An Excerpt from Eat, Knucklehead

Here’s an excerpt from Eat, Knucklehead, the new cookbook forthcoming from Craig Griffin, Chicago painter and baseball coach, and Publishing Genius, an independent press based in Atlanta. Griffin’s cookbook is unique in that it’s also a novella, told in the form of letters from an unnamed father to his son, a recent college graduate. In this chapter, “Knuckle Sandwich” Dad gets macho and tells some pugilistic stories, and then offers some recipes to accompany them.

Knuckle Sandwich

Hey Knucklehead, it’s your old man.

So your mother showed me the picture you posted on the thing. Helluva shiner, ol’ boy. Did you really go to the emergency room for a black eye? Your insurance agent loves you right now. Mom just reminded me your deductible’s steep. That’s right. Frozen peas are for black eyes, not ER nurses. Hang on. The old lady and I just had an argument about the seriousness of concussions. Good move going to the emergency room. If it’s not too much maybe Mom and me can help you out.

But what were you and the roommate doing, beating on each other anyway? Mom says video games? That can’t be true. I didn’t even know you play video games. I guess the sagest advice I can offer is, “Next time, duck.” I wonder whether you can even open your eyes wide enough to read this?

Strange that this all happened so soon after your cousin was assaulted at the bus stop. Aunt Kay said he wouldn’t let go of his new phone. Smart phone my ass — seems like they make everybody dumber. Nick has fifteen stitches and they still got his phone. At least he wasn’t brawling over some kind of pinball machine.

But you and your cousin got me thinking ‘bout that knockout summer of fifteen or so years ago, that knuckleheaded summer. Counting the two awful bookends — those boot-to-head, straight-up assaults on Steve and Will that were so bad I can’t even talk about them (and I’m sure you remember them vividly enough) — five of us, including your old man, took fists to our faces and ate some not-so-tasty knuckle sandwiches.

First, your Uncle Axle on vacation out west, getting adjusted at the tail end of that fine hippie soiree. Who knows exactly what he said to get that vegan in such a huff. His button-pushing, red meat-loving ass never knew when enough was enough. But come on, a vegan has a pet cow with sensibilities to offend in his garage? Anyway, you don’t need meat to pack a hefty wallop, and poor Axle was unconscious before his forehead scraped the front sidewalk.

So Axle’s tooth is barely capped when we get the call from Mac. He’d been in Copenhagan for the better part of the year doing some “writing.” Poor Mac’s nose got broke when the balled fist of one of his fellow degenerate bar-hopping lowlifes took offense at Mac not giving the bastard his wallet. Your uncle was so twisted up at all the blood and gore — and the fact that he’d just been drinking with his assailant — he could only look the would-be muggers in their faces and laugh. The damn maniac scared those Danish chumps off and kept his dough. Says he still breathes funny when it rains.

And then there was your dear old dad. You’ve heard the story enough times, I’m sure you could tell it by heart. Mom gave me a Saturday off when Andy and Danny were in town and the four of us, including Chuck, hit up a ball game in the city. You know how we are, we had one or five at the game, and decided to walk downtown and catch the fireworks show. We sure were some sentimental sonsuvbitches.

So I was horsing around, shoving old Dan around a bit, trying to get his dander up, and he was taking it with the usual even keel. Hard to get a rise out of that guy.

Except that day, once I’d let my guard down, Uncle Danny decided his moment had arrived. I never saw it coming, and when I came to, I was looking sideways at the oncoming foot traffic coming straight at my now throbbing head. Danny’d cold-cocked me, laid me out on Broadway like fish guts.

Needless to say I was sore, and as soon as the stars cleared, I put a hit out on your Uncle Dan, the sly bastard. The first person to sock him in his ugly mug earns my gratitude for life. Dan’s a wily cat, though. Managed to avoid the few attempts some brave souls made and soon everybody forgotten about the whole thing. Everybody but your old man, that is.

Well, wouldn’t you know but that hit came back just four weeks ago. Mac videotaped it on his phone and you can watch it on Youtube. Andy and Dan, with their better halves, spent the weekend at Mac’s for a balloon race or something. You wouldn’t believe it but Mac’s firecacker, Georgia, took Danny down with a clenched bunch of her tiny knuckles to the temple. Wily-cat sucker-punching Dan puked on himself. Once the smoke cleared, I think he was glad to finally be done with it. It’d been fifteen years!

Mom is tsk tsking all this talk of violence, and you know the old girl’s right as always. Really, pal, there’s no reason to use your fists (especially your fists) as a solution. Even if you do get the best of somebody, what have you got but something else to weigh on your conscious?

That said, if I ever get my hands on the idiots that broke Uncle Will’s head in I don’t know what I’ll do …

Deep breath, old man. Take a pull.

So in honor of all these stone-cold, broken knuckle knockouts, I’m sending along a few sandwich recipes. Grilled cheese the way you love it. The Shrimp Poor Boys. Remember, if you don’t want it to be the “Gone Fishin’ Egg Salad,” don’t add the onion, otherwise you’ll get dragon breath and the ladies will speak poorly of you when your back’s turned.

And of course you know the only way to make a proper PB&J is with — hang on, your mother’s hollering something. Oh yeah. She says give your cousin a call. You two never talk. Commiserating over your wounds is as good a reason as any to pick up the damn phone.

Be seeing you kid. Keep your left up.

Love ya,

Pa

P.S. Nevermind the PB&J. If you don’t know how to make one of those to your liking, I’m wasting a lot of time on these letters, sending them to a stale breeze.

DADDY’S LITTLE BABY’S GRILLED CHEESE

These go great with some homemade tomato bisque. Find a recipe for it.

Ingredients:

A good loaf of bread, sliced

Dubliner cheese, sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped small

Butter

For this recipe, you will need a SHARP KNIFE, a SPATULA and a FLAT PAN

  1. Butter one side of two pieces of bread.
  2. Get the flat pan heating over medium-high flame.
  3. Put a piece of bread, buttered side down, in the pan.
  4. Add a couple pieces of cheese.
  5. Sprinkle some garlic.
  6. Add the other piece of bread, butter side up.
  7. Flip with a spatula after a song and wait for the other side to brown and the cheese to melt.

MARGHERITA PIZZA BREAD

2 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped

Small puddle olive oil

Mozzarella cheese

Salt

Fancy, thick buns

For this recipe, you will need a SHARP KNIFE, a BIG BOWL, and a COOKIE SHEET

  1. Smash tomatoes into a juicy mess. Add olive oil, garlic and basil. Mix and let marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
  3. Slice Fancy Buns in half.
  4. Using your hands, squeeze the juices out of a handful of the tomato mixture, and spread it onto the bread.
  5. Add a handful of mozzarella cheese, and salt the top.
  6. Bake for ten minutes or until cheese is browned.

UNCLE TOMMY’S OPEN-FACED SLOPPY JOES

1 12oz. bag Morningstar of Boca meatless crumbles

1 medium-small onion, chopped into little pieces

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into little pieces

2 large cloves of garlic, chopped into very little pieces

Handful baby portabella, chopped

1 can of ketchup

Big spoon of yellow mustard

Small pile ground cumin

Small pile ground allspice

Small pile black pepper

Cayenne pepper

2 big spoons of brown sugar

Avocado slices

Sharp cheddar cheese slices

Kaiser rolls

Olive oil

For this recipe, you will need a FLAT PAN, a COOKIE SHEET, a WOODEN SPOON, and a SHARP KNIFE

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Heat a big puddle of olive oil and cook onions and peppers until the onions start to become clear and add garlic. Cook for a ten count, stirring all the while.
  3. Add the ketchup, mustard, spices, as much cayenne as you can stomach (I like a few shakes) and stir.
  4. Add the brown sugar and stir until everything starts to caramelize. You’ll know it’s ready when you scrape your spoon across the bottom, and you get a thickened, sizzling BBQ sauce.
  5. Add the still frozen pack of “meat” and stir it up. Cook it until it’s hot. It won’t take long. Turn off heat.
  6. Slice the Kaiser rolls so both halves are the same thickness, and with your fingers, bore out the halves until you have mini bowls. Uncle Tommy likes to feed the bread he scooped out to his pups but you know Good Girl never ate people food. Your mom and I rock paper scissors for it.
  7. Place the halves on the cookie sheet, and on each half, put a couple slices of avocado.
  8. Spoon some meat mixture onto the avocado, and then top with a slice of cheddar cheese.
  9. Bake on the TOP RACK until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Should only take a song or two.
  10. Enjoy with chips and a pickle.

SHRIMP POOR BOYS

Make the pickle sauce before the shrimp and put it in the fridge

1 pound pre-cooked small shrimp (can be frozen, but then thaw them first)

½ stick butter

1 clove garlic, chopped tiny

Small pile chili powder

Cayenne

3–4 big spoons mayo

6–7 baby dill pickles, chopped into pieces, plus a lil pickle juice

1–2 green onions, chopped into tiny pieces

Small bunch fresh dill, finely chopped

Dash Worcestershire sauce

Handful finely-grated sharp cheddar (optional)

Handful finely-chopped romaine lettuce.

Sandwich rolls

For this recipe, you will need a SHARP KNIFE, a FLAT PAN, and a SMALL BOWL

  1. For the pickle sauce, combine mayo, pickles, onion, dill, Worcestershire, and splash pickle juice in a bowl. Stir and place in fridge.
  2. Melt butter over medium-high heat.
  3. Add chili powder, garlic and cayenne to butter and stir to combine. Simmer for a fifteen count.
  4. Add shrimp and stir to coat with sauce. Reduce to heat to low and continue to stir, allowing the butter chili sauce to completely cover the shrimp.
  5. Cut your buns almost in half lengthwise, leaving them connected, and unfold.
  6. Spread some pickle sauce on half the bun then spoon some shrimp in there.
  7. Add some cheese and then some lettuce and serve.

GONE FISHIN’ EGG SALAD SANDWICH

If you want to eat these at home, especially if someone lovely is nearby, you might want to leave out the onions. But you know, the breath is rockin pretty hard after eating this sandwich any way you make it. That’s what the mint plant’s for.

6–10 Eggs, hard-boiled and peeled

1 small onion, chopped small

½ red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped small

2–3 Big spoons mayo

2–3 Big spoons spicy mustard

6–10 mini dill pickles, chopped small

Butter

Tiny pile garlic powder

Cayenne

Small bunch fresh dill, chopped

Salt

For this recipe you will need a FLAT PAN, a SHARP KNIFE, TWO SMALL BOWLS, and ONE LARGE BOWL

  1. Melt a small hunk of butter in the flat pan and stir in onions. Cook until they’re clear, then add garlic powder, couple shakes cayenne, dill and salt. Stir and remove from heat. Scoop into one of your small bowls and place in fridge to cool.
  2. Cut eggs in half. Place yokes in small bowl.
  3. Cut up egg whites into small pieces and put in large bowl.
  4. Mash up yokes, then add mayo and mustard. Stir until you get a creamy paste. If you need to add more mustard and mayo as you like.
  5. Combine yoke mix and egg whites with pickles. Stir in chilled onion mixture.
  6. Serve on your favorite bread or cracker.

SMO BRO

When we visited our distant Danish relatives, I couldn’t get these open-faced sandwiches off my mind. The way you do it: set out all the ingredients on plates and let everybody build their own. And yeah, I know. Pickled herring can be an acquired taste. Acquire it.

Dark rye bed, sliced

Spicy mustard

Red bell pepper, sliced

Sweet onion, sliced

Cucumber, sliced

Pickled herring

Smoked trout

Spicy mustard

Veggie pate (See recipe)

Mayo

Dill

Clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper

You will need a bunch of SMALL BOWLS and SMALL PLATES

  1. Combine a small amount of mayo with a little dill and the garlic. Add some salt and pepper and stir.
  2. Spread some mustard or mayo or pate on the bread, add some trout or herring, and garnish with a sliced vegetable or two.

VEGGIE PATE

I’m going to use traditional measurements for this recipe. I mean, you can probably come up with some measuring spoons and cups, right? Borrow them from your good-looking neighbor. Plus there are some strange ingredients here.

3/4 cup dried green lentils

3 cups water

1 bay leaf

3 big spoons olive oil (divided use)

1 small, yellow onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon mirin

Big handful walnuts, toasted and cooled

Small bunch fresh basil, plus extra for garnish, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, chopped

3 tablespoons yellow miso

1 1/2 tablespoons umeboshi paste

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For this recipe, you will need a FLAT PAN, a SMALL POT, a FOOD PROCESSOR a COOKIE SHEET, and THREE PLATES.

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚. Toast the walnuts on a cookie sheet in an oven for a few songs. Remove from oven and spread on a plate to cool.
  2. In the small pot, combine the lentils, water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender but not falling apart, about half a Big Star album. Keep an eye on them.
  3. Drain the lentils and spread on a plate. Stick them in the refrigerator to cool.
  4. In the flat pan, heat a small puddle of oil over medium-high heat, and cook the onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until the onions are a nice golden color. When done, stir in the mirin, remove from heat and spread on a plate to cool in the fridge.
  5. Pour the walnuts in a food processor and puree until it looks like nut butter, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
  6. Add the cooled lentils and the onion mixture and puree smooth. Add in the herbs, miso, umeboshi, pepper, and a big spoon of olive oil, and blend until smooth.
  7. Eat it with a little mustard spread on a piece of rye bread with a red pepper slice.