My Russian son and borsch (no T!)

I have learned a thing or two from my 22-year-old son and I expect to learn a lot more as time goes by. The first thing is that when you throw out a leftover drink at the convenience store, always pour out the contents first. You do not want to create “trash juice” for the poor guy who empties the trash.

And it’s BORSCH without the T. Even though the entire internet spells it with a “t,” the entire internet is wrong. I know this because Noah is my Russian son and he spent five hours making BORSCH the other night. I am screaming, I know. But since becoming conversationally fluent in Russian during his college career at the University of Tennessee, my son speaks Russian around the house every day. With correct pronunciation, which is slightly irritating. Sadly for him, he speaks Russian mostly to my cat, Peanut. Peanut seems to understand.

Noah and Peanut

So Noah loves all things Russian. He loves the culture, he loves the vodka (WODKA)  and he loves the food. Particularly BORSCH. He made 10 gallons of it the other night. It only took him five hours. The recipe, by author Anya von Bremzen, is the luxury version because it contains meat. I have learned from my Russian son that there are many versions of BORSCH and they reflect the varying economic climate under which the Soviet people lived. Most of the time it sucked to be Russian during this era and much of the traditional Russian food culture went underground.

But at 5117 times are good and our BORSCH included beef brisket. I am a big beet lover as is Noah. King Daddy not so much so he reserved judgment as this soup slowly came together.


I think he looks a little like an oppressed Russian dock worker here, cooking his BORSCH in a ripped t-shirt. But King Daddy and I were much the richer for the finished product. It was absolutely delicious and King Daddy had seconds. We paired it up with some terrific rye bread with Russian butter and Russian sour cream from Alexsey Market.

Noah had some WODKA with his BORSCH.

Photo by Noah Chapin Mayhew

Photo by Noah Chapin Mayhew

As I said, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. But it’s truly spectacular and on a frigid winter day when the Polar Vortex revisits Middle Tennessee, you can make it and reminisce about the bad old days in Russia and celebrate the young man in Brentwood, Tennessee, who treasures his new-found, old-school Russian heritage.


Filed under bacon, beef, veggies

Always go to the funeral

Altar at funeral

When my father died, we took him back to his hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois, to be buried. As we drove out of town toward the cemetery, I noticed a man standing on the corner outside the funeral home. He had his hat over his chest and he looked mournfully at the hearse. I asked my mother if she knew who he was.

“He’s mentally a little slow and he was made fun of a lot growing up,” my mother said. “Your father was always kind to him and he’s paying his respects.”

Always go to the funeral.

No one wants to go to a funeral. Certainly not the family of the deceased who are painfully confronted with the finality of the thing. And not the mourners. But I learned this at my father’s funeral. It is more important than you may know to see that people took the time to show respect. There are other things they would rather be doing. But they put on their funeral clothes and showed up.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I went to the funeral of a good friend’s mother. She had lived a good long life but she struggled with the crippling effects of Alzheimer’s the past few years and her daughter had faithfully and lovingly cared for her. Some of us had met Barbara but I don’t think any of us were considered to be close friends. She was in her 80s and close friends are hard to come by in your 80s. And then there was that memory thing.

I looked around the sanctuary as the service began and I saw hundreds of people who had come to pay their respects. Hundreds of people on a sunny fall afternoon who would rather have been watching football, playing golf or decorating for Halloween. Hundreds of people who were slightly inconvenienced.

It’s what you do in the South. It’s what you do everywhere when overwhelming grief is visited upon those you break bread with and love. I hope the family was comforted. I hope every name written down in the condolence book gave them some small measure of our respect.

Always go to the funeral.




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The Big Easy

I know you want some of this - turkey from the Big Easy Oil-less Turkey Fryer

I know you want some of this – turkey from the Big Easy Oil-less Turkey Fryer

I have fried a turkey the traditional way once. ONCE. It was at Bunny and Paul’s house in Knoxville and here’s how it went.

I buy a turkey frying kit for about $80. I like fried turkey plus I regularly engage in pastimes that are traditionally male like competition barbecue, high heat grilling and never asking for directions. Frying turkeys falls into that category. I load the turkey fryer into the CC and head to Knoxville with King Daddy and Dammit Boy for Thanksgiving.

I buy about $40 of oil. I’m already starting to get skeptical. This turkey has already cost me more than $100. And that’s without actually buying the turkey. Plus, my mother in law is not pleased.

“Where are you going to fry the turkey?” Bunny asks skeptically.

“On the driveway,” I answer confidently.

“No, you’re not. There are a lot of children and dogs in this neighborhood. It’s a fire hazard.”

True enough. “How about the basement patio?”

“Just don’t get too close to the house. Your father in law already has a heart condition.”

So I lug the turkey frying kit and the 5 gallons of oil downstairs and set up shop. This is going to be great!

Long story short, it wasn’t. First you have to fill the giant turkey cooking vessel with water and lower the turkey in to gauge how much oil you need. If the boiling oil spills over the top as you lower the turkey, you will die. Then you have to completely dry the turkey. If you don’t, when you lower the turkey into the vessel any residual water will cause the boiling hot oil  to shoot into the air like a lunar rocket. And you will die. And then, of course, as you are frying the turkey – should you still be alive – you cannot use a digital probe thermometer to check for doneness because if you stick the probe in the boiling hot oil. Well, you know.

And then there’s the matter of cleaning up. The turkey fryer instructions say you can strain the oil and save it for another use. And I actually did that. Once. It sat in my garage for six months before I decided that it didn’t look quite right. I think I disposed of it illegally. Don’t tell.

So what I use now is the Char-Broil Big Easy TRU-Infrared Oil-less Turkey Fryer. Yes, I blog for them but my love affair with all things Char-Broil goes back way before the All-Star team was formed. When I wrote a cookbook about grilling, I needed a gas grill and the salesman at Lowe’s took me straight to the Char-Broil grills. I loved that first Char-Broil so much I almost moved it into the bedroom with me.

No complicated instructions - slather a turkey breast with butter mixed with Cajun seasoning, put it in the fryer basket and take it for a spin.

No complicated instructions – slather a turkey breast with butter mixed with Cajun seasoning, put it in the fryer basket and take it for a spin

So how, you may ask, can an “oil-less turkey fryer” fry a turkey? Honestly,  I don’t understand it. It’s magic. I believe. I was hooked after my first bird. I get shatteringly crispy skin, a juicy moist interior and no clean up. Actually, I do not believe the Char-Broil folks brag on this as much as they should. After the turkey’s done, just leave the heat on for about 15 minutes and it burns away any debris. And the Big Easy costs less than the old-fashioned fryer when you add in the cost of oil. With no potentially deadly results.

This 5-pound turkey breast was done in an hour and a half.

This 5-pound turkey breast was done in an hour and a half.

So now I use it for turkey, but also for pork butts, chickens, pork loins – any large cut of meat. With Thanksgiving coming up next month, you might want to think about getting a Big Easy. It also clears up oven space for some of the equally important stuff like the dressing, mac and cheese, and green bean bundles. Tell me you have green bean bundles at your house on Turkey Day. No? We’ll have to have a talk.







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Filed under beef, chicken, lamb, pork, turkey

The “lady with the notebook” and burnt carrots

Burned carrots

This is a story about why it’s good to be a nerd. Why it’s an excellent idea when you’re listening to a world-famous chef give you a few tips about a new way to cook that it’s a friggin’ excellent idea to actually write the instructions down. And why taking notes may get you a shot of tequila.

My son Noah, my friend Mary Ann and I recently grazed our way through the Music City Food and Wine Festival. Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern swooned about it on his website. And, of course, we went to Chef Tim Love’s demonstration because there’s not a funnier chef who continually drops the F bomb out there. Love was demonstrating the fine art of burning food, which is not what you think. It’s more like charring one side of a vegetable while keeping the other side crisp tender. It’s a good idea, trust me.

So Mary Ann is a very analytical person and she spent every demonstration taking copious notes in a teeny, tiny notebook. And during Tim Love’s demonstration, he stopped what he was doing, looked up and said, “Who’s taking notes? There’s always one person taking friggin’ notes during a demonstration.” And, of course, Noah and I both pointed at Mary Ann and we caught Tim Love’s eye.

Lady with the notebook

“Come up here, lady with the notebook,” Love cheered. “I want you to take a shot.” And before I could even get my camera out, Mary Ann had bounded up on stage and downed a shot of tequila. And I am not kidding you – this is absolutely true. For the rest of the festival, countless people recognized Mary Ann as the Lady with the Notebook. And since Mary Ann does not usually do shots of tequila, she was slightly impaired for the next few hours. Tim Love seems impervious to the stuff. He not only drank during his own demonstration, he crashed all the other chefs’ demonstrations with a bottle of tequila. I just love that guy.

At any rate, the method for “burnt vegetables” is just this: for more tender vegetables like yellow squash or zucchini, cut them on the bias and then season them with whatever you like. Then get a skillet screaming hot and char one side only. For more firm vegetables such as carrots, roll them in a little olive oil and season them. Then put them under the broiler until one side is charred. In this case, Love used red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and honey and sprinkled them with walnuts after they came out of the broiler.

Genius and simple. He even has the burnt carrots on his menu at Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth. And how do I remember all this? The Lady with the Notebook.

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Nothing succeeds like excess

If Father Wesley Smith is at the rectory right now emptying a bottle of Tums into his gullet I would not be surprised. I believe, once again, the Women of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church have overdone it. Gleefully. We don’t know any other way.

Father Wesley is our interim rector at St. Paul’s. His first Sunday was today. He preached a fantastic sermon all from memory. The choir. Oh, my Lord, the choir. We were all in tears during the offertory anthem and almost burst into applause at the end, which Episcopalians do not do. Lots of God Moments going on this morning.

Because St. Paul’s is a historic church, we don’t have room for everyone at one service so we have four. And that meant four receptions for Father Wesley. And we’re not talking punch and cookies. We don’t do punch and cookies. We do full-on, blow-out-the-windows gala receptions. At all times. Hospitality chair Leslie Fraser coordinated all of them and I do not believe there was a single box of gourmet crackers or block of cream cheese left in all of Williamson County.

So here’s a little visual tour of the astonishing precision of the Women of St. Paul’s (including honorary member son Noah) and the fortitude of poor Father Wesley, who will probably need one of those 3-day detox cleanses in the next couple of days.

Father Wesley

Here he is. Smiling like the pro priest he is at the tail end of reception number two. I felt like the stranger stalker lady asking for a photo, but sadly for him, he’ll get used to it. St. Paul’s is some of my best material.

We had relatively (to us) small receptions after the 7:30 and 8:45 services. The Mac Daddy always comes after the 11. It is where Episcopalians come into their own because it is after noon and wine is served!

Cucumber Sandwiches

First, there are multiple tea sandwiches to be prepared and plated. Noah is allowed to assist in this endeavor. He told me today that as a child he was very intimidated by this whole process, as well he should be. It is serious business.

Ellen Kirk Cheese Plate

Ellen Kirk begins meticulously laying out layers of cheese on a cheese tray. Cheese is big in the Episcopal Church. And no Kraft singles.

Julie Drink Containers

There are no cartons of orange juice or jugs of tea at a St. Paul’s reception. No, no, no. All liquids to be consumed either have to be contained in glass dispensers or wine bottles. Julie Reinhardt completely understands this. Even though they are ridiculously heavy.

Cork screwSpeaking of wine, we have our own cork screws at St. Paul’s. They get a lot of use. Trust me.


All the flowers are personally arranged by Wanda Woolen.


Who then has a glass of Chardonnay because, well, it’s after noon for goodness sake.

Lemon cupcakes with blackberries

Needless to say, everything was impeccable.

Mini ham biscuits with floral flourishes

Perfection. That is the bar we set for ourselves. Father Wesley will be with us until we call a new permanent rector, which could take up to two years. I hope he is up for this.


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Filed under appetizers, snacks, sweets, tea sandwiches

The return of mini ravioli

This is a tale about mini ravioli. Once beloved, then lost and now found again.

When my son was a little boy he only ate white things – white bread, mayonnaise, mashed potatoes and pasta. Specifically, fresh mini ravioli made by Buitoni. Specifically. It was the only thing he knew how to make himself and he ate it almost every day. No, that’s a lie. Every day. I realize that if I wasn’t before, I am now a candidate for Worst Mother In The World. But the boy was a stick and it didn’t seem to do him any harm.

But I did not realize his emotional attachment to tiny pillow-shaped pasta. One day I came home from the grocery store and he went through the bags looking for the mini ravioli. It was not there. “Where’s my mini ravioli?” he asked in that slightly squeaky voice that boys who are about to reach puberty exhibit. “They didn’t have any,” I told him. “Publix has stopped carrying it.”

I’ll let Noah pick up the story as published in a Facebook poast.

I was devastated. I was, in fact, so offended that 10-year-old me confronted the manager of Publix and demanded that they stock my beloved mini ravioli. It briefly worked, but only briefly.

I remember this vividly. Naturally, because he was 10 years old, he was forced to ask me to drive him to the Publix. But I decided this was a lesson in self-reliance and I made him negotiate the entire process of seeking out the manager and requesting the return of the mini ravioli himself. And, yes, he did demand it. Kind of pushy for a 10 year old but I was proud of him.

Twelve years later, Noah is an adult. A college graduate. A fine cook with a sophisticated palate. I sent him to the Publix for some things I needed. And he came home with this:

Mini Ravioli

Now it’s called ravioletti, but it’s the same stuff. Maybe Buitoni lost the mini ravioli name because they were convinced Noah was still after them. But, no, he hasn’t gone away. And he doesn’t care what they call it.

Noah Mini Ravioli

Can you see that 10-year-old boy in there somewhere? I can.


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Pounding the Preacher

The parishioners of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church just ooze hospitality.  Recovering from surgery? We will break down your door to bring you a casserole. Need a ride to the doctor? We practically create a traffic jam getting to your house. We might as well run around with pineapples hung around our necks we’re so hospitable.

We are getting an interim rector to temporarily replace our beloved Father Bob. It’s an Episcopal thing. Priests, usually retired, specialize in shepherding the flock for a period of time while a new rector is chosen. And we have ours now. The Reverend Dr. J. Wesley Smith and his wife, Christina, moved into the rectory yesterday. And we were ready for him.

We revived an old custom called Pounding the Preacher – bringing our new spiritual leader a pound of this and a pound of that to stock his larder before he moved in. And this should give Father J. or Father Wesley or whatever he desires to be called an indication of what he has gotten himself into. As usual, we did it excessively. I hope we didn’t scare him off.



Seriously. Really. Nothing succeeds like excess. Wait until the reception after his first Sunday preaching. We have glass plate receptions and silver platter receptions. This will be a silver platter situation. The man has no idea.

I made my award-winning-in-my-own-mind Chicken Divan for the Pounding so the Smith’s would have a nice home-cooked meal on their first night in the rectory. In a disposable aluminum pan. That is the first rule of hospitality when it comes to banging down the door with a casserole. Never make the recipient wash a dish and have to return it.  We have many more rules. Iron-clad rules. But you have to know the secret handshake to get them.


Chicken Divan
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 1 Rotisserie chicken
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Milk to thin
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen French-cut green beans, thawed
  • 2 pouches Trader Joe's frozen organic brown rice
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Remove the chicken meat from the carcass and shred it. Reserve.
  3. Mix together the soup, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and curry powder.
  4. Add the cheese, combine thoroughly and add enough milk to thin the sauce.
  5. Microwave each rice pouch according to the package directions and put in the bottom of a casserole dish. Sprinkle the green beans over the rice. Mix the chicken in with the sauce and top the green beans. Finish by sprinkling the bread crumbs over the top.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes.


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Filed under casseroles, cheese, chicken

Music City Food and Wine: My Top Picks

Oh, I am so depressed. Almost suicidal. They let me in to the Disneyland of Food for two days and then shut the gates for almost a year. The Music City Food and Wine Festival has become one of the premiere food events in the nation in just two years. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have put on our big boy pants.

Fantastic demonstrations by world-famous chefs like Jonathon Waxman, Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Symon, Tyler Florence and Aaron Sanchez who then walk among you and exchange pleasantries. Regional chefs like Ashley Christensen, who is about to become a superstar, so approachable that when we told her we were going to make her tomato recipes that night, she gave us some heirloom tomatoes. And food by Nashville chefs who can hold their own with anyone in the nation.

Fueled by a wee bit of world-class wine, I grazed at the tables of 28 local chefs and I admit I grazed more than once at a few of them. It was all fantastic, but in the interest of time here are my Top Picks for best food at this year’s festival.

Butter Poached Lobster with Popcorn

Butter Poached Lobster with Popcorn by Kayne Prime

OMG. So simple and yet so delectable. The lobster was perfectly poached and then the popcorn soaked up all that lobster butter goodness. I went back four times.

Smoked Wagyu Short Ribs with Brussels Sprouts Slaw

Smoked Wagyu Short Ribs with Brussels Sprouts Slaw and Butternut Puree from Mason’s

This was my first taste of Wagyu beef and I went back multiple times. I hope that is not frowned upon.

Noodles with Sesame Chile Sauce and Cured Egg Yolk by Otaku South

Noodles with Sesame Chile Sauce and Cured Egg Yolk by Otaku South

I’m a sucker for noodles. This was one of Noah’s favorites because of the spicy chile sauce.

Duck Meat Loaf with Peach Jam from Etch

Duck Meat Loaf with Peach Jam from Etch

Seriously. The meatloaf was packed with spicy flavors. I could have eaten the whole meatloaf but I refrained.

Shaved beef, horseradish and green tomato jam on cornbread by The Capitol Grill

Shaved beef, horseradish and green tomato jam on cornbread by The Capitol Grill

Chef Tyler Brown has the coolest chops, literally and figuratively. He used beef from his own Double H Farms to make these delectable open-faced sandwiches. I love this dude so much that we dined on his food for Noah’s 21st birthday.

French Toast with Poached Pears from Sinema

French Toast with Poached Pears from Sinema

By the time I got to this little gem, I was literally too full to eat another bite and I gobbled down the whole beautiful piece of sugar-crusted French toast and a wine-poached pear.

Martin's Bar-B-Que and Friends

Martin’s Bar-B-Que and Friends

And how can you not love Pat Martin, who set up a cornucopia of grilling equipment, invited all his chef friends to help and turned out mass quantities of pork, chicken, fish and vegetables for two days. Well done, sir. Well done.

Yes, the tickets are expensive at $150 a day.  But the food, the instruction, the fun, the wine- so worth it. And this…priceless:

Noah with Morimoto

Noah with Morimoto

Noah started watching the original Iron Chef with me when he was a little boy. Because of Morimoto, he became fascinated with Japanese culture and food. He’s an advanced sushi eater and he got to watch Morimoto teach a primer on sushi. Money well spent.


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Filed under appetizers, beef, eggs, pasta, pork, sauces, snacks

Food nerds on parade

John Besh, Tim Love, Aaron Sanchez...and me!

John Besh, Tim Love, Aaron Sanchez…and me!

I pretend not to notice when Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are at my local Starbucks. I barely register a second glance when I run into Faith Hill and Tim McGraw at the Waffle House. I once stood next to Alison Krause at the check-out counter at an Indian restaurant and didn’t even know who she was (somebody told me later).

But here I was at the inaugural Music City Food and Wine Festival last year clamoring to wedge myself into a photo with John Besh, Tim Love and Aaron Sanchez. It’s embarrassing, really. Nerd. And I meticulously photographed everything I ate. Here’s The Catbird Seat’s take on bacon and eggs – thyme-infused custard with Benton’s bacon:

Bacon and Eggs NERD.

But I won’t be alone in my nerdiness this year. My son, Noah, and my good friend, Mary Ann, are coming with me. We will be nerds on parade.

I met Mary Ann in possibly the most unusual way ever. Back a few years ago, I became part of an all-girl competition BBQ team, Chicks in Charge, with two other friends. And I was discussing this on a BBQ bulletin board on the web when a complete stranger said she’d like to join the team.  Why the hell not? It was Mary Ann.

Me with Tatty and Mary Ann picking up a prestigious award in Mobile.

Me with Tatty and Mary Ann picking up a prestigious award in Mobile.

We did pretty good in our first contest in Mobile, something like 14th out of 70 teams. The team has since disbanded, but my friendship with Mary Ann has endured. There are very few people I would ask to spend $300 for tickets, plus airfare from Washington, D.C., to come to Nashville to eat all day and fawn over Food Network stars. I just love that girl. There are also very few people I know who are starstruck by Masaharu Morimoto, who will be at the festival. No, not Mary Ann. This guy:


Noah has been watching Morimoto since he was on the original Iron Chef and Morimoto is going to demonstrate how to make sushi, Noah’s favorite food. Nerd. Noah, not Morimoto.

Of course, I’m obsessing about all food all weekend since you never know. We might get hungry after a non-stop day of eating. So I’m laying in some steaks from The Butcher Block and vegetables from the Farmer’s Market and snacks like pub cheese, marcona almonds and designer olives from the Fresh Market. And I already have some mini croissants for Saturday morning, just to get those digestive juices flowing.

And I have not given this advice to Mary Ann and Noah yet, but I will. Wear your fat pants.


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Filed under appetizers, bacon, breakfast

Portobello Patty Melts with Comeback Sauce

Patty Melt 1

So bad and yet so good. A patty melt is just a hamburger on a piece of bread, but when you add comeback sauce to it…well it’s that whole new level thing.

Comeback sauce was invented in Mississippi and the name says it all – it’s so good you’ll want to come back for more. Down in Mississippi, they use it for sandwiches, salad dressings and just as a dip for something equally sinful like fried pickles.

I made this gut bomb of the hamburger world for my friends at Char-Broil. Hop on over and take a look. I think you’ll want to come back for another.

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