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Cooking to Honor Edna Lewis


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Underneath that crisp black skin, the chicken was very, very moist.

I'm not Southern girl, I guess.

I type with four painful fingers and one painful thumb since I started out with my tiny cast iron skillet, planning to fry only two pieces. Not having any country ham or lard, I decided to add a small dallop of bacon fat to peanut oil. Big mistake. Burst into flames when temperature reached the dizzying height Ms. Lewis specifies. Didn't go out right away with pot lid since too much air was getting in. Sink and water closer than baking soda. Wooden cabinets right above sink. Scary and ouch.

I was not born to fry.

Tried again. I just don't know. Help me out. Is it the fact that I scrubbed off finish and totally reseasoned my big cast iron skillet less than a year ago? It seems that whenever I use an extremely high heat, the item plunged immediately into the fat burns instantly. Okay, maybe not every time, but it seems that way since I rarely cook this way and

I was not born to fry.

So, this time, using just peanut oil, I probed the fat with my probe thermometer which really does not seem to like being stuck into things other than meat or water-based liquids. Shoulda used the other old thermometer. Just decided what the hell, can't be toooo hot, but cast iron skillets are all forged under the sign of Taurus and do not change the intensity of their heat quickly enough. Instant color of mascara made for blondes, black by the time the flesh cooked through.

I'm not a Southern girl, for sure.

As I said, chicken was moist. Succulent. Any advice would be gratefully received. I had a one & two rather than a one & three or whatever it's called. Buttermilk-battered fried green tomatoes (my first, NPR recipe courtesy of a cook from New Orleans. Fine, but not all that impressed. Needed something.) Buttermilk-mashed potatoes, based on a recipe by Judy Rodgers, a Missouri girl, born betwixt the South and the midwest and taught about food in France and Italy before California bound. Fi-ine! She and me, we go way back.

Ms. Lewis, I truly, truly respect what you could do and I cannot. Yet.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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On the book's advice, we cut back the cinnamon since we didn't have "ceylon cinnamon" but there was still a nice spice flavor.

NYC Mike, can you tell me a bit more about what the book said regarding the cinnamon? It's possible that information dropped off the recipe when we posted it originally, and I no longer have the book. I always like to make sure any notes--even if in another part of the book--are present in the recipes we post.

(Sorry, Pontormo, if it caused a problem when baking.)

David Leite

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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Underneath that crisp black skin, the chicken was very, very moist.

snip

I was not born to fry.

snip

I was not born to fry.

snip

I'm not a Southern girl, for sure.

As I said, chicken was moist.  Succulent. Any advice would be gratefully received.  I had a one & two rather than a one & three or whatever it's called.  Buttermilk-battered fried green tomatoes (my first, NPR recipe courtesy of a cook from New Orleans.  Fine, but not all that impressed.  Needed something.)  Buttermilk-mashed potatoes, based on a recipe by Judy Rodgers, a Missouri girl, born betwixt the South and the midwest and taught about food in France and Italy before California bound.  Fi-ine!  She and me, we go way back.

Ms. Lewis, I truly, truly respect what you could do and I cannot.  Yet.

Oh, please don't despair! It is a deep dark secret, but Southern girls do not spring from the womb knowing how to fry chicken! Ssshhhh.

My first chicken frying experience was when I was about 14, and my poor mother was bed ridden with a sciatica attack and supervising from the bedroom by ear. Long story short, the grease was too hot. The chicken came out with the lovliest golden brown, perfectly crunchy skin. It was also dead raw, and almost cold, in the middle. Before the days of the microwave......

I've had to work hard for years to overcome the shame within my family, and it is STILL brought up from time to time, no matter how many platters of perfect chicken I produce.

At least you had a tasty protein on the table!

This recipe does leave a darker than usual crust. I think that is the case with most buttermilk soaks. Mine is darker using this method, but I love what it does for the chicken flesh. I wish I had taken a picture of mine to post, because the reality of the chicken is darker than the photographs in the book, though I am not sure exactly how dark yours is.

Your cast iron should be fine with a year old season on it, if it is used from time to time in between. If mine has been in the cabinet for a month or two without being used, I will try to pull it out and fry a pound of bacon in it. I can stick the bacon in the fridge for salad and other uses, and of course the bacon fat always comes in handy. Are you using an open skillet, or one with a lid?

As far as the temperature of the grease is concerned, I am going to give you my decidedly unscientific and controversial method. Some will dislike like it, but oh well, this is how I do it.

I start the grease (regardless of the medium I am using, peanut oil, shortening, whatever) on just above a medium heat as soon as I have dredged the meat I am going to be frying. This gives time for the dredge to set while the grease is warming. Now to the nose. You can smell when the grease is warming up, and feel from a distance when the grease itself starts to put off heat, rather than the burner and the pan. I moisten my fingertips with water. Now I know people are going to be screaming about water in hot grease, but I mean moisten the fingertips which is a lot less moisture than the raw hunk of meat you are going to be dumping into that hot grease. I flick the moisture from my fingertips into the pan of hot grease, and count. If I can count to four before I hear the little tiny pops of the moisture in the grease, then the grease is not hot enough. If it pops when it hits the surface of the grease, then the grease is too hot. That three count does it for me, and in goes the meat.

Now, be forewarned that introducing water into hot grease is seriously dangerous. Only moisten the fingertips under running water, and flick the moisture that is left on your fingertips into the grease.

Now, I am going to put on my flame proof suit, step back, and say, "Don't EVER EVER EVER do this!"

:wink:

Anne

P.S. There is also a wooden spoon method for testing grease temperature that I have heard of that some people use that you may feel more comfortable using. I don't use it, but hopefully someone with some experience with it will chime in.

Edited by annecros (log)
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On the book's advice, we cut back the cinnamon since we didn't have "ceylon cinnamon" but there was still a nice spice flavor.

NYC Mike, can you tell me a bit more about what the book said regarding the cinnamon? It's possible that information dropped off the recipe when we posted it originally, and I no longer have the book. I always like to make sure any notes--even if in another part of the book--are present in the recipes we post.

(Sorry, Pontormo, if it caused a problem when baking.)

David Leite

Hi David, this is on pg 9 "a note on Ceylon Cinnamon".

-mike

The quality of cinnamon can vary greatly, and most that you find on supermarket shelves is harsh and hot in flavor.  Ceylon cinnamon is the exception and we use it a lot in our recipes.  Ceylon cinnamon is best purchased in stick form, kept tightly covered away from sunlight, and ground in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle for each recipe (we keep a small electric coffee grinder that we use only for sweet spices like cinnamon and clove).  Unlike common cinnamon, which is thick, hard and brittle, Ceylon cinnamon is paper thin and crumbles easily in the hand.  It is complexly smooth and sweet, and very refined, both in aroma and flavor.  We recomend seeking it out, as it makes all the difference in a dish.  If, however, for some reason you simply cannot find Ceylon cinnamon, reduce the amount called for in our recipe by half if you are using an ordinary supermarket brand.

-Mike & Andrea

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Pontormo, I am so sorry for your experience yesterday! I hope your fingertips are ok this morning!

Our attempt resulted in much more favorable reviews. We did our frying in a big saucepot! We did not use the lard (Andrea, my wife won round 1) but we did use the butter and the ham (me, round 2) and oil. We brined and buttermilked for 12 hours a stage.

This was by far the most crispy and juicy chicken ever. What an amazing technique. Next time, the only thing I would do differently is cut down the brine time and the amount of salt in the brine, our final product was a little on the salty side for our tastes. But, that was nicely offset by the tomato gravy we made to go with it.

We served it with rice and corn and a bed of that tomato gravy and slices of the White Bread recipe in the book(which was amazingly good and used NO eggs and very little butter). My two sons (9 and 3) devoured the chicken and made 2nd and 3rd passes at the plate. My daughter (also 9) is going through a danty I don't want to eat with my hands phase and had less fun than we did.

Here is the bread out of the oven.

gallery_39050_2669_422307.jpg

Here is the main dish. Remeber I mentioned my shoddy skin condition, well a few good sized peices fell off in the buttermilk bath. Waste not want not I always say, on the left center plate you can see a yummy peice of fried chicken skin with the chicken. :raz::wub:

gallery_39050_2669_348039.jpg

Edited by NYC Mike (log)

-Mike & Andrea

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Here is the main dish.  Remeber I mentioned my shoddy skin condition, well a few good sized peices fell off in the buttermilk bath.  Waste not want not I always say, on the left center plate you can see a yummy peice of fried chicken skin with the chicken.  :raz:  :wub:

gallery_39050_2669_348039.jpg

Perfect! And illustrates the darker crunchy that happens in the real world as opposed to the photograph in the book. Isn't that gravy good?

The darker crust is not a bad thing at all. I am sure it is the sugars in the buttermilk carmelizing.

Daughter "borrowed" my digital camera a couple of days ago without my knowledge (she asked Dad), but I should be getting it back very soon.

Anne

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Wow, looks great. The bread is surely an impessive loaf! How was the crumb texture? Somehow, I 'm picturing a firm, semi-dense crumb.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Perfect! And illustrates the darker crunchy that happens in the real world as opposed to the photograph in the book. Isn't that gravy good?

The darker crust is not a bad thing at all. I am sure it is the sugars in the buttermilk carmelizing.

Anne, the gravy was really so good. Those darker spots were the best part of the skin, absolutly great caramelization!

Wow, looks great. The bread is surely an impessive loaf! How was the crumb texture? Somehow, I 'm picturing a firm, semi-dense crumb.

Yes, exactly. It is perfect sandwich bread and surely better than Wonder brand for the kids. :biggrin: Here is a slice shot, wish I got a cross-section.

gallery_39050_2669_138150.jpg

Mike, you're the greatest, thanks. The note has been added to the recipe. I mentioned your help at the bottom of the page.

Happy to help David, we love your site!

-Mike

-Mike & Andrea

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Mike: Everything looks fantastic! Glad your family loved it...mostly. As for brining, I recommend browsing the cooking thread on the topic. I much prefer rubbing kosher salt on the cleaned, dried chicken and letting it sit in the fridge for a day or two that way. Cf. reference to Judy Rodgers; it's her preference for Zuni Cafe's famous roast chicken.

ETA: :shock: Anne, I completely overlooked your extremely kind post that responded to my lack of critical frying skills! Thank you for all your advice and funny anecdotes. Strange how something so basic--an actually cliché when it comes to demonstrating culinary incompetence on TV shows written by those who don't cook themselves--is a recent cause of alarm for someone like me who has been cooking since childhood. For the record, I may have been dramatic last night while posting, but I was not exaggerating when I called the poultry black.

David: you're very gracious, but since I atypically altered a baking recipe on a first attempt and deliberately mixed the cinnamons from a bulk jar in a natural foods store with the more delicate, recent purchase, there is really no cause to apologize. Your Web site offers an incredible resource both to authors and to readers like me who appreciate the chance to sample recipes from books we don't own.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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may I just chime in to say how much I appreciate what Mike is doing w/ "our" food. Too often we have those who move South fr/ "fern" places and spend their entire time here decrying our culture (w/ a capital "K")--especially our food. I hear how terrible grits are and how superior cream of wheat is and have to answer the questions, "why would any one eat okra?" or "what in the name of ______ are collards?" not to mention explaining that we in the South do not fry every thing.

The fact that Mike--& I am certain there are others but he is noticeable in his posts--moved down here and instead of fighting us he quite simply and enthusiastically embraced our food and is, apparently, having one helluva time experimenting is wonderful to me. It makes me want to rush to Alpher-tater (as fast as one can rush in ATL traffic), kiss him on both cheeks (well, may be I will let Fuss do that), and then climb Stone Mountain and proclaim w/ a hearty Rebel Yell how much I appreciate what he is doing. Keep it up; keep us informed as to your progress; and enjoy.

In the words of Flannery O'Conner, "I live by a simple rule: when in Rome do as we do in Milledgeville"

HDHD

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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Wow, that slice of bread look amazing; thanks for sharing the photo of the slice. I'm not too experienced of a bread baker but I may need to try this out. Your photo gives me incentive to try this!

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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may I just chime in to say how much I appreciate what Mike is doing w/ "our" food.  Too often we have those who move South fr/ "fern" places and spend their entire time here decrying our culture (w/ a capital "K")--especially our food.  I hear how terrible grits are and how superior cream of wheat is and have to answer the questions, "why would any one eat okra?" or "what in the name of ______ are collards?" not to mention explaining that we in the South do not fry every thing. 

The fact that Mike--& I am certain there are others but he is noticeable in his posts--moved down here and instead of fighting us he quite simply and enthusiastically embraced our food and is, apparently, having one  helluva time experimenting is wonderful to me.  It makes me want to rush to Alpher-tater (as fast as one can rush in ATL traffic), kiss him on both cheeks (well, may be I will let Fuss do that), and then climb Stone Mountain and proclaim w/ a hearty Rebel Yell how much I appreciate what he is doing.  Keep it up; keep us informed as to your progress; and enjoy.

In the words of Flannery O'Conner, "I live by a simple rule: when in Rome do as we do in Milledgeville"

HDHD

What Lan4Dawg said, and it goes double for me!

Thanks Mike, and Pontormo, for jumping over a cultural hurdle that I have found some yankees reluctant to attempt. They don't know what they are missing, do they?

I am from Southwest Georgia orginally, and have family all over Georgia, so anytime you want to go for a "ride around" the state, let me know, and I can steer you to a good meal or two.

Anne

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David: you're very gracious, but since I atypically altered a baking recipe on a first attempt and deliberately mixed the cinnamons from a bulk jar in a natural foods store with the more delicate, recent purchase, there is really no cause to apologize.  Your Web site offers an incredible resource both to authors and to readers like me who appreciate the chance to sample recipes from books we don't own.

Pontormo, it's my pleasure!

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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Sometimes the converts are the strongest believers... :smile:

As only a temporary Southerner who grew up in New England myself, I also fell in love with Southern food. A good friend (who grew up in Atlanta) did not grow up with much tradtional Southern food there and is always arguing with me when I make something from Lewis or Bill Neal and label it as "Southern". The typical response is, "I never ate that growing up in Atlanta". He enjoys the food just the same though... :smile:

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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may I just chime in to say how much I appreciate what Mike is doing w/ "our" food. Too often we have those who move South fr/ "fern" places and spend their entire time here decrying our culture (w/ a capital "K")--especially our food. I hear how terrible grits are and how superior cream of wheat is and have to answer the questions, "why would any one eat okra?" or "what in the name of ______ are collards?" not to mention explaining that we in the South do not fry every thing.

The fact that Mike--& I am certain there are others but he is noticeable in his posts--moved down here and instead of fighting us he quite simply and enthusiastically embraced our food and is, apparently, having one helluva time experimenting is wonderful to me. It makes me want to rush to Alpher-tater (as fast as one can rush in ATL traffic), kiss him on both cheeks (well, may be I will let Fuss do that), and then climb Stone Mountain and proclaim w/ a hearty Rebel Yell how much I appreciate what he is doing. Keep it up; keep us informed as to your progress; and enjoy.

In the words of Flannery O'Conner, "I live by a simple rule: when in Rome do as we do in Milledgeville"

Thanks for the very nice words and encouragement! They mean a lot and are very motivating!

When we first decided to move to Georgia one of the major motivators (outside of cost of living and quality of schools :biggrin: ) was the history and the deep and old culture. With three small children we wanted them to be able to put down roots with meaning and to be proud of where they are from if that makes any sense. The majority of the people we have met in our community are unfortunatly as you describe transplanted and unwilling. But Anne is right, they just don't know what they are missing. I get the impression that we have just begun to scratch the surface but we are loving every minute of it!

Aside from that OMG! the food is that good! I may be a new cook (less than 1 year) but I am an old school eater :raz::laugh::wink: . I know good when I taste it!

-mike

Edited by NYC Mike (log)

-Mike & Andrea

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I was not born to fry.

I'm not a Southern girl, for sure.

AWWWWWW, Hon!! Don't you give up---you've got the determination and the black skillet---that's 90% right there.

I've been cheating lately by putting buttermilk POWDER into the brining water---without the milk, it seems to brown golden, and doesn't go too dark before the inside is done. Just happened to have some on hand one day when I was out of buttermilk, was going to add it to plain milk, then decided to see what it would do all alone.

And just get right back on that horse soon as your sore fingers are up to it.

I'm counting on you. :smile:

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Sorry about no pics to share this time, the dinner portion just wasn't photogenic :laugh: and breakfast was gone way to fast to remember.

We had some poached chicken left over from when we made the Chicken Soup so we had "breakfast for supper" and made the Chicken Hash with Corn Griddle Cakes from the book. To those I added a few over easy and some milk gravy. It was really, really good, the hash especially was a standout and a whole lot better tasting than it looked! :raz:

For breakfast we made Miss Lewis' Buttermilk Pancakes. We've tried all sorts of different buttermilk pancake recipes and usually we prefer one that fluff up and become very cake like due to the addition of beaten egg whites. These were not like that at all, quite the opposite, they were more creamy and custard like in texture, amazing to eat. I may have to review my cake like texture preferences!

-mike

-Mike & Andrea

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Had a great couple of days of cooking. I'm not sure where to put food we make that isn't Miss Lewis' but still have it be in this forum but for now hope she won't mind.

In browsing the Southern Food Culture topics we happened along a topic by Mayhaw Man about the Mississippi Delta and its tamale culture. You can see it here SFA Tamale Trail Website is now serving, All Tamales, all the time!. Eating the trail will be a good excuse for a 3-day weekend after the new year.

We used the recipe from the website Mississippi Delta Tamales.

The first night we made a small batch using some leftover chicken we had laying around from making some more of Scott Peacock's chicken stock.

Served with red beans and rice.

gallery_39050_2669_19389.jpg

Last night we made a much bigger batch to share with neighbors, friends and school teachers (much better than an apple say my oldest boy :raz: ) In both batches we used Maseca Masa mix since we had a bag on hand, shortening in place of lard and all were wrapped in corn husks. Here is about a quarter of what we made.

gallery_39050_2669_305242.jpg

We served the pork tamales with the Scalloped Tomatoes and Roasted Okra from "The Gift of Southern Cooking" book. My wife, being from the Dominican Republic had eaten okra from childhood since it grows locally there. I on the other hand had only ever seen an okra before. I'll say this, the jury is still out, the aroma and flavor are very good, so is the first textural experience when you crunch into it, what comes next may be an aquired taste! We will look to make it every way under the sun before I decide and my wife loves it so it will be back.

gallery_39050_2669_90473.jpg

Washed the whole lot down with a nice pitcher of sweet tea.

For Dessert we made the Apple Crisp from the book served with vanilla ice cream and coffee was a perfect end to a great meal.

gallery_39050_2669_167973.jpg

-Mike

-Mike & Andrea

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Everything looks great Mike!

My husband had a deeply ingrained dislike of okra when I met him, but has since seen the light and eats a higher percentage of any okra dish prepared than any other individuals in the house. Interestingly enough, the first time he actually enjoyed okra was boiled with baby limas, a preparation that most okra haters point to when discussing the evils of okra. I think he had only had it overcooked in the past. It doesn't have to be cooked into slimy mush, so don't think that way in preparing it.

Stick with fresh okra, and with small pods. Larger pods are almost always tough and stringy. A simple quck coat in self rising white cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper, then panfried in bacon grease (not the inch thick coating and deep fry) should make a believer out of anybody.

Besides, it is incredibly nutritious and its use as a thickening agent is wonderful. Gives real body to the pot likker in the pot of peas or butter beans. OH, and pickled okra is a whole 'nother experience, if you like the taste and texture from that first bite.

Edna Lewis would not mind anything you post, I would think. I know I would sit down to that plate of tamales!

Edited by annecros (log)
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Already on okra, Mike? You are progressing very nicely. :wink:

You need to get busy making some boiled peanuts if you haven't already.

Do you read the Atlanta Journal & Constitution? If so you'll likely have noticed the piece in the food section on gelatin salads, written by Scott Peacock. If not you can need to run right out and dig a copy out of your neighbor's recycling bin. There's likely an on-line version (Gifted Gourmet will provide a link, I'm sure) but they don't usually have the pictures.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Gifted Gourmet will provide a link, I'm sure

Gelatin salads break out of the mold

This shift in thinking began several years ago when my friend Edna Lewis and I were compiling recipes for the cookbook we wrote together, "The Gift of Southern Cooking." One day, while making a list of dishes that should be included, Miss Lewis, as I called her, proposed tomato aspic. Like Mrs. Harris years before, I was certain she was kidding. But she, too, was serious. The aspics I knew usually started with a can of V-8 juice or Clamato and were fortified with enough gelatin to render them the textural equivalent of a Goodyear radial. "Oh, no, Scott, tomato aspic is delicious! And it's real Southern," Miss Lewis declared.

worth reading if you know of Scott Peacock and his mentor and beloved friend Edna ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Great reading thanks for the pointer, that pear salad looks good!

I don't usually read the AJC but is that a regular column of his or is that Southern Recipe Restoration Project? If so I may have to look into it!

-mike

-Mike & Andrea

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Great reading thanks for the pointer, that pear salad looks good! 

I don't usually read the AJC but is that a regular column of his or is that Southern Recipe Restoration Project?  If so I may have to look into it!

-mike

Scott does not routinely write for the AJC, but this piece was certainly right up his alley.

Pretty much the best writing in the entire AJC (and some of the world's best food writing, ever) is by John Kessler. He used to be the restaurant reviewer for the AJC, but no longer does so (:sad:, in part because I got some very nice free meals out of that gig). He does still do a lot of food writing (a lot of it southern in orientation), and does some metro stuff as well.

Other reasons to subscribe to the AJC are Mike Luckovich's cartoons and the editorial page.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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