Hungry for the Holidays

Karen Robbins brings French flair to her Greek and Italian culinary heritage – a portal into a rich multicultural world


By Cynthia Adams   

Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

If the dogeared, heavily notated copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking on Karen Robbins’ quartz counter doesn’t snag your attention, then the wafting aroma of sugar caramelizing with butter will. Knees have buckled at less. Luckily, there is a pot of fortifying coffee and a counter to lean into.

Welcome to Robbins’ kitchen, sporting a recent refresh, with the accent on functionality, which pleases the resident chef — the nifty pot filler addition isn’t just for looks. Neither is the new Wolf range nor the additional wall oven.

Delectable, magical things happen here. And it isn’t yet the holiday. She was baking for her mahjong club, which meets every Thursday evening.

Robbins smiles slyly. The baker and holiday enthusiast slides over a dish of toasty blueberry-and-peach “cutie pies” and plump peach scones. She waits.

Triple yum, I mumble impolitely, dribbling crumbs. Robbins’ eyes dance.

Long before Iron Chef, there was ubiquitous French Chef — Julia Child. Child’s televised programs initiated this Greek-Italian woman into French cooking.

(Robbins calls Child, “the Great One.”)

The two well-used volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which somebody gave her long ago, are key references.

“The recipes are long but very clear,” she says, thumbing through. There are many scribbles. “Sometimes I slightly alter or tweak Julia’s recipes, but her foundation is usually intact.”

In 2009, Robbins saw the popular film Julie & Julia. She related to the young blogger, Julie, who began cooking Child’s recipes and posting about it.

She recently rewatched the film.

“I loved it as much as I did the first time. Afterward, I got teary. I always liked to cook. But I remembered how much she, Julia, had meant and how I got started.”

She recalls early trials.

“I made her pastries with custard filling.” At the time, it was challenging. Now, “not so hard anymore.”

Robbins moved on to Child’s gigot à l’Anglaise (leg of lamb in red wine). Then the duck à l’orange.


“Her lamb recipe has simple ingredients. I marinate and sliver all the pieces,” she explains. For caneton à l’orange, seasoning and trussing a whole duck was a bit more challenging, “but now, you can buy duck breasts versus the entire duck.” She grins.

“Simple ingredients.”

Not so simple a process.

But Robbins is not averse to simplification or improving the Great One’s process. Or variations.

Robbins’ eyes dart toward the window where she keeps basil and rosemary in boxes.

What for dinner?

“Yesterday, I made a filling of spanakopita and pesto and baked it as a crustless dish. Blended two cultures,” she smiles. “People liked it.”

Her husband has a saying whenever he truly loves something. “He says, ‘I’d pay for that,’” she laughs.

Robbins loves baking, saying it’s more exacting. “But cooking can be more creative.”

With the holidays here, Robbins is tickled just contemplating the meals and baking she will turn out of double ovens installed for this very purpose. She much favors the Wolf range’s convection oven for baking.

On this baking day, Robbins is all Zen-like and humming. She moves through her kitchen, her warm brown eyes shining as she runs through the flavor profiles for her holiday preparations.

“I can taste food in my head,” she says. “Not wines, but food.”

When Robbins, a former NYC speech therapist, retired and came South with her husband, Paul, they plunged headlong into retirement. Her husband is out playing golf on a golden morning. Their white Volvo sports the license plate “PAR 3”. She also golfs, but not when she can cook.

Baking, cooking and entertaining, three of her fundamental pleasures, just happened to have made her the hit of the Newcomer’s Club.

She enjoys a large, hydrangea-filled yard that backs up to an open country field. But the kitchen, which opens to a screened porch, is the beating heart of the traditional home.

The Mediterranean aspect traces to her family influences.

The gourmet kitchen already had furniture-style cabinetry but Robbins finally got the pot filler she always wanted, adding the Wolf gas range top and an additional wall oven for good measure. She already had a generously sized walk-in pantry, one that she has filled with canned tomatoes, “put up” herself.

Food has long been important in her family. With an Italian father and a Greek mother, how could food not be central to family life? Her parents, childhood friends, eloped when pressured not to marry outside the faith. Outsiders were called “goombahs” — pejorative slang for Italians. Friends but not family, Robbins clarifies.

Her Catholic father and Greek Orthodox mother had respective, entrenched traditions, especially when it came to food. “My mother learned to cook Italian,” Robbins explains. “What she made, she made well. But she wasn’t experimental.”

But her daughter discovered she was. Baking is an exact science, she stresses. But cooking isn’t.

It relaxed her.

Although Robbins had a serious career, she would look forward to cooking after work. Entertaining became her outlet. She did the whole bit, “from soup to nuts.”

Even the hardest effort was happiness-making. As for what is difficult now, Robbins pauses.

“The more involved things are probably”— and she breaks off to page through her sauce-bespattered French cookbook. “Hmm.”

“Some of the things are just not so hard anymore,” she muses. Duck, for instance: “I remember making it and the stove was billowing with smoke because of all the fat.”

A good friend who lectures on art history and culture aboard the Silversea cruise line invited her along on a cruise that ended in Nice, France. There, Robbins says she had one of the five most memorable meals of her life.

She inquired into a restaurant in walking distance of the hotel. “I went and ordered their duck. It was with peaches,” she says, pausing to conjure up the memory. “Oh my God, it was divine. And so, I got ahold of some duck breast and made my version with peaches, because this is the world of peaches. That was fun.”

In Mykonos, she enjoyed another memorable dish while awaiting the ferry — tomato pancakes cooked over a Bunsen burner. The pancakes “were insanely good.” Robbins worked until she reconstructed the recipe.

With sparkling brown eyes that widen as she recalls the experience, Robbins enthuses about the culinary surprises that travel brings.

“Food opens you to another avenue of the culture.”

In 2017, she and her husband took a week of cooking classes in the medieval Italian village of Castro dei Volsci in a gristmill before a cruise departing from Rome.

“I asked Paul, do you love me? He said, ‘Yes, of course.’ I said, how much in dollars, exactly?” She chuckles. “The cooking classes weren’t cheap.”

She learned to make proper risotto. “Even Paul got into making pizza, appetizers and desserts.”

Robbins views food as a portal into a rich, multicultural world — one she eagerly walks through. But coming South, the holidays required the eager cook to adapt to regional tastes. She was shocked to discover ham on Southern Thanksgiving menus. “It wasn’t something you ate for Thanksgiving in the North. If you didn’t like turkey, you did chicken. You only had ham at Christmas!”

Robbins baked and transported favorites to relatives outside the South. “I used to cook and take the food north,” she recalls. She even mastered a coconut custard pie originally requiring a three-day process. She simplified it to two.

Recently, Robbins adapted a Giada De Laurentiis recipe called “Thanksgiving for two.”

The experimental dish? “Ravioli made with Chinese dim sum stuffed with ground turkey, herbs and cranberry sauce.” It was close enough to pasta to satisfy her Italian taste buds.

“I grew up thinking everybody had pasta as their main meal at Christmas,” she confesses. “My mother made lasagna. Then we had roast beef. But we had fish Christmas Eve.”

For her Christmas meal, Robbins will make fresh homemade ricotta and manicotti using crepes instead of dried pasta.

For Christmas morning, she will bake a festive wreath cake with cream cheese and jam, adapted from an old Gourmet magazine. The recipe is butter-stained.

“It’s not hard if you’re going to bake — make a dough and roll it out.” She pauses. “It’s not level one,” she admits.

But neither is a Southern staple, she claims.

“I’ve never made a biscuit,” Robbins giggles. “That scares me!”

Yet, she bakes breads, biscotti and every manner of dessert, including pistachio cookies, which are beloved when she serves them to a large circle of friends she made in the Newcomer’s Club.

“All the men wanted the recipe — that I should give it to their wives!”

Some traditions are sacred. But . . . “Christmas almost needs to be tamed,” she notes. “My husband is very helpful. He helps with the gifts. There were a lot of Christmases when we moved here and we had to go up North. I was cooking. Packing. Buying and wrapping. I was so exhausted. It wasn’t fun.”

Their daughter and her family now live in North Carolina. When they arrive in Summerfield on Christmas morning, delectables await.

Robbins mentions shortcuts the Barefoot Contessa advocates, like not making all menu items from scratch.

Some recipes are so dear to her they are nearly perfect.

Others still require innovation; things she makes a lot because “it’s a test kitchen,” she smiles.

Robbins offers to get back to me on her five favorite culinary hits of all time. Things that Paul would pay for, she laughs.

Her brow knits.

And as she plots dinner, staples are at the ready. “I have fresh oregano, basil and thyme,” she says.

And a pantry stocked with freshly canned tomatoes.

For Robbins, with the rapidly approaching holidays, nothing says Christmas more than opening the taps to that pot filler for boiling noodles and revving up the sauce for fabulous, savory pasta-bilities.  OH

For Karen Robbins’ recipes, please visit O.Henry magazines facebook page

Drinking with Writers

The Long Road to Overnight Success

From poet to publisher, Emily Smith makes her mark with Lookout Books


By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

I first met Emily Smith in September 2010 at the annual conference of the Southern Independent Booksellers’ Alliance in Charleston, South Carolina. She was there with a Spartanburg publisher called Hub City Books, which was releasing a poetry collection by Ron Rash. Emily had designed the collection’s cover. A year later, I saw Emily again, but this time I saw her photograph online: She was attending an awards dinner in New York City, where a book she had published was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. A lot had happened in the intervening year.

The book Emily had published was Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, by Edith Pearlman, a short story writer in her 70s who had long been a favorite of the literati, while never breaking through to a larger, critical audience. Pearlman’s book was the first to be released by Lookout Books, a publishing imprint housed in the Publishing Laboratory inside the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s creative writing department. Emily, along with editor emeritus Ben George, published Pearlman’s book as Lookout’s first release. The book would go on to be nominated for a number of prizes, and it would later win the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was quite the debut for a small press. Publishers Weekly called it a “knockout start,” and Ron Charles of The Washington Post praised Lookout’s release as “one of the most auspicious publishing launches in history.”

There are centuries-old publishing houses in New York City that would kill for a single season’s title to receive the acclaim that Binocular Vision received, but there are simply too many bottles and not enough lightning. Or perhaps there is only one Emily Smith, and her journey from advertising executive to publisher of acclaimed books is perhaps as rare as the aforementioned glass-encased lightning.

In early November, Emily took a break from promoting the most recent Lookout title, This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession, by Cameron Dezen Hammon, to sit down with me over coffee at Social Coffee and Supply Co. on Wrightsville Avenue in Wilmington. It was a cool fall morning, and Emily and I found seats by the bright windows just inside the front door. Our conversation turned toward the first time we met in Charleston back in the fall of 2010.

“I’d gotten to know the folks at Hub City because I was their inaugural writer-in-residence,” she says. “I went there as a poet, but part of the residency had me working 20 hours per week for the press.”

“What were you doing before that?” I ask.

“I’d been a graduate student at UNC Wilmington,” she says, “and I’d worked in the Publishing Laboratory here, which I now run.”

But her experience in design and marketing, as well as her ability to network and build relationships, predates her time as a graduate student in Wilmington and writer-in-residence in Spartanburg. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Davidson, Emily spent several years in advertising at J. Walter Thompson in Atlanta. “We worked with big clients,” she says. “Ford Motor Company, 20th Century Fox, Domino’s Pizza. But I burned out. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

She left Atlanta and returned to Davidson, where she worked in the Advancement office, forging relationships with alumni and the community, and raising money for the university. But something was steering her toward writing, and she enrolled as a poetry student in the MFA program at UNC Wilmington. After finishing her degree and serving as the writer-in-residence at Hub City in Spartanburg, she returned to Wilmington as the interim director of the Publishing Laboratory in 2007.

In her role as interim director, Emily found a distributor to ensure that the Publishing Lab’s titles were sold beyond the campus and outside of Wilmington. When a national search began for the permanent director, Emily decided to apply. “I thought, it would be silly not to try for this after doing this job for a year,” she says. She got the job and forged a dynamic partnership with Ben George, who at the time served as editor of Ecotone, the university’s national literary magazine. The two joined forces to found Lookout Books, which they envisioned as a literary imprint dedicated to publishing women, debut writers, and overlooked work by established authors.

“Ben came to UNCW with a reputation as a meticulous, thoughtful editor,” Emily says. “And I knew the other side of the business. I had an advertising and marketing background. I knew the design part from working at Hub City. I knew how to work as a small press and handle distribution.”

After the success of Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision, Lookout Books quickly garnered national attention, and the press has consistently delivered critically acclaimed and award-winning books by both established and debut authors.

I ask Emily about the press’s current release, This Is My Body, by Cameron Dezen Hammon. “It’s the story of someone who grew up culturally Jewish and then converted to evangelical Christianity post-9/11,” she says. “9/11 was a time in which everyone and everything felt spiritual, and Cameron was caught up in it. She converted and moved with her musician boyfriend to Houston, where they performed music at an evangelical church.” The longer she stayed in the church the more she found herself caught up in a misogynistic culture that limited her to a gender role that defined both her faith and spiritual talents. “It’s a story of seeking something and discovering something else,” Emily says.

I cannot help but think about Emily doing the same, setting out on a search that took her from advertising executive in Atlanta to graduate student in Wilmington to writer-in-residence in Spartanburg and back to Wilmington, where she would publish titles that would make Lookout Books an overnight literary sensation.  OH

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

O.Henry Ending


Low mileage, one owner, gently used


By Bill Fields

My ’66 Mustang needs a paint job, and the wheels are wobbly on my ’62 Ferrari. But compared with my ’63 Vauxhall Estate Car, whose windows are broken and back hatch is missing, the first two vehicles are looking good.

Now, I’m not really a car collector. I’m not even a real collector of these 1:64 scale miniatures that had so many of us hoping we had 49 cents in our pocket — approximately two visits from the tooth fairy — for a purchase years ago. My dozen were rescued from the corner of a closet where they had been garaged for a long time.

Lots of things shout “child of the ’60s,” but does any toy do it better than a Matchbox car?

As the advertising copy said: “For boys and girls of all ages . . . built of pressure die-cast metal by English craftsmen . . . nothing to assemble, ready to use . . . colorful nontoxic baked enamel finish, authentic in every detail.”

I’m glad I never snacked on my vehicles, just in case, but the Matchbox Series did have a lot going for it. Detroit might not have ever been usurped as a car capital if its workmanship had been as fine as that in the toys manufactured in England by Lesney Products.

Although small enough to fit in a child’s hand, some of the models consisted of more than 100 parts. They were finely assembled, with details that mirrored the real thing. Automakers on both sides of the Atlantic, happy with the publicity, shared specifications with the toy company that allowed for great authenticity in the replicas.

As a kid who loved small things — a pocket magnetic checkers set, tiny stapler, mini-football helmet pencil sharpener, miniature golf — Matchbox cars were right in my wheelhouse.

Lesney began after World War II in London, a collaboration of friends and military veterans Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith, who used syllables from each of their first names as the company moniker. Toys weren’t the focus of the die-cast business until another man, Jack Odell, joined the original partners.

The Matchbox brand sprouted from Odell’s initial Lilliputian design — a brass steamroller he built in 1952 for his daughter that met her school’s edict that students couldn’t bring toys larger than a matchbox. Odell and Leslie Smith started producing their line of vehicles in 1953, Rodney Smith having sold out to his partners two years earlier. Their first design was a miniature gilded coach for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a hot seller that was followed by a bulldozer, fire engine and, in 1954, Lesney’s first car, an MG.

Lesney was producing more than a million vehicles a week by the early 1960s as Matchbox cars were being sold in great numbers all over the world. “We produce more Rolls-Royces in a single day,” Odell told The New York Times, “than the Rolls-Royce company has made in its entire history.”

My fanciest Matchbox model is a ’64 Lincoln Continental, sea-foam green, whose trunk was just big enough to hold a piece of candy corn. I like my oldest model, a ’61 gray and red “Bedford Tipper” truck that I probably was given before I was old enough to really bang it around, which could explain why it looks as if it just came off the lot.

I was well-equipped for emergency response, owning a ’62 ambulance, ’65 wrecker and ’66 firetruck, its removable plastic ladder on the roof and ready to rescue someone trapped on the second story. There are versions of the Dodge Wreck Truck that make them a rare and valuable collectible because of a manufacturing quirk, but mine is run-of-the-mill and a little sad, its tow hook gone. I’ll blame the snapped-off part on my nephews, who were playing with my little cars on visits to their grandparents about the time I was getting my driver’s license.

New generation, same old fun. OH

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Holidays Are Not Just for Children

Some Surprising Books for Adults


Compiled by Brian Lampkin

Book people can be difficult. They pretty much acquire the books they need with no regard for the impending holiday season, so you’re left with nothing literary to get them to show how much you care about their reading life. Below are a few holiday-related books that just might be off the radar of a well-read book lover. Or perhaps there’s a forgotten gem or two to reinspire an old love.

Rock Crystal, Adalbert Stifter (Author), Marianne Moore (Translator), Elizabeth Mayer (Translator), W. H. Auden (Introduction) (NY Review of Books, $12.95). Seemingly the simplest of stories — a passing anecdote of village life — Rock Crystal opens up into a tale of almost unendurable suspense. This jewel-like novella by the writer that Thomas Mann praised as “one of the most extraordinary, the most enigmatic, the most secretly daring and the most strangely gripping narrators in world literature” is among the most unusual, moving and memorable of Christmas stories.

Pretty Paper, by Willie Nelson with Dave Ritz (Blue Rider, $23). For over 50 years, Willie Nelson has wondered about the life story of the legless man who sold wrapping paper to customers on the street in front of a downtown department store in Fort Worth. This seller of “pretty paper” inspired Willie’s classic Christmas song, and now, with a leap of imagination, the singer/songwriter tells the tale of Tom Winthrop. I too thought this was a book on holiday-themed rolling papers.

Yuletide in Dixie: Slavery, Christmas, and Southern Memory, by Robert E. May (University of Virginia, $34.95). We don’t get to shut off our brains or ignore history just because it’s the holiday season. How did enslaved African Americans in the Old South really experience Christmas? Did Christmastime provide slaves with a lengthy and jubilant respite from labor and the whip, as is generally assumed, or is the story far more complex and troubling? In this provocative, revisionist and sometimes chilling account, Robert E. May chides the conventional wisdom for simplifying black perspectives, uncritically accepting Southern white literary tropes about the holiday, and overlooking evidence not only that countless Southern whites passed Christmases fearful that their slaves would revolt but also that slavery’s most punitive features persisted at holiday time.

Holidays On Ice, by David Sedaris (Back Bay, $12.99). Sedaris’ recent sold-out appearance at the Carolina Theatre reminds us all that he’s a much-loved institution in North Carolina. This 2010 update has six new pieces and is written especially for those left quite queasy about the syrupy emotions of the holiday season.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie (William Morrow, $29.99). Every year it’s impossible to find the right book for Aunt June or Uncle Beasley. But 2019, is different. They love English mysteries, they love the classics, they have even forgiven you for last year’s debacle of the gift of the adult coloring book. Who knew that they made “adult” coloring books? Agatha is never a misstep.

How to Spell Chanukah . . . and Other Holiday Dilemmas:18 Writers Celebrate 8 Nights of Lights, essays by Jonathan Tropper, Jennifer Gilmore, Steve Almond, Joanna Smith Rakoff, Adam Langer and others. (Algonquin, $13.95). Whether your Chanukahs were spent singing “I have a Little Dreidel” or playing the “Maoz Tzur” on the piano, whether your family tradition included a Christmas tree or a Chanukah bush, whether the fights among your siblings over who would light the menorah candles rivaled the battles of the Maccabees, or even if you haven’t a clue who the Maccabees were, this little book proves there are as many ways to celebrate Chanukah as there are ways to spell it.

You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas, by Augusten Burroughs (Picador, $16). At 8 years old, Augusten Burroughs profoundly misunderstood the meaning of Christmas. Now proving himself once more “a master of making tragedy funny” (The Miami Herald), he shows how the holidays can bring out the worst in us and sometimes, just sometimes, the very best. From the author described in USA Today as “one of the most compelling and screamingly funny voices of the new century,” comes a book about surviving the holiday we love to hate, and hate to love.

Sex Position Coloring Book: Playtime for Couples (Hollan Publishing, $15.95). Who knew indeed.   OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

The Omnivorous Reader

Fight the Good Fight and Keep the Faith

The political saga of a father and son


By D.G. Martin

Anyone who wants to master North Carolina political history must try to understand how Kerr Scott, elected North Carolina’s governor in 1948, could be both a liberal and a segregationist. Two books that can help are The Political Career of W. Kerr Scott: The Squire from Haw River, by retired University of Florida professor Julian Pleasants; and The Rise and Fall of the Branchhead Boys, by former News & Observer political reporter and columnist Rob Christensen.

Pleasants chronicles the exceptional life of Kerr Scott, who was governor from 1949 until 1953 and U.S. senator from 1954 until his death in 1958. 

Scott, a dairy farmer from Alamance County, won election as commissioner of agriculture in 1936. In 1948, after using that office as a launching pad, he resigned and mounted a campaign for governor. He beat the favored candidate of the conservative wing of the party in the Democratic primary, which in those days was tantamount to election.

Once in office, Scott pushed programs of road paving, public school improvement and expansion of government services. Hard-working and hard-headed, plain and direct spoken, he appointed women and African-Americans to government positions.

Future governors Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt were inspired by his success. Hunt said, “If not for Kerr Scott I would never have run for governor. My family viewed Scott as our political savior . . . He improved our roads, our schools, and our health care.”

Scott’s commitment to common people, fair treatment for African-Americans, skepticism and antagonism toward banks, utilities and big business, and a pro-labor platform earned him a liberal reputation that was praised in the national media. In 1949, he appointed Frank Porter Graham, the popular and liberal president of the University of North Carolina, to fill a vacant seat in U.S. Senate. When Graham lost to conservative Willis Smith in the next election, Scott resolved to run against Smith in 1954 to avenge Graham’s loss and reassert the power of the liberal wing of the party. When Smith died in office and Governor William Umstead appointed Alton Lennon, a conservative, to the seat, Scott ran against him in 1954 and won.

In the Senate, his liberalism did not extend to racial desegregation. He joined with other Southerners in Congress to fight against civil rights legislation. He signed the infamous 1956 Southern Manifesto, which urged resistance to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision requiring the elimination of school segregation. 

Scott died in office in 1958, leaving open the question of whether he would have won re-election in 1960.

Missing from Pleasants’ excellent book is the story of the entire Scott family and its role in North Carolina political life. Christensen takes up that task. He follows the Alamance County farm family beginning with Kerr Scott’s grandfather, Henderson, and his father, “Farmer Bob.” Both were active in statewide farmers’ organizations.

Christensen’s important contribution to the Scott family saga is his account of the political career of Kerr’s son, Bob. Born in 1929, Bob grew up on Kerr’s dairy farm. Like his father, he became active in farm organizations and worked in political campaigns, including Terry Sanford’s 1960 successful race for governor. By 1964, at age 35, he was ready to mount a statewide campaign for lieutenant governor. But two senior Democrats, state Sen. John Jordan and House Speaker Clifton Blue, were already running. Christensen writes, “In some ways Scott had broken into the line.”

Nevertheless, with the help of powerful county political machines, he won a squeaker victory in a primary runoff over Blue. 

Bob Scott used his new office to run for the next one, giving hundreds of speeches each year, and he won the 1968 Democratic nomination over conservative Mel Broughton and African-American dentist Reginald Hawkins.

The results of the 1968 presidential contest in North Carolina marked what Christensen calls “the breakup of the Democratic Party.” Richard Nixon won; George Wallace was second; and Hubert Humphrey was third. Nevertheless, in the governor’s race, Scott faced and beat Republican Jim Gardner. 

Mountains of bitter controversies in the areas of race, labor, student unrest and higher education administration were to confront Bob Scott after he became governor of North Carolina in 1969. As governor, Scott followed his father’s tradition of inviting friends to “possum dinners” with the main possum course accompanied with “barbecued spareribs, black-eyed peas, collard greens, bean soup with pig tails, corn bread, and persimmon pudding.”

Christensen writes, “Scott may not have been the populist of his father, but he brought a common-man approach to Raleigh.”

But times had changed. College campuses were erupting. Black anger was spilling into the streets. Historian Martha Blondi wrote that 1969 marked the “high water mark of the black student movement.” Christensen writes, “During his first six months in office, Scott called out the National Guard nine times to deal with civil unrest.”

In March, he sent more than 100 highway patrolmen to Chapel Hill to break a food worker strike and force the reopening of the student cafeteria, overruling the actions of UNC’s president, William Friday, and the chancellor, Carlyle Sitterson. This action and similar strong measures against student-led disorders earned Scott praise by television commentator Jesse Helms and many others in the white community, “but he got different reviews from the black community.” 

Although he appointed the first black District and Superior Court judges, his pace of minority hiring and appointments was roundly criticized.

Increased desegregation of public schools resulted in more disruption. Speaking about the 1971–72 school year, Scott said, “Many schools were plagued by unrest, tension, hostility, fear, disturbances, disruptions, hooliganisms, violence and destruction.”

In response to disturbances relating to school desegregation in 1971, Scott sent highway patrolmen and National Guard troops to Wilmington. Conflict there led to arrests, trials and prison sentences for the group of protesters who became known as the Wilmington Ten.

Bob Scott’s stormy relations with President Friday continued as Scott “decided to undertake the reorganization of higher education as his political swansong.” His proposal to bring all 16 four-year institutions under one 32-person board was adopted by the legislature. Scott expected the new organization would eliminate or minimize Friday’s role. But Friday became president of the reorganized 16-campus system and led it until 1986.

Summing up Bob Scott’s time in office, Christensen writes that his legacy is “far murkier” than his father’s, in part because the state was “less rural, less poor, more Republican, and more torn by societal dissent, whether civil rights, Vietnam, or the counterculture.”

Both Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt acknowledged their connection to Kerr Scott. But Bob Scott never bonded with either of them. The breach with Hunt became a public battle when Bob Scott challenged the incumbent Gov. Hunt in the 1980 Democratic primary. Scott was angry because Hunt had not supported his ambition to be appointed president of the community college system. Scott lost the primary to Hunt by a humiliating 70–29 percent margin.

Ironically, in 1983, when the community college presidency opened up again, Bob Scott won the job and served with distinction until his retirement in 1995.

Bob Scott died in 2009 and was buried at the Hawfields Presbyterian Church near the graves of his father and grandfather. Kerr Scott’s tombstone reads, “I Have Fought a Good Fight . . . I Have Kept the Faith.” Bob’s reads, “He Also Fought a Good Fight and Kept the Faith.” OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 11 a.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 p.m. To view prior programs go to

Wandering Billy

Jigsaws, Jiggers and Great Red Eye Gravy

December’s gifts to the Gate City


By Billy Ingram

“I want my home to be that kind of place — a place of sustenance, a place of invitation, a place of welcome.” — Mary DeMuth

Searching for something to give that proverbial guy or gal who has everything? Why must they vex us every year with their very existence?!? Whoever that inscrutable individual might be in your life, they surely don’t have these two locally sourced items.

The first is hot off the presses, the other freshly uncasked.

Strolling aimlessly around the Tate Street Festival last fall, I ran across artist Susan Wells Vaughan displaying her collection of fanciful greeting cards and 1,000-piece puzzles based on her dioramic pastiches of historic North Carolina municipalities. Vaughan limits her subject matter to places she’s lived, showcasing her knowledge about the people and history of the region. Naturally, her initial paintings were confined to the Outer Banks where she’s been residing for the last 30 years. “Nobody else was doing it,” Vaughan notes. “People were painting dunes and the birds; I wanted to do something different. And I love architecture.”

Lithographs of her representational paintings of Manteo, the town of Duck and Kill Devil Hills were selling all up and down the coast, business brisk as the afternoon breeze. When the recession hit, sales floundered. “I have these big prints that cost quite a bit to matte and frame,” Vaughan says. “I guess people didn’t want to spend money on something they didn’t really need.” Harking back to her childhood when her grandmother introduced her to jigsaw puzzles, Vaughan says she had an “aha” moment. “I imagined her saying, ‘Make puzzles!’” At first handling manufacturing through Chinese sources, the artist teamed with Heritage Puzzles, which also features jigsawed versions of William Mangum’s Rockwellian cityscapes.

A Greensboro native, Vaughan turned her artistic eye on her hometown this year for her latest creation. In the top left corner of her colorful collage you’ll spot Yum Yum Better Ice Cream, the Minerva statue at UNCG just below. Scattered throughout are Amtrak’s Carolinian, Bennett College water tower, Jefferson Standard whatever-it’s-called-now building, the statue of the Greensboro Four, a bust of Edward R. Murrow, West Market Street Methodist, and Blandwood, to name some of the delightful highlights Vaughan incorporates into her vision of our city.

Give a close look at the puzzle’s bottom right corner where she pays tribute to one of O.Henry magazine’s own: “Not many people know Harry Blair designed the Greensboro logo,” Vaughan says. In the late 1960s, Blair was teaching commercial art at Page. “I decided to give that a try,” she recalls of that pivotal moment from her high school days. “Harry was so cool, he played records, told us stories. He created an environment that made you feel relaxed. That’s the greatest thing an art teacher can do, in my opinion.” Inspired, she decided on a career in the arts.

Susan Wells Vaughan’s creations can be found in the Greensboro History Museum’s gift shop, Blandwood, Scuppernong Books and online at According to neurologists, assembling jigsaw puzzles is especially effective at improving short-term memory. No more wandering into a room only to forget why you’re there. You have a puzzle to finish!


Mitchell Nicks and Tom Bruce have introduced a new spirit into the season, Gordian Knot Reserve Rum. A French-trained cuisinier well-regarded in Greensboro and beyond, you may recognize Mitchell Nicks as head chef of the former Tessa Farm to Fork and Muse restaurants. Applying his exemplary culinary palate to this challenge, “It’s not like adding basil or spices to food because alcohol is such a pure medium,” Nicks says. “We knew we wanted a certain regality to it, like you’ll find in a cognac or a scotch.”

After a worldwide search for raw materials, they began importing aged rums from the mother countries — Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica. A protracted experimentation phase testing multiple flavor combinations followed, out of necessity requiring considerable imbibing until the field was narrowed to 52 iterations. “When Mitchell got it down to three there was one that stood out,” fellow entrepreneur Tom Bruce says of a flavor profile with hints of toasted hazelnut, caramel, butterscotch, pepper and cinnamon. A veritable rainbow of flavors emerge naturally from the oak casks used during the aging process: “A lot of people say this drinks like a bourbon,” Mitchell says, “That’s because of the weightier ‘mouth feel’ we have.”

Judged a favorite at both the Miami and Charleston Rum Festivals, Gordian Knot Reserve Rum can be found on the drink menu at popular dining spots like Tripps, Coast and the High Point Country Club, as well as your neighborhood ABC store. Sample it this season in your eggnog, hot toddy, and buttered-rum recipes. Or simply place a bottle by the bedside and allow the festivities to wash right past you (as you drink responsibly, of course).


Eye mentioned Coast, a casual upscale seafood restaurant in High Point garnering rave reviews after opening just a few weeks ago on Samet Drive. Years ago one of its chefs, Nathan Stringer, watched as I made red-eye gravy for grits. I couldn’t believe an unabashed country boy like him had never encountered red-eye gravy before but that seems to be the case with most of these modern-day, digitally distracted whippersnappers. At Nathan’s suggestion, Coast is now offering red-eye gravy ladled over their sumptuous shrimp and grits.

I learned the recipe for red-eye when I was a kid. Dad and I were the only family members up early in the mornings, so he taught me to make breakfast the way his mother taught him. For red-eye gravy Dad-style: Remove the pan from the stove after frying country ham, preserving the caramelized remnants on the bottom of the pan. Add a little more coffee than you have drippings, whisk it together with a fork. You’re done. It might take a few attempts to get the balance right, but how can you beat the taste of salt cured ham with coffee? Like Jerry Lee Lewis once said, “If God made anything better, he kep’ it for himself!”


Visiting relatives over the holidays? After a decade away, a nightclub that rocked the 1990s and early-2000s, Flat Iron, is sizzling again. Perched in that strategic location on Summit and Church, it’s much like you remember with subtle changes rendering it less dive-y, more lively. Under the auspices of Common Grounds’ Dusty Keene, Flat Iron hosts a broad range of top-tier local musicians and touring bands. My fave local party band Corporate Fandango will undoubtedly blow everyone away, as they do, on December 7th. On the 20th, Dusty has booked an event called Ace’s Basement Reunion Show for those who frequented that rough-and-tumble hardcore venue located underneath a sketchy motel on what was then High Point Road. On December 28th, Jake HaldenVang from NBC’s The Voice takes the stage. At press time, there’s no way to know whether HaldenVang won that contest or not. “Wouldn’t it be crazy,” Keene asked, “if he wins and then plays here right after?”  OH

Billy Eye sincerely wishes everyone reading this a fantastic holiday season filled with light, love and just a dash of selfish overindulgence!

Food for Thought

Christmas, Sweet and Savory

The spirit of the holidays begins in the kitchen. Cheese biscuits, gingerbread and garnet-hued poached pears are three simple yet festive ways to celebrate

By  Jane Lear

“The harried modern person looks to the winter holidays like someone slumped across a railroad track contemplating an oncoming train,” mused food writer Laurie Colwin more than 25 years ago. Her words resonate today amid the ever-increasing hype, and I, for one, refuse to get caught up in the fray. When it comes to feeding people, for instance, I tend to rely on a small repertoire of things I can pull together without too much fuss and which will make folks feel cherished.

Cheese biscuits are at the top of my list. I’m using the word biscuits here in the British sense to mean crisp wafers, and it’s still fairly common parlance in Colonial cities. In fact, you’ll see a recipe for these cayenne-spiced nibblies (often in the form of cheese straws) in every community and Junior League cookbook published south of the Mason-Dixon Line. They’re standard fare at drinks parties, wedding receptions, and almost every other social occasion you can think of.

I’m very fond of how my mother served them, with soups and stews. Perhaps this was because the store-bought bread available at the time wasn’t particularly flavorful (a basic baguette or sourdough loaf was unattainable), or perhaps she wanted a change from baking powder biscuits or cornbread; I don’t know. But cheese biscuits are a great way to add a little savory richness, some finesse, to an everyday meal. One — just one, mind you — is also a civilized way to end an evening, along with a nightcap, or what some of us call a baby-doll.

And cheese biscuits make a fabulous present. Even though it’s possible to buy every imaginable delicacy online these days, I think people are especially thrilled to open a gift that is homemade and almost profound in its plainness. And that is not something sweet.

Southerners appreciate cheese biscuits because they know one can never have too big a stash. For expat Northerners, there is an element of surprise, and, once tasted, delight. “Where have these been all my life?” the recipients exclaim, reaching into the tin for another. And cheese biscuits have legs — that is, real staying power. Not only are they good keepers, but you don’t get sick to death of looking at them, the way you do Christmas cookies. Face it: By early January, those cookies are so last year.

Cheese biscuits are so simple to make that anyone, even a person who suffers from an extreme case of F.O.F. (Fear of Flour), can throw them together without thinking about it. The secret is to buy the sharpest cheddar you can find, and add a little Parmigiano, “for sass,” as the cookbook author Damon Lee Fowler likes to say.

Gingerbread is another standby in my holiday kitchen because it is easy to make and a hit with young and old alike. It can be enjoyed absolutely plain or dressed up with a glaze made from lemon juice and confectioners sugar, or with billows of whipped cream flavored with a little bourbon. It’s the sort of thing you can serve guests at a fancy dinner party, and they will immediately feel like they’re part of the family.

Whenever I make gingerbread, I am reminded of my Aunt Eloise — actually, a longtime friend of my mother’s — who often visited us during the holidays. She would arrive in an immaculately maintained Buick and insist on carrying her own suitcase into our hall, setting it down with a little sigh. (“Always travel light, dear,” she counseled, years before I ever went anywhere. “You may have to move fast.”)

My brother and I couldn’t wait to present ourselves before Aunt Eloise because we knew exactly what would happen. She would shake her head in amazement at how much we had grown, and hug us thoroughly before rummaging through a capacious handbag for two chocolate bars, wrapped in thin gold foil and glossy paper.

We had to open them very carefully, because Aunt Eloise wanted the foil back. Like my parents, she had grown up during the Great Depression, and never wasted a thing. She would smooth the sheets and tuck them away with a smile.

The days before Christmas were filled with tree-cutting and decoration, setting up the crèche, which had an expanded cast (my father trolled thrift shops and pawn shops looking, in particular, for the Baby Jesus — he couldn’t bear the thought of one being adrift), and frantic gift wrapping.

And then, of course, there was the gingerbread. Dark, moist, and spicy, it was Aunt E.’s specialty. One year, she turned to face my brother and me in the kitchen. “I have always made gingerbread for you,” she said, removing her apron and hitching it up, neat and workmanlike, around me. “Now, it’s your turn.” She switched on the oven and then got comfortable at the kitchen table. Mom made cups of tea for them both and buttered the pan.

My brother stirred the flour, baking soda and spices together. I plugged in the Sunbeam and managed to cream the butter and dark brown sugar, then beat in the eggs and cane syrup — preferred by all in our house to molasses. I stopped, startled, when the mixture looked curdled, but Aunt Eloise peered into the bowl and said, “Oh, it’s fine! Just keep going and see what happens.”

After beating in the flour mixture and a little hot water, everything miraculously came together. After my mother helped me pour the batter into the pan, she put it into the hot oven.

By the time the dishes were done, so was the gingerbread. Aunt Eloise patted several pockets — she had a magician’s knack for misdirection — before unerringly settling on the right one, then fished out an envelope full of small gold stars, cut out of foil. They smelled very faintly of chocolate as we pressed them into the warm cake.

Now, when it comes to holiday food that is both easy and spectacular, things get a bit trickier. It pays to keep a file of these recipes, and if they happen to be gluten and/or dairy free, or not terribly bad for you, then so much the better. My go-to favorite is a recipe for scarlet poached pears developed by my former Gourmet colleague Paul Grimes, a brilliant food stylist with a painter’s eye.

Because poached pears rarely look as good as they taste, Paul took a cue from a dessert at Le Chateaubriand, in Paris, which uses a beet to intensify the pears’ hue. If you or yours don’t happen to like beets, no worries: You can’t taste the beet in the least, and the fresher and juicier it is, the deeper in color the fruit will become.

Beets have long been used as a dye for textiles and food, by the way. Before the advent of artificial colorants, they put the “red” in red velvet cake, for instance, and they turn Easter eggs a delicate mauve. The vegetable’s saturated color, like that of bougainvillea, amaranth and the flowers of some cacti, comes from pigments called betalains (from Beta vulgaris, the Latin name of the common beet).

Poaching is among the gentlest of cooking techniques. Although it isn’t complicated, you do want to be mindful of the heat. You don’t want the liquid to vigorously boil — otherwise, whatever it is you’re cooking will either break apart or toughen. A lower flame allows you greater control and precision. The end result — whether you are poaching chicken, say, or eggs or fruit — should possess the quality of moelleux (mwall-YEW) — a soft, velvety mouthfeel that is completely, captivatingly French.

If you are at all resistant to the idea of poached pears, you’ve likely been traumatized by one that threatened to skid across the table when pierced with a fork. This usually happens during a first date or dinner with the boss. But understanding moelleux — the pears should be so tender they practically melt in your mouth — is a gamechanger. The key to success is very basic: You must cook the pears until they are done. Since the pears may be of slightly different sizes or at different stages of ripeness, be sure to test them all. When you insert a small skewer or paring knife, it should glide in but the flesh should still feel solid, not mushy.

Cheese biscuits, gingerbread and gorgeous poached pears have become three of my favorite traditions of the season, and here’s hoping they find a place at your table as well. Happy holidays!


I don’t have Aunt Eloise’s recipe, but this is a close approximation. It’s based on the Tropical Gingerbread (minus the canned coconut) in Charleston Receipts — a standard reference for both Aunt E. and my mother — and the Old-Fashioned Gingerbread in the big yellow Gourmet Cookbook. When it comes to the cane syrup, you should know that this syrup made from ribbon cane is lighter and sweeter than molasses. Not only is it a versatile baking ingredient, it makes the ultimate condiment for pancakes, waffles, and hot biscuits. Cane syrup is available at supermarkets in the South; one of my favorite mail-order brands is Steen’s (, from Louisiana.

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra to butter pan

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup pure ribbon cane syrup

2/3 cup hot water

1. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. In one bowl stir together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together the butter and brown sugar at medium-high speed until nice and fluffy.

2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the cane syrup. At this point, the batter might look curdled, but, as Aunt Eloise would tell you, don’t worry about it. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture, then the hot water. Continue to beat until the batter is smooth, a minute or so.

3. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the middle of the oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the gingerbread comes out perfectly clean, around 35 to 40 minutes. Put the pan on a wire rack to cool for a bit, then serve warm. The gingerbread is also a great keeper: the flavor deepens after a day or so, and if tightly wrapped, the cake stays moist.

Scarlet Poached Pears à la Gourmet

Serves 6

If your pears are very small or ripe (instead of firm-ripe), then set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes, say, instead of the 35 to 40 minutes specified below. And if the pears are indeed done more quickly, then transfer them to a bowl to cool, remove the bay leaf and cinnamon, and continue to simmer the poaching liquid until thickened and syrupy.

About the poaching wine: Orange Muscat is not the easiest dessert wine to find, but don’t fret. Another muscat won’t have the same alluring orange-apricot aroma, but it will still be delicious. Serve these beauties with a fork, for stabilizing the pear, and a dessert spoon, for scooping flesh and juice.

2 cups Orange Muscat such as Quady Winery’s Essensia
(from a 750-ml bottle)

1 medium red beet (1/4 pound), peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches in length)

1 bay leaf

3 small firm-ripe pears (about 1 pound total), such as Forelle or Bosc, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored

1. Bring wine, beet, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf to a boil in a 1 1/2 – to 2-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

2. Add pears and cover with a round of parchment paper to help them cook and color evenly. (So that they stay covered with liquid, place a small saucer on top of the parchment as they cook.) Reduce the heat and simmer, turning occasionally, until pears are tender and liquid is syrupy, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer pears to a bowl. Discard cinnamon stick and bay leaf and pour syrup over pears. Cool completely in syrup, about 30 minutes. Poached pears can be made 1 day ahead and chilled in the syrup; the color will deepen the longer they stay in the syrup.

Cheese Biscuits

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon coarse salt

A generous pinch cayenne

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened to room temperature

6 ounces extra-sharp orange cheddar plus 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, coarsely grated (about 2 cups total) and at room temperature

Finely chopped crystallized ginger, for garnish

1. Whisk together the flour, salt and cayenne in a bowl until combined well. In another bowl, with a stand mixer, beat together butter and cheese until smooth. Beat dry ingredients into cheese mixture until smooth. The dough should be very malleable, like Play-Doh.

2. Roll the dough into a couple of logs for slicing. Wrap in waxed paper and chill until firm but not hard, about 30 minutes. (Dough keeps in the refrigerator 1 week. You can also freeze it, wrapped well; let it thaw at room temperature until pliable enough to work with.)

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cut each log into 1/8-inch rounds, giving the log a quarter turn after each slice so it stays round. Put a dab of the crystallized ginger on top of each biscuit, pressing gently so it adheres.

4. You can either bake the biscuits, one baking sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven, or set the racks in the upper and lower thirds, and switch the baking sheets halfway through. Depending on the size and thickness of your biscuits, they’ll take anywhere from 16 to 18 minutes to bake. They are done when the bottoms are golden but the tops and sides are still pale. Let cool on a wire rack. Biscuits will stay fresh in an airtight tin for days and even improve in flavor.  OH

Jane Lear, formerly of Gourmet magazine and Martha Stewart Living, is the editor of Feed Me, a quarterly magazine for Long Island food lovers.


Photograph by James Stefiuk

Life of Jane

An Old-Fashioned Holiday

Nothing like bourbon and bitters to foster peace on Earth, goodwill toward all


By Jane Borden

When I order an Old Fashioned at a fancy cocktail lounge, I sometimes receive straight bourbon with a dash of bitters in it and a sliver of orange peel hanging perilously off the glass. That is not an Old Fashioned. That is straight bourbon with bitters in it and a sliver of orange peel hanging perilously off the glass. And that will make me breathe fire. Even the original Old Fashioned recipe, dating to 1806, included sugar and water. Anyway, it’s not 1806 anymore. 

Why do fancy bars insist on making everything as intense and extreme as possible? Drinking is not the X Games. Or, at least, it hasn’t been since freshman year at Carolina. One should not need a helmet and kneepads to enter a bar. And you’ll be no safer drinking beer at these establishments. Their wide selections range from double-hops IPAs that are 13 percent alcohol to triple-hops IPAs served with a punch in the face. 

God forbid you respond to that glass of bitters-spiked whiskey by asking for a cherry or a splash of OJ or anything to help you forget you’re drinking poison and probably shouldn’t. For if you do, the bartender will give you a look suggesting that instead of imbibing in his establishment, you should be ruminating over the reasons you are a Gap-clothes-wearing, eggnog-latte-drinking, scented-candle-burning basic-ass bitch.

Oh yeah?! Well!!! Guess what?! The Gap makes quality, affordable clothes.

My point is I don’t want to be shamed by people on cultural high horses — which, let’s be honest, is why Conservatives hate Liberals, so maybe if Liberals would stop calling Conservatives “bad people,” then Conservatives would stop trying to punish Liberals and instead listen to them. *Cough* Where was I? Whiskey. The great unifier! Let’s all come together in the name of the Old Fashioned. In the spirit of that message, fine, if you want to call straight bourbon with a dash of bitters an Old Fashioned, then you’re welcome in my tent too. But only if you also recognize these three recipes as canon. 


Obviously I made up that title. My father would never name a drink that. Nevertheless, this cocktail, when drunk, will make any day a jolly holiday. Dad doesn’t remember exactly when he developed the recipe, but it was sometime in Greensboro, after he and Mom married but before I was born, so it was probably . . . let’s just say he doesn’t know.

“Old Fashioneds ought to be strong, sweet and redolent of bitters,” he says. In his case, they are also made with precision and love.


2 oz. + bourbon (Makers Mark or Woodford, if possible, but George Dickel  Tennessee whiskey is always invited

2 oz. + soda water (i.e. the same amount as the bourbon)

4–5 dashes Angostura bitters (yes, that’s a lot)

1 cured orange slice* (“I like a bite of orange with a sip,” Dad suggests.)

1 maraschino cherry (“Preferably with the stem, so you can fish it out,“ he says.)

4 tsp. orange syrup*

1 tsp. maraschino-cherry syrup from the jar

* See below for recipe

Orange-syrup recipe (in his own words)

“The selection of oranges is more critical than one would think. I like to pick pretty ones. Thin-skinned if I can find them and without blemishes. Big oranges. I use navel so I don’t have to fiddle with the seeds.”

“I wash them with my hands and a little soap.”

“Then, slice them from pole to pole, not around the equator. I think they look prettier that way.”

“Put the oranges in a pot and add simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) to cover them.”

“Boil on low heat for 30–45 minutes — and cover the pot — because it takes the bitterness out of the peel.”

“Spoon slices and syrup into jars and refrigerate. I have several frozen jars of orange syrup that I thaw out when I want to use.”

“I’m blowing this out of proportion. After all it’s nothing but a drink.” (Editorial note: Oh yeah? Ask any of his neighbors or friends.)


Fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice

Add all ingredients

Spread joy


If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to cure orange slices in advance, consider this lesser version of the Bob Borden Holiday Maker, which I developed during my days as an amateur (and at one point professional) bartender, by which I mean, my 30s.


1 thick, half-moon orange slice

1 maraschino cherry (I prefer the fancy, dark-purple variety)

1 sugar cube

3 dashes Angostura bitters

2 oz. + bourbon


Place orange, cherry, sugar cube, bitters and a splash of the bourbon in a cocktail shaker.

Muddle vigorously for longer than seems necessary. You want the sugar to dissolve, and you want to get not only juice from the orange but also oil from the rind. Sing a song to pass the time. 

Add remaining bourbon — plus a little more because you’re in training for New Year’s Eve — and fill 3/4 full with ice. 

Shake vigorously for longer than seems necessary. You want much of that ice to melt, since you are not adding additional water or soda. Turn the shaking into choreography for the song you‘re singing.

Strain shaker into a rocks glass on top of one of those square, oversized, casually effete ice cubes. 

Garnish with another cherry and orange slice. 

No reason to stop singing and dancing now.


This drink’s name derives from the ease of making it, not the price tag. When you’re surprised by thirsty guests, if you have these nonperishable ingredients on hand, you’ll always have an Old Fashioned–inspired option at the ready. Also, though, if you drink too many, you will wind up poor.


2 oz. bourbon 

1/2 oz. any triple sec or orange liqueur

1/2 oz. Cherry Heering (a dark liqueur that’s made with the fruit skins and must, giving it a deeper color and flavor than that of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur).


Add water if you like or soda or ice or tell your friends to make it themselves: You’re busy singing and dancing.  OH

Jane Borden won’t be able to return to her native Greensboro for Christmas this year so she’ll spread Bob Borden Holiday Makers all over Los Angeles.



Illustration by Meridith Martens

It’s a Wonderful Chaos

Sam Howard and Mickey Richey’s traditional Christmas extravagance

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Neighbors know that by December, Sam Howard and Mickey Richey’s home in Greensboro’s Browntown neighborhood is no place for a Grinch. When it is decked in holiday finery, there’s more good cheer per square inch of their classic ranch-style home than a curmudgeon could take.

Each year, the doors are open to their many friends and neighbors as their spacious home becomes the annual setting for an outrageously over-the-top family extravaganza of Christmas trees, lights, garlands, trim, bows and a bounty of beauty and fun.

“There’s a little bit of Christmas in every room,” Richey says with classic understatement.

Apart from the holidays, the house has enviable good looks that the owners have, over the last seven years, tastefully polished, painted, spruced up and enhanced.

The couple had looked in the area for a home that resonated with them. This house, Richey explains, spoke to them from the start.

It had them at hello — at the foyer, in fact.

“The minute we walked in, Sam said it had good vibes,” Richey recalls. “We immediately liked it . . . and the more we saw, the more we liked it.”

For many years, the Howard-Richeys had entertained a circle of women they affectionately called, “the Girls.”  The women of a certain age, as the French express it, knew “Sister” Sherill, an original owner of the home. 

“Katherine [Sister] Sherrill lived here with her husband, John,” says Richey, opening the front door into a Hollywood Regency–style foyer featuring Asian accents.

Built in 1959, the house is otherwise mostly traditional. That has suited the couple just fine. In fact, the house seemed somewhat modern to them, given that for years they had lived in nearby Latham Park in a quaint, rambling, 1920s house facing the park. Come the holidays, there was always a large tree, heavy with decorative effects and family keepsakes, prominently placed so it was visible to park goers and passersby.

The tree in the living room was at Howard’s urging, one trimmed in red and gold and a bit more formal.

“Because Sam wanted one on the front of the house.”

The trees are usually up within the first week of December, but the entire decoration takes a bit of time. 

They started to deck the halls by late November, to the delight of their son, Cameron.   

In the years since the couple first met, Howard had rediscovered the pleasures of the holidays. Richey says he was always nuts about Christmas, and Howard became a convert. 

“Sam was never that big on Christmas until we got together. Now he’s even crazier about it than I am.” 

First, the front door and windows get decorated. Then exterior lights go up.

Last year, Richey says, “Sam made lighted Christmas trees out of topiary frames.”  Howard also put together the dining room and den mantels. Then they decorate the main tree together. 

Family, he explains, was the underlying reason for making such a fuss. Raising a son made them both go all-in when the holidays arrived.

“He was 6 months old when Sam and I started living together.”

Eventually, the time had come for the couple to sink down permanent roots after living in northwest Greensboro for years. They narrowed their search in order to remain near to their workplaces, school and friends.   

Browntown fit that bill as well.

Browntown assumed its name from Brown Realty during the postwar era. The architectural styles built there were notably more formal, given the residential development was adjacent to Irving Park.

“It may be a Guy Andrews-–built house,” muses Tricia Costello, owner of Carriage House Antiques & Home Decor. “He built a lot of the homes.” Costello was familiar with the Howard-Richey house, having grown up in Browntown.

The couple acquired the dwelling in 2007. Once they moved in, the Howard-Richeys set to work, making an indelible stamp on the house. Of course, that included going all out for their first Christmas.

Although Richey is a longtime interior designer who returned to school after earning his initial degree in order to study design, Howard took charge of the annual Christmas décor. Howard works in finance.

“He’s just a big kid,” laughs Richey.  “And he loves to decorate for all holidays.  I help, but he just really gets into it.”

Crossing through the foyer, he pauses.

“It used to have a black-and-white foyer floor,” says Richie, “with a compass-like astronomical design.” His voice is heavy with regret. “Unfortunately, that’s probably lying ruined beneath layers of mastic.” 

The design was by Otto Zenke.

Years before, the Sherrills had hired Zenke to lend their home special touches. The original owners were, like many affluent residents, in thrall of the designer whose main showroom still stands today near Greensboro’s City Hall. His name became synonymous with elaborate millwork and unmistakable architectural detail.

Zenke decorated the Sherrill residence in the 1960s when his popularity was at its zenith. “He faux painted the den siding and probably installed the [still remaining] trellis in the sun room,” says Richey.


Fast-forward to the Howard-Richeys, who later added their own special effects, intended to complement Zenke’s signature style. 

They meticulously hand-painted stripes in the hallway and applied decorative finishes themselves, including a faux Venetian plaster, which is featured in a bathroom.

Richie, now a freelance designer, had honed his craft over the years. He formerly worked as an in-house designer with Furnitureland South. In addition to other clients, he works with Carriage House at Golden Gate Center.

Today, the 60-year-old house reveals the imprints of both Richey’s flair and Zenke’s. 

Quickly he moves through the living room, formal dining room and newly redesigned kitchen, refreshed in white, clean finishes, through to the private areas where the family spend much of their time. 

But the den, for aficionados of Zenke, Greensboro’s most celebrated designer, is the gem. This is also the room the residents use most.

It is vintage Zenke.

“The den is still painted like Zenke painted it in 1961 or 1962, when he ‘pickled’ it,” explains Richey. Pickling was a popular whitewashing-style painted effect.

“The latticework in the sunroom, and the cornices still hanging in the living and dining room, were all done by him.”

Those finishes are classic Zenke, he says, and will remain untouched and intact.

Yet in December, posh finishes and furnishings are overshadowed by the exuberant Christmas decoration, which bring an entirely different sense of nostalgia and soulfulness. The home’s holiday décor is top-to-bottom festive. Tradition and a bit of nostalgia, as Richey points out, always prevails.

Stockings, ornaments and the works are brought out of storage and Howard sets to work.

“We’ve been collecting Christmas items since the two of us got together in 1982,” says Richey. 

“Sam does most of the decoration. It takes a good week to get it all down from the attic and out [on display].  Then, we decorate the tree.”

Red and gold rule. The family even used to string popcorn and cranberry garlands on the trees when Cameron was still a child. 

“Cameron would count,” Richey laughs, “while stringing one-two-three pieces of popcorn and one cranberry.”

The holidays showcase the owners’ many collections, some specifically displayed solely at Christmas, like antique toys that date back to great-grandparents.

Many of the couple’s favorite decorative items are long-loved and well-used family heirlooms. Cameron, who is now 37 with a family of his own, once played with those heirlooms. 

There are antique toy cars, mostly owned by Richey, and many rarities among them. 

“They are cars I actually played with,” Richey says. “When we closed out my grandmother’s house, they were in the toy box at her house. There’s a Cadillac, a Corvair, a Plymouth Valiant. And they look like new.”

The family treasure those toys.

“Other toys include a really old toy car that might have been my uncle’s. It says it’s a Falcon, and I would guess it’s from the late 1940s. It’s 2-feet long and we display it on the bookcase in the den.”

A gorgeous nativity scene is one acquired by Richey’s great-grandmother is “still in the box — from Woolworth’s!” 

Richey’s great-grandmother’s baby doll crib remains on display year-round in a guest bedroom. It is a true antique. “She was born in 1900,” he explains.

He says he inherited a great deal of the family heirlooms his grandmother “entrusted with me.  She knew I valued it.”

She was more valuable than any of her cherished objects, he adds. “She was everything to me.”

When he was a toddler, Richey’s parents would put him on the train from Columbia, South Carolina to the Triad for visits with his grandmother, who worked for Southern Railway. He laughs. “I was too young to remember it.”  Railroad employees watched out for their treasured young cargo.

Then there are the Richey-Howard’s nonholiday collections. 

The collecting-mad couple displays only a portion of the bar paraphernalia they own. They’ve amassed shot glasses from travels and gifts that they guesstimate number in the hundreds — easily 500. They simply cannot display it all.

“We don’t have it all out at this house,” says Richey. In other words, at least half is left in storage.

A framed collection of foreign tobacco brand labels hangs over the mantel. They bought them because they liked them and wanted to help someone who needed cash. “We bought those from a friend going through a divorce,” Richey explains. Only later did they learn the labels were valuable.

They also collect salt-and-pepper shakers, demitasse cups that were passed down in the family — and holiday items. They cannot resist adding at least one more Christmas ornament each year. 

“All of our ornaments are either homemade or we bought them at craft fairs,” Richey says. “We might buy one a year.” After 37 years, Richey admits, “That’s a lot.”

“It meant a lot to the two of us, having our own Christmas, and our own Christmas tradition,” says Richey.  “Cameron thinks it’s not Christmas unless we decorate the tree, have eggnog and play Christmas music.”

Traditions are deeply instilled in their son Cameron, who now has a baby girl, Addison. Their first grandchild is now 15 months — too young to fully grasp it all.   

“Next year will be amazing,” Howard says. “I can’t wait!”

“Some of Cameron’s toys, including Fozzie Bear from a Happy Meal, have been part of the Christmas tree for 30 years, along with his elementary school art ornaments,” says Richey.

The colorful Fozzie Bear, a Muppet Babies Happy Meal toy from McDonalds in 1986, is stationed upon the ladder that leans against the Christmas tree — this is as it has always been. Even Fozzie, after 24 years, is now a collectible.

The family is blending new traditions into old ones. On Christmas Eve, they still have dinner with Cameron, but now it is a much larger affair, including his wife, child and Cameron’s sister, Alyson, and her family.   

After dinner, “a few gifts” are opened. 

On Christmas Day, Richey and Howard travel to Lake Norman to spend time with Richey’s extended family, where 28 gather for lunch.

It’s wonderful chaos, Richey laughs. “My grandmother used to say, ‘I love all my grandchildren. Just not all at once.’”

He understands her point. On Christmas night, “we just enjoy the peace and quiet.”  OH

Cynthia Adams lives amid wonderful chaos year round.