Illegal oleo no more

I was about three years out of journalism school when I went to work on the copy desk of The Raleigh Times. The publication that the bar was named after. We copy editors sat in a circle of desks and waited for reporters and editors to send us their articles, which we would then knead into readable, correct copy that would print to fit. The job consisted of long periods of waiting jarred by frantic, noisy activity as the desk chief yelled for a page-one piece and the pneumatic tubes we used to receive items from the photo department whooshed and clunked as deadline approached.

But we did spend a lot of time waiting. And that was when I’d find out stuff. Part of being a copy editor was the speedy retrieval of random facts. One minute, you’d have to know that the small Granville County town north of Raleigh is not spelled Creedmore. (Rookie reporter mistake that we’d scoff at.)  The next, you’d have to change Hugh Morrison High to the correct Hugh Morson.

But there was one person on the desk who seemed to know the most about everything, who was always the first to answer when someone yelled a question like, “When did Isabella Cannon get elected Raleigh mayor?” His name was Jim Pearce. Even if Google had existed, I would have put my money on him in any contest of rapid fact fetching. He could also spin a tale. On one particularly slow Saturday morning, he told me a long story about how yellow margarine used to be illegal because of the powerful butter lobby. I had no reason to doubt the story, but it always seemed a little stretched.

Well, Jim, wherever you are, I know you were right – at least in Wisconsin. This article says that a law was on the state’s books banning yellow coloring in margarine, along with other pro-butter laws that are set for repeal.

So, enjoy your yellow oleo today. It tastes like freedom.

Food processor

A design idea could give new meaning to frying your laptop. An entry in Electrolux’s contest for new design concepts combines the cooking power of an induction burner with a computer. The Electrolux Laptop Kitchen looks like a laptop, and includes a touchscreen with a database of recipes. The spot where you’d normally find the keyboard is the burner. There’s also a webcam to send video of your dinner to your hungry friends. See it all here.

It’s just a concept – you can’t run out and buy it. But I can hear the cries from geek-cooks everywhere. I hope it’s resistant to Mountain Dew.

Food News Roundup

Church ladies long were responsible for the food at church suppers and fundraisers. But as this in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) points out, church guys are in the act, too. And I bet they aren’t stuck in those flowered hats. The big dog of church food-related fundraisers – Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s Greek Festival – takes place this weekend at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.

Tales of being a food tourist in Charlotte is in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer here. Yes, you can eat around the world, says the writer, in the Queen City.

The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal notes here the growing number of restaurants in the city which offer gluten-free menus that have creativity and flavor.

Want to eat sushi in a barn with a silo? Check this out from the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News. It just makes me laugh.

You may be sitting in your little apartment right now thinking, “I sure do wish I could compost.” Wish no longer. A Triangle company will compost for those who can’t. Read more in Savor NC here.

There’s nothing cheesy about football season, except this appetizer recipe for the tailgate from the New Orleans Times Picayune. Follow along with Judy Walker in the video.

Kathy Hester turns an “oops” into an unusual soup at HealthySlowCooking. See how it happened.

Mantoo? I didn’t know what it was either, until I read Seattle Weekly, here. (Hint: Your Mama didn’t make, unless she was Afghan.)

Tears of joy

I had to take a deep breath when I arrived to judge the fifth N.C. Hot Sauce Contest in Oxford, N.C. on Saturday. Ranged across the table were 33 bottles of fire and smoke. Thirty-three vials of pain and delight.

Yes, I enjoy dousing my tongue with elixirs that make others swoon. I was born this way. So were my fellow judges, Ross Ragonese, culinary instructor at Vance-Granville Community College, and Betsy Carson, a high-school teacher and food fan who was drafted to fill in for a no-show judge (chicken, cluck-cluck). Her husband, Al Carson, was a judge for the barbecue sauce category, which had about 40 entries.

You always start with the mildest and work to the hottest, and I noticed first off that even the milder sauces were pretty fiery. There also seemed to be a greater number of Asian-flavored and fruity sauces than in the past. A sauce maker I spoke to said that chicken and seafood are becoming more popular, which means a demand for lighter – but no less spicy – flavors.

There’s always a new pepper, as sauce makers search for ever more potent ways to make it hurt so good. This year’s model: the scorpion pepper, a sassy little number from Trinidad which has replaced last year’s bhut jolokia as, supposedly, the world’s hottest pepper. But mixing it with blueberries, as one sauce did – well, thank you for playing, here’s your lovely parting gift.

There are always a few sauces that leave me baffled. The one that tasted like a banana Popsicle dipped in pepper. The one where someone thought pouring in a gallon of artificial smoke flavoring was a good idea. Two that smelled so vile that the three of us couldn’t bring ourselves to touch them to our tongues. I’ll spare you Ragonese’s comparison to bathroom odors.

At about 25 sauces down, milk, water, beer and Triscuits no longer did the job of swabbing our tongues. We went for the hard stuff: whipped cream. It mopped the fire off my lips, too.

Despite the arrival of the scorpion pepper, the king of fire from last year still reigned. We selected Bailey Farms’ Bhut Jolokia sauce as the hottest. It had good flavor as well as heat. Our Critic’s Choice selection was unquestionably El Verde Sucio – The Dirty Green from Race City Sauce Works. We rattled off five or six ways that we could use the sauce, which contains poblano and hatch chiles,  right off the tops of our sizzling heads. For Most Unusual, we picked Smoking J’s Jamaican Ginger, an intriguing burst of Asian-ginger flavor.

The organizers gave each of us a goodie bag in thanks. Next year, maybe include Prilosec.

Food News Roundup

I often meet people who seem to think that I, and other food writers, prepare everything from scratch. They’re shocked that I don’t make my own pasta, or some such. But, as The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reveals here, convenience foods are the friends of chefs, food writers and culinary instructors, too. And we are not ashamed about it. The article offers ways to use convenience items creatively. It’s in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), too.

Mildred “Mama Dip” Council’s Chapel Hill, N.C. restaurant is the center of the universe for Southern food lovers. Now, Council’s daughter, Annette, is making a mark with her cake mixes. Read more in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here.

A review of Cary, N.C. writer Sandra Gutierrez’s new cookbook is in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here.

The latest on brews in the North Carolina mountains, including a new tasting room in Hendersonville, is in the Asheville Citizen-Times here.

While wandering the ‘net, I found out that the Ikea store in Charlotte contains a restaurant. They serve Swedish meatballs, naturally. Wonder if you have to cook your lunch yourself using a cheap miniature spatula? See the menu here.

Still carrying that Partridge Family lunch box? Well, put it away for Antiques Roadshow and look at the beauties at Leite’sCulinaria.

A sort of clam-burger is awaiting at Mariner’s Menu here.

Greek for a day

When Raleigh’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church started holding its Greek Festival 30 years ago, it was a big deal. There weren’t Greek restaurants everywhere, and I had to explain to people what baklava was. Today, there are plenty of chances to enjoy Greek food every day, so why do crowds still swarm to the State Fairgrounds?

Yes, there will be dancing and music at the festival, Sept. 16-18 , and a bazaar with Greek gifts to buy. But the draw is still the food. It doesn’t come from restaurant kitchens, but from the loving hands of church members. Even the familiar items, like spanakopita and moussaka, just taste different.

More information on the festival is here. And when you go, say hello to Frymaster Demos, king of the calamari.

These things must be done delicately (J)

Humor – like beauty and the best choice in upholstery fabric – is often in the eye of the beholder. I have committed humor enough times to know that some people just don’t see it. As my friend Bob Langford used to say, sometimes a writer should insert (J) next to the funny stuff to give the humor impaired a hint. (If you are really humor impaired and have to ask, J is for “joke.”)

And other times, (J) doesn’t work. Because the writing really isn’t that funny.

Exhibit A: this in The News & Observer today. From the cliched headline to the ignorant catalog of every tired stereotype about Southern food, it’s lame. Yeah, yeah, I know – I should say what I really think. As The Hub always says, “You have so few opinions, dear, and you are so loathe to express them.”

I did think before commenting on this column. There have been cases where I wrote something that I thought was funny or funny but biting, only to get comments from readers that made me wonder if they’d read the same piece. But I don’t think that I just “didn’t get it” here.

It’s not that the column criticizes Southern food. There’s plenty to criticize – mock, even – about Southern food. That we would feed our infants bacon-flavored formula if we could get it, for starters.

But, as the Wicked Witch of the West said, it’s how to do it. That’s where the magic of writing comes in. Oh, yes, I know how difficult it is to conjure that magic. But I hope that I have never resorted to beating my subject with a shillelagh, and hope I never will.