Surprise Guest Host Friday!
Matt Brown of Extra Points takes the Friday reins this week
Hello, dear readers. Welcome back to The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
I’m going to do something a bit different for the Friday newsletter this week. Normally I use this space to share a list of recommendations for making your weekend a bit brighter—recipes, drinks, books, music, etc—often loosely structured around a theme.
That’s still the plan, but today I’m handing the mic over to my good friend and former SBNation colleague Matt Brown, who runs the excellent newsletter Extra Points, a publication I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and learned a ton from in the last year-plus, and the newsletter that inspired me to start my own.
I also wrote a guest post for Extra Points today, and I encourage you to head over there and check it out.
If you’re not yet a full subscriber of the Action Cookbook Newsletter, you should consider it, so you can get these Friday emails each week.
With that said, I’ll hand things over to Matt:
Hi friends! I’m not Action Cookbook. I don’t even have a dog.
I’m Matt Brown, of the Extra Points newsletter. I used to blog with Scott over at SB Nation, back when that was a thing, and now I write about the off-the-field forces that shape college football. I know many of you are college football fans, and if you’re interested in knowing more about how schools are navigating revenue shortages, how the debates over college athlete rights are progressing in Congress and elsewhere, and how various universities, large and small, are handling COVID, you’d probably really like Extra Points.
I have a special deal, just for friends of my friend, Action Cookbook. If you use this specific link, you can get a paid subscription for 20% off.
I’ve spent a lot of my writing career focused on those sorts of college athletic nitty gritty stories. I’ve written hundreds of stories on the finances of athletic departments, how various tweaks in higher education policy could change how D-II schools operate, and conference realignment, from the deranged ravings of West Virginia message boards, to the rearranging of FCS schools in the rural West.
Most of the time, I love doing it. I’m truly passionate about the ins and outs of college athletics. I wrote an entire book on it, and I’d like to do at least one more. I care just as much about Alabama’s depth chart as I do about how Case Western Reserve tries to build a sustainable program.
But the problem with these stories? They don't last. There’s nothing permanent about them. The news cycle is always churning along, and those 2,000 words I filed on Monday, even if they were pretty good words, well, they’re flotsam in the internet’s ocean by Wednesday, and completely forgotten about by Friday.
That gets old after a while. Sometimes, you just want to hold something in your hand, proof that your day’s labors created a real, tangible thing—something more than mine a few RTs from the internet factory.
A few years ago, I got into woodworking to do exactly that. My house is now full of ugly, pine furniture, clearly crafted by a white-collar doofus who learned how to operate power tools from YouTube University. My garage is full of even uglier, but functional, shop furniture.
I love building stuff. I love sketching. The measuring. The making the power tools go wrrrrrr. It’s fitting that the last thing I ever wrote for Vox Media wasn’t about college football at all. It was about woodworking.
But woodworking hasn’t really been my refuge from the blue light of my laptop over these last few months.
Like Scott, my refuge has been the garden.
I live in Chicago, so I don’t have much of a backyard to work with. But since I’ve been cooped up at home, we decided to really make a go of really getting into gardening this year. And my wife Taylor and I have been shocked at how much we’ve really gotten into it. We bought a rain barrel. I built multiple planter beds, then built chicken-wire cages around them, complete with doors. We now have strong opinions about fertilizer. My thirty-something dad powers have added so many new experience points.
I’ve probably spent more time reading about gardening from the University of Illinois Extension School than I have about University of Illinois football over the last few months, which is really saying something.
I love that after spending a few hours in the dirt, I can come away and point to something tangible and real that I’ve built. Here’s real dirt that I’ve dug up. From a seed I planted, here’s a little sprout, that’s going to get a little bigger each day. Here’s a squirrel that I sent scampering back to hell.
It provides me a tiny sense of control and comfort, that as the world falls apart around me, and as my profession and expertise feels more tenuous and out of place in our current world, I can grow a few vegetables. That I can water my plants using stored rain. That I can become a tiny, tiny bit more self sufficient.
That’s been a blessing. It’s been a blessing for my brain. It’s been a blessing for my kids, who are now a tiny bit more connected to nature, and the food they eat. And it’s been a blessing for our kitchen. Specifically, our tomato population. Just like with Scott, we now have an abundance of beautiful beefy boys.
That means we need to do some cooking. Let me share a dish from my people.
No, not Ohioans. Scott’s written enough about Cincinnati chili…er...gumbo.
No, not Mormons. The world doesn’t need another jello salad or funeral potatoes recipe, and fry sauce only has two ingredients.
I was born in Ohio, have mostly white skin, and have one of the most white-bread, gringo-ass names possible. But my mother was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have a Brazilian passport. I grew up listening to bossa nova, watching Brazilian soccer, hearing Portuguese at home (especially angry commands), and eating Brazilian food. If I was going to be exposed to Brazilian anything, it’d have to be at home. If there was another Brazilian living in Licking County, Ohio back in the 1990s, we never met them.
Honestly, I’ve never spent much of my life around other Brazilians. With a few exceptions (Boston, Miami, New York, LA), there aren’t many Brazilian-American neighborhoods in the US. We didn’t move to America in the same numbers, and in the same ways, as other Central and South American people did. My Portuguese is an embarrassment, and even though my neighborhood in Chicago is very diverse, with several languages spoken just on my street, I’d have to really work to find Portuguese conversation partners.
Maintaining that heritage is important to me, and has become even more important now that my mother has passed away. One way I’ve tried to maintain my cultural connection to Brazil is through food. And one of my favorite things to cook is a delicious Brazilian shrimp stew, moqueca de camaroes.
The real national dish of Brazil is probably feijoada, which is something of a Brazilian take on chili, only with black beans, way more meat, and served with rice (and not...uh...spaghetti). But feijoada is what you eat when you want to take a nap immediately after. It’s a bit heavy when it’s pushing 90 degrees, in my humble opinion.
Moqueca de camaroes is a bit lighter. My version isn’t the most authentic because I live far away from any good Brazilian import stores or excellent seafood. It’s a lighter stew, with chilis, coconut milk, shrimp, and a heaping helping of tomatoes.
It’s one of those dishes that’s a little better the next day, after all the flavors have gotten to know each other a little bit, but it’s also excellent right off the stovetop. It’s served best over rice, and then maybe with some citrus fruit.
Here’s how I make mine.
To start, cut up half a white onion, a red pepper, and mince a whole buncha garlic. I know every internet recipe says “use 1-3 cloves”, but we all know that we’re at least doubling that. So go with your heart. Use a lot. Throw that into a pot with some olive oil, and cook until the onion is translucent, and your garlic deliciously fragrant.
Then add in a can of diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, and chilis. I supplemented my recipe with a few of my superior fresh, homegrown tomatoes, but my jalapeno crop hasn’t come in yet, so I used canned. Let those flavors get to know each other a little bit, and add in a bit of water if needed.
Then, throw in a half pound or so of shrimp. I’ve made this recipe with shrimp and some whitefish before (I think Cod works well), but since this was just for me, my wife Taylor, and our ungrateful children, I stuck with just the shrimp.
Once those cook through, stir in a can of coconut milk, two tablespoons of chili-garlic sauce, and then season to taste. I highly recommend squeezing a few limes in there to add a little balance to the heat.
Serve over rice.
It’s delicious, in my humble opinion.
But you also need something to wash it down. I recommend Guarana.
I don’t drink, but I have the mid-30s dad impulse to get snooty about beverages. So I wax poetic about Guarana, the most popular Brazilian pop. Made with the same fruit they use to make Red Bull (without quite as much of the industrial steroids or whatever else they pump in energy drinks), Guarana tastes a bit like a fruitier Ginger Ale. There’s just enough of a bite to keep you from chugging it, but it goes down just as smooth as a Sprite or 7Up.
This was the official drink of any birthday or family gathering, growing up, even though it meant that we sometimes drove 40 miles to find a store stocking it. Nowadays, you can often find it in the Latino goods section at major supermarkets. If it isn’t, it’s worth the drive to your nearest Brazilian import store to find a 12 pack.
Together, it’s perfect.
I realize that getting really excited about a soda pop and a relatively basic stew, cooked with things that you grew yourself, is an especially washed thing to do. But that’s okay. I AM washed.
Hell, we’re all kind of washed these days. Nobody can actually go out! Nobody can have adventures, go exploring, or stay out until 3 AM at the bars. All that stuff is closed, and we’re left to either tinker around home improvement projects to make our quarantine situations slightly more interesting, or doom scroll on social media until our brains shrivel from a lack of dopamine. It’s fine. I’m fine.
This situation hasn’t been properly captured in music. But this song, by Lawrence, I think accidentally captures our moment, especially for us married couples:
I have to admit, this verse captures a conversation I feel like I’ve had with my wife a few times even before quarantine:
Do you wanna do something with me tonight?
Oh, I'll put on my finest sweatpants and I'll order you pad thai
We'd be livin' our dreams as our love grows
What an intimate occasion, you and me and HBO
Look. Sometimes, love is an explosion of emotions. But other times, after you’ve been with somebody for a long enough time, all you really want to do is curl up on the couch, wear your stretchy pants, and watch prestige television. Now that watching TV is almost patriotic, this is what almost every couple is doing now.
Lawrence just had the good sense to set that dilemma to a horn section. That’s about as Dad as it gets.
I’d love to tell you that I’ve been spending some of this quarantine time reading a bunch of new books. But that’s a lie. Outside of work and sputtering in my garage and garden, my rare free time that isn’t occupied by my children has been mostly spent playing mindless video games, or thinking about the work that I’m not doing.
But I have been doing some book reading. I avoided succumbing to the impulse of many a Big Ten Graduate Father to dive into the Civil War or World War II, but I do really enjoy reading college football history books; the earlier the better. So many of the things we argue about now...the role of college football and higher education, the pursuit of competitive balance, how to create a sport that isn’t corrupt and dirty...it’s all stuff we’ve been arguing about since forever.
I love to tell folks that just about everything you hate about college football, like a lot of things, is because of people at Yale and Harvard. A great book that makes this very clear is Mark. F. Bernstein’s “Football: The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession”. It isn’t a dry academic tome, but it clearly lays out all the wild recruiting battles of pre-1920 college football, how laughably obsolete our puritantical ideals of “amateurism” were even back in the day, and what big time football looked like when Yale, Princeton, and Harvard were king. I recommend it to everybody who wants to understand how and why our wonderful, stupid sport looks the way that it does today.
My understanding is that this is normally where I’d leave you with pictures of adorable dogs. Sadly, I don’t have one yet. My rule is not getting a dog until my youngest daughter is potty trained because I only want one family member peeing where they’re not supposed to at a time.
But it is my sacred duty as a father to force you to acknowledge how cute my kids are.
So here they are.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some tomatoes to attend to. I have a whole lot of chores to finish before my exciting evening of doing absolutely nothing.
I wonder what’s on Twitter.
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownEP)