Monday, November 30, 2009

Forget turkey -- worry about chicken

In case you think food editors spend too much time fussing about how to handle chickens and turkeys, this morning's news from Consumer Reports is a timely reminder.

It seems the magazine tested fresh, whole broiler chickens bought in 22 states and found that two-thirds of them showed signs of contamination by salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacteria involved in foodborne illness.

That was a slight improvement over the magazine's results in January 2007, when 8 of 10 broilers showed contamination. But it was still higher than results in 2003 that found 51 percent of chickens were contaminated. Here are the full results:

To do the test, Consumer Reports used an independent lab to check 382 chickens bought from more than 100 supermarkets, gourmet, natural-foods or mass-merchandise stores in 22 states.

  • Among the cleanest -- or bacteria-free -- were air-chilled broilers (60 percent were free of any pathogens).
  • Among brands, Perdue broiler had the lowest rate of contamination (56 percent were free of both pathogens).
  • Tyson and Foster Farms showed the highest rate (less than 20 percent were free of both).
  • Store-brand organic chickens were free of salmonella but only 43 percent were free of campylobacter.

Before you get panicky, remember that bacterial contamination doesn't mean you can't cook the chicken. But it does mean that safe food handling is critical:

  • • Choose chicken that is well wrapped and at the bottom of the case, where the temperature should be coolest. Make chicken one of the last things you put in your cart before heading to the checkout, and don't let it sit in a closed, hot car while you run other errands.
    • Store raw chicken in your refrigerator below 40 degrees for no longer than a couple of days. If you're keeping it longer, freeze it.
    • Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator or in cold water, checking frequently to make sure the water is cold. Never thaw poultry or meat on a counter. When the inside is still frozen, the outside can warm up, providing a breeding ground for bacteria. Cook thawed chicken right away.
    • Cook chicken to at least 165° degrees. Even if it’s no longer pink, it can harbor bacteria, so use a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer to be sure.
    • Beware of cross-contamination. Wash knives and cutting boards with hot, soapy water after handling raw chicken, wipe up spilled juices with a paper towel and discard it, and don’t return cooked meat to the plate that held raw meat.
    • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

Where's your turkey?

I'm back from my Thanksgiving break, and it has been four days since you cooked your turkey on Thanksgiving. You know what that means, right? Tick-tick-tick-tick -- time to move the cooked, sliced turkey from the refrigerator to the freezer. Carcass too, if you're still hanging on to it for soup.

You did remove the stuffing before serving the bird, and you did carve all the meat off the carcass within two hours, correct? Now it's time to package up all those remaining leftovers in freezer containers. (Personally, I like to chop the cooked turkey and bag it in 2-cup amounts, the better to make tettrazini with). Toss it in the freezer and you've got a start on fast dinners for months.

So, what's your favorite way to use leftover turkey?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Have a delicious Thanksgiving

I'll be away from my desk here at Food Central for the week of Nov. 23. It's Thanksgiving, and even food writers need a break. Go to for links to our tips and recipes, an interactive holiday cookbook, a turkey-carving video and advice on gravy.

I hope everyone has a satisying and delicious holiday. Just remember: What's on the table is never as important as who's around it. Break a wishbone for me.

Food Q&A: We get a lot of questions

Here's a roundup of questions I've gotten recently.

Q. What is the best way to freeze pomegranates?
A. It's better to seed them, then freeze the seeds. To get the seeds out without getting splattering your kitchen with enough pomegranate juice to look like "Saw XII," fill a large bowl with water. Cut into one side of the pomegranate with a sharp paring knife. Hold the pomegranate under water and pull it apart. Run your fingers around and through the sections to separate the seeds, which will sink, from the pith, which will float. Scoop off as much of the pith as you can and discard it, then pour the bowl through a sieve to catch the seeds. You can freeze the seeds as-is, or puree them in a blender and strain again to make pomegranate juice.

Q. How do you prevent food from getting soggy in a chafing dish?
A. The simplest solution here is to choose another recipe. Some foods are suitable for holding in a warmed container, while others aren't. Something that is crispy or has a crust is inevitably going to get a little soft. Something that is soft to begin with, such as chicken in a sauce, can be kept warm for serving without a noticable change.

Q. Can you freeze potato or cheese soups with a cream base?
A. Freezing can work, although milk- or cream-based soups can separate when frozen, and potatoes are always tricky. They can darken or take on an off-flavor. If the potato is pureed, not chunky, it should be OK. To get around the separating problem, you could reheat the soup in a double boiler over water and whisk it well to bring it back together.

Q. When making a souffle, is it best to use cold eggs or room-temperature eggs?
A. Room-temperature eggs always beat higher and hold air better than cold eggs. If you don't have time to let them sit at room temperature for a half hour or so, you can place them in a bowl of tepid water to take the chill off.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We have a cookbook winner

Sorry for the delay. We should have had the totally-random cookbook drawing Wednesday. But when that big food holiday called Thanksgiving lands in my life, time gets gobbled. (Ow. Did I really type that?)

Speaking of our Thanksgiving package and books, I hope you've taken a look at the Holiday Cookbook posted at It takes about 1 minute to load, but it's worth the wait. It was a co-production of the Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer, spearheaded by my food-writing colleague, Andrea Weigl, and we're very proud of it. Also, Paul Malcolm's video on turkey-carving is worth reviewing before you have a hot turkey on your hands.

OK, without further ado, the winner of Cooking Light's "Way to Cook": It's Ann from Fort Mill. Ann, do the equivalent of coming on down -- send your mailing address to me at and I'll find a box for this big fat book.

To the rest of you, thanks for playing. The Monday Cookbook Giveaway will take a break next week (as will your food editor -- I'm taking a vacation). It will return when I do, on Nov. 30.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Top Chef' Night: Separated at birth?

I'm finding it hard to watch "Top Chef" this season. I get distracted by the frantic Twittering by my fellow food writers (follow the Twitter tag #topchef and you'll see what I mean -- Joe Yonan of the Washington Post and Jeff Houck of the Tampa Tribune almost came undone over Nigella last week.)

But I also get distracted wondering why Michael Voltaggio looks so familiar. Hmmm. Backwards ball cap, big ears, wideset eyes? Wait! I've got it: He's a ringer for Dwier Brown of "Field of Dreams"! C'mon, Mike - ask your bro Bryan if he wants to have a catch. With sharp knives.

Meanwhile, what has happened 'Top Chef' Jen? She's lost both her cooking chops and her personality. She's started out calm and cool, but now she's RoboChef. Wake up, Jen! No one who works for Eric Ripert ought to get that scattered.

Finally, I'm pulling for the best chef on the show so far: Kevin Gillespie of Atlanta. (No, not Eli. Please, not Eli. He's an Atlantan in name only. Robin might have been annoying, but calling her "grandma" was just so uncool.)

If Kevin wins, it won't only be a victory for manners and cuddleness, it will be vengeance for last year, when Atlanta's Richard Blais was robbed. Do it for the Big Peach, Kevin.

Ready for Thanksgiving?

We're trying some new things this year. Not a new menu -- although we have that. No, this is new technology.

Check our food page, at, and you'll find my story and recipes on side dishes and a story and recipe by my Raleigh colleague Andrea Weigl on how acclaimed Durham chef Ben Barker packs more flavor into his turkey. You'll also find a link to a gorgeous holiday cookbook with all of those recipes, plus more turkey recipes, appetizers, desserts, a step-by-step slide show on making pie crust, and a video starring Johnson & Wales chef instructor Paul Malcolm on how to carve your turkey.

Even if you think you know how to cut up a turkey, Malcolm's video is a must-see. He specializes in meat cutting, and he knows some things about taking a knife to a turkey that are revelations. I've done the carving for years, and I learned tricks I've never seen before.

All of our Thanksgiving action this week is a combined effort between two food staffs, in Raleigh and Charlotte. Some readers have questioned the shared work we're doing with our sister paper, but this is one of those times when it pays off for you. We can do more together than we can do separately, and the holiday cookbook, which was lead by Andrea Weigl with support from me, is a terrific example.

I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish this year, and I hope you have a chance to put some of our new tools to use. Let me know what you think of them.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Giveaway: See the 'Light'

Ready for another cookbook giveaway? This time, we're offering "Cooking Light Way to Cook: The Complete Visual Guide to Everyday Cooking."

This one is filled with step-by-step photos, plenty of tips and useful stuff. Like most Cooking Light productions, the recipes are sort of healthy and sort of indulgent. Clocking in at almost 500 pages, this would be a great guide for an eager beginner or intermediate cook.

Enter your name in the comments here. Remember, if you're signed in as Anonymous, make sure you include a name we can recognize you by. Deadline is 9 a.m. Wednesday. We'll announce the winner Wednesday afternoon, so make sure you check back here.

Got 'Mad Men'?

I'm suffering "Mad Men" withdrawal this morning -- no dose of Betty, Peggy, Don and Duck to get my week off on a suitably '60s note. (Why did men ever give up those skinny-leg pants?)

If you're suffering from the same malady, this might help. Warning: Some of the content is for adults only. Much like "Mad Men" itself.

Milk Men - A Mad Men Parody

Friday, November 13, 2009

Something to cook: Friday night

The rain has finally pulled out, but it's still looking gray out there. Here's a simple supper that you could do with a quick supermarket stop, adapted from Cooking Light's new book, "Cooking Light: Way to Cook." If you've got milk, bacon and onions at home, you could even use the 10-items-or-less lane:

New England Clam Chowder
4 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams, undrained
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
4 strips bacon
1 cup each chopped onion and celery
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups cubed red potato (about 5 or 6 medium)
1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup half-and-half
Drain the clams through a colander over a bowl, saving the liquid. Combine clam liquid and clam juice.
Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain all but 2 teaspoons of the drippings. Crumble bacon and set aside.
Add onion, celery and garlic to pan and saute about 8 minutes. Add clam juice mixure, potato, thyme and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Combine milk and flour, stirring together until smooth. Stir into the soup. Stir in the clams and half-and-half. Cook 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with the bacon.
Makes 8 servings.

My stomach goes traveling: Concord, Cornelius, Davidson

I hit the wet streets Thursday to check out a long list of food places. By the end of the day (and not counting breakfast), here is what I had eaten:

In Concord: Roast pork, black beans and white rice, fried plaintains, a slice of Cuban bread and a pineapple soda at Havana Carolina Grill; the salad sampler plate (chicken, tuna and shrimp salads on a bed of greens with diced tomatoes, carrots, mandarin oranges and house-made blue cheese dressing) and a cup of the hot tea of the day (Blue eyes, a sort of caramel apple-flavor) at Two Leaves & a Bud; a scoop of lemon slice ice cream at Cabarrus Creamery.

In Cornelius: Samples of Italian bread, tomato bread, Stinky Feet aged Parmesan, salami, breaded eggplant, eggplant Serrano (breaded eggplant layered with cheese and proscuitto), almond crescent, raspberry almond crescent and a spoonful of cannoli filling with chocolate chips at Derado's Italian Market.

Davidson: Chocolate-covered ginger, chocolate-covered caramel, a hot chili truffle and chocolate-covered cashews at Davidson Chocolate Co., and a Coffee Toffee cupcake at MJ's Sugar Shack.

I got through all that with help from a McDonald's latte made with nonfat milk. Oh yes, skim milk, please. I need to watch my calorie count.

Dinner? I wish it had been a nap.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Chicken Dinner Circuit

On such a rotten rainy day, I thought we could all use a lift. Mark Falls of Intuition Photography shared this shot from the Poulet Soiree last weekend at the Inn at New Town Farms in Waxhaw.

That's farmer Sammy Koenigsberg on the right in the vest, playing host (or maybe waiter). Joe Bonaparte was the chef for a menu that included chicken liver pate, pork rillettes, and 30 New Town chickens roasted over hickory.

I wasn't able to make it, but I like to think I played a small part. Chef Joe contacted me in advance for advice on how to peel extremely fresh eggs for deviled eggs without tearing them up. (I suggested shaking them in the pot to crack them after cooking and then let them sit for a little while in cold water to help ease off the shells. It apparently worked.)

Cookbook giveaway: Did you win?

You did if your name is Cheri, and you sent the message "Put my name in the (stock) pot." Cheri was drawn at random to get the copy of Sur La Table's new book "Tips Cooks Love."

Cheri, send your mailing address to me at, and I'll put the book in the mail.

Don't forget to check back next Monday, when we'll do another Monday Giveaway.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

See 'Fresh," talk to farmers

The Johnson & Wales Charlotte nutrition club is hosting a showing of the documentary "Fresh" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Hance Auditorium on the JWU campus, 801 W. Trade St. Admission is $5, and the movie will be followed by a panel discussion featuring local farmers.

"Fresh," by Ana Sofia Joanes, is about America's food production system and the movement toward a sustainable food system.

Strange Product of the week: Perky Jerky

America must be feeling a little tired. The latest product to cross my desk is Perky Jerky, "caffeinated beef jerky." It promises to combine "premium quality meat snack with the energy boost equivalent of two cans of energy drink."

The caffeine source is from guarana, a plant that is used in herbal teas and energy drinks. And the meat comes from . . . uh, beef. Peppered beef.
It's available at the Web site,, where a 2-ounce bag is $4.99. It also promises to be in stores nationwide. Soon, very soon.

Don't wash it down with Red Bull. I don't think we could stand that much energy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Full Steam ahead

Sean Wilson of Durham does a lot of interesting things with beer in North Carolina. Besides the ingredients he's using at his Fullsteam Brewery -- picture sweet potato and scuppernong -- he was the co-founder of Pop the Cap, the group that successfully campaigned to to raise the alcohol limit on beer, allowing better craft beers into the state. (Say "thank you, Sean." Thank you, Sean.)

The Web site Serious Eats gives Sean a little attention in this interview, posted today. It's worth a read if you don't know what Fullsteam has been up to -- and even more worth it if you do.

Monday Giveaway: "Tips Cooks Love"

Sur La Table branched out into publishing its own books a couple of years ago with 'Things Cooks Love." The latest installment is a small but handy collection of cooking tips and recipes compiled by Rick Rodgers.

Here's a taste, from the Meat chapter: "There's no need to add oil to the skillet when panfrying steaks or chops. Trim a piece of fat from the perimeter of the meat. As the skillet is heating, grasp the fat with tongs and rub it over the inside of the skillet, creating a thin coating of fat. That will be just enough to keep the meat from sticking."

(And here's an added tip, from me: When you're searing steaks, chops, chicken breast or fish and you want to know whether it has finished browning, nudge it with a pair of tongs or whatever tool you're using. Meat that hasn't finished browning will cling to the pan. Browned meat will "let go," so you'll know it's time to turn it.)

Now, here's something else from me: This week's cookbook giveaway. I've got a copy of "Tips Cooks Love." Add your name here in the comments and we'll announce the winner on Wednesday. If you sign in as Anonymous, remember to give me a name so I can identify you.

Speaking of identifying winners, I'm still waiting to here from Scott Sitton, who won "Simple Fresh Southern," by Matt and Ted Lee, and Michelle in Rock Hill, who won "The Golden Book of Baking." Scott and Michelle, send your mailing addresses to me at My desk needs cleaning off.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Food roundup: Markets to mountains

With the first sunny weekend since mid-September on tap, things are busy in the local food world:

-- I have to miss my farmers market run Saturday (parental duty calls), but you shouldn't. On the last couple of Saturday mornings, I've seen more food than shoppers. Pity -- you're missing fresh mushrooms, a huge variety of apples and winter squashes, greens from dinosaur kale to baby collards, eggs, pork and lots of fresh chicken. Winter hours are starting to kick in -- this is the last Davidson Farmers Market until Nov. 21 -- but the Charlotte Regional on Yorkmont Road, the Matthews Community Market and the Davidson markets are all open tomorrow. Go show the farmers some love (a little cash wouldn't hurt, either).

-- If you're heading to the mountains, Asheville has added an unusual event, The Legendary Inns Gingerbread Tour. It starts this Saturday and runs on weekends until Jan. 2. Four gingerbread artists, including Grove Park gingerbread champions Clifta Davis and Deni Cole, have created gingerbread versions of four bed and breakfast inns. A $30 ticket gets you tours of all four inns and their gingerbread countparts, plus transportation by Gray Line Trolley. Get details and tickets:

-- Speaking of gingerbread, it's contest season. Here's one: the Candy Factory in Lexington holds its 6th annual gingerbread house decorating competition, to benefit Habitat for Humanity. For a $10 entry fee, you get to pick $10 worth of candy to use on your creation. Completed houses have to be delivered for display by Nov. 20. Prizes will be given in three categories (adult, teen and family with children ages 12 and under). Details:

-- Wine fans should make plans to go to EarthFare in SouthPark at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 for the Wednesday Wine Down. $15 gets you a lecture from one of their wine vendors, an hors d'oeuvres tasting, and you get to pick a bottle of wine to take home. You need to reserve a seat; sign up at customer service. While you're there, take a look at the rest of the calendar, which includes a kids' cooking class Nov. 14 and a Grapes & Hops tasting Nov. 17.

-- Southern cooking teacher and author Damon Lee Fowler ("Classical Southern Cooking," among other books) will speak at the Clover Public Library, 107 Knox St., Clover, S.C., at 1 p.m. Nov. 14. Go to for details.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday night supper club

If your refrigerator is starting to get empty and the week is wearing you out, you could use a simple meal from stuff you probably have on hand.

I'm not a fan of Rachael Ray's too-cute lingo -- all that "yummo" leaves me yawn-o -- but her recipes are simple with solid flavors. I found this one in her newest book, "Rachael Ray's Book of 10" (Clarkson Potter, $20) and liked it because it's so adaptable. You could change the pasta, swap Canadian bacon for almost anything (bacon, proscuitto, slices of chicken sausage) or skip the meat all together, and trade out the Parmesan for any grated white cheese, such as part-skim mozzerella. Even the flat-leaf parsley is skippable.

Walnuts, Ham and Cheese
1 pound bow-tie pasta
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 slices Canadian bacon or breakfast ham, cut into thin strips
2 large cloves garlic,. chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup freshly flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a little salt and the pasta. Cook according to package directions, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn't stick. Set aside 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and set aside.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the walnuts and toast them for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Return the skillet to the heat and add the olive oil and the Canadian bacon, cooked 3 to 5 minutes or until it just starts to brown. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook until reduced by half. Add the drained pasta, toasted walnuts, lemon juice and parsley, tossing to coat the noodles with all the ingredients. Cook a couple of minutes, until the pasta has soaked up almost all the liquid.

Remove from heat, add the butter and grated cheese and toss until the butter is melted. Serve with extra grated cheese on the side.

"Lee Brothers" book giveaway: We have a winner

Congratulations to Scott Sitton, who wins a copy of "Simple, Fresh, Southern" by Matt and Tedd Lee. Scott, send your mailing address to me at (don't post it here, for all the Web to see) and I'll put the book in the mail for you.

I'm still waiting to hear from mpierce, Michelle in Rock Hill, who was the winner of "The Golden Book of Baking." Michelle, same drill: send your mailing address to me at and I'll send you the book.

Thanks for playing, and for all the enthusiastic entries. In case you're wondering how we pick winners, I number the entries as they come in, then use the Web site to generate the winning number.

Check back on Monday, when we'll give away a small book packed with tons of information that would make a great Christmas gift for a cook.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tortilla dream

I sent a few friends a wonderful bit of food writing from LA Weekly writer Jonathan Gold's piece "What's a Burrito: A Primer" (here, if you want to read it:

It prompted co-worker Rochelle Reynoldson to send her own message back. It was such a lovely piece of food writing that I had to share. Reynoldson was a Specialist (E-4) in the U.S. Army, serving with a Huey unit based out of Ft. Campbell, KY., during the Persian Gulf War. Sadly, she's leaving the Observer soon to go back to school, so consider this my tribute to her:

"They weren't burritos, but. . . one of fondest memories I have during the ground war (Desert Storm) is of my Navajo buddy making tortillas for us all from scratch.

"We had stumbled upon a little mud 'ville one day on a supply run and were able to procure certain foodstuffs from their little market (flour, butter, eggs, potatoes, onions). Those ingredients were like gold to us. Being out in the middle of the desert, we had not seen real food in God knows how long.

"That evening, as we huddled around the Coleman heater, passing around a two-day-old newspaper and listening to Bob Marley, James whipped up the mixture and fried tortillas w/butter for us all. It was amazing, she cooked them on half of a tin mess kit on top of the Coleman. I have never tasted anything so divine.

" 'No Woman No Cry' will always remind me of that. The simplest joys."

Seen at JWU: This little piggie

I had gone by Johnson & Wales Charlotte recently to have lunch with culinary dean Mark Allison when we walked through a display of work by the garde manger class.
For those who don't speak Escoffier brigade, garde manger is cold food preparation, including all those fancy noshes you see on passed hors d'ouevre trays. (You say it "gar' mahn-ZHAY," but don't ask me why the d and the r are silent. I just do as I'm told.)

The platters were coated in clear gelatin and carefully arranged with pate slices, force meat fillings, mousse swirls and crackers topped with deliciousness. After displaying it all, the students were set loose to eat it. And while lunch in the dining room was lovely as always, I would rather have been out with the kids, grazing from the platters.

I admired all the platters as expected of a guest (an experience that makes me feel like Princess Margaret inspecting the troops -- "And did one use a pastry tip? Oh, how veddy clever").
But my favorite touch with this carefully applied garnish. My guess is that it was paprika. The platter, of course, featured all pork products. Livermush should grow up to look that nice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Roundup from wide world of food

What's crossed my computer screen so far this morning:

-- A really sad set of pictures documents the final days at Gourmet:

-- Grateful Growers' Harvest Moon Grill food truck will be back uptown at lunch today (Tuesday) and Thursday. The menu includes pastrami and Swiss sammie, a charcuterie sandwich with mortadella, soppresatta, proscuitto and fresh mozz from Revolution Pizza. And new to the truck: Uncle Scott's Root Beer, made in Mooresville. Look for the orange truck in Bank of America Plaza on Tryon, but closer to the 4th Street side.

-- And speaking of sodas, Jones Sodas is continuing its tradition of releasing strange Thanksgiving flavors with Tofurky and Gravy Soda. Why yes, it's 100% vegan.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Giveaway: It's the Lees, Peanut

Ever since Matt and Ted Lee stitched up a brown paper catalog on an old sewing machine and went into business selling mail-order boiled peanuts, they've been attracting attention. These days, they divide their time between Charleston and New York, while they write books that combine simple techniques with classic Southern ingredients.

They're still attracting attention, and they'll have plenty of chances in Charlotte this fall. They're making three stops here with their new book, "The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern," a collection of recipes such as Shrimp Pate and Sweet Potato and Okra Fritters.

Their schedule here:

Noon to 2 p.m. Friday, they'll do a cooking demonstration and sign books at Williams-Sonoma, 6401 Morrison Blvd.

3 p.m. Nov. 22, they'll sign books at a fundraiser at Park Road Books at Park Road Shopping Center. Proceeds will go to the Women's National Book Association and First Book, which gets new books to kids who need them. The store also will serve samples of the Lee Brothers' recipes.

7 p.m. Dec. 10, the brothers will speak about their food writing careers at Friends of the Library at Queens University, in Sykes Auditorium, 1900 Selwyn Ave. (I've heard them speak several times, so I'm sure this will be fun. Picture a cross between Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Ira Glass.) Reservations are required, and Park Road Books will sell books there, too. Call 704-607-6548.

OK, now you know whens and wheres, here's your chance at the what: I have a copy of the new book to give away. Post your name here in the comments (if you sign in as anonymous, give me a name you'll recognize if I pick your entry at random.) Deadline is 9 a.m. Thursday. We'll announce the winner later that day, so don't forget to check back.

Clucking about farmers markets

So why do I drag myself out of bed on a drizzly, gray Saturday morning to head to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market? Sure, there are the fresh mushrooms, the last of the tomatoes, the fresh lettuces and the apples-that-taste-like apples.

But the real reason is the chance to see stuff like this: Young Maple May Cookson in her chicken costume on Halloween morning.
That's her mom, Holly, holding her in front of the sign for the Cooksons' Red Dirt Ranch in Ellenboro.
Maple sweetie, when you can walk, we'll have to teach you to do the Chicken Dance.