Friday, June 27, 2014

A picnic lunch at Reynolda House, in the style of Katharine Smith Reynolds

R.J. and Katharine Smith Reynolds with their
five children (Photos courtesy of Reynolda House)
Katharine Smith Reynolds was a woman ahead of her time. In the early 1900s, as a young bride planning the grand estate that is now the public Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, she insisted that her home have every feature that could foster healthy living. State-of-the-art exchangers scrubbed the air to minimize the risk of devastating contagions. Exercise was taken outdoors and a large garden produced nutritious food to feed her growing family.

While it might boggle a visitor's mind to imagine living among the finery of Reynolda House in its heyday, a group of writers recently experienced what likely was a typical afternoon picnic on the tree-shaded lawn. The event was organized by Visit Winston-Salem and catered by Mozelle's Fresh Southern Bistro. Mozelle's owner Jennifer Smith and executive chef Stephen McPherson drew inspiration from menus approved by Katherine Reynolds.

The first course was a summery strawberry gazpacho garnished with purple basil snipped hours earlier from the contemporary Reynolda House gardens, which are in the midst of a major restoration project. Fragrant heirloom roses well in full bloom during an early spring visit.

The second course was a luscious salad of roasted leeks, mache, yogurt and toasted walnuts lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

The third course had everyone sighing with delight, including guest Nathalie Dupree. the Southern cooking legend who was in town to launch Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration. Tucked into an especially flaky crust were slices of still-juicy tomato and loads of local cheese. The creamed succotash served on the side was a revelation, with early butter beans and fresh-cut corn served in a cool puddle of cream. 

The meal ended on a sweet note with White Chocolate Key Lime Pie. While most diners demurred that they were too full for more than just a bite, I confess without shame that I left only mere crumbles of the perfect chocolate crust.

Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Reynolda House Museum of American Art is located at 2250 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem. It is open from 9:30am to 4:30pm Tuesday through Saturday, and 1:30-4:30pm Sunday. Adult admission is $14; it is free for children, students and military with valid ID. For information or help planning your visit, call 336-758-5150 (toll-free, 888-663-1149), or email

Mozelle's Fresh Southern Bistro is located at 878 W. Foursth St., Winston-Salem. It has received awards for best service and most romantic dinner. For hours or reservations, call 336-703-5400.

For information about other things to see and do, contact Visit Winston-Salem at 336-728-4200 (toll-free, 866-728-4200) or Its office is located at 200 Brookstown Ave., Winston-Salem, and are open 8:30am to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Northern Exposure: Expats from the celebrate Canada Day with beloved foods

This post first appeared in Indy Week.

Across the Triangle and from sea to shining sea, firework stands are sprouting in strip mall parking lots like mushrooms in the woods.
In eager anticipation of July 4th, children are begging for sparklers and adults are pondering the eternal question: whether it's nobler to endure a wimpy driveway fireworks display or head across the border into South Carolina to smuggle back an illicit motherlode of pyrotechnics. And let's not forget the food. There are the deviled eggs to be made, hot dogs and hamburgers to be grilled.
Poutine, a Canadian favorite (Indy Week)
Yet not everyone is rushing to drape their house in all-American bunting. Canadians who left the Great White North for jobs or college in North Carolina, are intent on securing an adequate supply of Molson's, maple syrup and beloved Tim Horton's coffee—essentials for ex-pats celebrating Canada Day on July 1.
Canada Day commemorates the 1867 federation of the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada (including Ontario and Quebec). Some of the estimated 5,000 Canadians living in the Triangle will start the party early at a celebration Sunday in Wake Forest.
"It's a family-friendly event, and you don't have to be Canadian to come," says Sean Mitton, who created CanSouth in 2004 as a way to help Canucks make local connections. The Ontario native also created the Canadian Expat Network, which provides a similar service nationwide. "Just like Southerners, Canadians are very polite and welcoming."
Mike Rumble, who moved here from Toronto, appreciates the bonds he's made with Canadian friends. "I love my life here, but when people find out you're from Canada they always want you to say 'eh,' or 'our and about,'" quips Rumble, who provides North Carolina travel information at the state Division of Tourism. "The funny thing is, my dad sometimes tell me I sound Southern."
CanSouth members want their neighbors to know that they're not as defined by Canadian clich├ęs as Robin Scherbatsky of How I Met Your Mother, and that their politicians (such as Toronto mayor and crack aficionado Rob Ford) are no more bizarre than ours.
They are, however, fierce defenders of curling, a sport most Americans deem as dismissable as ice dancing. Cliff Gray of the Triangle Curling Club will lead a demonstration on Sunday; the club's $1.4 million rink opens later this year on So-Hi Drive in Durham.
"It was always hard for people to get into curling because it was held for the odd hours when skaters or hockey didn't have control of the ice," says Gray, a Quebecer who took up the safer sport after enduring years of hockey injuries. "Our ice will be for curling only."
Later, the celebration will shift toward food. The meal will be catered by Sammy's Bar & Tavern, a haven for hockey lovers, and supplemented by potluck dishes. Gray, who dreams of Swiss Chalet—a Canadian chain famous for rotisserie chicken bathed in a secret sauce—can't wait.
"I'd really like to have some steamed hot dogs and Montreal smoked meat. Oh, and candy bars," he says. "Coffee Crisp is a wafer-type chocolate that tastes like coffee, and Crunchies are sponge toffee covered in chocolate. There's just nothing like it here."
Rumble is hoping for a Nanaimo bar, a creamy chocolate dessert named for the town located on Vancouver Island, just north of Washington State. Square Rabbit in downtown Raleigh lists "Janice's Nanaimo bar" on its specialty dessert list.
"One of our members created that recipe and it is so good," says Rumble. "For a long time, I was sad that I couldn't buy Billy Bee creamed honey here. You can get it in every grocery store in Canada. I found it recently at Trader Joe's and I was very shocked. I was so happy, I almost cried right there in the aisle."
Riva Soucie and her husband, Adam, moved to Raleigh in January from Washington, D.C., where they had been working at the Canadian Embassy. Formerly of Ottawa, they're now on assignment at N.C. State University. They've been happily surprised by the food here, including a wider selection of vegetarian restaurants than in D.C.
For Sunday's party, Soucie might make beaver tails—flattened ovals of dough that are fried and, depending on what part of Canada you are from, dusted with cinnamon sugar or dressed with maple syrup and butter. Or maybe authentic poutine, a dish traced to rural Quebec that covers crisp French fries in brown gravy topped with cheese curds. She recently discovered a faithful rendition at Joule Coffee.
Sean Mitton says such food not only stirs taste memories but reminds us that it's good to spend time with people who understand cross-border issues. Like bulking up for winter with Canadian Thanksgiving in October and American Thanksgiving in November.
"Food is one of those things that binds us, like when Paul Henderson scored the goal in 1972 that won the Summit Series against Russia," says Mitton, who collected the memories of dozens of Canadians 40 years later in a book, The Goal That United Canada.
"Even people who weren't alive at the time know the legend," says Mitton, whose partner will give birth to the couple's first child—a bona fide Southerner —in a few months. "The Triangle is a great place to raise children, and it's our home. It's a great place to be Canadian."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Winston-Salem recalls the welcome table of its beloved neighbor, Dr. Maya Angelou

Memorial flyer near the door at
Shabbytiques in West End.
The death of celebrated writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou at age 86 on May 28 sent shock waves around the world. Her passing was felt keenly in her adopted hometown of Winston-Salem, where shops in the downtown arts district displayed heartfelt messages and autographed photos of their beloved neighbor.

The question could not help but be asked right away, even by those who made no effort to hide their grief and tears:  Would Dr. Angelou’s legendary Thanksgiving celebrations, which united celebrities and store clerks as equals at her welcome table, continue without her?

“From what I’ve heard, the family wants it to happen,” says Chef Don McMillan of Simple Elegance, who worked on Dr. Angelou’s two cookbooks and catered the weekend-long feasts for the past several years, including last November. “My guess is that it will become a celebration of her life.”

McMillan says the celebrations, which attracted more than 200 attendees from down the street and around the globe, would start with an informal get-together on Wednesdays. Turkey and ham were served at the traditional Thanksgiving meal, along with a staggering assortment of sides, in the Visitor’s Center at Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

In the early years, when the party was small enough for friends and family to crowd around her large dining room table, Dr. Angelou cooked all the food herself. “She was especially famous for her greens and very good stuffing,” says longtime friend Campbell Cawood, who now lives in Key West. “She believed the best way to communicate was over food that was prepared in a loving way. It was heart and soul of how she got to know people.”

Nikki Miller-Ka, a private chef and popular Winston-Salem food writer, got to know Dr. Angelou when they’d see each other shopping at the same local grocery store. She kept a respectful distance until one day when she overheard Dr. Angelou ask her aide to get some fresh green beans. She confided that they were stringy and suggested okra as a better choice.

 “We talked and I helped a few more times when I’d see her,” says Miller-Ka, noting that Dr. Angelou intuited that she longed to be a writer. “She said, ‘You can’t be that descriptive without being a writer.’ She sprinkled some inspiring words upon me. I felt like she made an effort to be a mentor.”

Miller-Ka says the market experience actually was not her first run-in with Dr. Angelou. At age 6 or 7, while playing among clothing racks while her mother shopped, she careened into an elegant woman wearing a black sheath dress, pearls and a large hat. “She looked at me, pointed a finger and just said, ‘You!’” she recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t say a word and I ran back to my mother. Later, my mother looked around and said, ‘Oh, look. It’s Maya Angelou.’”

Betty Morton was similarly intimidated the first time she met Dr. Angelou. Familiar to Reynolds Wrap users as one of the white-jacketed home economics in the popular “Pat and Betty” series of TV ads, Morton helped McMillan cook a catered meal in Dr. Angelou’s home kitchen.

Maya Angelou with Chef Don McMillan
 and Betty Morton (Courtesy Don McMillan)
“It was an unforgettable experience,” Morton says. “Her kitchen was very organized, very well laid out. Her pantry had everything. She was well traveled and what I saw really reflected that. It was a warm place to be. It really felt like a privilege, not only to cook for her and her guests, but to use her things and cook in her kitchen.”

As much as Dr. Angelou’s guests looked forward to a fine dining experience, McMillan says they also enjoyed the casual western-style barbecue that followed Thanksgiving. Perhaps even more anticipated was the Bojangles fried chicken and biscuits served on Saturdays, when her cultured guests took turns reciting poetry, singing, dancing or displaying their particular artistic talent.

“It would range from children performing skits to Ashford & Simpson and people who designed exquisite jewelry,” McMillan says. “When I think of this, it is part of her persona of sharing and loving. It’s been a blessing to be part of her life.”

While it is too early to say whether Dr. Angelou’s family will want to continue the celebration without her, Old Salem will continue to block that time until directed otherwise.

“The space is reserved for this year, but of course we have not yet heard about their plans,” says Old Salem CEO Ragan Folan, whose staff has worked to ensure the privacy of Dr. Angelou and her guests. “I never attended, but I know that it was a wonderful family weekend celebration for many years. We hope it will continue.”

Sign at Miller's on North Trade Street.