My Weekend With the SFA

October 31, 2011

I got back from the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual Symposium, where the focus this year was on the “cultivated South.” And this is what I did:

  • I hung out with a poet who knows how to spin verses on deviled eggs.
  • I tasted the first olive oil produced east of the Mississippi in over a hundred years.
  • I watched an opera. An opera about collard greens.
  • I drank a Manhattan with the country’s leading cocktail authority.
  • I ate a foot-long, heirloom radish.
  • I made a hard apple cider float, with great cider from Foggy Ridge in Virginia and freshly made vanilla ice milk.
  • I learned about the growth of community gardens in the parking lots of Atlanta.
  • I helped raise $270,000 from some amazing generous individuals.
  • I sang “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” with an owner of a popsicle shop.
  • I sipped punch from a bathtub.
  • I had lunch with the original publisher of Spin magazine.
  • I ate a slice of wild boar prosciutto.
  • I saw an amazing set of food-themed photographs from an incredibly talented young lady.
  • I snacked on boiled peanuts while watching a film about, what else, boiled peanuts.
  • I tasted far too many different bourbons than I can remember.
  • I had some of the best fried chicken, while staring in awe at the customer beside me who devoured 8 pieces in 10 minutes.
  • I took home a packet of pimento seeds, which I will plant in the spring.
  • I sadly learned about the demise of the native mirliton, but also was happily informed of one man’s quest to bring it back.
  • I spooned fig and bourbon preserves onto a country ham biscuit, confirming a match made in Southern heaven.
  • I rode on a school bus with a woman who wore a different Elvis t-shirt every day.
  • I had lunch with a fishmonger who brings seafood from the Gulf of Mexico to the West Coast.
  • I discovered that people will come up with crazy variations on common games, such as “Sexual Jenga.” And no, I did not play it.
  • I realized that I would like to have a bento box for lunch every day.
  • I smiled after a talented friend “blinged up” my name tag with Hello Kitty stickers (and more).
  • I chatted with one of the best chefs in the Triangle, only to learn that our families are from the same neck of the woods.
  • I was proven wrong: someone does make a good fried pickle.
That’s what I did this weekend, and this was just the tip of the iceberg. What did you do?

Taco Ideas

September 15, 2011

For the third year in a row I’m throwing my own Tacos and Tequila birthday party on the 25th. This old man is turning 48, and  there’s nothing I like doing more than cooking for friends and family.

I typically make four different types of fillings for soft tacos, a red meat, a poultry, a seafood, and a vegetarian option. Sometimes I might make two red meats, depending on my mood.

I’m thinking about pork belly carnitas as one option, and maybe lamb for another red meat. Chicken? Not sure what to do. Suggestions welcome for that and the seafood selection. We fried a LOT of shrimp last year, but I may go with catfish this year. I just haven’t decided.

I have my friends bring tequila, beer and dessert. I do everything else.  And if I’ve actually met you in person, and you didn’t get an invitation, let me know. If we’re not too crowded, you’re welcome to join us.

And really, if you have any ideas for an interesting taco type, let me know. I’ve really not decided on anything yet.


John Fleer — Rock Star — Stir the Pot

September 13, 2011

It seems that VarmintBites has turned into nothing more than a means to publicize fundraisers, but when one is on the Board of Directors of two different organizations having food-related fundraisers, well, you can understand.

So, this Sunday and Monday we’re having another Stir the Pot, those fantastic events hosted by Ashley Christensen to benefit the Southern Foodways Alliance. I’ve attended most of these events, and they’re a ton of fun, but this week is different.

This time, the guest chef of Stir the Pot is John Fleer, Rock Star. Yes, that’s the term used by John T. Edge, the Executive Director of the SFA. That’s a term I’ve heard Ashley Christensen use for him. Could it be because he was the celebrated chef of Blackberry Farm, one of the best inns in the country?  Or that he left Blackberry at the height of his career and notoriety so he could do something that allowed him to spend more time with his familly? Like work at Sunburst Trout or take over as chef at Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers, NC.

Yes, those are good reasons to call him a rock star (and I’ve had his food — it’s rock star quality). But the real reason to call him a rock star is that he acts like one, and I have pictures to prove it. It’s been 4 years since I took these photos, and at the time I said they wouldn’t see the light of day, but I’m changing my tune. I’ve got pictures of Fleer chugging Southern Comfort. I’ve got pictures of him stealing a kid’s bicycle (OK, he just rode a bike laying on the street). No, I don’t have a photo of him passed out, but I can try.

The problem is, you don’t get to see these photos unless you attend one of the Stir the Pot events. The fancy, five-course dinner with wine pairings prepared by Chef Fleer is at Poole’s Diner on Sunday night at 7 PM.  The Monday evening potluck is at Ashley Christensen’s home (Brunswick stew, beer by Foothills Brewing, a drink by Fox Liquor bar, and wine donated by Eliza Kraft Olander. The Sunday dinner is $150 per person plus tax and tip, whereas the Monday potluck is $35 per person plus a side dish or dessert that celebrates your sense of place, wherever that may be.

Reservations are required and space is limited. Call Poole’s Diner at 919-832-4477 to reserve your spot for either or both nights.

So go ahead and sign up. And maybe these photos will end up on display.


An Amazing Event for an Amazing Organization

September 12, 2011

You like Herons restaurant in the Umstead, don’t you?

And you love the Shimmer Wall, Marbles Museum and the cool ring sculpture on the lawn behind the North Carolina Museum of Art, right (it’s called Gyre, for what it’s worth)?

Well, what would you think about an event where that particular artist, Raleigh’s own Thomas Sayre, and the Herons’ chef, Scott Crawford, combine forces for a once in a lifetime event? An event where Chef Crawford, and some other amazing guest chefs (including Colin Bedford from the Fearrington House and Matthew Medure of Jacksonville, FL) create food inspired by Sayre’s art? Where the chefs and the artists come together and talk about how they inspire each other?

This event — Expressions, A Celebration of Food and Art —  is happening on Friday, September 23rd at the Umstead Hotel and Spa. This event benefits the Lucy Daniels Center, and I need you, my readers, to step up and buy a seat or two. You’ll be the recipient of some amazing food and wine that will knock your socks off. You’ll learn about the creative process for chefs and artists. And you’ll be helping out an amazing organization — the Lucy Daniels Center — the Triangle’s leading provider of mental health services to children.

I’m begging you to come to this event (I’m the chair of the board of the Center), and you won’t regret it. Heck, if you buy a seat at this dinner, I’ll double your value. I’ll cook a special dinner for anyone who buys a seat and mentions that they heard about it through VarmintBites. So, that means you get the dinner at Herons and then a dinner at my house. Yes, the Herons dinner will be better, but mine won’t be too shabby, either.  We’ll have to work out the logistics, but if 24 people buy seats and mention my site, then I’ll have to figure out a way to cook another dinner for 24. Yes, I might have to break it into three dinners of eight, but we’ll get it done.

To buy tickets online, go here: https://jtsuther.wufoo.com/forms/expressions-registration/  And when you list the guests, mention “Referred by Varmint” to be added to the dinner list. We’ll follow up with you.

If you have questions, call the Center at 919-459-1611 and ask for Patti Wilt.


Help Stir That Pot

August 12, 2011

OK, admit it. Ashley Christensen is a rock star. Not just Raleigh’s rock star, but she has national attention now. We’re just lucky to have her here.

So when Ashley Christensen supports a cause, like she does with her Stir the Pot events for the Southern Foodways Alliance, it must mean a lot to her. And because I’m a member of the board of directors of the SFA, well, dammit, I want you to join Ashley, me and a bunch of other great people this Sunday and Monday.

If you want some kick-ass, high end food and wine, get a reservation for Sunday’s special dinner at Poole’s featuring chef Ed Lee of Louisville, KY’s 610 Magnolia. This guy can flat out cook, so this will be an incredible dinner (with fantastic wine, of course).  The dinner will cost you $150 plus tax and tip, but the money goes to the SFA’s documentary film initiatives.

But in this economy, I understand if you can’t swing a big ticket item like Sunday’s dinner. So just plan on joining us at Ashley’s lovely home Monday evening for the “Industry Potluck.” Make something tasty, and then bring it and a check for $35, and you’ll get to rub elbows with a lot of local food celebs, including chefs and food writers.

So, what’s your excuse? Pick up the phone and call Poole’s at 832-4477 to make your reservations. See you soon!


Ashley Christensen on Iron Chef America July 24

June 9, 2011

Ashley Christensen, chef and owner of Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner, will be on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” on July 24 at 10 PM.  Christensen chose Iron Chef Bobby Flay as her competition, which was recorded some time now. Although some news leaked out that Ashley was on Iron Chef, the details have been highly confidential, including the outcome.  I believe she is the second local chef to appear on the show, as Walter Royal of the Angus Barn beat Cat Cora in 2007 several years ago.


Ashley Christensen’s Take on Barbecue — With Fullsteam!

November 4, 2010

As I wrote earlier, Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner is preparing a very special barbecue dinner to benefit the Lucy Daniels Center.  This won’t be any ordinary barbecue, however.

Ashley cures the pork for 3 days, with a special rub of salt and other herbs and spices.  This turns the pork into the most amazingly succulent swine you’ll ever taste.  But then she slowly smokes that pig over nut wood (typically pecan) for hours and hours, until a nice, crust is formed and the meat is redolent of that sweet smoke.  Of course, she has her own take on sauce.

You know it will be good.  No, you know it will be the best damn barbecue you’ve ever had.

But there will also be beer.  And we’re talking about beer that was created to be served with barbecue: Fullsteam’s Hogwash, which is a hickory-smoked porter.  We’ll also be serving the Fullsteam Carolina Common, a lighter beer for those who prefer it that way.

And as far as side dishes are concerned, you won’t be disappointed.  Don’t expect some limp green beens or dried out corn sticks.  There will even be a special Brunswick Stew.  And banana pudding so good, it’ll make you want to smack someone.  I mean, kiss them.

We will have some of Ashley’s roast chicken for those who don’t eat pork.  And if you’ve had that chicken before, it’s the best.  Anywhere.

But I need you to buy tickets to this dinner.  Yeah, it’s pricey, but it’s for an amazing cause.  The Lucy Daniels Center is the Triangle’s leading non-profit provider of children’s mental health services.  Why is this a big deal?  Because in this economy, with so many people unemployed, it’s harder than ever on children.  And parents don’t have the resources to pay for the help their kids’ needs.  The Lucy Daniels Center provides some sort of financial assistance to 90% of the families who receive care.  A large portion of those families receive care for free.

So I ask you — No, I BEG you — please go to the Lucy Daniels website and buy tickets to the dinner. Or call Patti Wilt at 919.459.1611. You’ll have a great meal.  You’ll enjoy the beer.  And you’ll know you’ve done something very special for families in need.  And there’s nothing better than that feeling.  Not even the banana pudding.

Buy tickets thru PayPal here: http://www.lucydanielscenter.org/page/pooles-diner-to-host-q-for-kids-fundraiser-november-7

Or call Patti Wilt at the Lucy Daniels Center at 919.459.1611

Adults are $75, kids under 14 are $35, and all but $25 is tax deductible.  Sorry, no beer for the kids.