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A Snow Picnic + Brown Butter Cracklin’ Cornbread Crouton Topped Celery Soup

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There’s about a one billionth of a percent chance that Asheville will see another snow event like last week’s anytime soon, but it is February, after all, and anything’s possible in these mountains. Just in case, I want you to be ready for a low-fuss wintery picnic with your adventurous friends next time you get a snow.

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Last week, we were happily home-bound due to 10 inches of snow and a very long unplowed driveway …

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The snow-topped picnic table was just hollering “PARTY TIME!!!”, so party we did on a sort of a moment’s notice. I found the makins for 2%-milk-of-celery soup, which is a good soup, by the way, for  a thermos picnic because it pours so evenly.

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Goofy St. Nik holiday breads

1 st nik and the guysIt’s beatnik Santa bread time. What started out two years ago as a wholesome gathering of friends just celebrating the German tradition of making St. Nicholas Day breads, has turned into an annual holiday doughboy mutiny.

Creating

While we appreciate the European custom of making Santa-shaped sweet breads that are gifted to children to pay tribute to the good deeds of Bishop Nicholas some 700 years ago, somehow the dough just takes on a life of its own. And the breads end up looking like mermaids, chickens, crazed angels and goofy children … no disrespect intended! They’re supposed to look sort of like this:

5 St nik

The real st nik

 But, you see, there are raisins and nuts and seeds that are meant to be used for buttons and such.

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A lantern-lit life

cabin porch

Evidently, there are a LOT of folks out there who dream of living a simple, self-sufficient life in a rustic log cabin perched on the side of an Appalachian mountain. Water from the springhouse, a lantern-lit vintage farmhouse, food foraged, farmed, & fished. For some, it’s a longing, and for others it’s a matter of being prepared for an impending cataclysm. While my cookbooks reflect a time in America’s past when we all knew how grow our food, cook it with live fire and make our own soap; my readers aren’t who recently alerted me to this rather desperate yearning that so many have for this self-dependant lifestyle. It was the 223,000 viewers that read my rocket stove post (thanks to several popular homestead/survival groups) in one day a couple of weeks ago that gave me the heads-up.

rocket stove 12

Letters continue to pour in from Africa, India, Egypt, Poland, England, Iran, Mexico and countries I’ve never even heard of with stories of cooking on similar make-do stoves and lives lived in mountain cabins & huts in far-flung lands. This has been so much fun, I can’t help but ponder the whole homestead/survival phenomena and recollect about how I wandered down this mountain road myself, so long ago.

Road to cabin

When I was 21, and still in college in Blacksburg, VA, I moved into this pre-civil war era farmhouse with my then-boyfriend. It was 1976, the back-to-the-land movement was in full swing.

farmhouse blacksburg

Springhouse down the hill, outhouse out back, an ancient wood fired cookstove in the kitchen and one other wood stove to heat (or not heat) the rest of this big old house. No rent, just get up 5am to feed the cows before class in exchange for living here. One morning it was -9 outside and a bucket of water stood frozen next to the woodstove going full-tilt in the living room. But I was in love and didn’t notice. Ok I did notice that I was not ready for the love part, but I was ready to semi-homestead on my own. So, in 1978, I found this 300 acre farm in Pilot, VA, owned by a Va Tech professor (again, the cow-feeding rent-exchange) where I could do some serious growing up. 23 years old and very much alone.

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Wood-fired roasted tomatoes for the winter larder + roasted tomato and fresh corn chowder

 1 Home Comfort Wood Cookstove

I hope you can grow tomatoes … apparently I cannot. Anymore.

tomato blight

The blight of every shape and fungal form has come knocking on our moldy door this summer due to record rainfall in Asheville. Serious record rainfall. We are not the air conditioning type, but, sadly, we have become the dehumidifier type. I can’t even talk about it right now. Anyway, I’m super grateful to be able to buy a big box of organic Roma tomatoes from a local farmer who’s smarter than I. So we’re gonna roast them for the winter cupboard or freezer. First, let’s gather our ingredients.

3 Your ingredients

You’ll need paste tomatoes, fresh herbs, garlic, coarse salt, and olive oil. And a sheet pan and parchment paper, if you have it. Lay whatever fresh herbs you have on hand in as big a layer as possible on the sheet pan. Basil stems and creepy looking leathery late summer leaves are perfect as long as they are green and not brown. Basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc. are all happy bedfellows with tomatoes and garlic.

4 Bed of fresh herbs

Cut your tomatoes in half and place them on the herbs, skin side down. Pack them in because they will shrink when you bake them.

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Make a hobo tin-can portable rocket stove + class

rocket stove 12

If adorably quirky perky BBC gardener Alys Fowler can scavenge veggies to throw in her various garden allotment  campfire contraptions, well then, so can I. My bigger garden is a bit of a walk from the house and sometimes I get a hankering to make a cup of tea or herby stew before I’m done with the day’s tasks. Any excuse for a little live-fire feasting. 

So I’ve had it on my mind to create a little portable outdoor garden kitchen get-up lately and then, lo and behold, I run smack dab into Ethel Lynn’s 1917 memoir,  The Adventures of a Woman Hobo. You wouldn’t believe her story. It turns out Ethel is a young physician with a thriving practice in San Francisco when the 1906 earthquake strikes. Her office is destroyed but she and her feller, Dan, wed and travel to Chicago to get funding for his big invention. Well. Another unfortunate strike ensues: the panic of 1907. Stocks plummet, run on banks, nobody funding inventions and they end up living in a “hovel” just about starving. As if things aren’t bad enough, in 1908, Ethel finds out she’s in the incipient (early) stage of tuberculosis and is advised to move back to California post haste. Not to be defeated, (after all, how many female physicians were there in her day), she trades her only remaining prized possession, an opera cloak, for a green tandem bicycle. With a hell of alot more “nerve and grit” than her whiney husband, Dan, she declares they’re riding the bike From Chicago to California. Which they do, with their portable “cooking stove outfit”.  Thanks to google books (link above), we can find out how the story ends while we sip on a bit of thin hobo stew that we’re going to make on our home-made tin can rocket stove. Grab your green tandem bike and let’s go!

rocket stove 1

This little stove is amazing!! Unlike your boy or girl scout version, you can boil water with a few small sticks, and the stove weighs almost nothing. The super efficient “rocket stove” was designed in the ’80s by a mechanical engineer for the alternative energy education outreach program, Aprovecho. This rocket stove link is a delight. You can buy an inexpensive version for $35 if you dare, and even better is their free pdf booklet on how to make this stove and things like a bread oven from a 55 gallon drum. Plus there’s a nifty video for making a bigger version of this stove. There are detailed instructions on how to build your own hobo tin-can rocket stove in my new book, Picnic Time, which sells for only $5.95 on Amazon or on our Native Ground website

You’ll need a few things. A gallon can with both top and bottom, a pineapple juice can, two bean-sized cans, tin snips, a hammer and something like a giant nail. And some ashes. And work gloves and maybe even something to protect your eyes. And pliers.

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Stick something against the side of the can so it doesn’t get squished when you hammer the nail into the side to start a hole for your tin snips. This is make-do stove making. You’re going to stick one of the bean cans into a hole you’re going to make through both cans, so you need to draw a bean can outline for cutting on each can.

rocket stove 3

Now, you’ll need to start in the middle hole you banged with your hammer and then cut to the edges of the hole, at which point things fell apart for me. So Wayne stepped in because he writes and sings about old-time ramblers and such and that must count for something … and I’m not an expert hobo chick yet.

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So over it ….

Done. The flu, the chicken soup, the 500 rolls of tissue, all of it. New year, new toothbrush, clean sheets, kale and daily walks up the mountain behind our house.

Just in case Mr. Flu comes banging at your door, I have some advice. These cute vintage hankies don’t cut it.

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