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Cook What You Catch

admin | February 19, 2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (11)

I haven’t even tackled the task yet, and already I am one of the best jokes of 2009 for my band brothers:  “The economy has gotten so bad…even JEFF is cooking!”

NO, Jeff is TALKING about cooking.  I have no skillet, no knives, no experience.  There’s no need to look in the pantry to assess groceries; I’m quite sure the proverbial cupboard is bare.

“How can you not know how to cook?” I’m asked.  Practice.  I’m a well-trained non-cook.  I don’t remember much cooking at home as a kid.  I worked in restaurants all through college.  Played in bands after that, and as things improved, fast food became better restaurants and then catering in arenas.

I don’t know the first thing about cooking.  I don’t know where to even find the first thing.  Every so often, I’ve tried to get those wheels turning, but confusion and overwhelm quickly grinds them to a halt.  I’ve even looked through the “Cooking for Dummies” sections at Borders bookstore, but I never seem to find the book that’s dumb enough for me.

But things are changing.  They have to.

At this point, I’ve already made my way to Florida to spend, or avoid, Valentine’s Day. In less than two days, I’ve gone toe-to…FIN…with a “Mike Tyson-esque” amberjack on my first deep-sea fishing expedition and won.  I’ve wrapped him and packed him for our return to Nashville following my completion of the 2009 Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon, and I’ve run a personal best for the distance.  Yea me.

But NOW…it is time to truly dig deep…and face the truly frightening.

It’s not about the cooking for me.  It’s about completing the journey.  Seeing it through.  I can’t travel across the country to go fishing for valentines, fight through the battle to find and ultimately land this treasure…and then just shrug my shoulders, cut the line, and toss it aside.

I don’t want a trophy for the wall.  I don’t need to increase my tally so I can say, “I caught another one.”  I just want to know that I embraced what I never knew, didn’t shy away from what I’ve never experienced, and was fearless enough to see it all the way through.

Cook what you catch.  Reach the finish line.  I can do this.

Captain Tommy insists this is an easy way to go: beat 2 eggs and then fill the bottom of a pan with canola oil; then, bread with Progresso bread crumbs and fry on each side until brown. Don’t walk away from the pan!!!  Stove on 6 if electric.

I’m gonna blow something up.  I just know it.  Set a fire.  I pull out a box of baking soda from the refrigerator and set it on the counter, just in case.

I’ve turned up the stove to heat the oil…but how will I know if it’s hot enough?  I called a girlfriend of mine to ask, and she explains the “flick water drops into the oil to see if it pops” routine.  I’d seen this on TV before, but though impressed by MacGyver’s ability to defuse a bomb with Liquid Paper and a toothpick, I wasn’t prepared to trust his insights in my kitchen without talking to her first.

Flick.  Pop.  Pop.  Here we go…


I lay the fish in the pan, and the sizzling begins.  As the fish cooks, I microwave some scalloped potatoes I made that afternoon.  That hadn’t been so intimidating.  It had been slower, quieter.  Read right off the box, covered, and placed calmly into the oven.  This frying game is HOT, LOUD, and LIVE!

POP!  What was that?  Lift with a spatula…not black.  That’s good, right?…

I grab some pre-washed spinach and some raspberry vinaigrette dressing.  Cherry tomatoes.  Salad construction.  Hey, if I’m gonna try to do this, let’s do it right.

I think that’s brown enough.  Flip it over.  So far so good…

I take a look over the virgin deflowering of my kitchen and wonder if I can possible recover from the mess I’ve created before my next road trip.  I’ve only got a few days, and I’ve done quite a number on the place.

No way.  Did I actually do this?  I lift the fish from the pan…turn the temperature to “off.”  Deal with the dishes later.  Build the plate…


I sit down on the sofa, fork in hand, and prop my feet up with my newly assembled dinner in my lap.  As I take another bite, I notice photographs on the fireplace mantle of two of my first Team McGraw marathon teams.  One would think that the cheering fans at the finish line of a 26.2-mile marathon, after months and years of training and pain and perseverance and strain, would echo much louder and longer than the sound of oil poppin’ in a pan across the room…

…but, well…let me just say…I’m pretty proud of myself right now.


Fishing for Valentines

admin | February 14, 2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (11)

Nobody wants to be out on the road for every holiday.  But it happens.  I remember having Thanksgiving in hotels attached to small clubs “back in the day,” before we had hits…and before we could say “we aren’t working on Thanksgiving.”

It’s the music business.  It’s SHOW business.  Sometimes, it’s the holiday that makes the show…and sometimes, the show just happens to fall on the holidays.  It’s just how it works with what we do.

Take this morning.  Lots of folks started this morning – (or should have, guys) — with breakfast in bed for their wives.  Kids were waking up moms with homemade Valentines cards, and sweethearts were waking up to deliveries and gifts from admirers known and unknown across the country.

In my world, I woke up from a nap on a bus parked in the middle of the track of the Daytona 500.  Grabbed a cup of coffee from a table in the middle of the parking lot…and stumbled groggily to a flatbed trailer of a stage.  Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors are kicking off the race with songs from our new “Southern Voice” album, it’s on TV, and we’ve got a sound check to do before we perform for an audience.

Valentine's Day: 2010

Not so last year.  We were off…but sitting around at home over Valentine’s weekend, even if I could, wandering back and forth from room to room and intermittently jumping online to be find someone’s idyllic storytelling of romance or syrupy anecdote of the lovelorn rescued by Match.com just wasn’t crankin’ my motor.

I did jump online to search “half marathons, February 14.”  I don’t recall finding anything.  I did find a few options for “February 15,” but most were too far from Nashville.  Then I found “Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon”…and a road trip began to form.

A buddy wanted to tag along and visit family in Sarasota, so the drive would be shared.  Another buddy lived there and suggested possibly deep-sea fishing on the Saturday before the February 15 race.  I had really just been looking for a place to run, but in a weird way, it all started to fall together.

Valentine's Day: 2009

Yep. I was goin’ fishing. On Valentine’s Day. To me, it made sense.

Not that I had ever GONE fishing before; I had only the foggiest recollection of going fishing with my grandfather once as a child.  This would be, for all practical purposes, a “first” for me.

I googled “deep sea fishing” and “Sarasota, Florida” and pulled a fishing trip at random.  Placed a call to see if a space was available, as I was going solo.  The fella on the phone didn’t have an opening, but he wandered up and down the pier – (as there are strings of folks that do these all along the coast) – and found a colleague that had a spot.

Awesome; I’d be headed out with Captain Tommy Tinacci from Catch the Spirit Sport Fishing to bring home some amberjack.  I didn’t know what amberjack was, either…but I could google that, too.

I found a description on a website for Light Tackle Fishing in Key West, Florida.  They referred to amberjack as “solid muscle, the “Mike Tyson of the fish world.  According to the site, amberjack “fight dirty and never know when to give up.”  So, if I hooked one of these suckers, it would be between me and him, and I had better be packin’ my “don’t quit.”

Cool; I had already packed it for the half marathon anyway.

I arrive at the dock before dawn for our early morning departure.  Captain Tommy rallied the troops and our boat headed out pronto.  I wasn’t feeling especially chatty and found a corner of the boat where I could embrace the morning wind in my face and the best view of the sunrise.

It was beautifully melancholy and, at the same time, invigorating.  Deep breath. This is good.

After a couple of false starts and “no luck” fishin’ holes, Captain Tommy anchored our boat in what would be my battleground.  He set up a fishing rig for me – (again, I’m the rookie of our crew) – and walked me through the “if you feel this, pull hard to set the hook…and go to work.”

Captain Tommy Tinacci of Catch the Spirit Sport Fishing in Sarasota, Florida.

I felt it.  I pulled hard.  I set the hook.  Here we go.

To say “Jack” was not especially interested in joining me in our boat is an understatement.  When I hooked him, he took off..and fast. I wondered what would happen if he carried out all the line on my reel.  Then he took a turn and I felt the line slack a bit…so I started reeling him in.

I imagined myself on one of those fishing shows on The Outdoor Channel: ride up slowly with the rod, keeping the line taught, then lean forward to create just a hint of give such that I could turn the handle, once, twice, three times perhaps…and do it again.  And again.  And again.

Jack and I had been at it for probably twenty minutes when Captain Tommy offered, “If you are getting tired, you can hand me the rod.”  Seriously?  Not gonna happen.  Look, Cap’n, while I would not pretend to have won every challenging situation I’ve confronted…even when I lose, I don’t go down easily.

Now come here, you rascal! Another twenty minutes and “Jack” was in the boat.  Success.  “Sorry, ‘Jack.’  Oh…and Happy Valentine’s Day.”

The rest of our boat each scored one as well; I was the only one to be catching his first.  And as this trip was “full service,” the captain explained that each of our catches would be filleted and wrapped such that we could carry them home to our respective freezers for a proper dining experience.

Oh.  HUH.  In the eighteen years I’ve lived in Nashville, I’d used my kitchen…let’s see…never.  But after winning the long, hard fight with my saltwater scoundrel, I hardly wanted to find myself deterred by the idea of seeing this journey all the way through.

Stunned at the mere thought, I took my wax-wrapped winnings, iced ’em down in a Styrofoam cooler, and resolved not to even contemplate the next steps until I got home.

Until after the half marathon.  That, I was ready for.  I had the rugged for the run, the strength for the struggle.

But …cooking?


Snowbound: Shopping Cart Resistance Training

admin | February 12, 2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (5)

Nashville doesn’t get a lot of snow.  When it does snow, things can really shut down.  Honestly, there are times when just the rumor of a winter onslaught puts everyone in high gear…without even a lick o’ snow on the radar.

Schools are closed because it might.  Plans are cancelled because it could.  And grocery stores, those suckers find themselves immediately overwhelmed with folks preparing for the countless days locked away in their homes with no means of contact with the civilized world…just in case.

There are the others…undeterred…seemingly unaware of the fact that roads covered in snow are a bit more treacherous than dry ones.  “Slow down?  Why?  I done threw a spare tire in the back of the truck to weight it down; I’m good.”

Uh…okay.

Well, Nashville got hit pretty good recently.  Good at least for us.  I’ve already received multiple “hardy points” as a Texas native/Tennessee resident having braved the dead of winter in Minnesota, so it doesn’t shake me up too much.  But we do wind up with nasty roads, abandoned vehicles, and icy sidewalks all over Music City.

Not really conducive to a runner whose wardrobe goes just deep enough for one real good snow a year.

So as I ponder exactly what the day’s training is to be, I ease my way over to Starbucks and find countless shopping carts stranded and stuck in ice and slush throughout the adjacent grocery store parking lot.  They won’t roll; they’re just kinda all forced out of the way.

When that high school bagger/checker kid with the open windbreaker makes his way out to the cart stand – (Zip it up, dude; it’s like…TEN DEGREES!) – his “push all the carts for me” machine ain’t gonna work, and he’s gonna have to do them all by hand, one at a time, while the wind cuts straight through him.

He’s screwed.

So I grab one of the carts.  It pulls right, then left, and I can feel my abs and hip flexors, well, flexing, as my stabilizing mechanisms engage.  Push it forward, can’t, shove, there it goes, whoa, lower back flex, might slip, calf flex so I don’t, easy, steady.  Whew.  That was tough.

I think of my local running cohorts, each wondering if they will get out today “in all this.”  Figure they could just drop by here…get some resistance training in.  Probably wouldn’t get ‘em what they might get at the gym, but it’s somethin’.  Besides, if they DON’T get out by the end of the day, before it gets dark and everything refreezes…they’ll at least feel better about themselves having helped out the kid in the windbreaker.

Besides…the gym is closed down for the weekend.  Snow.

I go back for another cart.