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I’ve been a full-time Hamptons resident for 15 years, yet I’m still caught by surprise when July Fourth weekend rolls around and Main Street in Sag Harbor becomes as congested as Broadway after a matinee. Dining out is difficult. Restaurants that do take reservations are booked weeks advance. Restaurants that don’t take reservations ask patrons to cool their heels at the bar or on the sidewalk into the wee hours. Since planning ahead is not my strong suit, and neither is patience, I simply don’t go to restaurants during the height of the season. Because of the bounty of vegetables I harvest at Quail Hill Community Farm, the increasing availability of local seafood, poultry and meat at the market, and house guests who expect homemade desserts because I’ve bragged about my baking expertise for years, I cook and entertain at home.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the simpler food pleasures that this unique area has to offer whenever I get the chance. Here are a few places where I enjoy summertime treats on the spur of the moment and without a hassle:

Bay Burger: Yes, you can dine at Bay Burger, an excellent drive-in restaurant where Joe and Liza Tremblay grind their own beef and bake their own hamburger buns. But I come here for the superb homemade ice cream (their slogan: “It’s from the Hamptons, so you know it’s rich”). The civic-minded owners often create new flavors for special occasions. To celebrate the John Jermain Memorial Library Centennial Celebration, they came up with the amazing Liberry — strawberry ice cream with raspberry swirls.

Blue Duck Bakery: Southampton’s own artisan bakery has a storefront on Hampton Road, but also delivers daily to two of my favorite haunts, Schiavoni’s Market and Pike Farms Stand. The seeded baguettes are so rich they could double as dessert. The Blue Duck also sells bread at the Sag Harbor Farmers Market every Saturday, but get there by 9:15 a.m. if you want to enjoy a croissant before they sell out.

Cavaniola’s Gourmet:  When this fantastic cheese shop opened just steps from my house I thought I was dreaming. Six years later, it has expanded to include prepared foods and interesting wines. My extremely spoiled children like to buy freshly fried potato chips and panini made with sopressata and fontal or asiago and artichokes here, elegantly packaged in butcher’s paper and twine, to take to Sagg Main Beach for lunch.

Channing Daughters Winery: I often stop by this award-winning boutique winery on my way home from Mecox Beach to sample at least six different wines while enjoying the view of the vines from the tasting room’s terrace. Members of the wine club (I am a proud one) drink for free. For nonmembers, the cost is $8, less than the price of a drink at the American Hotel.

Cilantro’s: Sag Harbor’s very own Mexican take-out place. I’ll pick up an order of Nachos Grande, with freshly made salsa and guacamole, for my family to eat on the patio as we take turns rinsing the sand from our feet after a day at the beach.

Cromer’s Country Market: During the rest of the year, I cherish Cromer’s for its expert butcher’s department. In the summer, I go there like everyone else for the best fried chicken east of the Shinnecock Canal.

Goldberg’s Bagels: My parents, visiting from New Jersey, typically shake their heads in disbelief at the summer crowds out here. In their opinion most of the food is “nothing special.” The exception is Goldberg’s bagels in East Hampton, where slightly sweet bagels with super-shiny crusts are made the old-fashioned way, poached and then baked.

Honeybee Café: A new favorite, this little cafe at Marders Nursery in Bridgehampton serves excellent espresso and sells Bees’ Needs organic honey and honey products (beekeeper Mary Woltz actually has some of her hives out back). After I’ve gotten my coffee buzz, I like to browse the garden shop, which has a great selection of hostess gifts, gardening books and fashionable rubber boots imported from France and England.

Horman’s Best Pickles: Horman’s pickles, artisanally made in Glen Cove by a scion of Long Island’s premier pickling family and sold at the Sag Harbor Farmers Market, are an only-on-Saturday treat (you can also buy them on Fridays at the East Hampton Farmers Market).  I like the spicy varieties — horseradish, jalapeno, wasabi — but there is something for everyone in the pickle barrels trucked in for the morning. Many shoppers actually prefer Horman’s pickles on a stick to Blue Duck croissants for breakfast.

coffee roasterJava Nation: Sag Harbor’s anti-Starbucks, Java Nation, is a hometown coffee roaster with ultra-fresh beans and a bit of an attitude. You can often find me (along with our village’s other coffee addicts) sipping their excellent iced coffee on the steps leading up to their small cafe off of Main Street. I wouldn’t buy my coffee anywhere else.

Plain-T: An oasis squeezed between an auto body shop and Riverhead Building supply in Southampton. Plain T began as a wholesale purveyor of fine organic teas to fancy places like the Regency and  Sant Ambroeus. Last summer, owners Tathiana and Alex Teixeira opened their chic white-washed showroom to the public, so anyone wishing to escape the heat can all pull up a stool to the rustic wooden bar and enjoy expertly brewed white, green, or black tea as well as Plain-T’s absolutely delicious and unique iced teas.

Sag Harbor Variety Store: We are fortunate to have an old-fashioned five-and-dime store right on Main Street, a one-stop shop for random items like canning jars, spray starch, flip flops, and contact paper. Near the cash register is an ice cream freezer filled with Fudgsicles, Creamsicles and strawberry shortcake Popsicles.

Zester Daily contributor Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated and The New York Times. She is the author of 14 books, most recently “Cake Keeper Cakes” (Taunton, 2009) and “Cookie Swap!” (Workman, 2010).

Photos, from top:

Bagels at Goldberg’s Bagels.

Joe & Liza’s ice cream truck.

Java Nation’s coffee roaster.

Credits: Lauren Chattman

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Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2009 Domaine Gerovassiliou G Malagousia

Price: $23
Epanomi, Macedonia, Greece
 100 percent malagousia
12.5 percent
Serve with:
 Grilled fish, summer salads

Greece has a bewildering number of native grape varieties with unpronounceable names, and many make simply stunning wines. The whites especially are worth discovering — like this delicious 2009 Domaine Gerovassiliou G made from Malagousia. It brims with very fresh, floral, almost jasmine-scented aromas and distinctive flavors of citrus and melon overlaid with a faint smokiness and minerality. Delicate yet intense, round yet crisp, and incredibly food friendly, it’s a perfect partner to grilled fish and summer salads.

The Malagousia grape very nearly died out completely. Evangelos Gerovassiliou, who started his eponymous winery in northern Greece just southeast of the city of Thessaloniki in 1981, is the one who rescued and revived it. At his estate, this pioneer who has led the country’s modern wine revolution cultivates the largest and oldest plantings of the varietal in Greece.

The rediscovery of Malagousia seems like some sort of strange miracle. Greece’s 300 or so ancient native grapes had nearly disappeared by the end of the 19thcentury because of the taxation of vineyards and Muslim prohibition of alcohol during the four centuries of Ottoman occupation.

In 1970, a Greek ampelography professor hunting for native grapes found the last Malagousia vine growing in a remote mountain village in a pergola, a trellis covered with vines designed to create a spot of shade. During the occupation, these provided enough grapes for farmers to make small amounts of wine without being taxed.

The professor brought cuttings of Malagousia — and many other varieties — to Porto Carras, the largest estate in Greece and the cradle of new winemaking. There winemaker Gerovassiliou propagated them in experimental vineyards.

The rest, as they say, is history. It took Gerovassiliou 25 years to establish the best clone at his own estate on a peninsula surrounded by the sea. The result is this unique crisp white with depth of flavor that shows just why Greek whites deserve to be more popular.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”

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Think of it as a mollusk dating service. The goal of the annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition is to find the West Coast wines best suited to hook up with an iced kumamoto or olympia as it slithers down a diner’s throat. The ideal wine, says Jon Rowley, who dreamed up the PCOWC in 1990 and has been wrangling and instructing judges ever since, will “exalt” the oyster. Could there be a more noble matchmaking endeavor?

Rowley was a restaurant consultant in the 1980s, a career that included what he calls “a nice niche putting together oyster programs and bars around the country.” When asked for advice on what wine to drink with the oysters,  “I’d find myself recommending French wines,” Rowley says. “The French know about that sort of thing.” But he got to thinking: With the West Coast wine scene booming, surely there must be American alternatives that would do a bivalve proud.

He turned his search into the inaugural PCOWC, held in Santa Monica, Calif. It was not a success. The judges included Russ Parsons from the Los Angeles Times; Ruth Reichl, who was the Times restaurant critic; the late Tom Stockley, a wine writer from the Seattle Times; and the late Michael Roberts, then chef of a restaurant called Trumps. “We met at Ocean Avenue Seafood,” Rowley remembers, “and everyone brought three wines. They weren’t very good.”  The team, valiant sorts, vowed to eat more oysters and drink more wine until they got it right.  Rowley solicited better bottles from West Coast wineries, charging a $35 entry fee. He broadened the reach, holding tastings in New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. The competitions were a hit, but Rowley was losing his shirt — the entry fees didn’t even cover his travel costs. He pulled the plug on the PCOWC.

After a three- or four-year hiatus (this is not the sort of operation that wastes valuable time on record books), demand for the resumption of the competition persuaded Rowley to up the wineries’ ante to $100. The esteemed PCOWC  has been back in business since.

Earlier this spring five Seattle judges winnowed 119 submitted wines to 20 semifinalists, downing 1,200 kumamotos in the process. (A judge has to do what a judge has to do.) They looked for crisp whites with a clean finish, genteel wines that wouldn’t get into fisticuffs with the oysters’ brininess or power slam the delicate sweetness of their spineless suitors. The judges emerged with a collection of sauvignon and chenin blancs, pinots gris and grigio, and a few signature blends, all of which showed potential for oyster dating.

A few weeks ago Rowley, who handles the marketing for Taylor Shellfish Farms, the sponsors of the PCOWC, met up with his L.A. judges at the Water Grill for the 17th annual competition.  The panel included Parsons, now the Los Angeles Times food editor, Mary Sue Milliken of the Border Grill; Lou Amdur, of L.A.’s beloved winecentric restaurant, Lou’s; the L.A. Weekly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Gold, Zester Daily contributor Patrick Comiskey and myself, among others. We took our places at separate tables, each with an iced platter of a dozen kumamotos set before 20 sparkling Reidel glasses tagged with letter-bearing stickers: A, B, C, etc. A  scoring sheet, pencil and sobering slices of bread completed the setting.

Rowley started the proceedings with a final reminder to look not for the best wine, but for the best oyster wine — a distinct category. Then, as PCOWC tradition requires, he read a quote from Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” the passage that long ago spurred Rowley’s love of oysters. “I closed up the story in my notebook and put it in my inside pocket,” the quote begins, “and I asked the waiter for a dozen of the Portugaises and a half carafe of the dry white wine they had there.”

As Rowley finished, Water Grill staff began pouring the first flight of wines from bottles swaddled in silver cellophane. For the next hour or so we exercised our best alchemical judgment in matching mollusk and minerality, vine and brine, notes of land and sea. Some judges judiciously used their spittoon, others of us couldn’t get a wine’s true measure until it ran by our tonsils. Some chewed and sipped thoughtfully, others instinctively. Some worked through the rows methodically, others zigzagged, retasting D to compare it to M, sipping S yet again to be sure. One judge was moved to perform intermittent chest-opening exercises, perhaps an indication of the stamina and fortitude required by the event, or maybe just a reaction to the onslaught of B-12.

We took notes, ranked and re-ranked until we each settled on our top 10 oyster wines. Our lists would eventually be combined with those from the Seattle and San Francisco tastings to calculate the PCOWC 2011 Wine Winners but at that moment, we had a quiet interlude of judging satisfaction. We hadn’t just tasted 20 crisp white wines and eaten oysters to our hearts’ content for personal gain or glory. We did it because it had to be done: What is a world in which oysters aren’t properly exalted, in which unsuitable wines rob them of their superlative bestness? We do this, selflessly, for oyster lovers everywhere, to steer them to the often unsung and eminently affordable whites (most under $20) that will make their raw bar visits that much more joyous.

As the waitstaff took up the glasses, we gathered with Rowley in the Water Grill’s bar to cleanse our weary palates — hefty glasses of ale all around. It’s likely nobody felt the relief of the competition’s close as much as the aptly named Abel, the restaurant’s premier shucker. He’d cut his way through more than 300 oysters in the name of invertebrate blind dating.

Margot Dougherty, the food editor for Los Angeles magazine for many years, is a freelance writer and Zester contributing editor living in Venice, California. Her work has appeared in Saveur, More, Town & Country and Conde Nast Traveler among other magazines.

Photo: Oysters on the half shell with a perfect white. Credit: Jon Rowley

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The bell rings, and a herd of famished students eagerly flock toward their gritty feeding ground. The school cafeteria: a raucous haven from the classroom, breeding area for youth entrepreneurship with insider “candy trading” policies, and now, combat zone against obesity?

One of the front-line soldiers in the battle is Chef Timothy Cipriano, the executive director of food services for New Haven, Conn., Public Schools, Cipriano has created a variety of programs to educate New Haven students on the benefits of fresh and healthy eating.

Cipriano worked with the First Lady and the White House on the Let’s Move campaign. In April of 2010, he was selected by President Barack Obama as one of two school nutrition chefs to attend the Childhood Obesity Summit.

Oft-referred to as “The Local Food Dude,” Cipriano’s one-sentence food philosophy is “Be a vocal local, buy locally grown; support the local economy.”

Tackling ‘typical’ desserts’

Cipriano’s nickname lauds his successful introduction of local produce into the school lunch program. In the New Haven school district where Cipriano works, the cafeteria does not serve what he calls “typical desserts” and opts for fresh, local, fruit and produce as delicious and healthy palette-cleansers. Somewhat sheepishly, Cipriano acknowledges that the cafeteria did stray from its healthy-food agenda during the Christmas holiday meal, when it served sugar cookies. But generally high-sugar, high-fat foods — even if made from local produce — are not on the menu. The point isn’t just to eat locally, it’s to make healthy decisions about local food.

He also introduced the Cooking Matters program “to educate people on how to not only shop via food stamps for the healthier, more nutritional alternatives but also to educate them on how to cook the same food.” Ultimately, Cipriano’s goal is “to end childhood hunger by opening up access to more food programs, and creating a model that is sustainable.”

A sustainable model for healthy school lunches will require more than the initiative of local food advocates, according to author Janet Poppendieck. Her book “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America” reviews school lunches and the policy that shapes them in the United States.

She is opposed to the current policy that she accuses of aiming $1.5 billion in food advertising at school-age children.

Ending stigma of free lunches

This “fundamental structure that makes children consumers” is largely problematic because it forces food service directors to provide children with the most “appealing” food that, as customers, they are most likely to buy. More often than not, this sort of food is junk food.

She also asserts in that a majority of the students who truly need school lunches for financial reasons do not participate in the program because of embarrassment.

In a Washington Post article, Poppendieck writes that “there is a stigma attached to free meals, which deters some families from applying and discourages some students from eating the meals for which they qualify.” Many students then choose to forgo waiting in the stigmatized free lunch line and instead opt toward the cheapest, often unhealthiest alternative sold in the cafeteria.

The current school lunch system, based on family income, is destructive, according to Poppendeick. Instead, she advocates for federally financed free meals for all children, regardless of family income. She acknowledges that this would cost close to $12 billion a year. In our era of budget-tackling policy reforms and tax cuts to public schools in many states, this option seems very unlikely.

Many Americans might balk at the suggestion to subsidize lunch for students, arguing that parents should provide for their own children. However, Poppendieck finds this explanation faulty. “We say: ‘Parents are responsible for feeding their own kids.’ We need to rethink that because many parents can’t feed their children nutritionally. The family structure has changed so drastically that we need to rethink the whole notion that this is the parent’s responsibility. The kids are in school at lunchtime. The school should nurture them.”

Alice Waters, in her essay “Slow Food, Slow Schools: Transforming Education Through a School Lunch Curriculum,” maintains that “our system of public education operates in the same strange, no-context zone of hollow fast-food values” as a museum cafeteria, and “what we are calling for is a revolution in public education — a real delicious revolution.”

Erica Hellerstein is a Berkeley, Calif., native and recent Johns Hopkins University graduate. She lives in New York City, where she is an intern for The Nation.

Photo credit: Lauri Patterson /

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Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2009 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Premier Cru Clos des Myglands

Price: $35
Burgundy, France
 100 percent pinot noir
13 percent
Serve with:
 rare roast beef, veal stew, grilled tuna steaks

Pinot noir fans hardly need to be told that the finest expressions of their favorite grape come from France’s Burgundy region. But there are side effects to this: scarcity and high prices. That’s why I’m always cheered when I come across an enticing example with a real-world price tag: The scented, savory-tart 2009 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Premier Cru Clos des Myglands — a wonderful mouthful of authentic burgundy from a super vintage, and a solid value at $35.

I know, we’re all conditioned to think that the best burgundies are made by little old wine-growers tending their tiny plots, but the reality is that a top-class negociant firm such as Domaine Faiveley, which dates from 1825, has the resources and skills to bring out the maximum from the wines it makes. Faiveley is one of the largest owners of classified vineyards in Burgundy. The Clos des Myglands is one of the firm’s monopoles (wholly owned vineyards). In this 14-acre parcel south of the village of Mercurey, the vines, some more than 40 years old, are planted in a mixture of clay and limestone soils.

Erwan Faiveley, a seventh-generation family owner, compares the 2009 vintage to ripe, full-bodied vintages like 1959 and 1964 — but better balanced. The plummy nose of this wine leads into a wine with a lush, rich texture and taste with just the right depth, bright, sappy fruit and well-integrated oak that doesn’t intrude. That’s doubtless due to the restrained aging program — the wine was kept in a combination of stainless steel and oak (only a third of which was new) for just over a year.

The wine has enough concentration to keep for several years, but I’d match its youthful tannic notes to rare roast beef, veal stew, or rich fish dishes such as grilled tuna steaks.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”

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Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

 2009 Viré-Clessé
Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon

 Mâcon, France
 100 percent chardonnay
13.5 percent
Serve with:
 scallops, chicken with cream and mushrooms


A decade ago, Mâcon whites were no-personality, bargain-basement chardonnays, but this intense and lemony Viré-Clessé, made by superstar Burgundy winemaker Dominique Lafon, shows just how much the region’s wines have changed. With its floral aromas and racy mineral, citrus and pear flavors, this rich, round wine has a balance, complexity and precision I rarely find in California examples of the world’s most popular white.

The Mâconnais is a district in southern Burgundy. It’s a wide valley with gentle hilly vineyards, picturesque villages, fields of Charolais cows and almost three times the acreage of chardonnay vines as the famous Côte d’Or, where Lafon manages his family estate (Domaine des Comte Lafon) in the village of Meursault.

In 1999, looking for less expensive terroir, he quietly began buying up acres of vines in the Mâconnais, bringing along his philosophy of biodynamic viticulture, low yields, hand-picking and gentle winemaking.

A key player in the region’s revitalization, Lafon now makes more than a half-dozen Mâcons, including several single vineyard bottlings, at his Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon domaine in the village of Milly-Lamartine. The 2009 Viré-Clessé is the latest addition, produced from vineyards that Lafon began renting from Château de Viré two years ago. Unlike the Côte d’Or, the Mâconnais has no premier and grand cru vineyards — at least not yet — but Lafon and other ambitious producers here have identified some of its sweet spots.

I tasted this new cuvée at February’s La Paulée de New York, a biannual Burgundy bash where 34 top producers were showing off some of their best wines. Lafon poured it alongside a couple of his famous rare Meursaults from 2008 that cost four times more. The 2009 vintage, Lafon told me, was the best ever for Mâcon. This wine shows it. Let me know what you think.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”

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Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2008 Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru

Price: $36
Chablis, France 
 100 percent Chardonnay
 As an aperitif, with shellfish, grilled fish, not-too-spicy Asian fare

Whenever I have the chance to taste chablis — and I mean the real thing, from France — I go for it. It’s the one wine that demonstrates why chardonnay doesn’t need an in-your-face overlay of oak flavor to be delicious. Yes, I know fermenting and/or aging the world’s best-known white grape in barrels can add nuance, but I find most New World winemakers can’t resist overdoing it, like chefs who over-salt their dishes. The result? Aggressive chardonnays that trade elegance for obviousness.

This Chablis allows the pure character of cool-climate chardonnay to shine through: it’s pale yellow-green in color, with hints of citrus peel and vague spice, and a round-textured green-apple, deep mineral-edged flavor framed by a lively, tart and lingering acidity.

The northernmost wine district in Burgundy, Chablis is noted for its clay and limestone soil containing tiny fossilized oysters. This bottling, from well-known negociant Joseph Drouhin, is a blend of Premier Cru vineyard parcels, all farmed biodynamically. The grapes from different parcels are kept separate and pressed in Chablis, then shipped to Drouhin’s cellars in Beaune where it’s put into used barrels for the alcoholic fermentation (new barrels would impart unwanted woody notes). After seven to nine months of aging, the final blend is assembled.

Thanks to ideal harvest conditions, the 2008 vintage is exceptional in Chablis, one of the best in years.

Although better known as a producer and negociant of Burgundies from the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, Drouhin began purchasing abandoned vineyards in Chablis in 1964 and is now a major property owner there. “Vaudon” on the label comes from the Moulin de Vaudon, an 18th-century watermill which serves as the headquarters of the Drouhin domaine in Chablis.

The firm produces 10 different chablis, including several Grand Cru vineyard bottlings with more intensely focused flavors, but the beauty of this blend is that it offers authentic chablis character for a very reasonable price.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”

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Compare Maya Angelou’s two cookbooks, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table,” published in 2004, and “Great Food, All Day Long: Cooking Splendidly, Eating Smart,” in December, 2010, and you’ll notice a transformation in Angelou’s cover photographs. She looks much slimmer in the recent picture.

“I lost 40 pounds,” said the distinguished writer and poet, who is scheduled to receive the 2010 Medal of Freedom award from President Barack Obama in a February ceremony.

According to Angelou, the pounds came off without a diet. “I didn’t deprive myself of anything,” she said in a recent telephone conversation. “I sampled all of the delicious recipes in my cookbook.”

How can this be with a recipe list composed of crown roast of pork, pork tacos, cheese pie and creme caramel?

“I didn’t skimp on butter or other ingredients typically eliminated in weight-loss diets,” Angelou said. “I’ve learned that good recipes made with best-quality ingredients turn out to be so flavorful that I can feel satisfied with less.”

Portion control

Experts agree that portion control and more frequent smaller meals may be a healthful answer for those looking to lose a few pounds. “Dr. Angelou’s eating plan is right on target,” said Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietician and nutritional consultant who moderates the Food Sleuth weekly radio program devoted to nutrition and food safety issues.Maya Angelou's cookbook 'Hallelujah! The Welcome Table'

“As a society, we’re often rushing so fast we don’t allow ourselves to sense fullness. Instead we keep eating the food in front of us. At the end of the day what counts is the amount of calories consumed. Portion control gives us time to notice when we’ve had enough,” Hemmelgarn said.

When Angelou entertains with Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day holiday menus, she says she includes several vegetarian recipes she has come to appreciate based on her close friendship with songwriters Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

“He’s a vegetarian and she eats a little bit of meat … Until I met Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford I had never thought it could be exciting to be creative and cook vegetarian food,” she says. Angelou named a chapter in her first book for the salad she created for them and said she prepares it for them each time they visit. It was a part of this New Year’s Day menu along with black-eyed peas and rice.

The holiday table

“Black-eyed and rice … that’s just what I call it … not Hoppin’ John, which I think is a regional term. I make the black-eyed peas and rice separately and serve the peas over rice. According to tradition, this dish ensures a healthy new year. We serve kale, mustard and other greens such as cabbage as a guarantee for wealth.”

Angelou said her guests are the most important New Year’s Day ingredients for her holiday celebrations.

“My holiday table always includes international people from different ethnic groups celebrating the fact that we are hanging in there together … going the distance.”

Advice for holiday cooks?

“Relax and enjoy your guests. Do the best you can and forgive yourself for any cooking mistakes should they happen. After you set the table with your best efforts, let your real pleasure come from looking around the table before breaking bread together and appreciating the similarities in your guests rather than the differences,” Angelou said.

“This new year, more than ever, we need to stop and appreciate the fact that we are more alike than our differences. We need to appreciate that we are all one people.”

Ashford Salad

Adapted from “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table.” Serves 6 to 8


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 avocado, peeled, diced
1 large tomato, cut into small wedges
1 large English cucumber, sliced
2 heads Romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves removed


  1. Mix oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and garlic in a large salad bowl.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Mash avocado with potato masher, and mix with ingredients in salad bowl.
  4. Mix in tomato and cucumber.
  5. Break lettuce into large pieces and toss into salad bowl.
  6. Mix vigorously with salad tongs until each lettuce leaf has been flavored with dressing.

Donna Pierce is a Chicago-based food writer specializing in Southern, soul and Creole foodways. A contributing editor with Upscale magazine and a former assistant food editor and test kitchen director with the Chicago Tribune, Donna is the founder of and will soon launch for community cooks of all cultures and nationalities.

Images, from top:

Book cover of “Great Food All Day Long: Cooking Splendidly, Eating Smart” by Maya Angelou.

Book cover of “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table” by Maya Angelou.

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