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.


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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Buttermilk cornbread for stuffing and much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving

Sweater of resourcefulness

I have a story that is so profound, that I’m afraid it will be diminished by the telling of it. So I’ve been hoarding it. And to be honest, this is nothing new because my career/life’s work was all about being a repository for people’s profound stories. So many tales of suffering, triumph, and resolve invariably ended with the need to make the world a better place for the learning of some malignant and often unjust lesson. I was a family therapist, and those tales are not mine to tell, but as it turns out, I have a little piece of one to share from those who want it told. It’s about being thankful.

antique corn

It all started with corn. Italian corn. Just a month ago, I returned from visiting our daughter, Annie, who lives in the Italian Alpine town of Aosta. You can read her story here. Anyway, Annie’s obsessed with polenta as much as a human can be. So when I visited her in October, we went on a two week long polenta adventure across the far northern mountains and piemonte region. We called on antique corn experts, met with university academics, chatted with farmers & visited farms, ancient mills, and rural museums. There were Polenta sagre (festivals), a corn-husking party, lots of wine drinking, and accidental driving on blood-curdling half-lane gravel Alpine roads accompanied by screaming and cursing.

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Muscadine merriment + a perky salad for your Thanksgiving table

1 Muscadines

I know it might be too late now for Muscadines since it was a whopping 19 degrees outside our Asheville door this morning. But this celebrated southern native grape keeps well when refrigerated, and as of Monday, growers at the WNC farmer’s market still had some baskets stashed away. If you live around the Asheville area, you really should run over there this very second and grab them …  or be ready for their arrival next fall.  Since Thanksgiving is truly the only American holiday that celebrates our legendary native foods, deep purple Muscadines fit in nicely, bestowing a splash of vibrant healthful bling to the festive table.


Muscadine grapes grow from West Virginia clear down to Florida, but North Carolina lays claim to the origins of this voluptuously-flavored southern belle. The bronze-skinned Scuppernong variety was discovered/found growing, by colonists in the mid 1500s. The term Muscadine refers to both the black cultivar (my particular favorite) and the greenish/bronze varieties, but most folks call the black ones Muscadines and the greenish bronze ones Scuppernongs. I’m no expert but there are a LOT of people who are, namely these North Carolinians and these.

I sauce the grapes and then water-bath can several versions of the innards. First wash, de-stem, and put them in a non-aluminum pot. This 5 quart pot holds about 5 pounds of grapes. Do NOT add any water. Squish the grapes however it suits you, the guts are green. Notice the matching pot.

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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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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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Southern cowpea, butterbean & legume greed

field peas

Here’s why you should slow down and take the back roads. You might run into a Georgia roadside stand with zipper peas, crowder peas, lady peas, and pink-eyed peas. Honey sweet peaches, silver queen corn, and greasy beans. As if that’s not enough, along comes the roadside Spring Creek dairy with fresh churned buttermilk, butter, cheese and ice cream. It’s summer in the south.

osage farms

 There’s a whole other world just down the mountain from this summer’s rainy chilly Asheville. It’s 23 minutes longer to take 441 instead of I-85 to Atlanta to visit our daughter, Rita. So says Google maps, but they’re wrong. It’s a good two hours and possibly two days/weeks/months longer because there’s so many fun things to do along the way. Roadside vegetable and dairy stands, scores of antique stores, “Goats on the Roof” (not kidding),  picnicking, and the drop-dead-gorgeous Smoky mountains.

sharing lunch

This is not a goat on the roof, but it is a goat. On the right is my nephew, the coolest little kid ever. Anyway, Rita and I ended our sweet visit on Monday by going to the DeKalb international farmer’s market in Atlanta. Holy moly, if you ever get a chance, go there. Food and people from everywhere on earth it seems. I spotted fresh chickpeas and pretty much grabbed all that were left, being as I’ve never had them before. It was the beginning of legume greed. Now I  have legume tummy, which I will spare you the details of, but it’s worth it. So here’s my official advice, if you see a shelled peas sign like this at a roadside stand …  seize the zipper. I bought 5 pints that were already shelled ($4 is a good deal), but shelling is fun if you get a chance.

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Frozen rhubarb cheesecake and a confession

0July 4th birthday cake

July 4th is my birthday and this is the “cake” I made for our birthday dinner. Friends suggested that I post the recipe and so I thought I’d share my version/not-recipe of this ice cream sort of cheesecake. And then, I got to thinking about how most of the recipes/foods on this blog are pretty much pie or some sort of dessert. Which led me to ponder what that’s about since (and this is the confession part) I don’t even care about eating pies or cakes or ice cream. And actually, the thing I like best about dessert is what I eat right before I eat dessert, knowing that I need to not fill up so I have room for the dessert.


Which looks something like this lunch from my garden and friends from the local tailgate market. (Hmm, this fruit plate looks like dessert already! It was a productive fruit day in the garden.) There is one more piece of the frozen cheesecake left which I will probably just pass to Wayne because I’m over it already. Even though it was fantastic. The truth is that I love the process of cooking, the art, the alchemy, the gardening and shopping and the gathering of loved ones at the table and I want to feed you. Good foods, healthy foods, foods that do not include blobs of pork belly. And, I love and appreciate your healthy appetite because I just don’t have one. A plate of veggies fills me up and I have to be selective about my abdominal real estate. But I will be happy to make this delicious frozen yogurt “cake” for your birthday!  The inspiration came from my new favorite cookbook.

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A fun hangover + gathering recovery everyday parmesan-fried summer squash

everyday squash

Maybe 7 inches of rain in 4 days isn’t such a bad thing. No gardening, mowing, weed-whacking, laundry-hanging or long walks in the woods to distract from getting the house back in order after two and a half weeks of bursting-at-the seams family, friends, food and wedding festivities.

polenta cake

First, all three of our kids plus husband came to visit from their far-flung homes. Plus 14 other friends and family. Annie and Gianluca taught a huge rustic campfire polenta class whose photos I cannot find at the moment … and trout fishing and grilling and feasting and toasting and toasting and more toasting …


And our annual pie contest with 78 pies entered this year (more to come) …

Photo by Wes Erbsen

Photo by Wes Erbsen

And then, there was my Niece’s wonderful wedding …

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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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