The Global South: 2010 SFA Symposium (Freestyle)

October 26, 2010

Early morning flight, moon still full
Heading off to Memphis and the hills of Ole Miss.
I missed the first night, and lack of head pain thanks me
Driving down 55, wanting to go 90, knowing what’s ahead.

Ah, there it is, I see the Square, and of course there’s no place to park.
Wait, there’s one, just for two hours, but tickets ain’t much.
Into the Lyric, they’re talking ’bout the Gulf
How seafood’s so clean, and ready for your plate
So why’s so few ready to partake?

It’s an hour short of noon, Bloody Mary time
With President Linton reminding us of how we serve the cause.
I’m still a tad bit nervous, being the new kid on the Board
But meeting lots of people, is just another reward.
We are all old friends, even if we’ve not met.
It’s the SFA. It’s what we do.

What’s that, time to eat? Tamales in the heat?
It’s Robb Walsh and I, off to lunch, to the Powerhouse we go.
He tells me all ’bout Houston
And Tex-Mex history
I’m near last in line, craving for some grub
As my last bite was a muffin, at the Starbucks, back home.

Who’s that? Ann Cashion there? Yes my dear, dear friend, we share tales of old and new
It’s folks like her who draw me back, back to Oxford town.
We love the sweet potato salad, and piquant peas
Quail tamales are something new, with dessert just divine.

Talks of masa and rice lead to Geechee, not Gullah
In Philly no less!
It’s cane sugar Coke and domestic rum, refreshing, relaxing for the bus.
To Taylor we go. For catfish we eat, sharing peach moonshine, hoping not to spill.
Fullsteam’s on tap, goes well with the fish, even when it’s fried in a hip-hop wok.

Time for bed. Fuck that shit. I need a drink. Some bourbon and beer.
Pabst BLUE Ribbon.
Time for last call, you’d think that that’s that. But later we stay,
Pableaux and Joe and Snack and me.
Speaking of snacks. Chevron knows oil, even for food
But not at 2:30. No chicken, no stick.

I’m too old for this crap. Stayin up with the moon. Sleep, I must sleep.
But I have people to meet
Friends to see. It’s the SFA, remember. It’s what we do.

Bring on the profs, after Amy and Kev. Talking ’bout talking. And the world, getting small.
Lam tears it up, and then just tears up. We’re in his palm, and he’s in our arms.
“Suck on the head,” Andrea cracks, Viet pride in Cali, expressed in food.
Not sure what he thinks, this rapper called Bling. With swoosh-laden boots
He stands before us, mostly white, over the hill. But he gets us. And we get him.
It’s the SFA. It’s what we do.

Ms. Bernstein gets us, too, with her Miami nice, serving chicken, and shrimp with all kinds of corn
Crunchy and popped and in hominy form.
I learn about lamb, from my new friend Craig, who’s a doc and a shepherd and a Shakespearean fan.
Ox tail. It’s rich, we need some red wine.
It’s called a tian. But to us, it’s something old as something new.
Nanner puddin, that’s what.

More listening and learning and talking and seeing
‘Bout Houston and Charlotte, so distant, so close.
Then how about a nap, a snooze, a rest?
But it’s time to honor those who’ve done it best.

It’s a film about men, Viet men who fish. Through winds and rains and plumes of crude.
They’ve lived thick and thin. And they’re here to stay.
Just like Calvin in Holmes, where they own their own land
And grow their own. And lend a hand.
One more honoree, Christiane’s her name. We’ve dined on her words, oft poisoned by her pen.
These folks are so proud. But not as much as we.
Because this is the SFA. It’s what we do.

Forty-three heads, of a bovine ilk, were buried in coals. Beef crack is mine.
Horchata with whiskey makes the crowd frisky,
Or was that the licks of Neuvo Banda Corral?
It’s corn one more time, but clear as day,
Don’t worry ’bout germs, it’s self-sterilized, that Mason jar rim.
We share, we hug, we laugh.
It’s the SFA. It’s what we do.

One final day, for the SYM-POS-I-UM. Doc Harris sells wares. But no one is buyin’.
The Mississippi Monks, start soft and start slow. And build it on up, making us move, making us believe
In the power of music, and togetherness and reconciliation.
I dance. I cry. I eat. I hug. I laugh. I say goodbye.

I’m in the SFA. It’s what I do.

The Best Community Cookbook Ever — And Two Events to Celebrate It

October 12, 2010

Yes, I love the Southern Foodways Alliance.  Yes, I’m a member.  And yes, I’ve even been nominated to be on its Board of Directors.  So it should be no surprise to you that I’ll do just about anything this organization asks of me — not just because I’m a good soldier, but because there’s nothing this organization does that I don’t support.  Whether it’s a fundraiser for their film or oral history initiatives or for scholarships for burgeoning food writers, I’m going to spread the word.

This time, however, it’s different.  This time, the event is to celebrate a cookbook.  A fantastic, spiral-bound, community cookbook, suitably named, “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.”  The cookbook  is divided into chapters that represent the region’s iconic foods: Gravy, Garden Goods, Roots, Greens, Rice, Grist, Yardbird, Pig, The Hook, The Hunt, Put Up, and Cane.  It’s been edited, written and compiled by some of my favorite people in the world, including April McGreger, baker and pickler extraordinaire of Farmer’s Daughter in Carrboro, Chapel Hill’s great cooking instructor, Sheri Castle,  and Sara Roahen, author of the fantastic book on New Orleans, “Gumbo Tales.”  Heck, I even submitted a recipe for the book — and yes, it is a recipe for cooking one type of varmint.

To celebrate the release of the book, there are not one, but two events planned for this weekend in Chapel Hill.

The first event is this Friday, October 15th, at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill (750 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd).  This event is a book signing and is free to the public — and, yes, there will be a little bit of food there.

The second event has a lot of food, and this is a ticketed event.  It will be on Sunday at 4:00 PM at Chapel Hill’s 3CUPS (227 South Elliott Rd.).  If you just want to come and eat, it’ll cost you $25.  If you want one of these awesome cookbooks (all the cool kids have them), then that will cost you an additional 15 bucks.  That’s less than the Amazon price!  So, you get a soon-to-be iconic cookbook, lots of great food (with both cake and pie, as there will be a debate about which is better), lots of social interaction with writers, and all on a Sunday evening!  And because it is 3CUPS, there will be wine.  Tasty, wonderful wine.

So, get off your butt and head to Chapel Hill this weekend to buy a book — the best community cookbook ever!  And if you need more information, just check out the SFA’s Blog.

Interactive Dinner Party — Southern Style

August 6, 2010

As I’ve previously written, my wife and I host an interactive dinner party for my law firm each summer.  The primary purpose of this party is to ensure that everyone in attendance plays some role in the production of the dinner, whether it’s prepping, plating, busing, or shaking cocktails.  That way, we put people in situations that are a bit different from our office environment, such as when a first year associate is telling our managing partner that he’s screwing up the composition of the plate.  It’s a multi-course affair, and with the exception of one year when I did Louisiana-inspired food, I’ve made Italian fare.  That’s because Italian is easy, particularly for a big crowd.

This year, however, I’m doing something different — Southern food.  Some of my chef friends gave me some ideas for dishes, and then I got other inspirations from items that are fresh at the market.  Here’s my tentative menu (the dinner is on the 14th), listing who provided or inspired the idea.  If no one is listed, then I’ve sort of pulled that one together from multiple sources.  I’d appreciate comments and suggestions, particularly if there’s a way to make it easier on myself.  There will be 34 guests this year.  Eek!


Blackberry Collins –Vodka infused with Lyon Farms Blackberries, House-made Sour, Club Soda  (inspired by Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill, but I’m likely using this for the SFA Potluck on Monday) -OR-

Whiskey Barrel Punch — Bourbon, pomegranate, lemon, Angostora bitters, sparkling wine

Hors d’Ouevres

Smoked deviled eggs with trout caviar – Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Diner, Raleigh, NC

Country ham and cheddar pretzel bites – Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY


Roasted Figs, Celebrity Dairy Goat Cheese, Allan Benton’s aged country ham

Green tomato soup with lump crab, Benton’s bacon and tomato relish – Ben Barker, Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC

Creamed Collard and goat cheese ravioli with smoked turkey consommé– John Currence, City Grocery, Oxford, MS

Shrimp n’ corn – NC Shrimp with creamed corn, duck cracklins, okra

Lamb Loin, Pink Eye Pea and Zucchini Salad, Tomato-mint jam


Brown sugar pound cake with roasted peaches and molasses crème fraiche – Karen Barker, Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC

I may throw in an intermezzo course of a slice of watermelon with heirloom tomato and some Pheta from Chapel Hill Creamery, inspired by Bill Smith’s great salad at Crook’s Corner.

World’s Simplest Cobbler

June 26, 2008

(This is a big old cobbler with lots of peaches before baking.  Photo courtesy of Jason Perlow.  I don’t have a shot of the finished product, so you’ll just have to make it to see how good it looks!)

People love them some cobbler.  I knew I made a lot of people happy when I recently posted my recipe for Bill Neal’s Four Berry Cobbler, which certainly wasn’t a secret (I don’t believe in secret recipes, quite honestly — especially for home cooks).  But that’s not the only type of cobbler I make: one of my favorite desserts is a simple peach cobbler where the crust makes itself.  Yup, you don’t have to make a biscuit dough and cobble it on top — you  start with a simple cake-like batter that creates its own crust as you bake.  It’s extraordinarily simple, and you really can use any kind of fruit you want, but I prefer peaches.

This recipe came from the wonderful cookbook, Coastal Carolina Cooking, which is very near and dear to me because the first chapter focuses on my wife’s late grandparents, Emest and Katherine Taylor, from the Currituck County town of Maple (population 50, including livestock).  This cookbook is a treasure trove of wonderful stories and great recipes, but the one I use more than anything else is the one for Cherry Cobbler.  And I rarely make it with cherries. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pit is Great, And They’re Open for Lunch

January 22, 2008

thepit.jpgThe Pit has now been open for nearly two months, and I finally made it there for lunch. Yes, that’s right, for lunch — they started offering the mid-day meal in the last couple of weeks. But others — many others — have beaten me to the punch. Greg Cox of the N&O has already visited and will be reviewing it shortly. Bob Garner‘s crew is editing his review for his television report. And I, after writing about it extensively (including my first ever post on VarmintBites), finally got down to Davie Street to see how good it was. Damn good is the answer.

For some reason, I was a bit skeptical of The Pit. Most of the early reviews were favorable, with a few high praises and one or two “no, thank yous” mixed in. I knew Ed Mitchell could cook a pig as well or better than anyone else, but I also remembered that his Wilson restaurant was plagued with quality control problems. Blame it on inattentiveness, bad management, or just lack of consistent turnover, but I had some pretty lousy barbecue at Mitchell’s. That’s why I was hoping, but not overly optimistically, that this partnership with Greg Hatem and Empire Eats would result in a quality eating establishment. Read the rest of this entry »

Southern Food, According to Gourmet

December 21, 2007


I’ve subscribed to Gourmet for at least ten years. I was about to give up on the magazine until they ran a special edition that focused on Mexican and Latino foods, including a great Colman Andrews piece on Durham taquerias.

Yesterday’s mail brought another smile to my face when I realized the January Gourmet focused on food of the American South. Yeah, South. There’s a beautiful essay by the late great Edna Lewis, discovered after her death. There’s a story on Ayden, North Carolina’s Skylight Inn. John T. Edge writes about Linton Hopkins and his struggle to have Atlanta embrace his Restaurant Eugene. And Scott Peacock puts together a great dinner menu of Southern food. These are real people and real places, some friends or acquaintances, and the magazine truly warmed my heart, making me wanting more. That’s exactly what a food magazine should do. So, to all those bashers of Ruth Reichl, watch out — I’ve got her back!

Hot Tamales — On the Road to the SFA Symposium

October 28, 2007


When I booked my flight to Memphis for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, I made sure I was on the earliest departure available as I wanted to explore the Mississippi Delta region. I was on a quest for the legendary hot tamale. I’ve heard about the great tradition of hot tamales in this area, and although I’m still wondering how a Mexican food has become a mainstay in the region (and particularly part of the African American foodways tradition), this was a time to conduct a survey of a lot of interesting joints. Unfortunately, due to a delayed flight, we began our journey later than expected, and once we hit the road, bad luck became our passenger.

The first place we visited, Sears Grocery in Tunica, MS, was not yet serving food for the day, primarily because someone had just placed a large to-go order for 30 people. So we reluctantly got back into the car and headed south and west to West Helena, Arkansas. I wanted to visit this area for a few reasons: first, I’ve never actually driven across the Mississippi River. Second, I wanted to see Helena and West Helena, two towns that have a legendary history but have fallen on hard times. And, of course, I wanted to visit Pasquale’s Tamales. Well, unbeknownst to us, Pasquale’s no longer has a store front — only a cart on the weekends. Thus, we were 0 for 2 in our hot tamale quest. Helena is a sad shell of a town that was obviously a thriving gem at some point in its history. With a downtown strip that runs parallel with the Mississippi, Helena was once home of the King Biscuit Flour Company, and the King Biscuit Flour Time is still broadcast from KFFA in downtown Helena. Today, I can see why folks would be singing the blues in Helena, as it truly saddened me to see how the town had fallen on such hard times. However, I did see something in Helena that was new to me: a combination deli and auto shop. Yes, while you’re getting your oil changed at the Haynes Car Care, you can feast on hog maws and beef tips next door at the Haynes Deli.

Read the rest of this entry »