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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

You have to love a story that has no bad guys.

Last fall, the pastor of a small church here in Jefferson, Darrell Rewis, was having breakfast at Beef O’Brady’s with his friend Steve Perry, the owner of the restaurant.

I don’t know either man, but based on what followed, I have a sense of their characters.

Darrell is pastor of the Corner-Stone Baptist Church, which is relatively new in town. Considering his line of work, it isn’t surprising that he was contemplating ways to involve his church in a project that served a genuine need in the community.

Nor was it surprising that the topic of food came up when Pastor Darrell mentioned this to Steve Perry.

By the end of breakfast, the two of them had worked out a simple and elegant plan. They would serve a free meal, every week, to anyone in town who showed up.

Specifically, every Saturday during 2010, from 8:00 AM until 10:00 AM, members of the Corner-Stone Church would take over the kitchen at Beef O’Brady’s and serve a free pancake breakfast.

Everyone welcome. No questions asked.

Right now, halfway through the year, the project is operating very well. The cost of the breakfasts, which is minimal, is shared by the church and the restaurant. There is no shortage of volunteers to cook and serve.

The turnout of families and individuals happy to get a free, nourishing meal has been steady, quiet, and appreciative.

Jefferson is not an affluent town. Plenty of people here are low-income. Naturally, more families than ever are in a bind right now, owing to the bad economy.

Yes, I know — one meal a week isn’t much. But when a hungry kid sits down at the table, at that moment, it means the world.

I’m impressed with this project because it’s so effective and so uncomplicated.

I’m impressed because it tells people who are down on their luck that someone cares about them.

I’m impressed because it represents genuine charity.

I note that the final Saturday in 2010 is December 25, Christmas Day. A meal will be served that morning, too.

Whether the project will continue in 2011, I don’t know. I hope so.

It would be nice if another church or restaurant in town would step up to the plate — pun intended — and maybe add dinner.

Good deeds have a way of taking root. They can spread like weeds if you let them.

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Six Generations

For some reason, my little town of Jefferson has three Chinese restaurants. All have been open for years, and none seems to be hurting for business, which is surprising in a place this small.

One of the restaurants is best avoided, but the other two are pretty good. My favorite of the two serves a dish I’ve found only rarely over the years — jum bon, described on the menu as “spicy seafood noodle soup.”

Actually, jum bon is not so much spicy as fiery. It is a heaping bowl of rich chicken broth, to which is added chunks of beef, shrimp, chicken, and assorted vegetables — all of which is dumped on a mound of thick-cut noodles.

Most attention-getting of all, a bowl of jum bon also includes several dried Japanese or Thai chili peppers — some whole and some in tiny pieces — hiding among the ingredients. You bite into those things at your peril.

Dried chilies -- tiny and lethal.

But I like hot stuff, and jum bon is my kind of soup. It’s yummy, causes sweat beads to pop out on your forehead, and one order makes two meals. What’s not to like?

Not long ago, I discovered why jum bon has been hard to find. I found out from Mrs. Tso, who operates the restaurant with her husband.

Everyone in the Tso family except Grandma speaks English perfectly. Better, in fact, than many Jeffersonians I know. While waiting for my take-out order of jum bon one day, I asked Mrs. Tso where her family came from originally.

She said that her ancestors came from Korea, but her family had lived in China for five generations. In the case of her husband’s family, six generations.

“In China,” she told me, “We are considered ‘Chinese Koreans.’ We are not of pure Chinese ancestry.”

“We’ll never be completely accepted as Chinese, no matter how many generations pass,” she said. “The Chinese are funny about things like that.”

I told her Southerners were funny like that, too. You can live in a town for 50 years, but if you weren’t born there, the locals will always detect on you the aroma of an outsider.

Mrs. Tso is well aware of my fondness for jum bon. “Jum bon is a traditional Chinese Korean dish,” she told me. “In America, you won’t find it in Chinese restaurants — only Chinese Korean restaurants.”

I told her that explains why the only other restaurant I know that serves jum bon is 40 miles from here in Chamblee, a suburb of Atlanta.

“I know the place you mean,” she said. “They are Chinese Korean, too.”

Now I know why the Tsos don’t call their place Great Wall or China Wok.

The Tsos are very nice people. The food is good, the restaurant is clean.

And they work hard. The restaurant is open seven days a week, half days on weekends.

Their daughters Victoria and Sarah, ages four and nine, are thoroughly Americanized. After school, you’ll always see them in a booth, drawing, writing, or working on their laptops. The girls’ latest projects from school are always taped to the walls of the restaurant.

My take-out order arrived. I thanked Mrs. Tso and headed out the door.

As I opened the door of my car and placed the soup container on the front seat, a voice not far from my ear boomed, “Who elects the President of the United States?”

Startled, I turned and looked toward the black SUV parked next to me. The voice had come from that direction.

After a pause, the voice boomed again, “The Electoral College!”

One window of the SUV was open a few inches. The voice had come from inside.

“What are the three branches of our government?” the voice demanded. It had an odd, metallic resonance, like a radio or CD.

After another pause, the voice thundered, “Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary!”

Whoever was inside the SUV had the volume way too high. I wondered who the heck it was.

“How many stars are on our flag?” the voice bellowed.

The light in the parking lot was dim, but finally I could make out a male figure sitting behind the wheel. His head was back, his eyes closed. It was Mr. Tso.

He was lost in concentration and had no idea I was there. His lips moved a little, but I couldn’t make out what he said.

“Fifty!” the metallic voice declared.

Mr. Tso nodded, eyes still closed. I quietly got in my car.

“What do we call the legislative branch of government?”

I started the engine and glanced toward the SUV. This time, I could make out the word Mr. Tso formed: Congress.

“Congress!” roared the voice.

Mr. Tso nodded again and smiled slightly. He never opened his eyes or was aware of my presence. I backed out of the parking space and drove away.

I wish you well on your test, Mr. Tso.

And I promise you, becoming an American will not take six generations.

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Lewis Grizzard, the late Georgia humorist and author, was the archetypical comic who wasn’t laughing on the inside. The hard-drinking Lewis died in 1994 of a congenital heart defect after a series of surgeries. He was 48 and had been married four times.

Like many white Southerners of his era, Grizzard was not fully comfortable with the changes, social and political, that came with the South’s new prosperity. He wrote fondly about the old days and the old ways, but he also wore Gucci loafers (always without socks) and was proud to have eaten caviar at Maxim’s in Paris.

Lewis riled many readers with the barbs he hurled at gays and feminists. But he was at his best when he stayed in safer territory. Take, for example, his discourse on Georgia barbecue…

————

There was an annual Fourth of July barbecue in my hometown. The menfolk would sit up all night and barbecue hogs over an open pit, which doesn’t take a great deal of work once the hogs are cooking.

One year, a man from North Carolina was passing through and stopped in to partake. He asked for cole slaw.

“What for?” somebody asked. “There’s plenty of stew and light bread.”

“I want to put it on my barbecue,” the man from North Carolina said.

Somebody pulled a knife on the man, and he got in his car and went back to North Carolina.

After I left home, I roamed freely about other parts of the country, and I came to understand several truths about barbecue:

— The best barbecue is pork served in Georgia. In Texas, they barbecue beef, which isn’t barbecue at all.

— The best barbecue is found in family-run operations. Harold Hembree of Harold’s Barbecue in Atlanta can’t count the number of cousins and nieces and nephews working there. There are three generations of Sprayberrys cooking and serving at Sprayberry’s in Newnan. And it was Jim Brewer’s father-in-law who started Fresh-Air Barbecue in Jackson, Georgia, 51 years ago.

— If there are religious posters on the wall, you can usually count on the barbecue being good.

— Good barbecue restaurants rarely serve beer. “Mama won’t allow it in here,” is why Harold Hembree doesn’t serve it. “You’ll lose your family trade,” says Jim Brewer.

— The best barbecue restaurants are careful what kind of bread they serve with their meat. Normally, it’s buns for sandwiches and white bread for plates.

— Brunswick stew is too complicated to get into. Everybody has a different idea of how it should be cooked and what it should contain.

— Same with the sauce. There are hundreds of varieties of sauces. If the meat is good, the sauce will be, too.

— It is important to put up a sign in a barbecue restaurant that reads, “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This will add class to the place by keeping out people from Texas and North Carolina.

Grizzard

Lewis Grizzard.

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Fit for a King

As you probably know, Elvis Presley was fond of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

The Presley PB&B* is made with buttered white bread, peanut butter, and banana. The sandwich is pan-fried and served piping hot.

I don’t know if the PB&B is an Elvis thing or a Southern thing. I haven’t tried one, either. But it got me to thinking about some of the favorites over the years in my thoroughly Southern family.

The topic bubbled up last week when I was making lunch for my two-year-old granddaughter Sarah. That day, she had fruit juice, grapes, a fistful of Goldfish, and half of a peanut butter sandwich.

As I spread the peanut butter on the bread, I briefly considered peeling a banana, whipping out a pan, and surprising her with a hot PB&B.

But it was just a fleeting thought. I didn’t do it. I knew Sarah would rat me out to her mom and dad.

Dustin and Leslie serve the kids peanut butter freely, but not jelly. Maddie and Sarah undoubtedly will forever think of peanut butter on wheat bread as THE basic sandwich. Everything else will be considered a lesser variation.

When Dustin and Britt were growing up, PB&J was the standard in our house. A plain peanut butter sandwich simply wasn’t an option. Without jelly, especially strawberry preserves, one’s sandwich was unfinished.

Going back a generation, to the Leave-It-to-Beaver days when I was a lad, a different sandwich was our staple.

Forget PB&J. Peanut butter was a luxury and a rarity. Our basic sandwich was the B&J — butter and jelly. On white bread, naturally. That and pumpernickel were the only choices in those days.

Of the store-bought jellies, grape was the family favorite. The jar of apple jelly was opened only after all the grape was gone.

Our B&J sandwiches, by the way, often were accompanied by a filling and nourishing drink that has long since fallen out of favor: egg milk.

To make egg milk, Mom filled a glass with whole milk, added a teaspoon of sugar, broke a raw egg into the glass, and stirred vigorously with a spoon. Mighty tasty.

Salmonella? Is that a kind of sandwich?

And, reaching another generation back, Mom said that her family had its own standard sandwich when she was young: the B&S.

The B&S was a single slice of (you guessed it) white bread, on which was spread butter or oleo, and atop which was sprinkled sugar. Mom said all the mothers in Macon, Georgia, served B&S sandwiches to their families.

I tried it once. It was crunchy.

To me, all of the above sandwiches — B&S, B&J, PB&J, PB, PB&B — are too sweet. I keep PB in the pantry, but only for visiting grandkids.

My taste runs to another type of sandwich that has, down through the years, loomed large in Smithdom.

It’s a sandwich that is simple and elegant and which nobody doesn’t like: the excellent and delicious tomato sandwich.

The classic and, in my humble opinion, preferred tomato sandwich is made with room-temperature tomatoes, white bread, mayo, salt, and pepper.

Variations exist, to be sure. Mom’s practice was to trim off the crust and toss it into the dog’s bowl.

Wheat bread is a perfectly acceptable alternative to white. Some people chill the tomato first. Or toast the bread. Or turn their sandwich into a BLT.

Some persons of a less refined palate even substitute Miracle Whip for mayonnaise.

But no matter how you slice it, a tomato sandwich is a delightfully satisfying culinary experience.

As Mom often pointed out, “Even a bad tomato is better than no tomato at all.”

Bon appétit.

The divine fruit in sandwich form.

The divine fruit in sandwich form.

A classic PB&J.

A classic PB&J.

The Presley PB&B.

The Presley PB&B.

* Elvis Presley’s Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich:

2 slices of white bread
2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter (not the reduced fat stuff)
1 banana
2 tablespoons of butter

Toast the bread slightly and cool. Spread the PB on one slice. Slice or mash the banana and put it on the other slice. Melt the butter in a pan. Put the bread slices together. Fry in the hot butter until both sides are browned.

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crbd

I love a good puzzle. Sudoku, crosswords, anything — I love ’em all.

I had lunch in Jefferson last week, and after the meal, the waitress dropped off my check. I picked it up and looked it over.

Huh? Talk about a puzzle. The check was written in a cryptic code that made no sense. I was so fascinated that I whipped out my cell phone and took a picture of it.

Check

Now, you don’t know what I had for lunch, so you’re at a disadvantage.

But I, still in the process of dining, was clueless, too. The hieroglyphs on the bill were baffling. un? OK? crbd?

I sat there, drumming my fingers on the table, reading the entries over and over. I didn’t have any real reason to noodle this out, but the challenge was… challenging.

Finally, a light bulb came on. My lunch included a side of fried okra. The OK must be shorthand for okra.

If that were so, then the Li must stand for those tasty lima beans.

crbd? No telling what that meant. I’d have to come back to that later.

I studied and puzzled a while longer, and then — aha! My meat dish had been hamburger steak! HBS was hamburger steak!

But the -O still had me stumped. Hmmm… what could -O possibly mean?

Then it hit me. HBS-O was hamburger steak with onions!

That accounted for everything but the drink, so… the un in the margin undoubtedly stood for my unsweet iced tea!

Okay, I was on a roll, but the crbd still had me stumped.

Wait! I didn’t have a roll, I had cornbread! crbd meant cornbread!

Puzzle solved. I wouldn’t have to ask the waitress to decipher it after all.

It’s entirely possible that abbreviations like un and crbd are universal and familiar to waitpersons throughout the English-speaking world. I wouldn’t know.

The only food service job I ever had was in college, when I was in charge of keeping the bowls full at Ma Dean’s Boarding House. That gig didn’t involve handing people a bill.

Anyway, the next time I go out for lunch, I think I’ll try something different:

un

CB-LTP

ff

Mmmm. I can hardly wait.

HBS-O -- order up!

HBS-O -- order up!

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Got Milk?

A note dated April 15, 1993…

Imagine a thick wedge of butter cake, rich and fluffy, prepared in a tube pan using fresh apples, chopped pecans, brown sugar, and a hint of nutmeg.

So light in texture that it crumbles away from the fork, yet somehow is moist and… so very fragrant.

Picture how the caramel glaze, freshly drizzled down the golden brown crust, solidifies as you watch.

Savor the moment as you press the edge of your fork carefully into the wedge, and steam rises through the silver tines.

That was my selection from the dessert table Saturday when I lunched at the High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, North Carolina.

I wanted to run back and eat more with both hands, but I didn’t. I simply cut myself a slice of fresh blueberry pie.

High Hampton Inn

 

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Barbecue

One time, a friend asked me to write something to go on the menu in his barbecue restaurant. He wanted it short and upbeat, but also informative. Scholarly, even. I did some research and came up with this.

————-

June 1995

THE LEGEND OF BARBECUE

They say that the art of barbecue cooking is so natural, it practically invented itself.

Some believe that the word barbecue originated with the Spanish conquistadors, who learned from native Americans how to cook game on a green-wood grill over a trench of heated stones. Barbacoa, they called it.

Others credit French buccaneers in the 17th century, who introduced barbe à queue — literally, “from whiskers to tail” — as a way of roasting whole animals over an open firepit.

Whatever the origin, the word and the technique quickly found favor in the American South. Barbecue cooking was the perfect way to preserve meat in the damp Southern heat. Smoke did for the pioneer families of the South what salt-curing and pickling had done for their European forebears.

THE PERFECT SAUCE

The same way that Europeans added honey or molasses to temper the pickling brine, Southerners learned to balance the rich flavor of the pork, lamb, or beef with sharp sauces that added sweet, sour, and hot to the seasoning.

The familiar tomato-based sauces, by the way, are a recent innovation. Most early cookbooks based their barbecue sauces on other ingredients: mushrooms, walnuts, oysters — even anchovies.

Those older cookbooks, however, contain very few barbecue recipes – perhaps because Southern barbecueing traditionally was done by men, who were not inclined to share their preparation secrets.

A SPIRIT OF CELEBRATION

So it was that in the South, barbecue flourished as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and a social event. At the community barbecue, any man could demonstrate his prowess with the fork and the basting mop — a ritual that survives today in Fourth of July picnics, church meetings, political rallies, and family reunions everywhere.

So strong are these traditions, with their spirit of community and celebration, that barbecue has come to mean quintessential Southern cooking — and the abundant hospitality that goes with it.

Y’all enjoy!

Barbecue

 

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