Paper Napkin Interview: Dishing with Maya Angelou

We sat down with the legendary poet and author to chat about slow food and the spirit of the season.
Interview by: Caroline McKenzie

How would you describe the South to someone who has never visited?
I would tell them about the food. I love the slow way of cooking. I like the country foods: the greens and the beans and the cornbreads and the biscuits. Not just for the taste, but because it infuses the house with an aroma that says "You are welcome. You're going to have some good food. It's going to take some time. And once you eat it you won't want to leave."

You've traveled the globe. Why do you call Winston-Salem home?
Winston-Salem is so beautiful. I'm delighted to be in the Piedmont where the Smokies and the Blue Ridge come together. We have 10-foot-tall rhododendrons and 6-foot-tall azaleas. Now that's unheard of.

You're the author of two cookbooks. What draws you into the kitchen?
I respect what the ingredients do with each other–how they interact, what the fire does to those ingredients. I respect mixing them at the proper times and bringing them out of the oven and off the stove at the proper time. I want that food to knock my guests' socks off so that all they can do is say "Mmmm" for the first two or three minutes.

At age 83 what do you credit as the source for your renowned insight and wisdom?
When I was 3, I was sent to live with my father's mother in a little village in Arkansas. My grandmother would constantly say, "Sister, when you get, give. When you learn, teach." That was so meaningful to me.

How do you celebrate the season?
I try to see every day as a celebration. I wasn't promised November the 10th. Nobody has sworn to me that I'll be around December 25th. No. So every day I awaken I am grateful. My intent is to be totally present in that day. And laugh as much as possible.

What is one of your favorite Christmas traditions?
Each year, I invite my friends and family to trim the tree here in North Carolina. I have big bushels of red, green, yellow, and white ornaments. Everyone divides into groups and we decorate the 12-foot tree. We don't give gifts, we just give the gift of being together.

Do you have any New Year's resolutions for 2012?
I don't do those. Instead, every day I try to do better. See better. Say better. Talk better. Be better. I do my best. And I blow it 10 times out of 12. I ask forgiveness of anyone whose feelings I may have hurt. I ask forgiveness of God. I forgive myself. And then I start again.

Who are your favorite singers?
Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, and Ronnie Dunn. And I especially like Toby Keith. He's got a wonderful sense of humor and a sense of patriotism.

What's the last thing you scribbled on a paper napkin?
I jot down things I want to know more about or want to look up.