Read recent Foodie Gazette articles:
- Love, in a takeout container
- Life without refrigeration: Your ancestors did it
- A Tablespoon of Happiness
- Sleeping Policeman
- How to eat all day long and not get fat
- The five-hundred year vegan diet
- Cookie rapture
- Baaaaad Chinese
- Happy Peanut Butter & Jelly Day!
- Cheap eats around Beaufort, North Carolina
- ...More Articles
A couple of days ago, when the northeast was buried under many feet of snow and ice, I was driving across southern Alabama. The sun was bright, and the Gulf of Mexico sparkled like diamonds and sapphires. There were miles of warm, empty sugar-sand beaches, but I couldn’t stop. I was too hungry.
Instead of the interstate, I drove on old US Route 90. I avoid the chain restaurants that cluster around off-ramps.
In Grand Bay, a tiny yellow house with a sign caught my eye: Ozzy’s Restaurant. Special Cuban & Cajun Cuisine. The parking lot was full, even at 1:30 pm, and there were tables and chairs under the trees. It was worthy of a u-turn.
I had stumbled onto my favorite kind of place, a local restaurant where the owners really care about their customers and are proud of their food. Not one, but two chefs in hounds-tooth pants and white hats worked in tandem in the small kitchen. Ozzy’s specialty was Cuban, and LJ’s was Cajun. I wanted to order every single thing on the menu.
The building was too small for a dining room, so we sat at patio tables under trees draped with Spanish moss. The service was 5-star, even though the forks were plastic.
My barbecued shrimp salad had crisp romaine lettuce, finely grated cheese, big crunchy croutons, and dried cranberries. The shrimp was so fresh, it probably swam up to the grill. I savored Cuban coffee, and splurged on dessert: Homemade bread pudding with bourbon sauce.
I wasn’t the only diner in rapture. At the next table, a young woman was eating shrimp stuffed with crabmeat. “Their stuffed shrimp is to die for. It’s the best anywhere. Anywhere!” She was such a big fan, she admitted to trying to replicate some of their recipes at home. LJ said, “Next time, bring me some! We love it when people cook for us, too.” He turned to two women on the other side of me. “Y’all ready for your bread puddin’ now?”
After my dessert, which included extra bourbon sauce, I asked how the two men had come into partnership. Previously, Ozzy had a landscaping company, and LJ had worked for him during the day. “But I worked in restaurants at night,” he told me. When a friend’s widow asked if they would be interested in running a restaurant, they said yes. Ozzy’s has only been open for seven months.
“You want to know our special ingredient?” asked LJ. I nodded eagerly, and he continued, “We put a cup of love into everything. When you order a full meal and you open the container, you know the first thing you see? The bread: It’s heart-shaped.”
When the cooks really care, you can taste the love in every bite. After the bread pudding and the stuffed shrimp are gone, when the picadillo has been reduced to a memory and the gumbo is history, you still take the love with you. Ozzy’s is worthy of more than a u-turn. It’s a destination in itself.
How to find Ozzy’s
12610 US Highway 90
Grand Bay, Alabama
About five years ago, I wrote an article entitled, “No More Fridge-Free Living,” about how we decided to stop buying expensive ice for our icebox and put a cheap dorm fridge in the cockpit of Flutterby. It was a temporary solution, but we used it while we refitted the boat for two and a half years.
When we launched the boat, instead of returning to the expensive, messy ice solution, we simply lived completely without refrigeration. This generates a lot of incredulity from most people, who consider refrigeration a necessity of life.
But our ancestors didn’t have refrigeration, and our ancestors didn’t all die of starvation or food poisoning. Barry and I have now proven that it’s still possible, having lived without refrigeration or ice for the past three years.
Here are a few of the things we’ve learned along the way:
- Super-cold food and beverages, which most people are used to, suppress your taste buds. It takes a little while to get used to the flavor and mouth feel of things at room temperature, but there are those who say it’s a lot more healthy and less of a shock to your digestive system.
- A little bit of mold won’t kill you. It won’t even make you sick. It probably won’t even affect the taste.
- Cheese is wonderful at room temperature, especially hard cheeses like Parmesan and Romano. We buy plastic-wrapped, 8-oz bricks of cheddar, monterey jack, or mozzarella cheese. They have never molded in their wrappers, although sometimes they get soft and deformed. Once opened, they keep for a few days, which is how long it takes us to eat one. Cream cheese in foil wrappers keeps for a long time unopened, but you have to eat it in a day or two when you open it.
- Good quality organic milk in half-gallon waxed paper cartons can sit on the counter for over 4 days in moderate temperatures. For us, a half gallon is the right amount for coffee and tea and cereal and the occasional cream soup. If the weather is hot, we’ll drink a few glasses or make pudding to use it up more quickly.
- A quart of unsweetened yogurt will keep for several weeks unopened, and once opened, for over a week. The trick is to eat some every day. If we go a few days without eating it, we have to scrape off a layer of mold, but it still tastes fine. I bet the single-serving sweetened ones would keep a long time if you didn’t open them.
- The best vegetables come from farmer’s markets where they have not been previously refrigerated. Eggplants, cucumbers, red and green peppers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and chayote all keep long enough not to be a challenge. Cabbage and onions and garlic keep nearly forever. Sometimes, we buy things that don’t keep very long, like mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, or bagged spinach, and we use those things with 2 or 3 days.
- Fruit comes in varying stages of ripeness, so we always have something fresh on hand. Oranges and apples and grapefruits keep forever, bananas and pears and kiwis and stone fruit can be purchased hard and allowed to ripen. Berries have to be eaten within a day or two of purchase.
- For condiments, the trick is to buy small containers and make sure they don’t get contaminated. For example, I buy mayonnaise in squeeze containers, so it doesn’t get contaminated by a dirty knife or spoon. It keeps for months.
- We are not vegetarians, we just tend to eat a lot less meat than most people. There are many shelf-stable meat products, such as salami, chicken, tuna, salmon, proscuitto, and bacon. They’re high in sodium, so I use them to compliment and enhance meals, rather than as the main dish. When we go to the grocery, we can pick up enough chicken or steak for that night’s dinner. We often get our meat fix at restaurants.
- One of the biggest challenges of the no-refrigeration lifestyle is leftovers. I usually cook only enough food for one meal. If I cook enough for two meals, we always eat the leftovers the second day, never letting it sit any longer.
- Without refrigeration, our diet includes lots of whole grains (brown rice, steel cut oats, quinoa, cornmeal, etc.), dried foods (all kinds of dried fruits, but also dried mushrooms, peppers, and seaweed), and beans. Plus canned goods — corn and tomatoes are staples, but we enhance flavors with coconut milk, olives, artichoke hearts, mandarin oranges, and pineapple.
- When I go to the grocery store, there are entire aisles that I don’t even have to look at, because I simply don’t buy any frozen foods at all. Once in a while, I look at the frozen foods in amazement, because they are so novel to me. Do people really eat that stuff?
“It’s the fruitcake of stew,” said the young man in a chef’s hat, stirring a gigantic pot over a propane burner. His companions from the Altamaha Technical College Culinary Arts program laughed, but they all nodded their agreement.
That Saturday morning in November, I’d gone looking for the tiny Brunswick, Georgia farmers’ market, and instead stumbled onto a city-wide event, the Brunswick Rockin’ Stewbilee. The highlight of the event was the stew-tasting, 35 booths offering a sample of the stew that was named for this small city.
Or was it? One of the first people I spoke with was a woman who told me, “We do this every year, because Brunswick stew was named after Brunswick.” She laughed. “But it might have been named after Brunswick County, Virginia. They make a lot of stew up there, too.”
I asked the young man in the chef’s hat, “What’s in Brunswick stew?”
“Chicken, pork, beef, lima beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, spices…it’s a fridge-cleaning stew.”
At that point, I decided to talk to the chefs and find out whose fridge they were cleaning out. I walked up to a couple of guys and asked them, “I heard this is fridge-cleaning stew. If so, whose fridge are you cleaning out?”
“That would be mine, I guess,” said Tom, a retiree from the pulp mill who was on the stew crew of the hospital auxiliary. When he worked for the pulp mill, they used his recipe, but since they’d switched to someone else’s, the hospital was now using his recipe in the competition.
It was a lively competition. When you purchased a ticket, you were given two votes to cast for the People’s Choice award. There was also a Judge’s award, selected by local celebrities, and a Presentation Award. The teams represented not only restaurants, but local businesses, clubs, and a few dedicated families.
One local business was giving away schwag with their samples. “Are you trying to bribe the voters?” I asked. “Oh, no, ma’am, I would not stoop that low!” said the volunteer. He turned to hand a stew sample and a frisbee to a woman, saying, “Here, go taste that and then come back and give me your vote.”
I made my way around the booths, looking for the trophies indicating previous award-winners. One group, from the Ole Times Country Buffet, had several 2nd- and 3rd-place trophies. They were attracting a lot of attention by making the most noise in the place, ringing ear-splitting cowbells every time someone tasted or voted for their stew.
“We tried that last year,” said a woman from the hospital auxiliary. “It backfired on us, and we didn’t get as many votes as the year before.” When I cast my vote for Tom’s recipe, she picked up a cowbell and rang it rather gingerly. “There’s a sleeping baby behind you,” she said, by way of explanation.
I wandered from one booth to the next, tasting and asking questions, trying to figure out what makes an award-winning Brunswick stew. More than one person told me, “It’s about balancing the flavors.” Among the samples I tried, the chicken, pork, and tomatoes were consistent, but the flavors ranged from sweet to salty to spicy to bland. The top award-winner, from a group called Renessenz, was the sweetest one I tasted, and I suspected their secret ingredient was sugar.
That was before I looked Renessenz up on the internet. According to their website, “Renessenz produces a wide range of integral ingredients for fragrance, flavor, coolant and industrial intermediate applications.” Their site lists 47 products, unpronouncable chemicals ranging from “dihydromyrcene” to “tetrahydromuguol.” Perhaps their competition is using ingredients like sugar, salt, and pepper, but is the key to Renessenz’s award winning stew was something a little more disturbing?
The truth is, the secret ingredient in Brunswick stew isn’t really a secret. Everyone was proud to tell me their “secret”: “Tender-loving care,” “You know how Grandmother used to cook? That’s my secret.” The county commissioners admitted that they didn’t cook the stew, their staff did. “Our secret is teamwork.”
The simplest, best secret ingredient was that of Gateway Behavioral Health Services, a group that had won many awards over the years, including the People’s Choice, the Judge’s Award, and the Presentation Award. These folks had given their stew a name: Happy Stew.
“Love is the secret ingredient in our stew,” said a volunteer named Jeff. When I pressed him for details, asking how they measured how much love to put in, he replied, “We measure it by the width of unicorn hairs, and the intensity of the dreams of pregnant mermaids.”
Another volunteer, Barbara, chimed in, “It’s a tablespoon of happiness…”
“No,” said Jeff, “it’s half a tablespoon. We were a little too happy last year, we had to cut it back. People started a drum circle, started playing Age of Aquarius, and we decided that was just a little too much for around here.”
By then, I’d already cast my two votes, one for the hospital auxiliary and one for the students at the culinary college. But my real vote goes to the folks with the Happy Stew. It doesn’t really matter what ingredients you put in there, as long as you cook your Brunswick stew with love.
Wanna clean out your fridge? Try my Quick and Easy Brunswick Stew recipe. I admit, it’s nothing like the ones in Brunswick, Georgia. I’ll remedy that, the next time I make it. I’ll add a full tablespoon of happiness.
Reprinted from my travel blog, www.mepsnbarry.com.
On the side of the road, up ahead, I saw a small sign on the ground that said, “Elotes.” I was wracking my brain, trying to remember what that word meant, when I noticed what was above it.
A black-and-white road sign with a symbol on it, looking like a snake that ate two donuts. Tope!
“WATCH OUT!” I cried in alarm, from the passenger seat. My driver and companion, Philip, slammed on the brakes and eased the tiny rental car (he called it “the pregnant rollerskate”) slowly over the nearly-invisible, transmission-eating bump.
“Whew. Thanks,” he said, as he shifted back up to speed.
The sudden stop was re-enacted over and over during our recent trip to see the Mayan ruins of Mexico. “Topes,” or speed bumps, are a fascinating part of the Mexican driving experience. Completely disruptive to comfortable car travel, we found them all over the highways of Quintana Roo. According to expat writer Stan Gotlieb, Mexican slang for them is “policia durmiendo,” or sleeping policemen.
There’s no consistency to the character of the topes. Some are wide plateaus, some are rounded bumps, some are big pieces of rope that jar your teeth. The signage, too, is inconsistent. Some are marked 300 meters in advance. Some are painted yellow. Some are not marked at all, just waiting for you to fly over at full speed and land in the arms of the local mechanic. We saw almost no stoplights in Mexico, but hundreds of topes.
Clever entrepreneurs use their village topes to offer fruits, vegetables, and baked goods to the drivers who are forced to nearly stop to make it safely over the deadly bumps. Some have even erected permanent shops and stands next to the topes, including one where we bought a pineapple. Is it possible that the shopkeepers erect the bumps, or at least lobby for them, as a way to get business?
After we’d made it over the “Elotes” speed bump and into the village, I asked Philip to make a u-turn. He cruised back and parked in front of the bump. I had finally remembered what “elotes” meant: Corn.
Many years ago, I had read about this way to serve corn in a Molly Katzen cookbook, but I never thought I’d get to try the real thing, on the Tulum-Coba road. First, the young woman at the stand took my money and pulled two cooked ears of corn out of a large pot, steaming over a wood fire. She dried the corn and squeezed a wedge of lime over each one. Then she carefully spread the corn with a thin layer of mayonnaise. The mayonnaise was sprinkled with chili powder, which stuck to it, and then fresh-grated hard cheese. She handed it to me with a wad of napkins.
As she quietly prepared the corn, I found myself wondering if she and her family had erected the speed bump, and what she thought about working every day, selling corn and vegetables next to a speed bump. I wished my Spanish was good enough to have a conversation with her.
The corn was delicious, and I used my clumsy Spanish to thank the young woman. “Gracias,” I said. To which she replied, in completely unaccented English, “You’re very welcome.” I was too surprised to reply.
We recently drove from Vero Beach to Titusville, Florida with some friends we met at the marina, Don and Joan. The four of us wanted to watch the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery.
Joan had done her research on where to go, but with 100,000 people expected, we’d have to drive up hours early to get a good spot. We found our spot and placed our beach chairs around 11 am, and the shuttle launch was at 4:53 pm. That meant almost 6 hours to kill.
We were well-prepared, having brought our books and a variety of picnic foods to share. The problem was, while waiting, there wasn’t much to do but read, people-watch, and munch. So I munched and munched … and munched … all day long.
In situations like this, or a many-houred party with a buffet, it’s hard for me to stop eating. The food “calls out” to me and even distracts me from conversations. The toughest situations are those with many finger foods where plates are not available, so I can’t measure the total quantity accurately.
Luckily, I know my own weakness. So I had packed bulky, low-calorie foods for the shuttle launch. Here’s a list of some of them, along with a few other ideas for your next all-day food extravaganza:
- Vegetable crudites: You can eat things like mushrooms, radishes, cauliflower, celery, and cucumbers all day long without overloading on calories. I get bored with the usual choices, so I include strange crunchy things like peeled, sliced chayote, jicama, or white daikon radish.
- Dip for the crudites: Hummus, Black Bean Dip, Toasted Pecan and White Bean Dip, or New Horsey Dip are my favorites. They’re mostly made from whole ingredients (no soup or dip mixes), and the bean dips are loaded with healthy fiber.
- Marinated asparagus and red peppers: This is another vegetable finger food, but these vegetables have a completely different texture and flavor from the raw ones. They were definitely the gourmet treat of the day — hard to stop eating, but there’s no need to stop, because again, it’s just veggies. There are lots of marinated vegetable salads, or fruit+vegetable medleys, that would work instead, such as Bermuda Salad or Watermelon Sparkler.
- A big box of strawberries: Berries have lots of fiber without a lot of calories. Having to remove the stems and leaves is one way to slow me down from eating too fast.
- Oranges and grapefruits: Not only are they pretty low-calorie, they take even more work than strawberries.
- Individually-wrapped cheese sticks: Each time I eat one, I know it’s 100 calories. Once I’ve eaten one, I hesitate to open another one right away, knowing that’s going to double the calories.
- Rice cakes: I used to think they were boring and tasted like styrofoam. But my tastebuds are more sensitive these days (having eliminated much of the sugar from my diet), and I enjoy rice cakes with a little bit of natural, unsweetened peanut butter or bean dip on them. One trick is not to keep them around for more than a day or so after you’ve opened them. A freshly-opened package has much better crunch than one that’s 2 days old.
- Ham: I cut the ham into 1/2-inch cubes. It’s possible to eat too many of them, but at least they’re small and high-protein. If you don’t pack too much, you can’t eat too much.
- Nuts and dried fruit: These are dense but healthy whole foods. Again, if you don’t pack too much, you can’t eat too much.
- Beverages: It’s easy to consume just as many calories in beverages as you do in food. So we stick with water. But flavored seltzer is a nice treat, or unsweetened tea, or a mix of fruity tea and seltzer.
As I munched and people-watched, I noticed what other people brought for their picnics. Fried chicken, Doritos, beer, soda pop, Girl Scout cookies. If I ate that stuff all day long, I could easily consume two or three times as many empty calories as my body actually needs. If time is the issue, you can still shop at the grocery store and pick up pre-washed and cut fruits and vegetables. They’re more expensive than whole fruits and vegetables, but a lot cheaper in the long run (I’m thinking of your health) than junk food.
I recently told Barry I wanted to experiment with a special diet. Based on some of the purification or “detox” diets I’d read and heard about, we would remove a bunch of foods from our diet for two weeks. Then we’d add them back gradually, to see whether we notice a difference.
Here’s the list of foods we have removed from our diet:
- Sugar (also honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners)
- Tomatoes & potatoes (nightshades)
Barry was happy to go along with the plan, in part because he’s a fan of the 100-year diet concept. That’s a diet where you only eat foods that our ancestors were eating 100 years ago, avoiding all the additives and chemicals that have come into our diets in recent decades. This diet would be even more basic than that, so I jokingly called it “the 500 year vegan diet.”
The only problem was, when we mentioned our plan to friends and family, they were horrified. “What are you going to EAT?” they asked, when they heard the list of foods we were eliminating from our diet.
I’m happy to report that after a week and a half, we are not starving! According to the FAO, there are 50,000 edible plants in the world. We’ve only eliminated a handful of the possibilities. Rice, which is a staple for half the world’s population, is one of our favorite foods, and we can eat that.
To begin, I set aside our routine breakfasts, which are based on cereal (sugar, wheat, corn, and dairy), eggs, or corn grits with cheese. I crafted three new breakfast menus, based on oatmeal, buckwheat groats, and injera (sourdough teff pancakes).
The first day, I braced myself for something awful. Oatmeal without brown sugar and milk? While it simmered, I added a couple of chopped apples, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and a small handful of raisins. It was delicious. Day two: Kasha with lemongrass and mint, another chopped apple, and some chopped dried plums. By the time we got to the injera, which we ate with apple compote, we were really enjoying our sugar-free, egg-free breakfasts.
Lunch was a little trickier. I didn’t want to stop work and spend an hour chopping in the galley every day. What would we eat without the option of tortillas or crackers? Day one, I whipped up a quick batch of hummus and spread it on jicama and radishes and cucumbers. The next day, I turned dinner leftovers into an exotic soup. Day three’s leftovers became a bean salad. I had the hang of lunch now.
Snacks have been challenging. We tried rice cakes topped with almond butter, but it’s hard to find brown rice cakes around here. I ended up putting the almond butter on apples instead, but it doesn’t stick as well as peanut butter. Barry often grabs a handful of nuts for his snacks.
Dinner is where my cooking really shines on this food plan. Every meal is a multi-dish presentation with two or three colorful dishes made from vegetables, grains (brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, or quinoa), and beans. I’ve used cumin, mustard, and coriander seeds for curries; and mint, rosemary, basil, and oregano for salads. I’ve used almost every spice in my bin, finding uses for galangal, white pepper, fresh-ground nutmeg, and smoked Spanish paprika.
One of the best things about the diet is that I’ve developed some entirely new recipes. We had a dinner party last week, and at midday, I decided to cook my red lentils ahead of time. I cooked them, opened the pressure cooker, and stirred in a spoonful of Madras curry powder and a little butter. I dipped a spoon into the pot to taste the results. Yum! It was so delicious, I spooned it into a couple of bowls and shared it with Barry for lunch. I had to make another batch of the Creamy Curried Red Lentils for our dinner guests.
Barry and I also have a new favorite rice dish, and a cheesy green bean dish that uses nutritional yeast and arrowroot powder. And I haven’t documented the variety of dishes I’ve made with spinach, mustard greens, leeks, green beans, asparagus, rhubarb, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, fresh peas, and bok choy.
I’ve had to modify a few recipes, leaving out tomatoes (Vegetarian Feijoada), sugar (Pickled Onions), or cream (Indian Cauliflower and Peas). But some dishes fit within the guidelines just fine, like the Lemon Rice I served at our dinner party. There were no leftovers of that one.
At all three meals, I garnish our plates and try to present food that is colorful and pleasing to the eye. I’ve used nuts, olives, grated lemon peel, cilantro, and parsley, but the ingredient we both enjoy the most is not the most colorful. It’s the love.
We haven’t noticed a lot of changes in our bodies (except for a few pounds lost) as a result of the diet, but we have learned this: As long as food is served with love, it’s satisfying and tastes fantastic. That discovery will change the way we eat for the rest of our lives. Even if we add all the “forbidden” foods back to our diet, we won’t need much sugar. With the added love, our food will still taste sweet.
This is just a brief Christmas eve photo essay, before I move onto making all my favorite Christmas Eve buffet finger foods. Barry and I received the most precious package of homemade cookies the other day — a beautiful, fragile batch of ultra-thin, crispy Sand Tarts. Here we are, enjoying them!
Thanks to Donna and Mike and Lois and Odessa — you guys are the very, very, very best.
I’ve never written a review panning a restaurant before. But I’ve never had a meal this bad before.
We were hungry for lunch this morning while out running errands in Beaufort. Imagining a nice plate of something with a lot of broccoli, I suggested Chinese food. We had tried Taste of China and found it to be OK, but very Americanized Chinese. So we decided to try something different, Dragon King, located in a strip mall on US 70.
Over the counter was an illuminated photo menu, and the food in the photos looked appetizing. I’ve seen this sort of display before, and the food that is served never looks as good as the photos. I’ve always assumed that was just because the food we eat is not “styled.”
But I had an epiphany as I sat at the table, waiting for my broccoli shrimp. “I’ve just realized that those are stock photos. I bet they use the same ones in all these Chinese restaurants.” We studied the photos for a bit, thinking to look more closely the next time we go to a different Chinese restaurant.
Our hot-and-sour soup was brought out by a very small boy, probably about 8 years old, who carried them from the kitchen one at a time. He made a face at me and deliberately placed both bowls of soup in front of Barry. The soup was neither hot nor sour, and the fried noodles served with it were stale.
As we ate our soup, a TV above our heads was blasting a brain-numbing infomercial for the Total Gym. Someone had turned it on for our benefit. I wondered if they received a commission on every Total Gym sold to a customer.
Finally, after about 20 minutes of the Total Gym commercial, our entrees arrived. The little boy brought Barry his General Tso’s Chicken. This explained the wait — it looked as thought they’d gone out and gotten him an order of Chicken McNuggets, brought it back, and doused it in a mixture of catsup and corn syrup. It was garnished with two perfectly-steamed, bright green broccoli spears.
Then the woman brought my broccoli shrimp. A disgusting mass stared up at me, a pile of olive-colored mush and four shrimp swimming in a salty brown liquid. You’d have to dig awfully deep in the garbage to find broccoli in that state of decomposition. I stared enviously at Barry’s plate — not the Chicken McNuggets, but those two broccoli spears, the only edible food on either plate.
I have eaten a lot of mediocre food in restaurants, but this was the worst food I’ve ever been served. Worse even than the “chicken breast sandwich” at Roland’s Barbecue, where they stuck a fried chicken breast, bones and all, between the unadorned halves of a white pasty hamburger bun. That was merely strange. This was criminal abuse of a vegetable. And four rubbery shrimp who died in vain.
I was both hungry and distraught when we left. A real treat was in order, something to erase the memory of the awful broccoli. A few minutes later, I was sitting in a comfy rocking chair on the front porch of Parson’s General Store in Morehead City, eating a scoop of cherry ice cream. In hindsight, I wish I’d skipped lunch entirely. Then I could have had TWO scoops.
Today, April 2nd, is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.
Whether this is a real holiday or a bogus one, it gives me a chance to write about two of my favorite foods and two of my favorite people.
If you are from overseas, you find American peanut butter “ghastly,” to quote British writer Annie Hill. It’s gooey and sticky and full of sugar and hydrogenated oils and artificial-sounding ingredients. That’s about 98% of the American peanut butter market, and I find it ghastly, too.
But there’s another kind. In some stores, you walk up to a machine that holds raw peanuts in the top. You put your container under the spigot, push a button, and simple ground peanut paste comes out.
We don’t have a place like that around here, so we buy natural peanut butter in jars. The ingredient list is simply “peanuts, salt.” It’s less convenient than the “ghastly” stuff, because the nut butter separates from the oil. When you get it home, you have to stir it, or shake it, or do something to mix it back up again.
And then there’s the jelly. There are two kinds of jelly, too. There’s the cheap stuff, full of high-fructose corn syrup and food coloring and a tiny bit of fruit for texture. And there’s the good stuff: Homemade.
In the early 90’s, Barry and I had the good fortune to live with writer Elizabeth Bolton, known to us as Barbie, at Hill Farm, outside Portland, Oregon. Barbie was constantly whipping up batches of jam based on whatever ingredients came her way. A free crate of kiwis? Kiwi jam. Blackberries everywhere? Blackberry jam. Plums, pears, apples, blueberries — each represented another batch of jam to spread on Barbie’s mouth-watering homemade bread. Elderberry jelly was her specialty.
A few years after she passed away, we visited Hill Farm. In the pantry, tears came to my eyes as I saw the rows and rows of jam jars, some with the custom logo I’d designed and her distinctive handwriting. Even though she was gone, she was still feeding us.
Barbie’s jam-making skill was passed along to her son, Michael, who lives in Southern California. He and his family make a special jam, too — burnt kumquat, from fruit grown on their property. Barry and I have one jar left, and it’s so special, we’re saving it until Flutterby is launched. That jar is more important than champagne, and we’ll probably have to write a special christening ceremony for the boat that includes a bite of it for Neptune.
Michael planted an elderberry bush a few years ago, and it recently bore enough fruit for jam. So he did a very special thing. He made up a batch of jelly, and into it, he put a spoonful of jelly from one of his mother’s jars. He plans to use her jelly until it’s all gone, and then, he’ll seed each batch with a spoonful from one of his jars. So there will always be a tiny amount of Barbie’s jelly in every one of his jars of deep purple elderberry jelly.
We have her homemade bread recipe, so we can even make the correct substrate for it. Barbie’s been gone for over 10 years now, but she’ll always be feeding us, thanks to Michael and his homemade jelly. Yum.
Here are a couple of fun things to do with peanut butter and jelly: 1) Take a whole wheat tortilla and spread it with peanut butter and jelly. Peel a nice, ripe banana that’s the same length as the diameter of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla around the banana and enjoy. 2) Make a PB&J on bread. Then grill it until the bread is browned and crisp in butter in a skillet or on a griddle. According to the folks at Graceland, this was one of Elvis Presley’s favorite foods.
Easter’s right around the corner, too. Don’t forget about Barbie’s Goldenrod Eggs, to use up those extra hard-boiled, colored eggs.
Last December, Barry and I caught a ride from Beaufort, North Carolina, to Raleigh with Dan Smith, of Funny Farm. It was a miserable evening, raining cats and dogs, and we bounced along 2-lane roads in Dan’s Big Red Truck, swapping tales and keeping each other entertained.
In Goldsboro, North Carolina, Dan introduced us to his favorite barbecue joint, Wilbur’s. We sat down in the cavernous dining room, and the waitress put a basket of hush puppies in front of us, even before we’d ordered. It’s kind of like the tortilla chips you get at a Mexican restaurant.
I’d forgotten my glasses that night, as usual, and I was sure I was misreading the menu. How could they sell a barbecue plate for less than $5?
In the time since then, we’ve gone out of our way to avoid tourist traps, and we’ve found a lot of down-home North Carolina restaurants. I’m always amazed at three things: The hush puppies, the number of fried things on the menu, and the prices. You can stuff yourself silly, always for less than $10.
My problem with the hush puppies goes back to childhood, when I learned to associate them with seafood. As a result, I think of hush puppies as something you put cocktail or tartar sauce on. But in North Carolina, they’re considered the bread course, served with butter. To me, putting butter on a hush puppy to me is like putting butter on a piece of fried fish!
Here are some of the cheap, memorable places where we’ve eaten around here:
The Captain’s Table, Morehead City: Located on Route 70, this is a family place where you have to walk through the large smoking section to get to the small non-smoking section. The owner told me he tried it the other way, and lost a lot of customers. This is tobacco country, after all. The food is fried, fast, and cheap, and the service is friendly. I always eat too much (especially on all-you-can-eat oyster night), so I don’t have room for the mouth-watering pies.
Roland’s Barbecue, Beaufort: The barbecue is good, but I’ve had trouble with other menu items. I once ordered the chicken breast sandwich, because it sounded healthy. What I received was a plain white hamburger bun with a fried chicken breast sitting on it. The weird part was that the chicken breast was not boneless! When I asked the lady at the counter if there’d been a mistake, she just gave me a toothless grin and laughed. I guess that means nobody every orders the chicken breast sandwich.
No-Name Pizza, Beaufort: This is the healthiest cheap restaurant in town, with excellent gyros and subs, as well as pizza and Italian dishes. Their hamburgers are enormous! And the tzatziki is so good, I can eat it with a spoon. The only downside is, they don’t serve hush puppies. I bet they’d be good with tzatziki.
Golden Corral, Morehead City: This is not just a restaurant, it’s a (frightening) cultural experience. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet with hundreds of foods, and you can stuff yourself until you hurt. I know, I’ve done it. The last time we went, our group included people from Switzerland, Australia, Oregon, and Wyoming, all amazed at what North Carolina has to offer in the way of food. But if you can focus on the salad bar and protein foods and not give yourself a stomachache on sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, it’s a good value.
Big John’s, Beaufort: When we moved out of the boat and into the van, cooking became a serious challenge, and we were too tired to drive into town. So we ate at Big John’s at least once a week, because it’s only a mile from the boatyard. If you didn’t know it was there, you would miss it, because it’s actually inside a BP gas station on Highway 101 at Steel Tank Road. Their cheese steak and pepper steak sandwiches are excellent, and they make good pizza, too. It’s probably better for takeout than eat-in, but we didn’t have any place to take it, so we put up with the giggling teenagers who hang out there.
[powered by WordPress.]