Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

Twice I started. Twice I walked away without pushing the publish button. So bear with me as I give these life.  Be warned. There are more than one.
~ dpm / September 15, 2018

Who knows where the time goes?
September 20, 2016

The_Persistence_of_MemoryObviously not me. I’ve been gone so long even I’ve lost my place.  But there have been things, I try to explain to anyone who’s listening.  They have to be mighty big things to miss two whole years.  And they have. The biggest. The worst losses you can imagine if you know how it is to lose both your parents (or spouse or child or grandparent or beloved pet or whoever) in the space of a year and a half. But this even goes further. Since 2011, 24 people (and a great dog) who used to be in my life at some point are no longer there. 24. 24. I’m stuck on that number. It’s actually increased since then, but I’m staying stuck on 24.

I won’t go there right now, because I’m on the upside of grief today and, as Nina Simone sings, “I’m Feeling Good!”

howfgriefworks

I will just put this out there.  To all of you who said the completely wrong thing in the aftermath, I forgive you. But I ask you to sort your words more tenderly and thoughtfully the next time you find yourself having to console.

What not to say.

  1.  God needed another angel.
    No, he/she didn’t, there are plenty already. We need some serious angels right here  on earth, trust me on this.
  2.  At least they aren’t suffering any longer.
    I want to like this one, but on second thought, NO, now I’m the one who’s suffering.
  3.  Everything happens for a reason.
    By who’s standard of reason?
  4.  It was his/her time.
    And you know this how?
  5.  He/She wouldn’t want you to be so sad.
    Maybe not, but that’s kinda beside the point, now isn’t it?  In fact, I think my Mom  might be a little ticked off if I wasn’t sad.
  6. God never gives you more than you can handle.
    Don’t even get me started on this one. God does all the time.  I mean he gave us   Donald Trump, right?
  7. He/She’s in a better place.
    Again, No … the better place would be in the kitchen making me some damn Mudhens or in a lounge chair cheering on the Tar Heels.

Just say I’m sorry and hug me. Let me talk about them. Hand me a real handkerchief. I promise it’s easier than having to mutter some platitude that even you probably don’t believe.  And stop asking me ……

HowAreYou

’cause if you’ve been there, you already know.

And, oh yeah, there was that hip replacement a week after my mom died. Where I spent the week between dealing with cremation, death certificates, cleaning out her room – the business end of death. The drugs and the medical haze that fuzzed out and postponed the grief gave me something else to focus on for 3 months in the aftermath – while I still sorted  -though it felt eerily like snooping – through the personal papers and possessions.

So that’s a snippet. Aren’t you glad you asked?

There’s plenty of good though. Stay tuned for that!

The Hindsight Zone Revisited

And yet I keep going. Why is that? It’s because I believe in love.

Tom (Wake Forest, NC ’16)
OKCupid
Predate
Him:  If you don’t look like your picture, you’re buying me drinks til you do.
Me:  Same right back atcha, buddy. –>his photos are at least 15 years old.
Him:  We’ll go to your favorite restaurant.
I chose Kitchen in Chapel Hill run by the amazing Dick and Sue Barrows.
Him to the waiter: What’s good here?
Me thinking: Oh, no, he’s kidding, right?
Him: I’ll have the raw oysters. Don’t overcook them.
Me thinking:  Blank. Not funny.
Me: So I know you’ve been married once. What’s your love history like?
Him: My second marriage was only a couple of months. She was from Bulgaria.
Me: Oh, wow, what was Bulgaria like?
Him:  I never went there. I met her online and then she moved in with me.
Me:  Ah, well then.
Him: Yeah, but can you do this?  (While he’s busy hanging his spoon from his nose.)

 

Hitting the Right Notes

BlueNoteGrill-Logo-2color

 

 

 

 

 

So excited to have been asked to write an “ode to the Blue Note Grill” for Durham Magazine. Easiest assignment EVER!

Enjoy, y’all!

Winner, Winner. Chicken Dinner + shufflin’ through the past

LeoWagoner_tnCycling 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~

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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.

Brooks Crossroads, NC

Brooks Crossroads, Yadkin County, NC

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.

Leo Wagoner

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” OllieIn 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
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ViolinNotesShufflin’ through the Past

What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – Katherine Grayson
Stardust – Nat King Cole
I Love You, For Sentimental Reasons – The King Cole Trio

Packin’ Light – Josh Preslar Band

Josh Preslar newI’m confessing right up front that Josh and the band are personal friends and that I worried a little when Josh asked me to write a review. Live, they are as much fun and as tight as any national touring band out there. What if that didn’t translate to a record? What if I didn’t like the album? What would I have to say? Needless worry.

If Josh Preslar can pack the house and have everyone near ‘bout hanging from the rafters song after song, it stands to reason that he can pack an album. He’s done just that with his new CD, and don’t let the title fool you.

Packin’ Light is an eleven-song collection stacked end-to-end with original tunes tastefully played by his “house band,” who just happen to be a handful of Triangle favorites – T.A. James (bass and guitar), Chuck Cotton (drums), Clark Stern (keyboards), and Mike “Howlin’ Wind” Davis (harmonica/vocals). With special guests Tad Walters (harmonica), David Richards (trumpet, Tim Smith (tenor sax), Neal Chapman (guitar) and Chris Bennett (guitar) sitting in, he really did turn the studio into a juke joint. And those of us who are regular fans know exactly what that means.

Preslar, a generous front man with a guitar style and voice as smooth and caressive as a fine bourbon (not to mention an enviable hat collection) lets each of his players shine throughout, often stepping back and sharing guitar space with James, Chapman, and Bennett.  Part of Preslar’s talent, aside from his vocal and guitar playing, is his ability to manage a room full of multi-instrumentalists and still make everything come out sounding spare and full all at the same time. It’s pure musical joy to hear the results when he seamlessly and expertly moves each into the spotlight.

JoshPreslarBandSoDu

Favorite cuts? “Housekeepin’.”  It’s basic relationship truth that gets in a groove you don’t want to leave. Leave that useless stuff behind. As long as it is, at nearly 6 and a half minutes, you don’t really want it end.  “Josh’s Boogie” feels good from the first note to the last. On second thought, don’t make me pick. The CD has been playing in my car and house for 4 solid weeks and, with each listen, my appreciation for the collection grows.

A self-proclaimed road warrior, Preslar’s been playing blues all his life and loves being out with a band. Packin’ Light is a reverent testament to the “grab what you need and it better fit in a matchbox or it’s getting left behind” simplicity of early blues along with the necessity of being able to hit the road traveling light whenever the notion strikes.

The songs on Packin’ Light tell a story. Whether it’s a town or a woman who talks too much or a dusty broom, life is often about what you leave behind in search of what’s in front of you.  Musically, it’s also a serious nod to the often miss-attributed Miles Davis quote “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”

The Josh Preslar Band knows exactly which ones those are and the wisdom to know just which to leave behind.
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Catch Josh Preslar Band at one of these upcoming CD release shows
Sat., June 6, 2015 – Walker’s Bar, Greensboro, NC
Sat., June 13, 2015 – Rock Harbor Grill, Apex NC
Fri., June 26, 2015 – Blue Note Grill, Durham, NC

Take a listen on ReverbNation!

A Taste of Home, One Memory at a Time + Mama, Can I Shuffle?

Mother’s Day is bittersweet. For all intents and purposes, I’ve already lost my Mom. She is 6 years into dementia and no longer remembers who I am. She imagines she loves me. She even says so sometimes, just like she tells everyone she encounters from staff to stranger.  She used to hug me back. Now she stands limply in front of me with her arms dangling by her side, this passive yielding a different kind of better than the years of confusion and denial.

Her sense of Southern hospitality has been robbed from her. Rudely snatched a bit at a time while she wasn’t paying attention. A life invasion of the cruelest kind.

Long gone are the cherished possessions that used to define her. Gone is the fashion sense. Gone are the table manners she worked so hard to imprint on us just in case we were invited to dine at the White House. Gone are the family stories and memories. For us kids, ours are riddled with holes. We depended on her, and Dad, to fill in the gaps. I now regularly email my brother and sisters asking “Does anyone remember….?” Or “What year was ….?” I should have been a better keeper of the archives. Written it down. Not relied on my own often, now worrisome, forgetful memory. Grace-Collage2 Only three things make her smile now. Food, singing, and little children. Eating is her happy place, especially when it’s mashed potatoes or baked sweet potatoes. They say it’s because they are soft and easy to swallow, but I’d rather believe her love of sweet potatoes is a hold over from the year she was named the Yadkinville, NC Sweet Potato Queen.

At lunch one day last week, I watched her face soften and her eyes close over a spoonful of strawberry ice cream. For that one bite, she was having a full and meaningful moment. My heart twinged a little and I blinked back tears. The CNA standing beside us placed her hand on my shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. A memory began an instant replay and I burst out laughing, startling all of us in the dining hall.

One spring Chapel Hill evening sometime in the late 50’s (or early 60’s), Mom called us four kids in to supper. It was unlike her, but she placed a pie smack in the center of the round kitchen table without saying a word. None of us can remember what was for dinner, but we knew that we’d never get a bite of that pie unless we cleaned our plates. None of us could take our eyes off the pie. Eat a bite. Stare at the pie. Sneak the dog a bite. Stare at the pie.

As she cut and handed out slices, she reminded us not to take a bite until the hostess, her, had picked up her fork. She had barely lifted the fork before we were shoveling pie in our mouths. She started laughing as she yelled out “April Fools” just as we were realizing she had used salt instead of sugar as a joke. To make up for it, we all drove up to the Dairy Bar on Franklin Street for ice cream. Everybody came home happy and it became an often-told, always laughed-at family story.

Face it, Mom, Home Economics degree aside, you never really were a very good cook, but you could stretch a pound of hamburger into next week and knew that Campell’s Soup was the secret ingredient for every casserole. Feeding a family of 6 in those days meant dinner was routine and predictable. Tuna casserole, hot dogs, chicken casserole, meatloaf, spaghetti, “It Smells to Heaven” (which only smelled heavenly, but tasted terrible), the even-worse Hambolaga,  and a Sunday roast that went in the oven before we left for church that was cooked-to-well-done-sad-shoe-leather by the time we got home. But, we never went hungry and we always had dinner together. It was a family rule. That, and when we had chicken, Daddy always got the breast.

It was a borderline joke the year we compiled a family cookbook. I mean, who really wants the recipe for tuna casserole made with frozen peas, and Saltines? The goal was really to capture the handful of family favorites –Christmas Pie, cobbler, Mudhens, fruit compote, and baked rice – and to showcase how we’d each developed our own culinary skills in spite of, or maybe because of, growing up in a Betty Crocker world.

Mudhens were Mom’s go-to-to dessert and everybody loved them. A close cousin to Blondies, they didn’t last long in our house. Mine never turned out as good as hers and I teased her about leaving out an ingredient or adding a secret one without telling us. The recipe card is worn and smudged with greasy fingerprints, and I often hold it to my nose as if to recapture her essence.

I’m making her some for Mother’s Day and hope they trigger a memory, but I know not to be disappointed if they don’t. The funny twist on the April Fool’s pie story? Each of us kids remembers a completely different pie and are now laughing at whose memory is correct – chocolate, luscious lemon, lemon chess, or lemon meringue pie.

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Mudhens
1½ cup sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup butter
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup brown sugar

Sift flour, salt and baking powder. Cream butter and white sugar. Add 1 egg and yolk of other egg. Blend sifted dry ingredients and add to butter and sugar mixture. Add vanilla. Put into baking dish. Mix unbeaten egg white and brown sugar with hands and crumble over mixture in dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until center tests gooey with a broom straw. Let cool completely before cutting.

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Luscious Lemon Pie
1 9″ regular Pet Ritz prepared pie shell -or- homemade pie crust
1 cup sugar
3  tbs corn starch
1/4 cup butter
1 tbs grated lemon rind
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 egg yolks, unbeaten
1 cup Carnation evaporated milk
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp lemon extract

Bake pie crust according to directions.  Combine sugar and corn starch and stir. Add 1/4 cup of butter, lemon rind, juice, egg yolk and stir in milk. Cook in top of double boiler until thick, about 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool. Lightly fold in sour cream and 1/2 tsp of lemon extract. Fold gently into pie crust. Cover with Saran Wrap and chill overnight. Just before serving, top with whipped cream.

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A Taste of Home, One Memory at a Time by Deborah Miller was originally published by NC Food, May 9, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the North Carolina Folklife Institute.
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Shuffle
Mama, Can I Shuffle?
Julia – The Beatles
Please Call Home – Greg Allman
Saint Behind the Glass – Los Lobos
Lullaby – Mandolin Orange
Your Momma Don’t Dance – Loggins & Messina

The Past Becomes a Present + Kitchen Shuffle

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.

Krystalboxes2

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.

BreadPastaWine

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.

cooking

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.

WagonerFamilyCookbook1The 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.
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Kitchen Shuffle
Shuffle
RC Cola & a Moon Pie (NRBQ)
Maximum Consumption (the Kinks)
Alice’s Restaurant (Arlo)
Sweet Potato Pie (James Taylor)
Cheeseburger in Paradise (Jimmy Buffett)