Boiled Peanuts are an NC specialty.
Unless you are from eastern North Carolina then you most likely have never heard of boiled peanuts. They are a well-kept secret. It is a very seasonal and local specialty. You know it is that time of year when stands pop up all over the backroads of eastern North Carolina. The peanuts are sold out of pickup trucks. Some are well-oiled operations with tents and boilers while others are just a pickup truck with plastic bags of the warm peanuts. There are no worries about them getting cold since they are sold out quickly. People just know. And they just crave them regardless of age, gender, race, or economic status. It is a comfort food.
Now, most folks from eastern North Carolina are skeptical about anyone not from there liking it. They will raise an eyebrow at you if you are lacking the correct accent. That said, they will gladly share and talk to you about boiled peanuts. Though they are pretty sure you are not going to like it. It is nice to prove them wrong.
What are Boiled Peanuts?
All boiled peanuts are not created equal. Having lived in Tarboro, North Carolina, I have only eaten what I would call eastern-style. All the locals will firmly tell you that if it is from anywhere else it is just plain wrong and that those folks are not doing it correctly. Tarboro is in Edgecombe County just off I-95. It is a rural community where peanuts, cotton, and tobacco are the main cash crops. In fact, much of the peanuts you eat at baseball games come from eastern North Carolina and southern Virgina.
Not to embarrass anyone so I will just get it out of the way. Peanuts come from the ground like potatoes and other root vegetables. They are not from bushes. Honestly, unless I lived in Tarboro, I never would have known where peanuts came from. And yes I am educated and have traveled the world. Just never crossed my mind.
What makes boiled peanuts special in eastern North Carolina is the peanuts are new green peanuts. Other regions in the United States South dry the peanuts then boil them. Apparently, it changes the texture and taste. And as the Edgecombe County folks say it is not as good as their way. (Word of advice, never challenge someone from North Carolina about pork BBQ and boiled peanuts because you are going to lose. They are passionate and proud about their food culture.)
Everyone has their own way of preparing them like most comfort foods. They are simple to make: green peanuts in the shell, water, and salt. That is it. The secret is the ratio of water to salt. And that takes practice.
There are two ways of enjoying the peanuts. You just put one in your mouth then crack the shell and sucking out the peanut and juice. Or my preferred way, crack the peanut out with your nails. Eat it like you would an oyster with the slurping and all. You have to have the salty juices. I was unable to keep myself neat with salted peanut juices running down my arm… and ok my chin. It was not a dignified affair. After a bunch my fingers became wrinkly. Well worth it. Best not to eat in public until you have the form down or like me you will look a sight.
Go Ahead and Try Them
I am not going to fib to you, but it is an acquired taste and I rather like it. It only took me seven years of living in Tarboro in Edgecombe County to try them. I was always too late and would miss the small window they are available. It is worth giving it a taste. So if you are traveling the backroads of eastern North Carolina then stop and buy a bag for some local flavor.
It is worth giving it a taste. So if you are traveling the backroads of eastern North Carolina then stop and buy a bag for some local flavor.
Brake for Farmers Markets
I know I do whenever I get a chance. I spent the morning wandering through a farmers market on the Northern Neck of Virginia. In our move up the East Coast, I am enjoying the regional food culture of wherever we are staying. The Northern Neck is rich with farmers markets and produce stands dotting the countryside. The markets here tend to rotate among towns very weekend. It is not just fresh produce, but locally-made cheeses, bread, and meats that are sold.
I cannot help myself; I always have been that way. I have to stop and check out these markets and stands out. Growing up, my family had a huge garden on the side of the house on Greenlake Drive in Middletown, NJ. During the summertime, what we didn’t grow, we would go to produce stands along side of the road. Everywhere I have lived there was a summer farmers market. Lexington, Kentucky had the best one to date. It was huge and the products offered was of an amazing variety. They were very progressive by taking credit cards and accepting food stamps. The market made it easier for you shop fresh and wholesome regardless of your economic status. The last town I lived in, Tarboro, North Carolina, just formed a farmers market with the leadership of local business owners and town government. Every market day it is getting bigger as more vendors and visitors come. Having access to fresh, affordable produce is important to the health of the community.
There is something special about picking out fresh off the vine tomatoes while talking to the farmer about the weather. The farmers are very passionate about what they produce and are very proud of it. And you should too be passionate about what you eat. The produce you purchase is in season and fresh. Most of it came from a couple miles away and often you can see the actual farm where it was grown.
Visiting a farmers market forces me to think about food and meals. You never know what kinds of produce will be offered that day. It depends on what is ripe and ready. Today I came across butter beans, tiny tomatoes, green tomatoes, sweet pepper, and big sandwich slicers. That sets my thought process as to what I can make with these fresh ingredients. Lots. I plan on making a tiny tomato butter bean salad where I will add some asparagus and a vinegarette. With the green tomatoes, I will make fried green tomatoes. The sweet pepper and some of the tiny tomatoes will go in tonight’s hummus roasted veg tart.
This summer and fall, think local for your produce. It will open your mind and taste buds to new flavors.
In Search for Newport’s Best Lobster Rolls
As many of you know, I am moving to Newport, Rhode Island shortly. We recently went up to Newport to scout it out. That is a whole another story filled with drama. And I am not a mama for the drama so I will spare you most of it. Instead, let us talk about food. Fresh lobster rolls on the beach. Foods with Italian and Portuguese flavors.
Mad Max: The Northeast Movie
We had traveled for two days on I-95 through some of the consistently worst traffic over 500 miles and me having the nastiest summer cold known to humankind made the drive even longer. The journey should have been called, “Mad Max: Mom’s Driving The Honda.” OK, it was more like the children’s book, “Axel Annie” and her catch phrase, “both hands on the wheel and nerves of steel.” Though I have to say by exit 8A on the Jersey Turnpike I was back to driving like someone who grew up in the Northeast. All the Southerner driver politeness left my body that has gathered in me over the decade I have lived in the south. As of the photo above, I did not drive and shoot. This was me going zero mph on the George Washington Bridge for thirty minutes. It may have been longer, but I drive a 5-speed and may have blocked out the pain.
Rhodies are Foodies.
My Rhode Island foodie experience started at the rest stop on I-95 northbound. We stopped for a quick wee break. I started chatting to the security guard. Our conversation turned to food quickly. We talked about BBQ and how nice smoke eel was. This was a good sign. He also told us how to get to Newport in a more scenic way. An even better sign.
After driving through the rolling hills, we came to the water. I felt like I was home. When we drove over the Jamestown Verrazzano and the Newport Bridges a certain level of glee overtook me. It was breathtaking. The weather was perfect. Beautiful blue skies with white fluffy clouds. Sailboats in full sail gliding on both sides. The impressive Naval War College standing guard on the water. It was a postcard of perfection.
The Lobster Roll Quest
Of course finding a place to live, a school for my son, and business networking were important… but really finding an outstanding lobster roll was top of my list. I like food. I like good local food. And I really like lobster rolls. My first one was in Maine years ago at Reds Eats in Wiscassetout, Maine. In other words, I had the best first and my standards are high as a result.
I did not consult guides or online review sites. I went straight to the source: locals. They know best. And the best lobster rolls do not come from the tourist area of the Wharf or Thames Street. I mean I’m sure that they are good, but I am not paying $50 for a lobster roll or anything else.
Now like with everything that has to do with “traditional” foods, there is always a debate about its origins. The lobster roll is no exception. Many stories about, but what we can be sure of is that it started out in a humble way. It is a simple meal with regional differences. In Connecticut, the lobster roll is served warm with butter while in other parts of New England, it is chilled with mayo. Honestly, I will eat it anyway it is served. Fries or potato chips are standard sides. I am sure it started on plain white bread folded, but nowadays, a toasted hot dog bun. This is not fancy food, just good food that makes your mouth happy.
The Snack Bar
Yes. The Easton Beach Snack Bar is where I found the lobster roll. It is an unassuming place. It is a snack bar. Really. It is on Newport’s public beach Easton Beach above the lifeguard office. Unless you knew to look for it, you would not know it is there. It is open seasonally and closes early evening. Lots of locals seem to come in and take the food home since parking is free after 4 pm in the lot. The seating is simple. Shirts and shoes are optional.
The twin lobster rolls with fries for less than $17.00 with an amazing view. Hello. I plan on getting very used to this during the summer. And my goal is to get a chair named after me.
They also served Rhode Island Stuffed Quahogs. Honestly, it looked cool being served in a shell so I ordered one to try not having a clue what it was. Quahogs are a large, rounded edible clam found in New England. Stuffed Quahogs are minced Quahogs, Portuguese Chouirco sausage, spices, and bread stuffing. It was quite good.
You will have to be very careful with the seagulls apparently. They seem to be an organized gang of winged thugs bent on getting your food. Glad they had the sign to warn folks. I drove through I-95 hell for this lobster roll and I did not plan on giving it up to a seagull. And these were the biggest seagulls I have ever seen. I watched them pick through someone’s beach bag and fly off with a windbreaker. I am afraid they could fly off with a small child or Yorkie.
I am looking forward to the move to Rhode Island and experiencing Rhode Island’s food traditions and culture. Rhode Island here I come… ready or not!
Hurricane Matthew Flooding Recovery
Destruction from Hurricane Matthew flooding as far as the eye can see, yet people are hopeful. People are in recovery mode. They are returning to their homes. Families and volunteers are helping clean out homes while waiting to rebuild.
I made my first trip over to Princeville since the Hurricane Matthew flooding in October 2016. The historic African-American town has been destroyed for the second time since 1999. I brought my son with me since I felt it was important for him to see what the flood had done only a couple miles from our home across a bridge.
It was a sobering moment. People have lost everything. Broke my heart to see piles of children’s toys and books. I cannot imagine as a parent having to tell my son he has lost his special toys.
Families, disabled, and the elderly are still in shelters and waiting for the opportunity to move to temporary housing. People are still visiting the community feeding station in Tarboro. The animal shelter is still filled with animals rescued or surrendered as people evacuated. The donation center is still making sure people have the basic needs met. The FEMA center continues to be open. Many lives are in flux currently.
Give Thanks, Donate.
The hardest work is beginning now. As member of the community spared, I feel compelled to continue to use my voice to share the story of recovery. Consider donating to assist with long-term recovery as the season of thanks comes upon us.
My friend Brandy Paige Chappell who is a teacher at a local school where over 120 children have been displaced has a GoFund page to help the children with recovery. The North Carolina Community Foundation has a fund just for Edgecombe County.
Some of the sights I saw today, but photos cannot fully show the destruction and the spirit of the people…
Spice Cabinet Reorganization
It had to happen: a spice cabinet reorganization. The drawers and cabinets were a mess. Like a huge, disorganized mess. We moved in a hurry. And I put things away in the kitchen in a hurry. We are going on year two living in this house, so I have no excuse as to why my cabinets look so bad. My sister and niece can vouch for how much spices I own after helping me move the kitchen. And they still talk to me after that experience. Over half of my cabinets and drawers are filled with spices.
The spices overwhelmed
As I have become more serious about my cooking and life has gotten busier, the spice mess was starting to bother me. Spices were in plastic bags. Labels had fallen off my set of small glass spice jars. I had multiple jars of the same spice; because, it had gotten lost in the back of the drawer. Sometimes I am out of a spice and do not know it until I am cooking. Items would fall out of the cabinets on me. It was a mess. This mess was slowing me down while cooking. There are times I’m not as organized as I should be when I am cooking. Rooting around trying to find the right spice in the drawers or cabinets can often mean the difference between burning something or not. There have been a couple close calls recently. We can be honest and say burnt spices and food does not taste very nice. I try to avoid it.
The spice cabinet reorganization really needed to happen. My spices were out-of-control. I decided to use that extra hour I gained on Sunday to get these drawers and cabinets under control. I started by taking everything out of the drawers and cabinets taking stock of everything I have. And I have lots. In places where they do not make sense. I need to declutter and organize by category or usage. With this kitchen, I am lucky that there is tons of space. Some of it wasted space which I would like to reclaim.
My set of small spice jars had lost most of their labels and were greasy being so close to the stove. I did not know what spices were in the jars for the most part. And honestly how old the spices were in them. I dumped the spices out. I went about washing and drying them.
Organizing the Spices
What I needed was different sized glass jars and labels. I usually buy my most-used spices in bulk at the Asian grocery in Cary. It makes sense to do so since I use a lot of spice and it is cheaper. I like the larger mouths of the bigger jars since it makes it easier to measure out when cooking. This helps avoid the tapping motion which usually ends up with spice going everywhere. I prefer to use glass jars just because I think it is better than plastic.
I totally wiped out two Walmarts locally to get my glass jars. I found printable labels for them allowing me to use a template on the computer then printing them out. This avoids my horrible handwriting. It just makes it look nice. I was not able to find smaller round label for the set of small glass jars, but that’s on my to-do list for this week. For right now, spices in those jars have torn post-it notes identifying what is what. I look to fill all of them up with regularly used spices so I won’t have to root around anywhere to get it. I can just grab it by the stove.
I still need to get more glass jars for additional spices as well as containers for sugars, flours, grains, and legumes. And I have not tackled the butler’s pantry yet. In other words, I have lots still to do. So you know what to get me for my birthday and Christmas: a Visa gift card. And what I will be doing during fall weekends…
A quick visit to Chico, California
Thanks to my profession, I have the opportunity to travel. The Butte College Small Business Development Center in Chico, CA, asked me to keynote their 18th Annual Women in Business event. I was so happy to not only speak on topics I am passionate about to sister entrepreneurs and visit new places in the process.
Delta got me to California and back. The flights were great. The flight crews were fun and positive. The planes were new. Comfort+ option for seating and SKY for boarding were the options I choose and I will gladly pay the little bit extra for it all. The seats had plugs for devices. The planes were equipped with inflight wi-fi, which allowed me to be super productive coming and going. When you are a consultant, time really is money. All of this all made with a very civilized flight experiences. Now of course, 99 percent of my fellow travelers around me were grumpy and some behaved like children when they did not get what they wanted. But that is for a totally different post on my business blog.
While traveling, I do try to eat healthy, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. In order to make my flight, I needed to be on the road by 4am, so along the way to the airport, I did drive-thru for an Egg McMuffin with a Coke. I know, but I didn’t feel like an unsweetened iced tea at 5am. Once on the plane, it was carbs, carbs, and more carbs. My bad. By the time I got off the plane in Sacramento, my body was screaming for real food.
The landscape is so very different from the east coast and where I live in North Carolina though both are heavy agricultural areas. The view of miles and miles for fruit and nut trees were amazing. For as the eye could see, it was orchards. At the end of the orchards right before the landscape changed racially, I came across a roadside farm stand selling strawberries.
How could I not stop? I mean fresh strawberries. Who could resist that? I could not. I even turned around and drove back. I am glad I did. The stand had gorgeous strawberries, blackberries, and these little yellow grape tomatoes. Not to be too greedy, I purchased strawberries and tomatoes for $6. That is what I ate while driving to Chico. It was such a satisfying treat! And it made me feel so good! Always keep some cash on you, so you can stop at roadside farm stands. You are supporting small farmers and great produce.
Once I got to my hotel in Chico, I needed to figure out dinner.
Priya Indian Cuisine
After been up and traveling since 3:30am, I needed comfort food and honestly I was nervous about keynoting at a conference. Indian food to me is comfort food and I needed to have it. Lucky, I found a restaurant near-by, which had good reviews. It is always a good sign when you go into an ethnic restaurant and you are the only person not from that country there. This was the case.
I ordered a vegetarian thali, which is a meal of small portions of different dals and curries. I went with the main course of aloo gobi per the suggestion of the waitress. Starting from the left above: Raita (yogurt cumber and onion sauce), Sambar (lentil veg soup), dal curry (spinach), veg curry (mixed veg), and aloo gobi. It was all favored nicely with the right about of heat. I finished it all. I have no shame is writing that; it was hit the spot.
Priya Indian Cuisine
Chico, CA 95973
I was only in Chico for two nights. I did not really get to explore; however, it looks like it has a nice downtown. Two-Twenty Restaurant was suggested to me. It is in the historic Hotel Diamond. I appreciate a good old-fashioned neon sign and this one I thought was nice. I walked into the lounge. Turns out they serve the full menu in the bar. There were seats so I decided not to go formal, but instead casual staying in the lounge. The table next to me was drinking the most wonderful vintage cocktails served in glasses that our grandparents sipped drinks out of in the 1940s and 50s. So cool. Turns out this place is known for the cocktails and the bartenders excel at it.
I comment to the couple how neat the cocktails were and the next thing I know I was sitting with them and their family celebrating their son’s birthday. I had the most wonderful time. Even I though I had spent the day “on” at the conference, I welcomed this gesture. We talked about everything. And parted like old friends with hugs and kisses.
But the food. One of the bartenders was vegan, so he was able to make dining suggestions. I chose to start with a Porcus Caesar salad, which was chopped hearts of romaine, poached farm egg, garlic croutons, crispy Sriracha bacon, and a traditional Caesar dressing. I asked they not include the bacon; however, I think the bacon would have made the salad perfect. For my entree, I chose the Vegetable Lasagne that was house-made pasta, fall vegetables, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan cheese, hand crushed San Marzano tomato sauce, and garlic bread. Fresh and flavorful.
220 West 4th Street
Chico, CA 95928
It was a great visit to Chico and Butte County. Next time, I will give myself more time to explore the town and surrounding areas.