Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wine events coming up in Charlotte

  • The Wine Goddess wine classes start Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the Wine Shop Dilworth, 2442 Park Road. The goddess of the title is Leslie Franklin and the classes are designed to work for wine beginners as well as for more experienced wine fans. To make sure the classes are right for you, the first one, Feb. 5, is free. Classes are 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through March 12 and they cost $25 each or $20  if you pay for three in advance. Seating is limited; registration is required. Call 704-377-5373.
  • The Wine Vault's Founders Hall wine tastings return Tuesday, Feb. 5, with a $25 tasting that covers 21 Big, Rich Reds at Aria. In addition, Aria will offer a three-course $30 menu and waive corkage fees for wines you buy at the tasting. Free valet parking on College Street. Call 704-548-9463 to sign up.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

N.C. apple crop took a whopping hit

Early predictions in August that North Carolina had lost 80 percent of the apple crop  turned out to be pretty close to the final number. A report released Jan. 25 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found  that our state's apple losses were huge, at 76% of the crop.

Total production was 33.5 million pounds, down from 140 million pounds in 2011. Put another way: The 2011 average was 20,300 pounds per acre and 2012's number was 5,000 pounds per acre.

The apple loss was caused by a warm winter and a sudden spring freeze. And the losses were hard to predict early on. Because of the peaks and valleys in our apple-growing sections of the mountains and the way cold air moves around them, some farms lost everything while others kept most of their crop.

It was a dark spot in an otherwise good agricultural year in N.C. A few more numbers on 2012:

  • Strawberry production was up 4 percent from 2011, with a value of $29.4 million, up about $2 million.
  • Blueberry production was up 9 percent, to 40.5 million pounds, valued at $71 million.
  • Peaches stayed the same, at 5,300 tons, although the value of that crop increased 21 percent, to $6.2 million.
  • The peanut yield was a record 4,100 pounds per acre. Total production was nearly 435 million pounds, up 49%.
  • Those all-important sweet potatoes, one of N.C.'s best crops, matched the 2011 yield of 200 hundredweight per acre, even though the total was down 3 percent because farmers planted 2,000 fewer acres than 2011.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Charlotte Wine & Food time already?

No, it isn't quite a Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend year yet. The next festival doesn't happen until April 23-26, 2014. But it takes a lot of work to pull it together, which is why they hold the official kickoff a year in advance. 

So: Tickets go on sale Feb. 7 for the April 20 kickoff for the April 2014 festival. Got that? 

The kickoff party is from 6:30 to 11 p.m. at Founders Hall, 100 N. Tryon St., with the theme "Motown @ Uptown." There's food from Aria Tuscan Grill, wine (a lot of wine), live and silent auction items and dancing. $250 includes a VIP dinner beforehand at Aria, $125 gets you the party and free parking. And there's a new  ticket level, called Young Aficionados, that's $75 for ages 21-35 for just the party. 

Four charities are beneficiaries of the 2013-14 "season of fundraising" events: A Child's Place Homeless Student Initiatives, Council for Children's Rights Services for Abused and Neglected Children, Pat's Place Family Advocacy Program, and Second Harvest's Backpack Project for kids.

Tickets will be available starting Feb. 7 at

Friday, January 25, 2013

One Great . . . wild rice salad

Like most of us these days, I'm trying to stay on track on my resolution promises: Eat more whole grains, keep it healthy and save a little money while I'm at it.

Packing lunch most workdays helps with the money part. It's tough finding something uptown that's under $10 by the time you add in beverage and tip. And since so much of what's available around my office is fried or cheesed, packing is healthier too.

Wild rice takes longer to cook than white rice. (Yes, I know - wild rice isn't actually a rice, it's a wild grain.) But once it's cooked, you can add a few things to it and get a tasty lunch with lots of flavor and texture. It's good cold, so it's easy to pack it along, and you can round it out with a piece of fruit or something meat-like if you must.

For this recipe, you don't want the wild rice and long grain mixes you find in many supermarkets. You want real wild rice. You can usually find it at Trader Joe's, or look in the bulk bins at health-focused supermarkets.  This makes about 3 servings, enough to take for a couple of lunches. Or you can double it for 6 servings.  

Nutty Wild Rice Salad

Adapted from "The Silver Palate Cookbook," by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rus

1/2 cup raw wild rice, rinsed
4 cups chicken stock (or half stock and half water)
1/2 cup shelled pecan halves, or chopped pecans
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
2 to 3 green onions, diced (white and some of the green part)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Salt and pepper to taste

PLACE  the wild rice in a mediium saucepan with the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking about 15 minutes, until the grains taste tender and the liquid is mostly gone. (Add more stock or water if it starts to cook dry.)
ADD the remaining ingredients and toss to mix well. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.

YIELD: 3 to 4 servings.

Winter farmer's market plans: Closing and postponements

Farmers drive into the local-food markets around Charlotte from west, east, north and south, and they're usually driving very early, when the weather is the coldest. On top of that. nasty weather on a Friday can sometimes make it tough to pick fresh for Saturday. So here's what I've heard so far about market plans for the icy weekend:

  • The Matthews Community Farmers Market will be closed Saturday. They'll open Feb. 2 instead. 
  • The Atherton Market has postponed the Friday afternoon class on Bone Broth until next Friday. But the market is open today although it may close early. It will be open Saturday but may open an hour later. Manager Lynn Caldwell says she'll put an update on the market's Facebook page as soon as she hears what farmers want to do, so check there before you head out in the morning. 
  • The Charlotte Regional Farmers Market is open on Friday as usual and plans to be open Saturday. Manager Arlene Haigler says she's planning to stay overnight, rather than drive in from Union County, just to make sure. "Right now, we're going to try to open. Now, that could change." If you need to check, call her office at 704-357-1269.  
  • The Davidson Market is normally closed this weekend on its winter schedule. 

If you hear anything more about market schedules, email me at, or give me a call at 704-358-5236.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How about a whole month of beer?

I knew craft and microbrew beer was officially huge in North Carolina. Now it's apparently gotten so large  that it will take a month to hold it.

The N.C. Division of Tourism has announced that April will be N.C. Beer Month. The idea is that special restaurant menus, beer pairings, beer-themed cooking classes, educational seminars, hotel and tour packages and festivals will go on all over the state during that month.

Expect things like a "Beer City" weekend package at the Aloft in downtown Asheville, a Beer Lovers Weekend special at the O. Henry in Greensboro and the 11th annual Hickory Hops Festival on April 20 in Hickory.

As the event calendar grows, you'll be able to find out more at (you can sign up now for alerts).

With more than 70 breweries in the state now, our glass is foaming over.

Our State offers a year of N.C. barbecue

Can't get enough of North Carolina's barbecue culture? Our State magazine, based in Greensboro, started a new food section in the January issue: Carolina 'Cue. Each month in 2013, the magazine will feature a favorite N.C. barbecue restaurant.

The feature grew out of a 36-page article in September 2012 that featured 10 restaurants from "Bob Garner's Book of Barbecue" (John F. Blair, 2012).

Editor-in-chief Elizabeth Hudson said the magazine got so many questions along the lines of "why didn't you include my favorite?" that they decided to make it a year-long effort. (Ah, Elizabeth - I can relate.)

The first installment, in this month's issue, features Grady's Barbecue in Dudley, owned by Steve and Gerri Grady. The magazine is available for sale at newstands around the state.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Up next in Charlotte cooking classes

Class 1: Jan. 26 (as in, Saturday) is the start of a new cooking class series at Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, led by executive chef Scott Wallen. There are six classes in the series:

Practical Pizza, Jan. 26
Sunday Brunch, March 23
Handmade Pastas, May 18
Farmers' Tribute, July 27
Rome Remembered, Sept. 28
Italian Sunday Supper, Nov. 16.

Classes are $50 each and last from 10 a.m.-noon. Each one includes tastings, wine and/or beer tastings and a recipe packet. The classes are held at the pizza bar in Phillips Place, on Fairview near Sharon Road. Details and registration: 704-295-0101.

Class 2. BLT Steak Charlotte will focus on sweets and sparkling wine with a Feb. 2 class, Bon Bons & Bubbly. Pastry chef Rachael Burns will demonstrate hand-rolled truffles, peanut butter cups and chocolate rosemary tart, followed by a Spiced Hot Chocolate Demonstration. For an extra $12, you get sparkling wine pairings with the desserts. The class is $45 and includes recipes. Reservations: 704-972-4380.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicken liver parfait .... Yum. Seriously.

I was in New York for a brief business trip late last week, in on Thursday, out on Saturday. What did I eat? Oh nothing -- just one of the best things I've ever eaten.

The trouble with business trips is the business. I get so tied up with the business part that I don't have much time to plan the leisure part. I usually hit the city with no more than a vague meal plan. 

This time, I started by heading downtown to 14th Street/Union Square, for a quick lunch at Baohaus, Eddie Huang's tiny Chinese-inspired sandwich shop. I met Eddie briefly at the Southern Foodways Symposium in October, where he was as outspoken as his reputation. In person, he's calmer and very polite. His career has already jumped from hip-hop to attorney to chef. Now he's an author, with his new memoir "Fresh Off the Boat."

With all that going on, I was surprised to find him in the shop at 238 E. 14th near 2nd Avenue. After a quick hello, I tucked in to a selection of bao, small sandwiches wrapped in steamed Taiwanese buns -- fiery hot chicken mali, the "Chairman Bao" (pork belly with crushed peanuts and cilantro) and beef brisket. The little sammies at cheap enough, around $3.50 each, to try several. They were good, but what was great was the fresh soy milk, served hot. It was steamy and sweet, a warm cup of goodness on a January day. 

Was that the best thing I've eaten? No, but it was good. While walking, I sent out a Tweet looking for dinner suggestions that night. Back came two really good suggestions: Head to 19th Street between 5th and 6th, for a cocktail at the Flatiron Lounge and then go a few doors down to the tapas restaurant Boqueria. Home of mixologist  Julie Reiner, Flatiron is a serious cocktail bar, with the bar crowded with housemade syrups, even their own grenadine. I did the natural thing with a Manhattan.

Boqueria was packed, but perching at the tapas bar gave me a chance to watch the man who runs the charcuterie section, slicing gorgeous Jamon de Iberico and running pan con tomate under a broiler. At one point, he took short break and noticed I was watching. He patted his chest with a broad gesture and declared, in a heavy Spanish accent, "I LOVE my job." Since I was tucking into cojonudo -- fried quail eggs on chorizo -- potatoes brava and a very garlicky little skillet of shrimp with guindilla pepper, I think we both were loving our jobs.

The blood orange sangria was good, but it still wasn't the best thing I ate.

That came on Friday night, at the Breslin. The Breslin, the sort-of-English and very meat-central  gastropub, only takes reservations if you're staying at the Ace Hotel. Luckily, I was, because the wait to get in was pushing 2 hours.

Chef April Bloomfield is associated with both the Breslin and the Spotted Pig. The Breslin's menu is short, with intriguing choices like beef and Stilton pie and Scotch eggs. A good source swears the dry-aged rib eye is the best steak in New York, but it's also only served for two or more with a price to match. But since Bloomfield is an acolyte of the nose-to-tail cooking style, terrines and sausages are the way to go here.

The bone marrow and onion soup was wonderful, with a slightly sticky richness, and the seafood sausage was like the essence of shellfish stuffed into a casing. The roasted cauliflower was dusted with Szechuan peppercorn. But . . .the best thing I ate? Hands down, the chicken liver parfait.

I have a love/hate relationship with chicken liver. Fried, I can't handle them. Something about that chalky texture. But if you beat them with a lot of butter until they're smooth, they become something else entirely. I've had, even made, some very good versions. But nothing I've ever experienced touched this one.

The texture was whipped, so it was light and smooth. The color was dark and rich, instead of the usual grayish brown. It was coated with a dark brown madeira gelee. And it was served with thin slices of airy bread that had been brushed with oil and crisped. It was so good, I used a fork to scrape the little ramekin clean when the bread ran out. It was so good, I considered a second order for dessert - and regretted later that I hadn't.

It was so good, I may never be able to make it or order it again. Yes, that good.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NC-based GMO campaign holds kickoff

North Carolina's Food & Water Watch will hold a kickoff for a campaign to push for labeling of genetically engineered foods on Jan. 24 at the Harvest Moon Grille in the Dunhill Hotel uptown.

The campaign, Let Me Decide, will push for labeling on food products. The meeting is designed to be an overview of the issue and plans for the campaign, and a sign-up for people who want to be involved.

The meeting is 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Harvest Moon, 235 N. Tryon St. Light snacks and refreshments (presumably GE- and GMO-free) will be served. It's free and open to the public, but the organizers hope you'll RSVP so they get a head count.

Go to to sign up. Parking will be validated from 6:30-8 p.m. if you park at the hotel.

If you can't attend, there also is an online petition. You can find that here.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Send a teacher food shopping

Teachers need all the help they can get. Earth Fare at SouthPark is giving away a $100 shopping trip for a local teacher.

To enter, send an email to with the name of the school and the teacher in the subject line (they want you to do it like this: SCHOOL/TEACHER). The school must be an accredited public or private academic school within a 20-mile radius of the store, 721 Governor Morrison St., off Sharon Road. You're only allowed one entry per email address; all email addresses will be added to the store's weekly "freebie" list.


Also new at the store: They've started a customer loyalty program, the Tomato Bank, gets points when you shop without remembering to carry a plastic card. Register at
and you'll get 1,000 points, good for $10 toward a purchase.

How good is your cornbread?

Martha White is accepting entries for the 17th annual National Cornbread Cook-Off, held April 27 in South Pittsburg, Tenn. And if you don't think the competition is tough, remember that Charlotte cooking-contest champion Janice Elder was in the Top 10 last year, but didn't win. When Janice doesn't win, that's saying something.

Ten finalists are chosen to go to the cook-off, where the grand prize is $5,000, a 30-inch FiveStar stainless steel gas range and special gifts from Lodge Cast Iron and Martha White. From previous years, I seem to recall that a cast-iron skillet crown may be involved. Why yes -- there's Janice Elder getting crowned the winner in 2006. (Did I promise Janice I would never run that picture? So many things to remember. Must have slipped my mind.)

Anyway, deadline for entries is Feb. 28. The entries must be for a main-dish recipe made in Lodge cast-iron cookware using at least one package of Martha White Cornbread Mix. You can get all of the rules and find out how to send in your entry by going to

If you make it, promise you'll send me a picture. I might promise not to run it. But we know what that's worth, don't we, Janice?

Monday, January 14, 2013

One Great . . . tortilla breakfast

Facing a busy weekend, we needed a simple Friday night dinner. So I swung by a local Mexican food shop and picked up carnitas and a big stack of fresh corn tortillas.

The next morning, I was casting around for something for breakfast when I remembered all those tortillas. And I remembered migas.

Migas is one of the great Saturday morning breakfasts. It's probably more Tex-Mex than Mexican, although the combination is such a natural, I bet you find it anywhere you find cold tortillas and eggs.

Infinitely forgiving, you can throw in almost anything. If you have onions and peppers, you can use them. If you only have onions, you can use them, too. Tomatoes are good, even if you just have those little grape tomatoes around.

All you really need are a few tortillas -- flour will work, although I prefer corn -- a few eggs, a little oil, maybe some cheese. Crumbled queso fresco is best, but shredded mozzarella or cheddar works too. I topped mine with a little diced avocado because I had some handy.

You end up with something tasty and satisfying that will keep you going through a morning of Saturday chores.


This is for 1 serving, with what I had on hand. You can toss in what you have. Just don't overcook the eggs.

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 tortilla, preferably corn
2 tablespoons each diced onion and pepper
2 tablespoon diced fresh tomato if available
2 eggs
1 teaspoon milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons shredded cheese -- queso fresco, mozzarella or cheddar
1 to 2 tablespoons diced avocado (very optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the tortilla in the skillet and fry a few minutes per side, until it's just crisping up but isn't browned. Set aside on a cutting board. Use a big knife to cut it in half, then cut each half into strips. Set aside.

Add the onions and peppers to the oil in the skillet and cook a few minutes, until starting to soften. Add the tomatoes and stir around to heat them. Add the tortilla strips to the skillet and stir to mix it all together. Reduce the heat a little so the skillet isn't too hot when you add the eggs.

Whisk together the eggs with the milk. Pour into the skillet, covering the tortilla strips and vegetables. Use a spatula to scramble gently, folding it all together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese at the very end and serve, topped with avocado if you have it.

YIELD: 1 serving. For every serving, use 1 tortilla and 2 eggs.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Rumor patrol: Texas Pete pepper sauce is alive and kicking

I started my morning chasing an early report from a source that Texas Pete pepper sauce -- the clear bottle packed with little green/yellow peppers and filled with vinegar, not the brick-red hot sauce -- had been discontinued. Two people who contacted me had trouble finding it at a local supermarket, found a short supply at a second supermarket and then saw two online sources that appeared to list it as "discontinued by manufacturer."

Even though New Year's is over and we all have eaten our collards, dosed with plenty of pepper vinegar, I knew  news like that would shake country cafes to the core. Those bottles stuffed with peppers are as common at meat-and-threes as bottles of Sriracha at Asian restaurants.

Ann Garner Riddle, president of T.W. Garner of Winston-Salem, the maker of Texas Pete, was quick to return my call and said she was flummoxed by the rumors. She quickly assured me that they're still making the product.

Now, that isn't to say that a particular store may not be carrying the product, she said. If you find that's the case, you can ask the manager to get it. Never hurts to make your wishes known.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A different way to grow money for farmers

I hate to taunt you with a dinner event that isn't happening in Charlotte. But it's such an interesting idea, I thought that I would post something about it just to get the idea out there. It's called Funds to Farms, it's N.C.-based and it's part of the growing micro-loan movement. So who knows? It could happen here.

The first dinner is at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham. Here's how it works: People attending  pay $15 for a buffet meal -- soup and salad by Vin Rouge Bistro and Piedmont Restaurant and bread from Ninth Street Bakery. Fullsteam also is donating money from sales at the launch part of its new ginger pale ale, Cackalacky, being held earlier that day.

While they eat, diners hear presentations from five people seeking money for a food or farming project. At the end, the diners vote on who gets a micro-loan from the money raised by ticket sales and donations at the door.

The dinners are a collaboration between Slow Money NC, The Abundance Foundation and Carolina Farm Stewardship.

So far, the Jan. 27 dinner in Durham is the only one scheduled, but Slow Money NC director Carol Hewitt tells me she's eager to hold one in the Charlotte area. She just needs organizers who want to step up and help her do it.

For more on the dinner (Durham isn't all that far away), go to If you want to contact Hewitt about doing something like it here, you can find her through or email her at

Tom Condron says: Cook Italian

Tom Condron, chef/owner of the Liberty Gastopub, just got back from an eating trip to Italy and he wants to share what he learned. So he's scheduled two Saturday morning cooking classes:

"Rome to Naples," including Roman- and Jewish-style artichokes, carbonara with guanciale and roasted lamb chops with rosemary, potatoes and lemon, will be held at 10 a.m. this Saturday, Jan. 12. Cost: $35.

"Italy's Sunday Supper: Gravy is on the Stove!" with guest chef Rita Benedetto (Condron's mother-in-law) will highlight family classics, at 10 a.m. Jan. 26. Cost: $40. 

Classes are demonstrations and include tastings and a wine and beer pairing. Each one lasts about 2 hours. Reservations are required. Call 704-332-8830. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One Great . . . different hummus

I tried an experiment in blogging last week: I posted a recipe for Sweet Pea Hummus from the new book "Meatless" from Martha Stewart Living and asked if anyone who made it would share their feedback.

The response was . . . mostly silence. I'm guessing we're all still caught in the winding-down mode after the holidays. Still, my friend and colleague Hilary Trenda did make it for friends over the weekend and shared her notes: Originally, the thawed peas and the mixture of tahini, cilantro and lemon juice seemed thin. But when she refrigerated it, it thickened back up to a dip consistency.

The men at her gathering turned up their noses at it -- too green. But the women liked it. And if you're looking for something for a healthful snack or to tuck into your lunch bag to replace the 3 p.m. junk machine run, it's tasty and it could come in handy. The editors of "Meatless" point out that a cup of peas has more protein than a large egg.

Sweet Pea Hummus

I adapted the recipe to use frozen peas, which are more available and usually fresher tasting than fresh peas.

1 cup frozen green peas, rinsed to thaw
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
Whole grain crackers, for serving

RINSE  the peas to thaw and drain well. Pulse in a food processor with the cilantro, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin until smooth, 30 to 40 seconds. Season to taste with salt and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with whole grain crackers.

Makes 1 1/4 cups.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pillsbury Bake-Off makes big changes

It's time to enter recipes for the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but this year they're mixing up the rules, not just the recipes.

There will be three recipe categories with three entry periods, recipes must include no more than seven ingredients (not including water, pepper and salt) and take no more than 30 minutes to prepare (not including baking or cooling time). And in the final twist, voters  will pick the 100 finalists.

Confused enough yet? Yeah, it makes me want to bend over and giggle too. OK, let's go through the categories and deadlines:

Amazing Doable Dinners. For simple main dishes that you'd make for weeknights. Think pizza, calzone, sandwiches, casseroles, chilis and the like. This category is open now through Feb. 7, and voting opens from March 14 to March 28.

Simple Sweets and Starters. For desserts (cookies, bars, pies, tarts) and appetizers (bite-size or bruschetta, focaccia or the like). Entry period is April 4 to May 9, and voting is open from June 13-June 27.

Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts. Sweet rolls, pull-aparts, bread breads, egg dishes or egg sandwiches. Enter from July 4 to Aug. 8; voting is Sept. 12 to Sept. 26.

Bake-Off officials will pick entries that qualify, and then voters will choose from those to pick 33 finalists each from Doable Dinners and Quick Breakfasts, and 34 from the Sweets and Starters.

Still the same this year: The grand prize winner gets $1 million and $10,000 in GE kitchen appliances. And recipes have to include a list of eligible Pillsbury, Green Giant, Jif, Smuckers, Crisco and Eagle Brand products. Since it's so confusing, you can get the rules, deadlines and entry forms at

Time for Troop 33's Super Bowl barbecue weekend

If you've ever been around the Sardis Road area on the Thursday and Friday before the Super Bowl, you probably know about the annual Troop 33 barbecue. It's hard to miss the smoke and aroma.

Put on by the Boy Scouts, their parents and an army of volunteers from Sardis Presbyterian Church, across the street from the Scout Hut at 6100 Sardis Road, it's barbecue the old way: Cooked slowly over wood coals and hand-chopped.

I once spent a night as a coal shoveler for Troop 33, so I can tell you first-hand that it's quite an endeavor. The Scouts spend all year gathering wood, and the boys have to assemble the concrete-block pits from scratch every year, then clean up and take it down.

Since many people base their Super Bowl menu on Troop 33 barbecue, the stuff can sell out quickly. It's smart to buy your ticket in advance. That means now, or very soon. Call John at 704-996-0391 or email If you get a ticket from John, you can pick it up on Friday or Saturday morning at the Scout Hut.

The price list:
$10 for 1 pound of barbecue with a 2-ounce container of sauce.
$9 for a quart of Brunswick stew (limited quantities).
$7 for a barbecue plate ('cue, slaw, beans and roll) or a 3-sandwich plate, Friday only.
$4 for a 6-ounce bottle of T33 barbecue sauce (advance orders only)
$3 for a dozen rolls, $2 for a pint of baked beans or slaw (advance orders only).

You can pick up

Monday brain stretch: More on GMO rethinking

I raised a small ruckus in November with a column on a different point of view on GMOs: After the defeat of Proposition 37 in California, which would have required labeling of products that included ingredients from genetically modified organisms, I questioned whether that labeling was the right issue. I quoted from a panel at a recent James Beard Foundation food conference that looked at the positive sides of GMOs as a tool for creating enough food for the planet.

Not surprisingly, I took some heat from adamantly anti-GMO opponents. I expected that I would, but I also wanted to open the subject up to more than one point of view.

That view is continuing. At a conference in Oxford, England, Mark Lynas, one of the environmentalists who originally was vehemently anti-GMO recanted his earlier stance and suggested that there may be significant environmental benefit to this research. Here's a piece on Slate summing up what Lynas had to say.

 And here's another piece worth considering: A piece from Russ Parsons of the L.A. Times that not only also looks at what Lynas had to say, but also offering some other changing points on GMO research.

On the morning after that James Beard Foundation panel in October, I ended up sharing a very early morning car to the airport with panelist Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Federation. As we rolled through Queens and fretted about making our flights, I asked Clay about his talk the day before, in which he had repeated his claim (originally made at a TED conference) that we'll need to produce more food in the next 40 years than we produced in the previous 8,000, or roughly the amount of time we've had organized agriculture.

I mused that it was the first time I'd heard someone so publicly challenge the conventional wisdom that GMOs are all bad.

Clay nodded. And he asked this: If you know you have a big problem to solve, why would you take any tool off the table before you figure out how to use it? It would be like knowing you have to build a house but removing the hammer before you start because someone once used it to hit your thumb.

Maybe the problem isn't the hammer. It's keeping the hammer out of the hands of the person who would only use it to hurt you, without considering that the hammer may be of use.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cook it with me: Martha Stewart's sweet pea hummus

"Meatless," the new book from Martha Stewart Living, landed on my desk this week, even though it won't be officially released until Jan. 8. Flipping through, I saw a lot of simple vegetarian recipes that might help you  get a boost on your 2013 resolutions.

I'd like to use one for next week's One Great feature. The Sweet Pea Hummus looks really easy. It's supposed to be a dip, but it also would be a good thing to toss in a lunch bag to take to work.

So in honor of the new year, let's try something new: I'll give you the recipe, we can make it over the weekend, and if you like it, hate it or have ways to improve it, you can share your feedback. I'd need to hear from you by Monday; just add your comments below, or email your thoughts to me at

By the way, the recipe is actually Fresh Pea Hummus. But my experience with peas is that the frozen ones are better and more convenient unless you have peas so fresh, you just picked them in your own garden.

Sweet Pea Hummus
From "Meatless," from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, $25).

1 cup fresh shelled peas (or frozen peas, rinsed until thawed)
Coarse salt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
Whole-grain crackers, for serving

COOK peas in a pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain; run under cold water to stop the cooking. (If you use frozen peas, skip this step and rinse the frozen peas in a sieve under cold water to thaw.)
PULSE peas, cilantro, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin in a food processor until smooth, 30 to 40 seconds. Season with salt and serve with crackers.

YIELD: 1 1/4 cups.

PER SERVING (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon): 74 calories, 4g fat (1g saturated fat), 0mg cholesterol, 7g carbohydrates; 3g protein; 2g fiber.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sink your teeth into Charlotte restaurant history

Who says there's no restaurant history in Charlotte? Restaurants old and new are the subject of the next "The New South for the New Southerner" lecture from 5:30-7:30 pm. Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. 7th St. (next to the Seventh Street Station parking deck).

Bruce Hensley, founder of Charlotte Restaurant Week, will talk about the history of the Charlotte restaurant scene, while Denise Botello-Coleman of LATINA 102.3 FM will talk about the Latin American cultures you can experience in Charlotte restaurants. The event is sponsored by Mert's Heart and Soul, The Observer, WFAE and Marsh Properties.

It costs $10 (free for museum members) and includes the program, wine and a Southern chicken dinner from Mert's. Registration is required. Call 704-333-1887, ext. 501, or email