Sausage and Hominy Stew

So, I haven’t cooked much lately. I started a new, part-time job in the marketing department at Lynchburg College, and I’ve been busier than usual. I also started playing tennis recently, which I love, so that’s kept me busy a couple of nights a week, too.

And I run, and I’m writing a book, and I’m still doing some freelance writing for some local magazines. And sometimes, I like to take naps. So, we’ve been eating out a lot more than usual, but this past Sunday I felt compelled to cook.

Even though it’s not officially fall yet and is expected to be in the 80s this week, likely with high humidity, I really wanted to make stew. I thought maybe we’d just turn the AC up while eating it or chase the stew with lots of Dos Equis (best idea).

For a good recipe, I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Tammy Algood’s “Southern Slow Cooker Bible.” I chose the sausage and hominy stew. I’ve made it before, but as usual I changed a couple of small things in the ingredients and the process.

For example, the recipe calls for two pounds of smoked sausage. Because smoked sausage came only in 13- or 14-oz. packages at my grocery store, I ended up with slightly less than two pounds. I also bought one chicken sausage and one pork sausage. At first, I thought that might be weird, but then I thought of Kentucky burgoo, which uses beef, pork and chicken.

I’m determined to make burgoo sometime this year, maybe for Christmas dinner. Every recipe I’ve seen makes a vat of it, so you can’t just make it for two people. That’s way too much burgoo, unless it freezes well, of course.

Another change I made to the sausage and hominy stew recipe was using chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. As a side note, I almost always type “brother” when typing “broth” and have to backspace twice. I have no idea why I do that. Maybe it’s the Universe saying I should call one of my brothers.

Anyway, I also used two cans of yellow hominy instead of one white and one yellow, like the recipe calls for. And I didn’t use the fresh cilantro, or any cilantro for that matter. Husband John isn’t crazy about cilantro — which I seem to want to spell “cilantry” today — so I almost never put it in recipes. It’s not a great sacrifice. I’m not nuts about it either.

I also boiled the potatoes in advance because last time I made this stew I had to cook it extra long to make the potatoes soften. Sometimes, potatoes act weird in the slow cooker.

sausage stew pic
Sausage and hominy stew 

So, here’s what I made, with the changes:

Sausage and Hominy Stew
(8 servings)

2 pounds smoked sausage, thickly sliced (whatever kind interests you or is on sale)
6 small, red potatoes, cubed and boiled (don’t peel)
About a cup of frozen, sliced carrots
3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 (15-oz.) cans of yellow hominy (drained and rinsed)
1 (4.5-oz) can of chopped green chiles (whatever heat you like)
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. dried oregano

Boil potatoes and then throw them and everything else on the list into the slow cooker. Mix ingredients together. Cover and cook for 6 hours on high.

Note: The original recipe said 8 hours on low and it also said to lightly grease the slow cooker, which I forgot to do. I’ve found that greasing the slow cooker is mostly about cleanup afterwards. I also decided to go with high heat this time because I wanted to eat this for dinner and didn’t get started until about 12:30 p.m.

Road Trip!

Soon, my friend, Paula, and I will head to Mississippi for a week of searching old courthouse records and archives, and maybe even knocking on some doors. We’ll be looking for evidence of William Macon Waller and the slaves he sold in the towns of Raymond and Natchez in 1848.

If you’re new to the blog, for the past couple of years I’ve been transcribing and researching letters that Amherst County, Va., slaveholder William Macon Waller wrote while taking a group of his slaves from Virginia to Mississippi.

My goal is to write a book telling this story.

Waller and his slaves took the overland route, traveling through Virginia, Tennessee and likely Alabama before entering Mississippi’s eastern state line at Columbus. The slaves, including several children, walked 25 or 30 miles a day for 900 or so miles.

According to the letters, it appears Waller rode along on a horse or mule.

This is what the group might have looked like as they traveled to Mississippi. Credit: Slave coffle, traveling from Virginia to Tennessee. Lewis Miller, Sketchbook of Landscapes in the State of Virginia, 1853-1867. Courtesy, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.

Waller was selling his slaves to pay debts he had at home. On the advice of friends and family, he sold them in the deep South because prices were better in cotton country.

In Raymond, he sold “Sarah and child,” Henry, and three sisters named Lucy, Louisa and Sarah Ann.

forks in road
It’s possible Waller sold some of his slaves at the “Forks of the Road,” a huge slave market in Natchez. Today, there are interpretive signs and memorials at the site.

In Natchez, he sold Ellin, India, Pleasant and Charlotte — all children — along with Anderson (also called Tups), Susan, “Nelson and wife,” “Piney Woods Dick” and “Runaway Boots.”

There were four or five others, but I don’t know their names. It’s possible, they included individuals named McDonald and Emily, but I’m still working on identifying whether they were along on this journey or not.

I’ve included the slaves’ names because, first of all, they weren’t just “Waller’s slaves.” They were people with lives and families. Some, including the girl India, were forced to leave their families in Virginia.

Also, there might be someone out there who recognizes these names or this story from their own family’s oral or written history. If so, I’d like to hear from you. I’d like to tell you more about what your great-great-great-relative survived and share details about their life that you might not know.

Of course, all of this travel and research will make me and Paula hungry, so we’ll also be eating some good food in Mississippi. Hopefully, we’ll hit at least one spot on Garden & Gun magazine’s “Fried Chicken Bucket List.”

And then there are the tamales. Apparently Mississippi is famous for them. Really, it’s a thing. There’s a festival and everything. So, in Natchez, we’ll drop by Fat Mama’s Tamales.

Husband John and I ate at Fat Mama’s a couple of years ago, while traveling home from a wedding in Louisiana. It was definitely worth the detour, as was the town of Natchez, which is an architectural showplace perched above the Mississippi River.

big house
One of the many old mansions in downtown Natchez.

In the spring and fall, Natchez hosts Pilgrimage, when many of its historic houses are open for tours. Paula and I will arrive in town the week after spring Pilgrimage ends, but that’s OK, because we’ll be staying at a historic plantation called Glenfield.

Glenfield, previously called Glencannon, was once owned by William Cannon. According to another letter I’ve transcribed — this one written by a man named James Ware, who helped Waller find buyers for his slaves — Cannon bought the aforementioned Piney Woods Dick and Runaway Boots.

While Cannon didn’t buy the Gothic revival cottage until about three years after Waller came to Natchez, it’s possible that Piney Woods Dick and Runaway Boots lived and worked at Glencannon. So, as you might imagine, we had to stay there.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for photos and (hopefully) a report of amazing historical and culinary discoveries on the road.

John and I drove a few miles up the Natchez Trace, an old trade route and now a scenic highway. Along the way, I yelled for him to pull over so I could see a live armadillo. There are lots of dead ones between Tennessee and Mississippi, so I was glad to see this tiny live one along the roadway. It was really hard not to reach down and pet it. 


A visit to the Virginia Historical Society (and doughnuts)

A visit to the Virginia Historical Society (and doughnuts)

Recently,  my good friend and fellow blogger Paula and I traveled to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. I needed to look at some letters for a project I’m working on, and Paula — lured by the prospect of going to Sugar Shack for doughnuts and just getting out of town in general — agreed to come along.

Prior to visiting the VHS, I had to buy a membership. Because I’m a researcher, I was able to get an annual academic membership, which costs $50. I could have paid less for a short-term membership, but figured this would not be my last trip to Richmond.

Before leaving home, I also filled out the forms required to research and take photos. Because research is so tedious and time-consuming, I wanted to be able to take photos of the documents, rather than make copious, handwritten notes. Filling out the forms in advance would save me valuable time for research once I got to the VHS.

After stopping at one of Sugar Shack’s locations on the outskirts of Richmond — the apple cake doughnut rocks, by the way — Paula and I went to the VHS. We found the parking to be free and plentiful, which was a big plus. I’m a freelance writer and researcher, but often not a paid one, so anything free is awesome.

Once inside, I ordered the records from one of the librarians and got to work.

For a couple of years now, off and on, I’ve been transcribing letters that Amherst County, Va., slave owner William Macon Waller wrote to his family and friends while taking a group of slaves to Mississippi. They traveled the overland route through Virginia, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Waller and the slaves — India, Ellin, Henry, Sarah, Lucy, Louisa, Sarah Ann, Susan, Emily, McDonald, Nelson, Foster, Anderson and others — traveled more than 900 miles during the fall and winter of 1847 and 1848.

From what I’ve read in the letters, Waller rode a horse or mule most of the time, while the slaves — some young children — walked 20 to 30 miles a day.

This drawing, made in the mid-1800s by Lewis Miller, shows what the Waller party might have looked like. The original is in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.

One of my goals with this project is to find descendants of the slaves so I can tell them what an amazing and brave walk their ancestors made almost 170 years ago. I haven’t found any descendants yet, but I’m hopeful I will.

In transcribing the letters, of which I had only photocopies, there were words and in some cases big passages I couldn’t read. My hope was that seeing the originals I could fill in the blanks. With Paula’s help — “Does this word look like ‘murmuring’ to you? — we’d filled in all the blanks we could in a couple of hours.

It’s a good thing, too, because I find transcribing old handwriting somewhat exhausting, and didn’t know if I could hold out if it took six or eight hours.

One might say, “Exhausting? Seriously?” Sure, it’s not ditch digging, but staring at handwritten documents, trying to figure out, by looking at the letters or through the context — or both — what someone wrote (and meant by it) almost two centuries ago is quite tiring. At least it is to me. Maybe I’m wimpy, who knows?

Since we were done early, Paula and I had the opportunity to spend a little time exploring the collections of the VHS. In addition to the research library, there’s a museum that has lots of information and artifacts concerning Virginia history and material culture.

One thing we saw was the “Woodson musket,” a 7-foot-long musket that was supposedly used by a Lt. Col. Thomas Ligon to defend the Woodson home, in Prince George County, Va., from an Indian attack in 1644.

The Woodson musket, third from top. Virginia Historical Society.

Another story I’ve read is that while Ligon — who’s also been described as a “shoemaker” and “schoolmaster” — used the musket, Sara Woodson — some kind of great-great-great relative of mine — “brained” and threw boiling water on Indians that climbed down the chimney.

While Sara did this, one of her sons hid in a “potato hole” and the under a washtub. Because of this, Woodson descendants are known as either “potato hole” or “washtub” Woodsons. Right this second, I can’t remember which one I am. I’m thinking “potato hole” but could be wrong.

Sara’s husband Dr. John Woodson was killed during the uprising, reportedly within sight of his home.

The “Crown of Thorns” bureau or chest of drawers. Virginia Historical Society.

In another room at the VHS, there was a circa 1890 chest of drawers that’s been called the “Crown of Thorns.” This “tramp art” piece obviously got its name from its spiky appearance.

Here’s the VHS’s description of it:

A folk type popularized by African Americans “Tramp Art” took its name from its use of ordinary woods. This type embodied the ideals of this period: it was new and expressive with varied surfaces and materials and abundant decoration. This piece was owned by George G. Lander, a black physician in Lynchburg.

Paula, a much more avid housekeeper than I am, pointed out that it would be a nightmare to dust. Indeed, it would be.

Paula and I also visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It’s located next door to the VHS and has free admission. The VMFA currently has an exhibition of Faberge items, many of which belonged to the last Russian royal family, the Romanovs.

Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra, along with their children, were executed in 1918 during the Russian Revolution. Many of the Fabrege items owned by the Romanovs were later acquired by Lillian Thomas Pratt. In 1947, Pratt bequeathed hundreds of Fabrege items to the VMFA. If you’re a fan of Russian history or just opulent objects, it’s worth a look.

Christmas Country Captain

Although I was born in Ohio, I’ve spent most of my life in the South, specifically South Carolina and for the last 20 years Virginia. I know that doesn’t officially qualify me as a Southerner — darn it — but to the depths of my soul I feel more Southern than Midwestern.

I have lots of Southerners in my family tree, some of which I’ve written about on this blog, and my research interests lie almost entirely in the antebellum South. I subscribe to Garden & Gun and The Bitter Southerner, for goodness sake, but I know none of this matters.

Like I said, I was born in Ohio and true Southerners are sticklers about these things. But despite my shortcomings, I’m a big fan of Southern cuisine, particularly Lowcountry and Creole food.

For a few years after college, I lived in Charleston, South Carolina, which is famous for its Lowcountry cuisine — shrimp and grits and that sort of thing. Because I worked as a newspaper reporter and then a police officer while I lived there, I could never afford to eat at Poogan’s Porch, 82 Queen, or any of those iconic Lowcountry restaurants.

You might expect that to be followed by, “So, I bought a copy of ‘Charleston Receipts’ and learned to make shrimp and grits!” but I wasn’t much of a cook back then. Thinking about it, I don’t remember cooking anything fancier than the occasional holiday turkey before age 40.

Thinking about it further, I don’t think I really started cooking, at least not anything interesting, until I was laid off from my marketing job in 2009. After that, as a freelance writer, I had more time to cook. Working at home, I could start dinner at 3 p.m. instead of arriving home at 5:30 or 6, hungry and with no interest in cooking for two hours.

So, except for the money thing, I guess losing that job wasn’t a complete loss. Huh.

Enough on that. What I’m really blogging about today is chicken country captain, the dish I’m making for Christmas dinner on Sunday. I’ve made it a couple-three times before, including for Christmas two years ago. Hopefully, no one minds the repeat.

Country captain is an old recipe, originating during the Colonial period. It found its way to the Lowcountry from British-occupied India. According to the “Food Lover’s Companion,” country captain is “said to have taken its name from a British army officer who brought the recipe back from his station in India.”

Generally speaking, country captain is a slow-cooked stew consisting of chicken, onions, peppers, celery, tomatoes, raisins or currants, slivered almonds, and curry powder and other spices. It’s served over rice.

The list of ingredients is about 8 inches long, but don’t be intimidated by that. It’s not difficult to make. It doesn’t have to be all that expensive either. For example, the recipe I use calls for three pounds of chicken breasts and two pounds of thighs, but I’m using all thighs.

Thighs are less expensive and better tasting, in my opinion, anyway.

It calls for two-and-a-half cups of white wine, so I bought a $6 bottle of Pinot Grigio. That should work fine. That said, my wine advice: Don’t buy anything for cooking that you wouldn’t want to drink the rest of.

Onions, peppers and celery are relatively cheap, and it’s likely most of the spices are already in your pantry. My recipe also calls for a pound of breakfast sausage, and you can go as plain or as fancy as you want with that.

It serves 12 to 16 people and freezes wonderfully, so the 20 bucks you might spend results in several meals, depending on the size of your family.

There are many recipes out there for country captain. The one I use was created by native Southerner and celebrity chef Alex Hitz. It ran in House Beautiful magazine a few years ago.

As he puts it, it’s been “revved up … for today’s foodie palates.” To be honest, this is the only country captain I’ve ever made (or eaten), but I don’t plan to switch recipes. It’s perfect.

Happy Holidays and happy eating!

Chicken Country Captain

(Serves 12 to 16)


1 pound bulk pork sausage, mild
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) salted butter, divided
3 cups medium-diced white or yellow onions
1 cup medium-diced red bell pepper
1 cup medium-diced celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
¾ cup flour
2½ cups tomatoes, peeled (I use good-quality canned ones)
5½ cups chicken stock
2½ cups white wine
½ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups golden raisins
4 cups cooked rice
¾ cup snipped chives
1½ cups toasted slivered almonds
½ cup chopped parsley


  1. In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, fully breaking it up, and then drain off the excess fat. Reserve.
  2. Wash the chicken breasts and thighs and pat them dry. Place them in a mixing bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the black pepper.
  3. In another large, heavy skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the chicken and sear it in batches on both sides until it is brown on the surface but still raw inside, about three minutes per side. Remove chicken from the heat, let it rest for at least five minutes, and then cut it into approximately 1½-inch chunks and reserve it in a bowl. Do not worry that the chicken is still raw on the inside, as it will finish cooking later.
  4. In a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the onions and sauté for three minutes, until they start to get soft. Then add the peppers and celery, and sauté for another three minutes. Add the garlic, the remaining tablespoon of salt, the remaining teaspoon of pepper, the dark brown sugar, and the curry, thyme, cumin, and ginger and continue to sauté these ingredients until the onions are translucent, approximately four to eight more minutes. Add the cooked sausage, then the flour, and stir the mixture thoroughly. It will become very thick.
  5. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, wine, lemon juice, vinegar, and raisins and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to simmer for five more minutes.
  6. Add the chicken and simmer the mixture for five more minutes, until the chicken is completely cooked through, and then turn off the heat. Stir in the cooked rice, chives, almonds, and parsley and serve it with buttered crusty French bread.

Walk (and eat) your way across Santa Fe

Walk (and eat) your way across Santa Fe

If we hadn’t walked to the Bataan Memorial Museum, we wouldn’t have eaten “Santa Fe’s Best Hot Dog.” It’s that simple: when you walk instead of drive, you’re more likely to stop at a take-out window for Chicago-style hot dogs smothered in green chiles and cheese. Or see the world’s biggest raccoon, eating pears.

OK, maybe I’d better stop at the pear-eating raccoon and back up.

One year, for our annual trip to New Mexico, my sister, Theresa, and I decided not to rent a car. Unlike past trips, we wouldn’t spend our days driving through the Land of Enchantment, stopping to take photographs, chase tumbleweeds, bird watch, visit ancient ruins and eat green chile cheeseburgers at roadside diners.

Nope, that year we decided to do something more relaxing: hole up in Santa Fe for a week. We’d visit our favorite restaurants, shops, museums and galleries, and the ones we’d meant to see on past trips. We’d experience all “The City Different” had to offer, and we’d do it all on foot.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

So, in late November of that year, Theresa and I flew to Albuquerque. We caught a shuttle to the Inn on the Alameda and by lunchtime we were sitting at our favorite Santa Fe bar, Del Charro Saloon, eating green chile cheeseburgers.

We discovered Del Charro a few years years ago. Although not completely devoid of tourists — obviously, we were there — Del Charro feels like Santa Fe’s equivalent of “Cheers.” It’s a few blocks from our hotel and most everything on the menu is less than $10. The house margarita is a steal at $7, and because you’re walking, you can have [almost] as many as you like.

El Santuario de Guadalupe

Over the next week, Theresa and I walked to the historic rail yard and farmer’s market. We shopped for vintage western wear and visited El Santuario de Guadalupe, one of several old, adobe churches in Santa Fe worth seeing.

We walked to the Bataan Memorial Museum, dedicated to the Filipino and American soldiers who made the “Bataan Death March” during World War II. It was on the outskirts of downtown, but we figured if 75,000 soldiers could walk 60 or 70 miles under torturous conditions, we could walk to a museum two miles away that honored them.

Chicago Dog Express

En route, we discovered Chicago Dog Express, home of the aforementioned “Santa Fe’s Best Hot Dog.” (And indeed, they are.) On the way back, we stopped at a corner grocery store, Kaune’s, that sells local foods at prices far less than gift shops on the historic, tourist-infused plaza.

Quick travel tip: When looking for local edibles, skip the gift shops and head to a grocery store or farmers market.

We went to the Spanish Colonial Art and International Folk Art museums on Museum Hill. For full disclosure purposes, because Museum Hill was two miles away and we had a full itinerary that day, we cheated and took a $1 city bus instead of walking.

We walked Canyon Road, a mile-long arts district where you can buy everything from Peruvian folk art to a $137,000 Mary Cassatt painting. We ventured onto Garcia Street, a historic neighborhood with an array of New Mexican Territorial-style homes.

We discovered this tiny chapel on a hillside, outside the tourist district.

We walked down East Alameda Street, turned left on a gravel road and crossed a well-traveled gully up to Cerro Gordo Road. There, on a hillside sits a tiny chapel built in 1928 as a tribute to San Ysidro, patron saint of farmers.

We went to the annual Winter Spanish Market — now held in Albuquerque — where artisans sold retablos, colcha embroidery, straw appliqué, tin work and other examples of traditional Spanish Colonial art. We shopped for Native American jewelry at the Palace of the Governors and visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

The Palace of the Governors, where Native Americans from all over New Mexico sell handmade jewelry, pottery and other artwork. Prices are usually more reasonable than the shops, plus you’re buying directly from the artist.

We sat on the plaza, listening to three old hippies sing classic rock songs. We also walked the labyrinth at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and stopped for bizcochitos, the New Mexican state cookie, at three separate bakeries.

And while walking to the plaza one night, we saw the biggest raccoon on the planet, eating pears. It was round as a barrel and seemed much more interested in gobbling pears that had fallen from a nearby tree than in the pair of tourists looking at it. We watched the hungry raccoon for a minute or so, then ambled off toward the plaza.

It was near-Christmas, after all. The plaza was strung with lights and just a short walk away.

Santa Fe plaza, decorated for the holidays. If you were there, you’d also smell spicy pinon wood, burning in fireplaces all over the historic district.


Here’s the recipe I use for bizcochitos. It makes about two dozen of the anise-seed sugar cookies. There are many variations — some people use wine, others orange juice, some whisky or brandy, and some spell it “biscochito.”


1/2 cup vegetable shortening, lard or unsalted butter or margarine (I use lard.)
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. aniseed (or 1/8 tsp. anise seed extract) (I prefer seed.)
1 tbsp. brandy
1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp. cinnamon for dredging


Preheat oven to 350 and have 2 ungreased cookie sheets ready. Combine the first 5 ingredients in the food processor and blend until the shortening and the sugar are creamed, about 5 to 10 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. With a fork, mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Still using the fork, add the shortening mixture from the processor and keep blending until no loose flour appears in the bowl and the cookie dough begins to draw into a mass.

At this point, you can either pat out 2 1/2-inch rounds, just under 1/4 inch thick, or you can chill the dough for 15 minutes and then roll it out onto a lightly floured board with a rolling pin. Rolling out enables you to cut fancy shapes if you like. A quick method is to place a tablespoon of dough on the board and flatten it into a circle with the bottom of a glass or cup.

However you shape them, dredge one side of the bizcochitos in the cinnamon sugar and arrange close together on the cookie sheet with the sugared side up. Bake 10 minutes or until the cookies turn a pale blond. Cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cookies cut thicker than 1/4 inch will be softer, once baked, than thin cookies. The dough can also be baked at 375 for 15 minutes, in which case the cookies will be browned and crisp. Store in a cookie jar or paper bag, where they will keep for at least a week.

(A version of this article also appeared in WalkAbout Magazine in 2013.)

Richmond Road Trip: Research and Doughnuts

Richmond Road Trip: Research and Doughnuts

Recently, I drove to the Library of Virginia in Richmond to do some research for a couple of projects I was working on, including a story I posted last week about the Mamie Feimster murder.

Because road trips are no fun by yourself, and because having someone to yell directions at you from the passenger seat also is a plus, I invited my sister, Theresa, along.

Neither of us had ever been to the Library of Virginia before, so the first thing we had to do was get Library of Virginia cards. It was easy — and free, always good — and took just a few minutes.

After that, we were directed to a research room, where I used my card to request some records. While Theresa watched videos on her smart phone, including this one of a cute monkey eating a watermelon, I did some research.

First, I looked at papers from the Virginia Penitentiary, where I hoped to find information about Lythia Brown Buckwalter, who murdered Mamie Feimster and was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

I heard she escaped sometime near the end of her sentence, but I didn’t find any evidence of that.

Admittedly, I later discovered that Buckwalter served only seven of the 16 years, so I might have been looking in the wrong date range. By that time, however, the records had been re-filed.

I also was getting “hangry” and needed to eat something before I did one more second of research — or ripped someone’s head from their shoulders (not literally, of course).

The other thing I was looking for that day were Lynchburg coroner’s inquests from the late 1800s. A box of these records is in the library’s collection. Inside, I hoped to find mention of the Court Street Baptist Church tragedy, which I blogged about recently.

Alas, I came up empty handed there, too.

After having some lunch in the library’s cafe, Theresa and I thought we’d head over to the Virginia Historical Society, where I had other research to do.

The research concerns William Macon Waller, an Amherst County, Va., slave owner who walked about two dozen of his slaves to Natchez, Miss., in 1847-48. I haven’t blogged specifically about Waller yet, although he was mentioned in this post about the Virginia Dwarf Family, a family of traveling performers he encountered in Wythe County, Va., en route to Mississippi.

Upon arriving at the historical society, however, we learned it would be open for only two more hours that day. Nathaniel Philbrick, author of one of my favorite books, “In the Heart of the Sea,” would be appearing there that evening and so the library was closing at 4 p.m.

Because the historical society charges a research fee and I had a full day’s worth of work to do, I decided it would be better to come back when I could get more bang for my buck.

There were Dale Chihuly sculptures behind the art museum.

With a couple of hours left before we had to head back to Lynchburg, Theresa and I walked next door to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I’d never been there before and admission was — yippee! — free.

We walked around the museum for a while, admiring the artwork and decorative items. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we spent most of it looking at American art from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We also saw that a Faberge exhibit was opening the next week, giving me another reason to return to Richmond soon.

Sugar Shack Donuts, AKA Doughnut Heaven

On our way out of town, we stopped by Sugar Shack Donuts. Theresa had read about Sugar Shack online and I can never resist a good doughnut. My husband, John, and I have been known to drive two or three hours out of our way to go to Ralph’s Donuts, in Cookeville, Tenn. Ralph’s has an excellent maple-frosted cake doughnut.

We went to Sugar Shack’s original shop on North Lombardy Street in Richmond. The outside is unassuming — a painted stucco building on a crowded corner with limited parking — but inside was a glorious assortment of doughnuts.

According to the friendly staff, Sugar Shack doesn’t post a menu because the offerings change every 15 minutes. That day, there were dozens of different kinds available, among them pumpkin and chocolate cake, “Tastes like a Samoa” (it does), and doughnuts with candy bar and cereal toppings.

Theresa and I each ordered a half-dozen to take home, and somehow, they survived the two-hour drive before I ate any of them. Once home, between me and John, they were gone within 12 hours. Next time, I’m coming home with a dozen.

What the Hell is Jezebel sauce?  

What the Hell is Jezebel sauce?  

A few weeks ago, my sister, Theresa, and I went to Green Front Furniture in Farmville, Va. We go there every so often to look at and occasionally buy oriental rugs, one of the things Green Front is known for.

While I’m personally fond of finding my oriental rugs at antique or yard sales (or on the curb in the historic district), all of my new ones were purchased at Green Front.

This antique oriental rug, “sourced” curbside, now graces my entryway. It was thrown out with other “junk,” including a Griswold cast iron skillet, which I also picked up, re-seasoned and use to fry eggs. What’s that they say about one man’s trash?

In addition to rugs, Green Front sells a lot of furniture and home decor items. You also can find items I’d describe as “gifty,” like jars of Jezebel sauce.

You might ask, “What the Hell is Jezebel sauce?”

Jezebel sauce is a spicy-sweet condiment made from apple jelly, pineapple (or apricot) preserves, horseradish, dry mustard, black pepper and red pepper flakes. It can be used for lots of things, but one of the most popular uses for Jezebel sauce is to pour it over a block of cream cheese and eat it with crackers.

One might wonder why such a wonderful-sounding concoction is named for a biblical queen who, after being an utterly terrible person, was thrown from a window and eaten by stray dogs. I can’t answer that question.

Recently, I saw Jezebel sauce on the menu at Scratch Biscuit Company, a new biscuit restaurant in Roanoke. I’d heard about Scratch Biscuit a few months ago, but finally went there this past week with my friend, Adrienne.

I ordered the Jezebel Biscuit — of course — which consisted of a cat-head-sized biscuit filled with country ham, pimento cheese and Jezebel sauce.

The Jezebel Biscuit: a heavenly mixture of flaky, savory, sweet and spicy.

That biscuit was so good. Not being a food writer, I don’t quite know how to say it any better. Just so, so, so, so good. It was so worth the hour-long drive. Adrienne got the fried Cajun catfish biscuit and also declared it a winner.

Next time, I’ll try the catfish biscuit, topped with Scratch Biscuit’s special “Satan’s Snot” hot sauce. You’re right, “Satan’s snot” doesn’t sound very appetizing, but Adrienne thought it was a good complement to the catfish.

I didn’t buy that $4.50 jar of Jezebel sauce at Green Front, but I probably should have because it’ll likely cost me more to make it than to buy it. I did find a recipe for it, though, in my copy of “The Complete Southern Cookbook,” by Tammy Algood.

This is my favorite cookbook, although I obviously hadn’t perused it enough over the past few years to know it contained a recipe for Jezebel sauce. It’s organized by ingredient, A to Z, and includes many old southern standbys, among them a to-die-for coconut cake and a whole chapter on macaroni and cheese.

Here’s the recipe for Jezebel sauce:

Jezebel Sauce

Yield 1 1/2 cups

1 (5-ounce) jar apple jelly
1 (5-ounce) jar pineapple preserves
1/3 cup prepared horseradish
1/2 T. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Directions: In a medium bowl, whisk together the jelly, preserves, horseradish, mustard, black pepper and red pepper. Whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Algood also wrote my second-favorite cookbook, “The Southern Slow Cooker Bible.” And since we’ve talked a lot about biscuits here, I’ll just go ahead and recommend “Southern Biscuits,” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart. This book has every biscuit recipe imaginable, along with recipes for things to make out of, with and to serve atop biscuits.

By the way, Theresa and I also go to Farmville to eat at Walker’s Diner, which has a great eggs-and-bacon breakfast and a friendly staff, among other things.

The High Bridge Trail, a great place to bike, also runs through Farmville. Its namesake bridge was built in 1854, and apparently both Union and Confederate troops tried to burn it down during the Civil War.

Farmville also has a few cute antique shops, an art gallery and Longwood University, where the recent vice-presidential debates were held. It’s just an all-around nice place to visit.

New Mexican Green Chile Stew

I love New Mexico. Anyone who knows me well knows that, and I try to visit the Land of Enchantment as often as possible, which ends up being about once a year. I even have a T-shirt — created by my sister, Theresa, who also loves New Mexico — that says, “I’m a better version of myself in New Mexico.”

And it’s true. I am.

Every time I visit, which has been about 14 times over the past 10 years, I come back renewed in spirit and with all sorts of ideas. I return home determined to finish whatever ambitious writing project I’m working on or create the folk art masterpiece that’s been lolling around in my head for months.

Sometimes the feeling lasts; sometimes it doesn’t. OK, oftentimes it doesn’t. Life gets in the way and those projects take the back burner until my next trip to New Mexico, when I’ll dream big dreams and come home with big plans.

One thing that has stuck around between trips is my love for New Mexican cuisine, particularly green chile stew, a popular dish in New Mexico. The spicy, slow-cooked concoction of green chiles, potatoes and pork is one of my favorite meals.

In fact, I’m eating it right now. As I write this blog post. Yes, I really am.

Green chile stew

Hatch, N.M., is known as the green chile capital of the world. The small, southern New Mexico village also is home to the Hatch Chile Festival, held each Labor Day weekend. I haven’t been to the festival yet, but it’s definitely on the bucket list.

So, is seeing the burning of Zozobra, which takes place on the same weekend in Santa Fe, four hours to the north. Santa Feans have been burning Zozobra — also called “Old Man Gloom” — since 1924.

It’s not only a huge party, but a time to symbolically set fire to the worries and hardships of the past year. You can read all about the history of Zozobra hereAfter all, this post is about stew.

My recipe for green chile stew — there are many — is from Ramona’s Restaurant in Alamogordo, N.M.

While visiting New Mexico with husband John and his parents in 2006, we went to White Sands National Monument, an otherworldly place near Alamogordo. White Sands is a massive gypsum dune, with snow-white sand nearly as far as the eye can see. It’s pretty amazing.

White Sands National Monument

Afterward, we went to this nondescript diner called Ramona’s. There, I ordered my first bowl of green chile stew and it was a revelation.

For the rest of the trip, I ordered green chile stew every time it was on the menu. At the end of the week, I declared Ramona’s my favorite. And when I got home, I called the restaurant and they gave me the recipe.

Ramona’s closed some time ago, but because I was lucky enough to snag the recipe beforehand, I still make her green chile stew several times a year. Now, you can make it, too. Enjoy!

Ramona’s Green Chile Stew

1 pound pork (loin, roast, chops, boneless ribs, etc.), cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large cloves garlic, pressed/minced (or 1 1/2 tsp. jarred, minced garlic)
1 T. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
16 oz. diced green chiles (mild, medium, hot or a mix)
4 cups of diced potatoes (I like to use red or Yukon gold – no need to peel)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Put all ingredients in a good-sized stock pot or Dutch oven. Cook until potatoes are soft.

Hints: Sometimes, I use ground pork instead. If going that route, brown and drain the pork before adding the other ingredients to the pot. Also, if doubling the recipe, there’s no need to double the salt. Makes about four, meal-sized servings, and it’s great with piping-hot sopapillas or cornbread.

Cure for hangriness: The Bread Box Cafe

Cure for hangriness: The Bread Box Cafe

Recently, I wrote about going with my sister Theresa to Antiques Roadshow in Virginia Beach.

On that Saturday morning, before Roadshow, we were driving around Virginia Beach looking for breakfast. We didn’t need to be at the convention center until about noon and I didn’t know what the situation would be like inside, as far as food was concerned, so I wanted something rib-sticking and hearty.

In short, I wanted eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast. And coffee, lots and lots of coffee.

After driving around for what seemed like forever and fast approaching a condition one might describe as “hangry,” we spotted The Bread Box Cafe.

Bread Box exterior
The Bread Box Cafe

The Bread Box is located in a nondescript building on the side of busy Virginia Beach Boulevard. There’s nothing fancy about the exterior, but there was evidence the restaurant might be a good choice: plenty of cars parked outside.

In my experience, lots of cars parked outside — especially if they’re pickup trucks or police cars — means you’re probably in the right place. And, like I said, Theresa and I were starved. To borrow from the Incredible Hulk, “Don’t make me hangry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry.”

So, I turned into the parking lot.

The Bread Box Cafe is run by a woman named Esma, who moved to the U.S. from Bosnia. (As a side note, that afternoon at Roadshow, we ended up standing in line next to one of her friends. How likely was that?)

One of Esma’s specialties is homemade bread. On the menu, items include homemade basil and cheese focaccia, sourdough, French and multigrain breads, among others. According to online comments, Esma also makes wonderful desserts, but we were there for breakfast, so that would have to wait for another trip.

For breakfast, which is served all day, I ordered cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, multigrain toast and coffee, of course.

The Bread Box breakfast
Forget the beach, I might drive four hours just for this breakfast.

And it was perfect, everything I hoped it would be. The eggs, the hash browns, the just-crispy-enough bacon and the toast. Oh, the toast! I could’ve eaten a loaf of that toasted bread. My stomach was full long before I quit eating, but it was just so good I couldn’t stop.

Because Esma makes everything herself, don’t go to The Bread Box if you’re in a hurry. It wasn’t an eternal wait, but I did go through a couple cups of coffee before the food arrived. Just enjoy the good coffee and wait. It’ll be worth it.

The Bread Box Cafe
2372 Virginia Beach Blvd., Suite 101

Road Tripping in ‘The Heart of Dixie’

Road Tripping in ‘The Heart of Dixie’

In July, husband John and I traveled to Mobile, Ala., for a wedding. The wedding was actually an hour away in Gulf Shores, but we decided to stay in Mobile because we’d never been there and thought it might be a neat, historic city to explore.

Before leaving Lynchburg, I did some online research about things to see and do in Mobile. Because we’d be driving the 800-plus miles, deep into what’s been called “The Heart of Dixie,” I also scouted interesting things to see along the route we’d be taking through Chattanooga, Tenn., and Montgomery, Ala.

Eight-hundred miles is a long way to drive and we’d only actually be in Mobile for two days, but John and I love a good road trip. A few tanks of gas, a couple bags of caramel Bugles and a season of “This American Life” on the iPod and we’re good to go.

For instance, we once drove 1,800 within the state of Arizona in one week. In New Mexico, noting that the grave of Billy the Kid was only 154 miles away in Fort Sumner, we said, “Yeah, let’s go!” Closer to home, we once drove five hours to the Eastern Shore of Virginia just to eat shrimp at an Exxon station and drive back home. It’s safe to say we love road trips.

On this trip, we decided to take the slightly longer route through Chattanooga and Montgomery instead of heading through Atlanta, because my traveling-salesman dad had said traffic in Georgia’s capital could be terrible. That said, while traffic was light in Chattanooga — where (historical side note) my great-great-grandpa August Siegmund fought two battles for the Union with the mostly German Ninth Ohio Infantry — it took an eternity to get to Montgomery, our stop for the night.

Dreamland Sign2
Dreamland’s neon sign lights up the night in Montgomery.

After checking into a hotel, we drove into Alabama’s capital city. The first thing we had to find was food. The hotel clerk recommended Dreamland, a barbecue restaurant in a section of downtown Montgomery called “The Alley.”

The first Dreamland Cafe opened in 1958 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. There’s a great story on the restaurant’s website about how the founder, a brick mason named John “Big Daddy” Bishop, prayed to God for guidance about how to best support his family.

“He had narrowed it down to opening either a mortuary or a restaurant and he got down on his knees for guidance,” the story goes. “Legend has it that God told him in a dream that night to build a cafe on the land next to his home and Big Daddy made that dream a reality.”

Today, there are nine Dreamland locations in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Dreamland Meal
Great pork barbecue, a dream come true at Dreamland.

John and I both had the pork barbecue sandwich, he with his usual side of fried okra and me with my usual choice of macaroni and cheese. John later said it was the best barbecue he’d had in a while, possibly ever. The only disappointing thing for me was that I was too full afterward to order the banana pudding, which is supposed to be amazing. Maybe next time!

Dreamland sits catty-corner from the city’s minor-league baseball field. The team is nicknamed “The Biscuits,” which I thought was adorable. The mascot is a biscuit, of course. It’s like a clam but instead of a pearl, there’s a pat of butter in its mouth.

biscuits sign
The Biscuit. Isn’t he (or she) adorable?

The Biscuits have a live mascot, too, which we met outside the stadium. It’s a pot-bellied pig named Mrs. Gravy. She was very cute and liked to be petted.

After dinner, John and I walked to the Alabama capitol building. It was grand and everything you’d imagine in a Southern capitol. Outside, there was a half-ring of flags of the 50 states. At the base of each, there was a native stone engraved with the name of the state.

Lynchburg greenstone, hundreds of miles from home at the Alabama state capitol.

As we approached Virginia’s flag, John and I suspected the stone would be greenstone, which was mined in Lynchburg. Sure enough, it was.

On the way to the capitol building, we passed the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where, according to the historical marker outside, Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor from 1954 to 1960. There also were markers near the capitol commemorating the 54-mile “freedom march” from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery in 1965.

The next day, John and I drove on to Mobile, said to be the oldest city in Alabama and the actual birthplace of Mardi Gras. Like New Orleans to the west, Mobile is a melting pot with French, Spanish, British, Creole, African and other cultural influences. As one might expect, there are lots of live oaks and southern mansions.

When we arrived in Mobile, our first thought was of food. Before the trip, I’d scouted the dining options and happened upon Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, which is located in the historic Oakleigh Neighborhood.

Callaghan’s specialty is the LA — as in “Lower Alabama” — Burger. It’s made from a combination of beef and something called Conecuh sausage, and you have to get there before noon or they’ll run out of it.

For those of you who don’t know — I didn’t — Conecuh is the name of the Alabama county where the sausage is made.

Unfortunately, it was Friday and the LA Burger is only available on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I ordered a regular cheeseburger, which was great, and John ordered his usual far-southern fare, the shrimp po-boy.

We didn’t have a lot of time in Mobile, but we did a few things. Over the next two days, we visited the Old Plateau Cemetery, where many survivors of the slave ship Clotilda are buried. I wrote about that last week, and you can read about it here.

church st graveyard entrance
Church Street Grave Yard was founded in 1819 for victims of the yellow fever epidemic.

We also went to the Church Street Grave Yard, where I’d hoped to find the grave of Confederate Civil War General Braxton Bragg.

Church Street Grave Yard is located next door to Mobile’s downtown public library. John and I ducked inside the library to escape an afternoon rainstorm and were greeted with marble floors, iron railings and other extravagances. It was an impressive public library and is worth a look, even if it’s not raining.

The cemetery, on the other hand, was suffering from an serious lack of upkeep. The grass was a foot tall in places. There were beer cans strewn about and some monuments and decorative fences were toppled. There was a sketchy-looking man that kept going in and out of the cemetery while we were there.

graveyard beer cans
As much as I hate to say it, the cemetery needed some upkeep.

Despite that, it was a neat place to visit and we walked around for a while.

For all our looking around the grave yard, however, we did not see the grave of Braxton Bragg. That, as I would discover much later, was because he wasn’t there. He’s buried at Magnolia Cemetery, which is also in Mobile. Oh well, maybe next time!

The third historic site we visited in town was the History Museum of Mobile. It’s housed in a circa-1855 building that also has served as a market and later as Mobile’s city hall. As you’d expect, it was full of things — apparently 90,000 items — related to the history of Mobile.

officers toilet css alabama
This fancy officer’s toilet was recovered from the wreckage of the Confederate warship Alabama. The Alabama was attacked by a Union frigate and sunk off the coast of France in 1864.
john augustus walker mural
A WPA-era mural painted by John Augustus Walker in the lobby of the history museum.

The museum was definitely worth visiting and, at $10, was not a big splurge.

In Mobile, we stayed at the Malaga Inn, which was once two homes. It was built for two sisters and their husbands in 1862. It was comfortable, affordable ($125/night), and within walking distance to restaurants and historic sites. I’d definitely stay there again.

After attending the wedding Saturday evening, John and I got back in the car Sunday morning and headed toward home. We’d planned to make it to at least Knoxville that day, but then switched gears and headed for Cookeville, Tenn. John went to college there at Tennessee Tech. It’s also home to Ralph’s Donuts.

Ralph’s had been around for decades and was a favorite hangout for John and his college buddies. I’ve been there a dozen times over the years and I’m particularly fond of the maple-frosted donut. So, when John suggested we go two hours out of our way for a donut, I was game.

Unfortunately, when we arrived in Cookeville, Ralph’s was closed, and would also be closed the following Monday morning. Since we’d last been to Ralph’s, the previous December, the hours had changed. Now, they’re closed Sundays and Mondays, much to our disappointment.

Oh well, as had become a refrain on this trip, “Maybe next time!”