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Table Talk: The long 10-day winter, chai to warm up, cake to end COVID

Welcome back to Table Talk, where The Daily Memphian’s food and dining editor Jennifer Biggs sends the latest food news (along with a dash of this and that) to your inbox every Wednesday.

They meant it when they said winter is coming. I never again need 10 consecutive days of this season, which is for the birds as far as I’m concerned.

Except it really wasn’t, was it? The poor birds were trapped here, freezing and hungry. Peggy Burch told us what the birds need and I was surprised to find out that bread is a no-no. It doesn’t provide nourishment and can also harm them, because if they get full-on bread, they don’t eat the nutritious food they need. (Sort of like we could do on boozy snow drinks if we didn’t know better.)


A cardinal eats from a covered bird feeder in Midtown Memphis Feb. 17, 2021. (Patrick Lantrip)

Because of a predacious cat — the stories I could tell you about the snakes, squirrels, birds and other wildlife he’s released in my house! — I’ve never had bird feeders. But he’s old now and wanted nothing to do with the polar vortex, so I mixed up seeds and nuts and so on and was excited when the birds finally discovered it. Read the story and learn what they need; spring will be here soon and it’ll be fun to watch them. Don’t be the person who kills them with bread crumbs!

My daughter and grandkids will be here tomorrow and I went to the grocery to stock up on kid things, but guess what? I went to four places and still didn’t get everything I needed. Allyson Brown told us about really bare shelves last week, and I can tell you the supply chain still had some weak links as of Tuesday night. Trader Joe’s was in better shape than the others I visited, well worth waiting in line for a few minutes to enter. 

I ran out of coffee pods days before they arrived in the mail, so I turned to my stand-by chai recipe, and here’s a link to it for you. You might even decide, like I do every couple of years, to drink this instead of coffee for a while. I make the concentrate and heat it with milk on the stove in the morning. You could microwave it, but put it on the stovetop and it’ll make your house smell great. And, yes, the water was boiled.

Our poor restaurants. They’ve been restricted for almost a year, finally got a little relief in Health Directive 18, then were told on Friday they’d have to shut because of the boil order. So they canceled their reservations and told their servers to stay home, then the Health Department said oops, sorry; what we meant is you have to close if you can’t boil water. 


But the truth is that keeping enough water boiled is no easy task, and while some are open, many have chosen to remain closed until the order is lifted anyway. Do what you can for your favorite places, whether it’s dine-in or takeout. They need everyone’s help.


Bobby Ellis, who died Feb. 22, made a career at the Rendezvous restaurant Downtown. (Houston Cofield/Special to The Daily Memphian)

The Rendezvous was back on Deals & Steals on “Good Morning America” this week with a big rib and pulled pork package that we’ll be eating at my house this weekend (and nibbling on the Dinstuhl’s cashew crunch that comes with it). This is the fourth time they’ve been featured on GMA during COVID, and each time, Anna Vergos told me, the timing has been great.

Sad news from that local institution this week, too. Bobby Ellis, who worked at the Rendezvous 53 years, died after an extended illness. You probably saw him sitting by the hostess stand every time you went there; he made sure everything was in order. He knew the Rendezvous better than anybody, co-owner John Vergos told me, and will be missed by everybody. 

What’s to become of The Peanut Shoppe on South Main? There’s no answer right now. As Tom Bailey reported, the building is going to be renovated and the shop must find a new place, if not permanently, at least during the renovation. Owner Rida AbuZaineh said he’s not ready to give up, but doesn’t really know what’s going to happen. 


Rida AbuZaineh (right) tends to a customer in the Peanut Shoppe’s current home on Main Street. (Tom Bailey/Daily Memphian)

In our Table Talk Facebook group, we’re talking about everything from “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” to chocolate cakes to what we miss besides restaurants during COVID. Someone even posted that they’re vacationing in Naples and wanted to know where to eat; y’all came through with dozens of recommendations.


Indonesian curry posted to the Table Talk Facebook group. (Courtesy Sarah Marijke Cai) 

And we’re sharing recipes every day. Take a look at the Indonesian curry by Sarah Marijke Cai. Chris Herrington is making it this week and I’ll do it when the kids leave. 

We had a long discussion about cake. Linda asked where to get a good coconut cake and we gave her so many suggestions that now she can’t decide where to go. And a menu someone posted for her looked so good that I just placed an order for a vanilla cake with brown buttercream filling and icing.

When COVID started, there was cake in my house for a couple of months. I finally put a stop to that, but I’m picking this one up Friday and I’ll post a picture and tell you about it next week. My fingers are crossed that it’s an omen, a harbinger that better days are almost here. If I have to eat cake for a couple of months to make a full circle, well, so be it. I’m seldom superstitious, but it can’t hurt, might help.

Have a safe and happy week. I’ll be eating cake with the kids, doing my part. And, oh, have a listen to Sound Bites. Le Bon Appetit @home starts March 1 instead of this week, because of the boil order, and Kelly English and I talk about how cream cheese can do everything. (It can even frost a cake.)

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