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Squirrel gumbo and Tar Heels

Oxford American's ode to food

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You're eatin' right now. Or you're fixin' to get something to eat. You just ate. The new Oxford American is on the table, in its first ever Southern food issue, under the succinct banner, "writing, and fighting, about food." This season's book is brilliantly edited with loving eclecticism and eccentricity by John T. Edge, "the Einstein of Southern food" and director of Southern Foodways Alliance.

Here's what's on the menu: stories of sautéed frog, squirrel gumbo, Cajun Cola, 6,000 pounds of grits, Patty's peach pie, grilled deer testicles, flat dumplings, fresh figs, falling biscuits, Pinot Noir cotton candy, sweet, peppery raccoon, roast suckling pig, boiled peanuts, lemon-drenched baby okra, brains and eggs, peanut butter and bacon sandwiches and, of course, tales of barbecue ("the de facto dish of the South," remarks John Egerton).

Did you know hogs outnumber humans three to one in Denmark? This magazine is just too much fun to read. Where else could you find a full page ad for the Bacon of the Month Club?

While cool, irresistible sidebars and favorite-food essays dominate the issue, a pair of longer pieces will blow you away. David Ramsey's "Some Like it Extra Hot" is subtitled "Adventures in masochistic dining at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack".

It's a culinary riot--don't even attempt reading the article without a water bottle handy. Gary Hawkins' storytelling reminiscences of Larry Brown. "Just One More" (with an accompanying contemplative black and white photo by Tom Rankin), is classic OA, written with heart, rich literary experience and a film maker's eye.

Cayenne and Carrboro flavor the issue throughout. Seems like they're served up every other page. Not a bad combo plate. But it's going to be hard to top my favorite header in this issue, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Menus."

The next Oxford American is their annual music issue. Folks always line up for that one, and no doubt Music 2005 will be a killer. But this season's food issue is also something very special, definitely worth waiting for, and welcoming back next year.

Another magazine appeared on newsstands this month after a long time gone. Sports Illustrated Tar Heels National Champions is a great mag! Surprise! While it was a bit hard to find east of Chapel Hill (Duke University student stores decided not to carry it), the commemorative issue has some great unique articles. Check out S.L. Price's sharp piece on the New Jack Tar Heels. Price, now a senior writer at SI, wrote for The Daily Tar Heel as an undergraduate covering the '82-83 season. He gets some great quotes from Michael Jordan.

And just to stir the gossip soup, how about former Durham resident Paul Maliszewski getting everybody upset in high-lit New York with his recent piece in Bookforum? Alex Mindlin even reported on the "literary dust-up" in the New York Times. Maliszewski, former Web editor for McSweeney's, slams Pulitzer Prize-wining novelist Michael Chabon for "exceeding the bounds of poetic license" in lectures about his childhood and stories about the Holocaust.

Contributing writer John Valentine can be reached at ajcg@acpub.duke.edu.

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