By Robert St. John
It’s great to be home. I have spent the last two months overseas. First in Spain leading a group of 25 enthusiastic Americans from the top to the bottom of that country while filming an upcoming television show. Then I spent a month or so in Tuscany leading tours for three weeks, and with a group of friends the final week. I’ve been home for six days. The adjustment back to Central Daylight Time in America has been easier than normal.
Typically, I spend the first week to 10 days waking up at two or three in the morning for a few days and then three or four in the morning for a few days. Eventually my internal clock adjusts, and I get back to my 5:00 AM routine. I’m not sure why, but I adjusted quickly this time, and it only took a couple of days to get back in the groove.
I love traveling in Europe and leading tours. But I love being home even more. I once had an uncle and aunt who spent a lot of time in France. They had a house in Paris and a cottage in the countryside in Normandy. Anytime they came to visit, all they could talk about was France and how great it was, and how everything over there was better than it is over here. It was obnoxious. They spoke French to each other in front of us, and I am the only one in the family who knows any French, and the only French I can speak is menu French. They were insufferable Francophiles.
I love Italy. I love the Italian people. I love the food, I love the countryside, and I love the history. But I love my home in Mississippi more. I am a Mississippian at heart and that will never change. I will return to Italy in the fall and lead six different groups. Some will be through Rome and Amalfi and several in Tuscany. Next spring I will be leading tours in Tuscany as well as Spain, and Holland and Belgium. But I am a Mississippian traveling abroad. I have none of that loathsome desire to push Italy on other people as my aunt and uncle did with France years ago.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I don’t know who “they” are, but they are spot on. I am happy to be back. I love being home. I love it so much I made a list of all the things I love most about being home. These may seem like small things to some. But they are all quality-of-life components for me.
10.) Driving My Truck. Most people that know me wouldn’t peg me as a truck driver. I don’t hunt much, I barely fish, and I don’t drive in the woods. But a truck suits my style of driving. I don’t slow down for speed bumps. I run off the road often. I bump into curbs, and I drive hard, fast, and aggressive. I really could care less what I drive, if it’s comfortable, durable, and has good air conditioning and a great sound system.
9.) My Bed— Even when I didn’t have any money, I always spent what I could on a good mattress. For anyone who gets eight hours sleep that ends up being a third of your life. I’ve always felt that a substantial investment should go into the piece of furniture you’re going spend a third of your life on. I don’t get eight hours of sleep a night. I’m probably in the five-to-six-hour range. But I spend money on a mattress. And I love being back home on mine.
8.) My Office— I’ve been in my office for the past 25 years. It doesn’t have any windows and it’s in a state of glorious clutter most of the time but it is my sanctuary. It where I write. It is where I develop concepts, and it is where I occasionally take a nap.
7.) Being In the Restaurants in the Early Morning— I love the solitude of an empty restaurant in the morning. I often walk around in the restaurants when no one is there. It’s quiet before the prep cooks show up, and the deliveries start hitting the back door. There’s still an energy in the room left over from the night before. I am a restaurant junkie at heart, and the dining rooms and kitchens are my sanctuary.
6.) My Seat at Table 19 in the Midtowner— I am a creature of habit in the morning. I sit at the same table, in the same exact seat, and do it at the same time, every morning when I am home. I don’t always order the same food items, but I keep a daily rotation of five or six of the same menu choices. I have always loved breakfast joints. I love owning a breakfast joint.
5.) The People of South Mississippi— I have written often that the people in Tuscany remind me of the people in South Mississippi. They are friendly and hospitable. They love family and sharing a meal with friends and family. But there is no place on earth I would rather live than South Mississippi. I am a sixth generation South Mississippian. This is my home.
Morgan Freeman was giving an interview once and the interviewer stated, “You can live anywhere in the world. Why do you live in Mississippi?”
Freeman replied, “I live in Mississippi BECAUSE I can live anywhere in the world.” Amen Morgan.
4.) Work—My mother always asks, “When are you going to retire?” The answer is easy. Never. I do what I love to do and I earn a living doing it. Restaurants are my hobby and restaurants are my “fun.” It’s been that way for over 40 years since the first shift at the first restaurant that hired me. From that moment on, a majority of my waking hours have been workin on, developing, creating, and managing restaurants.
3.) My Family— My roots are deep here. I often think about the people who grew up here and then move away to the mountains or the beach. Sure the scenery is better, but I could never do that. My friends and family are here in this place. It wasn’t until I hit my 50s that I figured out, it’s not the material and monetary things that matter most in life. It’s the spiritual and relational things.
2.) Sharing a Family Meal— I am a blessed man. I eat lunch with my wife almost every workday. We have always had supper together as a family, but lunches are reserved for the two of us.
1.) Dinner with my Daughter—Now that my daughter has moved back to town, we will get to share the evening meal together, often. My son will be back home from working in Italy at the end of June. But, in the meantime, we’ll enjoy quality time with our firstborn. No Italian rolling countryside vistas or exotic Spanish beach could ever top that.
1 dozen Eggs, hard boiled, peeled and cut in half
2 tsp. White balsamic vinegar
1 /3 cup Mayonnaise
1 /4 cup Sour cream
1 1 /2 tsp Salt
2 Tbl Yellow mustard
Pinch of white pepper
1/8 tsp Garlic, granulated
Paprika and sweet pickled relish to garnish (optional)
Remove the yolks from the hard cooked eggs and place in a mixing bowl. Add all ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Use a pastry bag to fill the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika and place a tiny amount of sweet pickle relish on the eggs. Makes 24 halves
(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. He lives in Hattiesburg, Miss.)
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