Tag Archives: Deborah Pardee Miller

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

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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)

King Mackerel and the Blues are Running

KingMackerel1King Mackerel and the Blues are Running
The Coastal Cohorts in Concert
Thursday, Feb. 27 & 28, 8pm
$15/ Free for students
Playmakers Theatre, UNC Chapel Hill
https://memorialhall.unc.edu/

I tried living in the middle of the country. Didn’t work for me. Do you know how long it takes to drive to the coast from Memphis, TN?  Nine long hours. 491 excruciating miles. Today that would equal about 200 songs on your IPod. No amount of Drifters, or The Swinging Medallions, or even Jimmy Buffett can make that drive shorter or the sea closer.  I dreamed endlessly (and likely bored my landlocked friends) of living back in the middle of North Carolina, where in just a little over 2 hours, I could dig my sand-starved toes deep into the foaming surf. And eat seafood to my tummy’s content.

Sunset Beach, NC Photo by: Deborah Pardee Miller, 2004

Sunset Beach, NC 2004
Photo by: Deborah Pardee Miller

Once I moved back to Chapel Hill in 1998, I near ‘bout burnt the road up between here and the beach. My younger sister, Kate, who somehow ended up in Vermont, and I share the need for warm sun, sand, and sea. On one of our long weekend trips to Beaufort, we wandered into the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Thumbing through CD’s, I laughed as I randomly pulled out “King Mackerel and The Blues Are Running” by the Coastal Cohorts (Don Dixon, Bland Simpson & Jim Wann.)  I mused out loud that I had gone to high school with Bland Simpson, though he was a couple years older than me. The CD came home with me.

With an impressive performance history from its first run at Rhythm Alley in Chapel Hill in 1985 through its most recent at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh in 2012, “King Mackerel and the Blues are Running” has been performed at venues up and down the coastline from Virginia to Georgia. And then there are those other venues like the West Bank Theater (NYC) and the Terrace Theatre at the Kennedy Center (Washington, DC).

Bland was old-classmate good enough to spend a few minutes with me talking about the history of the musical, how their fundraising performances have contributed to the environmental health of our coast, and the two upcoming shows at the historic Playmakers Theatre.

“We’re doing two nights; Friday is sold out, Thursday night has seats available,” said Bland. “It was a fun alliance to make to put it into context to the water in our world.  The history of the show is a very stout-hearted, light-hearted evening.”

The CD went to A rotation on first listen.  It’s one of the playlists I put on when I’m about 50 miles from the shore. It lures me on in to the beach like a rising wave, beckoning me to stay a while.  In fact, I’m listening to it now as I write, wishing that print media had a “push play” button so you could listen in.  If you love the North Carolina beaches, and I know you do, you’ll be instantly smelling salt air. You just might shag dance a little (or a lot.) Slurp an oyster (or two or three.)  Peel some shrimp (a couple or a pound). You might even be singing along as if you’d known the songs forever.  Holler if you want company.

Read the rest of the interview HERE.

Listen to some King Mackerel … go on. You know you want to.