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How to do Things Thursdays

how to do things farmhouse blacksburgI don’t know about you, but it’s been on my mind to learn how to do more things for about …. oh…. maybe decades. At least since I lived here in this tumbledown farm in 1976. Well, actually, I did learn plenty of  things back then, but as you can see, home maintenance was evidently not one of them (you can read more here). Anyway, here I am, some 40 odd years later still wishing I was more “handy.” Turns out, lots of others I know are in the same boat, so if I’m also talkin’ to you, then come along with me on a How To Do Things adventure! Continue Reading →

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I got up early ….

blue ridge sunrise

Although the Blue Ridge Parkway national parkland adjoins our backyard in Asheville, we need to drive 20 minutes to catch a view like this. (As long as you get up at 5:30 am, that is.) Continue Reading →

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Creasy greens! And a wild violet and creasy spring salad.

If you look down, Spring has arrived in our mountains.


If you look up, Spring looks like it’s a million years away.


But when the creasy greens start popping up in fields and roadside stands here in Western NC (usually mid March), eating officially gets pretty darned exciting.


In case you don’t know these slightly bitter, pungent, heavenly greens, you might want to order some seeds from here and plant them post haste. What we call creasy greens are actually upland cress …. watercress’s landlubber cousin. Only more of everything including vitamins and chew. I only have one patch in my garden, so I picked up a bagful at a farm stand en route to our cabin this week.


We ate them pan-seared with eggs and sausage for breakfast. Then, we had enough energy to do some spring cleaning inside and out.


It’s easy to clean when there’s no stuff. And it’s too dark to see into the nether-regions. No electricity = no vacuuming, just a broom and a mop.



And then once back home in Asheville, the creasy’s screamed SALAD!!!



Usually I’m not much of a salad dressing fan, but there’s nothing like a fresh-tasting creasy green and teensy green herb buttermilk salad dressing to top a spring green salad.


Right in front of the salad dressing and buttermilk are several baby elderberry plants which need a home. Who wants them? The variety is either a York or a Nova (not sure which plant they sprung from) and they will bless you with fragrant elderflowers for your summer cordials and cakes and deep blue-black berries that will strengthen your innards. You’ll have a crop next summer. They need lots of room and nothing else. Except you.

Creasy green buttermilk salad dressing with violets
  1. 1 cup buttermilk
  2. A couple tablespoons sour cream, mayo, or greek yogurt
  3. One clove garlic, smashed
  4. A handful of fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, basil .. whatever is on hand
  5. A stuffed cupful of either creasy greens or watercress
  6. Violets from your yard or mine
  7. Squirt of lemon juice if it needs it
  8. Salt and pepper
  1. Add all to blender and whirl. Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking. Drizzle over a fresh spring salad of crunchy bibb lettuce with red cabbage, chopped creasy greens and carrots. Don't junk up this salad!
Log Cabin Cooking http://logcabincooking.com/
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Ready, Set, Go!!! It’s Hart Square Cabin Village Time.

smokin hams

Grab your bonnet and pony up, it’s almost Hart Square time. If you enjoy visiting historic villages, you will not want to miss a visit to this one on October 26th (2013). Hart square, in little old Hickory, NC is home to the largest collection of historic log structures in the United States. Plus, you can’t even begin to believe the killer regional primitives inside the 70 plus cabins. Read more about Bob Hart’s story below and also in Our State Magazine and my post from last fall.

The 1840 “village” is only open to the public once a year; each building is hosted by costumed docents who are experts on their various crafts from sorghum making to doctoring, to chair making, spinning, cotton ginning, quilting, hearth cooking and so much more. The Catawba Historical Society is selling tickets to individuals beginning October 1, and they go fast. Do not dawdle if you are serious about attending. You’ll find ticket information below. I will be there with an old-timey picnic and my feller, Wayne, who will be appropriately attired to fiddle and frail porch-side with plenty of his talented pals. See you there!!

daniel boone man

hearth cooking

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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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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.

rocket stove 2

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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A found mountain supper …

 Chickweedy morel

A lot’s changed since my college days when my friend, Lisa, and I would hitchike up into the George Washington national forest of SW Virgina for a weekend of wilderness camping with a bottle of water and a bag of pecan sandies.


Now, I know how to grab a few friends, and find good things to eat on these eastern mountains come spring. My friend, Effie, born in 1914 in our Madison County mountain cabin, taught me about collecting branch lettuce (Saxifraga micranthidifolia). You collect the tender leaves in the mountain streams in April before the plant sends up a flower stalk. You eat branch lettuce “kilt” with a little bacon grease, sauteed ramps and a drizzle of cider vinegar. Or in fresh in a salad works, too.

Branch lettuce

Picking branch lettuce

And then there are morels. My favorite of the wild mushrooms. They grow where they grow, and for us, they grow in Effie’s very old apple orchard and among the poplars on the side of the steep steep STEEP mountains. Right here, they’re hanging out in a ramp patch that I planted from unststainably harvested ramps that I bought at a roadside stand a couple years ago. Here’s how you should harvest ramps.

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Fire roasted supper + black bears over my head

bear in the woods

It is not halloween and this is not a man in a bear costume standing in our woods.  I was just sitting in my bed this lazy morning, drinking coffee, answering emails when along walks this guy right by my window. I jumped up & followed him outside with my camera and when he saw me, he stood up and looked at me. Whoops. Last night was even more exciting. I returned home from an evening with friends around 8:30, parked, and heard a bunch of rukus next to the car. Mamma bear and her big cub scampered up the white oak over my head. I ran for the door. You’re not supposed to run. What are you supposed to do? Stand there while she makes a noise like a whale blowing out her blow-hole? They hung out in the tree for almost two hours. Baby bear mewing and mamma snorting and grunting. I felt bad for them, and I hope they find something to munch on in the gazillion acres of parkland behind our house.

cabin kitchen

Meanwhile, the first tailgate market of the season opened downtown this weekend, and there’s finally some REAL food to cook. We high-tailed it up to the mountain cabin for a bit of rustic cooking, wandering and scrubbing inside and out.



old rockin chair

And supper of make-do-grilled local pork tenderloin along with candy roaster pumpkin risotto (cleaning out the freezer) seared pak choi and garden salad … and pie.

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A visit to Hart Square 1840 pioneer village

It was 47 degrees in our bedroom this morning. And not much less than that outside. Our bedroom is in the uninsulated 1880 part of our house which we don’t even bother to heat. We just pile on the quilts and snuggle down. Our sleeping arrangements aren’t much different that those who inhabited the gazillion and one log cabins that have been lovingly rescued and restored at Hart Square in Hickory NC, where we visited last Saturday. If you are a fan of NC pioneer heritage, then this is the place/book for you.

The short version of the story is that Bob Hart, a retired family physician in Hickory, NC has been rescuing and restoring antique log structures within a 25 mile radius of his 200 acre farm for the last 40 or so years. With 80-some-odd buildings or more at present (he’s not done), this is the largest collection of authentic historic log buildings in the US. The village hosts groups and events throughout the year, but it is open to the public for a living history extravaganza the fourth saturday in October and you better get your ticket quick because they sell out in about 30 seconds.

Not only are the log buildings themselves shocking (we’re talking homes, school, post office, tavern, chapels, covered bridge, smokehouses, general store, millinery, pottery, on and on and on), the innards are packed with period primitives that will leave you quivering, if you like that sort of thing, that is, and you know who you are. I once heard a rumor that when Bob Hart went to an auction, nobody had the “heart” to bid against him, and that might be true from the looks of his collection of hand-hewn furnishings that you just don’t see anymore. Hardly.

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Vintage Portable Ovens and Girls with Axes

Last weekend, girls were weilding axes at our log cabin next door. As in “handling a weapon or tool with skill and ease.” You must do that in order to cook on a wood cookstove, and that we did at our Ladies cookin’ on a wood cookstove class.

Most of these gals had never chopped wood before, but you’d never know it. While one chopped, the rest of us cheered and before you know it, we had a big stack of cookstove-sized wood of various btu’s … red oak, white oak, and locust.

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