Let There Be Rock
Welcome to another Friday at the Action Cookbook Newsletter
Hello, and welcome to another glorious Friday here at The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
I’m boarding a plane for Georgia this morning, making a long-delayed trip to Athens to see one of my favorite rock bands of all time, Drive-By Truckers1, as they resume their annual tradition of “HeAthens Homecoming” concerts at the legendary 40 Watt Club. I will get to give bear hugs to friends I haven’t seen in several years, I will dine at Five & Ten, I will get my eardrums blasted out by one of the world’s greatest live rock n’ roll bands, and I will almost assuredly cry in the middle of a crowd.
My weekend plans are set, is what I’m saying.
Perhaps yours aren’t, though, and that’s where I can help.
I’ve had a nice influx of new subscribers in the last 24 hours—I’ll get to the why on that in just a moment—so I’d like to take a moment to explain what happens here every Friday morning.
This is The Friday Newsletter. I’ve tried a couple times to come up with a snappy, clever nickname for this recurring feature, but none ever stuck. It’s just The Friday Newsletter, and by my count, this is the 139th version of it that I’ve sent out, dating back to August 2019.
Mind you, Friday is only a *third* of what you get as a full subscriber here.
I send out three newsletters a week, every week; the content of the Monday and Wednesday newsletters varies widely, as I cover topics from food to parenting to sports, culture, humor and even occasional forays into longform fiction.
But, back to Friday.
Every Friday morning—and I mean every, I haven’t missed a non-holiday Friday in nearly three years of doing this—I send out a lifestyle guide. These are no small undertakings; it’s rare that I finish one without the Substack system warning me that I’m “NEAR EMAIL SIZE LIMIT”.
These newsletters are designed to give you something good to improve your weekend, and so each and every one includes:
A recipe, usually a new creation that I’ve pulled together in my home kitchen
A cocktail—a mixture of new creations, revived classics and great things I’ve encountered elsewhere that I think you’ll enjoy
A music recommendation
A book recommendation
Two “flex” items—depending on the week, these might include TV shows, movies, podcasts, games, longreads—anything that doesn’t fit into the first four categories.
A selection of reader-submitted pet photos, sourced from the large and wonderful community of ACBN readers that are the heart and soul of this publication
Sound great? It sure is. Of course, Friday newsletters typically only go to paying subscribers. You should become one!
In fact, here’s a button.
Who doesn’t love pushing a big red button? I know I do.
Not convinced yet? Maybe you will be able today’s loaded slate of items.
But first: some personal news!
I. For I’m A Jolly Food Fellow
I have been dying to announce this since I found out last week, and the cat’s finally out of the bag. I am proud to say that I have been selected as fellow in Substack’s new Food Writers Intensive, a three-month program that will find me collaborating with and learning from a diverse and talented cohort of food writers. It will provide The Action Cookbook Newsletter with access to exciting new resources and coaching from top writers and figures in the world of food.
It’s an impressive cohort, one I’m humbled to be a part of, and I encourage you to check out the others’ work.
The full announcement and list of fellows can be found here:
What does this mean for The Action Cookbook Newsletter—and more importantly, for you, the reader? It’s simple: if you like what I’ve been doing here so far, it’s only going to get better from here.
Now, on to today’s seven things.
7) Traditions like no other
I might be headed to Georgia this weekend for a rock show, but that’s not the only thing going on in the Peach State this weekend, something that became abundantly clear when trying to book a rental car out of Atlanta.
There’s apparently also some kind of golf tournament going on?
Now, I’m not much of a golfer myself—ask anyone who’s seen me try—nor am I an avid viewer of the sport. It seems like fun, if it’s your speed, but me? I’m just in it for the food. I love any event that has deeply-held food traditions, and the Masters Tournament has a few that are right up my alley. Perhaps the most iconic of these is the pimento cheese sandwich.
While Augusta National Golf Club’s membership is extremely restrictive (in ways that have rightly drawn scorn over the years), the Masters Tournament’s concessions are famously cheap, with simple pimento cheese sandwiches still selling for $1.50 to hungry spectators. They’re not fancy, but they’re tradition.
Well, in the comfort of my own kitchen, I think I can make something a bit better than concessions-grade pimento cheese. I’m starting from scratch, making a flavorful based with the additions of a bit of smoke and green chile tang on top of the usual pimento-and-cheddar base.
Once it’s done, I’m going to make a far more elaborate and delicious sandwich from it.
Action Cookbook’s Green Jacket Pimento Cheese
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use Duke’s)
4 ounces diced mild green chiles, Hatch or similar
6 ounces jarred pimentos/roasted red peppers, drained and diced
1 dash liquid smoke
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
When mixing up freshly-grated cheese—and you should be using freshly-grated, as it lacks the cellulose that keeps pre-shredded cheese from clumping in the bag, which will affect texture negatively in an application like this—I find it’s important to mix your ingredients carefully, lest the cheese bind up and prevent the other flavors from combining evenly.
To do so, I took a wet-bowl/dry-bowl approach similar to what you might do in making a cake batter. In a mixing bowl, I added the mayonnaise first, then whisked in the liquid smoke and smoked paprika. The green chiles and pimentos came next, followed by the softened cream cheese. Once a delicious batter has been formed, the grated cheddar can be mixed in a handful at a time, stirring so as to fully coat it.
Do it properly, and you should get something that looks like this:
Okay, fine, it’s not the most aesthetically-pleasing food. But it is delicious, especially as a power-up for a sandwich. I’m not going to make it do all the heavy lifting, though. I’ve got a partner for it: a sweet-and-savory shallot jam.
Action Cookbook’s Shallot-Bacon Jam
12-14 shallots, thinly sliced (preferably on a mandoline slicer, just be careful)
3 tablespoons bacon grease, roughly the runoff from one pound of cooked bacon
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar—or, even better, hot pepper vinegar
Melt the bacon grease over medium-low heat, and add the shallots, breaking the slices apart into distinct rings and stirring to coat with the grease. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots have softened and turned translucent. Bit by bit, begin adding in pinches of the brown sugar, stirring each time until the sugar has melted and fully incorporated. Alternate with small splashes of the vinegar, until you’ve used up both. Keep stirring; this doesn’t need to be an hour-long caramelization, but you want it to go long enough that the shallots start to behave like a spread, because that’s what you’re going to use it for. They don’t need to break down fully; they just need time to sing.
Now, let’s make a sandwich.
The ACBN Dogwood Sandwich
sliced smoked turkey
crisp cooked bacon
pimento cheese, from above
shallot jam, from above
sliced beefsteak tomato
Toast the sourdough, and spread one side with a light smear of mayonnaise. Stack a nice mound of turkey over it. On the other side, add a heavy spread of the pimento cheese, followed by the bacon and a heaping spoonful of the shallot jam. Lightly salt a slice of tomato, and add it just before combining.
Now, that’s a sandwich that can fuel you for walking eighteen holes, or for just watching on your couch at home.
Let’s see a cross-section:
You don’t even have to drive to Augusta for it. Which is good, because the rental cars are crazy expensive and tickets sold out months ago.
Hey, let’s wash this down with a drink, no?
6) In Bloom
I’d like to keep with this theme, if for only one section more, because the Masters also has a signature cocktail, the Azalea. It might not be as famously-associated with the event as the Mint Julep is for the Kentucky Derby (an event you can surely expect to here more from me on, given that I live in Louisville and have covered it before), but it’s a lovely little cocktail in its own right, seasonally-personal just as spring finally takes bloom.
The Azalea is traditionally made with vodka, and while I have my occasional uses for the most-neutral of spirits, I’m usually of the mindset that if I can use something more flavorful, I will. So I’m going with gin.
I recently picked up a bottle of Empress 1908 gin, which has a natural indigo tint from butterfly pea blossoms, a color that fades to a lovely pink when mixed with citrus.
(This is not sponsored content. To paraphrase Marge Simpson’s feelings on potatoes, I just think it’s neat.)
The Gin Azalea
2 ounces gin (or vodka)
2 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grenadine syrup
lemon wheel, for garnish
Shake vigorously with ice, then strain into a tall glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with the lemon wheel, add a straw, and then find a nice spot outdoors to take a photograph that takes advantage of springtime afternoon light while not showing how awful the lawn looks after a harsh winter and also four years of benign neglect.
(This last step is really only applicable to me, but I feel it’s important to share my process.)
This is a very pleasant drink, and if you’ve followed my journey here over the years, you know I’m a sucker for seasonal/holiday/event-tied traditions. They give the year shape and form, and while I might not drink an Azalea year-round, it’s perfect for early April.
5) The only masked singer I want to hear from
One of the most exciting debut albums in recent memory was Pony, the 2019 offering from Orville Peck, the pseudonymous and perpetually-masked neo-country crooner (who may actually be Canadian punk drummer Daniel Pitout.) On that album—and some scattered releases since then—Peck offered a haunting sound somewhere between old-school country, alt-country, Roy Orbison and Frankie Valli.
His newest album, Bronco, has been rolled out in multiple “chapters” over the last few months—an approach also used by dreampop artists Beach House on their recent and similarly-ACBN-endorsed release Once Twice Melody—and the final chapter drops today.
From Bronco, here’s “C’mon Baby, Cry”:
4) A book full of left turns
I enjoy a well-told sports story, whether it’s the quixotically-doomed construction of a league to rival the NFL, like in Jeff Pearlman’s Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, a pivotal moment in sports and race relations as in Luke Epplin’s Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball, or a look into the crueler side of the American sport landscape, like in Eric Nusbaum’s Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between.
(You know, I’ve recommended a lot of books here over the years, and all of them can be found at my Bookshop affiliate page.)
Anyway, I like an engaging sports story, and even more so when it’s a sport I don’t know much of anything about going in. That’s where today’s book pick comes in.
I recently picked up He Crashed Me, So I Crashed Him Back: The True Story of the Year the King, Jaws, Earnhardt, and the Rest of Nascar's Feudin', Fightin' Good Ol' Boys Put Stock Car Racing on the Map, a 2011 book by Mark Bechtel that’s slightly longer than its title.
The book serves as a history of NASCAR’s evolution from amateur beach races to a sports behemoth, framing the threads around the 1979 Daytona 500, an all-time classic of a race that served as a sort of national coming-out party for the sport. The race was one of the first to be widely broadcast on television in its entirety, and it happened when much of the country outside of the sport’s traditional Southern fanbase was stuck inside during a massive snowstorm.
The book’s full of wild characters and bold-face personalities, and it’s highly entertaining even if don’t know a thing about racing. (Take it from me.)
3) Where have all the erotic thrillers gone?
If you intersect with any sort of online discourse about film, there’s a chance you’ve heard a question asked lately: what happened to sex in cinema? The recent Ben Affleck/Ana de Armas erotic thriller Deep Water stood out for its use of sexual themes in a theatrical landscape largely dominated of late by the action-figure-smooth sexlessness of superhero movie franchises.
Timely, then, that podcasting titan Karina Longworth should arrive with a new season of her peerless, long-running Hollywood-history show You Must Remember This.
Previous seasons—a few of which I’ve recommended here—have covered a wide range of topic from the Rat Pack to the Manson Family murders to Hollywood’s blacklist and the making of Disney’s now-buried Song of the South.
The current season moves closer to present day than Longworth has ever gone, with an exploration of sex on screen in the 1980s, from the advent of X-rated cinema on to sexually-focused dramas such as Indecent Proposal and Basic Instinct. Longworth has promised to return in the fall with a companion season extending this exploration into the 1990s, with movies that I definitely did not watch during the brief period my parents had premium cable.
The first episode is out now, and it promises to be a titillating look at a lesser-examined era in popular cinema.
2) Requiem for a bar, and a life once lived
I’m running long here, as promised, and the big red “EMAIL LENGTH LIMIT” warning is already up, so I’ll start bringing us home.
Something I very much enjoyed reading this week was this elegiac post by the always-excellent Helena Fitzgerald, lamenting the demise of a beloved bar and exploring what losing a place you once loved means.
Lots of the places I loved fifteen years ago still are open, still serving food and drinks, still looking much the same as they always have. But even if I could walk through the same door, and sit at the same bar, I no longer have the right life, or the right heart, for it. Any telling of history knows that things usually only last for a little while, and meaning is only ever made by context. The places that meant the most to me in my twenties stand in for my twenties: This was where I cared about certain people, and believed incorrectly in certain ideas, and wanted a certain person to text me back and another to leave me alone. It would be pointless to go back; the bar may still be there, but I’m not. I do genuinely believe that Angel’s Share was a better bar than anything that has replaced or will replace it. But I even if it had stayed open forever, I could not have repeated that one snowy night that offered me a ladder into a habitable version of the world.
I have never read something Helena has written without having at least one line (and usually more than a few) punch me straight in the gut. I mean this as the highest compliment.
Alright, folks. It’s Homecoming in Athens, and let’s bring it all home.
1) In the land of the dawgs, be a cat
First up this week, Paul A. shares a whole coterie of cuddly canines:
I've really been enjoying the ACB lately - some great columns and recipes! The Buffalo Chicken Bake in particular was absolutely worth the effort and mess. Just in case your pet queue is running low, I've got some family dogs to share. You've featured my girl Frida before, seen here enjoying a bit of light gardening at my parents' house. My oldest brother's dog Ace is an incredibly handsome lapdog who deftly improvises when none are available. Middle brother has two pups. Old stalwart Rocco loves tug of war and loudly defending the backyard from all manner of local fauna, and pandemic puppy Jade occasionally needs a break from being very excited about everything around her.
Look at these good dogs. I love them all.
To close things out, I have a joint venture from my good friends Erin and Matthew, who I am overjoyed to be seeing a rock show with TODAY:
In our house, we dearly love Olaf, for obvious reasons but also because he reminds us of our own deeply true-to-himself pet, Dewey. Dewey is 12 pounds of pure joyous energy and chaos, always ready to be RIGHT in the middle of everything. But there is one thing, one thing in the world, that calms him down, and that is our very sweet, frighteningly smart, and very fearful dog Waffle. Dewey loves Waffle like few people have ever loved anyone or anything in their entire lives. Here are our two weirdos. And, because he's wonderful and he also has fans on the internet, here is our other weirdo, Simon. Who doesn't really like much of anyone or anything, except for being petted while he eats.
DEWEY. (And friends.)
The last time I went to HeAthens Homecoming, I stayed on Erin and Matthew’s fold-out sofa, and was visited in the night by Dewey no less than (7) times. This is a feature, not a bug. Dewey, like Olaf, is a good boy in spite of any actual qualifications, and I love him.
That’ll put a wrap on the first Food Fellow-Era Friday Newsletter, but far from the last. Whether you’re new here or have been on this ride with me for years, I’m thrilled you’re here. The Action Cookbook Newsletter isn’t just me, it’s you, and I’m grateful for that every time I hit send.
I hope you have a great weekend, and I hope there are joys in store for you soon.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)