- Food Bloggers Against Hunger
- a post roast ramble
- Making a list
- Oh hell-o, Jell-o
- Just a little hair piece
- Potato Salad (and an apple)
- Feel the Bern('s)
- MFK and Minestrone
- Winter sun
- Couple of chickens
- Keep hoppin'
- Another helping, please...
- Christmas Recap Part 2
- Christmas Recap Part 1
- High Steaks
- 101 Minutes
- Cooking. Class.
- Ramping up
- Biscuits for Caroline
- Navel gazing
- Comfortable in-between
- Picking plum
- Chicken fight
Yeah, I’ve skipped meals and dieted. I’ve lived on just juice for a couple of days.
But I’ve always known that the next meal could happen whenever I wanted. To be truly hungry is something I’ve never known.
Maybe that’s part of why it’s hard to get our attention on hunger and food insecurity issues. It’s something that feels too far away, and its something we can compartmentalize to the weekly free meals for the homeless down at the church. Someone else is taking care of it, right?
But when I saw “A Place at the Table” at The Belcourt, it got my attention, it made me cry, and then it made me angry.
It has all the stats – 1 out of every 2 kids in the United States will at some point be on food assistance, 50 million Americans rely on charitable food programs, we’re making more food than ever, but people are obese and hungry.
But it also puts a face on hunger by following three families dealing with food insecurity. Rosie, a fifth grader from Colorado, for example, can’t concentrate in school sometimes because her "stomach is hurting." Heres the trailer:
It’s a face I’ve seen here in Nashville while writing a story about the awesome work of The Nashville Food Project. I watched hungry people fill plates, but I also saw a woman who looked to be about my age pick up a yellow squash from Nashville Food Project’s garden. “I don’t know what to do with this,” she said.
My parents live in a small North Georgia town near the bottom of the Appalachian Trail. As teachers for many years, they’ve seen poverty in ways I haven’t. My father found a student at the technical college where he worked sleeping in his car. Another couple in the cosmetology program had been buying crackers and other snack foods in large quantities at the bookstore using their leftover Pell grant funds. The store manager asked them what they were doing with all of it. “We’re feeding our family,” the man said.
The day after I saw "A Place at the Table," I learned about Food Bloggers Against Hunger, which is why I’m posting today. Several other bloggers in town will post today along with about 200 bloggers nationwide for the project.
A few of us decided locally to also hold an event to screen the film again in Nashville on Monday, April 29. Since it’s a film that makes you want to take action, we’re following it with a food advocacy fair. Attendees can immediately check out ways to get involved from helping kids learn to grow and prepare fresh vegetables on Hands on Nashville’s Urban Farm to learning more about how to protect SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with Community Food Advocates.
In thinking about a recipe to share, I remembered my parents again and how we often made a meal of just white beans (“soup beans” as they called them) and cornbread. It’s something that became an occasion. We would visit my grandparents just to eat this meal.
To step it up, I followed a version by Frank Stitt in the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook that adds onion, garlic, bacon and a healthy serving of collard greens. To keep costs low, I also had to omit a few items such as the Parmesan cheese, and I chose a cornbread mix, which costs less than buying buttermilk and eggs.
The average daily allotment for a person on food assistance is about $4. But this simple meal -- with ingredients omitted -- cost me more than twice that much. It makes it easy to see how $4 a day is not nearly enough.
I’ve never known hunger, but a film like "A Place at the Table" helped me feel it through its stories. And when we can feel it, I hope we’ll all be moved to do something about it.
1. Join us to watch “A Place at the Table” at Downtown Presbyterian Church on Monday, April 29 at 6 p.m. The film also can be watched on demand at iTunes.
2. Send a letter to Congress to help protect funding for federal nutrition programs. It just takes a second.
3. Follow #TAKEYOURPLACE hashtag on Twitter.
Collard Greens and White Beans
Makes about 8 servings
3 cups white beans, ½ cup cooking liquid reserved
1 pound collard greens, tough ribs removed and cut into pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup bacon, cooked and crumbled
1. Prepare the beans and set aside.
2. In a large pot, cover the collards with salted water, then heat and boil until tender about 30 minutes. Drain.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add the collard greens and stir to coat. Add the bacon, adjust seasoning and serve warm with cornbread.
Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook (University of Georgia Press, 2010)
Here’s a goal I have for 2013: Find the perfect roast chicken. And by _the_ perfect roast chicken, I mean the version of roast chicken that I can truss up with my eyes closed and consistently please a small gathering of people with a juicy, flavorful bird. I’m sort of embarrassed that I don’t already have a go-to version. I think I’ve been overwhelmed by all the "best" ways. Ive read that Thomas Keller likes to roast his on a bed of root vegetables. Alice Waters goes with olive oil and herbs. Edna Lewis uses only butter. So many more! I will give a few variations a spin, but I based the following experiment on this Birmingham blogger’s recipe. Her goth pic helped sell me.I roasted this chicken over the weekend while hanging out with my best friends. We brought it to room temp before roasting, but we didn’t have time to let it sit with the herbs. We also omitted the marjoram and lavender due to availability and roasted it in a deep skillet over a bed of vegetables as roasting rack. It might be hard for me to beat this one. I also hope to find my groove in biscuit-making and pie crusts this year (earlier efforts have had my grandmother rolling in her grave). As for last year, I’m extremely grateful. But it also has been one of the wildest years for me so far. I’m glad to move into the next phase, and this year I’m hoping to follow Leonard Cohens advice about becoming the sea rather than letting it make me so seasick. Ive definitely had a few green moments hanging over the rail. But here are some things I loved learning about and writing down in journals last year. It’s not a “best of” list –- just a few things I liked thinking about. -- Is it possible to "find" inspiration? Thomas Keller said its just about staying aware, so that we can recognize the good ideas when they come. And then later I read this quote on one of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings: "Inspiration is for amateurs -- the rest of us just show up and get to work." -Chuck Close -- Theres this: -- “I cannot say this too strongly: Do not compare yourselves to others. Be true to who you are and continue to learn with all your might.” – Daisaku Ikeda -- “Gotta have more want to than don’t want to.” - my friend Kevin’s dad -- I also still love Cat Power: -- “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” – Dalai Lama -- I can’t name my favorite meal of the year, but my favorite drink came from La Condesa in Austin (thanks to Lindsay Taub for turning me on to it). It’s the manliest tasting, sexiest cocktail I have ever tasted. _El Cubico = Whole leaf tobacco-infused cazadores reposado, vanilla infused brandy, lemon, grilled pineapple juice, mescal essence, volcanic-saffron-infused salt rim_ -- "...it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer. By which I mean not a good writer or a bad writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what Im thinking, what Im looking at, what I see and what it means." -Joan Didion (also from Brain Pickings) -- “To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel -- “Sometimes you need to just step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.” - anonymous -- I went to Marfa, Texas this year. So odd and sparse. I loved it. -- I can see the draw for minimalist Donald Judd here, but I loved learning about John Chamberlains art and hearing how he learned about the importance of selectivity, working quickly and trusting intuition from studying poetry in North Carolina. -- I also loved the dust devils in West Texas. I had never seen these spontaneous mini-tornados, and I love how they just kick up in a swirl out of nowhere giving you something to look at on the horizon and making the wind real. I didn’t catch a dust devil on video, but I do have some of this West Texas eeriness. Its the Museum of Electronic Wonders and Latenight Grilled Cheese Parlour. -- This annual trip to Mississippi never fails to guide me back toward the tracks: -- Lastly, thanks to an Allison Glock essay in Southern Living, I loved learning that Dolly Parton wrote "I Will Always Love You" for Porter Wagoner. She turned down Elvis Presley’s request to record the song because he wanted half the rights. In an act of confidence, she trusted her instincts giving us a beautiful example of believing in self and going with the gut.
Well Ive been inspired by an ice cream sandwich.
And Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury would have turned 92 last week. But when he died earlier this year, I had just finished reading Zen and The Art of Writing.
In one of the essays, he encourages readers to keep lists of things we really love as well as things we really hate. Bring the former to life by writing about it, he says, and extinguish the later also by writing about it. Write it to life — and to death.
But I like that he’s not just talking peace and poverty. He’s talking about how a single caper can pack so much punch or how a scratchy sweater can wreck a workday.
So with Bradbury in mind, heres a list of loves:
The way chocolate wafer sticks to you fingers when eating an ice cream sandwich.
Actually saving room for dessert.
The bonus fry on your plate when you didn’t order them.
Coming back to the table to find your food has just arrived.
The first pointy bite of a slice of pizza.
The middle bite of a cinnamon roll.
The last bite of a hot dog.
The five second rule.
The rhythm in chopping (when you’re not in a rush).
When you get an extra gumball from the machine.
When you get your favorite color gumball from the machine.
Having a favorite color gumball.
When you accidentally leave your leftovers, and the server runs them out to you.
Removing the cage from a bottle of champagne.
Pretty much everything about champagne actually.
Cracking through the sugar glass on crème brulee.
Crackers in soup at the perfect place between crispy and soggy.
Knowing when somethings done by the way the house smells.
Starting with a cocktail (just one).
Ending with port (but only sometimes).
The anticipation and payoff in foods that require a little effort (peel-and-eat shrimp, crab legs, oranges,
pistachios, fondue, s’mores).
Making space for a dish at the potluck.
Making lists of things to love.
My hairstylist told me once that she could create an entire blog of the photos that clients take from her chair.
She also said that we rarely take a seat without making an apology for how we look.
I believe it. I have done both of those things many times, and I find the latter to be kind of sad yet fascinating. It’s part of why Cali DeVaneys chair at Parlour & Juke is one of my favorite places to visit. Not only does she make me feel better about myself in a outward way, she’s always teaching me something new – from philosophical reasons why it’s weird to look into a mirror for a solid hour to her thoughts on music, books and documentaries. So I was flattered when she asked me to write a guest post for the salon’s blog about being a redhead. Here’s what I came up with: (click here)
The first time I visited the famed Berns Steak House in Tampa I was an 18-year-old baton twirler in town to perform at a college football game. My priorities at the time were:
1) Boys 2) Not dropping the baton
3) Not gaining weight as to look decent while trying to not drop the baton.
I have no idea what I ate at Berns expect for a bite of gator appetizer, and I only remember that bite because I have a photo of it.
But now that my priorities have shifted, Ive been curious about Berns again because: 1) John T. Edge reviewed it recently in Garden & Gun
2) I read in Amanda Hessers Cooking for Mr. Latte that Jeffrey Steingarten, food critic at Vogue, once called it the best restaurant in America
3) My boyfriends mother lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, so I knew Id be near Berns on a trip we were planning over my furlough.We decided to drive up from St. Pete for our Valentines dinner. But it seems Berns is one of those restaurants even with its fame (or maybe because of its fame) that locals try to talk you out of visiting. They say its overrated, too expensive and old-fashioned, and yes, its a bit of all those things. But its also an *experience.* Its a "last meal" kind of restaurant as Tony aptly put it. And while I certainly dont aspire to become a regular, Im glad we went.
Once seated at our table, we looked over the menu. Its sort of like steak math.
You choose your cut of meat, then thickness, and then how many people you want it to serve. With the help of our waiter, I went with a 6-ounce Chateaubriand and Tony chose a 17-ounce porterhouse, the most aged steak on the menu. Each entree comes with choice of French onion soup and salad, which could not have thrilled me more.
The French onion arrived in a perfectly sized pewter bowl -- refreshingly smaller than most vessels for purchase in a modern-day Williams-Sonoma. Tony upgraded to the lobster bisque. I also should add my favorite thing about our server. He kept offering tips on how to make our meal more enjoyable as if they were secrets he had never uttered to another soul. Born in Yugoslavia and raised in France, hes been at Berns for 13 years. He sat down our soups and pointed to a tray of garlic melba toasts that had arrived earlier. "Crumble these into your soup," he said to me, in a near whisper. Then to Tony: "To your soup, do nothing." I slid a cracker under the blanket of cheese into a deep brown liquid, thick with soft onions, and waited a minute. Divine. Tonys soup tasted rich and velvety with cream and butter. Drops of sherry glistened on top. He refused to try even one spoonful of my soup. "That would be like drinking orange juice after brushing my teeth," he said. Our salads came next -- also perfect in size and with grated white cheddar and vegetables compartmentalized neatly rather than tossed together. The dressing arrived on the side. Before we had a chance to taste them, our server spooned some of Tonys dressing on another garlic toast and handed it to him. "Try on this," he whispered again. "Danish blue cheese, aged 6 months." Something about the server and our experience also reminded me of George Orwells Down and Out in Paris and London. I imagined backstage at Berns as more chaotic with clanging silverware and plates -- a foreign land where hardly anyone speaks English -- and vastly different from the civilized floor that prances to the tune of classical music. At one point, our poor guy was so in the weeds, that he hunched over a tray of baked potatoes, frantically dressing them with sour cream and butter, while muttering wildly to himself. But by the time he reached our table with the potatoes, he had regained his composure. "Anything you like," he kept repeating.
Our steaks arrived, and Tonys gigantic bone-in porterhouse looked like something out of a cartoon. But with a porterhouse you have bites of filet on one side of the bone and bites of strip on the other, with a small portion on the side of tenderloin. It was great fun to compare his cuts of meat aged like the cheese with my tender filet with the grain of the meat running horizontally in contrast to typical filet mignon. The steaks were garnished with shaved carrot salad. "No one needs to eat half a plate of steak," Tony said as he cleaned his plate. "They need to eat their salad fully. Eat all their broccoli and half a filet." No one needs to retire to the "dessert room" at Berns either, but thats what we did. Essentially a separate restaurant on the second floor, the dessert room is a collection of dimly lit cubicles -- very romantic and old school -- with a telephone in each for dialing up our server in the case of dessert emergency. The phones also have buttons for choosing the genre of music that youd like to hear in your cube.
We passed on "broadway" and "contemporary" for the live piano jazz piped in from the dessert room foyer.Being at Berns, it felt apropos to order the oldest school of desserts on the menu, so I suggested the Baked Alaska.
"Probably the most satisfying soup in the world for people who are hungry,
as well as for those who are tired
or in debt
or in a moderate amount of pain
or in love
or in robust health
or in any kind of business huggermuggery,
It is a thick unsophisticated soup,
heart-warming and soul-staying,
full of aromatic vegetables
and well bound at the last
with good cheese."
Its cold tonight, and Ive been inspired to make minestrone.
I looked over several recipes including
M.F.K. Fishers from _How to Cook a Wolf_
and decided on a variation of
Mark Bittmans from _How to Cook Everything_
Its simple and makes use of basic winter ingredients
and it makes me feel good.
3 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, diced 1 carrot, diced 1 celery stalk, diced 1 1/2 to 2 cups winter squash, diced Salt and freshly ground pepper 6 cups vegetable stock 1 cup chopped tomato (canned with juice) 2 cups kale or collards, cut into smaller pieces 1/2 cup arugula Pasta (whatever you have on hand)
1. Put oil into a large, deep pot over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. 2. Add the squash and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring for a minute or two, then add the stock and the tomatoes; bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cook, stirring every now and then, until the vegetables are fairly soft, about 15 minutes. 3. Add the greens and adjust the heat once again so the mixture simmers. After about 5 minutes, add the pasta. Cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with cheese.
Adapted recipe from _How to Cook Everything_ by Mark Bittman.
A pretty song for cooking on a cold day...
Tonight Im making a Shaker Meyer Lemon Pie. Im inspired after spending a morning last week at the home of pastry chef Lisa Donovan for a Tennessean story. "I sort of block the months of the year off with types of pies," she said. "I just love citrus in winter." -------- Even After All this time The Sun never says To the Earth, "You owe me." Look What happens With a love like that. It lights the Whole Sky. -Hafiz, 14th century Sufi poet
I recently made Crispy Oven-Fried Drumsticks from Southern Living for a story in The Tennessean about lighter comfort food. They rocked way more than I expected them to. As I wrote in the story, the drumsticks stay moist, and I love the hand-held shape for quintessential fried chicken chomp. And more than crunch of cornflakes, these have a buttermilk bath before going for a roll in Parmesan and cayenne for a touch of heat. We photographed the chicken at my house and decided to shoot it on the pan. We wanted to show that theyre baked while also keeping a "hot" surface with the aluminum foil.(photo by Larry McCormack, The Tennessean) Ill make them again. This weekend, though, Im headed to Memphis. So yes, Ill be having the full-fat, non-baked version at Guss Fried Chicken, and I cant wait. In the meantime, a really great song about chicken...
I only make Hoppin John once a year (on New Year’s Eve). But you know what? That’s gonna change. At the new year, I figure it’s my chance to work in lots of black-eyed peas, and it goes well with collard greens (both for good fortune). But I love the hoppin john recipe that I cook from _so much_ that I moan and sigh with dread over every bite until the last pea is gone. And though I do think there’s something to be said for dishes saved for special occasions, I’ve decided this one’s too good to cook just once a year. It’s simple and warm both in temperature and spice, and the rice -- plump partly from a soak in beer – tastes like how a pub feels in winter. I found this recipe in a copy of GQ magazine back in 1998. I still have the original page -- ripped out, crinkled, stained and hole-punched for the binder where I keep favorites. But even more than taste, I’m hoping that this meal will remind me throughout the year – not just on January 1 – that it’s okay to start fresh again. And again. And again. Hoppin’ John Adapted from Steve Steinberg’s recipe in GQ Serves 8 1 ½ cups dried black-eyed peas 1 cup uncooked rice 2 tablespoons oil 1 onion, chopped 1/2 green pepper, chopped 1/2 red pepper, chopped About ¼ pound spicy pork sausage, sliced About ¼ pound mild chicken sausage, sliced ½ teaspoon cumin ½ teaspoon cayenne ¼ teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup beer (I like to use Yazoo Dos Perros.) 1. Place black-eyed peas in a deep pot. Add enough cold water to cover by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes or until peas are soft. Turn off heat, cover and let sit for an hour. Drain peas, reserving the liquid and set aside. 2. In a large saucepan, sauté onion and peppers in oil for 5 minutes. Add sausage slices and sauté for another 5 minutes or until onions are almost clear. Add rice and stir to coat. Add drained black-eyed peas, spices, 2 cups of the reserved liquid and beer. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Stir, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from stove and let sit for 10 minutes. 3. Serve with cornbread, collard greens and hot sauce (I like Franks).
As part of year-end reflection, I’ve been looking at my work from 2011 to decide what I liked/didn’t like and also to determine the subjects I hope to write more about in 2012. It might seem simple, but I have to keep reminding myself that I’m most interested in writing and life when I stay ahead on story ideas – when I’m trying to carve out little roads rather than just fill potholes in other words. I feel like I should always be asking: “What do I _need_ to say?” "What do people really need to know?” Here’s something I really wanted people to know about in 2011:The Nashville Food Project serves hot meals, hope By Jennifer Justus | The Tennessean This is the story of a 42-cent meal.
A plate of baked chicken with balsamic sweet potatoes; a salad of homegrown lettuces tossed with peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, herbed croutons made with Provence bread and freshly whisked lime vinaigrette; and ending with a scoop of bread pudding drizzled with vanilla glaze. Yes, that meal costs only 42 cents. No, its not especially efficient. But The Nashville Food Project Executive Director Tallu Schuyler Quinn is OK with that. Because the energy it takes to help make this meal — served to some of Nashvilles poor — helps make connections among local food advocacy organizations while reducing waste, invigorating volunteers and emphasizing cooking over convenience. It provides nourishment, but also education and empowerment. So, yes, this meal costs 42 cents, but its worth much more than that. The Nashville Food Project (TNFP), which changed its name from Mobile Loaves & Fishes recently, has been serving meals to Nashvilles poor since 2007. Until lately, it mostly provided sack lunches with a turkey sandwich, boiled egg, bag of trail mix, cheese stick, piece of fruit, pretzels and bottled water. But increasingly, the organization has been adding hot meal runs to underserved areas — providing homecooked food with produce grown at the organizations two gardens or gleaned from farmers market donations and Second Harvest Food Bank. While the sack lunches cost about $200 for 80 people, the hot meals cost about $31 for 82 people. Meanwhile, as Americans waste about 27 percent of food available for consumption, the hot meals help move the excess to those who dont have access. We followed the process to learn just how a 42-cent meal comes to be. A numbers game Tucked inside Second Harvest Food Banks warehouse with beeping forklifts and boxes stacked to the ceiling is the "open shopping" room for nonprofit groups. Its the size of a convenience store — fluorescent lights, freezer cases along the walls, shelves lined with boxes of Triscuits and Cheez-Its. The food here, facing its last days, has mostly been donated by Kroger, Publix and Walmart, and it will be given away or sold by weight at greatly reduced prices — 25 cents per pound of meat, 4 cents for dairy. Anne Sale, hot meal coordinator for TNFP, begins her Tuesday each week at open shopping, and she likes to go early, before the "good stuff gets gone." She heads straight for the meat, with a pallet on wheels as her cart. "I got a bunch of pork tenderloins today, which Im so excited about. ... Oh, eggs! We can use those for the bread pudding," she said. Sale tries to plan the hot meals a week in advance, but shell make adjustments if necessary, such as when a batch of slightly overripe bananas became banana pudding. The selection at open shopping can seem random — cans of clam sauce, scads of pickles, guacamole — but with a little creativity, it can make a fine meal. "Im a little bit of a numbers person, too, so I like to create as nice a meal as I can with as little as possible," Sale said. "All this is basically gonna get trashed. ... If I wouldnt eat it, Im not gonna get it." Sale pointed out a box of frozen sweet potatoes. "I would normally get those, but we just got bushels from the garden." She also has to choose things she can get in large quantities. Each of the two trucks owned by The Nashville Food Project can hold about 85 meals. "Dessert, I kind of struggle with, because I want it to be healthy," she said, picking up a box of cake mix. "Trans fat, zero. Im gonna get some." And then, looking in the freezer case, she spotted some sausage that she hadnt noticed before. "This is turkey. Ill buy that." She had made jambalaya last week. Sale collaborates with volunteers at The Nashville Food Project and must make quick decisions about the menu. But health is important to her, too. Shes fit, exercises regularly and practices moderation and healthy choices, which she works into the hot meals. Her background in banking also serves her well on the financial end of menu planning for a nonprofit. After having the contents of her cart weighed, Anne loaded it into her car. Shell head back to The Nashville Food Projects headquarters in Green Hills to prepare for the next days run. Shell make croutons by using donated Provence bread, donated olive oil and dried basil from the garden. Meanwhile, volunteers will make homemade bread pudding. But as she loaded her car, she worried about some limes she had been given by a caterer who had extra after making a lime curd. "Ive still gotta figure out what to do with those," she said. "I just love that challenge." New name, focus TNFP serves hot meals on Wednesdays and Fridays with plans to add a meal on Thursdays in November and a fourth weekly meal in January. Volunteer coordinator Nicole Lambelet said that the idea to serve hot meals initially came from a desire to pack more nutrition into each plate while using produce from the garden or donations. But then they realized that the hot meals could be cheaper. Sale was part of that ah-ha moment with Quinn when the pair sat down with a recipe for chicken pot pie. "This is like $30, and thats all," Sale remembered for a meal that served about 80. The aluminum pans used for serving the meals (which they try to use more than once) are the largest expense, along with other serving supplies. The emphasis on hot meals also happened to coincide with the rollout of a new name for the organization. The group recently broke away from Austin-based Mobile Loaves & Fishes. "It was an amicable divorce," Quinn said. "I think we outgrew the national organization and what was expected to be part of it." Quinn said she wanted to be a local organization using local money with local volunteers focusing on the local problems of hunger and poverty. And although Mobile Loaves & Fishes isnt affiliated with a particular religion, Quinn — a minister at Woodmont Christian Church — wanted to remove the association. "I would never want the people we serve to think they have to believe in something in exchange for our food." Fresh, local ingredients On the morning of the Wednesday hot meal truck run, Sale drizzled glaze onto bread pudding while volunteer Rachel Blair, a caterer of 30 years, whisked up a citrus vinaigrette. She had found a place for the donated limes. The meal had come together mostly through donations, harvests from the garden and purchases made at a discount. Cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers had been gleaned by The Society of St. Andrew, an organization that picks up leftover food from local farmers markets and redistributes it where needed. Garbanzo beans, adding protein and heft to the salad, were purchased from Second Harvest at 18 cents a can. For later meals, Sale pointed out a bowl of figs donated by Whole Foods Market, a pallet of tomatoes from the farmers market and a colorful bowl of antohi peppers from Eatons Creek Organics. There were 25 logs of goat cheese and chocolate almond tea bread in the refrigerator, also from Whole Foods, and a bucket of Jerusalem artichokes just harvested from the garden that shell roast with potatoes for meals later in the week. Care and feeding The truck crew for the day, coordinated from a pool of about 650 active volunteers, included Quinn, longtime volunteer Becky Atkinson, and newcomer Judy Alford, a Hendersonville farmer at Hunts Century Farm. Alford had donated some corn, turnips, potatoes and tomatoes in July and wanted to learn more. "Im just kinda trying to figure out the bigger picture," she said. "I just love that you are using produce that we cant sell." Its a situation she sees often, like when the ugliest tomatoes — still perfect in taste — get left behind. The truck headed toward Dickerson Pike and Trinity Lane, an area known for high crime, drug use and prostitution. "This is where the thistles grow," Quinn said. Its an expression used by the Magdalene Houses Thistle Farms, a group that helps get prostitutes off the streets. The people who live in many of the motels along this stretch of North Nashville pay $600 to $700 a month for rooms with maybe a small fridge and microwave for cooking. Some are in transition from homelessness. Others live in a motel room for decades. "If I were driving down this road this time of day," Alford said, "I would have thought no one was here." But when the truck pulled into the Key Motel and Quinn honked the horn, a man stepped out of his room and waved. Residents trickled out of their doors as volunteers formed an assembly line. Lisa Allen, 49, said she looks forward to seeing the truck every week. "Wednesday at 12 oclock, Im like Where you at? " she said. "I came here 10 years ago to spend a weekend and never left," she said, though shes worked as a manager at the hotel for the past three years. "Its not what its all cracked up to be." But on this Wednesday, she had particularly bad news for volunteer Becky Atkinson. A former resident named Linda that Atkinson knew had died. Allen said Linda had suffered from AIDS and cirrhosis, caused by alcoholism. Allen knew Atkinson would want to hear. "I love them to death," she said of TNFP. "They are thoughtful people. They not only come and serve us lunch, they pay attention to us." "Just like her," she said, pointing to Atkinson. "They talk to you, and if they can, they give us suggestions." Despite the bad news, the volunteers at TNFP have hope. The group made the decision, Quinn said, to focus on smaller neighborhoods such as Dickerson Road and the Trinity Lane area where their small organization can have a greater impact by partnering with other organizations. As a mobile unit, they also choose out-of the-way places that arent near a bus line or downtown, where more meals are served to the homeless and poor. "As weve made this transition, more of the people we serve have started volunteering with us," Quinn said. The formerly homeless residents at the Hobson House, a place created after Tent City was flooded in 2010, now help prepare and deliver TNFP meals, sending the message that those served can someday do the serving. Quinn and Lambelet also hope to implement cooking education in 2012. "Not only do people need access to food, they really need to be empowered to make it themselves," Lambelet said. Further down the road, Lambelet spoke of a "dream" to have a pay-what-you-can restaurant. Located in a food desert with alternative staffing, it would provide jobs, education and an income stream for the organization. But even now, the groups efforts prioritize cooking over a meal that can be standardized. Resident Shawn Lewis also stopped by the truck to grab a quick lunch. He works at a tire shop and has been staying at the hotel for about two years. He makes maybe $35 a day, which is hardly more than what he pays in rent per day. "You gotta eat somehow," he said. "It helps. ... Sometimes you cant get to the mission." And so as volunteers packed up to leave, it seems the hot meals — and lending an ear — are making a difference. "Im sorry about Linda," Atkinson said to Allen. "I am, too," she called back with boxes of food stacked in her hands for her boyfriend and grandchildren. "I really do miss her."
-------- Breaking down the plate Chicken (purchased from Second Harvest Food Bank): 25 cents per pound Sweet potatoes (harvested from The Nashville Food Project gardens): $0 Lettuces: spinach, arugula, heirloom bibb lettuce (harvested from TNFP gardens): $0 Cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers (gleaned by The Society of St. Andrew from local farmers markets): $0 Garbanzo beans (purchased from Second Harvest): 18 cents a can Croutons (made with donated Provence bread and olive oil and dried basil from TNFP gardens): $0 Lime vinaigrette (made with donated limes and extra virgin olive oil): $0 Bread pudding (made with donated bread from Provence, raisins purchased from Sams Club and eggs purchased from Second Harvest): 4 cents per pound (for dairy) Staples, spices and condiments, such as sugar, flour, paprika, garlic powder, vinegar and salt and pepper, are items kept on hand in The Nashville Food Projects pantry. To get involved What: The Nashville Food Project Where: 3605 Hillsboro Pike Contact: 615-460-0172, thenashvillefoodproject.org or search "The Nashville Food Project" on Facebook
My dad doesn’t like chicken and dumplings, and he has never bothered to make them. But it’s interesting what a person can pick up just by hanging out in a kitchen with a woman who cooked for eight children at home and hundreds more at her work.
My grandmother was an elementary school lunch lady (back when lunch ladies cooked), and she made chicken and dumplings for every major holiday. So when I decided to make them for Christmas, dad stepped in as supervisor extraordinaire offering tips on everything from seasoning of broth to consistency of dough.
I like cooking with my father because he has a deep built-in knowledge about food that must have seeped into his pores with the steam off a stock. He’s also pretty fearless. Here we are posing for mom in a faux wishbone-pulling shot (the Christmas equivalent of our ribbon cutting). Making the stock. Rolling the dough. Dad’s sister tasting the dumplings -- and giving her approval. (This is a big deal.) Here’s something I wrote about chicken and dumplings for USA Today and The Tennessean earlier this year, and the reason I decided to make the dish:
My father grew up the youngest of eight children, so Thanksgiving on his side of the family - with in-laws and cousins and grandkids in tow - made a potluck spread that could rival entire church congregations in our small Georgia town.
We would gather in my grandmother’s kitchen, where finding a spot for each dish felt like working a Thanksgiving jigsaw puzzle - rectangular dishes of sweet potato casserole wedged next to small bowls of marinated carrots, a tray of turkey squeezed beside a platter of ham. Pies and cakes such as my aunt’s chocolate pound cake with fudge frosting were even exiled until later atop the washing machine.
But no matter how short on space, we always made room for the largest mixing bowl of the lot. Sitting like a queen on the table, it held a dish that completed our tradition: My grandmother’s chicken and dumplings.
When my grandmother’s eyesight began to fail, it was my aunt Loyce who took over dumpling duties (partly because she loved them so). But now with my grandmother gone and Loyce too, I called my cousin Margaret, Loyce’s daughter, for the recipe. I should have known, though, that traditions don’t always come with traditional recipes. What’s left of granny’s chicken and dumplings is a paragraph of instructions typed directly from Margaret’s memory -- learned not from the page of a recipe but from standing at a mother’s elbow.
I asked my father if he, too, remembered watching his mother cook the dumplings.
“She’d throw flour out on the counter; she didn’t have a cutting board,” he said. “She would roll out the dough with a jelly glass and cut it into strips.” Then she’d drop the dough into the chicken stock, heavily peppered, and rich with cooked hen. “That was something that all the girls learned to do from Granny,” he said of his four sisters.
Maybe I’m a bad Southerner, but being too young for a lesson, I have never tried to make chicken and dumplings. Could I learn to make them too? This year, I’ve decided, it’s time to find out.
I referred to the chicken and dumplings recipe in the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook. You can find a version of that recipe here, but I totally recommend buying the book.
“We gonna put the MAS back into ChristMAS!!!” That’s the message my friend Emily sent when she invited us over for a tree-trimming fiesta. It’s the only tree-trimming I’ve ever attended, and it might as well be my last ‘cause I doubt anyone else could make it cooler. Emily served stiff margaritas rather than eggnog, and carnitas tacos with a trio of salsas instead of boring canapés. Tony brought a ukulele and a six pack of Corona, and the lovely Molly Thomas joined us. Then we helped Emily and Kevin decorate their tree with Elvis figurines and miniature guitars and sock monkeys and psychedelic icicley things.
Emily shared her recipe for pineapple salsa, which added sweet crunch to the tacos, and tasted perfect with tortilla chips, too. Emily’s Pineapple Salsa 2 cups of diced pineapple chunks (fresh or canned in juice, either is fine here) 1 cup of diced white onion 1 generously sized serrano chili, diced finely 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar Juice of a small lime Season generously with salt, to taste Mix it all up, and feel free to add more or less of anything to taste. This salsa is all about the balance of sweet, crunchy, spicy, sour and salty. Make it like you like it! ------- And speaking of Mexican-influenced experiences, I went back to Sopapilla’s in Franklin not long ago. Earlier in the year, I spent 101 minutes there for Nashville Lifestyles and The Tennessean. Heres what I wrote:
This month I decided to go it alone. Up until now, Ive spent my 101 minutes at restaurants with friends because I like food shared. Discussed. Enjoyed over conversation. Its ability to connect us is one of the main reasons I write about it. But then theres also something special about eating alone, too. It helps me pay closer attention to the soft texture in a slice of warm bread, the hearty aroma of slow-roasted beef, the pop from a fleck of cilantro. The colors both on and off the plate shine. Its an opportunity to (try to) be completely in the moment. To wonder about — and be grateful for — the people who planted the chile peppers, harvested them, roasted them over an open flame. Its both a spiritual act and an indulgent one, like meditation — or a spa treatment. My friend Jaime has a favorite restaurant she likes to visit alone. She calls it church. So on a recent Wednesday, I snuck off for Sopapillas in Franklin. It was 4:30 p.m. when I took a seat at the copper-topped bar. It was early for the dinner crowd, so the place was mostly empty. The bartender — bearded and bald, tattooed with small hoop earrings — had the music cranked (Seal and the Kings of Leon in the mix) as he hustled to prep his station. He stopped his side-work to get me drink. The Cucumber Margarita. His choice. I loved how the crisp cucumber in fat slices added freshness to a drink that can sometimes taste too sweet and too tart. Cucumber. Ah. Spa treatment, indeed. He also placed in front of me a bowl of salsa (my very own bowl!) and a basket of warm chips. I later learned that Steve Dale, the restaurants owner, had spent months perfecting the salsa that he would take in batches on tour when he played bass with artists like Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town. The muted rusty-red color with flecks of black pepper was a salsa more layered and complex than standard Mexican restaurant fare. Soon after my drink arrived, a couple of women who work at the salon next door popped in for a couple after-work drinks. Sopapillas sits at the corner of Camden Commons, a shiny newish development that mixes businesses with residential space on top. The bartender recognized the women. "We have $5 house wines and margaritas," he said. Then he shot me a look. "Ill give you a discount on that one," he said pointing to my speciality margarita that wasnt part of happy hour. "I didnt tell her," he explained to the ladies. I didnt mind, but then I heard one of them order a drink that isnt on the menu. The Key Lime, a creamy concoction that arrived in a large martini-shaped glass. He reminded the ladies of his name again, and introduced himself to me. Roland. Next up, I ordered my meal. Should I go Green Tamale & Chipotle Shrimp Taco or the Stuffed Sopapilla, I asked him. He didnt hesitate. Stuffed Sopapilla. Chicken or beef? Beef. I like a man who gives direction with authority. As I waited for my meal, a fourth guest rolled up to the bar — a middle-age man in shorts and polo with a tan, gray hair and sunglasses. He was just killing some time, I learned, by eavesdropping between verses of a Tom Petty song. He ordered a margarita and read a book off his iPhone. Meanwhile, my sopapilla arrived smothered in sauce, chock with hunks of green Hatch chili and a melty layer of cheese. Swaddled inside it was a mound of spicy, shredded beef. Dale, who moved to Nashville in 1995 for music, grew up in Phoenix and Albuquerque. "From the get-go when I got here, I felt like there wasnt the Mexican food I was accustomed to in Phoenix and Albuquerque," he told me after my visit. "I started cooking my own food." He had fallen in love with the Hatch chili while busing tables at a restaurant during high school. "Just the heat of the chilies and rich, roast flavor," he said. The chilis grow in Hatch, N.M., where the soil and humidity suit them well. Dale now orders them 1,500 pounds at a time, about every three months. In addition to his salsa experiments, Dale treated his musician colleagues to "fiestas" while on the road. "Wed break out the Crock-Pots and slow cook meats during the day," he said. "After the show, wed have a big thing of margaritas ... quesadillas ... and tacos." His restaurants concept and menu development — about three years in the making — happened on the back of a tour bus. "Not bad for a margarita," Roland said to the sunglassed man. "It does not suck," he said. "Hits the spot. Thank you, Roland." Then he ordered a second one. With hardly anything — but everything — happening around me, I didnt remember to be grateful for my time alone until 5:06. Shame on me. But the man in sunglasses was asking Roland about his past. I just had to hear. Roland came to Nashville from Columbus, Ohio, for music. He played in a Christian hard rock band. His father had been a musician, too. "Whats for dessert?" I asked him. He suggested the sopapillas again — this time without a savory stuffing and just with a drizzle of honey — which are on the house. Dale explained later that sopapillas typically arrive mid-meal in New Mexico, "like we would have biscuits here." And while he sees himself as a bit of an educator on authentic New Mexican cuisine, the timing of the sopapillas hasnt resonated here. Guests would often ask the servers to take them away until after dinner so they would stay warm. "We kinda lost that battle," Dale said, though hes OK with that. I, too, would be having mine for dessert. They arrived as dreamy little pillows, soft and studded with pockets of air. With just a thin layer of crisp on the outside from the hot oil and a dribble of honey, theyll make you want to lick your fingers. Sopapillas originated in Albuquerque hundreds of years ago. The Indians were making fried bread when the Spaniards arrived, adding their own twist. "Its really an art form," Dale said. "We call it getting the bump." When the staff gets it wrong, hell tell them: "Were not called Indian Fried Bread. Throw those away. Its our namesake." I offered my second sopapilla to the man with the sunglasses. "Oh, no, thank you," he said. "I would eat it." And as the bar began to pick up, it was time for me to leave. A trio of regulars had convened at the end of the bar to drink happy-hour margaritas and talk football, and it reminded me how restaurants embody so much life as places to play, work, nourish, socialize. When my check arrived, I learned that Roland had not discounted my drink. He just didnt charge me for it at all. "Thank you, Roland," I said waving over the heads of the regulars. I sort of wanted to be a regular, too. Despite my time alone, I couldnt help but feel the call of connectedness. "Hey, have a good night and come back," he said. And then it occurred to me, I was never really alone at all. -------- Sopapillas 1109 Davenport Blvd., Franklin 615-794-9989, www.sopapillas.net What to order: Try the blue corn chicken enchiladas with a fried egg on top. "Thats probably the most authentic dish that we have," said owner Steve Dale. And while the traditional sopapillas with honey come on the house, theyre also good with meat tucked inside. When given a choice, go with the beef. Its road-tested. What to drink: The Cucumber Margarita arrives in a tall glass with ice and several thickly sliced hunks of cucumber. Or ask for Rolands off-menu drink, The Key Lime, which works well as a precursor to the peppery cuisine of New Mexico. The restaurant has also upped its wine list since the bar was installed in January. About the Series Its been said that a proper chefs hat has 101 folds representing the number of ways you can cook an egg. So were choosing a local restaurant to visit each month — just for 101 minutes
My boyfriend didnt eat meat for 15 years until he met me. Im not necessarily proud of that fact. I just finished writing an essay about it, which I might post here later. But in the meantime, Im cooking him a steak. Like right now. If you could see just a few feet from this keyboard, you would find two fat filet mignon that Ill soon encrust with freshly ground peppercorn and saute in butter. In the oven Im baking potatoes to stuff with goat cheese, sour cream and scallions. I’ll roast asparagus. Ill make a sauce with bits of steak left in the skillet with shallots, brandy and cream. And for salad, Ill make a steakhouse-style wedge with a drizzle of homemade blue cheese. No, this isnt his first steak dinner after falling off the vegetable wagon. He had his first steak in April, and I can say without a doubt that Ive never seen anyone have such a positive physical reaction to a food experience. Yes, he had dabbled in chicken. We had spilt a burger even. But the night before he had a wisdom tooth pulled, he wanted to have a last supper, and he wanted to eat steak. After our plates of filet arrived at The Palm, he took a few dramatic bites. His eyes began to water. He removed his glasses. He fanned himself. He spoke of his childhood. He noted that his teeth might be watering. He proclaimed himself high. And then he asked (while lifting a forkful to his mouth): "When can I eat steak again?" "Youre eating it now," I reminded him. From that night forward, though, we instituted a monthly steak night, and it turns out we sorta name them like Playboy covergirls. The April Steak (filet at The Palm) The May Steak (a ribeye for his birthday at Kayne Prime) The June Steak (a New York strip at Sportsmans Grille) The July Steak (a sirloin with his mom and grandmother at Codys Roadhouse in St. Petersburg, Fla.) The August Steak (a flank steak at Eastland Cafe) The September Steak is the first one that hes had home-cooked. I sure hope I can bring the thunder. And with this months steak in the works, I also felt it apropos to include the following poem. I heard it recited recently by its author Maya Angelou. Shes in town for Belmont Universitys Humanities Symposium, and before she read her poem, she gave us its backstory. When she was a smoker (about 20 years ago), she visited a health food diner and ordered potatoes and greens (no meat). But when she pulled out a pack of cigarettes, the waitress scolded her for potential harm she could cause the other patrons. Ms. Angelou thought the other diners -- puny and frail -- hardly look healthy. So inspired, she wrote this:
---The Health-Food Diner No sprouted wheat and soya shoots And Brussels in a cake, Carrot straw and spinach raw, (Today, I need a steak). Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw Or mushrooms creamed on toast, Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed, (Im dreaming of a roast). Health-food folks around the world Are thinned by anxious zeal, They look for help in seafood kelp (I count on breaded veal). No smoking signs, raw mustard greens, Zucchini by the ton, Uncooked kale and bodies frail Are sure to make me run to Loins of pork and chicken thighs And standing rib, so prime, Pork chops brown and fresh ground round (I crave them all the time). Irish stews and boiled corned beef and hot dogs by the scores, or any place that saves a space For smoking carnivores. -Maya Angelou
Earlier this year, I went to the 10th anniversary party for one of my favorite places to hang out, Margot Café & Bar… …where they had fried chicken and pickled peaches, and adult lemonade, and temporary tattoos. Jacob Jones warmed us up with Randy Newman, and by the end of the night, it was a full-blown dance party on the corner of Five Points in East Nashville. Later I wrote about Margot Café in a new column I have with Nashville Lifestyles magazine (that we also run in The Tennessean) called 101 Minutes.
My editor originally asked for a series of restaurant profiles, but I had hoped to write something more slice-of-life to try to capture the spirit of a place as it happens – the aroma of garlic that greets you at the door; the buzz of anticipation over the clink of silverware; the ooze of a egg when fork hits yolk. The people. The vibe. The soup of things that make a restaurant so much more than just the food.
I decided on 101 minutes as a block of time because it’s been said there are 101 folds in a chef’s hat to represent the number of ways you can cook an egg. So then youd think Id be happy that my editor assigned Margot Cafe as my first subject? Well, maybe at first. But I find its not so easy writing about places that feel close to home. Here’s what I came up with and some pics.
101 minutes at Margot Cafe & Bar
If an experience at a restaurant can be summed up as an ingredient, then brunch at Margot Cafe & Bar might be an egg yolk — a sunny side up, farm-raised yolk thats both fresh and familiar. When I arrived for 101 minutes at the restaurant on a recent Sunday, sunlight flooded through the windows of the brick patio. It was standing room only in the pea-size foyer where Deruta Italian ceramics hang on brick walls. Silverware clinked along with conversation spiked with anticipation. But as The Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" shuffled out of the sound system — peppered with the pop of uncorked Prosecco — it was clear we neednt be in a hurry. I was meeting my crew of girlfriends, and I should disclose that this was hardly our first brunch at Margot. Its a place where wed lived out all the Sex and the City clichés: Wed cried, laughed, nursed hangovers and caused them. But given that Margot celebrated her 10th anniversary this summer, it seemed like a natural place to start. The angled bar in the center of the room held a few ruffled newspapers, a cucumber-infused Bloody Mary, a French press of coffee, a glass of beer and an elderflower Prosecco cocktail. Chef/owner Margot McCormacks partner Heather Parsons had tiled the bar herself with reclaimed pieces of granite when the restaurant opened a decade ago. My friend Jaime leaned over it with a mock-bark toward bartender Brian Jackson. "Can I get a French 75?" It had taken her a minute to decide on the cocktail made with gin, lemon juice and bubbly. "You had your chance," he teased back, turning in a smooth nonstop flow to keep drinks on the bar and tables. The pace on Sundays tends to be quick but relaxed. Busy but not uncomfortable. And with servers passing through with stacks of blueberry pancakes and plates of golden omelets, its also a place that makes people talk about food. "So Im canning now," Jaime said. "Thats my new thing." Our Champagne flutes had reached half-full status when Destin Weishaar, the longtime-server-turned-host, led us to our table in the open loft-like dining room upstairs. We scanned the menu, and ordered a cheese plate. Since service has a family or teamwork feel, Matt Davidson, the tattooed sous chef with horn-rimmed glasses and a serious demeanor, came up from the kitchen to deliver a couple plates of pastries, also on the menu. Served on Margots flea-market collection of mismatched china, it held a slice of coconut-almond pound cake, a sticky bun the size of a softball, and a Southern-style biscuit — crisp on the outside, moist inside.
A few familiar favorites keep their place on Margots menu, but all come altered daily to showcase seasonal ingredients. On this particular Sunday, the quiche would be studded with mushrooms and goat cheese. The crepes were fat with sweet corn and Parmesan beneath a Romesco sauce. Margot has long turned to farmer Tana Comer of Eatons Creek Organics to keep her produce fresh. "We all have gardens," she said of the staff. "Well bring things in as well. Its just such a nice collaborative effort." Margot, who takes as much of her influence at the restaurant from Tuscany as from the south of France, also had included Italian fried rice balls on the menu: arancini with spinach, fennel, lima beans and cherry tomato vinaigrette. "The first time I went to Italy ... I dont think I put anything bad in my mouth," she said. Smitten, she also appreciated that women in Italy made their work in the kitchen with the men at the front of the house. Its contrary to many other cultures where chefing is a mans game. Though raised in Nashville, Margot left Music City for culinary school and later worked in New York City. When she returned to help her mother transition into retirement, she had no intention of staying. She considered a few jobs, but found none of them appealing. So with one foot practically back on a plane to New York, her mother offered one last thought: "You didnt go to F.Scotts." Margot ended up taking a job at the Green Hills restaurant, but she wasnt happy about being back in her hometown. She tended to be vocal about it, too. But then a dishwasher at F. Scotts said something that stuck with her: "If you leave, youre just part of the problem — not the solution." Stay, she did, by taking a chance to open Margot Cafe & Bar in a former service station that had been vacant for 8 years. That was 10 years ago. "It was pin-drop quiet over here," she said. Margot held on through the quiet years, though, and threw an anniversary party earlier this summer. Her father and mother didnt live to see the day. Margot teared up when the staff presented her a plaque to hang over her parents favorite table. Its the table closest to the kitchen. But the mood at the party was hardly all somber. Later that evening, as musician Jacob Jones spun records on the corner in front of the restaurant, attorney David Ewing hoisted Margot over the dance floor to his shoulder like a winning coach. Five Points certainly was no longer desolate. So whats next? Whats new at Margot? "Who knows," shell tell you. "Well, todays menu is new," she said, noting its daily change. "How about that?" And so, from it, we ordered a cool bowl of gazpacho made with tomatoes, watermelon and seasoning. "It looks like nothing, but it tastes like magic," Jaime said. Maybe hoping for canning inspiration, Jaime ordered just a side of house-made peach preserves with a few slices of Bentons bacon. She slipped a biscuit off the pastry plate to round out her meal. Ann ordered peaches as well, but sliced over greens tossed with white balsamic vinaigrette. I chose the poached eggs in a moat of Falls Mill grits with tomato sauce.
Jessica dug into the bruschetta, a hearty slice of bread piled with spicy arugula, bacon and eggs.
I met Paulette Licitra in 2008 at a Nashville showing of Food Inc, and I liked her instantly. Then I kept running into her at places where I was excited to be – a performance at the Nashville Ballet, a food-themed art show (featuring this artist), and a Southern Foodways Alliance Halloween costume party in Oxford, Mississippi. I was wearing a pink wig. She had a Carnival mask. We almost didnt recognize one another. Paulette also is editor of Alimentum, a literary food journal, and I’m honored that she published a piece recently that I wrote called A Marriage in Meals. It’s one of the most important (to me) and heartfelt stories I’ve ever tried to put on paper. In addition to writing and editing, Paulette leads culinary trips to Italy and teaches Italian-themed cooking classes (learn more at her blog, Cucina Paradiso). Raised in Brooklyn with a Sicilian grandmother, she fell in love with Italy when she spent time abroad there during school. I attended one of her classes this summer. We began at the Nashville Farmers Market where we browsed the stalls to find the ingredients that looked best. Then we took them back to her house to make a meal. We roasted sweet potatoes for risotto. We roasted asparagus. We grilled fat scallions and red peppers until they charred and sweetened for tossing with fresh pasta, basil and olive oil. Paulette keeps classes small, so we can all get our hands in the dough around the table in her kitchen. I loved learning the simplicity of ingredients and process in the pasta. Just 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs. For dessert, we sprinkled peaches with cinnamon and swaddled them in buttered phyllo dough before baking. But one of my favorite moments of the meal happened when Paulette told a story about watching a man in Italy peel a fresh peach for dunking in white wine.
A few weeks ago I helped judge the cornbread cook-off at the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, Tenn.
I love having the opportunity to help with contests because they’re educational and inspiring to me. The panel of judges usually includes a collection of people with varied backgrounds – from just great eaters to those with more formal food knowledge (like Linda Carman, a baking expert with Martha White, and Donna Florio of Southern Living). I like discussing the reasons certain dishes resonate -- to totally geek out over food, basically.
Since I grew up eating “soup beans and cornbread” at my grandfather’s house, I also appreciate the creative nod the winning recipe gives to Appalachian cuisine. In her Tennessee Onion Soup Gratin, Jennifer B of Virginia combines white beans, bacon, greens and cornbread. But rather than turnip greens, she uses a milder Swiss chard. Also the hunks of Jack cheese folded into the cornbread -- which bakes atop the soup -- help recreate the melty, stretchy cheese thing that happens with a crock of French onion soup. Her dish helps preserve Southern culture -- but in a modern way.
I also love that this contestant was wearing headphones while she cooked:That’s focus.
Apparently it worked because she took home third place (out of 10 finalists) for her Sausage and Spinach Calzone Cornbread.
And I couldnt help but ask. She was listening to some of this:
Tennessee Onion Soup Gratin by Jennifer B. of Falls Church, Virginia Makes 6 to 8 servings Soup 8 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces 3 large onions, halved and thinly sliced 1 tablespoon sugar 1 pound Swiss chard, stems removed, sliced into 1/2-inch strips 1 (15.5 oz.) can white beans, rinsed and drained 2 tablespoons cider vinegar 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 4 cups low-sodium beef stock 4 cups water 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper Cornbread Topping 1 (6.5 oz.) package Martha White® Yellow Cornbread Mix 1 large egg, lightly beaten 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 2/3 cup milk 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1. Heat Lodge® 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook bacon until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Add onions and sugar to bacon drippings. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add chard, white beans, bacon, vinegar and red pepper. Add beef stock and water. Bring to a low simmer over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper. 2. Heat oven to 400° F. Mix together cornbread mix, egg, butter and milk until blended. Fold in cheese cubes. Spoon over simmering soup. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with metal spoon, breaking through cheese crust and scooping soup and cornbread into deep bowls. --------
Caramelized Maple Apple Bacon Brunch Bake by Margee B. of White Salmon, Washington Makes 6 to 8 servings Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray Cornbread 5 applewood smoked thick bacon slices 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (raw sugar) 1 large egg 1/2 cup milk 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 1 (6 oz.) pkg. Martha White® Cotton Country® or Buttermilk Cornbread Mix 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese Apple Topping 1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 1/2 cups peeled, chopped Granny Smith apples 1/4 cup orange juice 1/2 cup pure maple syrup 1 teaspoon orange zest 3 tablespoons Smucker’s® Sweet Orange Marmalade 1/3 cup golden raisins 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg 3 tablespoons powdered sugar 1. Heat oven to 375° F. Coat10-inch Lodge® cast iron skillet with no-stick cooking spray. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange bacon slices on paper in single layer. Whisk together 2 tablespoons maple syrup and cinnamon in small bowl. Brush on top side of bacon. Bake 8 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 10 to 13 minutes or until bacon is very brown. Place bacon on paper towel, glazed side up, to drain and cool. Chop into small pieces. 2. Whisk together egg, milk and 3 tablespoons melted butter in large bowl. Stir in cornbread mix and cheese until blended. Set aside 3 tablespoons bacon. Stir remaining bacon into cornbread mixture. Pour into prepared skillet. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. 3. Place pecans in another 10-inch skillet. Toast over medium heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes, shaking skillet often. Remove from skillet. Set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet. Add apple. Cook 5 minutes on medium heat. Slowly add orange juice, 1/2 cup maple syrup, orange zest, marmalade and raisins. Bring to a slight boil. 4. Cut cornbread into wedges. Top with warm apple mixture, pecans, reserved bacon and nutmeg. Dust with powdered sugar. --------
Sausage and Spinach Calzone Cornbread by Andria G. of Matthews, North Carolina
Makes 6 servings 1 tablespoon Crisco® Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion 1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage, casing removed 2 cups fresh spinach, lightly packed 1/3 cup chopped roasted red pepper Crisco Original No-Stick Cooking Spray 3/4 cup ricotta cheese 1 large egg 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1 (6.5 oz.) package Martha White® Yellow Cornbread Mix 2 cups marinara sauce 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1. Heat oven to 425° F. Heat oil in 10-inch Lodge® cast iron skillet over medium heat. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Stir in spinach and roasted red peppers, cooking until spinach wilts, about 3 minutes. Spoon meat mixture into medium bowl with slotted spoon. Discard any liquid left in skillet. Wipe out skillet with paper towel. Coat with no-stick cooking spray. 2. Whisk ricotta, egg, cheese blend, Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper until combined. Stir in cornbread mix until well blended. Stir in sausage mixture. Spoon into prepared skillet and spread evenly. 3. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and spread with 3/4 cup marinara sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges and cheese is melted. Cool 5 to 10 minutes. Heat remaining marinara sauce in small saucepan on medium heat. Slice cornbread into 6 wedges. Serve with warm sauce.
I wrote a story for The Tennessean recently about going on a ramp hunt with pork guru Allan Benton and a crew of about seven other writers, eaters and chefs. This is Allan.Allan and his wife Sharon frying bacon and country ham.
I decided to write it as a “lessons learned” story, because on the day of the hunt I nearly ran out of gas on the drive and derailed picnic plans for our entire caravan. Allan had packed a truckload of bacon, cornbread, potatoes and trout to cook creekside with our ramps, and our ramp-hunting crew had come from Asheville, N.C., and Birmingham (from Southern Living headquarters), and Charleston, S.C., for this event and meal, so putting a damper on it would have been extremely uncool.
Even worse, we had stopped at a gas station just before heading up the mountain. I guess I was so excited to be hanging with Allan that I didn’t even look at my gas gauge. I also naively thought the hour-long drive each way up mountain roads would be much shorter. I grew up in the country! I ought to know better!
Alas I had to break the news to Allan when we were standing on top of the mountain that I had been running on fumes (of mostly anxiety and prayers to the Exxon gods), because I wasn’t sure – even if I coasted – that I would make it to the bottom. But he was so calm and cool. I remember him just looking at me and taking a minute to reply in his endearing Droopy-the-Dog drawl.
“Jennifer…if you run out of gas….we’ll just leave your car….and go down the mountain…. and get you some gas…and come back….and fill it up.”
It was a classic “tame the dragon” moment. After imagining the worst-case scenario -- and walking through what would happen – I realized that things are never as bad as they seem. It was one of many lessons that day.
Take it easy.
But be prepared.
A quest for ramps teaches life lessons: Hunt for simple plant teaches lessons about more than food By Jennifer Justus, The Tennessean Hes been called the Prince of Pork, Boss Hog and the Pork Whisperer. From his humble shop in Madisonville, Tenn., Allan Benton has earned celebrity status among the chef-and-foodie crowd nationwide for his bacon, country ham and Tennessee prosciutto. But on a spring Sunday afternoon near his home, Benton took a break from the smokehouse to take us hunting for another of his favorite down-home delicacies: ramps. The plant, which is like a pungent leek-garlic hybrid, grows wild in cooler, higher elevations from the Southeastern United States up through Canada. Traditionally chopped and sauteed with eggs or potatoes in Appalachian regions, ramps also have been celebrated in higher-end restaurants in recent years as pickled garnishes for meats or spun into soups. To fully appreciate what it can bring to a dish, its best to follow an expert. And in this case, that meant going up a mountain. So as a small crew of writers, chefs and enthusiastic eaters gathered to fuel up on gas for a climb up the Smoky Mountains near Madisonville, Benton offered his first tip of the day — a reminder that dads packing for road trips have been issuing for eons. "Even if you dont have to go — go," he said, gesturing toward the restrooms. "Because after this, we go where the bears go." Turns out it would be one of many lessons Benton would offer throughout the day. But his advice went beyond the basic — and even further than the best way to smoke a ham. These were life lessons. And the first? Be prepared. In the back of his truck he had ramp-hunting tools (garden hoes and trash bags) along with two iron skillets the size of manhole covers, two camp stoves, two pones of cornbread, several slabs of pork, and a cooler of cold drinks. A feast would follow the hunt. So with his truck stocked and fueled, we climbed to the mountains bald where the wind whipped and whistled. Then as we stepped over the guardrail, the climate changed. Within a few yards we were under a green canopy of trees. It was darker, cooler and quieter — a place that seems to always smell like youve just missed the rain. We shimmied down the steep grade –— some more gracefully than others — as Benton issued his second lesson from behind the group. "Guys, this is not a race," he said. "New York City, this is not." Lesson 2. Slow down. Be patient. About 20 years ago, a friend of Bentons took him "ramping" for the first time. As an avid fly-fisherman who loves the streams and woods, he took to it instantly. But on this Sunday it was a first-time experience for some, including chef Matt Bolus. The Knoxville native, who was working at a Charleston, S.C., restaurant at the time, will begin his new position as executive chef with Watermark in Nashville this week. And though ramping was new to him, hes no stranger to Benton or his products. "Ive used Bentons bacon the last three restaurants Ive been," he said. "We used to go by there on the way to go trout fishing on the Tellico River." The ramp hunt, though, was an unexpected experience for Bolus. "I was coming up to Knoxville to see my parents," he said. "I called Allan to see if he was gonna be in (his shop). He said, Im going ramp hunting so I wont be around, but why dont you come with us? " And so to teach his method, Benton surveyed the blanket of mosses, roots and sprigs of green for our prized ramps. He pointed out stinging nettle, trillium, purple wild flowers and ferns. He got a thrill finding "Crows Foot," a plant with a spicy kick like arugula that old-timers cook like collard greens. It was the ramps we came for, though, and after a little more searching, Benton found some: They looked like tufts of green, growing in clumps with broad leaves. And to carry on with his lesson of patience, he showed us how ramps must be gently uprooted as not to break the buried bulbs from the sprouting leaves. As we got the hang of it, we drifted in different directions. A peace settled over the group in the woods where the song is different from that of the whistling apex of a mountain where vegetation is more sparse. In the woods, its just a crunch underfoot and chirp overhead. We filled our bags and headed back to the guardrail at the top of the ridge. Bolus and Thomas Williams, of Nashville-based Cornbread Consulting, were proud of their haul. But with a wide grin, Benton opened their bags and began to toss most of the contents back to the earth. "Lily, lily, lily, ramp, lily, lily, lily...," he said. And so came lesson number three. No pretenders. Look for the real thing. "Thomas and I thought we had the motherload," Bolus said. Even with a deluge of lilies, plenty of ramps had been collected, too, so we headed back down the mountain for a picnic by the creek. Part of what makes a ramp hunt so rewarding is the work before the payoff. At a campsite, we sprang into a different sort of action — cutting the roots off the bulbs and rinsing dirt from ramps in the creek, chopping potatoes, unloading stoves and cookware. All the while, we traded stories on our first ramp-eating experiences. These days ramps can be found on high-end menus (much like Bentons bacon). The bulbs and leaves are pickled, sautéed and spun into soups. Jennifer Cole, an editor at Southern Living magazine, said she tasted them for the first time at the James Beard House in New York City. Others had eaten them more humbly. Benton said his daughter ate them nearly every day while in medical school until the other students began to notice the aroma emanating from her pores. A doctor pulled her aside to ask if "everything was OK." "You cant eat them every day," he said. On Bentons first ramp experience, he had eaten the powerful plant raw. "I ate gobs of them," he said. "Sharon literally tried to get me to stay outside." Sharon Benton fried bacon, and Bolus prepped trout and cornmeal sent over by chef John Fleer, who had planned to attend that day. Fleer, the Canyon Kitchen executive chef of Cashiers, N.C., had named and popularized Appalachian Foothills style of cuisine while at Blackberry Farm, the upscale East Tennessee resort. In doing so, he helped put Bentons bacon on the culinary map. Bentons family from rural East Tennessee — no cars, no tractors — lived on what they raised. The family loved pork for its versatility. Benton said its where he learned to know what tasted good and to recognize quality. Before he met Fleer, though, Benton said he was barely getting by selling mostly to locals. When Fleer called from the posh Blackberry Farm to make his first order, Benton thought it was "just another greasy spoon." Fleer, however, introduced it to the star chefs who would visit Blackberry, and word spread. Benton now sells to 30 restaurants in New York City alone, such as Momofuku and PDT, the trendy speakeasy where bartenders mix up a Bentons bacon cocktail. Youd never know it to see his shop. Benton answers a rotary phone by a wall of yellowed business cards. "Its just a hillbilly operation," he said. Before the trip, Bolus said he had been anxious about cooking with Fleer, a chef he highly respects. But he soon learned — standing creekside with the Bentons cooking simple trout, potatoes with ramps and bacon that it wouldnt have mattered who showed nor what he cooked. And there came the final lesson of the day. Appreciate the beauty in the basic. "It was just one of those days when simplicity rules," Bolus said. Bolus went home to visit his parents after the hunt with about 5 pounds of ramps ("Mostly donated by Allan," he said). He made a salsa verde using the green leaves of the ramps instead of cilantro to top a steak. He cut up the bulbs the following morning for brunch, and he pickled the rest. The chef said he plans to have ramps in the kitchen at Watermark, too, but hell keep his philosophy simple like the afternoon when he pitched in to forage for ingredients, cook and share a meal. "I went home and thought, Wow, not only did I learn something, but Im inspired to get back to the essence of what food should be, " he said. "And how to enjoy it."
Lilies, not ramps.Matt Bolus, executive chef at Watermark. -------- Scrambled eggs with ramps, morels and asparagus This egg dish, which can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, blends a traditional method for cooking ramps with fresh spring favorites — morels and asparagus. 1 tablespoon butter 1/4 cup thinly sliced trimmed ramp bulbs and slender stems plus 1 cup thinly sliced green tops (from about 4 large ramps) 4 medium asparagus spears, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup) 1 ounce fresh morel mushrooms, thinly sliced lengthwise (about 1/2 cup) 4 large eggs, beaten to blend 1. Melt butter in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add ramp bulbs and stems to skillet; sauté 3 minutes. Add green tops, asparagus and mushrooms; sauté until ramps are soft and asparagus is crisp-tender, about 9 minutes. 2. Add eggs to skillet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir until eggs are very softly set, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide scrambled eggs between 2 plates and serve immediately. Recipe from Bon Appetit, April 2009.
My friend Caroline recently left this comment on my Facebook wall:
_"Ive always wondered why you dont post your pieces on your blog? Oh by the way - YOUHAVEABLOG" _
Its true. I rarely post the stories I write for The Tennessean here -- partly because they get archived after a couple weeks, and then the links will ask for your money. But given that my posting here has been like molasses lately, I thought I could paste some stories into the body of the blog -- just to get me back in the groove.
Im starting with last weeks story about biscuits. Ive been thinking about them a lot lately. A few Saturdays ago, I met a friend at The Beacon Light Tea Room in Bon Aqua, Tennessee, for some of the best biscuits Ive tasted -- made with lard, small, flaky-light.
Visiting the Beacon Light sort of feels like going to Sunday School in a dark fellowship hall basement of a Baptist church. Crosses and paintings of Jesus hang on the walls, and plastic loaves of bread sit on each table holding strips of scripture.
I love that my dining companion brought in a box of brown sugar to make his own "brown sugar gravy." He told me its something his dad and grandfather would make by mixing up a soupy spread of butter, sugar and coffee.
My dad once told me that my grandfather liked his biscuits crumbled up in coffee with cream and sugar.
Everybody has their thing. Biscuits are personal. Which is why I wrote this...
by Jennifer Justus
Ask 100 different people for the key to making a perfect biscuit, and youll get 100 different answers. Some swear by lard. Others use only Crisco or butter. Size matters. And then theres process:
"Dont twist the cutter," says Nashville home cook Angel Funk.
"No sweaty palms allowed," insists chef Avon Lyons.
Just like barbecue, biscuits are personal. So much so that when we posed the "best biscuit" question to Southern food aficionado Pat Martin, of Martins Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville, he had only one solution: Drive to Mississippi and taste his grandmothers.
French novelist Marcel Proust would recognize the sentiment. What the madeleine evoked in his _Remembrance of Things Past_, the biscuit is in the American South. No ratio of buttermilk, flour and soda could mean more than the sum of a biscuits parts. More often than not, biscuits come connected to a memory of a person. Someone along the way taught us _how_ to like them.
So with entire books devoted to biscuit recipes and opinions — and a tale to go with each one — I only know one way to write about this bread: Tell my story, in hopes youll give me yours.
My mother called them "whop em biscuits," because she whopped the can on the side of counter to crack it open. No, I didnt come from a foodie family. We didnt grow fresh herbs in the garden or spend hours stirring slow-simmering pots. My parents worked hard outside the kitchen and didnt spend much time in it. We even had a couple of lost years when a hole in the counter sat like a vast canyon where the oven should have been. But moms canned biscuits, instant mashed potatoes and chili chunked into a pot directly from the can might have been her best food gift to me, because she left me with a curiosity about food — real food — and an openness to experience it with gusto from any person who would share it with me. My brother, who subsisted on after-school snacks of frozen Steak-umms and Tang (as did I), will now dirty every pot in the kitchen to make an elaborate, home-cooked meal.
"Discovering food was like discovering a new world for us," he says.
The only real biscuit-maker in my past was my grandmother. An elementary school lunch lady (when lunch ladies still cooked), she raised eight children at home and thousands more at school on homemade biscuits served at nearly every meal. The trouble is, I dont remember my grandmothers biscuits. She died before I knew I should appreciate them. So when the baking soda content of a Loveless Cafe biscuit sparked my dads memory over lunch recently, I sopped up every word.
"Do you know her recipe?" I asked hopefully.
"I dont even think she knew it," he replied.
She never measured a morsel. She simply dumped flour and buttermilk straight onto the counter, mixing with her hands. She rolled out the dough with a water glass that doubled as a cutter, which she kept stashed in the flour bin.
"If she had a rolling pin, I never saw it," Dad said.
For firsthand biscuit-making experience, therefore, Id have to go outside the family. So I went to the next best thing: Phila Hach. The 84-year-old Joelton innkeeper has become a mentor and friend, so one night as she whipped up three batches of biscuits for experimentation purposes, I watched at her side.
Phila has cooked all over the world. Shes cooked for the entire delegation of the United Nations, and for celebrities including June Carter Cash and Duncan Hines on her cooking show – the first ever broadcast in the South. But when Phila makes biscuits at home, she pulls out bags of flour with their tops ripped off and a small, beat-up bowl. Bent on the bottom, it rattles on the marble table as she tosses the flour with her crooked hands.
"Forgive me, because I dont measure," she says. "But _you_ should."
Phila breaks down her ratios of flour (self-rising or all-purpose) to fat (butter, lard, vegetable shortening or even cream), and offers a nonstop stream of suggestions. "The secret to making a really good biscuit is not to overwork it," she says. "You dont squeeze it, you tumble it. You tumble it exactly 10 times."
It soon becomes clear that great biscuit-making involves a lot of practice. "You feel your biscuits," Phila says. "You feel your bread."
One place where Phila is precise is size. She cuts her biscuits with an old snuff can – a tool thats not manufactured anymore. "I like small biscuits," she says. "I think its more refined and Southern."
John Egerton, local food writer and historian, agrees. In his tome _Southern Food_, he writes about the fast-food biscuits that showed up in the 1970s. "They all tend to be as big as hockey pucks. Made-from-scratch Southern biscuits that are smaller, lighter, flakier and more delicate than these lumberjack versions are rarely found in restaurants today."
He also provides some context. Biscuits took their place beside corn bread as a daily favorite in the South when flour from the Midwest became more affordable in the 1880s. Leavening agents such as baking soda and baking powder had become available commercially around 1850. Biscuits were just simple food that became common on Southern tables because of necessity and availability of ingredients.
On my biscuit-making adventure at Philas, we tasted each type, then determined our favorites. If shes cooking for 400 people, Phila is most likely to make cream biscuits. If shes cooking for four, itll be buttermilk (sourmilk, as she calls it).
Probably the best stuff from my biscuit night at Philas, however, was the conversation. Phila spun out story after story, on everything from men to mishaps on her cooking show to her adventures as a flight attendant.
"Theres just so much to learn out there," she says. "I just never stop. I wouldnt change a bit of it. Id just do more of it."
Of course, not every biscuit-maker will agree with Philas recipe or tips. Its a deeply personal topic, no doubt. But what brings us together about biscuits is that everyones got a story. Even one that starts with a can from a grocery store and ends with the next best thing to a grandmother a woman could have. Because grandmothers might teach you how to make their best biscuits, but the best grandmothers also teach you how to live.
Thats my biscuit story. Now, tell me yours.
You know what happens when you accidentally meet a guy you really like?
You stop blogging.
That’s what happened to me anyway.
But this quote inspired me to start back. …along with this… …and this cookbook, which holds said quote… …and this recipe…. …which I used as a guide to make this… I love how raisins add little explosions of sweetness to savory food, and olives sneak in a style of their own as salty-rich nuggets. The combination of the two ingredients in Cuban picadillo is one of my favorites, so I was happy to put them into a Moroccan stew.
The raisins plump up as if they might burst, and the cinnamon stick simmers until it unfurls like a miniature magic carpet. But it’s the orange that adds the most life to the couscous with tiny flecks of its fragrant rind.
No wonder they call it zest.
Moroccan Stew with Orange-Cilantro Couscous Adapted from Shiny Happy People by Neil Roake Olive oil for sautéing 1 large onion, chopped 3 cloves garlic, chopped 1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches) ½ teaspoon cumin ½ teaspoon turmeric ¼ teaspoon cayenne ½ a (32-ounce) box of vegetable broth 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice About ¾ pound small red potatoes, large dice 1 green bell pepper, chopped 2-3 carrots, chopped 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained About ½ cup of raisins or to taste Green olives to taste Salt and pepper to season Harissa, Moroccan hot sauce (I used Robert Rothschild brand from Whole Foods.)
1. Heat oil in pan. Add onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and spices (through cayenne) and sauté for a minute longer, stirring constantly. 2. Add broth, tomatoes and vegetables through squash (add more water if necessary to cover vegetables with liquid). Season with salt and pepper. Simmer covered until vegetables are tender.
3. Add beans, raisins and olives and heat through. Season again if needed. Serve with couscous and harissa.
Orange-Cilantro Couscous Adapted from Bon Appétit
2 cups water About 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel 1 10-ounce box (1 1/2 cups) plain couscous About 2 tablespoons of cilantro, chopped 1. Combine 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons juice, oil, and peel in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Stir in couscous; cover and remove from heat. Let stand until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 12 minutes.
2. Add cilantro and fluff couscous with fork, adding more orange juice if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.
Nevermind. I take it back. Endings are the hardest part. Especially lately. For me, anyway. Or maybe it’s just transitions? I went to North Carolina recently to help judge a chef throwdown at the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. My friend Brooke came along for company, and on Friday night, our friend Thomas joined us. Welcome to Asheville… I needed the break. But we were heading down a twisty road under a canopy of damp green to Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers, North Carolina. From the table…
Chef John Fleer (formerly of Blackberry Farm) soon had us passing watermelon with goat cheese, chicken saltimbocca with Benton’s ham over Lazzaroli pasta and sweet tomatoes. For dessert it was Cruze buttermilk panna cotta with shortbread and blackberries. Fleer is friends with Thomas, so he stopped by for a glass of wine at the end of the night and brought us a tuft of the panna cottas special ingredient from the garden -- anise hyssop. We talked about Tuscan kale (his favorite ingredient at the moment), figs (his former favorite ingredient until he had trouble finding them locally), and the Dead Milkmen, a band that crashed on his floor during college. He told us how he went from studying philosophy in graduate school at the UNC Chapel Hill(his father had been a professor at Wake Forest) to working in a kitchen for a woman who always had food under her fingernails. Philosophy lost him to food. Academic philosophy, at least. We started the next day at one of Asheville’s fantastically quirky tailgate markets. We had stalks of okra swaddled in buttery sleeping bags.
Chocolate from chopsticks. Goat cheese with bee pollen and lavender. And beet-gorgonzola pastries that prompted a story from our host Dodie of the Asheville Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. Dodie likes getting beets from her CSA farmer, and she once bonded over them with the guy who distributes the boxes. Dodie (looking inside box): "Beets! I love beets." CSA guy: "I know...Can’t you just imagine your insides all magenta." This woman’s name is Tara.
She helps make this bread. Theres much more to say about Asheville. The city of about 70,000 has 17 active farmers markets and more than 200 independent restaurants. They call it a Footopian Society, and I cant wait to get back.
Heard along the way: No Mystery – Now You See Them (in the photo above) Wildflowers – Tom Petty Hit ‘Em Up Style - Carolina Chocolate Drops Moon Song – Bob Schneider There, There -- Radiohead Far Away in Another Town – Justin Townes Earl
Is it bitter or sweet? All depends on your timing."
Earlier this summer, someone from the Village Voice wrote about "Nashville-style hot chicken" on a menu in Brooklyn.
Then my friend Dana at the Nashville Scene wrote about the Village Voice writing about "Nashville-style hot chicken" in Brooklyn.
Then someone from New York magazine wrote about Dana at the Nashville Scene writing about "Nashville-style hot chicken" in Brooklyn.
So I couldn’t help myself.
I wanted to write about it, too.
_Is the chicken hot enough in Brooklyn? Can they take the heat? Are New Yorkers total hot chicken wimps? _While these questions have been raised, I wonder if we should all just wave a greasy white napkin in surrender.
I don’t consider myself a hot chicken expert, and I’ve never attempted to make it. But I have had my share of Prince’s Hot Chicken, and in one of the most interesting afternoons of my existence, I took Thomas Keller there for lunch (More on that here.) So while I was in New York for the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party this summer, I had to check out the Nashville-style chicken for myself at Peaches HotHouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
At Peaches HotHouse the chicken is pleasantly orange. Like a sunset. At Prince’s it’s rusty-brown like a paint chip from the walls of hell. At Peaches HotHouse the chicken rests on a sturdy mattress of egg bread. At Prince’s it sits on a standard-issue slice of white bread so thick with grease you could wring it out. At Peaches HotHouse there are no windows for placing an order. No paper plates with celebrity signatures nailed to the wall. No vending machine in the corner. And -- brace yourselves purists -- no skillets for frying (they use a fryer instead). So what about the heat? When I visited Peaches HotHouse, I had to box up my chicken mid-meal and run off to the airport. I ended up missing my flight. So while waiting to speak with a ticket agent, I scarfed down the rest of it without a single…drop…of…water. But all things considered, I love what the guys in New York are doing. The crisp crust balances a bit of burn with a touch of sweet while holding together the moist, juicy insides. The chicken comes alongside a mound of mouth-cooling macaroni salad. Nice touch. And the egg bread, albeit it sans grease, adds sophistication. Lord knows we could stand to lay off the grease in Tennessee occasionally. When it comes to heat, I spoke with Ben Grossman, one of the owners of Peaches HotHouse, who said truly “hot-hot” Prince’s-style versions can be cooked to order on request. “The chicken that we serve up here is probably more like a medium down in Nashville,” he said. “But we do offer two more varieties of hot, hot chicken which you need to ask for. I remember when I was eating down at Prince’s I could only take a few bites.” (Uh-huh.) But then Ben almost earned a bless-your-heart merit badge when he added that he and his partner Craig Samuel – both Brooklynites – have a “Southern spirit.” Ben said he learned about Prince’s through a Southern Foodways Alliance documentary (watch it here), and he visited Prince’s, Bolton’s and 400 Degrees on a trip through the South. His version of Nashville-style hot chicken on the Peaches HotHouse menu is his best-selling item. But it also makes up only about 20 percent of actual sales, because these guys (they’re classically trained chefs) have plenty more on the menu such a spicy-sweet watermelon and arugula salad with lime and ginger. I appreciate that Peaches Hothouse isn’t trying to rip off our hot chicken – rather theyre paying homage to it with their own version. And I like knowing that Nashville now has something to export besides country music.
Hot chicken on a stick at the Music City Hot Chicken Festival in July. The line at the festival for Prince’s was outrageous. We waited for Bolton’s instead. Bawk. What to do after a hot chicken festival? Drink moonshine! For a different kind of burn...