WOW! The windy city has been a whirlwind to say the least!!! It feels like I just arrived at O’Hare, and now it’s time for me to go. Where did the time go??? I’ll tell you….98% of it was spent in the kitchen at Graham Elliott’s. The other 2% was spent having 2 days off in a two week time period. In those 2 days, I had more fun than most people have in a month…maybe even a year depending on how boring their lives are.
Before I get into the “last night in the kitchen” details….I have some stories to share. With the help of Kamila Morisco’s fant-tab-u-lous photos, we’ll take a journey and begin with last Sunday. This post is much longer than my traditional kitchen posts: beware. If you’re going to commit, commit…if not…then just check back later for something else that floats your fancy.
So…Tony Scruggs and his lovely wife Cheryl, live out in the countryside of Illinois. Since Tony is a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in months, I’m making sure to swing by his farm before I leave Chicago. Good people and fresh countryside air, here I come!!!!
Scattered and disorganized from a late evening the night before, the Morisco’s and myself are trying to get out the door and on our way. We’ve decided to aim high and shoot for 9:30am train. It’s 9:00am. We’re nowhere near the train, and we’re on foot chasing after taxis, who, for some reason refuse to pick us up (the five of us probably look like loonies so they decide to pass by us— they’re probably thinking we’re not worth the fare). We have an idea of where we’re going, but no clue what we need to do once we get there… really it’s beyond hysterical. We’re like the 3 stooges plus 2. Once we arrive at the train station we’re completely out of breath from hustling. It’s 9:20—-we’re excited, we’re thinking we made the train. Nope!!! No such luck. There wasn’t even a 9:30 train!!!! We read the schedule wrong or we read a schedule for an entirely different train. Seeing as we have an hour before the actual departure, we walk around outside then in the train terminal…
I guess it’s a posh little train station? Not sure, I have only been exposed to the L, the T, and Amtrak… I’m drawing my assumptions from Giuseppe’s reactions because he can’t help but declare his deep feelings of love regarding this station. With his Italian accent my friend throws it out… “Kamila, maybe we should come here one Friday night…you know to hang out?” Kamila, shakes her head. She knows her husband. She throws on a smirk, then rolls her eyes…the look of absurdity on her face says it all.
(Giuseppe describing the loveliness of the train station. Me, in awe over the fact that he seems serious about the station…jaw dropped and all)
We’re now on the 10:30am train with one hour of travel until we reach our destination. Halfway through our ride I burst out with my daily “WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE????” Today, it’s a small outburst…the morning hustle was dramatic enough. Like always the Morisco’s try to help me answer this very serious question.
(Giuseppe pondering the proper strategy for my future success.)
Giuseppe’s pretty sure he has the answer!!! He is going to promote the lesser-known parts of Italy…travel, lodging, restaurants, craftsmen… basically explore Italy the way it should be explored and then share it properly with the world. He thinks I am a decent writer (keep in mind Italian is his first language when it come to speaking and reading), so he tells me I can just follow him and Kamila around Italy and write. I can just write about him! Giuseppe is pleased as he is sure my life’s quest has finally been answered: Tracy Kontos will be Giuseppe Morisco’s personal writer.
Ok, I should share that Giuseppe and Kamila are two of the funniest people I know. Writing about their journey would undoubtedly lead anyone to a best selling comedic novel. With that said, I think I need to start with my own US adventure… one with a little more grit.
Finally the train has reached the last stop. We’re all still immersed in conversation, not even realizing we have reached our destination. In fact the conductor comes to our car, and pleasantly reminds us that this is our stop, we’ve been sitting there for 5 minutes, and we should now get off his train…he was polite, I’ll give him that.
We’re so excited to see TONY!!!! He’s waiting right outside of the station…I’m lucky enough to get a gi-normous hug, then we’re off to his house in the farmland…
On the way to his house, he stops on the side of the dirt road. Tony mentions seeing some wild asparagus growing around the area. We hop out of the car and into the overgrown bush. Voila, wild asparagus!!! We harvest the stalks and off we go back to his house…ahhhhh the country. (While in Chicago the only wild nature I had seen were the alley rats…so this really is a treat for me.)
When we arrive at Tony’s house, we’re greeted first by a goat…she’s right out front and not easy to miss.
The day is freezing cold, blustery, and damp….Cheryl, (Tony’s wife: aka sous chef extraordinaire) is indoors helping to prepare the feast we’re about to have for lunch.
If you don’t already know Tony Scruggs, let me help you out. Tony is an Illinois BBQ champion, a grand prize, first place, lean mean (ok not really mean) smoking machine! If someone is looking to master the world of BBQ, then Tony is the man they’re looking for. His knowledge on everything BBQ ranges from the special types of woods, ingredients, techniques, etc…it blows me away. I am wayyyyyyyyy out of my cooking league here. Our discussion moves from BBQ to life.
Inside the walls of his wonderful home, there are trophies and ribbons to commemorate his talent in the world of BBQ. There are also trophies of a different kind…his family pictures. He and Cheryl have amassed a wealth so great, others can only hope to find something similar or even close in their lifetime. They are rich in love with one another and their family. Tears are brought to my eyes when I see their pride in showing the pictures of their children, along with the pictures of their grandchildren. It’s beautiful and to be honest, I have no words to describe it. I think with a little luck I might be able to describe Cheryl, however I may still not do her justice.
When I first met the tiny Cheryl Scruggs I instantly adored her…then, throughout the day, I couldn’t help but like her more and more. She’s just a phenomenal woman with personality larger than her physical size. She and Tony have been together since their teenage years. Over the years she has been the sous chef to Tony’s BBQ conquests. We joked that she is the true kitchen manager running the line…I don’t doubt this for a second. She is a caretaker and it’s evident the moment you meet her.
So lunch is ready…Tony started smoking ribs at about 5am, and they’re just now tender enough to now be pulled out of the smoker. With a plate of ribs, some sweet potatoes dressed with a bit of blue cheese…we’re ready to lose ourselves in BBQ heaven
After lunch we decide to continue our conversation in the garage…everything Tony has in there is a conversation piece. From stuffed porcupines, to antlers, to old bait cans…being in that garage made me feel like a kid again, discovering little pieces of the past.
While digging through the treasures, I had a chance to tell Tony how much I loved the goat outside…he shared an interesting and perhaps one of my new favorite stories…It’s about the Goat and the Hen.
The Goat lives outside, a good distance away from the hen house. Months ago this Hen started keeping her distance from the main hen residence…Tony swears she just didn’t feel comfortable around the other hens. She didn’t fit in. She wasn’t happy with the other hens. So, this Hen would always be hanging around the goat. Next thing you know, the Hen has eggs that need to be laid. She utterly refuses to go to that hen house to lay her eggs. Instead she moves into the Goat’s house, completely unannounced, and lays her eggs. One chick survived, and now the Hen, her chick, and the Goat all live together in the Goat house. In fact, the Goat is protective of the Hen and would not let me even enter the house to take her photo. They’ve become a family despite the fact that it is Completely unorthodox. Guess what… it works.
So friends, after a fun day in the country side, we now come to the after-school special/moral of story: Should you find yourself in a situation like the Hen, take action…and what the heck, screw the hen house. Life always works itself out.