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Speakin’ of Russia …


Political vitriolic nattering and scandals aside, I’ve been pondering Russia. Specifically what goes on in and comes out of some extraordinary or even perhaps ordinary Russian kitchens and bakeshops. Pies. Stunning pies and tartelettes.


Come Sunday, I’ll be teaching a week of domestic and international pie-making at the John C. Campbell folk school, and pie is my very favorite scheme for bringing friends, family and any old body to the table. And even though the relationship between “us and them” is, er, rather contentious these days, what I wouldn’t give to stand at the elbow and learn pie secrets from a Russian babushka pastry queen. Or even my own great-babushka/bubbie, who was long gone by the time I was born.


My grandmother, Bessie and Grandfather, Isadore surrounded by family and friends, early 1940s

As it turns out, I am the granddaughter of a kinda, sorta, at one time, illegal Russian immigrant/refugee. As a little kid crouched on my West Virginia school’s cloak room floor in 1960s Cuban missile “duck and cover” fashion, I lived in abject terror that my Russian heritage would be discovered. Not so now, of course, because people are people wherever we live, rolling out our version of pie dough for our loved ones who will soon gather with us at our table for a bit of pie and prattle. 


My Grandfather, Isadore

Around 1920, my then 20 year old grandfather, Itzrok Svilikovski, fled Kiev (now Ukraine), following a very messy period in Eastern Europe’s history. Revolutions, pogroms, property-seizing, hunger and other hardships that I cannot begin to fathom, brought my young Jewish Grandpa to Romania. Shortly thereafter, he sought a sponsored passage to Canada where he lived for about a year with cousins in Montreal. Until one very mysterious day, he took a train to upstate New York, arriving as Isadore Swillikowsky. Which is where the story becomes a bit murky.

Isadore and his bride, Bessie

Isadore and his bride, Bessie

I had always heard that Isadore sneaked over the Canadian border to the US, leaving his family in Russia, some of whom would follow in his footsteps and others who would later die as victims of the Holocaust. But as it turns out, my grandfather was just probably unsponsored, perhaps due to quota laws which were enacted at that time to curb the influx of thousands of Eastern European Jews into America. Anyway, he settled in the Bronx of NYC, changed his surname to Swill and later to Swell, obtained citizenship, married my Polish grandmother, became a dry goods peddler (speaking Russian, Yiddish, Polish, Italian and English) then had three kids, including my dad. Interestingly, my dad does not know much about his father’s life prior to his arrival in the U.S. It was a new beginning for him and that was that. Good thing for my sister, Laura’s diligent genealogical sleuthing … together with my father and my Aunt Lila as well as other lost and found family members, our forgotten/hidden past is becoming clearer. 

My dad, Leon makes cheese blintzes

My dad, Leon makes cheese blintzes

Indeed, more family stories came forth last week as my dad and I recreated a couple of his favorite childhood Thursday night vegetarian dishes … cheese blintzes to honor his Polish mother and Ukrainian Borscht as a nod to his father’s homeland.

Yay! Pretty close to the homemade blintzes Dad's mom used to make in the 1930s

Yay! Pretty close to the homemade blintzes Dad’s mom used to make in the 1930s

I am forever grateful for this delightfully quirky loving family with its storied heritage and also that my grandfather’s harrowing journey ended with the great honor and opportunity to become an American citizen. Surely if Grandpa Isadore could do all that and speak five languages fluently, I could learn enough Russian to translate the name of these little pastries, (which were the inspiration for my applebag pielets). If any of you out there can help me out with that, jump in! And for this New Year, may your table be graced with friends, family and those in need of good conversation as well as heated debate. And maybe even a plateful of warm fishnet applebag pielets. Here’s how you make them:

First grate your apples.

First grate your apples.

Roll out your pie crust and cut into circle shape

Roll out your pie crust and cut into circle shape

Stack your scraps carefully and don't ball them up!

Stack your scraps carefully and don’t ball them up!

Because when you re-roll the chilled scraps, they'll turn out flaky like this!!!

Because when you re-roll the chilled scraps, they’ll turn out flaky like this!!!

Cut your dough into sections and then slit like this

Cut your dough into sections and then slit like this

Bake 'em until brown and bubbly

Bake ‘em until brown and bubbly

Call your buddies, pielets for all!

Call your buddies, pielets for all!

PS I’ll soon write a post on how to make my super flaky butter pie crust, but in the meantime, my pie book is only $5.95, and it’s also available on Amazon as both a paperback and Kindle.

Russian Apple Fishnet Pielets
  1. One recipe for a two crust 9-inch pie, divided into 4 balls and refrigerated overnight
  2. About 8 apples, mixture of tart and sweet, peeled and grated
  3. 1/2 cup golden raisins soaked in Calvados apple brandy, rum, or bourbon (optional but excellent)
  4. 1/4 cup white or brown sugar, to taste. I sweeten my apple pies with a drizzle of cider syrup (cider reduced 4:1, simmered until syrupy in texture)
  5. Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
  6. Grating of lemon zest (about a teaspoon)
  7. Pinch of salt
  1. Peel, core and grate apples.
  2. Combine with remaining ingredients and let sit about 30 minutes or so until some of the juices are released. Cook apples just until softened and juices are syrupy, but apples gratings still hold their shape. Refrigerate from 30 minutes to overnight
  3. Meanwhile, roll out your flaky butter crust. That you made last night and is now in the fridge. Use a dessert plate as a template for cutting out four 7-8 inch circles and divide each into quarters. See photo for assembling the pielet. Brush tops with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar. Place on parchment and bake in a 375 oven about 15 minutes until nice and brown.
Log Cabin Cooking
Comments { 10 }

On Matters of the Heart


love stuff

I'll be yours valentine poem s


Valentines Day is nearly upon us and I can’t help but sing this enchanting holiday’s praises. I get that it can be a tough day for those who are lonely and have experienced loss, but it’s also the one time of the year when we somewhat restrained Americans are encouraged to openly express our fondness for one another. And truly, the simpler the bestowing of appreciation and affection the more meaningful to the recipient … so in that spirit, I’m dashing off a few handwritten and typed notes to unsuspecting acquaintances and loved ones. Including you. 

In case you’re in the business of finding romantic love, this is your lucky day. Forget OkCupid and Match, I’ve been accumulating some timeless courtship advice over the years from last century’s experts in matters of the heart. You need look no further than 20th century agricultural journals for good news such as this from a 1926 Rural New-Yorker magazine:

pie supper couple


“Who says Rural New-Yorker is not a good advertising medium? The woman who made those cherry pies described on page 827 received an offer of marriage sight unseen. She will continue to make pies at the same old stand.”

(Note to guys: women like men who bake pies too!)


mother earth news underwood 315

As you can see, the 1974 Mother Earth News Lost Souls and Positions and Situations pages held promise for love seekers as well …

Jerrold seeking ufo love

Jerrold of Fairbanks Alaska, (where there are 12 men to every women), did you ever find your UFO-lovin’ vegetarian outdoorsy gal?                       


Let’s say you’ve found a love interest. This 1931 book below has some excellent communication advice for both fellers and fems. Except that it’s a girly looking book written by a man named Hugh, bless his heart. And speakin’ of hearts … what guy would buy a book covered in hearts for himself back in 1931? Who, really, is this modern love letter advice for?

modern love letters, 1931 s 
Anyway, here’s what he suggests:

Don’t write love-letters on gaudy, perfumed or colored papers.
Never typewrite a love-letter unless you are writing a love letter book, then you can type (see below). Instead, use your best legible handwriting.
Number pages if there are more than two so your lover doesn’t freak out.
Don’t cross out words or make ink splotches.
Do NOT write a love-letter on a postal card ’cause peeping toms (a.k.a. mothers) will read it.
Never hold up an answer to a love-letter … procrastination kills a budding romance.
Don’t write a love-letter on stationery with a firm’s name on it as it makes a business matter out of a love missive. That is bad form. 

modern love letters valentine

The actual booklet is beyond hilarious. It contains the romantic blitherings of Edward and Lucille, who meet at a dance. They live 100 miles apart, so they must conduct their courtship via appropriate stationery, with proper assistance from Hugh, the author of this charming piece of work.

modern love letters contents

 Note the letters are TYPED! and NUMBERED! (Bad form). Of particular interest is letter number 27, the “I love you!” letter.

is it love

Now that you have found your person of interest, and you have conducted an appropriate courtship culminating with letter no. 45 entitled A Knight Goes Riding to his Girl, you will be needing some additional inspiration for keeping that spark a-sizzle. That’s where Elizabeth Gordon comes in with her teensy yet fabulous 1912 book of poems entitled “Just You.”

 A Day from Just You sA Room from Just You s











Well, friends, it’s time to Valentine your acquaintances, friends, family and lovers now. On a postcard, or typed on a crumpled piece of pink, perfumed business stationery. Or an email. Or even a text.

 Happy Valentine’s Day!   xoxoxoxoxoxox


Sure as the vine grows round the stump,
You are my darling sugar-lump! 


Comments { 0 }

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.)

blue ridge sunrise 2

It is the old-time mountain way to live down and view up.  To leave the mountains be. But things change.

cabin walnut tree in fall s

Only not so much here in our neck of the the Madison County woods, just 35 miles north of the city. Nary a power line has touched these 65 acres of up, and I’m pretty sure they never will.

cabin in the middle of fall

No indoor bathroom. No furnace switch to flip on chilly mornings. No hot running water. No nightly newscast.

cabin in fall

Which suits me fine along about now.

cabin front yard in fall s

About the time we bought this old cabin in 1999, I quit my job as a family therapist. For 15 years, I had the great gift and honor to work with children and parents in every situation you can imagine … or not even imagine. I did the hardest stuff early on … working with court-ordered groups of “offender” parents whose journeys were so painful that I am surprised by little of the horrors that lately rip through our evening broadcasts with malignant regularity. Sometimes all I could do for these damaged and damaging mothers and fathers was to bake them cookies. And hold my babies tight when I came home.

barb and the babies

Annie, Rita, Wes & Me, 1987

This Thanksgiving, the grown-up babies will return from their far-flung homes.

kids 2008

Rita, Wes & Annie, 2008

And we’ll play rowdy games of spoons by the fire.


And bake pies …. because you know how pie brings people together. And we all could use a little more of that.

Annie bakes a pie

To quote first-born Annie,  “Pie fills a longing for home – or for what you wish home had been.”

A peaceful and homey Thanksgiving to you each.


Comments { 5 }

It’s Picnic Time!!!

picnic time typewriter I know for certain that it’s Picnic Time because we have 5,000 reminders of that fact in our warehouse. And also because, as you can see,  it’s always been Picnic Time with my family, who might whop me over the head for posting this picture. grandmother picnic While I’ve been collecting antique outing recipes, booklets, and vintage picnic ware for many years, it took a kick in the pants by family and friends and The Monday Night Picnic Club to follow through with my vision for this book. So many  thanks to all of you for helping with this project. Here’s the picnic club at the UNCA botanical garden enjoying a healthy antique Doctor Bag bag picnic toast colorSpeakin of which I’ve included lots of fun DIY projects in the book. There’s the 1947 doctor bag picnic basket …doctor bag innards colorAnd how to make a road trip picnic hamper out of an antique train case, and instructions to make an updated version of a tin can rocket stove.

vintage suitcase picnic basket picnic color7IMG_5351 place burner ring on top











Of course you’ll need to know what to wear on your motor picnic … we’ve got that covered!

picnic time motoring

And then we have the perky garden inspired boozy (and not) beverages …

rhubarb mojitosAnd of course, lots of fun and un-fussy picnic foods like this French travel cake (recipe below).

Savory Bacon, Cheddar, Chive Travel Cake Sale

The book is available on our Native Ground Website, Amazon, Indie bookstores, and, if you’re in Asheville, at Mountain Made in the Grove Arcade downtown, Guild Crafts on Tunnel Road and at our house until it gets distributed to bookstores, gift shops and historic sites here and throughout the country.

At only $6, wouldn’t this fun little book make a fetching holiday gift along with a vintage picnic treasure like this 1950s picnic tin.

picnic time!

 Whew. On to the next project!

Evelyn Jephson Cameron captures a moment in Montana life

Here’s the recipe for the French travel cake pictured above from the travel bites section of the book. A slice of this savory cake will make a dandy road trip lunch/snack to enjoy en route to your Thanksgiving destination!

french picnic cake 



Comments { 3 }

I made you another birthday (orange cake pie) pi, Albert Einstein!

birthday orange cake pi

Saturday 3.14.15 at 9:26  is the BIG pi day and Albert Einstein’s 136th birthday. Two years ago, I wrote an authoritative post on how Albert Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity and various equations that actually totally escape my understanding, which I am yet again re-posting, as now it’s tradition. Speaking of things that defy comprehension, do you ever wonder how it is that you can create children that have analytical and all sorts of other capacities well beyond your own? Wayne and I ponder this frequently. As it turns out, my ability for doing math ended in 4th grade, and Wayne claims his ended in 3rd. So how did it come about that we managed to raise three scientist kids who DO understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? Who use squiggles that aren’t even numbers anymore to figure out that stuff? 

Well, Einstein’s not the only one who can make up theories … I have made up a couple, myself on this topic …

First of all, we had 3 kids in 2 years. (Annie and 24 months later, twins Wes and Rita).

barb and the babies

Well let me tell you, this is not an organized, serene home we had/have here. It’s more of a get-over-it and let’s have fun sort of a home which works like this with school-aged kids:

Kid: I can’t do this word problem! How do I do this? AAAACK!   Parent: I have no idea, go outside and play! 

Kid: My 800 page paper is due tomorrow and I don’t have a topic yet!!!   Parent: Go outside and play, a topic will appear.

Kid: My math teacher made me sit in the hall today because my pencil was too short! (This really happened by the way). Parent: Go outside and play, and I’ll have a little chat with the teacher about that one tomorrow.


You get the idea. Somehow we all muddled  through, but I will tell you that while we do take learning seriously, we did not put pressure on our kids to achieve high marks in school, nor am I a fan of so-called “gifted” programs which included everybody else’s kids but mine (or so it seemed). And then the whole honors and AP thing, bleg. Can’t you be in high school when you’re in high school? And what’s the deal with Just try your hardest? Trying is never-ending. Does Just try your hardest mean giving up because you can’t do it? I’m thinking that building forts in the woods and digging a giant hole to China in the middle of my veggie garden and nightly family dinners discussing important facts gleaned from “Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers” helped peak our kids’ curiosities.  And inspire them to want to learn things that they were capable of learning, when they were good and ready. We’re a whole family of late-blooming bloomers, but there are plenty of us out there. The birthday boy, for example, whose advice on being curious we take to heart:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  Albert Einstein

Annie and Rita building a winter fort

Annie and Rita building a winter fort

And in conclusion, here’s theory number 2: You can’t take so much credit (or blame) for how your kids turn out because they are raised by a world in which your parenting is only the refrain in the song of their lives. The part they came from and go back to which doesn’t include their genes, the other better math teacher who came along and rescued them from sitting in the hall because their pencil was too short and the scientist grandfather who taught them about black holes and string theory when they were still in preschool (thanks, Dad!). I hope y’all enjoy this special pi day around the table with loved ones and a slice or two of orange cake pie.

Leon Swell as a Biochem grad student

Leon Swell as a Biochem grad student

2013 Re-post:

OK, I have a basic physics lesson for you that explains quite simply what pi and Einstein and orange cake-pie have in common. Since I have successfully avoided most things physics and pretty much all things math during my lifetime, I have consulted with my three scientist offspring about today’s topic. Rita, who studies nursing at  Emory U in Atlanta, says to ask Wes. Annie, who is a medical physicist, says to ask Wes.  And that pi has to do with Einstein’s Field Equation of Relativity which looks like this:

e782a708f8a82b60f25eea21a9862ad0 I baked you a pi for your birthday, Albert Einstein!

Wes is a billion floors down in the atomic, molecular, optical physics lab at Kansas State U. where he shoots electrons with a laser and then makes up stuff about why they land where they land. Evidently he’s busy, so I will just fill in the blanks for you about what Einstein had in mind with his equation, that I’ll call “Rik” for short.

pi day 3 338x500 I baked you a pi for your birthday, Albert Einstein!

When Einstein was about 2, he let go of his ball and became obsessed with why it went down instead of up. Or maybe that was Richard Feynman. Anyway, when Einstein was about 9, he was struck out at a little league game because he was preoccupied with calculating the trajectory of the ball as it traveled toward him through the curve of spacetime. He used pi to calculate the curve. Of course. Well, he got benched after that and he had time to think about electromagnetic fields and linear momentum and stuff like that, and some of these things had something to do with pi. And then, as he was spacing out on the bench, his stomach started growling which reminded him about how a particle of pie would be so nice about now. So as he was walking home to get that piece of pie, he whipped up the geodesic equation which expains how if you drop an electron, it will not go straight down, it will go in the straightest possible line on the curve of spacetime and it will end up in Wes’ lab and he will zap it with a laser as soon as he finishes eating his orange cake pie.

I think that about covers it, don’t you? Except for calculating the circumference of a 9-inch pie plate. You do that while I tell you about orange cake-pie.

This orange cake pie is really creamy!

This orange cake pie is really creamy!

About this pie. It’s a bit homely but so good, you won’t care. Lemon cake pies became popular in the 1930s and then there was a renewed popularity with the 1950s bridge party set. That’s where I learned about lemon cake pie … from my Aunt Mary of Athens, WV, the bridge party queen of the 1950s through 70s. Lemon sponge is a much earlier British version of this pie, without a pie crust …. which is how we often eat it. This is one of those magic pies where you mix it all up and the innards separate out into a creamy custard on the bottom topped by a yellow sponge cake on top. The pie is really delicious and creamy.  Not my best crust, however. Instead of a whole grain crust, I recommend one that is buttery and crispy! Actually next time, I’ll just skip the crust.

Talking about crust …. Can you believe Rita’s pi crust toppers that went with her lemon cake pienstein pie this year? Makes a mamma proud!

Rita's Pienstein pi toppers


Orange cake-pie
  1. A 9-inch unbaked pie crust, fluted and refrigerated for 30 minutes
  2. 3/4 cup sugar
  3. 2 eggs, separated (and egg whites beaten til stiff)
  4. 1/2 orange, juice and zest
  5. 1 lemon, juice and zest (1/2 cup of both juices total)
  6. 3 Tbsp. flour
  7. 3 Tbsp. butter
  8. 3/4 cup whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 400º Roll out your pie crust, place in a 9-inch shallow pie plate, flute and refrigerate while you make the pie innards. Beat sugar, egg yolks, and butter. Add juices, zests and flour and mix well. Add milk, then fold in egg whites which have been stiffly beaten.Try not to leave any big clumps of egg white floating around (they'll darken fast). Pour filling into prepared pie crust and place in oven on lowest shelf (gas oven), or next to lowest shelf (electric oven). Bake for 10 minutes and turn oven to 350º. Continue to bake until filling is set, about 30 more minutes. If it's getting too dark on top, cover with a piece of tented foil that touches the crust, not the filling. Let it cool at room temp, then refrigerate 3 hours until set.
  1. I used a tart satsuma orange for this pie. If your orange is super sweet, you may want to decrease the sugar a tad or increase the lemon juice.
Log Cabin Cooking
Comments { 9 }

Chocolate Orange Chili Picnic Popcorn

picnic  time xo

It’s picnic time. Even though it’s 9º outside give or take. Which makes it really hard to write a book about picnic time, which I am doing because it’s not only picnic time, it’s also coming up on deadline time. All last spring, summer and fall my friends and family and I picnicked our little hearts out in forest, park, roadside, porch, cabin-side, microbrewery, campfire and mushroom log. I have enough picnic fodder for a 950 page book which I must cram into 72 teensie pages because that’s how big this book gets to be. So here I sit … 

vintage office

 Up in the attic, thinking about roasting black raspberry marshmallows over a perky campfire. Not being good at sitting, I figured if I just had the right chair, I’d be happy to sit and write and layout. Got that 1960s chair. Then if I only could find a matching vintage typewriter (and learn to repair and maintain said vintage typewriter), well, THEN I would be able to sit and write. 

Done …..

underwood 315

 Now, wouldn’t it be handy to have just the right handwriting font in addition to the vintage typewriter type for the little book, and don’t you know you can make a font out of your very own handwriting. Which is well beyond fun.

handwriting font

 But what I want to know now is how is it that you other writers get down to business? Maybe if I just did the writing instead of every bit of the layout, art and writing but the cover, it would be less distracting …. but still. Do you get up early, walk five miles, do yoga, milk the cow, eat your homemade granola and then have 3 chapters written by 9am? How long do you sit at a stretch? Do you drink endless cups of dried orange chai tea or do you sit with a thermos of coffee by your side? How often do you check your email and the likes? It’s always fascinating to hear about how the deed gets done by people who appear to be so darned focused. 

chocolate orange popcorn recipe

Speaking of straying off task, how about a fun Valentine’s day chocolate bar leftover recipe distraction? This winter, dehydrated oranges have been visiting pretty much everything we eat and drink. 

oranges dehydrator

 They’re in jars …. to be plunked into tea and water and wine … 

Orange Crisps in jar

 They’re in powders … that find their way into chili and now chocolate orange chili popcorn which would be just dandy for an anytime picnic. 

orange powder collection

Mandarin, blood orange, finely powdered Cara Cara, Clementine

Here they are standing in for crackers on a cheese plate with a little homemade fromage blanc that’s been laced with orange booze soaked cranberries and dried orange shards. 

orange crisps and homemade fromage blanc

And don’t they look so pretty in a jar with their mulling spice buddies? Dried fresh ginger slices, Ceylon cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, peppercorn and maybe a star anise. To be joined with cider, red wine or tea.

mulling mix

dried orange mulling mix

 packaged mulling spices

We’ll get to the popcorn in a minute, but let’s chat about which oranges to dry first. You do need to choose thin-skinned varieties and organic is best, but hard to find. Here in the WNC mountains, we don’t have as many varieties to choose from as you would, say, in California or the southern citrus states. So far the clear dried orange winner is Clementine followed by Mandarin, then blood orange, and then Cara Cara. All these varieties will do well as “crackers” without being bitter, and as powders which you can combine with spice blends. As far as mulling spices and tea, any variety will do. Slice them thinly, place them on dehydrator trays and dry at 120º until crispy, about 8 hours or so. (You can also try your oven, turning it on and off to maintain the temp.) Now you can store the dried orange slices in a jar for all your orangey purposes.

cara cara orange slices

And then, if you want orange powder, you’ll give it a whirl in your blender and it will look kind of coarse because the oranges still contain oils and a bit of moisture. Which is fine … or you can dry further and then process again. I don’t recommend making super fine powder … there’s something not right about it. What the heck, just go ahead and experiment and get back to me. 

coarsely ground orange

And now my new favorite thing to eat while I do or don’t get down to writing business …. Chocolate orange popcorn and Mole Popcorn blends. The mole blend works well in chili as well as an all-round sprinkle. 

popcorn and spices

 The mixture of grated chocolate, cocoa powder, orange powder (or orange zest) and zippy chili pepper powder can be made by the pint jar and stored for 6 months or so at room temperature. Add a good pinch of cinnamon to the mix for a mole type of seasoning. You can salt your mixture, but I like the flexibility of cooking with it. In addition to chili, the mix has fun with iron pot barbeque pork, chicken tamales and as a corn on the cob sprinkle. 

chocolate orange popcorn bowl

Package the popcorn in waxed paper bags, glassine bags (available at craft stores), or clear plastic gift bags. Paper bags are lovely, but the grease stains, not so much. Staple a dried orange and some seasonal greenery or flowers onto to the bag, and it’s PICNIC TIME!

popcorn picnic

 popcorn recipe


Comments { 2 }

Be popular, gift homemade Garlic Salt blends

herbed garlic salt and jars When my husband, Wayne, was 15 and had been playing guitar for, oh, about 6 months, he decided to share his freshly acquired skills in the form of a class held in his parent’s living room. He plastered nearby UCLA with signs saying “Be popular, play the guitar” and somehow managed to attract a large gathering of folks of all ages with visions of becoming 1960s hootenanny rock stars. Who knows if the students made good on their intentions, but I do happen to know that Wayne sure made a great life out of playing and teaching guitar (plus banjo, fiddle, mandolin).

Wayne  Erbsen, 1960s Hootenany-man

1960s guitar-playin’ Wayne Erbsen

So if you have a hankering to be a culinary hootenanny rock star among your family and friends this holiday season, I recommend making a couple  of these garlic salt blends and packaging them in nifty little jars to give as gifts. They’re so easy and fun to make. I invited a few girlfriends over for a fall  garlic salt-making crafty party last month, and everyone brought fresh herbs from their gardens to add to the salt blends. It looks like a lot is going on in these photos, but really … you just chop up a few ingredients, dry on a cookie sheet and you end up with simple fragrant salts that will change your life.

Mary Lou carefully chops kaffir lime leaves, (not her fingers!)

Today, we’ll make 4 salts. Use them in place of salt to liven your food, here are some suggestions:

Ginger/lemon garlic salt … Sprinkle on kale, tofu, anything carrot, salad dressings, adds a fresh zippy flavor

Smoky garlic salt … Pork or chicken, beans oh so wonderful with beans, cream of potato soup, everything.

Celery and herb garlic salt … I use this in any soup or dish that includes celery. LOVES eggs. Deviled, fried, scrambled.

Tuscan style garlic salt … Soups, baked potatoes, roasted veg of all sorts, fresh peas, sauteed carrots, corn on the cobb, etc.

Feel free to get creative with your own blends, but you’ll need to keep the salt to garlic ratio the same. First, let’s talk salt and garlic.

chop garlic with salt

I’m not a salt expert by any stretch, but I recommend you use a crunchy salt to make these blends. I suppose you could use Kosher salt, but I usually use Maldon salts (both regular and smoked) which are readily available in Whole Foods type markets and online (about $5 a box). Salt is big business and you can find all kinds online, but I don’t think I’d use a super fancy variety because the texture and taste will be lost when combined with all these other flavors. A clean crunch is what you want. If you splurge, let it be for the smoked salts. I’ve been meaning to try this one from LA. Okay, now for garlic. I grow the red Russian type of hardneck garlic because I love its medium spicy flavor and big cloves. It starts to sprout come January, so December is perfect timing to use it before it fades. The better your garlic the better your salt, so see if you can find something interesting, if possible. If not any fresh garlic will do.

RATIO of GARLIC to SALT: One medium clove to one tablespoon of big flaked, crunchy salt.  If using Kosher salt, you can use one large clove to one tablespoon of salt … or two small. You get the idea …

herb salt weck jar

To make each salt, you start by chopping the salt and the garlic together until they’re medium dice. Then you add the other ingredients and you just chop until everything is way fine. Don’t be in a hurry, enjoy the fragrances!

chop garlic and salt

First up is ginger garlic salt. Fresh ginger, garlic, lemon zest, chili pepper and  I  had lemon grass growing in my garden, so it also  joined the party. (Those are kaffir lime leaves, oh so optional.) The photo shows one large garlic clove, but I added two great big, fat ones.

ginger garlic salt ingredients

Chop chop chop, until it looks like this.

chop chop chop

Then sprinkle on a parchment lined cookie sheet and allow it to dry at room temp. for a couple days. This one takes a while to dry out. You can turn your oven on to 170º and once it warms up, turn it off and put your garlic mixture in until it’s dry.

ginger garlic

Now, the smoky salt. Oh mercy me it is so good! Garlic, smoked salt, smoked paprika, and dried chipotle peppers. If you don’t have dried smoked chipotle peppers, some sort of hot pepper will do. Chop the salt with the garlic and then add the other ingredients. I recently found some smoked black pepper and tried that with success. Use just a little and crack it first. Penzy’s has a nice smoked paprika. You can also find a so-so version at Trader Joe’s.

smoky garlic salt

Celery and herb salt blend is next in line. Garlic, salt, chives, fresh celery leaves, parsley, red pepper. I love  this blend.

celery herb garlic salt ingredients
It looks like this when dried.

celery garlic salt blend

And last, my favorite salt I use on everything … is the Tuscan herb salt. Splendid table did a version of this one with a great little video.  You’ll need rosemary, sage, red pepper, a little lemon zest if you like, garlic and salt.

tuscan herbs

And it looks like this when it’s finished.

garlic salt making party

And then, of course, you need some little bitty salt spoons. Notice the tiny orange spoon on the left. I made it from a carrot. Yep, a carrot salt-spoon. I took a carving class this week where I made the very extremely primitive spreader knife because what I want to carve is little salt spoons. I poked myself with the point of the uber-sharp carving knife more than once, so I thought I’d practice with this tiny gouge knife on a carrot before making a mess of the real thing + moi. I kinda am having fun with veggie spoon culinary fantasies.

salt spoons

And then, finally, you can put your herb salts in tiny glass jars … make a sweet crafty label and tie on a tiny spoon and there you have it. You will be so popular that come February, your gift recipients will be bugging you to make them more salts!

herbed garlic salt and jars

Larger 3.5 oz. jars are from Kitchen & Company, Bormoli. Tiny 2 oz. jars are made in Portugal, from World Market, also 3 oz. Weck jars are fun.

herb salt on potato soup

Potato soup with celery herb garlic salt

Herb Garlic Salt Blends
  1. GINGER GARLIC SALT: 4 medium cloves garlic, 4 Tbls. coarse salt, 2 or 3 strips lemon zest, about 2 Tbls. ginger chunks, fresh or dried chili to taste, few grindings coarse black pepper
  2. SMOKY GARLIC SALT: 4 medium cloves garlic, 4 Tbls. coarse salt, 1 Tbs. smoked paprika, 1/2 dried chipotle pepper if you have one or hot chili pepper to taste
  3. CELERY HERB GARLIC SALT: 4 medium cloves garlic, 4 Tbls. coarse salt, handful of fresh chives, parsley and celery leaves, hot red pepper to taste
  4. TUSCAN HERB GARLIC SALT: 4 medium cloves garlic, 4 Tbls. coarse salt, 1 strip lemon zest,
  5. up to 1/2 cup total of fresh sage, rosemary, and parsley (not basil, it turns dark)
  1. Chop garlic and salt roughly. Add remaining ingredients and chop until well combined and finely diced. Sprinkle onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and air dry a day or two until crumbly and completely dry. If it's being poky, then heat your oven up to no more than 200º, turn it off and let the garlic salt sit in there with the oven door closed. Don't bake the mixture!
  2. When super dry, place in a festive glass jar, lid on.
Log Cabin Cooking
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Thanksgiving Pie Class for the pie lady/feller in all of us

chocolate pumpkin pie

Yikes!!! Are you having a Thanksgiving pie-making emergency? Well don’t fret, darlin, you’ve come to the right place. Join my daughter Annie and I for an evening of pie-making fun next Wednesday, Nov. 12 from 5:30-8:30. Together we’ll whip up Mrs. Tennis E. Painter’s Appalachian Candy Roaster pumpkin pie (with chocolate ganache if you please), Super boozy bourbon pecan pie, and a wonderful 1930s toasted oat and coconut mock pecan pie.

pastry leaves

And pie crust? Yes we are all about the crust! Choose to make either Barbara’s locally milled wheat pastry flour crust or Annie’s fabulous gluten-free flour version. Classes fill up super quick, if you’re interested, let us know pronto.  Particulars are here.

candy roaster pie skinny-er


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Roasted Peach Butter goes for a walk in the woods

peach butter goes for a walk

It’s a fine day for a walk in the woods with Mrs. Roasted Peach Butter and her five little “offspring.”  Sweet late summer peaches are abundant here in the south, from giant to little and everything in between. They’re ripening on counters, and not-ripening in the fridge and I thought I’d just gather a smattering of varieties and turn them into a fragrant low-added-sugar peach butter spread. Starting with 3 pounds of peaches, I added 1/2 cup sugar (about 100 grams) and juice of a couple lemons. The peaches were so sweet on their own, the modest amount of additional sugar just took over. Bleg. So I took out the stick blender, gave the hot mess a beating and then poured it into a big glass pan to bake in the oven. For an hour at 250º.

peach butter, baked

Which turned into about three hours because I was playing with okra pickles … recipe testing for the picnic book at hand.

Okra pickles + smoky okra pickles

Okra freaks me out, but okra pickles are so good and slimless enough once they sit for a couple weeks. The super tall Weck asparagus jars make for some gorgeous smoky-okry and garlic dill okra pickles.

Anyway, the “forgotten” roasted peach butter was so so SO much improved, that I’m going to forget it from now on. The color is deep and seductive and the flavor is frankly, stunning. It’s too good to eat with anything other than a little espresso spoon. There was just enough for 7 three-ounce Weck jam jars. So I promptly ate one and a half and water-bath processed the other five.

peach butter guard

Good thing Mama peach is guarding her babies!


Roasted Peach Butter
  1. 3 lbs. peaches
  2. 1/2 cup (about 100 grams) white sugar
  3. Juice of 2 lemons
  1. Peel peaches by giving them a 30 second bath in boiling water. The skins will slip right off. Remove & compost the pit and chop the flesh. Place in a saucepan with 1/2 cup sugar and the juice of 2 lemons* Simmer the fruit on low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit starts to fall apart. Give the hot pulp a toss with a stick blender, food processor or blender. Oh do be careful with splattering! Some like their fruit butters super smooth, but I prefer mine with some texture. You decide for yourself. Pour the fruit batter into a glass baking pan and bake at 250º for three hours or until it cooks down to a deep golden hue. It's ready whenever you think it is. Water-bath can according to recommendations of folks like those at the National Center for Home Preservation. Or, just get out a little sugar spoon and go to town.
  1. If using organic lemons for the juice, be sure to zest them first. Citrus zest keeps perfectly in a small glass jar in your freezer for later use.
Log Cabin Cooking
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Fresh Farmhouse Cheesemaking Class

cow vending machine and cobra

“Cow” vending machine

If you Asheville folks have a hankering to learn to make artisan farmhouse cheeses from local cow (or goat) milk, do we have a fun evening in store for you!  My daughter Annie Erbsen De Bacco will be teaching a class on Wed., July 16th, and she knows a thing or two about the subject. After all, she has spent the last 5 years living with her husband, Gianluca, next door to the roadside “cow vending machine” (photo above) in the alpine village of Aosta, Italy.

coliseum aosta s

Roman coliseum, Aosta, Italy

The Latteria sits on the side of a narrow road on the edge of a cow pasture. Drive or walk up, insert a Euro into the machine, and out comes a quart of fresh, raw cow’s milk.

IMG_4074Not only can you get fresh milk from cows that are mooing  a mere few feet away, you can also choose from fresh fontina, yogurt, or butter from the cow-automat just to the left of the milk dispenser.  Made, of course, in the cheese kitchen within a stone’s throw of the barn. And that’s not all … see that cow at the top of the page? Well that’s sweet Cobra-the-cow who is pretty much, the most famous cow in the valley d’Aoste for being the cow battle champion several years in a row. Cobra lives in the cow vending machine barn and you get to drink her milk for mere pennies. IMG_4081 Annie learned to make all sorts of fresh and aged cheeses from Roberta … roberta the cheesemaker who lives at the top of an alp with her family … roberta's farm and makes the most amazing cheeses from her cows and goats ever … roberta's cheese And here Annie learns from a cheesmaker from Branzi, only a 30 minute blood-curdling mountain road drive from another well-known cheese town of Taleggio. 

branzi cheesmaker

You will not get to eat the fabulous, creamy, famous Branzi cheese of this cheesemaker.

Branzi cheese

Or any of these other versions of cheeses you might have heard of ….

Cheeses from Branzi Italy

Unless you travel to the upper Val Brembana in the Bergamo region of northern Italy where Branzi and its neighboring cheeses are born. There is precious little of them and they are consumed where they grow.

Branzi valley

branzi village on the river

Which brings us to what grows in the mountain region around Asheville, and that is plenty of good milk, both cow and goat. And, in fact, Western North Carolina has abundant small batch artisan cheesemakers and its very own cheese trail now.

Madison county, NC

Annie will source local, low-temperature pasteurized cow’s milk (and maybe goat as well) for her class, and participants will learn to make fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and fromage blanc cheeses. She’ll also discuss how to work with raw milk in case you have access. To register, go to the classes page and we’ll see you next week!

PS: Do not procrastinate signing up; the last class Annie taught filled up in 2 hours!

fontina cheese aosta market

Fontina cheeses from Valle d’Aoste, Italy

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