So excited to have been asked to write an “ode to the Blue Note Grill” for Durham Magazine. Easiest assignment EVER!
So excited to have been asked to write an “ode to the Blue Note Grill” for Durham Magazine. Easiest assignment EVER!
Cycling through that first year of hallmarks and holidays would be hard. I knew that. You can’t prepare. You can’t practice. Father’s Day and his birthday would be wrenching. He was 90 and lived an enviable life full of family, friends, and faith. I will miss you every single day, Dad, and all the goodness you brought to everyone who knew you!
~Leo Wayne Wagoner Sr.
August 4, 1924 – December 11, 2014~
Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner*
*Original NC Food post, March 28, 2014.
Reprinted by permission of the North Carolina Folklife Institute.
Dad was a traveling salesman, driving all over North Carolina in the late 50’s/early ‘60’s, and he loved that it put him with new people all the time.
Gone a lot, and often late for dinner, he was still the guy who rolled into the driveway every so often with a trunk full of Hostess Cupcakes, Twinkies, and SnoBalls – compliments of a bakery he called on in Winston-Salem. The son of tobacco farmers, he grew up poor in Brook’s Crossroads, walked five miles in the snow to school (not really, but we heard that a lot), didn’t have enough money to join the Boy Scouts, and earned a nickel helping clean the church every Saturday. From what I can tell, likely lived a hard-scrabble life on the farm. He lived deliberately, determined to make a better life for his family while telling us to always do the right thing and reminding us that life wasn’t fair. He was an eternal optimist who never met a stranger. And the best man I ever knew.
He spoke proud that he’d been in each of the 100 counties of North Carolina and knew those two-lane roads forward and backward. From BBQ to hot dogs, he knew where to stop when he got hungry. Riding along with him sometimes in the summer, I spent plenty of time waiting and reading in the car while he called on Farm Bureau and other offices, mostly down east. With the windows rolled down in hopes of catching the slightest, often non-existent summer breeze, I’d read a little. Squirm a lot. Read a little, fidget a little more, peeking out the window as if that would hurry him up. All the while sticking to the hot plastic seats as my impatience grew and my tummy rumbled.
We ate at oil cloth or plastic-table-cloth covered tables in Mom and Pop places where the waitresses called you “Hon” whether you’d been there a thousand times, or this was your first. Where they automatically brought you a basket of hush puppies (or cornbread, or biscuits, or slices of soft white sandwich bread.) And where the tea was always sweet and the glasses were always filled without even asking. Sometimes we stood by the car under a tree, or sat with the car doors open leaning over so not to drip on the car seats.
When it came to food, Daddy was predictable. That man could simply divine who was serving up chicken pie or chicken & dumplin’s for lunch. Many times we’d stop on a Sunday or Wednesday afternoon at a country church hosting supper-on-the-grounds just to see if they had any chicken pie.
Long tables, or sometimes saw-horses holding up planks, were covered with tablecloths brought from home by God-fearing church women. The spread practically strained from the weight of all the fried chicken, deviled eggs, chicken pie, chicken and dumplings, green beans, cornbread, biscuits, and ham.
He’d hone in on that chicken dish like a dog on a hunt complimenting the maker saying “that was the best chicken pie I ever had.” And he always meant it. While he was helping himself, it was the best he ever ate. By the time we left, often with leftovers tucked between two plates, Daddy had met everyone there, knew their life story and had shaken their hand with a promise to return. And he would. And would remember every single one of them even if it was months, or years later.
It didn’t matter to him whether the chicken pie recipe included peas and carrots, or was topped with pie crust or biscuits, he was an equal opportunity chicken pie lover. He did have a favorite. His Mama’s and it was included in Hugs From The Kitchen, written by Peggy Snow, his first cousin and the daughter of his “Aint” Ollie. In our own Wagoner Family Cookbook, we’ve updated the recipe to include vegetables and even added, heaven-forbid, some wine to the cream.
Peggy Snow, Hugs From the Kitchen.
The Lakeland Ledger, Nov. 25, 1993, Lakeland, FL
Best Ever Chicken Pie
2 ½ to 3lb chicken
1 small onion, sliced
1 rib celery, plus some leaves
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup buttermilk
½ stick butter, melted
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cans chicken broth (in which the chicken was cooked)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, combine chicken, onion, celery and celery leaves. Half cover with water. Cook until done. Cool and bone chicken, saving the broth. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Layer in a 9”x13” backing dish or cast iron skillet. Mix together flour, buttermilk, butter, salt and pepper. Spoon batter over chicken. Stir soup and the equal of 2 cans of broth together. Pour over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Top should be brown.
Note from cookbook: This is a great chicken pie! You can use chicken breast instead of whole chicken. Don’t think I’ve even made this that someone didn’t ask for the recipe. I believe it came from a family night supper at the First Baptist Church in Elkin, NC. – Peggy Snow
Shufflin’ through the Past
by Deborah Miller
I hit my early 30’s with a couple of significant, but soon to be important, strangers in my how-fast-can-I-run life. One was my second husband, who I hadn’t quite met yet, the second was my kitchen where I mostly kept beer or wine cold, the aluminum-drip-pot coffee hot, and take-out stashed as I hurried on the way to somewhere else. Please don’t judge my taste buds. They had no respectable influences back then … Mateus Rosé was my wine of choice because the man I shoulda married always came over with a bottle. You judged the night before by how many empty little Krystal Burger boxes were on the table when you woke up the next day. More than 5 … uh-oh.
But I didn’t hate cooking. In fact, there was something calm and almost Zen-like there that was non-existent in my day-to-day, but I never stopped long enough to appreciate it. My candle stayed lit at both ends in those days. Plus at the time, my kitchen was a converted closet containing a baby 2- gas burner stovetop /oven and the sink was around the corner in my bedroom. Not terribly conducive to culinary expression … not that I’m making excuses because I was, after all, brought up by the “it’s a poor craftsman/woman who blames his/her tools” proverb.
When we (and by we, I mean me, my best friend and our running buddies, who were all either art students, musicians and/ or roadies) would end up in one place long enough, I’d often bake bread and cook a big pot of something. Soup. Stew. Spaghetti … because have you ever seen a boy (or a man) turn down a plate of spaghetti? Hasn’t happened in my life yet and I’m still waiting.
Rarely did I write recipes down, because I was fearless and not afraid to add ingredients with abandon (whether they went together or not). Add enough wine to the pot and the guest(s), and who cares?
My recipes back then, if you can even call them that, were haphazard concoctions based on 1) how my mother made it, 2) how my grandmother made it, and 3) what I could afford. I’ve already proven in earlier blog posts that my siblings and I have varying colorful and wildly different memories of the exact same thing.
There was one family recipe I started doctoring just as soon as I was far enough away from home not to get caught. Bless her heart, my mother’s spaghetti sauce was just plain weird and not like anything I’d ever had before or since. She used to say that’s the way my Dad’s mother made it, that it was German-inspired. German spaghetti sauce? Really? They were from Yadkinville via the Alsace region, but that could hardly account for this particular and peculiar combination of ingredients. And there was nothing North Carolina about this sauce except for the woman opening the bottles. She’d saute onions and celery, maybe some dried garlic, brown some ground beef, then add a couple of bottles of Heinz Chili Sauce. I loved it until I tried “real red sauce” at a real Italian restaurant.
In an attempt to impress when I finally met the man I would marry, born story-embellisher that I am, my kitchen skills took on grand proportions as if I didn’t know, or care, that it would catch up with me sooner or later. We ate out a lot at first, and grilled almost every weekend, so coming up with sides for whatever hunk of meat was charring away outside was easy. There was foolhardiness as I threw elaborate dinner parties and tried out new dishes without even a rehearsal. One dinner, everything was held-up waiting for the rice to bake, a recipe my mother often made for fancy dinners. After 30 extra minutes and finally pulling the bubbling beef broth out of the oven, it was only to discover I’d never added the rice. Fortunately, there was wine a’plenty and if I know nothing else, it’s how to laugh long and hard at myself. For reasons that now escape me we ended up dancing around the dining room table singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of our lungs. It became an after dinner tradition.
Still, the kitchen didn’t scare me. Our circle of friends became fooled into thinking I knew what I was doing back there in that room with the pots and pans. I’ve lost count of the times I’d just go back in there and rattle things around a little just for their benefit.
Once married, and without even consciously trying, we began to start our own food traditions. One that included having all our favorites on one plate for a birthday, which in my case meant lobster, crab cakes and ribeye’s all in one meal. The holidays would roll around and I’d find myself homesick for a specific dish from my own childhood – breakfast strata, Christmas pie, baked fruit compote, or Mud Hens.
We honestly thought Mom created them until I pulled out my old dog-eared 2nd edition copy of Charleston Receipts to search for a dessert to take to a cookout and there big-as-life was her recipe. Exactly the same. They were such a hit, I promised myself I’d never forget about them again, though I’d smile coyly about our “secret family recipe” every time after.
The Family Cookbook
Sometime during the summer of 1990, as I began to collect all those family recipes, including those that my brother and sisters had reworked and adapted to our adult tastes, it morphed into a family cookbook project. Everyone would send me their recipes, I’d re-type them all, make copies, and gather them in a ring binder. Sounded simple enough. I was either crazy or didn’t already have enough to do, so I also volunteered to design and cross stitch enough covers for each family to have their own book, plus an extra one each for the two 10-year old nieces who I named as my assistant editors. It became the big shared family Christmas gift that year and took its rightful place next to the old Joy of Cooking and Ladies Home Companion.
My copy is a treasure and is one of those things I’d grab if the house were on fire. It’s outgrown the binder in a good way, with other favorite recipes added through the years. Even after graduating from culinary school, I still go for the family cookbook nine times out of ten. Ever year, usually sometime in November and way too late to have it ready in time for Christmas, there are talks of doing a long overdue update. Bring it on, y’all. It’s about time.
RC Cola & a Moon Pie (NRBQ)
Maximum Consumption (the Kinks)
Alice’s Restaurant (Arlo)
Sweet Potato Pie (James Taylor)
Cheeseburger in Paradise (Jimmy Buffett)
We connected on the phone that recent Friday when tornados were threatening, so we made a plan in case we got disconnected. Ten minutes in, hail was bouncing off the windows so fast and furious that I could barely hear him. We didn’t know what was happening in Chapel Hill (me in Durham, he in California), but we both fretted about our homes and dogs (he has a show-winning Briard). I’m thinking under my breath “holy moley, I’m talking with award-winning-international-bestselling-author Jeffery Deaver about the ‘hood, dogs, bookstores and Harris Teeter.”He’s a big fan of Flyleaf and they of him. “We’re incredibly excited to host Jeffery again,” Fiocco added. “He’s a wonderful presenter and is really funny and clever. In fact you never quite know what he’s going to do but you can be assured it will be entertaining!”
Much like the “never quite know” in every single one of his novels. I promised him I’m not a stalker. But I’ll be at Flyleaf on Tuesday, May 13. Cross my heart and hope to die.
Red the rest of the Q&A:
At some point in the mid-’80s, my rock stars went from cutting records to cutting onions. I was star chef-struck and proud of it. My sister lived in New York City, so instead of theater tickets, we’d plan and save in order to lunch at one of the top-rated restaurants. First was La Côte Basque, followed by the original Bouley, and then La Grenouille, where I had a coq au vin that near ’bout made me cry outloud. While living in London and attending culinary school, (yeah, yeah, yeah, I can already hear you commenting on the irony of a cooking school in England) several of my classmates and I pinched enough pence to eat at Aubergine, newly opened by the temperamental Gordon Ramsey, yet unknown outside of London. The food was exquisite, but the screaming from the kitchen all but ruined the experience.
Chefs were just on the verge of becoming celebrities, and my list of memorable meals and chef meetings is long and satisfying. My first real high-profile face-to-face encounter with a chef was at the Fancy Food Show in Chicago in 2001 at a seminar by Charlie Trotter. I waited two hours in line to talk to him and get a book signed. I never got to eat there before they closed and sadly, Trotter died on Nov. 5 at age 54. At another food show in NYC, I finagled my way into the bathroom line behind Sara Moulton. Damn near dogged Rick Bayless until he knew my name. I was a mostly rambling mess while Anthony Bourdain signed Kitchen Confidential, until we started talking about The Ramones and agreed that any day you woke up and Keith Richards was still alive was a good day. Lesson learned after I nursed a rather pitiful years-long crush on David Rosengarten imagining “if he only knew me ….” and “if I could only have dinner with …” then when I got to spend an entire day with him, which included taking him to Allen & Sons (lunch) and Lantern (dinner), could barely put one intelligent word in front of the other. Picking up the dinner check, I realized that I was signing off on my “if only” fantasy and went into brief mourning as the perfect crush melted faster than chocolate in a hot car.
It almost goes without saying at this point: the food scene in Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh is becoming legendary. That’s evidenced not just by our own extraordinary rock star chef talent in the Triangle, but by the growing handful of high-profile chefs and restaurant owners who now stop here on book tours or to give cooking lessons where once we were in the flyover zone between Atlanta and NYC. I actually felt heat rise when I heard about these upcoming book signings and chef appearances.
If you’re unfamiliar with La Farm Bakery in Cary, well, shame on you. Lionel Vatinet is a master, and La Farm products are available at all area Whole Foods. Get thee toward a croissant.
New Orleans Chef John Besh, owner of nine restaurants, has won so many awards it’s hard to keep track of them, from being named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine in 1999 to claiming the 2006 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast. Besh is all over Food Network, competing on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters, and even appearing in a season one episode of HBO’s Treme.
City Grocery owner and chef John Currence, while maybe less well-known except among rabid foodies, actually began his food career as a student at UNC, washing dishes at Crook’s Corner when the man in charge was Bill Neal. He returned to New Orleans, working for the Brennan family of restaurants before opening City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., in 1992. Also multi-award winning (2009 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the South, e.g.), Currency is contributing editor for Garden and Gun.
A Passion for Bread with Lionel Vatinet
Mon. Nov. 18, 7pm, Free
The Regulator Bookshop, 720 Ninth St., Durham
919-286-2700 | http://www.regulatorbookshop.com
Cooking from the Heart with John Besh
Mon. Nov. 18, 6:30-8:30pm, $59
Sur La Table at The Streets at Southpoint, Durham
919-248-4705 | http://www.surlatable.com
Cooks & Books Lunch Reception with John Currence, Author of Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey
Sun. Nov. 24, 3pm, $85 (includes autographed book)
The Fearrington Granery, Pittsboro
919-542-2121 | http://www.fearrington.com
Shufflin’ wit da Chefs
Mississippi, You’re on My Mind (Jerry Jeff Walker/Jesse Winchester)
Congo Square (Sonny Landreth/Mel Melton)
Mr. Bojangles (Jerry Jeff Walker)
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Edith Piaf)
It Don’t Matter to Me (Bread)
Just in case you were wondering, and I know you are … I plan on spending the weekend watching the next 3 episodes of Treme and the documentary Muscle Shoals. Maybe even the new Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me if it arrives. I predict happiness. Not just because it’s my birthday, but because I’m going to do exactly what I want. Nothing more, nothing less.
19th Annual Pleasure Island Seafood & Blues Festival
October is one of my favorite times at the beach. Hell, any time of the year is my favorite if the ocean is involved. But fall is just a little more special. The air crackles. The sea reclaims itself after the throngs of tourists have gone home, and yes, the water might even be a little deeper blue. That’s never more true every year than during the second weekend in October when the beach throws one of the best parties on the coast. For nineteen years, the residents of the strand known as Pleasure Island, home to Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and historic Fort Fisher, have quietly built stages, set up booths to house a handful of local well-known seafood vendors, and invited some of the cream of the blues crop to come on down and play at the Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival right there on the banks of the Cape Fear River. And then they turn around and invite us to come on down too! The Saturday night headliner this year is Greg Allman.
I was a reluctant first timer in 2010 when Leon Russell was the Saturday night big name artist. Been there, done that with festivals. I like little intimate venues where it feels like I’m yay-far from the stage and feeling up-close-and-personal with who I’ve come to see. Yes, I’m one of those … I want to see the sweat on the brow and the crazy faces the guys in the band make. It turned out to feel like someone’s ginormous backyard party (albiet a really big, cool backyard that has a view of the Cape Fear), and we were not all that many lawn chairs away from stage left. But wait. Two days of nearly non-stop music? More stages? Smaller ones, scattered around the park … one for blues, one for jazz … one of which was so close to the Cape Fear River you could almost party on the boats gathered off-shore. Local food vendors were filling bowls and baskets with seafood chowder, fried shrimp, and other goodies that were right out of the sea only days ago.
I even ran into a healthy handful of friends from Chapel Hill and Carrboro who begged me not to give away the secret. A tattooed, pony-tailed man from New Jersey who had perfected the slow rock that usually only true Southerners can claim, went lazily back and forth next to me in a big old rocking chair and told me he’d been riding his Harley down since Johnny and Edgar Winter headlined in 2008. He, like those before him, wanted it to remain a well-kept secret. 2009 featured Delbert McClinton, and 2011 brought in Jimmy Vaughn. It’s not just about the headliner. Opening for Allman is the Jaimoe Jasssz Band. Die hard fans will recognize Jaimoe as the legendary drummer and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. You can also catch the Polar Bear Blues Band featuring Harvey Dalton Arnold (bass player and former member of The Outlaws), Damon Fowler, and a handful of some of North Carolina’s own homegrown blues artists. My pop-up chair is already in the car.
19th Annual Pleasure Island Seafood & Blues Festival
presenting Gregg Allman
Oct. 13 & 14, 2012
FortFisher Military Recreation Area
Kure Beach, NC
Gates Open 11:00
Two-Day Ticket in Advance – $40
Saturday Only – $50
Sunday Only – $15
Children 12 and under Free
Little Feat at the Cradle
Wowie zowie, what a show! It was a night full of signs and magic and meant-to-be’s. Finney and I were running late and I wasn’t looking forward to driving all over Carrboro looking for parking. But we drove through the lot just in case and there was a spot right in front of the door, almost as if it had been waiting for us all night. 8:30 and the place was packed to the gills with expectant Feat fans as we elbowed our way toward the front to find a good vantage point. As we leaned against a wall stage right, a woman turned to me and offered us their seats when they decided to move closer to the stage. It only got better from there. Even down to Craig Fuller (former Pure Prairie League founder and one-time member of Little Feat) joining them on stage for a goose-bumpy “Amie” and then sticking around for a 10 minute version of “Dixie Chicken” … which is a perfect segue right into my recent column in The WEEKLY:
If you’ll be my Dixie Chicken …
by Deborah P. Miller