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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

We’re Number One! (Again)

July 21, 2008

We’re Number One! (Again)

In junior high school pep rallies were mandatory. I never minded them because they were a legitimate excuse to get out of class and hang out in the gymnasium. I never became too lathered up during these proceedings; call it lack of school spirit, absence of general enthusiasm about which grade could yell louder than the other, or uncooperative spirit fingers.

Various cheers came and went during my school years. Some were funny, “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you’re ugly.” Others were dull such as “push ‘em back,” some were obvious, “defense,” still others made no sense, “Two bits, four bits…” you know the drill.

The only cheer that is universal to every school, cheerleading squad, and professional sports team is the ubiquitous, “We’re number one!”

Everyone does the “We’re number one,” cheer, no matter where they are ranked or listed among the competition. A team can be in the cellar, forever dwelling in last place in their division or conference, but eek out one win against a better opponent, and suddenly all of the fans and players are screaming, “We’re number one.” It’s the American way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has once again released their annual national obesity statistics, and my home state, Mississippi, is number one, again. We’ve been number one since 2004. In the sports world that’s two more than a threepeat. We’re a dynasty!

Mississippi was followed closely by Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Could it be that our food is better? It’s no coincidence that the survey was released around the same time that Chilton County, Ala. peaches were coming in. Tennessee has great barbeque, Louisiana is the most culinarily diverse state in the nation, and Mississippi is the world capital of fried catfish.

Instead of a telephone-interview poll to decide which state is fatter, the CDC needs to rent the Georgia Dome and host an Olympic-style competition of all 50 states. We might not win the 400-meter relay every time, but we could kick butt in the shot put, dead lift, and pie-eating contest.

We’ll dust off all of the old high school cheers. When competing with Colorado— the nation’s skinniest state— we can chant from the sidelines, “Two bits, four bits, gumbo roux, you better look out or we’ll sit on you!”

We probably wouldn’t have much of a chance in the pole vault, but when it comes to skeet shooting and archery, we’ll place a few South Mississippi deer hunters on the roster and annihilate the competition.

While researching this column I came across a piece written by Los Angeles Times Health editor, Tami Dennis, with the headline: “Yeah we’re fat. But not as fat as Southerners.” In a post on her newspaper’s Health blog, Dennis states, “Poor Mississippi. I’m sure it tries. Really, I’m sure it does. But have you had Southern food?”

Yes, Tami, we have “had” Southern food. It tastes great. That’s why we’re so fat.

Various readers commented on the newspaper’s blog ( One reader stated: “I don’t buy the excuse about diet or weather… My family spends every summer in Italy or France eating like crazy and not working out all that much— we always come back slimmer and trimmer.” Yes, but they don’t serve jambalaya or etouffee in France or Italy, do they?

A man named Rick posted, “I now live in Ohio, but grew up in Mississippi and still go back 4-5 times every year. These ‘fat’ surveys always surprise me because I see many more grossly obese people in Ohio than in Mississippi. Many.”

Note to self: Slip a mickey to the Ohio competitors at the CDC Olympics the evening before the pie-eating contest.

The California bloggers continued to pile on in post after post. A poster named Mike stated, “Along with poor performing schools and lackluster economies Southerners are a fat bunch to boot.”

To Mike I say: U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got not alibi. We may be fat, but weight can be lost. Ugly (manners, that is) last a lifetime. And, by the way, we’re still number one!

Pesto Pasta with Roasted Portobello Mushroom Strips and Asparagus

For the Mushrooms:

1 cup creamy balsamic dressing
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp creole mustard
1 tsp hot sauce
2 tsp creole seasoning
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

5-6 fresh portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed*

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Dip each portobello mushroom in the mixture to coat them completely. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

After the mushroom have marinated, place them on a baking sheet with the top side down. Cover the baking sheet completely with aluminum foil and bake for 7 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 more minutes. Allow the mushrooms to cool, then cut them into 3/4 inch wide strips.

* the gills are on the under side of the mushroom and become tough and bitter when cooked. They are easily removed by gently scraping the underside of the mushroom with a teaspoon.

For the asparagus:

1 lbs Asparagus, fresh
2 Tbl Olive oil
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet lined with wax paper. Bake 12 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the almonds over the asparagus.


3 cups loosely packed basil leaves, washed and dried very well
1/3 cup pinenuts
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 Tbl garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, combine the basil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic and salt and puree. With the processor still running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Remove the lid and scrape down the sides of the processor to make sure there are no large pieces of basil, puree for another 30-40 seconds. Use immediat
ely or refrigerate covered with plastic for up to 4 days. The plastic wrap should be placed directly on the surface of the pesto to prevent discoloration. Pesto make also be frozen in an airtight container and held for one month.

For the pasta:

1 pound Bowtie pasta

2 Tbl olive oil
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup fresh pesto
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tspfresh ground pepper
3/4 cup Romano cheese, coarsely grated

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, drain and rinse with hot water.
In a large sauté pan, melt the olive oil over medium heat. Place the cooked mushrooms in the pan and heat for 3-4 minutes. Add in the broth, pesto, salt and pepper. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and mix well so that the pasta is evenly coated with the pesto.

Divide the pasta onto serving dishes, and sprinkle the pasta with the shredded Romano cheese. Divide the asparagus among the serving dishes and serve immediately.

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