Austin’s Ruby Dee Sings, Cooks and Hangs Out

Grammy-Nominated Musician Writes Cookbook After Brain Injury

Ruby Dee Philippa didn’t end her first cookbook with the desserts chapter. Instead, on the back cover of Ruby’s Juke Joint Americana Cookbook, there’s a boisterous bonus CD featuring her friends and her own Grammy-nominated band, Ruby Dee & the Snakehandlers .

While she was writing the cookbook, she’d tell people, “I’m calling it Americana cuisine — like Americana music.” But rather than constantly explaining that hard-to-define genre, she wanted people to just hear it. So she compiled her own recipes that drew on diverse influences all corners of the country (and the world) and followed that same recipe for the companion album.

“My friends know what Americana music is, but a lot of people don’t,” she says. “So I just figured to give them something to listen to and also give them something they can taste.”

Philippa created the cookbook while recovering from a serious scooter accident five years ago in Seattle, where she lived and worked as a restaurant owner. Now that she’s in Austin, Texas, she’s closer to her family in Houston and her circle of friends in the self-proclaimed “Chicas of Honky-Tonk.” (Hey, you’ve got to love a group of women who host a pie social on Loretta Lynn’s birthday, then give the proceeds to cancer research.)

Like our easygoing conversation on Philippa’s back porch, the new cookbook starts with her famous Texas martini. Settling in after a few sips, the friendly singer chatted about her fondness for farmers markets, her band’s rockabilly influence and her ultimate goal of just taking it easy.

CMT: What point did you decide to write the cookbook?

Philippa: After my head injury I had a really difficult time accessing words. The language side of my brain was affected to the point where I couldn’t even put together a whole sentence of words, let alone have this conversation right now. Now you can’t shut me up. My husband says that when they kill me, they’ll have to bury my mouth separately. I mean, I could see the picture for the glass, but I couldn’t think of the word “glass.” It was that hard. I’d ask my husband, “You know the thing you drink in and the thing that’s clear?” Then he’d say, “A glass?” and I’d say, “Yeah, that’s it.”

As a songwriter that’s a really bad place to be, so I started writing stories — on my own time with the door closed, phone turned off, no music playing, no distractions. I could take all the time I needed to find the words. Sometimes it would take me a half-hour to find a word. Then I realized I was starting to cheat. If I couldn’t find the word “couch” I would use “sofa,” even though I wanted the word “couch.” Then I would start relying on the thesaurus.

That wasn’t really working for me, though. I wasn’t exercising my brain the way I wanted to. Then I remembered that friends and family had been telling me for years to write my recipes down that I cook. And I had this long list of recipes, so I took the time to do that. After a few months, I realized I had the makings of a book.

You mention farmers markets a lot in the book. Why are those appealing to you?

I grew up in the country, and if you didn’t grow it yourself, you knew somebody who did. Or they knew somebody who did. … I really respect and support sustainable, local and seasonal farming because you’ve got a lower footprint. It doesn’t have to travel as far. You’re not putting bad stuff in the soil. You’re actually helping the soil by regenerating the soil. For instance, with my peppers and tomatoes over there, I’ve got peas also planted in there, so I recycle the soil. That’s the mindset of people going to the local farmer’s market. You can get lots of local cheeses and sausages and things like that. I love it all, and I like to support the people doing it.

For someone who’s never heard you play, how would you explain your sound?

OK, it’s Americana roots and rockabilly. Another way to say it is: twang the way it was meant to be heard — with attitude! It’s basically like the white man’s blue-collar blues. There’s a little bit of blues to my voice and the way I write, but I grew up on country music. My grandmother ran the choir. She was the choir director, so there’s a little bit of that in what I write. Jorge, who is my guitar player and my husband, he’s all about rockabilly, and that’s where he cut his teeth. So you combine all of those elements, and you get this fun, roots, rockabilly sound and it makes you jump! You can’t help it.

How’s the response to the cookbook to finally see all of your recipes in one place?

Friends and fans and family love it. And I’m so happy to see it. Normally, whenever I cook, I always make things a little bit differently. So when people ask me about my recipes, I have to thumb through it. I’m like, “What’s the version of my pickled peppers that I said I make?” And every time I look at the book, I’m so tickled with how great it looks. The guy who did the layout did a really good job. The response has been really good. I’m surprised at how many interactive responses we get about the book, more than any other CD we’ve put out.

Is that all right with you?

Whatever it takes. If people are going to notice one of my songs because of the book, that’s great. However many steps that it takes to the desired result, I’m good with that.

What is the desired result?

Stay comfortable, keep making records, keep making music and just keep working on my brain. I’m not 100 percent and I probably never will be. A brain injury is most likely permanent. It’s not something that gets cured. It’s not like resetting a broken leg. So my desired goal is just to keep doing what I’m doing and enjoy it. Just to keep doing this! This is my favorite thing — to hang out with friends on the back porch with food, drinks and music.

Ruby Dee’s Beer Glazed Ribs

I know there’s a lot of fuss over what “true” BBQ really is: smoked, or not, served smothered in sauce, or not, served spicy, or not. There are all kinds of BBQ for all kinds of people in this large and lovely country of ours. Here’s my personal take on a true-blue Americana favorite. Make sure you listen to anything with some good banjo playing while you cook these up.

2 pounds pork loin ribs
12 oz. bottle stout or other dark beer
½ cup onion, chopped
¼ cup prepared mustard (I like whole grain, but any will do)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

(serves 4)

Mix beer, onion, mustard, brown sugar, garlic and caraway in a large mixing bowl. Add ribs, toss to coat with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, making sure to turn the ribs occasionally. Drain, reserving marinade.

Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper. Pour marinade into small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes until sauce is reduced by half.

Place ribs on a lightly oiled rack over medium heat. Cover and grill for about 40-45 minutes or until juices run clear, turning the ribs every 15 minutes or so. Brush the ribs often with the reduced sauce during the last 10 minutes of grilling. Serve with corn pudding and fried dill pickles.

Reprinted by permission. Copyright 2012, Ruby Dee Philippa.