Friday, December 31, 2010

New blog added to our roll...Cheese and Biscuits

I found this British food blogger via The Guardian (which recently had a great article on buying Scotch whisky); he seems to review mostly London restaurants. I did like the name. Also there's a fun "Cheese of the Month" feature (mmm, Cornish Yarg!), and plenty of yummy photos.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Breakfast has become a comfortable sameness over the last few years. It was hard to find a cold cereal that wasn't loaded with carbs and I experimented with all sorts of other things for that fast-breaking meal.

But the truth of it is I am the kind of person who hits the ground running most mornings and I don't want to waste thought on it. I have more time to think of other meals and snacks but breakfast defeated me until I found My Perfect Breakfast.

(Okay, in the interest of complete disclosure, a Full English is My Perfect Breakfast but since I'm not a farm-worker it simply isn't practical or healthy to have that fatty goodness every day of the world.)

It starts with a half-portion of old-fashioned oats, into which is splashed enough water from the kettle to cover them. I then put the kettle on to boil for tea, usually a cup not a potful. The oats absorb rather a lot of the water and when the kettle has boiled, I turn the burner on simmer and put the pan of oats on it.

I make my cuppa and let it steep.

I slice a half banana into the bopttom of My Favorite Bowl, add a handful of raw nuts (walnuts right now) and a teaspoon of ginger preserves.

The oats are fluffy by this point and a little gooey--they get plopped onto the banana-nut-ginger mess and stirred up.

Add a splash of the milk of your choice, stir it all up and call it breakfast

Milk in the tea, too--at least for me.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup!

In the last couple of days, we've had almost a foot of snow here in the southern highlands. It has kept an awful lot of people off the roads, including yours truly. As a Pagan, I don't celebrate Christmas but because I'm a Southerner, I often visit family in the area and snack on their spiral-sliced ham and potato salad and such.

This year, I've eaten rather a lot of yoghurt-covered nuts and some bacon.

That's just not right somehow.

So in the spirit of snow and not of Yuletide, I made a pot of soup today. Began by sauteeing onions, garlic, herbs and celery in some olive oil. Then I added a pound of chopped mushrooms. Then a can of diced tomatoes. Then a box of organic chicken broth. There were some over-cooked and subsequently frozen green beans from the garden that went in, too.

Cracked some pepper into it, let it simmer for a while.

Thick, frangrant. We grated some hard parm over each serving and dug in, with sliced baguette on the side.

Winter, snow, soup.

Hope you had some good soup, too.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oyster Stew

Odd, isn't it? Here in the southern highlands, a family tradition was oyster stew around Christmas-time. My mother would get a little can of frozen oysters, thaw them, saute them in a little butter and then add whole milk to the mix. That was heated gently, pepper was added and the bowls were served with oyster crackers.

Last time I was at the grocery store, I got fresh oysters (already shucked) and made oyster stew for our dinner. I bought Campbell's Oyster Stew as a base, so I did cheat a bit.

I cleaned the oysters, making sure there were no bits of shell--or pearls!--left in them. I sauteed them in olive oil, garlic and unsalted butter. Gently, lightly.

The soup went in then, with some half and half and some 1% milk.


It really was perfect. I flourished the pepper grinder over each bowl and tossed in some very fresh oyster crackers.

Yummy. No lie.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baking as Therapy

Sometimes I wonder if so many of us bake for Yuletide gifts because it is one of the few things that keeps us same during this season. We are having unseasonably cold weather here in the southern Highlands of old Appalachia--high winds, very cold.

All I can think of is how good it is to have so much baking to do.

I reckon I will be called to do some cookies at some point but for me, for now, it's breads.

I made soda bread yesterday for a workshop that was cancelled because of the weather. That's it in the picture. I also made fruit cake and pumpkin bread. Today the back of my neck is so cold, I'm going to put on a scarf and an apron and make plum cakes.

I will also forage about in the freezer and see what other fruits and nuts may be languishing there. I will add them to flour, sugar, honey, spices, eggs and olive oil, put that in a floured pan and bake whatever the heck it is at 350 until it's ready to cool on the wire rack.

Grease,flour, repeat.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bread broken up and eaten with fingers

I went to a potluck today. Okay, let me be honest. I wasn't sure if it was a potluck or not. It was a ritual with a feast following. I had misplaced my invitation and couldn't remember if we were supposed to bring anything or not. I brought my own feastgear--bowl, spoon, fork, napkin, mason jar for drink.

When in doubt--especially this time of year--why not bring a frozen sweet bread, just in case.

So that's what I did. I pulled a loaf of apple-walnut bread out of the freezer and tucked it away in my bag.

Turns out it was a feast, not a potluck. There were huge pots of delicious soup and fresh bread with butter. I unwrapped the cake but let it on its ziplock bag so everyone could see what it was. But I didn't slice it or anything. When next I saw it, people were breaking chunks off and eating them. At the end of the evening, there weren't even many crumbs.

Let that be a lesson to you--the world is a simpler place when you have a few extra homemade breads frozen for later. Simpler, and more delicious.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Season of Plums...Sugar and otherwise

When I was a child, we had two plum trees on our property. One was a damson plum tree with dark purple, pointed fruits that were generally prolific but not tasty to eat. At least not to a kid in overalls who seemed to have adopted a hunter-gatherer lifestyle very early on. I'd love to have the plunder of that old tree now--what wines and cakes and preserves we could make!

The other tree had fat bright fruits that could be wiped on the sleeve and eaten out-of-hyand, the sweet juice sticky-ing up our hands and chins.

The fruit of that tree would also be most welcome in my adult hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Both alas are long gone--victims of long-neglect and absent property-owners.

We sit now in the season of sugarplums and it makes me think of those old, rangy trees and their dear harvests. I am also reminded of all that long-ago richness by the smells coming from my kitchen this evening.

I am making my mother's prune cake. A not-too-sweet dense cake that is glazed with sugar and butter and buttermilk. She always made it weeks ahead of the holiday season, glaze and all, and froze it. Something about the freezing and thawing process gave it a terrifically moist texture that was perfect with a cup of hot tea of a tot of bourbon (when I was older, of course).

I can almost give you the recipe from memory...
2 cups all purpose flour
1 T each of cinnamon, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg
1T of vanilla extract (I sometimes use spiced rum instead)
1/2 C sugar
1 C buttermilk
1 C oil
3 eggs
1 C dried plums/prunes, stewed

Mix that all together, add 1 cup of English or black walnuts. Pour into a greased and floured pan--a tube pan is good or a couple of loaf pans. Bake at 300 for about an hour. When it is cooked and somewhat cooled, cook up
1 C sugar
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 t baking soda
2 T white syrup
1/2 C butter

Cook the glaze in a heavy pan for 3-5 minutes, until it is combined, and pour it over the cake.

I'd serve it with Irish whiskey, me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Bleak Midwinter

It is unseasonably cold here in the southern Highlands and that means beans.

In this case, 15 bean soup. It simmered and simmered on the back burner of the stove, reminding me of wood cookstoves of my youth. There's a part of me that would love one of those old cookers--maybe not as my primary cooking tool. Nothing smells quite as good as food cooked on a wood cookstove.

I've been obsessing about beans lately. The fat bags stacked on the grocery store shelves, the rattly bins at the farmers market.

Pinto, lentils of many colors, crowder, field peas, great southern (ha), lima, black-eyed peas.


There comes a point in the simmer, dash of salt, simmer, add more water, simmer, add some olive oil, simmer process that a pone of cornbread must be whipped up and baked in a fast oven.

Then some butter, I reckon.

Some days I would have also added some strong greens, but today it was me and the 15 beans and the cornbread.

And Irish coffee, did I mention that?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How Foodies Get to Be Foodies

The new photo topping our blog was taken in November of 2006, not long after my father died. He was a vegetable grower, and this is his compost heap. You can see a squash lying there on the top, probably one of the butternuts he was famous for at the local farmer's market. Dad only discovered the farmer's market the year before he died, so he was only part way into his second year of selling vegetables there when he passed at the beginning of October that year. Before that, he tried selling them from a makeshift stand in front of the house, as a couple of other backyard growers did: hence the crudely-lettered and poorly spelled sign in the picture.

He did get customers, though. But also thieves. He had another sign on the stand where he left the vegetables and a coffee can for money, it read "Be Honste." But some people were not honste. They took his veggies AND his money. Dad just shook his head, more in sadness than anger, and said "I would have given them anything they asked for."

That generosity was what defined my dad's Pagan Foodie heart. Although a lifelong Catholic, though not always a dutifully-practicing one, his love of the outdoors, his avid activities that brought him out into nature (hunting, fishing, food gathering) made him someone who could not help but teach his children a love of nature. But he did not keep the bounty of his adventures for himself, oh, no. He shared with others. Gods help him, he nearly lost his life doing it, as when he slipped on the ice and fell and broke his hip one year, just a few months into his retirement, when he ventured out one morning to deliver (what was it? a plate of fried smelt? some Italian cookies he'd made?) a wrapped dish of goodies to a friend. It took him many months to recover and his health, already compromised from years of bad habits, was never as robust again afterwards.

I remember one mainstay of the winter holidays for Dad was going around to the homes of friends and relatives with plates of food. I ventured along on some of these trips, and sometimes I made the food: Dad got to the point where he always asked me to make the pizzelles (those thin crispy cookies you make in a special waffle iron) each year because, he said, mine always came out better. He also made fried smelt (which he often caught himself), scalloped oysters, and various things covered in his homemade marinara sauce. As Mom (who is also a fabulous cook) and Dad got older, and Mom's MS got worse and it was just the two of them at home most of the time, the cooking did not happen as often. But Dad still did what he could. He continued canning every year, even though there was hardly anyone to eat it, so again, there were gifts for others, with his hand-scribbled labels and the date. He also took to pasting his address labels on the jars.

After he died, I cleaned out the pantry and collected three jars of peach jam, and several jars of sauerkraut-stuffed banana peppers for a friend who loved to eat them right out of the jar. That recipe even got published in a local paper (although Dad had found it in a book somewhere). He had also become quite notorious for giving jars of pickled garlic to his fellow farmer's market vendors, who raved about it when I visited there and talked to them about my Dad. He probably would have liked to get licensed to sell his canned products there, but having looked at the rules, and having been inspected and licensed to make baked goods for farm markets, which requires far simpler standards than canning acidic foods, I can say Dad's kitchen may not have passed muster for cleanliness. Heck, I even found a small bug or two in my peach jam. Comes out pretty easy with a teaspoon.

I admired Dad for trying to offset his small income during retirement with his own business; I understand he did very well. The market organizer, a woman who worked for the local Cooperative Extension, said the "little old ladies" would line up every week for Dad's giant, unblemished butternut squash. And his sense of humor and enthusiasm helped him make some new friends there.

Dad had a gardening partner, Larry, who helped him do the work and shared in the bounty (he now rents my parents' house and still farms that garden plot). I once asked him if they sprayed the vegetables and he admitted they did spray some things prone to pests. So I told my Dad one day, you know, people will pay extra for organically-grown vegetables. And you can get special signs for free to put on your stand. It's more work, but, I reasoned, you won't have to buy the chemicals, either. I didn't get into the evils of Monsanto and that hullaballoo, but I did remind him that organics were also healthier for everyone. He didn't agree or disagree, kept weeding his cucumbers, and I didn't think he'd actually change the way he'd always done things. But right after he died, I ran into Larry at the house, working in the garden (pictured above), and we were talking, and that conversation came up. Larry told me that he and my Dad had been planning to go organic the following year. I guess he was curious to try it out and see if he really made more money.

I'd always thought it was me who had learned things from my Dad, who had learned them from his father (who had owned his own fruit stand, and was a marvelous cook, whipping up huge meals for our Italian relatives every Sunday, with sauce made from scratch the night before). But at that point, I realized he had learned something from me. I only wish we'd been able to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of this experiment together.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why I Love Onions

I love all kinds of onions. I like them young and green in the earliest part of the spring. I like them round and fat when they've been saved from an earlier garden.

Red ones.

Yellow ones.

White ones.

I even like those lame sweet ones from Vidalia, Georgia.

Cooked up with peppers and garlic, they are perfection. Baked with other veg in a slow oven, when they wear a light coat of olive oil and some kosher salt, they are the best part. Chunks baked into stuffing are more than acceptable.

But as the winter swoops down on the mountains, these are my two favorite ways to eat them. The first makes perfect sense and is an Appalachian favorite. After cooking a nice pot of beans--mmmm, pintos--I like onions chopped and diced and sprinkled all over the top of my bowl of beans. Corn bread on the side is handy, too.

Lately I've been making onions the way my mom used to to go on top of hot dogs. Only I don't have them on dogs. I plop them on top of scrambled eggs and sometimes I eat them rolled in a whole wheat tortilla.

And sometimes, I eat them with a spoon. Here it is, super simple, a little weird but good.

1 whole onion, diced
3-4 T mustard, whichever you prefer
2 T mayonnaise, either homemade or Duke's
Salt to taste, coarse salt is best

Stir it all up.

That's all.

How much do you love onions?

PS I also love garlic and ramps. Yum. Stinky foods.

And good for you, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hidden Peppers

Yesterday was Tidy Up The Garden Day. All the dregs of harvests past had to be snatched up from the ground, the good dirt shaken from the roots and then off they went. Some to the compost, others down the steep bank, to discourage the kudzu.

This was not the best year for peppers--unlike last year when I pickled huge glowing jars of bells, jalapenos, habeneros, and bananas. This year, we only grew three varieties--a green bell, a red bell and some sweet banana peppers. I'd frankly given up on them but when I reached down to pull them up, I found stragglers under the leaves. Crisp and perfect peppers.

There were the usual lost onions. Every year there are onions that are pulled during the dry season and the tops pull loose, leaving the bulb underground. In the cool days following the last autumn rains, they send up rich green shoots again and are there to be picked and enjoyed.

So, last night for a late-night snack, I chopped up some spring onions and squirted a little mustard on them. I sliced up a long green pepper and used the fat slices to scoop up the mustardy onion.

I drank a bright beer with it and it was the perfect combination.

Honest, it was!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Last of the Rosy Beans

I accidentally grew some beautiful red beans this year.

Let me 'splain.

I got the seed at some remainders/seconds store here in the Salem of the South. Once the coveted haricots started bearing their slender spears of delight, I planted these red beans in the Italian garden. For some reason, I thought they were Kentucky Wonders.

Imagine my surprise when the beans that were left a couple of days too long on the plants started getting red streaks on their wide backs.


I finally--after harvesting two messes of them--checked the box of seeds to look for the package. Rosa, they are called. Italian flat beans that eventually turn completely red on the outside. The inside is a big white bean with red streaks.

I've saved seed for those and the haricots, also this year's super prolific okra.

We ate the last of those rosy beans tonight, alongside some tender pork steaks cooked in red wine, with mushrooms.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cider Pressing!

Late last month, I travelled to western New York for a weekend of chilly camping and a harvest festival including pressing fresh cider. At the Brushwood Folklore Center, there are a lot of wild apple trees. This year the crop was not bountiful enough for us to press much cider, but we did add a few of the wild apples to the bushels the campsite bought from a local orchard. The cider was absolutely delicious. I brought about a half gallon of unpasteurized fresh cider home, and drank a glass or two every day until it was (sob!) gone.

We also built a wicker man from crabapple boughs we pruned on labor Day weekend, and burned him in our ritual bonfire.

Here are a few photos of our adventures of Heartsong Harvest Weekend...enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cool Enough to Cook

I know, I know. I have been too busy planting and picking and canning and freezing to even think about cooking.

It's been awful. I've been living on fresh tomatoes and wormy apples.

But now the rains have come back and the temp has dropped and we can think about eating again.

To that will ask--guess what I just had for supper?

I sauteed taters, mushrooms and zucchini in bacon drippings. Then I added some crumbled up bacon. Real bacon, not those crappy bacon bits in a jar. I sprinkled it with good Celtic sea salt and ate it while drinking a dry, crisp hard cider from my own orchard.

Can life be yummier than that? I don't think so.

Another lovely aspect of cooler weather is the ability to bake in this old un-air-conditioned house. A good friend had a birthday yesterday and I made some pasta primavera and we finished the meal with...

a chocolate carrot cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting.

Yep, made from scratch--from the grated back garden carrots to the licking of the mixer beaters. Handmade and pretty darn yummy, if I do say so myself.

I had never eaten such a beast but I was thinking of a dense, rich and chocolate-y cake and that came to mind.

Next time, I'll make it as a chocolate, chocolate-chip carrot cake.

O, yes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Last of the Summer Sandwich

We have a delicious summer sandwich--it may be the perfect one for me. Here's how it goes--

Fat banana peppers from the garden are sauteed in olive oil and just a smidge of butter.

Four eggs are whipped up with a little water and scrambled.

On whatever bread is around, we slather mayo on one side. When the eggs are ready, slices of cheddar are laid reverently atop and allowed to soften. The peppers go atop the cheese and slices of fresh tomato go on top of that.

Mayo side down on top.

Slice, if you like.

Juicy, messy, delicious.

We had what was probably the last one today, since we're not having a bang-up pepper season this year.

(The sandwich pictured above also has some avocado on it but otherwise very similar.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Canning is Not for the Faint-of-Heart

The time for preservation has come, dear friends. It began with picking apples and processing them into juice, then setting them down as cider.

We'll bottle that this week.

Then the currants were picked and processed, then frozen. Now they are in the ale pail, on their way to this year's currant wine.

The apricots were picked and processed a while back and now they are simmering in a pan--with rather a lot of sugar and cinnamon--darkening into fruit butter.

The grapes are ripening and will become both wine and jelly.

The last of the raspberries are in a pie.

And last night we made blueberry preserves with local bloobs.

There's a colander full of Cortland apples on the table, pondering their destiny.

Pie? Jelly? Crisp?

They'll get processed tomorrow and bunged into the freezer. Then we shall see.

What are you eating, this first night of Lughnasadh?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yeast Goddesses

A quick note to sing the praises of yeast, a paean to fermentation.

I was up early this morning, in the quiet. I was puttering around the kitchen, considering the relative merits of tea or coffee when I heard this odd popping sound.

Very soft, but somehow distinct.

I have fairly good hearing--especially considering my love of metal rock and opera--so I tracked the sound to the white pale in front of the old desk.

The cider--last night's labor of love--was merrily bubbling away, popping and off-gassing in the airlock.

Such a nice feeling. After the apple prep and the pasteurization process and the expensive yeast, it was a bit of a relief to hear that fermentation song.

Ah, I sing a song of fermentation, of the flesh of fruit and the active yeast!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Juicing the Pippins

Actually, I was juicing the MacIntosh and pseudo-Cortlands. I used a hand-me-down Krupps juicer, which did not like the peels. Next year I'll know to peel the apples in the first processing. It was the first time I'd used the juicer and when it gets clogged it kicks like a mule.

But I tried to stay calm and unafraid--it's also pretty loud--and zip through those apples bag by bag.
Here are the 1/2 gallon Ball jars (they are now in the fridge). I'm too tired to do the next step, so will pick up the extra juice to make 5 gals tomorrow and put juice, honey and yeast into the ale pail to ferment.
I'll try to do some pics of that, too, and take you with me on this adventure. Until then, here's my bread box, spattered with apple guts:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The apples are processed and ready to be made into juice. Which will happen tomorrow.

In a flurry of angst and confusion, we visited the fella at AVL Brewing Supply and told him what we were doing.

Easy-peazy was the phrase he used several times.

We can only hope.

The good news is that we can add to however much juice these apples make by adding juice from the grocery store. And we can sweeten and feed the yeast with the honry from our late bees.

I am going to attempt to document the process here, so that you may gain confidence from my utter lack of experience in the hard cider department.

Hang on. Scrumpy's coming.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Too Busy Eating to Write About It

Dear gods, y'all! Are you filling your fridge and belly with all this great produce?

Do it!

For dinner tonight we had rainbow chard, onions, carrots, green beans (more on Slenderette later) and yellow peppers that were sauteed in garlic and OO. On top were some poached mahi-mahi.

O. My. Goodness.

Do you have farmers' markets near you? Gorgeous produce coming out of your garden? A little of both?

Well done, you.

This morning we did another harvest of the MacIntosh apples, too. These (and the little Cortlands) are destined for the juicer and the happy world of hard cider. Scrumpy. Gosh, I love that stuff.

I got the old juicer out today. It was a gift from a friend who was moving cross-country and I've never used it. But until I have a portable cider mill at my disposal, this will have to do.

Bon appetit, y'all! Enjoy the utter perfect freshness of it all, while you can. Autumn--and her Sister Winter--are on their way.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Ate My Weight in Fresh Shrimp

Okay, not quite. But let me give a profound shout-out to one of my fave restaurants in the world--Gilligan's in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Old friends first took us there years ago and every time I'm in the Low Country (as I was last week), I get myself over there.

It's a local chain that started with one restaurant and has expanded over the years. Slaw is good and mayonaisse-y, fried okra is barely breaded and crisp. I've had the oysters, clams, mussels but the shrimp is my usual choice.

As a tribute to my friend Freddie Clarke, this time I ordered the AYCE shrimp. When asked about sides, I took a double okra.

The first helping was fried, the second steamed (a little too spicy for my mood on that evening but still yummy), after that--fried, fried, fried.

Lightly done, not too much breading--the star is the very fresh shrimp.

Are you waiting to hear about hushpuppies? Yes, I do adore those fierce projectiles and am particular about them. I am saddened to tell you the ones at Gilligan's were not the best on this trip. That award goes to the crisp, tender and slightly sweet ones from the Charleston Crab House. I can't remember much about my meal there but the hushpuppies were terrific.

And here they are--

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Black Raspberries! And Dreaming of Making Jam...

In recent months, many articles have appeared touting the cancer-fighting powers of these tasty summer fruits. They're rich in anti-oxidants, vitamin C, and fiber, and delicious! I've also found them to be pretty easy to grow. I have pulled up wild plants (they tend to grow near dead trees) and plant them by a fence where they get equal amounts of shade and sun. They tend to spread, so just pluck up the new young plants if you get too many, and share them with friends.

I moved this spring, and the lovely healthy berry bush I had growing died back when I uprooted it, and will not produce fruit this year, but it's already growing nicely again, so next year we should be back in business. I also pulled up another wild one and planted it this week, and once it finsihed drooping I will cut it back and wait for it to spring back next year.

I love them on Cheerios for breakfast; but only when they're fresh. Since they're only around for a few weeks, freezing is the best way to preserve them for year round enjoyment; I imagine I will throw them into my juicer occasionally. But I am going to make jam from them for the first time tis year. I've been gathering them and freezing them; a friend in the neighborhood has several clumps of bushes and can't eat all the berries; so he lets me come pick as many as I want (he'll get some jam for his generosity). Which is nice, since spelunking in the wild patches I picked from last week left me with big scratches on my lower legs, and a bee sting! Once I have enough, I will gather my jars and get cooking.

Last summer I made jam for the first time. The freezer jam was not so good (too runny), and the apricot preserves were too tart (should not have used pectin! next year I will follow this recipe to the letter), but the peach jam (pictured above), cooked slowly with a bit of sugar and a healthy dose of lemon juice, was lovely. It was my favorite as a kid, so I'm happy to follow in Mom's footsteps. I am going to try the no-pectin method again with the black raspberries.

I try not to eat too much sugar, and also not too many carbs; but homemade jam on toast is the breakfast of gods. When I read fiction from the good old days, they seem to eat an inordinate amount of jam. War-time films emphasize the importance of jam as a foodstuff in England. It's the next best thing to fresh fruit, I guess: juicy vitamins and fiber in a jar.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Good Eats

We've eaten a lot of pasta-and this week. We had rice-and one day, too. So I had a long day at work and am looking at another one tomorrow and didn't want to think about what to make for supper. But I'd used up all my easy things (see sentences above) and besides I wanted to eat something healthy and yummy. Possibly fried.

So I wandered out to the garden to see what I could eat. It was a garden of eden out there. Spring onions. Rainbow chard. A cabbage. Snow peas. Broccoli.

Holy moly.

I sauteed (well, it is kind of frying) the onions, then threw in the stems of the chard, while chopping up the cabbage. That went in, too, at least part of it did.

Some left-over chicken went into the happy cast-iron skillet. Toss, add some fresh cracked pepper.


After eating that, I steamed the broccoli and the peas separately, and we can eat those tomorrow.

I'm full, happy, delirious to have so much good stuff in the back yard. And it ain't even tomato season yet.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Scientific Conclusion: Anything Can Be Sauteed

Why do I love olive oil so much? And how is it even better with tiny spring onions in it or fresh mashed garlic?

I only know I love it and will fling most any food stuff into it, stir it with a wooden spoon and dump it in a bowl.

Today, I made a gorgeous fat lasagna with mushrooms, four cheeses, spinach from the garden. Now, I don't eat that much pasta so I was scouting around for something for Mommy's supper.

I sauteed a sweet potato in OO, added some mushes, threw in a few fresh snow peas from the garden and topped it all off with a ton of spinach.

Holy moly, it was yummy. I scattered some mozz on top and it melted into the hot spinach.

Yep, it was heaven in a bowl.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Big Healthy Food

There is something about the in-coming harvest from the back garden that inspires me to cook new, odd or interesting combinations of things.

Yesterday, we had some pan-roasted sweet potatoes and lightly-steamed broccoli. Big plates of it, with some rich slices of roasted-pepper focaccia and pear chutney.

It was filling and delicious.

Today I made a stew of green beans, diced tomatoes, hominy and fresh spinach from the garden. It smelled so good while it was slowly slowly slowly cooking that I was inspired to make a cake of corn bread. I even had some buttermilk, which makes it even better.

It is almost like autumn around here with this rich food. We're also having very cool nights here in the southern Highlands and this seems like such a delicious way to honor the last of the cool before summer weather hits.

Cornbread. Spinach. Hominy.

When was the last time you had hominy? Have you ever? This wasn't fresh-made--it came from a can. But the texture was as I remember--soft, yet firm.

What are you all eating these days? Strawberries? Salad greens? Spring onions?

O, goodness, I love spring onions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Greens. Grrrrreeeens!

The dry and freezing winter did a number on the seedlings I had hoped would turn into lush wintered-over greens. Due to gardener error--or incompetence, to be honest--this dream of green did not materialize this year.

And yet...and yet...

There are random, free-range collards, kale and chards that have sprung up in the tidy beds that now contain brussels sprouts and spinach. These edible beauties rise proudly about the other greens, showing their disdain for plants that didn't face the ferocity of a mountain winter.

It's almost a shame to eat them. But they are delicious in their terrible strength. And the seeds from these survivers? As strong as strong can be. Warrior greens.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It was the Preakness today, and we had these odd burgers

My friend the chicka-fisha-terian was up for a visit and I got some of that odd turkey bacon for breakfast. I made fresh biscuits, and we had eggs.

So there was this odd turkey bacon left over--honestly, it was organic and all, but not terribly good (though it was terribly salty). I came back from an author event at the bookstore and decided to make turkey burgers while we watched Race Two of the Triple Crown.

Here was the delicious combo--juicy ground turket burger, slowly cooked in olive oil. It was served on a thin roll with goat cheese, fresh romaine from the garden, and some Duke's mayo. And fake bacon.

Rather tender and wonderful. I could have served it with apple cole slaw but I was too hungry to wait.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Banana Pudding et cetera

I used to do a lot of experimenting with the basic idea of banana pudding. Is banana pudding a Southern delicacy? It is often found at potlucks and family reunions here in the Southland. And the folks who make it often have their own special take on this homeliest of sweets.

An African-American friend makes hers with Pepperidge Farm cookies, the ones with the chess figure on the front. A Low Country friend insists that one only use instant pudding. Another friend, with roots in the Deep South, insists on homemade pudding, rich in egg and heavy cream.

Among my experiments was a basic deep dish layered dessert with vanilla wafers, strawberries and chocolate pudding, with merigue on top and chocolate curls on top of that.

I am thinking of this today because we have a bag of slightly stale madeleines and they are destined for a pudding. Possibly tomorrow.

Ramps have been achieved, by the way. I feared I was too late but the plucky folks at the Farmers Market had some. They will be cooked in some fashion tomorrow.

And I'm thinking of planting some, too. I'll let you know how that goes.

So, what did you drink for Derby Day? I made some simple syrup for juleps but we gulped down Maywine instead. A light Pinot Grigio with the requisite sweet woodruff, with sunken strawberries in the bottom of the glass.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nothing Could Be Finer

There is so much pleasure in gardening--all senses involved in the digging and planting.

Then the day comes, maybe sooner than you expect, when you begin to eat the things you've planted and tended.

That day was today in my garden. I picked new romaine, a few leaves only. And two perfect cherry belle radishes. We have had some wintered-over greens, garlic and onions. And we've had wild food--nettles, chickweek, dandelions, ramps.

Do you know how good real food is--food that you pick in the warm sun of your garden and bring directly into your house?

Let me encourage you to carve out some garden space in your yard, if you have one. Grow a tomato plant on your patio or front stoop.

Food, glorious home-grown food!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Does the word evoke dangerous faery tales?

What would you give for a taste of this delicious green?

Delicious may be in the mouth of the beholder but ramps are in season here in the mountains and you would be wise to indulge.

They are stinky and wonderful, a sovereign tonic for spring.

You can get them at local tailgate and farmers markets. Narrow white bulbs and wide green leaves.

Prep them by taking the roots off the bulb end and washing them thoroughly to remove dirt and old mast. Pinch off any brown bits from the leaves but retain as much as you can of these precious greens.

I chop them up and saute them briefly in olive oil. Sometimes I serve them just like that--with perhaps a grind of light pepper.

They are also delicious in omelettes, with cheese. They can be tinctured in vinegar for future use. They can even be eaten raw.

Find them and eat them...and then stay away from your fellow humans for a few days. Their reputation as the Queen of Stink is well deserved and the stink often comes hours later, when the funk has had time to work through your system.

Brush and floss and use the strongest mouth wash to no avail. The smell remains on your breath, in your pores, in your sweat for a day or two.

But my, o my! is it worth it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nettle Soup is Way Too Green

A friend left a super-stinky bag of fresh nettles for me yesterday. They are so beautiful when young--vibrant, bristley. Vast patches grow along the river here and exude a faint sense of cat pee.

Hardly sounds right, does it? Prickles that sting you and the appetizing smell of urine. Can you think of a better starter for a delicious and nutritious soup?

I carefully washed them today and parboiled them in vegetable broth and water. They turned an even brighter green and the smell was more spinach and less...well, you know.

I whipped them through the blender, then sauteed onions, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil. When all that was tender, I blended about half of that and added all the batches into one large pot. Low simmer for 15 minutes or so, to combine the flavors a bit.

Towards the end of that time, I added a half cup of half and half, and turned off the burner.

I served it for supper with a dollop of sour cream, a scrape of aged parmesan and a crank of fresh black pepper.

O, yea. Hot spring in a wide bowl. A glass of pinot grigio and some crusty bread and it's the best spring tonic.

Okay, the best except for ramps. More on those if I get some tomorrow.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Creasies, Dandelions, Nettles...and some excellent fried chicken

The spring greens are starting to sprout up here in the hills of western North Carolina. The weather has turned mighty fair of late and I've been out and about, noticing the spikey dandelion greens that seem to call me to dinner in the spring. Do you love them?

I was raised on a wonderful story of my Great-Grandmother Westmoreland who could go out into bare fields and pick a washpan full of greens for a meal. I pick as much as I can--chickweed has been a recent fave.

Creasey greens and dandelions go beautifully together. Here's how I do them:

Wash them...many times. Soak them in cold water for a couple of hours, to plump them up. Then I chop them a bit and saute them in olive oil, often with a little garlic chopped into it.

Serve them hot, with maybe a scrape of hard cheese, like a Locatelli Romano.

Nettles are also peeking out their pointy selves. I also wash them heck out of them, soak them a bit. Then chop them up and boil them down, using the rich green broth and now-tender green shoots for soup.

The next thing I'll need to sample for my mountain spring tonic?



I came down from the high country today and stopped at Famous Louise's Rockhouse Restaurant. I did not have pie and instead asked for a couple of pieces of the crispest fried chicken. I had it with a glass of cold water with lemon squeezed into it. My goodness, it was fine.

I thanked the woman who served it and the kind man who cooked it. When you get hot crispy fried chicken, you should be grateful, I think. It is rare enough to find it in an edible state. This was excellent.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Food--It's What I Planted in the Back Garden

Any Pagan foodie worth the name knows the ineffable joy of growing your own. Whether is a balcony windowbox, some containers on the deck or tilling up the Back 40, the pleasure of growing your own food cannot be oversold.

I began gardening as a child. My father's family had been country folk and he was itching to move to the country and try his hand at farming. We had a cow at some point, a goat, chickens, ducks. And a sloping south-facing garden that was tilled each spring and planted with corn and green beans and tomatoes.

Back then, western North Carolina was blessed with good amounts of rainfall in the summer and we hardly ever had to water the garden.

Now, I catch water from the roof of the house and water my garden with it. I garden organically--well, not certifiably organically--and have the pleasure of wiping soil off radishes and eating them in the field. I eat tomatoes warm from the sun, and perfectly ripe.

There is nothing fresher than food that comes from the back garden. The taste is different, the nutrition is better.

Win. Win. Win.

If you don't have a backyard, you might consider herbs in the window or containers at the front door.

So many articles are being written about knowing where your food comes from and how it was grown. May I suggest doing some of it yourself?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Slight Chutney Obsession

I made a delicious pear chutney yesterday, with a bag of dented and scarred pears from the produce department at my local grocery. Pears, onions,walnuts, currants, sugar and vinegar. Cooked for an hour, slowly. The house still reeks of it.

It is rich and exotic and will be delish with meats or beans and rice.

Or on a spoon, which is how I had some this morning. Wonder how it would be with oatmeal?

I love the mix of sweet and pungeant.

I made a mango chutney a few weeks aho and it was gone in a hurry. This bag of pears (3-4 lbs) yielded rather a lot, including 3 pints to give away as gifts.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vegetables Everywhere

We do try to eat healthy around here but February can be a trying time. We've mostly eaten what little we froze from last season's garden--it was devoured by groundhogs, except for the peppers and tomatoes. There are pickled peppers left but one can't live on pickled peppers alone.

The grocery store was filled with vegetables from far away. But they are somewhat fresh and looked very tempting.

For supper, I made a big pot of collard greens/ Then I sauteed peppers, napa cabbage and garlic in olive oil. We ate the last of a big piece of nan bread from Stick Boy in Boone. Good meal. Tasty.

But it's reminded me that gardening season should be upon us here in the mountains of WNC. But it isn't. We still have snow--more on its way tonight, we are told. The ground is too wet and too cold. Usually by this time, I have onion sets in the ground.

But not this year. I'm a little worried.

I cooked those lovely peppers in a relatively new cast iron pan. I have several old ones, ones I use all the time. I can't recall where I got this one--maybe on sale at Lodge. It hadn't been properly seasoned and as a result, I didn't use it. With all the recent snow and cold, it behooved me to do the job right and so I did.

Now it just needs a job of use and it'll be fine.

I love a good cast-iron frying pan. Everyone ought to have one. Or two. Or four.

They take a lot of attention--they are high-maintenance cooking tools. But treat them right and you will pass them down to your grandchildren. Perfectly seasoned. Ready to use.

Wonder how much family cookery DNA gets passed down that way. Does my oldest pan have a molecule of my grandmother's stewed potatoes and cabbage? The same dish I make now for comfort food when life is too hard?

I like to think so.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yeah, You Heard Me. I Said "Livermush."

Here in the South, we eat all sorts of interesting things. Squirrel, okra, head cheese. Don't ask. One of the things we eat is called livermush.

Bear with me a moment.

You see, Burns Night was a little over a week ago. That got me thinking about haggis...of course. Now, friends, I am not a haggis hater. I have had some quite delectable haggis in Scotland, in fact.

So I checked out cookery books and Google and could find not so many easy haggis recipes. So I gave up on it and simply drank Scotch instead.

Quite the celebration.

But I was at the grocery store a few days ago and found myself inexplicably drawn to the bologna and hot dog cooler. Why? Why am I standing here amongst things I rarely eat?

My eye caught the unappetizing grey square over to one side. Livermush.


Thanks for your patience--here's the point. Haggis is a bunch of animal (sheep or pig usually) bits chopped up and cooked with oatmeal. Livermush is pork bits chopped up and cooked with cornmeal.

Except for the casing, they are remarkably similar. Even in taste.

So, I am experimenting with an Appalachian haggis for next Burns Night. Next step is to find some proper casings.

Then I'll post some pictures.

Fingers crossed, dear foodies. This could either be brilliant or a total flaming disaster.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow and the Full Moon

What is it about being snowed-in that requires baking? I made some dreadful cornbread yesterday, when the snow first started to stick outside.

I should tell you about my cornbread fixation. As a good Southern woman, I naturally love cornbread. But I can't stop experimenting with it--trying new recipes, tweaking recipes that I know work.

Last New Year's Day, I had a cornbread tasting. Plain, made with buttermilk. Bread with cracklins. Bread with whole wheat flour and niblet corn. Bread with extra eggs to make it rich.

We had a good time. In addition to corn bread, we had black-eyed peas and collards.

Yesterday, I discovered some white corn meal in the freezer and tried out the recipe on the back of the bag. It's very cake-y and tangy.

Not bad, exactly. But not corn bread.

My favorite recipe for cornbread is called Perfect Corn Bread and it's in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that I've had since grad school.

Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, draped with fresh butter.

Maybe I'll go make some right now.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tsk, Tsk. Neglectful Wench

Greetings, all. And welcome to a glorious new year of Pagan gardening, cooking, eating and food preservation.

Most of us are doing our bit for Haiti relief but I really must commend one of our local vegetarian restaurants. Rosetta's in Asheville does a marvelous cauldron of soup benefit most Sunday evenings. There's an enormous cauldron on a tripod, set over a gas flame. And there's fresh cornbread.

All of this is for a donation and it is an odd and wonderful group of folks, never the same from week to week.

Last week and this week, Haiti relief was the recipient.

So it is possible to do good, eat right and have a happy tummy.

I am sorry to report that the sub-zero weather here destroyed my fall-planted greens a couple of weeks ago. And now we are having The Deluge. So my dreams of early spinach, kale, collards and lettuce are a little thin on the ground--quite literally--these days.

Still, we soldier on, don't we?

What are you cooking and/or eating these days, hmmm?