Real Soul Food: 30 Years of Marriage, and the Best Damn Fried Chicken in the Country

On September 6, the Mate and I celebrate 30 years of marriage. I don’t know what we’ll have for dinner. All I know is, it won’t be fried chicken.

Not because we don’t love it…but because we do. Specifically, we love Mama Dip’s fried chicken from Chapel Hill, North Carolina (where we met in 1977 and were married ten years later). We loved Mama Dip’s chicken so much we got her restaurant to cater our wedding. So now we’re spoiled; no one else’s fried chicken comes close.

Mildred Council, a.k.a. “Mama Dip” (courtesy WRAL)

***Sigh…might as well have spaghetti…***

Of course with fantastic fried chicken come all the fixins: fried okra, stewed greens and tomatoes, black-eyed peas, cornbread, biscuits, corn on the cob…Some folks would add mac ‘n’ cheese to this list, or Brunswick Stew, or pulled pork, but to me those are meals in themselves, demanding their own sides: cheese grits, home fries, slaw…OK, I’ll stop.

“Care for dessert?” Are you kidding? I’ll just start over with another meal. (courtesy Black Hair Media Forum)

The Mate and I are very health-conscious people. We’re lifelong athletes–in fact, distance running is how we met. But we LOVE our soul food. In fact, I love even the IDEA of soul food.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:

Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern United States. It is common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations and has maintained popularity among the Black American and American Deep-South “cotton state” communities for centuries; it is now the most common regional cuisine in southern cities such as New Orleans, LouisianaCharlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Soul food influences can be commonly found as far north as Richmond, Virginia, as far east as Jacksonville, Florida, and as far west as Houston, Texas. The expression “soul food” may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common word used to describe Black American culture (for example, soul music).

Home, sweet home. (courtesy TripAdvisor)

I TOTALLY dig the idea of food feeding one’s soul. Soul food is culture, family, love. Yearning. Nostalgia. Gratitude. Nourishment of your deepest parts.

The Mate and I might not be southern by heritage; we might have abandoned the south to live all the way across the country. But Mama Dip’s chicken and okra and cornbread fed us and our 250 guests on a day of torrential September rain back in 1987, and that food and those memories continue to nourish us daily in this hard-work miracle known as marriage.

Since we can’t be in North Carolina on September 6, I’ve asked my parents, who still live there, to go out to Dip’s for us. Their own marriage is in its 63rd year. Guess they must have found some soul food of their own.

 

Road-Tripping: Tough Job, But Somebody’s Gotta…Nah, I Just Love Road-Tripping.

Serial blizzards in New England. Roller coaster temperatures across the South. And here in the Pacific Northwest, week after week of mid-50s days that are so nice most of us are getting nervous. Someone has to get to the bottom of this continental climate weirdness.

I volunteer. Starting February 21, I vow to drive (with The Mate) across this great country of ours until we a) solve the climate mystery, or b) watch a series of Tarheel basketball games while stuffing our faces with BBQ…whichever comes first.

Kidding. Of course. It’s time for ROAD TRIP V, that’s all! Who needs an excuse?

An explanation, however, might be useful for those of you new to Wing’s World. Here’s what I wrote a year ago about the roots of our annual pilgrimage:

I’ll start with my husband. Former professor at the University of North Carolina, therefore HUGE Tarheel basketball fan. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest 23 years ago, he continued to fly back every March to watch the ACC tournament with his fellow crazed fans friends.

During our sabbatical in New Zealand…yup. You got it. He still flew back. And when the underdog Tarheels WON that year, my husband became a legend among fans.

But he always hated the hassle of flying. So when he retired in 2010, he declared, “That’s it. From now on, I’m driving to Chapel Hill.” Then he uttered the fateful words: “You’ll come too, won’t you?”

And thus was born the Great Annual Cross-Country Road Trip. We are now about to begin our fourth. Along the way to NC and back, we’ll catch up with family members and long-lost friends, visit some national parks, and discover byways we never knew existed in places like, I don’t know, Oklahoma.

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What awaits the Wings this year? All I can tell you is this: I’m an inveterate planner who feels happiest knowing exactly where I’ll be and when I’ll be there, months in advance. The Mate is enjoying, in retirement, a period of spontaneous freedom so unfettered I hate to even ask him his plans for the day not. If there’s one thing these Road Trips have taught us, it’s how to find a balance between our styles.

Luckily for The Mate, traveling in Feb-March means staying flexible. So…our route? I’ll keep you posted!

I wonder: who’s more like me, who’s more like my Mate? Are you a trip-planner, or do you prefer to trip fantastically lightly through your trips? 

 

Leaving NC, Where Barbecue’s a Noun and Fish Are Flowers

Road Trip IV, Days 35-37:  Still in Durham, my hometown.

We were supposed to be on the road again today, headed back west. But Ma Nature had other plans (sound familiar?). So we’re hanging out an extra day with my folks. Car-camping in West Virginia is one thing; doing it in frozen rain is another. The Mate and I are outdoorsy, but we’re not IDIOTS.

So this extra time in the Tarheel State gives me the chance to talk about two phenomena we contemplate annually: barbecue and trout lilies.

First, ‘cue. Here’s what you need to know.

In the Upper Midwest and West, barbecue is a verb. “Gonna barbecue that salmon dad caught, wanna come over?” “Ooh, have you tried marinating the ribs in vodka before you barbecue ’em?”  Basically, it’s a synonym for “grilling.”

In Texas and most of the South, barbecue is an adjective: barbecued ribs. Barbecued chicken. Sometimes the “d” is left off, as in “barbecue potato chips,” but everyone understands, you’re pretty much referring to a sticky, spicy, tomato-based sauce, or at least that flavor.

In North Carolina, BARBECUE IS A NOUN.

Take a pig. Kill it. Dress it. Put the whole animal in an iron cooker with hickory chips for a couple-few days. Towards the end, when the meat is falling off the bone, chop it up with a secret mixture of vinegar, red pepper, and heaven. Let that cook awhile longer. Serve it up with sweet tea, fried okra, hush puppies and slaw. That’s  barbecue.

 

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(In the eastern part of the state, and in South Carolina, they put mustard in the sauce, but I refuse to address such a travesty.)

The best barbecue in the state–and yes, I will fight you over this–is Allen and Son’s, which just happens to be four miles from my folks’ house. In the old days, when The Mate used to fly back to NC to watch the ACC Tournament, he’d stop at Allen and Son’s first. When my folks fly out to visit us in Washington, they bring quarts of ‘cue, hard-frozen, in their luggage. That stuff is GOLD.

You can’t, or shouldn’t, eat it very often. Luckily, you don’t need to. And since we only come back here once a year, we feel free to pig out–pun intended–on ‘cue till we can’t stand up. (Then there’s Mama Dip’s fried chicken, but I’ll save that for next year’s posts.)

The antidote to all that grease (and, this year, to our Heels going out in the first game of the tournament) is the Wildflower Walk.

The Mate started this tradition way back when. The ACC Tourney finals air at 1 pm. That gives you hours and hours to while away and try to make room for more BBQ. So he got his basketball-watching friends, plus several of their non-basketball-watching spouses, to meet out on some land we owned and take a walk through the woods to look for trout lilies.

When you think “lily,” you picture something showy, right? Tiger lilies, or Easter? Trout lilies are their shy, modest, sweet little country cousins. They grown in the dead leaves of hardwood forests. Their leaves are speckled like trout, their pretty, mild-yellow faces hang down. They are among the first flowers of spring, and they are HARD to spot. Until you find one, and then, of course, they’re everywhere.

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So, yes: these same crazy Tarheel fans who’ve been watching game after game and screaming at the tv for three days are now squealing with delight over…a flower. It’s a beautiful thing. They wander. They marvel. They breathe the quiet forest air.

 

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And then, of course, it’s back to basketball and BBQ. The noun.

We’re heading west tomorrow, rain or shine. But in my mind, and stomach, I’ll still be gone, for a few more days, to Carolina.

Tell me: what is BBQ to you? Verb, adjective, noun? And do you have any traditions like our Wildflower Walk?