Red, white and real blue

I have a hard time doing straight traditional food on a holiday. I feel compelled to bend it just a little. This may be one reason why The Hub and I have never been tapped to host the family Passover seder – the fear that I’ll sneak chipotles into the matzo balls, or some such thing.

Potato salad seems to be the sought-after side for Fourth of July picnics. If you’re like me, and prefer to show some independence on Independence Day, you can go beyond the old ‘taters and mayo. The color of this salad made the tasters who sampled the recipe for my cookbook “Potato Salad: 65 Recipes from Classic to Cool” (Wiley, 2009) blink a few times. But those founding fathers liked to have some fun, and I think they’d get it.

Blue Moon

2 pounds purple potatoes

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

3/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped onion

Place the potatoes in a large pot, add enough water to cover them, cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are pierced easily with the tip of a sharp knife, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and let cool until you can handle them. Cut them into quarters or halves, depending on the size of the potatoes.

In a large bowl, combine the blue cheese, chives, walnuts, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, celery and onion. Add the potatoes and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for several hours to overnight.

Serves 6

Food news roundup

Market Restaurant’s got hives, but the buzz is that they’re a good idea. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) writes that the Raleigh restaurant has started a CSApiary with beehives on its roof. Read more here.

The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer travels around the world in four potato salads here, because they’re more American than apple pie for Fourth of July picnics. Taiwanese apple and ham…mmm.

From brick-and-mortar restaurants to metal-and-rubber food trucks to – pedal-and-foot bikes? Food delivery by bicycle is the next thing, says the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here.

Make slow-cooked barbecued pork without getting the vapors outdoors in the heat, says the Charleston Post and Courier. Find the recipe here.

OK, if you insist on being stereotypical for the Fourth, the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has recipes for palm-sized versions of apple pies that you can eat while wandering your picnic. Read more here. Just watch out for Yogi Bear.

Pop a cold one and have a good read about libations. The Kansas City Star has a review of new books on the topic here.

The Hub and I are fans of Stormchasers on the Discovery Channel. All I’ve ever seen these guys eat is beef jerky from gas stations, but Reed Timmer (in “The Dominator”) offers his Top Ten Tornado Alley Restaurants here. Just in case, while you’re on vacation this summer, you need to consume a 72-ounce steak. (No vegetarian restaurants – big surprise.)

Looking for lavender

If you have the opportunity to meet The Hub, you will note that he looks fairly normal. But it’s just a front. For example, on Saturday morning, I told him that I was going to the Midtown Farmers Market at North Hills to visit Norma DeCamp Burns’ Bluebird Hill Farms booth. I explained that Burns used to be a Raleigh City Council member (among other things in her varied life) and now produces herbs, flowers and vegetables on the Bennett, N.C. farm. The Hub’s response: “Is she a member of the Society of the Cincinnati? She certainly would fit.”

Duh, huh, what?

He explained that Cincinnatus was an ancient Roman leader who entered public service only because he was needed, and left to go back to his farm as soon as the crises he was called upon to resolve were over, without seeking ultimate power. The society, The Hub continued, was formed at the end of the Revolutionary War to promote the ideals of citizen political service; Washington and Jefferson were members.

“Uh, sure,” I said, and left before he could hand me a final exam.

I was looking for lavender that I could use in an ongoing experiment: making lavender ice cream. When cooking with lavender, there’s a fine line between intriguingly tasty and choking on potpourri, and I’m slowly creeping up on it while trying not to cross over. Burns’ crops are organic, so the lavender is safe for use in cooking. She leaves her culinary lavender buds on stems, making the lavender easier to strain from liquid than the loose buds.

Because I can never leave a farmers market solely with what I came for, I also got a Grilling Spice Rub. It contains oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, sage and an herb called perilla, which is known as shiso in Asian cooking. At home, I mixed olive oil, lime juice and enough of the rub to make a paste, which I rubbed on flank steak. I let it sit at room temperature for about an hour, then hit the grill. The rub offered flavor and tenderness without a long marinating time.

Before I left the booth, I told Burns about The Hub’s comments and the Society of the Cincinnati. She smiled and said, “I’ll have to look that up. Your husband certainly sounds interesting.” True, never a dull moment, as long as I can avoid history pop quizzes.


Piedmont Grown begins

A new program provides consumers a way to find locally produced food, and supports the farmers and artisans who produce it. Piedmont Grown certifies farmers markets, farmers and local food producers in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte areas.

In order to be part of the program and display its logo, the food involved must be from the 37-county area covered by Piedmont Grown. For example, farmers must certify that they produce the food they sell, and farmers markets must be producer-only markets. Participants must be certified annually, and there is a enrollment fee.

About 100 farms and businesses have registered so far. A searchable index and other information is at the web site here.

Beer Run: Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing Co.

Visiting Natty Greene’s in Raleigh, N.C. feels like taking that fifth-grade field trip to Williamsburg, but with much better refreshments. Quotes from Revolutionary War figures George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock and others are written on the walls. And, of course, there’s a biography of the pub’s inspiration, Gen. Nathaniel Greene. Greensboro, N.C., where the brewery is based, was named after the general some years after he routed British forces in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781.

OK, put the elementary schoolers back on the activity bus – it’s time for beer. Natty Greene’s current beer menu includes seven year-round offerings plus eight seasonal quaffs. Most have suitably colonial names, like Stamp Act Spring Rye and Black Powder Imperial Stout. The pub doesn’t offer a tasting flight per se, but you can make your own by ordering taster-size glasses of anything on tap for $1.50 each.

Three of the seasonals were unavailable when The Hub and I visited. I ordered Hessian Hefe-weizen, Wildflower Witbier and Old Town Brown. The Hub got Guilford Golden Ale, Smoothbore Amber Mild Ale and Sir Walter’s ESB. Guilford, Wildflower and Old Town are available year round.

The biggest surprise for both of us was the Wildflower. The Belgian-style white beer is flavored with coriander, chamomile and orange peel – and it smelled like a perfume counter. But it had only a light floral aftertaste, not nearly as strong as it smelled. The flavor was refreshing, with some grassy notes. However, my food (a spinach salad with batter-dipped fried chicken strips, bacon and mustard vinaigrette) overwhelmed it. But on a warm day on a patio…primo.

My Hessian Hefe-weizen was complex in flavor, with clove and banana aromas and a slight, refreshing bitterness. I could definitely taste the advertised “hint of baker’s chocolate” in the Old Town Brown, along with the toasted malt. I fantasized about how this beer could be paired with a dessert, or used in a dessert.

The Hub is a fan of ESBs, and Sir Walter’s did not disappoint him. It was sweet and smooth. The Smoothbore Amber Mild Ale was correctly described as having a “slight caramel flavor up front, followed by just enough hoppy bitterness.” It reminded The Hub of one of his preferred commercial beers, Bass, but better.

The only bust: Guilford Golden Ale. It reminded both of us of (fill in your average pale gold flavorless mass-marketed beer here).

Bacon doesn’t make everything better

I love bacon – who doesn’t, except The Hub’s vegetarian co-worker. And I have embraced the juggernaut that is bacon-everything. Bacon peanut brittle, sublime. Bacon crunchies on ice cream, divine. But apparently there is a limit.

A friend sent me this link to reviews on Amazon for a brand of bacon-flavored jelly beans. Among the comments: “Sweet Jesus, why didn’t I read the reviews?” and “If bacon tasted like these, I’d be a vegan.” The review that begins “Putridness that lingers” goes on to compare the flavor to that of a dead possum soaked in wolf urine. Makes me wonder what that reviewer’s usual diet is.

On the upside, a lot of people liked the tin they came in.

Food news roundup

Three chefs agreed on only one thing about cooking steaks in an article in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Find out what that was here as they discuss beefy things in honor of Father’s Day, which is this Sunday. Father’s Day seems to bring out the Fred Flintstone in food publications. The article is in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, too. There, Kathleen Purvis reveals her hatred of summer – finally, someone had the guts to do it. It’s here.

A – dare we say it? – gastropub opens in Durham, and the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) has the info here. Every time I hear that word, I think of a very old food show from Britain in which the host referred to food fans as “gastronauts.” No doubt the precursor of “foodie.”

I make jams and jellies because they taste better, and my friends and I have a good time in the kitchen doing it. GreenEats looks at DIY food from a self-sufficiency point of view, with reviews of books on the matter.

A plethora of ideas for summer entertaining can be found in Savor NC magazine, and they all look good. Ideas for using blueberries, too. Read more here.

A light and easy summer version of chicken pot pie is in the Charleston Post and Courier. Watch the how-to video here.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist John Kessler takes a road trip to Alabama. Find out what he ate on the way here.

JanNorris writes about an interesting event that’s going to happen in Palm Beach, Fla. The Palm Beach County Food Swap is designed for home cooks to swap goods. Read more here.

Hate that I missed this

This event was scheduled for June 7 at the General Store Cafe in Pittsboro, N.C.:

“Burrito Bash for the Sewage Sludge Action Network.”

Yes, when I think of sludge, burritos often spring to mind.

Just follow the smoke

My husband’s coworker, John, had told us tales of the Grilling and Chilling event at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh, N.C. for years. Always after the fact, leaving us to merely imagine the sizzling goodness.

This year, John produced “press passes” that served as our invitations. All we had to do was follow the cloud of smoke.

Food is a big deal at the church. I have to say, the potlucks I went to at the neighborhood Presbyterian church as a kid were nothing like this. For starters, there was nothing suspended in Jell-O.

Members grilled homemade Greek sausage with leeks, pepper-rubbed filet mignon and, of course, pork souvlaki with tzatziki. But there was also tandoori chicken with homemade chutney and raita, grilled Italian sausage with mango chutney, and Thai chicken with sesame noodles and cucumber salad. (The Thai chicken was marinated overnight in orange juice, red pepper, cilantro and natural peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up.)

John offered his classic feta burgers. (The recipe is here. Although he never makes them the same way twice.)

The event, held for the third year, started out of a desire to have more church events that were just fun, says member Mark Langford.

And the varied offerings? “People don’t realize that we have members from all over,” Langford says. “We have a lot of Serbs, Russians, even Africans and people from Eritrea. We probably have one of the most diverse church populations.”

See more photos of the event here.



The flight of Al’s Night Hawk

The post on Twitter asked for information on “unheralded, unknown beer joints.” And it brought back to me the most unheralded, (but not unknown in its town) beer joint I’ve ever visited. It was the kind of borderline unsavory place that inspires scenes in novels and epic excuses to spouses. Pretty good for a place with little seating.

Al’s Night Hawk was located on the main drag through Salisbury, N.C., a bit off the street. The building, when I knew it in the early 1980s, had been built to be a drive-in burger joint in the ’50s. And it still served hot dogs, which I was advised by natives to avoid. Food was not the draw. You pulled in at most any hour, got a beer, and sat in your car and drank it. I was assured that its reputation was better than its appearance.

I was a reporter at the Salisbury Post, which was an evening paper then. That meant we went in early, and the deadline for copy was around noon. One winter day, a giant snowstorm threatened. The publisher moved up the deadlines so that carriers could get the paper delivered before the blizzard. He told the reporters and editors to put out a small edition, then go to our homes to hunker down. When we were done, a few little flakes were falling. We had a free afternoon off. We weren’t about to go home.

Two other reporters and I got in the managing editor’s car. The small town had locked up tight in fear of the white blast, but he knew one place would be open. We crept down the whitening street and saw the friendly lights of Al’s Night Hawk.  We were the only car in the lot, but that didn’t matter. The ME went in to buy the first round. After the fourth trip inside, the Al’s folks did suggest that they might be wanting to close, and the snow was starting to pile up on the hood. We admitted it was probably time to hunker.

Al’s is gone now. I don’t remember now what we talked about or what we drank, although I’m sure it was something cheap in a can. But I remember the feeling of being let loose from school on a snow day, with people I not only worked with but enjoyed being with. Even in a car in a seedy parking lot.