Category Archives: Food

7-card stud, fried catfish, and girls who are ripe for Southern dick

by Angela Perez

Dear reader, I’m going to share with you a conversation I overheard yesterday whilst dining in one of my favorite country-cooking cafés.  As I feasted upon cucumber & onions in apple cider vinegar, hushpuppies, slaw and fried flounder, a rough-looking, ruggedly handsome, middle-aged fella, about 50, and his buddy, a wiry, white-haired, elderly man in a John Deere cap, sat in the booth behind me.  I know what they looked like because I checked them out when I got up to pay my bill.  Here’s what I heard (names have been changed):

Younger fella: [in a thick, Southern accent where one-syllable words are spoken in two syllables – like “cah-aHd” for “card”]: I’ll tell ya’, that ole gal’s running that card game in [tiny town in rural Franklin County] three days a week now.  All ‘dem boys is gettin’ in on that game.  7-card game.

Older fella: Nah. Nah.  Count me out.  I ain’t gettin’ in trouble with the old lady.  No cards for me.  Not anymore.

Younger fella:   That Tommy is a crazy sumbitch when he’s drunk.  And he always loses when he gets to drinking.  I won $3,000 last Thursday night ‘cause he was hitting that bottle.  Had been all week.  I don’t know when he ain’t drunk lately.  [Pauses, looking at the menu].  I’ll be damned if they ain’t added some new things on the menu.  Chicken-fried steak…clam strips…Nah, I want my usual, them chicken livers.

Older fella: I’m getting the chicken and dumplings. That’s always good.

Waitress comes over to their table. She’s tall and scrawny, a very weathered-looking 21 or 22, chewing gum, white-frosted, stringy, mouse-brown hair pulled up in a bun, and quite possibly, hidden under her purple t-shirt, a tattoo sprawled across her lower-back consisting of a shaky galaxy of stars, hearts and/or butterflies or maybe the word “Slipknot” or “Carolina Panthers” with the team logo.

Waitress: Whatch’all boys having to eat today?  Tommy [Editor’s note:  This Tommy is not to be confused with the drunken Tommy, you know – the one who turns into a sumbitch when he gets drunk] I know you.  You want them chicken livers.

Tommy [to the old man]: What did I tell you, Ed?  This little gal knows what I like.  [guffaws in a suggestive way]  I like a gal who knows what I want.

Ed:  I want the chicken and dumplings….ummm….no….get me that catfish with fries and hushpuppies.

Waitress: I gotcha.  It’ll be out in a little while.  [she walks away]

Tommy: That lil’ gal is ripe for it.  Just like her momma used to always be.  And I gave it to her more than a couple times.  Her mamma, I mean.

Ed: What’s her name, our waitress?

Tommy: I can’t remember, known her since she was little.  But her momma, now, you know her.  Donna.  Used to be Donna Jackson.

Ed: Oh yeah.  I remember her.  Well, I remember hearing about her.  She married that Phelps boy.

Tommy: Yep, Jimmy Phelps.  He plays cards with us, too.  You know, I read in the paper today that that ole’ boy ain’t paid his taxes.  But he’s up at that trailer every week playing cards like he’s got money to spend.  I feel bad for him though.  He had to put his momma in that nursing home and it’s costing him an arm and a leg.  But three people stopped by my store today and told me they saw Jimmy’s name in the paper for not paying his taxes.

Ed: People love to tell you bad news when it ain’t about them, don’t they?

Tommy:  You damn right.  You know, I saw Jimmy kick his dog one night.  He had brought that dog of his, a yellow retriever, up to the card game and Jimmy was drunk as hell and he was losing all his money.  And that dog kept whining at his feet and he kicked that dog so hard I thought he’d killed him.  I’m gone tell you one thing you don’t do around me and that’s hurt a dog.  Jimmy nearly got his ass beat that night.  We made him go home after that.  Kick no dog around me.

Ed: Nah, ain’t no call for hurting a dog.  That’s unconditional love right there.  Cain’t expect that kinda loyalty from people, I’ll tell ya’ that much.

Tommy: You know, Lou Ray won $2,200 that same night and he don’t never win.  I still think he was cheatin’ somehow.  You cain’t trust a single one of them in that whole family.

Ed: His daddy won’t no good.  And none of his boys are.   They’re all trying to find a way to make a dollar off you, whether it’s to your good or not.  And it’s never to another man’s good, I can tell you that much.

By this point, I had eaten all of my food and needed to go ahead and go the counter and pay the check. As I stood up, I accidentally pushed the booth seat back into Tommy’s booth seat behind me.  I apologized to him and he smiled. 

Tommy: Aw, purdy girl, I thought you was just getting fresh with me.

Angela:  I never get fresh before 5 p.m.

Tommy: Whoo, girl [he gives a low whistle] call me at 5:01 then.

Angela:  [laughs out loud]

As I walked outside, I thought about going back inside and asking Tommy if I could go to a card game at the trailer with him some time. But I figured he’d think I was ripe for it.  So I let it go and went back to work.

Two stoned dudes ordering at the Bojangles drive-thru: gimme all your dirty rice

I needed hot fried chicken last night.  Real bad.  So, while I was at the Bojangles drive-thru waiting on my order and I could hear the two stoned-as-fuck guys behind me ordering (they were on the loud speaker):

Stoned driver ordering: Rice. Gimme rice.
Bojangles worker: Sprite?
Driver: Rice!
BW: Fries?
Driver: Rice!! RICE! Gimme all your dirty rice.
Stoned passenger to driver: Man, I’m the highest I have ever been at a Bojangles.
Driver: Shut the FUCK up, I’m ordering.
Passenger: Get me some mac and cheese.
Driver: No way man. Last time you got that shit all over my fucking truck. You’re getting fries.
Passenger: I’m high and I know what I want. End of story. There’s a big difference in fries and macaroni and cheese.
Driver: Not when you’re wasted as fuck and riding in MY truck.

Alas, dear reader, my order came all too soon and I had to pull away. So much wonderfulness all around us if we just pay attention while getting hot fried chicken.

cheech and chong

Just let well enough alone: a one-minute tale of weight loss and gain and loss

by Angela Perez

Sometimes, you just need to take a compliment with a simple “Thank you” and let well enough alone.  Especially when you’re weight has gone up and down and all over in the last year and a half.  This happened last night:

Friend (who hasn’t seen me in 5 months):  Whoo, girl, you look good!  You look skinny!
Angela:  Skinny?
Friend:  Skinny.
Angela:  As compared to what?
Friend:  Uh…as compared to last time I saw you.
Angela:  Skinny?
Friend:  Well, I mean…skinnier.
Angela:  But use of that word implies a degree of svelteness.
Friend.  Okay, why don’t you just shut the fuck up?  How ’bout this – you ain’t as big as you were. You look so good so please shut the fuck up.
Angela: Let’s start over.

Note:  This is still way better than how some of my Southern friends and family back home greet you when you visit for the holidays: 

My 300-hundred pound diabetic cousin donning a muumuu:  “Whoo, Lord, you have really packed on the pounds since I saw you.  Lookin’ just like your big Aunt So-and-So.”
Angela:  You haven’t seen me in a quarter of a century.  Since I was in high school and weighed 100 pounds.
Cousin: I know. Girl, ain’t no slim folks in your family. Wasn’t never meant to last no ways. Seen this comin’. Weight Watchers, girl. Weight Watchers. We got to stay on it in this family. (She says she eats the top off of a red velvet cake.)
Angela: Hand me that whole tomato.
Cousin: Girl, is that all you’re eating?
Angela: No, I am about to shove it in your mouth so you’ll shut the fuck up. Pass me the mac and cheese.

Memories: From Peckers in Raleigh to Pirozhki in Moscow (with collard greens with fatback on the brain)

by Angela Perez

My body takes issue with my intellectual pursuits.  In particular, with my adventures with food.  That’s right!  I consider food not a just a nagging means for survival or even some kind of guilty pleasure.

Cheese-laden grits and creamy coconut paletas unlock the meaning of universe, wrap my prune brain around the tragedy of man.

Musing on why all those super-jazzed always-nearly-jizzing young white guys with beards and tattoos sling craft beer and bake bread with ancient grains of Mesopotamia and wax poetic on authentic heritage hog bbq stimulates my mind.  Awwww, but fuck all that.  I haven’t felt like spinning yarns and navigating facts related to the intersections of food, race, class, and gender for a few hours now.

I’ll quit boring you about my foray into raising meat goats (as opposed to the kinder and more lovable pursuit of raising dairy goats – see, I want to roast these babies to make goat tacos and sell them.  …goddammit, I’m doing it again…I ought to apologize…).

Thing is, though, I’ve got no secret greetings.  No inane uplifting game plan.  Just a dusty hide stretched out and sagging from not spending enough time with just me.

People who can’t be alone scare the ever-loving shit out of me.  ‘Dem homosapien fumes and skin flakes all cloggin’ up my chi.   Endlessly making deals with myself to be happy, to achieve Nirvana…all wearing me slam the fuck out.

Angelita, that young woman of the people, vanished.   Endless fine distinctions regarding my expanding middle-aged body and mind are blue-veined and clear to me.   In all my years in Raleigh, I’ve observed a nightmare of eager peckers and shared living arrangements and over-priced fried chicken.  That foie gras torchon was the bomb though.

Finally, alert, I humbly request you hurl your attention at the bittersweet victories of Southern women.

pork

That time I was the only girl at BBQ camp.

Culinary Nostalgia and Local, Artisanal Food Ways: what the Indy Week interview with a BBQ scholar can tell us about ourselves

by Angela Perez

John Shelton Reed, 74, is a highly respected author and scholar of Southern history, sociology and food ways.  He taught for over 30 years at UNC-Chapel Hill and helped found the school’s esteemed Center for the Study of the American South.  Reed, who lives in Chatham County, is also a leading BBQ scholar (I’m going back and getting my PhD in THAT) and recently released his newest book, the cookbook “Barbecue.
A week or so ago, Reed discussed BBQ in North Carolina in an interview in the Triangle’s Indy Week that brings up insightful points about  “orthodoxy” and “authenticity” in preparing and discussing Southern cooking.  That dogmatism Reed is referring to is born out of  a rampant culinary nostalgia that’s inspiring everything from eager foodies buying Lodge cast iron skillets (local Southern celebrity chef Ashley Christensen promotes Lodge often – I’ll admit I’ve wondered if she has or is angling for an endorsement deal with them or if she just genuinely loves the cookware.  Lodge is, in fact, some great cast iron cookware made in Tennessee since 1896.  Whatever the case, I’m glad she is using her popularity to promote it.), pop-up homemade pie stands being erected on organic farms (one pie stand I visited in Durham recently had sold out within a couple hours of opening and you couldn’t even park near the stand for all of the Lexus SUVs and Subaru Outbacks that had swarmed onto the farm), and slick, earnest documentaries featuring highly-tattooed guys waxing poetic on the art of pickling.
BBQ in North Carolina, like so many other fiercely loved regional delights, demands authenticity amongst both sporting foodies who didn’t grow up with the food and those die-hard, that’s-how-my-grandmother-made-it Southerners who did indeed grow up with it and want to preach its gospel.  (We Southerners love to tell people we grew up eating this and that and the other straight from the river or the garden. I’m highly guilty of always referring to my grandmother’s collard greens and my grandpa’s crow stew or cornmeal-breaded fried flounder. I wonder when crow stew will trend…)   Reed tells Indy interviewer Lee Quinn:

The newer generation of barbecue cooks and pitmasters are self-conscious in a way the old barbecue guys weren’t. There is a dogmatism or even fundamentalism in their devotion to cooking over wood coals, pulling the pork, etcetera. There’s a return to orthodoxy that indicates a real respect for these traditions and the regions they represent.
So much media and press attention goes to chefs, restaurants and artisans connecting with the “old ways.”  It is now in the hands of the food industry to preach the gospel of localism through food.  The question becomes, what’s driving such staid, serious dogmatism in food production and why?  From whence springs the all-consuming desire to delve into the murky origins of forgotten food ways?  Why is the public trying to connect with where their food comes from like folks could in the “old days” (though, that connection “back then” was born out of necessity, not luxury – these days, it takes some serious bucks to “reconnect”)?  And why is the public so in love with those chef and artisan food adventures down the romantic, back-to-our-roots rabbit hole?
There seems to be some deep, biological need driving consumers into the arms of Southern chefs and artisan food producers as we salivate and weep for joy and exclaim:  “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for giving us the real thing!” And we admire, often to the point of sycophantism and slavishness, those people who do the research and the hard work and take all of the business risks to present us with the “real thing.”  These chefs, biscuit makers, pork pullers, bakers, butchers, etc.  wield the power to dole out one of the most compelling forces in the universe:  nostalgia.  Let’s take a look at how nostalgia and food connect.
On the negative side, what’s happening is that there is a lot of back-slapping and circle jerking going on in the Triangle just because something is made local and demonstrates a home-grown ethos.  I mean, we all hate what mass-production and globalization have done to society, right?  These folks focusing on “local” and “sustainable” agricultural are thumbing their noses at such gluttonous economy.  My God, family farming can sustain an expensive restaurant so who cares that it might not affordably sustain an entire population?  “That’s not my problem,” I mutter as I shovel organic, locally-grown kale into my pie hole.
The fact remains, however, some of those local restaurants and artisans ain’t producing food that’s even all that GOOD.  Or they are producing food that is good enough for Raleigh or the Triangle but would never cut it nationally.   I hear a lot of my friends in the food industry call certain restaurants and products, “Raleigh-good” and they don’t mean it in a circle jerking kind of way.  Yet, for now at least, the public seems to be willing to fling their money at anything that feels authentic.
Nostalgia is a powerful urge and a powerful business.  Luckily for us, this homespun brand of a consumerism is bound up in basic human need (to eat) benefits us all – the seller hopefully, makes a living and the consumer ends up with incredible food not mass-produced and made with inferior products that aren’t good for us.
In other words, some of that culinary nostalgia may be driven by our current fears of faceless greedy corporations threatening our health and our planet all in the name of making a profit.  Foodies spending their money on “local” and “authentic” food crave and idealize the notion there is love and care, just like when they were children, in the preparation and presentation of the food they are about to put into their bodies.  (Though, ironically, for Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, our grandparents and parents were happily serving us new-fangled highly processed foods like Cool Whip and canned peas – pre-packaged food that made their lives so much easier and simpler.)
We love the idea of a business that doesn’t appear to be wholly born out of the desire to make a profit at any cost (even though, let’s be real, these folks do still need to send their kids to college and pay bills and feed the dog).  Surely, these committed craftspeople are driven first and foremost by passion and curiosity and eschew the destructive evils of capitalism.  I mean, my God, they mortgaged their homes and spent their retirement savings so I could have an heirloom tomato sandwich with homemade pickles on rye bread sourced from the bakery down the street.  They spent their kids’ college fund so I can go in an expensive restaurant and sit on a bench that’s made from wood from an old tobacco barn in South Raleigh that was originally built by slaves.  I mean, my God, how can you NOT feel good about spending your money on that?  (Oh my God, I just realized Sean Brock is the Wendell Berry of restaurant owners.   More on that in another, related blog.)
It FEELS good to give these guild masters our money, like we are doing the right thing for our bodies, our taste buds, our local communities and for humanity in general. I know I for one would much rather buy a $6 loaf of bread from a local baker who claims to be using a technique specific to Roman bakers in 600 BC than a $1.99 loaf from the Kroger bread aisle.  I just better when I put my hard-earned money into the hands of a real, live small business owner who cares about the who, what, when, where and why of their food production (beyond profit) and usually, hopefully, the food tastes great to boot.   And if these chefs and artisans don’t dig into the old food ways, we’re threatened with losing our stories, our history and our origins as it all gets wiped out by giant faceless food conglomerates who have no interest in preserving anything beyond profit margins.
Another driving force behind culinary nostalgia is a deep-rooted need to be part of a tribe, to feel safe in the bosom of a connected community.  By asserting and participating in specific, regional food ways like BBQ, you assert a cultural identity and ensure the continuation of your “people” and your way of life.  Or as Reed puts it in the Indy article:
The tie to geography, particularly in North Carolina, overlays rivalries between the east and the Piedmont. Differing economies, settlement patterns, plantation systems (or the lack thereof), and differences in the European and African migrations to areas of the state all play a role in these identities. In some ways, arguing about what makes barbecue stands in as a proxy for fighting about other things. The Texas-North Carolina smoked meat rivalry indicates this on a regional level. The reason for the relatively recent bubbling up of these arguments might be due to the increasing homogenization of other aspects of American cultural life. Barbecue—at least good barbecue that pays homage to local traditions—can still stand for a place.
In Northeastern North Carolina, when we insist that pulled pork doused in a vinegar-based sauce is the only “right” way to eat BBQ, we are defining ourselves as a distinct community, one that is united by food dogma.    In standing together in the name of vinegar, we are assured we will survive even as those Piedmont hooligans hurl tomato-based BBQ sauce (though, to be accurate, there is still vinegar in the bbq sauces that have tomato in them) at us and threaten to blow up our forts and smash down our walls and run away with our women and children…dissolving the tribe and killing off a simpler, sweeter way of life, even if that way of life doesn’t actually even exist anymore.
And while I strongly encourage you to keep a critical eye on the food and drink that is being presented to us (remember, just because the food or drink was made here or someone won a national award or the News & Observer constantly praises it doesn’t automatically mean it’s all that great), I at the same time believe that biology, history and our taste buds demand that we take these deep dives into all those old Southern food ways.  Let’s all eat, drink and be merry as we continue to analyze and dissect what “local” and “authentic” means.
But don’t get too damn merry.
Don’t forget, we still need to talk about race and class in culinary history and local food ways and take a look at who gets access to all of these fancy breads and heirloom this and heritage that and free-range fried chicken.  I mean, everyone deserves good food, don’t they?  Let’s keep that in mind as we slap each other on the back for getting a write-up in some national magazine – ask WHO is getting to reconnect with where their food comes from.  Will it just be middle-class, educated white folks who like to run marathons and sport cool glasses and interesting tattoos who can afford or are willing to pay $11.00 for a pound of house-ground, heritage-hog chorizo and $16 a bowl for artisanal grits and $12 an ounce for sunflower micro greens while they sit in a refurbished cotton mill and sip a $9 craft brew made with local hops?  Is this where culinary nostalgia inevitably leads and leaves us?  Sweet God have mercy, I hope not.
Ask what the hog can do for you, but what can you do for the hog.

Ask what the hog can do for you, but what can you do for the hog.

Latest food review for Indy Week: “At An, a Rhubarb Cake Provides a Meal’s Perfect Conclusion”

by Angela Perez

I am often asked what is my favorite restaurant in the Triangle.  I have a few, and An, an Asian/Southern fusion restaurant in Cary, is certainly one of them. Ask me directly if you want to know what the others are (I’ll whisper them in your ear).  And I do love giving restaurant recommendations.
Here, in my latest food article in the Indy Week, I relay to you a revelation –
what does an exquisite french pastry named after gold bars have to do with a Japanese kanzuri paste made from chilis that have fermented under snow for three years?
Ah! You shall soon find out…

Just click here to go the article in the Indy.

Chili peppers are fermented in snow in Japan for three years to make kanzuri paste.

Chili peppers are fermented in snow in Japan for three years to make kanzuri paste.

 

The eternal drama of food, of eating: more notes from the Piedmont Farm Tour

by Angela Perez

Here are a few more notes and stories from individual farms on the Piedmont Farm Tour I went on this weekend.  Notes not included in the Indy Week article.   Just some little side bits on what I saw and experienced.  The gist of the tour is you pay $30 and pick up a button from one of the 38 farms participating on the tour.  The farms on this tour were in Alamance, Person, Orange, and Chatham counties.  Once you get your button and leave the first farm, then you drive to the other farms you are interested in, showing your button at the registration table at each farm.  That simple.

I’d love to see similar farm tours organized in northeastern NC and in Franklin, Granville, Warren, Vance and Johnston counties.  Though, there will have to be more development of farmers markets in those areas and working with farmers to teach them how to tap into the “Farm to Table” movement and beyond.  Because at the end of the day, economics are the bottom line and just telling a farmer to go from big, corporate farming to small, sustainable farming, well, you better have some facts and numbers to back up your argument and offer some guidance on making the transition.  The farms included on the Piedmont Farm Tour are examples of farms making small, sustainable farming work.  But, it depends on individual goals and what the land itself is capable of.  Farm subsidies.   Federal and state rules and regulations.  Available grants.  What kinds of ag research universities are focusing on.  Lobbyists in the ag and food industries.

And remember, there are a hell of a lot of people in this world we need to keep fed and we need to feed them economically, so don’t just dismiss large corporate farming outright unless you know of another way to do it just as economically.

Wendell Berry, American novelist, poet, farmer, and essayist, once said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” He went on to explain “Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth.” The notion is beautiful but that annual drama and changing it, educating the public about that drama, well, whew Lordy, that’s a complicated proposition.  But I’m up for the task.  I want to do my part.  Because I think we can do some good things with food and agriculture in our little Southern part of the world.

The story I wrote for the Indy Week, Reconnecting With the Source:  The Lessons from Two Days on the Farm Tour, can be accessed here.

I have a few other anecdotes here that were not in the story.

Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm

While we toured the farm in a squeaky covered wagon, the farm’s owner and steward, Jack Pleasant, regaled us with tale after tale of the athletic bison escaping the farm, busting through every gate and any wired fence, no matter how sturdy. One bull had jumped 10 fences to get out and was later seen at one of the next farms over.  Pleasant quickly jumped on his four-wheeler and searched in vain for the bull until late into night, combing the fields and woods only to find that the animal returned home at some point in the early morning hours before sunrise “It’s a great life but I will say this” the farmer admitted, “raising bison is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life to make money.”

Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm, Cedar Grove

From Sunset Ridge, I drove over to Windy Hill Farm, a very organized, well-kept farm.   After signing in I was greeted by two farm employees manning a wooden table laden with fresh eggs, homemade cookies, lemonade and fragrant goat milk soap.  Next to the table, one of the farm owners, Jane Gledhill was milking a calm goat as she explained to our small crowd that she’d been working with goats for over 34 years.   “Goats are hard work, but I love this lifestyle,” she said.  “I love these animals.”  One of the highlights of the Windy Hill tour was the honey pie brought out later in the day and added to the table spread.  The rich, buttery, custardy homemade delight was made by one of the farmer’s daughters, Chiara.  The bees that provided the honey for the pie were happily buzzing away in their framed hives just a few feet away.  And just a few feet away, the chickens that provided the eggs for the pie were lounging around in the dirt just past the goat pens.  I bought some goat milk soap and actually met the goat who provided the milk for the soap.  He seemed disinterested when I thanked him.

Avillion Farm, Efland

I then drove about 10 minutes west to Avillion Farms, home to fiber producing livestock, including Angora goats and rabbits. When I walked up to the farm from the gravel road where I parked, there were 20 or so people standing on the front porch watching two rather serious looking women who were hand spinning yarn.  One woman, as she worked, explained that spinning is an ancient art and that before the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, most rural women had to know how to spin.   One 10 year old girl, in her infinite wisdom, said, “That would really suck to spend all your time making everybody else’s clothes while they were out having fun.”  I liked her point, though I doubted day-to-day rural life back then was fun for anyone.

Next to the spinning wheel, huddled in a box was a beautiful greyish brown angora.  I leaned over to pet him and didn’t shy away.   He felt like, well, an angora sweater.  A silky soft puff-ball fur explosion.  I left the porch and went to the rabbit cages – where adults and children alike oohed and ahhhed over babies and their unkempt floppy eared mothers.  As if on cue in a movie scene, a mother duck and her babies walked out of the barn in front of me.  Adult goats sauntered past me looking for food while new born baby goats frolicked behind, hungry and endlessly curious.  As I walked back to my car, one woman was Instagramming a photo of a red lawn mower sitting out next to one of the raised beds of kale.  Her husband seemed annoyed.  “Of everything interesting and cute on this farm,” he asked, “why would you take a picture of that?”  “Because,” she replied, “why would you need a lawn mower on a goat farm?”  She laughed and her kids rolled their eyes and walked away.

Minka Farm, Efland

I woke up Sunday morning very sunburned. Recommendations for farm tourists: put on sunscreen.  And take a cooler with ice.  Most of these farms sell their produce and/or meats.  Many have websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds (these small farms are social media savvy so you can keep up with farm events and what’s on offer).

At Minka Farms, the first farm of the day, I got to hold a one-day old chick and pet a grey,silky new-born baby goat. There were children were working on this farm who grew up in the midst of all of this earthy magic and it all seemed like a rather mundane exercise to them.  It made me realize what a city-slicker I truly am and how disconnected I am from what I eat.  I fed hard boiled eggs to two three-month old piglets and had stare-downs with donkeys and cattle.  The cattle were right there in front of us, pushing and nudging one another, non-plussed by our gawping.  Guinea fowl strutted among the chickens, their glorious feathers making the chickens look like their poorer cousins from down South.  I bought asparagus and boneless pork chops to cook for dinner later that night.  I wondered if the pork chops were related to the two piglets I fed earlier.

Chapel Hill Creamery, Chapel Hill

The third farm I visited was Chapel Hill Creamery. As I walked up, two large white draft horses were pulling a cart of people to tour the dairy and behind them a tractor pulled a second group.  Too late for either the horses or the tractor, I trudged up the hill to the dairy, where I met two young working steers, not yet old enough to be considered oxen, who munched hay while we petted them.  I bought cheese made from the milk produced on the farm by some very happy, well-cared for cows.  It was late afternoon and the crowds were thinning out.  I sat at a picnic table next to an open-air pen of about 8 young calves and sipped fresh strawberry and mint lemonade and munched on the farmer’s cheese I’d bought early, marveling at how much whey-fed pork and fresh cheese I had seen these farm tourists purchase.  Though much of the food at the Creamery and at the other farms was more expensive than typical grocery store prices, you could tell that people felt the cost was worth it.  There was a piece of mind gained in the purchases I made that weekend.

And the conclusion?  Go on the Piedmont Farm Tour next year.  It’s a wonderful way to spend a weekend.  Understand and participate in the food cycle in more meaningful ways.  It’s good for you.  I guarantee it.

Other things to do with pig tails (they aren’t just to season collard greens)

Heard this from a pork producer over the weekend (while at BBQ Camp) who works with chefs to develop recipes.  He’s recently worked with a chef in Atlanta on this idea: sous vide pig tail in brine, bread it and deep fry, toss in spicy sauce – like hot wings, kinda. Phenomenal, he says. I gotta test this out. Handling a whole hog for the first time puts my love of pork in an entirely new perspective – I have more respect than ever for what these animals give to us.  Here’s a photo from summer camp (not your typical camp photo):

pork

Sugar in my biscuits? Normally I’d say HELL no…but…

You guys know I am firmly in the “no sugar in the biscuits or cornbread” camp. But Jubala’s sweet biscuits with sharp cheddar make me think about switching sides….Okay, that will never happen. But these big lovelies in North Raleigh have just the right crust and work with savory.

You ain’t gotta masturbate with an immersion circulator: food and chefs in American popular culture

by Angela Perez
There’s an interesting (yet all over the map) inside-scoop article by Mario Batali in Lucky Peach magazine on how food and chefs became part of pop culture. Like him or not, the dude was part of making food t.v. and food purveyors majorly famous in the 90s and he’s been wildly, wildly successful.  As food finally becomes big business and “rock star” chefs emerge around the Triangle, folks are starting to become interested in not just eating, but in who is serving us the food and how and why.  And the answers to all of this are part of a much larger, national progression of events.  To understand what’s happening locally, we need to understand how the food scene got to where it is on a national scale.  Within this unfocused article, some of that history is explained.
What’s fun about this meandering stream-of-consciousness are the inside tid-bits and jokes and pokes at some of the world’s most (in)famous American chefs.  There are some off-the-wall tangents in here like (I’ve never had a pan of risotto thrown at me though I did throw a pot of spaghetti at an ex-boyfriend.  Like Batali, he walked out):
“It’s almost all better that we get smarter and better characters. There’s still a lot of shiftiness, but your cooks are smarter about it. It’s not like you have to worry about whether they’re going to be in jail on a Friday night, because cooks just aren’t that tough anymore. The real problem is that we have a lot of really smart pussies coming into the kitchen now.
I worked for Marco, and the last straw was when he hit me with a pan of risotto. I walked out. Often what you can learn from those experiences is how to behave and how not to behave. You can have role models who only taught you what not to do. Marco’s genius on the plate was something that I respected—and now I love him, we’re friends—but the environment was not conducive to good food. And the idea that through fear, intimidation, or violence you’re gonna get better art is just someone thinking that they probably should have done heroin with Lou Reed to understand rock.”
But he reflects positively on what the cult of food and the cult of chefs has done for us all – though he ain’t so sure about David Chang’s automated restaurant idea:
“That said, what food television has created for us is a continuously growing, hungry group of people: hungry for the information, hungry for the food, hungry for the experience. On every level they want to engage us. So we’ve never had it this good.
Maybe there aren’t enough skilled line cooks this year, and maybe there’ll be more line cooks next year. Or maybe we won’t need as many cooks. Chang says he’s gonna have automated restaurants. I love the idea. Why have any pesky cooks? Let’s just pour the soup in over here and the dumplings over there. It’s funny how the guy who’s the most artistic out of all of them and certainly who plays the tortured artist better than anyone is the guy who wants a machine to run his restaurant. Bubble tea and pork buns—that’ll be his business model.”
The bottom line, says Batali, is this:
“And it’s happening. We’re starting to understand and appreciate our farmers’ markets and things that are fresher rather than things that are seemingly fresh. We’re a lot more open to seasonal variation and we’re also smart enough to realize that, although it’s nice to have traditional dish, you shouldn’t just eat the same twelve things throughout the year. Going outside that box is intriguing and intellectually compelling as well as satisfying. I mean, the fact that butter and slices of white bread aren’t on every table at dinner right now means we’ve come a long way since the ’50s, baby.”
I still question who is “going outside that box” – as in, who gets to NOT eat the same twelve things throughout the year and who gets to dine and cook in the interesting ways Batali brings up in this mess of an article.   But, hey, we gotta start somewhere, right?
batali

Fried okra and pastel green ambrosia salad made with Cool Whip tastes good.

Some Fridays, all you gotta do is go to the Forks cafeteria in Wake Forest, NC and wait on your hot and crispy fried okra. Because it goes so good with stewed chicken and pillows of pastry, cabbage flecked with salty hunks of pork, and dreamy fluffs of ambrosia salad made with Cool Whip. Ah! As I feast, I sit near the food line because oh how I love hearing old Southern folks order: “I’ll have the field peas and turnip greens, please, ma’am.”