Interview with Bartholomew Barker, author of Milkshakes & Chilidogs

Today, we’re talking with Bartholomew Barker, poet & author of Milkshakes & Chilidogs.

What is your background in poetry?

Poetry has always been my avocation but it waxed and waned depending upon my marital status. The last time I got divorced I began writing again and found Living Poetry, the largest poetry group here in the Triangle. It didn’t take much encouragement for me to begin taking my poetry seriously and now, ten years later, I’ve been published dozens of times, I’m leading a monthly workshop, hosting open mics and various other special events. Poetry now consumes most of the hours I’m not working my day job or sleeping.

Milkshakes, chilidogs, chocolate, wine, these are some of the foods you write about–but I was also surprised to see an Ode to Haggis–and it was delicious! How did writing a book of food poems come about?

I’d written a few food poems, including both haggis poems, before I realized I was writing a book of poetry. One evening I was having dinner with my parents and I was wondering what my next book should be about when my mother said, “I always enjoy your food poems.” I laughed but later that night I had a look through my files and found that when I included the wine poems, of which I’d already written plenty, for some reason, and the chocolate poems that I’d written for the annual holiday chocolate open mic that I host at a little chocolatier’s in Hillsborough, that I had almost enough for a chapbook.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

This collection has humor, nostalgia, romance–and even touches on topical issues like climate change. How do you see the role food plays in our lives?

Everybody eats. Food is central to our lives. It’s one of our basic urges. From being fed at our mother’s breast to lunch at the school cafeteria with our friends to first dates at restaurants to wedding cakes to donuts at the office to happy hours to pot lucks to casseroles at a wake, there isn’t much in our lives that doesn’t revolve around food and drink. And I am so extremely fortunate to live in a time and place where food is both plentiful and varied and to have sufficient wealth to enjoy it all, even to excess.

Are you working on a new book?

I’m not sure. I’m still writing but a theme has not yet emerged. I should probably ask my mother.

Where can readers purchase a copy of Milkshakes & Chilidogs?

My book, like most things in life, can be purchased at Amazon.

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

by Dina Di Maio

Photo by Alan Hardman on Unsplash

I’m a harsh judge of pizza. For a few good reasons. My parents owned a pizzeria. People in my family have owned pizzerias in the U.S. as early as the 1930s.  Both sides of my family are from Naples. And I wrote a book with a chapter on the history of pizza, Authentic Italian.

Authentic Italian

I’m qualified to write about pizza, and since I’ve lived in the Triangle off and on since 1993, I’m qualified to write about pizza in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

Pizza should be judged on 3 criteria, and 3 criteria only: 1. Crust 2. Sauce 3. Cheese

Crust is the most important component and an especially difficult one to master. If you cannot make a decent dough, you shouldn’t be making pizza. (The best crust I ever had was at Sally’s Apizza in New Haven.)

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Having said that, I’ve tried pizza at many of the area’s pizzerias, although not all, because despite the fact that pizza is so ingrained in my blood and heritage, it’s actually not one of my personally favorite foods. However, I am well-schooled in its craft and know a good one from a bad one.

One can find New York, Neapolitan, Chicago style and Turkish pide in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and other areas of the Triangle. Unfortunately, most I have had were mediocre.

Oakwood Pizza Box

I’ve been pizza-wowed only once in Raleigh. And that was at Oakwood Pizza Box, which I think is an example of good crust, sauce and cheese, and the best example of pizza to be found in the Triangle. Not a surprise from the owners of the former Bella Mia in Cary, a since-closed pizzeria that was also one of my favorites in the Triangle. The owner, Anthony Guerra, is an Italian American from New York with ancestry from Basilicata, a region of Southern Italy.

Have I had an OK pie elsewhere? Yes. I can’t say I’m an expert on Chicago style, although I’ve had a really good one in Chicago, but if I’m in the mood for it or the occasion arises, I go to Nancy’s in North Raleigh, a local franchise of the pizzeria chain created by Italian immigrants who patterned the pizza after a traditional Easter pie.

Nancy’s Pizzeria

I had a decent pie at Anna’s in Apex (while I like their regular pie, I wasn’t a fan of their grandma pizza). In Durham, Pizzeria Toro and Pie Pushers were OK, the latter especially if you like a cheesier pie.

Pizzeria Toro

Pie Pushers

Now and again, I enjoy an eggplant pizza from Frank’s Pizza, a classic old-fashioned pizza parlor. If I’m reminiscing for the simpler times of Raleigh, I’ll go to Mellow Mushroom or Lilly’s. Salvio’s is my go-to for New York-style. On the rare occasion I’m in Rolesville, I’ve enjoyed Pie-Zano’s, a pizzeria owned by Italians from New Jersey. If I want Turkish pide, I go to Istanbul or Bosphorus in Cary.

pide from Istanbul Restaurant

I like the chain Piola for the Brazilian catupiry cheese, created by an Italian immigrant to the country.

Pizza from Piola with catupiry cheese

All of these have something interesting to offer, even though some are chains or part of restaurant groups or not owned by Italians or Italian Americans. There aren’t older Italian-American pizzerias in North Carolina because Italians didn’t immigrate to the state due to its painful history toward Italian immigrants the first half of the last century.*

Generally, I don’t want a pizzeria that supports shareholders/investors or people looking to capitalize on pizza’s popularity, although sometimes it’s unavoidable, say if you’re out with a group and everyone decides to go to one of those places. I feel that if a restaurant group or chain wants to capitalize on an Italian and Italian-American food, it should give something back to the Italian-American community. Acknowledge the history of Italian Americans. Maybe donate to a scholarship fund for local Italian Americans. Or donate to an Italian-American organization, museum, or charity somewhere in the United States to in some way honor the heritage from which you are borrowing.

Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash

What do I want in a pizza? Is it too much to ask for that Di Fara’s Pizza pride, the heritage, the craftsmanship? Domenico De Marco became a legend because of his obsessive devotion to pizza. That, and the fact that he makes one of the best dang pies around. One can’t expect that from every pizzeria, but what stands out to me is a pizza that stays true to my heritage and that supports a local family business and the cultural history of pizza. Oh, yeah, it has to taste good too.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

 

*(There is a town named Valdese that was settled by Protestant Northern Italians, but their foodways are different from Southern Italians, who originated pizza as we know it.)

All writings and photographs are the intellectual property of me, unless I’ve noted otherwise, and can only be used with permission. If you are inspired by this blog, please use professional courtesy to note it.

My Italian Grandmother Wasn’t a “Nonna,” and Yours Probably Wasn’t Either

 

“Nonna” is the Italian word for grandmother (“nonno” for grandfather). It is used whenever Italians speak of a grandmother figure, the woman sporting a bun, apron, perhaps rolling pin or wooden spoon and always in the kitchen cooking. I am Italian on both sides with grandparents from Italy. However, these words “nonna” and “nonno” are foreign to me.

 

                             Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

 

My grandmother was from a town just outside Naples. My grandfather was from a town about 30 minutes away in the mountains. We called grandma “anonn” and grandpa “unonn” pronounced like “ah-nun” and “oo-nun” in Neapolitan dialect. I imagine the words are similar or the same throughout the South of Italy.

 

Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect. So the word “nonna” is from standard Italian. (I’ve written an article on Italian dialect here.) It is strange that even though the overwhelming majority of Italian immigrants were from Southern Italy, the words from the Northern Italian dialects are accepted without question.

 

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

 

You will see “nonna” in the media, and indeed, I have reluctantly used it in articles because that is the term used in contemporary media for grandparents. But in my heart and in my home, grandma and grandpa will always be anonn and unonn.

 

I wish my grandparents and great-grandparents were here, but I know they are smiling down on me. I know they are proud that, of all the books I could have written, in my 20+ career with a master’s in creative writing from NYU and a law degree, I chose to write their story, I chose to do the right thing, not the popular thing, not the marketable thing. And so it was, when I was deciding if I wanted to write a cookbook a number of years ago, that I started researching Italian food in more depth. Given my own personal experiences and those of my family along with the research I have done both here and in Italy, I could no longer remain silent to the maligning, so commonplace today that it has become inadvertent in many instances, of millions of people of their generation and their descendants. Since my book was published in March 2018, I see a zeitgeist of exploration of Italian-American history and culture in the popular media.

 

                            Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

And I can still see my anonn, even though she’s been dead over ten years, with her old wooden rolling pin, rolling out dough for struffoli and bows, or sitting at the kitchen table shaking some Brioschi onto a napkin for me to eat while she drank hers in a glass of fizzing water. I see her picking mint in the backyard near the white fence. I see her stirring a pot of tomato gravy on Sunday morning that in my memory’s eye seemed taller than her.

 

I hear her voice, in her optimistic way, saying “you never know.” Meaning, you never know, something good might happen. I miss these Yogi Berra-like idiomatic sayings of hers. From her, I learned to never show up empty-handed to someone’s house, or in her words, “with my hand’s hanging.” She made me laugh when she told nasty people to “go shit in a hat.” Another she always shared with me is “Check your dates.” She meant that, at the grocery store, I should always check the date on the food I buy to make sure it’s the freshest.

 

So as Mother’s Day is around the corner, I impart some of my anonn’s wisdom to you—never go anywhere with your hand’s hanging, you never know what may happen, the creeps can go shit in a hat, and always check your dates.

 

                                     Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

 

Image by Markéta Machová from Pixabay

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

 

Italian Mushrooms & Peas

Grandma often made this simple side dish, and it is one of my favorite ways to eat mushrooms.

Italian Mushrooms & Peas

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 medium red onion, sliced

1/2 lb. mushrooms

3/4 cup frozen peas

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

fresh mint leaves

pimiento (optional)

Saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat. When it starts to wilt, add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook until soft. Add salt. When mushrooms are cooked, add the peas and about 4 mint leaves. Cook until heated. Transfer to a bowl. Garnish with mint leaves and pimiento.

–Dina Di Maio

Grandma’s Carrot Salad

By New Year’s, I think most people are burned out by all the cookies, cakes and rich holiday foods. That’s why this salad is perfect to help kick-start the diet.

Grandma’s Carrot Salad

1 bag shredded carrots (or julienne carrots until you get about 4 cups)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup raisins

1/3 cup pine nuts

In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil to coat. Add raisins and pine nuts. Toss to mix. Serve.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

Authentic Italian

Italian Radish Leaf Salad

During the year, my grandma would buy radishes and add the radish leaves to her salad. Because there weren’t too many radish leaves, we kids would fight over them. That’s why Grandma would buy a lot of radishes during the Christmas holidays and make this radish salad.

Italian Radish Salad

As you can see from the photo, it is very easy to make. Just wash the radish leaves and place them out on a serving platter. Top them with the sliced radishes and maybe sliced olives or a roasted pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

–Dina Di Maio

North Carolina Zabaglione

Zabaglione is an Italian custard made from only eggs, not eggs and milk.* It comes from the Piedmont area of Italy, but I’m claiming it for the Piedmont of North Carolina. Why, you may ask? Well, it is a staple dessert of the Waldensian people from Northwestern Italy who settled the town of Valdese, North Carolina, 125 years ago. In Valdese, it is known as zabaione. I have made it even more North Carolina by using Raleigh, North Carolina’s own Oak City Amaretto, instead of the traditional wine.

North Carolina Zabaglione

1 dozen egg yolks from pasteurized eggs

1/3 cup superfine sugar

3 tablespoons (1 shot) Oak City Amaretto

amaretti cookies

In the top of a double boiler (off the heat) whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Add the amaretto and continue whisking until frothy. Fill the bottom of the double boiler with water and bring to a simmer or slight boil. Put the top pot in the double boiler and whisk vigorously for 3-4 minutes until the mixture looks like a smooth custard. There is a risk that you could get scrambled eggs, so you want to whisk continuously and with a strong arm. Serve immediately or slightly warm in sherbet glasses. Serve with amaretti cookies.

*I have seen some recipes that use milk as well, but most of the traditional and older recipes do not.

–Dina M. Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com