Voices    Food + Drink

Stu Helm’s Top Tens: Fat life

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@StuHelmFoodFan // Philly from the Food Stop

By: Stu Helm, a professional food writer in Asheville + guide with Asheville Food Tours.

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Okay, folks, now that tourist season is in full swing, I’m busier than ever, working for Asheville Food Tours three or four days a week, plus… doing…  um… all the other various things on my super-crucial to-do list… in my incredibly full and important life…like… mowing my lawn. Yeah. #sigh #truestory I spend three days out of every week mowing my dang lawn all summer.

And holy moly, the rain, and sun seem to have conspired against me this year! Grass! Stahhhp! You’re growing too fast!!! I know, I know, I could let my grass grow longer, and I cut it less often, and a lot faster if I just used a power mower. Yerp. That’s right, I use a push mower. Or what’s more accurately known as a “reel” mower. The kind that your Great Grandpa might have used. No engine, no gas, no electricity, no power source at all, except for my own two feet, and the sweat of my brow… and neck, and back, and torso, etc etc. Good gawd. Lotta sweat. Lotta lotta sweat… and work… and calories burned.

Go ahead and ask me “Why aren’t you fat?”

Weird question, but I get asked it several times a week. When I tell people that I’m not fat because I mow my lawn, they chuckle like I’m joking, but I am not. If I try to have an actual discussion about my opinion that fossil fuels are one of the culprits behind America’s obesity issues, it gets a little too heavy a little too quickly, and people get all defensive and stuff, so I just let them chuckle.

I’m fairly convinced, however, that because I party like it’s 1899 (I also don’t own a car), I do burn an actual, literal ton of calories every year, just by mowing my lawn, walking everywhere, and doing regular yard work and household tasks using non-power tools… otherwise known as tools. So yay, I’m not fat, and bonus, I feel free to eat like a pig, so here are my Top Ten High Fat / High Calorie Foods That I do Not Give a (beep) About Eating Because I Mowed My Dang Lawn Today.” 

1) ICE CREAM

Gim. Want. More. I would eat ice cream every day if… well, actually… I do. It’s true! Just about. I mean, I skip days here and there, and I’ve even gone entire weeks without ice cream (dark times), but let me put it this way: When I first moved to Asheville, I lived very close to the original Hop Drive-Thru (now Yolo). I would ride my bike there so often, that once, when I skipped it for two days, then went back, they asked me where I had been. TWO DAYS!  My top two ice cream makers in Asheville are, and always will be, The Hop and Ultimate Ice Cream. I love them equally and will never vary from that position, ever, for as long as I live.

At The Hop, try their Blueberry Kale ice cream for a delightful and surprising flavor combo, or their Salted Caramel for a neo-classic done perfectly right. At Ultimate, go straight for their Maple Bacon ice cream. The name says it all, and who cares if the fat content is through the frickin’ roof. I mowed my dang lawn today.

2) COCONUT MILK 

I’m weird. I will straight-up eat coconut milk right outta the can, with a spoon. Add some honey, mix in some chia seeds, and daaaaaaag, that’s some yummy stuff, and it’s practically health food, right? Yeah, no. I know. coconut milk has a fat content comparable to pork belly, so nahhhht ezzactly the healthiest of breakfasts, though not the unhealthiest either! #icecreamforbreakfast

I also love coconut milk in savory dishes, and will recommend the Panang Curry at Blue Dream Curry House to you, especially if you are a novice to the world of curry. The Panang is creamy, dreamy, coconut-milky, slightly sweet, a little bit spicy, and very accessible to the Southern palate, if you ask me. It’s also not exactly skimping on the fat and calories, but I’m about to chop down a tree with a hatchet, so I think I can afford to eat a little bit of curry… or a bucketful. YUM!

3) HAMBURGERS 

I refer you to the on-going 2018 Asheville Burger Survey that I am compiling on Ashvegas. There are 14 different burgers listed & ranked in my survey so far, and that’s not even close to enumerating the actual number of burgers I’ve consumed since January 1st, because I have certainly doubled-and-tripled-down on some of the ones listed, and not every burger I’ve eaten has made the list just yet, or will at all.

The one my step-dad made for family dinner night was a 5-star burger, for example, but prob won’t make it into the survey. Everyone kinda knows by now that Bhramari makes my number one burger in Asheville, but my current infatuation is the wild, weird, and wonderful Oytserhouse Burger over at Oysterhouse Brewery in West Asheville. Yes, it has oysters on it. And yes, it puts the FAT in infatuation. But, since I frickin’ WALKED to West Asheville, I think it’s okay for me to take in a gram or two of fat… for the walk home.

@StuHelmFoodFan // Fried Chicken Sandwich from Sand Hill

4) FRIED CHICKEN 

Did you follow the first-ever Asheville Fried Chicken Challenge on my Facebook page last month? Eight restaurants went head-to-head, in a tournament-style contest, at the end of which the people of Asheville had picked their favorite fried chicken sandwich from among the eight.

I, of course, tried them all. Plus a whole lot more. I grew up in the North, where – I don’t know if you Southerners are aware – fried chicken is a popular dish! Haha! Shhhh… Settle down. I know fried chicken is a Southern thing, but I grew up eating it too, and it’s one of my fave foods on the planet.

The winner of the 2018 Asheville Fried Chicken Challenge was Sand Hill Kitchen way over on Sardis Road in West Asheville, and I do not disagree with the people of Asheville on their choice. It’s a beautiful sandwich, a prepared and presented in a beautiful way. Not a “light bite” by any means, but I think a few turns around the lawn in a the blazing hot sun ought to sweat some of that sando outta me.

5) 1/2 & 1/2 

I drink a gallon or more of 1/2 & 1/2 about every two weeks. Straight out of the carton… just kidding. I don’t do that, but I drink a lot of coffee, and I use 1/2 & 1/2 in my coffee, plus I also use it to make mac ‘n’ cheese on a regular basis, and anything else that calls for milk in a recipe.

I also add it to my ice cream. Yes, I do. First I put the ice cream in a bowl (cups are suckers) and then I pour 1/2 & 1/2 directly on top of it. Stir it all up, and YUM! Best thing ever. I use Organic Farms 1/2 & 1/2 and have for years. It’s my go-to.

@StuHelmFoodFan // Philly from the Food Stop

6) CHEESESTEAKS 

Right now I’m in the middle of organizing the 2018 Asheville Philly Fight, which is the first of its kind. Six competitors, three judges, one awesome delivery service, will be helping to determine who has the best Philly in Asheville!

Takeout Central is my co-conspirator on this fun contest, in which each competitor will make and wrap two cheesesteaks to go, the delivery drivers will pick them up, and bring them all to an as yet undisclosed location, where the judges will judge them. There are no rules for either the judges or the competitors. Strada Asheville, Sand Hill Kitchen, Fairview Tavern, Mojo Kitchen and Lounge, The Underground Cafe, and Cúrate are the six contenders. I was unable to get my favorite Philly vendor involved for this one, but Glenn from The Food Stop food truck said he’d be up for the challenge in the next go around.

FYI, a Philly is always a cheesesteak, but a cheesesteak is not always a Philly. To me, Glenn’s Philly seems spot on with meat, American cheese, peppers, onions, and nothing else on a soft, white, lightly grilled roll. I eat one almost every Sunday on my walk home from leading a walking food tour all day. Get it? Lotta walking = caloric reward.

@StuHelmFoodFan // Cake from 50/Fifty Heart of Dessert

7) SWEEEEETS! 

I like to use the word “sweets” in the most generic way possible to encompass all of the baked and whipped and frosted and sugary treats that I toss down my food-shute on a daily basis. Cookies, chocolates, a canoli. What have you. As always, I highly recommend Karen Donatelli Cake Designs, 50 / Fifty the Art of Dessert, and Kali Cakes for the best pastries, confections, and cakes in town, but let me also introduce you to Chef Jill Worthy, AKA The Worthy Baker, who makes theee sweetest sweets in all of Asheville. She’s online only for now, but when she bursts on the retail scene, you will know, because the air itself will become 33% sweeter when she opens her doors. If you look her up, and order from her, I highly recommend her “ganache” line of cookies.

Chocolate, Lemon, Key Lime, and Salted Caramel ganache cookies that are so big, and so sweet, it takes me three days ot eat one. If I wasn’t about to pull small bushes out of the ground all day with my bare hands, I’d be slightly worried about getting chubby from Jill’s cookies.

8) FRENCH FOOD 

One word: Vivian. I gave it a stellar review when it first open in January of 2018, and if you haven’t tried it yet, please do! It’s down in the River Arts District, where The Junction used to be, and it’s destined for greatness in my opinion. It’s classic French cuisine, without a twist! Which means it’s loaded with butter and cream and lard and fat of all kinds, Yyyeeeaaahhh, Man! The menu changes a lot, but I just looked at it online, and the thing I recommend is still on there: The Souffle Omelette with Crab Neuburg.

It’s to die for. But since Vivian is at the bottom a very steep hill, that I must trek back up to get home, I’m walking off at least a few of those calories de France.  

9) CAAAAARBS 

Low carb diet? Just kill me now. I love carbs! I live on them. Carbs, fat, sugar, and caffeine are the four pillars that hold up the household of my soul.

I once tried to go without bread. I didn’t make it through the meal. Bread was just about the first thing that people figured out how to cook, way back in the Flintstones days. You think they served those brontosaurus burgers a la South Beach? “Paleo” my ass! If the cavemen could have eaten their cheesesteaks on a hoagy, they would have definitely done that.

They weren’t voluntarily opting to go carb-free and neither am I. Carb me. My favorites carbs are in the form of bread, and my favorite bread right now is coming from The Rhu on S. Lexington Ave. Their Chapata bread  – a spanish version of more well-known Italian Ciabatta – is my current jam. Mmm…  Jam. I will eat every scrap of bread in the house, because this body runs on carbs, and I sure as heck don’t sit still long enough for a piece of bread to convert itself into a fat particle. That seems like crazy talk to me.

10) WHATEVER THE HECK I DANG WELL PLEASE  

Yep. I eat like a Hedonist and a garbage disposal had a baby and named it Stu. I was raised to believe that people will die faster worrying about every little thing you eat than they will just eating whatever they want. And while that’s not exactly hard science, I live by that family tradition. Buhhht… I don’t eat a lot of processed foods, corporate foods, or fast foods, because for the most part, I don’t like that stuff.

I eat some trashy foods, for sure, but about 90% of my diet, as high fat and calorie as it is, consists of free range, hormone free, locally grown, organically and ethically raised meat, eggs, dairy, grains, and produce. That, combined with the fact that I mowed my dang lawn for the THIRD time this week, plus walked to work, walked FOR work, and then walked home, then walked back downtown to eat… whatever the heck I dang well please… means that I’m not fat. Yet.

I ain’t sayin’ that I’ve got it all figured out, or that there isn’t a small layer of chub starting to grow around my 52 year-old torso, but I am saying that if you’re gonna ask me “why aren’t you fat,” you’re either going to hear a bunch of lies about going to the gym, having good genes, and taking small bites, or the truth about how I mowed my lawn and hand-sawed some wood today. BOOOOORING, but true.

Anyhoo, I hope that your take away from this list is the delicious food that I recommended throughout. Please go try every bite!