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Annie Mae Turnes Justice, the primary inspiration behind DixieDining.com, dies at age 101

26 Aug

“Living a century on Earth is pretty remarkable — even in this modern age of medical miracles. But Annie Mae was a truly remarkable lady in many ways. I may be more than a little biased, but I believe this with all my heart. Many people today measure a successful life in terms of fame and fortune. Sad, but true. I can honestly say that Annie Mae never got caught up in any of that. She lived a simple, graceful life — and always seemed more than content with life’s simpler pleasures. In her long lifetime, she rarely left her home state of Virginia. Here favorite place to be was at home — surrounded by her friends and family. She first worked at Tubize Artificial Silk Company and, later, along with her husband Phillip, ran Justice Grocery in Hopewell, VA. She preferred home cooked meals to ritzy restaurants. She loved farm markets and yard sales. She could cook up a mess of greens with the best of ‘em. Her crispy fried okra was an inspiration. Her red velvet cake and chess pie were other worldly. When I recently asked her to name her favorite food, she surprised me by saying: “Potatoes.” Think about it: “Potatoes!” Not steak. Not lobster. I think that says a lot. The woman lacked pretension of any kind.”

“Annie Mae was indeed a woman of simple needs and tastes. And she possessed the unique God-given gift of turning simple, everyday things into something rather exceptional. I always admired that trait in her. As she aged, the world around her became increasingly busy, materialistic, and complex. But Annie Mae chose to keep it simple. She never seemed to long for material things. Never appeared to worry about what she didn’t have. She was too busy being thankful for what she did have — and placing other people’s needs ahead of her own. Annie Mae was always a giver — not a taker. She was ever positive — rarely complaining. She gave enormous hugs — and had an unforgettable, infectious laugh. And she was always perfectly comfortable in her own skin. What a rare quality that is these days. I can only hope a little bit of that has rubbed off on me.”

“I recall visiting Annie Mae & Phillip during my college years. As soon as I pulled in their Petersburg driveway, Annie Mae was quickly out the door to the grocery store. She wanted to whip up something extra special. I told her that wouldn’t be necessary, but she wouldn’t hear it. So she was off in a flash. She backed her sedan out of the carport — and slammed right into the front of my car.  I was so mad at myself for not reminding her that my vehicle was parked there. Just hadn’t thought about it. Didn’t have time. And, of course, I was concerned that she might have hurt herself. But all she could talk about was how sorry SHE was — and how she still needed to get groceries. That story speaks volumes about Annie Mae’s outlook on life. It was NEVER about her — ALWAYS about someone else. But in living out her life in that fashion, she forged a lasting legacy of love that few can match.”

A picture of me & Granny – taken at her 100th birthday party 

“We were all so blessed to have had Annie Mae Turnes Justice in our lives. Her quiet, selfless, Christian way of moving through this world made a massive impression on me. We were separated my many miles in recent years, yet I always felt a special bond with that wonderful Southern lady I called “Granny Justice.” Or, sometimes, “Granny Mae.” She would often tell me: “You were always my boy.” It never failed to put a smile on my face. During our last family trip to visit Granny, we arrived at Imperial Plaza cradling white cardboard box lunches from Sally Bell’s Kitchen in Richmond, VA. And by Granny’s reaction, you would have thought we were toting jewel boxes. She made such a big fuss about how tasty everything was – and how nice it was to see us all. Her smile lit up the room. Meanwhile, our youngest son Travis was growing more anxious by the minute — stomping back and forth — constantly asking when we would be leaving. Eileen and I were so embarrassed. But Granny, true to form, was simply “tickled” and that uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment soon disappeared. She had worked her special magic once again.” 

“I know the final few months were very hard on her. A loss of independence and energy, no more cooking, bland hospital meals, a bad fall, and a broken hip. She slowly lost her healthy appetite for good food — and for life. She was ready to go. She said that more than once during our last phone conversation. The Lord knew this, sensed her pain, and promptly carried her to Glory. God, as she often reminded us, is SO good! In our time of sorrow, I take comfort in knowing that Granny is no longer suffering, she is in a far better place, she sees clearly, she walks without pain, and she is at last (after 26 long years) reunited with her beloved Phillip Hendry Justice. They have an awful lot of catching up to do. And lots fish to catch too. That was always their thing. Rest in Peace, my sweet Granny. I love you so much and feel blessed to have had you in my life for so many wonderful years. I will see you again on the other side — and I will be fully expecting one of your famous bear hugs.”

A Trio of Delicious Sweet Treats from “The Old Dominion”

14 Jan

Red Rocker Candy’s Cashew Brittle with White Chocolate. Where do I begin to sing your praises? To say it is simply good would be a gross understatement. It is really, really, really good. OK, now we’re getting closer to reality. Now I am not the world’s most passionate brittle fan. I like peanut brittle all right, I guess. I am a native Virginian, after all. But most of it is average at best. Too sweet. Not enough peanuts. Far too hard and dangerous for my somewhat fragile dental work.

Sue Charney, owner of Red Rocker Candy, is pictured above. I’m not sure what her secret is, but she has obviously found a winner in this particular brittle recipe. The soft layer of white chocolate on top is a perfect foil for the crunch that lies below. It is indeed a crunch. However, it is decidedly not a bridge breaker. The incredible, buttery candy brittle is generously spiked with cashews — one of my favorite nuts on the planet. Well, it’s actually a seed, not a nut. But that’s another story for another day.  

Sue’s confections have recently been discovered by famous folks like TV’s Rachel Ray. This attention is certainly well deserved. I just mentioned on Facebook that Red Rocker’s Cashew Brittle with White Chocolate may be one of the best things I eat all year in 2012. Yup, I know it’s only January, but these crunchy, crackly beauties are a world class treat and without a doubt worthy of your immediate time and attention. Get some quickly before the entire world finds out — and order some for a friend. Order some for an enemy too. That person will not remain an enemy long.

Pistachio Brittle is just one of many irresistable varieties offered

Spice Rack Chocolates are made in Fredericksburg, VA. They’ve been making artisan chocolates since 2006. It’s a family oriented business founded on a “quality over quantity” philosophy. Their products are handcrafted in small batches and you can clearly taste the difference. The Belgian chocolate they use is excellent — pure and lacking in the waxy texture that plagues most mass-produced chocolates. But let’s not stop there — the chocolates are frequently goosed up with uniquely exotic spices/flavors like chipotle peppers, crystallized ginger, Jamaican curry, and Celtic smoked sea salt.

Spice Rack kindly sent us a variety of products to sample and enjoy — and enjoy we did! The dark chocolate chipotle peanuts (billed as “Fire Antz”) were spicy and superb. It didn’t hurt that they feature first class gourmet Virginia goobers grown just down the road by Belmont Peanuts. They’re not overly spicy, but they do deliver a pleasant afterburn. The Ginger Cubes offer a highly unique marriage of dark chocolate and crystallized ginger. I love ginger, so these little nuggets were a special treat.

Even better was the Spice Rack Collection. This attractive & informative (it suggests wine pairings) 15-piece gift box featured 3 each of the following flavor combos: Fresh Lemon with Sweet Basil, Celtic Smoked Sea Salt and White Ground Pepper, Key Lime and Jamaican Curry, Rosemary with Mint Leaves, and Spicy Cayenne and Chili Powder. The coupling of curry and chocolate (a first for this guy) was surprisingly noteworthy.  My personal fave was the sea salt variety — I’ve long been a softy for that now trendy salty/sweet combo. Spice Rack offers 5 other, equally interesting 15-piece collections. Next on my list will be their On The Rocks mix, which boasts matches such as Rum and Cola, Pina Colada, Amaretto, Orange Cognac, and Butterscotch Brandy. Cheers, y’all!

Pretty much everyone loves banana pudding. Southerners certainly crave it. But how often do you actually prepare it at home? Probably not all that often. The slicing of the bananas part is pretty easy. So is the pulling the Nilla Wafers from the box part. So what’s the big deal? Most folks will tell you it’s the preparation of the pudding part. Well, Reggie Rodgers of Chesapeake, Virginia has solved that problem for you.

Rodgers Banana Pudding Sauce is smooth and delicious — and comes in refrigerated jars. How cool is that??? Just layer your Nillas and sliced nanners, poor the sauce over top, and you’re done. It’s good too — creamy and tasting of pure vanilla extract. No baking required. The ingredients are all natural and you make as little or as much as you’d like — then put the rest of the sauce back in the fridge for later. How convenient! Reggie Rodgers — you are THE MAN. We love their logo too. The cartoony wafer and banana both appear to be thrilled about their pending collision course with the pudding bowl. Their ultimate demise will be your gain, that’s for sure!

We hear Rodgers’ Banana Pudding Sauce makes a great shake too!

——————————————————–

Red Rocker Candy – PO Box 1135, Troy, VA

www.redrockercandy.com ; (434) 589-2011

Spice Rack Chocolates – 10908 Courthouse Road, Fredericksburg, VA

www.spicerackchocolates.com ; (540) 847-2063

Rodgers’ Banana Pudding Sauce – (757) 558-4964

www.rodgersbananapudding.com ; reggie@rodgersbananapudding.com

Mom’s Apple Pie Company of Leesburg, Virginia will Warm Your Heart & Soul

2 Nov

Mom’s Apple Pie Company is a cool little place. They have been here quite some time and have garnered a good bit of national attention. Deservedly so. Southern Living called Mom’s Sour Cherry Crumb Pie the “best we have ever tasted.” Tall praise, indeed. The pies are certainly well made and a lot of the fruit/produce is locally grown (from rhubarb to raspberries). Avis Renshaw is Mom. She has been at this for more than 30 years now (they started back in 1981).

Pumpkins and Gourds out front scream Fall — and Halloween

Pie racks display pies and baked goods while they cool down

These juicy apples come from orchards in Winchester, Virginia

Apples at Mom’s are fresh, delicious …. and affordable!

Pie by the slice – this way you can taste more than one variety!

Sour Cherry Crumb Pie is one of Mom’s most popular varieties

I decided on a Bourbon Walnut Pie (above). Bought the whole thing and brought it home for the entire family to enjoy. It was quite a hit and only survived a couple days. It was especially sublime when briefly heated up in the microwave and topped with vanilla ice cream. The pie’s center was nice and moist, not gummy at all. It really dislike pies when the texture reminds you of that white, goopy kindergarten paste. Something about that is just plain nasty.

My Bourbon Walnut Pie (seen above) — ready for its close-up. The walnuts were fresh tasting and you could detect just a hint of booze. Not overpowering at all. Shoot, they could probably booze it up a little more. But, hey, they’re the experts. The crust was just fine, although I am quite sure they are no longer made by hand. Mom’s massive output of pies and baked goods (especially this time of year) has likely forced them to make this minor concession. But never fear, folks! This, as my always-hungry brothers might say, is “One Fine Pie!”  

Macaroons (pictured above). Its even fun to say. Far better to put in your mouth. Mom’s makes an excellent one. They will even dip ‘em in chocolate (see below) if you prefer them dressed up a bit. I’m a total sucker for coconut. Sweetened. Unsweetened. In pies. In ice cream. In candy bars. On cakes. I think you follow me by now. Put me on a deserted island and I’m good. Just make sure there are plenty of coconuts around. You can leave the face-painted volleyball at home (random Tom Hanks reference).  

Chocolate and Coconut. Together. Like a Mounds bar – only better

Mom’s Apple Pie Company is good any time of year. If you can’t make it to my home state of Virginia, they can send a taste of the Old Dominion to you. Pie prices range from about $13 to $17 each plus shipping. A small price to pay for such a wholesome, sweet treat. It’s just like Mother’s Love – only in pie form. When it comes to this pie, I cannot tell a lie.

MOM’S APPLE PIE – 220 Loudoun Street SE, Leesburg, VA

(703) 771-8590; www.momsapplepieco.com

***Open 7 days a week***

Continuing a Family Tradition at King’s Barbecue of Petersburg, Virginia

1 Nov

King’s Bar B Q #2 in Petersburg, VA has long been a family favorite. I first ate here decades ago with my Grandparents, Philip & Annie Mae Justice. Philip was a native North Carolinian. Annie Mae hailed from Appomattox, Virginia – site of the Civil War surrender. Both were raised on authentic Southern BBQ. In short, they knew a thing or two about good, downhome Dixie grub.

King’s exterior is classic 1950’s BBQ joint architecture. Giant pine trees loom large in the background. Hasn’t changed a bit since our first visits back in the 1970s. Has something of a colonial look — especially the maroon-painted faux front door. You see everything from shiny Mercedes to banged-up El Caminos in the parking lot. Everyone, rich or poor, knows that this is the place to score some tasty smoked pig. Nearby Ely’s BBQ once challenged the throne of King’s, but we learned on this trip that they had closed their doors for good. Oh well, never got to sample & compare. Survival of the fittest, I reckon.   

King’s Famous Bar B Q — “Even Our Sign is Cool”

Yes, there once was a King’s Number 1, but Number 2 outlasted it.

This retro placemat logo appeared on the original King’s menu

These vinyl menu covers have seen a lot of duty thru the years

Tiny buttered biscuits & iced sweet tea – a good start to our feast

Confederate Heroes looked down on us as we dined at King’s

Ah yes, King’s famous chopped pork shoulder. Some of the best you will find anywhere. Lean, just the right amount of smoke, lovingly chopped by hand. Whack, whack, whack. That’s the soundtrack at King’s. And it is pure music to my ears. Brother Mark and I each ordered the large pork plate. Comes with a mountain of pigmeat and two sides.

I ordered collards and a potato pancake. The collards were just OK … nothing more. Likely out of a can. Sure looked & tasted like it. And the potato pancake was bland and, to be honest, a tad dry. But who really cares? We didn’t come here for sides. We came here to chow down on some world class smoked pork. That did not disappoint. Never does. Been here countless times and it’s always consistently excellent. As is the house BBQ sauce. Tastes a lot like Sauer’s BBQ Sauce (a popular Richmond-based brand) — could be for all I know. I just know it’s vinegar and spice embrace are an ideal match for King’s chopped pork.

We were in the Richmond/Petersburg area to celebrate Granny Justice’s 100th birthday. Our visit to King’s could have only been made better if Granny had been seated alongside. Just like the good old days. Her smile and infectious laugh making the dining room a better place. We (Mark and I) wouldn’t be here without her. Wouldn’t be eating at King’s. Wouldn’t be on this Earth, for that matter. So thanks and thanks again, Granny. You’re the greatest and we’re blessed to have you in our lives. Here’s to another 100 years — and another visit to King’s. The sooner, the better.  

King’s Barbecue – 2910 S. Crater Rd., Petersburg, Virginia

(804) 732-0975; www.kingsfamousbarbecue.com

***Closed on Mondays & Tuesday***

Leesburg, Virginia’s Cajun Experience a Very Positive One

1 Nov

I just spent a weekend in Northern Virginia and DC. Celebrated my Dad’s 84th birthday and my Granny Justice’s 100th birthday. I also found time to seek out some good eats. Perhaps the best bite of the trip came to me courtesy of The Cajun Experience — A Taste of South Louisiana. They are located in the heart of historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia.

Leesburg is a quaint little town. Well, not that little anymore. Loudoun County is booming and is now one of the wealthiest and fastest growing areas in the country. But it still has tons of charm. Leesburg is the hub of this scenic part of the Old Dominion. It boasts many fine restaurants — some quite elegant. Yet it’s not exactly a place where you would expect to find authentic Cajun cuisine. Peanut soup, yes. Virginia wine, yes. But boudin? And andouille? Really???

One look at the menu and my expectations were immediately elevated. They use Leidenheimer bread??? Wow, these folks are taking this authenticity thing pretty seriously! They offer a great selection of PoBoys too. I quickly zeroed in on the Hot Pot Roast variety. My brother Bill opted for the Fried Shrimp PoBoy. Neither one of us would regret our choices.  

Beer was the first order of business. It was a weekday, sure. And it was lunchtime. But it was also Friday. Cause enough for us to crack open a couple of cold ones. Louisiana brew is offered and we were accepting. Bill had the Abita Fall Fest. I called for a Jockamo IPA. I sucked mine right out of the chilled bottle. Bill, going for a slightly more sophisticated look,  asked for a glass and was pleasantly surprised when he was presented with a frosty cold mug — straight out of the nearby upright freezer.

The Hot Pot Roast PoBoy arrived hot — and tasted hot. Spicy hot as well as temperature hot. It came with a nice portion of crispy housemade potato chips. The bread was really great, the sauce (sort of a kicked up remoulade) creamy, and the pot roast lean and tender. No chunks of fat, no gristle. Really good. I mean really, really good.

Just take a gander at this sammich. How can you not love this???

Chopped jalapenos, huh? That explains my PoBoy’s spicy punch.

Dessert came in the form of freshly fried beignets showered with lots of powdered sugar. We couldn’t resist pairing the piping hot beignets with a steaming cup of chicory coffee. The beignets are made with the same mix used at New Orleans’ famed Cafe Du Monde. We learned this without asking. A delivery was made while we were dining. They were mighty fine (hard to screw up hot fried dough and powdered sugar). Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The coffee was the real deal too. Our younger brother Mark checked in by phone during our lunch and was more than a bit disappointed to learn what he was missing.

This Cajun Experience is an authentic one. I have eaten a lot of Cajun food in my time and this doesn’t take a back seat to many of them. That is particularly impressive given the distance between Leesburg & the murky Bayous of South Louisiana. So do march on in when you can … and let the good times roll.  

THE CAJUN EXPERIENCE – 14 Loudoun Street Southeast, Leesburg, VA

(703) 777-6580; www.cajunexperience.biz

Sunday 12-9 pm; Monday – Friday 11 am – 9 pm

Small Town Vanilla Extract

18 Sep

vanilla

I just found this interesting little nugget on the web …

Bakers who live in the small Virginia town of Warrenton (pop. 8,877) have an especially sweet life. They can walk into Rhodes Gift and Fly Shop on Main Street and pick up a bottle of freshly made, secret-recipe vanilla extract.

The story of how this came to be starts with pharmacist J.W. Rhodes, who devised the formula and began selling his own extract in 1938, at his Rhodes Drug Store. It was only available during the late fall and winter holidays, when the need to make cakes and cookies was at its peak. It was packaged in medicinal bottles that made it seem like a tonic for whatever might ail a pudding or eggnog. Rhodes kept the recipe to himself, and started a tradition that has lasted more than 70 years.

After he died, a man named Russell Herring owned the store (from the mid-1960s to mid-’70s); he inherited the recipe and kept making the extract. Warrenton resident Duane Thompson worked at the drug store as a pharmacist for a few of those years, moved away and returned to buy it in 1976. The extract has been solely his to produce since then. One other person knows the recipe, he says, but that person’s promised not to tell.

 

Due to demand, Thompson began making it year-round, but always in small batches. When visitors came through and bought bottles of extract to use at home, a small mail-order business was born. He remembers when “a lady from Seattle called me and asked, ‘Can you send me six bottles?’ ” He did. A short time later, she called and ordered six more; she was giving them to her friends as gifts. “Then she sent me the check and a nice box of chocolates,” he says.

Thompson “semi-retired” in 2005; the Rhodes Drug Store ceased to be. The gift shop that had been upstairs moved downstairs and store manager Amy Leach bought the place in January 2009. “People walked in with checkbooks when they found out I was closing,” he says. “They were ready to buy every bottle I had left.”

The gift shop offered to sell the extract for him, so Thompson agreed to keep making it, maintaining his exclusive, one-man operation. Customers have asked for other flavors (non-negotiable) and for clear vanilla extract to make white wedding cakes and confections (he will leave out the caramel coloring, upon request). He reckons his annual production was more than 80 gallons, and slightly more than half that now.

The bottles are plastic, still medicinal-looking, and can be found in a homey basket at the store’s front counter with a sign that says, “Rhodes Drug Store Famous Vanilla Extract.” Google doesn’t know much about it.

Thompson lists five ingredients on the label: vanilla, glycerin, caramel, water, alcohol. (In comparison, a bottle of Nielsen-Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract lists water, alcohol, sugar and vanilla bean extractives.) “Dusty’s original recipe card had ‘cumadin’ [a drug used to thin the blood] written on it,” he says. “It might have been a flavor enhancer. But I guess that ingredient was dropped long ago.” The ex-pharmacist will be 62 in December, but sounds like a politely stubborn kid when pressed about the main ingredient. Is it the scrapings from vanilla beans grown in Tahiti? Common chemicals?

“I have a supplier,” is all he’ll say about that. “I had to get a special permit from Virginia to get the grain alcohol, though. And this stuff is nasty to taste all by itself.” Kept in a cool dark place, Thompson says his extract can remain potent for half a decade.

Leach is a devoted fan. She uses his vanilla extract in cooking and baking, to flavor her coffee and in oatmeal. “It’s really good, and the price makes it a deal,” she says. “It tastes genuine to me.” Thompson has stuck a small list of suggested uses in the gift shop basket that include placing a drop of extract on top of a light bulb; the heat from the bulb will “send out” the fragrance. A dash added to a can of paint will take away the paint’s strong smell. And so on.

Unscrew the cap and the aroma is instantly there — not as insistent or harsh as imitation vanilla, not as complex and deep as pricey imported extract. The color’s a soft brown, and the consistency seems soft, too; the extract clings ever so slightly to the lip of a measuring spoon. It flavors a pound cake and panna cotta admirably. Sold at relatively bargain price for vanilla extract, it’s easy to see why people want Thompson to continue making it. Plus, a bit of Virginia-grown, locally made pride is always in style.

Rhodes Drug Store Compound Extract Vanilla, $7 for eight ounces, available at Rhodes Gift and Fly Shop, 77 Main St., Warrenton, 540-347-4162. (It is sold at the store on consignment.) To order by mail, call 540-270-7412; also available at Remington Drug Store (540-439-3247) in Remington, Va.

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