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Good Eats, Far From Home: Pine State Biscuits

December 28, 2013
Have you met my buddy Reggie? This is "The Reggie." Fried chicken breast, with gravy, bacon and cheese, bracketed by halves of a biscuit. The photo may make the biscuit look small, but it's only perspective. This is a serious chunk of food.

Have you met my buddy Reggie? This is “The Reggie.” Fried chicken breast, with gravy, bacon and cheese, bracketed by halves of a biscuit. The photo may make the biscuit look small, but it’s only perspective. This is a serious chunk of food.

I should know better than to seek out southern food in the Pacific Northwest. At Amy’s insistence, we laced up our walking shoes and hiked more than four miles from our downtown Portland hotel to the Alberta neighborhood, turning down public transit in favor of burning calories. Where we were headed, we’d need all the calorie surplus we could get.

A couple of years ago, three North Carolinians headed west with a kick-ass biscuit recipe, and a dream to establish a center of southern food and hospitality in the northwest. Welcome, friends, to Pine State Biscuits. Step in, place your order and grab a seat at the end of the bar, where you can gaze down the grill and assembly lines. What your eyes feast upon, your mouth will quickly also enjoy.

At Pine State, you’ll find the same kind of biscuits I fell in love with at Tupelo Honey Cafe, in Asheville, and I’ve made a decent copy of them at home. There is no shortening-the fat comes from frozen, grated butter, and I think their biscuit cutter was fashioned from a cafeteria sized soup can.

But even though these biscuits are pretty big around, they’re disproportionately tall.

Think edible skyscraper. Start with a Sabre-toothed cat-head biscuit, split it and put a goodly-sized fried chicken breast on it, about what you’d get on a Chick-fil-a sandwich. In the spirit of remembering that this is breakfast, two strips of bacon go on that. Wait, the girl is still throwing stuff on top! Here comes a fried egg and a slice of cheese, before she throws it under the broiler. Once the cheese melts, out comes this tower of southern breakfast goodness. Honestly, I can’t remember the total order of operations here, but if my geology class taught me about how to tell which sedimentary layers came first, the gravy went on my biscuit before it went in the broiler as well.

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After a considerable hike, my bride had worked up an appreciable appetite. So had I. We found the right place to fix that problem!

Meanwhile, Amy ordered a much more reasonable breakfast: two eggs, bacon, toast, a biscuit with apple butter, and hash browns. The hash browns covered a plate the size of a cafeteria tray. As is our custom, we both ordered something the other liked, ate a bit and swapped plates at halftime. I cut my biscuit in half and laid my half its side, trying to decide how to eat it. A fork and knife seemed proper, but without a pitchfork, there was no way to shoehorn all the elements into a single bite.

So, in a very Man-Versus-Food moment, I cowboy’ed up and grabbed my half in a death grip, determined to get a bite with everything included. I found myself quite like a dog who caught the car he chased-I didn’t know what to do with my catch, so rather than put it down and have to regroup, I kept eating on it.

This biscuit looked like the object of a you-can’t-eat-all-that challenge, but it was great! I ploughed through my half and came out with a grin.

Want a conventional breakfast that spreads across the plate? Pine State has that covered as well. By covered, I mean, it covers the plate completely.

Want a conventional breakfast that spreads across the plate? Pine State has that covered as well. By covered, I mean, it covers the plate completely.

The girl behind the counter latched onto Amy’s accent. “I grew up in Charlotte,” she said once we identified ourselves at Atlantans. I wanted to march behind the counter and give Miss Charlotte a hug before we left. Amy’s half of the meal was great, and we walked out full as ticks, grateful for the long walk before we ate.

The location downtown is closed for a move; soon we will have to walk past one location to justify our gluttony at the other location when we come back to Portland.

Done.

Done.

Oh yeah, we will do this one again.

Flying the Harpoon

December 27, 2013

(Note: I’ve been away. Between training up to run a half-marathon, finishing college, work and life in general, it’s been hectic. I stockpiled some stories in the meantime, though.) 

Once upon a time, a nacelle would have blocked the view of the nose from the point of view.

Once upon a time, a nacelle would have blocked the view of the nose from the point of view.

As we walked into FBO at McCollum Field’s Preferred Jet Center, I glanced down to notice an embarrassing sweat spot down the front of my shirt. Yeah, it was a warm June day in Atlanta, but the perspiration outpaced the sticky, humid day. This was a nervous sweat, and it was mostly for naught. I’d perspired a barrel while flying an airplane that I’d perceived as a tiger and had discovered to be a pussycat. I don’t know which is most accurate, telling you I’d just flown a 700-horsepower Bonanza, a single-engine Baron, or a homebuilt aircraft that used a lot of parts from Wichita.

Walker Hester and I go back a ways: We traveled the air show circuit back in my late high school and early college years. Like many of my air show colleagues, we lost touch when I left, but the wonders of social media brought us back together. He’d flown A British Strikemaster jet not only in the air shows, but also over fortified positions as he conducted an aerial prison ministry. He ain’t a perfect human by any stretch, but he’s one of the good guys for. Walker was recuperating from an injury and three weeks of house arrest was about enough for him. “Let’s go fly the Harpoon tomorrow,” he said in a comment on Facebook. The next morning, we looked at the weather and agreed that the afternoon would be a good time to rally our efforts.

Now, if you’re scratching your head and thinking you’re about to read about us flying the Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon of historical record, that picture is all wrong. Erase your mental chalkboard and start sketching in some new ideas.

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In case your mental chalkboard is frazzled out, here’s a visual aid: The Harpoon, at rest.

In Cheraw, South Carolina, Wendell Hall started out with an engine, specifically the Walter 601 turboprop. From there, he needed an airplane to hang it on. He studied a number of airframes, with an eye toward building a fast-traveling machine. His biggest challenge was finding a nose gear that would allow a monster propeller up front.

The end combination started life as a Beechcraft Baron 58. Wendell removed the nacelles, put a firewall on the nose and mounted the engine there. The Baron had extended wingtips to make up for the airfoil that was lost under the nacelles, so he clipped the wings about where they’d have been on a Bonanza. Granted, this is a rather simplistic take on a complex project, but you get the idea. The finished product looks like a turboprop STC’d Bonanza from across the ramp, unless you really know what to look for.
I knew some of what to look for when we started our walk-around. My eye caught rivets filling holes in the skin where the nacelles lived, and the tail stuck out for some reason I couldn’t rightly identify until Walker pointed out that the vertical surface was considerably larger than a Bonanza. Big tails, it turns out, come in handy when you’ve got a boatload more power than the factory ever envisioned.

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This ain’t the throttle quadrant I’m used to seeing in Barons or Bonanzas!

The rudder trim tab, which Barons have but Bonanzas lack, also is a plus.

We taxied out with the condition lever pulled back into beta to save on brake wear, and he walked me through the steps. The fact he was wearing a cervical collar didn’t slow him down as he reached across to dial in the frequencies on the GNS430. We rolled out to the end of the runway and I remembered I might better tell the tower controller what direction we figured on going. I hadn’t managed a Garmin product since about 2004. This was my second time flying general aviation VFR out of a towered field since I’d started at the airline nearly six years prior. I was behind the plane without even entering the plane into the equation.

In other words, this is probably when that wet spot probably started expanding down my chest. Walker did a fantastic job as an instructor and babysitter, though. I called the tower when we were ready to go, and he coached me on the power settings he’d briefed on the ramp and taxi-out. “Just ease it up above 90 percent power,” he said. As we rolled onto centerline, I pushed the power up and really expected the takeoff roll to be a swerving line as we bounced from near disaster off the side of the runway. That big tail, though, kept her honest as we built speed and I lifted the nose wheel at about 60 knots, and held a comfortable attitude until the wings bit and we eased into the air at about 75. The acceleration was smooth, and continued as Walker flipped the switch and tucked the wheels into their respective wells. He held the prop to about 1800 rpm in the climb, and we pointed right at the base of a cloud off the end of the field. The vertical speed was strong, but before I could study it long enough to catch a number, I was pulling the power back to keep us under the scattered cloud layer. I quickly found myself flying the Harpoon by feel, and it didn’t let me down.
We made our way to Lake Altoona and I started a lazy lap around its shores. “Sure feels good to fly something without flight directors for a change,” I said. Passing over an area the real estate developers hadn’t yet laid waste upon, I worked through a series of clearing turns followed by 180-degree steep turns to the left and right. The control forces are heavy, but it’s an honest bird, and let’s face facts: This is a traveling machine. One doesn’t hang a turboprop on such an airframe to go do steep turns and lazy-eights.
The next thing I did was a lazy-eight.
I wrapped up at the top of a climbing turn, and dirtied the bird up for an approach configuration, so I could feel things out. Walker suggested a Vref of 79 knots and she felt rock solid. He warned me that her nose would try to fall when I pulled power off in the flare, and he was right. The Harpoon, maxed out on elevator trim, is pretty much trimmed for approach speed and there’s nothing left going into the flare. But, a Cessna 182 with two big guys and fuel is just as bad or worse. “A go-around would be a major re-trim,” was the main seed that he planted in my mental garden. I filed it away and continued.
Playing with power settings, I was tooling around burning 30 gallons an hour or so, and probably making 150 knots. I didn’t have a notepad handy, and it’d have gotten soaked in sweat or drool by the time we were done. When he’s going someplace, Walker throws another 10 an hour onto the blaze. At altitude that makes for about 230 knots true. Granted, he’s up high and sucking oxygen to make that happen. This was a day for smelling cow pastures and chicken houses, though.
I flew the pattern using the same basic gear and flap configurations that I play with at work, and the Harpoon didn’t protest. The speeds, of course, were slower, but numbers don’t scare me, so long as there are colored arcs to go by.
On short final, I slowed to 79 or so, and over the runway I pulled back gently with my right hand on the power and a little more powerfully with my left hand on the yoke. I really could have used a seeing-eye dog to help find the runway, though. I rounded out a little high and gently mushed down until we found asphalt with a little thud. It wasn’t beautiful, but it wasn’t scary.

“Your first attempt to explain this airplane was the best,” I said. “It really is kind of like half of a 90-series King Air.”
That’s a heck of a compliment for a airplane that an outsider could call “cobbled together,” if they didn’t understand the detail and work involved. Walker’s Harpoon isn’t a one-of-a-kind plane. Wendell Hall turned out a half-dozen of these birds until one of the FAA decided that taking scrap airframes from the junkyard, putting huge engines on them, and flying into the sunset completely defeated the idea of the 51 percent rule. Granted, Wendell probably had more man-hours invested in each of these planes than the average RV builder, but the Feds are Feds. Wendell apologized and swore he’d never do it again.

He’s still in Cheraw, but his latest project is bigger, faster and even sexier: The man is restoring a Chance-Vought F4U Corsair.

You can’t keep a talented man down.

Thankful

November 22, 2012

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I have no idea what city  my laptop charger is in.  Detroit, probably.  I suppose its like blogging by candlelight. Happy Thanksgiving,  y’all.

Flat Russ comes to visit!

October 5, 2012

Dear Russ,

I bet you’ve been wondering what Flat Russ has been up to since you stuffed him in an envelope and sent him across the country to start his big trip!

His first few days in Georgia with Amy and me were not very exciting. The first day, he felt bad because of the time change and he’d been cooped up in the envelope for a while. California is a long way from Atlanta. We let him rest. The next few days, he helped around the yard and garden. We have three chickens and five garden boxes of vegetables growing in the yard. Flat Russ helped to feed the chickens and he pulled some of the weeds in the carrot patch.

Then, I had to go to work, and I brought Flat Russ along for the trip. He wasn’t happy when I woke him at 5:20 in the morning. That’s 2:20 in your time zone! We started in Atlanta, and once we got to the airplane, I let Flat Russ out of his envelope. WOW, did his eyes get big when he saw where he was.

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Here is Flat Russ, checking out the CRJ-200 that we’re about to fly for the next few days. While passengers often gripe about its small size, he says it’s much roomier than his envelope.

Did I mention that I’m an airline pilot? Flat Russ sat up front with me, and we flew from Atlanta to Columbus, Georgia, where the Army Rangers train. Several of the soldiers were on our plane, and Flat Russ liked their camouflage.  He says he would like to be a soldier if the Army ever starts letting flat people join.

On the flight back to Atlanta, I sat Flat Russ up on top of the instrument panel, right by the front windows. The view there is the best! We nearly hit a string of four Canadian Geese who flew out in front of us on takeoff. We dodged each other just in time though. Being flat sure makes it hard for Flat Russ to yell, but he pointed the birds out as soon as he saw them.

We passed through Atlanta, and then flew out to Columbus, Mississippi on the next flight. This Columbus is where the Air Force trains a lot of their fighter pilots. In fact, one of their training jets had blown up its engine, and the mechanics were fixing it not far from where we parked. Flat Russ and I stayed out of their way and let them work. Then, we flew back to Atlanta.

Our last flight of the day was to Lafayette, Louisiana.  Lafayette is in Bayou country and I had a hard time understanding what the nice people at the hotel tried to tell us. Flat Russ is a good listener, and even he didn’t know what they said. We checked into our rooms, and then we went to dinner. On the way, we crossed the Vermillion Bayou. Flat Russ wanted to pet an alligator, but we couldn’t find one.

Flat Russ wanted a hamburger, so we went to Whataburger. Whataburger is kind of like In-and-Out Burger, and Russ stole a bite of my onion rings when I wasn’t looking. He must have been hungry!

The next morning, we fired up the jet and went back to Atlanta, then on to Newport News, Virginia, and Tallahassee, Florida. Over the next few days, we also flew to Monroe, Louisiana, which is where Delta Air Lines began, and also to Asheville, North Carolina, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Shreveport, Louisiana. Everywhere we went, people complimented Flat Russ on his great behavior, sharp listening skills and his politeness. He said this part of the country is beautiful and that he likes the way people talk here.

When he gets home in May, he will teach you how to cook grits and to say “Y’all,” in its proper context.

Thank you for sending Flat Russ to visit. We had a fun time together and he is welcome back any time.

Sincerely,

Pasturepilot (and Amy1N)

Atlanta, Georgia.

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See Flat Russ slaving away in the garden? No, I don’t either. I think he went inside with Amy for some lunch. He did good work, though.

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Flat Russ quickly learned that the airlines don’t run so much on Jet Fuel as they do caffeine, cheap food and powerful coffee. I had to help him read the flight plan, but he helped me program the navigation computers.

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In Columbus, Mississippi, we got to watch mechanics change the engine in this jet that fighter pilots use for training.

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Flat Russ got the Flintstones’ reference in this approach plate for Atlanta. YABBA DABBA DOOOOOH!

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In Lafayette, Louisiana, we got to check out the Bayou Vermillion.

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Here’s another view of Lafayette’s Bayou Vermillion. We tried to find an alligator to wrestle, but the stars from “Swamp People” had already cleaned the place up.

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Rather than eat at the hotel, we took a little walk on one of the overnights. Here, we waited patiently for hamburgers at Whataburger. They were tasty, but Flat Russ said they’re not as good as In-And-Out burger.

 

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Flat Russ did, however, enjoy the onion rings.

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On the left is Lake Ponchatrain, the squiggle is the Mississippi River and the lights are the city of New Orleans on an early Sunday morning.

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We tried five flavors of frozen yogurt. The white chocolate chip macadamia nut was our favorite!

Engaged

September 29, 2012

Last week, Amy and I took a little trip to Charlottesville, VA for a few days of food, history and culture. We came home with a sparkly ring on her finger. She decided to keep me around!

In case you haven’t heard a good romance story lately, here you go.
In 1996, my high school band hosted a marching band contest. I was a band guide for Cleburne County High School. I spent the day hanging with their band, and several of their girls exchanged contact information with me. We stayed in touch, the old fashioned way. We wrote letters. You see, in rural West Georgia and East Alabama, technology was slow to descend on us. This was pre-internet. There was no social media. Dial-up access to America Online was just beyond the horizon for us, and long distance phone calls were still pricey for a family like mine.

To rattle off a few names, there was Amy and Pamela, both with red hair and freckles (still the most dangerous combination EVER), Ashley, Evette, Lisa and Paula. I exchanged sweet thoughts with a few of them; Amy and I actually went out on a few dates. Then, college graduation came along, and we scattered to the wind. Ashley ended up at the same university as me, we saw each other from time to time there.
Fast forward a decade. Social media pervades, and it seems like each week the “people you may know” window has another face from your past gazing your way. Amy found me on Facebook. Such-and-Such commented on Jeremy’s picture.

People have recently started copying and pasting a thing on Facebook, asking folks to hide their likes and comments from view. Don’t! That’s exactly how I got a second try with a high school sweetheart.

You see, Amy lived less than 10 minutes down the road from the apartment I was in. We got together for barbecue one night. She was coming out of a failing marriage; and it had really rattled her. I invited her to my Pampered Chef party that was coming up soon… she needed an excuse to smile.

She smiles pretty often, now.

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Don’t get me wrong, this has been a lot of work. There was a lot of emotional scarring she had to deal with from the failed marriage, and we started slow. But, there was just so much in common. We’d escaped the vacuum of our hometowns. We chased ambitions, saw the world, and settled in civilization. Our hearts and values, though, were still very much from the hometown. That’s something that’s just hard to find when you’re sitting in a bar hoping some great girl will just fall into your lap.

She helped me become the person I wanted to be, as well. When we re-united, I was at least 250 pounds. Probably 265. I drank too much. Most anything I cooked was heavily processed, bacon-wrapped, or cheese-stuffed. My roommate, Eric, was a pretty big guy, as well. We kept the thermostat on 62, or lower. Skinny guests wore sweaters. I sweated. There were massive problems in my future, if something didn’t change.

Things did change.

Amy volunteers with Crop Mob-Atlanta, and she eats all organic vegetables that are washed in hippie tears. She taught me how to eat. Last July, I started running. Then, I started logging my food consumption on a fitness app. Now, I’m not obese anymore. I’m not overweight anymore, either. I’m down to 180 pounds, about what someone my size should weigh. I haven’t been this size since middle school.

We decided to waste no time with a long engagement, either. December 1 – just a tad over two months from kneeling in dew-soaked grass with a ring, to married. We’re gonna have fun.

 

Overnighting In “The Show Me State.”

August 21, 2012
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My grandaddy told me to always dress nicely, use manners and say please and thank you. “You never know when you’ll be rubbing elbows with the Governor or somebody,” he said. Here I sit on the couch in the Governor’s office in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – We landed in Columbia, Mo. airport about 9:30 in the morning, and our work day was done. “Hey, we’re here in time to hit the free breakfast at the hotel,” I quipped. Now, Columbia isn’t the hot spot of great overnights that would spring to my mind if you asked me some of my favorites, but bear with me a minute. “Hey, I’ll call the kitchen and tell them to keep breakfast going for you, if you’re hungry,” the van driver said. “You get a coupon for free breakfast, but you leave tomorrow before the kitchen opens up.”

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And so that’s how I ended up with this view for breakfast today. Read more…

National Aviation Day

August 20, 2012

I celebrated with an hour ramp delay, gate return to deplane an angry passenger, another hour of delay and then vectors around a ton of weather. Two and a half hours’ block time to fly from Huntsville to Atlanta.  We could have drove that route more quickly if you include the hour we wasted at the gate.

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Enjoyed a nice sunset while we waited though.

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