk until the sugar fully dissolves and a rich, clear brown syrup forms. Cool.
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the rum, lime juice, orgeat syrup, dry curaçao, and Mai Tai syrup, and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice.2 Shake the bitters over the ice, then strain the cocktail over it all. Garnish with mint and umbrella, and enjoy responsibly.
Notice how it doesn’t have the iridescent orange color many beachside versions might? Well, it’s not about the color, it’s about the taste, and this tastes like the drink should—a surprisingly-subtle combination of citrus, nuttiness, brown sugar and bitter all in perfect balance.
Or you could just come to the bar tomorrow night and order one of the Merryweather’s version.
5) I don't know anything more intrusive than what the truth is
If there’s one thing longtime readers of this newsletter know, it’s that I’m a sucker for fresh pop-punk done well. Well, I’ve got just the thing to scratch that itch today.
Florida-based foursome Camp Trash—a band that existed as an idea on the internet for a while before they’d actually recorded any music—recently released their first full-length LP, The Long Way, The Slow Way, and it’s worth the wait.
It’s energetic but angsty, fun but emotive music with its heart on its sleeve and lyrics I could’ve seen making my AIM away message in 20023. It recalls for me other previously-featured-here bands like Oso Oso, Signals Midwest and Spanish Love Songs—but Camp Trash stands on their own, too.
Here they are with “Let It Ride”:
It's not in me to be subtle, unless it shapes the narrative
Stay quiet, chaotic, or something in the middle
Loose and sharp and tangled
All the way to Buffalo, you were asking about the future
I just wanna be a cog in a massive machine
That breaks and makes the whole thing useless
4) Welcome to the animal multiverse
It’s rare that a non-fiction book can cause me to see the world around me in a completely new light, but today’s reading selection does just that.
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us is a fascinating new text by British author and Atlantic staff writer Ed Yong, one that explores the complex sensory worlds that different animals inhabit—worlds that exist in the same space as our own, but with perceptions so vastly different from our own that they might as well be parallel universes right under our own (inferior) noses.
In an informative yet entertaining and not-at-all dry tone, Yong explains the semiotic concept of umwelt, or the “self-centered world”—that is, the world that an organism inhabits as shaped by its own ability to perceive.
A dog or elephant or mouse or rattlesnake’s view of the world is shaped by senses that often differ greatly from our own; what appears to be a featureless expanse of open ocean to us might be a rich and varied landscape of smells to a tube-nosed sea bird.
Many of the things we might consider ‘extra-sensory’—for instance, animals’ ability to sense oncoming storms before humans—are actually purely sensory, Yong argues, products of one or more of the five classical senses performed at a far higher level than our own.
It’s a delightful book, and one that can have you seeing the world in a whole new light.
Every book I’ve featured in past Friday newsletters can be found at my Bookshop Affliate shop:
3) But what if that world’s not big enough for you?
I enjoy outdoor adventure.
Wait, no, that’s not exactly right.
I enjoy the fact that outdoor adventure exists. I am more than content to see it undertaken by others from the comfort and safety of my own home, though.
I love a good, thrilling outdoor documentary; Free Solo remains one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever watched. Slightly less harrowing than that nail-biter, but at least as visually stunning (if not more) is the new HBO miniseries Edge of the Earth, a four-part documentary that follows four different teams of adventurers on extreme expeditions.
The first episode follows a team of top-flight snowboarders as they 1) sail up a dangerous inlet in a snowstorm to 2) hike miles across a glacier in order to 3) climb an ice-covered mountain so that they can 4) snowboard down it, something no one has ever done before.
[nodding] yeah y’all go ahead, I’ll catch up with you later
It’s wildly entertaining stuff, and HBO always delivers on the production values—the sweeping aerial shots of their climb and descent are nothing short of stunning. It’s a great thing to watch from your couch with a Mai Tai in your hand, if you ask me.
Several weeks ago, I announced the first rollout of new-logo ACBN merchandise, with the proceeds going to support the Kentucky Health Justice Network. We quickly blew through most of my stock of beverage koozies, stickers, bandanas and more, and in the process raised nearly $1200 for KHJN’s efforts to secure reproductive justice in the Commonwealth.
If you’ve placed an order with me, it’s now in the mail (as of Wednesday—it took a while to pack up more than 75 orders), so keep an eye on your mailboxes.
If you missed out this time around, stay tuned; I’ll have more merch made soon.
2) Discuss amongst yourselves
I love to get a good discussion going here, because I’m lucky to have the best group of readers on the internet right here in the comment section. You’ve always got great insights, suggestions and things to share, and I get to play the happy proctor to it all.
Today, I pose to you this question:
What’s the most arrogant thing you’ve ever done?
Now, I’m not typically an arrogant person, by any stretch of the imagination. But I was thinking about this just yesterday, as I recounted to a friend a job interview some years back where I was asked if I had any experience in their very-specialized field of work, and I blurted out “no, I don’t, but I didn’t know anything I know now until I did it, so I’m sure I can figure it out.” (I worked there for five years.)
That flash of hubris/unearned confidence aside, I think my two answers might be:
Buying an engagement ring for my wife two days after getting fired from my job and without significant savings to fall back on, because, and I quote: “[expletives describing former boss] doesn’t decide when we get married”.
Arguing with a Secret Service agent when I was 17 and winning the argument4
What’s your answer? What’s the most arrogant thing you’ve ever done?
1) And now, the truth about cats and dogs
Every week, we close down the party with photos of beloved pet friends submitted by Readers Like You. It’s perhaps my favorite part of writing this newsletter, because it means that I get fresh pet photos in my inbox all the time.
First up, Kelsey A. shares a dog with a binary approach to life:
Well, if you insist on seeing pictures of Lane, the happiest girl in the world, who am I to deny you?? Attached some photos to fully show off the only two modes she has: joy and sleep. Named after Lane Stadium, she’s brought me just as much fun and almost none of the heartache.
What a terrific dog; there’s an epic tale to be told between these two pictures.
Next up, Eric T. shares two absolutely perfect cats:
Branching out into the family menagerie... my little sister found an abandoned kitten under her deck a few weeks ago. This is Spring (her stripes look like coils, and she's very bouncy). Getting along great with the older cat of the household, Cheddar (maybe 15?).
SPRING. OMG. Look at this dang kitten. My goodness. Someone else is going to have to wrap up the newsletter, as I am now deceased from the cuteness. Great cats.
Finally this week, Nate R. shares the “wacky cousin added in Season 6” of dogs:
Hello, Mr. Hines/Cookbook—
I, like you, had a very sweet dog pre-pandemic. She was well behaved, easily trainable, and very respectful. And then when we were all locked inside for almost a year straight, I apparently lost my mind and we decided to spice things up a little bit by adopting a neurotic timebomb into the family.
I've sent you pictures of Mando before, but I feel like so much has changed in the last year that I had to show off my very dumb, egg-head-having-ass boy.
Gaze in wonderment at this magnificent beast. Look at that head. It’s like the Moai of Rapa Nui, but on a dog’s body. I bet it hurts like heck to get head-butted by this dog, and I bet this dog head-butts you a lot.
A+, no notes, this is what peak animal performance looks like.
With that, we draw to a close another Friday at the Action Cookbook Newsletter. Whether you’re brand-new here or you’ve been around from the very beginning, I hope you’ve had a good time today, and I hope I’ve done my small part to improve the weekend that lies ahead of you.
Thank you for reading and supporting The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
We’ve come a long way together, but the best is yet to come.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
No one said that.
For the Louisvillians: I specifically went to Thorntons to get a big cup of nugget ice just for this purpose.
I mean this in a good way.
I’ll tell this story some other time. I was right, though.