Happy New Year!

Family Portrait on Thanksgiving Day!

Family Portrait on Thanksgiving Day!

Renewal. That’s the word that keeps popping into my head as I start this new year. 2015 has a nice ring to it, I have to admit. I just successfully made it through another holiday season. Whew… After years of working retail during the holidays and getting caught up in the extra stress often associated, I decided a couple years back that the only way to make it through is to do the very minimum when it comes to celebrating and participating in the festivities. I have worked hard at avoiding all stressful situations during this time. Lucky for us, the real meaning of the season found us anyway. With the new year, we’ve been greeted with so much love from awesome family visits, great times with old dear friends, as well as some fun new friends.

I have felt that the last couple of years have been so difficult for many folks near and dear to us. We lost some dear loved ones and had more friends who were faced with scary health and life challenges. Perhaps it is our age. I have to admit that entering into my 40’s has been more challenging mentally for me than any other decade. The last few months though, I’ve been trying to regroup, alter my perspective on things, reconnect to the people and things that are most important to me, figure out some new paths, get rid of the clutter (literally and metaphorically) and I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable and excited for whatever lies ahead.

One thing that becomes more clear the older I get is the love I feel for family and friends. It becomes easier to let people know how important they are to you. And throughout all these changes and challenges that life offers us as we move through this life, the constants for me that always help keep me grounded and connected to others is good food and music. I feel so grateful that I have always been able to have these two constants in my life.

Final Plate

In keeping our distance with the holidays these past couple of years, Grant and I have used Thanksgiving as a time to try completely new recipes and ways of cooking which has been totally exciting to us. Last year, we had a Korean Thanksgiving and this past Thanksgiving, we did it again but decided to make dumplings! As we have just enjoyed the last two dumplings we had left in the freezer, I thought it was about time to post these recipes. In researching recipes before Thanksgiving, I found this wonderful website by a Korean woman who goes by the name Maangchi. I adore her. She has some great recipes and her videos are really helpful.

I started out by making her recipe for dumpling wrappers and while I did this, Grant was busy working on the dumpling filling.

DoughMandu-Pi (Dumpling Wrappers)
This recipe makes 16 large wrappers, each one roughly 5 ½ to 6 inches in diameter.
2 cups all purpose flour plus ¼ cup extra for dusting
½ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup water

Combine 2 cups of flour, salt, and water in a large mixing bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until it turns into a lump. Then knead it by hand for a few minutes until the dough gets a little softer. Put it in a plastic bag to keep it from the air and let it sit for 10 to 30 minutes on the kitchen counter.

Take the dough out of the plastic bag. It will be a little softer and moist and easier to handle. Knead it for 5 to 7 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic. Place the dough on a cutting board dusted with a bit of flour and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Put one half into the plastic bag to keep it from getting dried out as your work on the other half. Cut the piece of dough into 8 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece out with a rolling pin into 5 ½ to 6 inch round circle disks. They should be a little thinner on the edges than in the middle, because you will eventually be pinching the edges together when making the dumplings, so you don’t want them too thick and doughy. Take the second half out of the bag and make dumpling wrappers out of it using the same method. Use them right away to make dumplings, or freeze them for later. To freeze: Cover a large platter with plastic wrap and put the wrappers on it. Place them so they don’t touch each other, and separate layers of skins with sheets of plastic wrap. When it’s full of skins, cover the entire tray with plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 1 month. To use frozen Mandu-Pi, thaw out at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes before using them to make dumplings.

Dumplings

And here is the recipe for the Kimchi Dumplings. Our version was slightly adapted from her version which can be found with this awesome youtube instruction class here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpyEDjmTeGo

Kimchi-Wangmandu (King Sized Kimchi Dumplings)
Makes roughly 16 large dumplings.
½ pound Ground Beef
½ pound Ground Pork
1 tsp finely chopped Fresh Ginger
3 cloves Garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tsp Tamari
1 Tbsp Raw Organic Cane Sugar
1 Tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil
1 tsp ground Black Pepper
1 cup finely chopped Onion
1 cup chopped Green Onions
1 cup Kimchi, chopped
½ cup Firm Tofu
½ cup Bean Sprouts, chopped
1 tsp Salt
Grapeseed Oil
a little flour to dust your fingers

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons Tamari
1 tablespoon Rice Wine vinegar
¼ cup chopped Onion
1 Jalapeño, chopped
1 tsp Raw Organic Cane Sugar

Place the beef, pork, garlic, and ginger into a bowl. Use a wooden spoon to mix with 2 teaspoons tamari, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. You can use a food processor if you want to. Heat up a skillet over medium high heat and add 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil. Stir fry the meat mixture until the meat is no longer pink. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and be sure to include the juices from the cooked meat. Add the minced onion, the green onions, and kimchi to the mixing bowl. Squeeze the tofu slightly by hand to remove excess water and add it to the mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix well by hand or a wooden spoon until well mixed. Put a wrapper on your palm and add 2 or 3 spoons of filling to the center. Loosely fold it in half vertically. Pinch the bottom on the fold to seal it. Push the right side in a little bit, so the wrapper folds in on itself slightly. Pinch that fold to make a pleat. Do the same on the left side and alternate sides all the way up until the dumpling is sealed. Pinch or wrap the end to seal it. Repeat until you’ve made all dumplings.

Filling

To freeze for later use (up to 3 months):
Set the dumplings on a tray lined with plastic wrap so they aren’t touching each other. Put into the freezer for 8 hours or so, until they are all frozen. Gently put them into a plastic bag or airtight container and put them back into the freezer.

To steam dumplings:
Boil water in a steamer. Line the steamer rack or basket with a parchment paper. Place dumplings in the steamer basket, but be sure to make room between them because they will expand slightly when cooked. Cover and steam for 15 minutes. Remove and serve with dipping sauce.

To fry dumplings:
Heat up a skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and swirl to spread the oil evenly. Add some dumplings and cook over medium heat, rotating them so each side gets golden-brown. Lower the heat to low and cover. Cook for a few more minutes. Remove and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce:
Combine 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon vinegar, ¼ cup chopped onion,  jalapeño in a bowl. Mix well. Optionally, if you like it sweet, add 1 teaspoon brown sugar.

Dumplings & Beans

In making the mashed potatoes, Grant saved the skins and, not wanting to ever waste any food (plus, always looking for more delicious snacks), he lightly fried the skins for a little pre-meal appetizer! Genius idea.

Potato Skins

Kimchi Mashed Potatoes

We made a few fried dumplings and a few steamed. I think the steamed ones were my favorite! We served the dumplings with green beans that had been sauteed with shiitake mushrooms and some kimchi mashed potatoes! As an appetizer (it was Thanksgiving after all), Grant made these yummy chicken wings that he threw together. We enjoyed these with some delicious homemade cider our friend David made for us.

T-day Korean Wings

Korean BBQ Chicken Wings
12 Chicken Wings
¼ cup Tamari
¼ cup Rice Wine
4 cloves Garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp Hot Korean Chili Paste (or Sriracha)
¼ cup Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil

Preheat oven to 400. Combine all ingredients (excluding the chicken & grapeseed oil) together in a bowl. Add chicken and cover. Marinate 2 hours or overnight. Heat an iron skillet on stove on medium high. Add grapeseed oil. Take chicken out of marinade but reserve the marinade. Put the chicken wings in the pan skin side down and sear until a golden brown. Flip chicken wings over with tongs or a fork. Place skillet in the oven for 20 minutes to finish cooking. While those are cooking, heat the marinade in a saucepan over medium heat to reduce by half. Use this to baste the chicken wings a couple of times for the last 10 minutes of baking time. Remove the skillet from the oven and cool for a couple minutes. Serve!

And for dessert, I made these cookies which I adapted from another shortbread recipe I came up with awhile back.

Shortbread

Ginger Raisin Shortbread
¾ cup Powdered Sugar
½ tsp Sea Salt
2 cups All Purpose Flour
2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
½ cup Raisins, chopped
1 Tbsp Fresh Ginger, grated
¼ cup Buttermilk
¼ cup Raw Cane Sugar (for sprinkling on the top of the cookies)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Mix sugar, salt, and flour together in a bowl. Add butter. Use your finger to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture, slowly and gently like you would pie crust. The largest pieces of butter should be the size of grains of rice. Once the butter is mixed in, add raisins, ginger, and buttermilk. Mix together. Gather dough into ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or so. You can roll dough out and cut cookies with a cookie cutter or roll into a log and slice. Sprinkle each cookie with a little raw cane sugar. Bake cookies until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Music

Left & Middle- Santa’s Ice Cold Pickers play at Santa’s Pub every Sunday 7-9pm. Right- Kenny Vaughan Trio playing happy hour at The 5 Spot (Jan 2015).

We’ve been enjoying some fun Happy Hour shows around town and our usual weekly musical events and sincerely hope to follow through on my resolution of more live music in 2015 in the weeks to come… Happy New Year everyone!

Zucchini Pie & Non-GMOs

Zucchini Pie!

Zucchini Pie!

October is Non-GMO month. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are plants or animals that have been created through gene splicing techniques. It is changing the DNA of a plant. There is a lot of misinformation out in the world about this particular issue. One common misconception of GMOs is that they will allow us to feed more people in our ever growing world yet, none of the GMO traits currently on the market even offer increased yield, drought tolerance, higher nutrition, or any other benefits to consumers. And there is plenty of evidence now that connects GMOs to health problems, environmental damage and violation of both farmers’ and consumers’ rights. More than 60 countries around the world now have either significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs (meaning, also, that they won’t allow US grown products into their country!). The bottom line is, once we have lost complete control of the source of our food, there is absolutely no turning back. The importance of labeling our food as “Non GMO” is so that people like me, who care whether or not my food has been genetically modified, can try to avoid consuming too much genetically modified food. Seriously, y’all. It’s all about personal choice and labeling non-GMOs means we all still get a choice. I’ll stop my preaching but you can find out much more about this issue at the Non-GMO Project’s site.

The reason I thought to tie this topic in with this particular recipe below, though, is some of my favorite vegetables are now almost impossible to find Non-GMO (especially in middle Tennessee). In the United States, unless you can be certain you are eating organic, our corn crops, beet crops, zucchini and squash crops are pretty much all genetically modified at this point. Buying fresh vegetables has never been so confusing. In the summer, it’s easy to either grow your own food or buy seasonal, organic and local thanks to our local organic farmers! In the winter, it becomes way more complicated. We now have to think about the “Dirty Dozen” and this GMO list.

05-10

Thank God for friends, neighbors, and local farmers like Double N Urban Farm  (above) who provided us with lots of delicious organic produce this past summer!

000

Now, about that recipe… I have a special place in my heart for Art Bomb Studios in Greenville, S.C. First off, one of my very favorite people in all the world, my big Sis, has a studio space there. So, I have spent lots of time here visiting her studio, attending their many art shows, or just hanging out and enjoying some food with excellent company.

art bomb 2

09-28

On my most recent visit, our friend and Art Bomb founder Diane shared some wonderful cookbooks with me and this very special recipe of hers for Zucchini Pie. I had never heard of such but she said it was one of her very favorite recipes and I have often made Zucchini Bread so I thought I would give it a try. I am always looking for new ways to add even more veggies into our diet. Even though it is easier to find good, local organic zucchini in the summer, this pie screamed FALL to me! Next time, I might experiment with grating the zucchini instead of cubing and it just might be tasty with some grated candied ginger thrown in. It would be great served alongside apple and pumpkin pies for a Thanksgiving day spread. Leftovers were great with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

Zuc Pie 3

Zuc Pie 2

Zucchini Pie
Filling:
4 cups Zucchini, diced
1 ¼ cups Sugar (I used organic cane sugar.)
1 ½ tsp Cinnamon
¼ cup Flour
1 Egg, beaten
¼ tsp Salt

Topping:
½ cup Brown Sugar
½ cup Unsalted Butter
1 cup Flour

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and let rest for 20-25 minutes. According to Diane, this is a necessary step which allows the gasses to escape so you won’t get gas from eating it. While you let the filling rest, roll out the pie dough (PLEASE never use store-bought crust, it is so easy to make your own. Here is my basic recipe here) and make the topping by mixing the 3 ingredients together until crumbly. I just used my fingers. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust and then crumble topping on top. Bake for one hour.

Zuc Pie 4

Exciting music news this week: our buddy (and proud Alabamian) Jon Byrd has a new cd out!

JonByrd

Jon is a wonderful songwriter, storyteller and all around great human being. His song Jack Knife is seriously one of my all time favorites. With this album, his 3rd, he decided to sing the songs of some of his favorite songwriters. It’s titled, Route 41, and you can purchase it here. He had his cd release party at the world famous Station Inn last week. If you happened to miss it, he’s playing again next Friday. You can check out all his dates on his website.

JB cd release

Out next week is the second EP from our buddy, Cale Tyson, titled, Cheater’s Wine.

Cale cd

This young Texan is already getting some good reviews for his songwriting. He’s a big fan of Townes Van Zandt and has a deep respect for the oldtimers of country music. He is in a group of young Nashville songwriters who are leading the charge to keep traditional country music alive. I love them!

Don’t forget to support our local artists and musicians as they are truly what make our communities thrive. Eat well, cold season is coming up! For more interesting articles about Non-GMOs and eating with purpose, visit our friends over at Corbin in The Dell.

Oat Cakes, Blue Cheese & Bluegrass

Oat Crackers & Blue Cheese

Oat Cake Crackers served with Dunbarton Blue.

Grant and I both love whole grain, very slightly sweet crackers that are really somewhere in between a cracker and a cookie. When we lived in the Pacific Northwest, we could find these up in Canada or in specialty food stores around Seattle. Often they are labeled “Digestive Aids” and are popular in British food sections. In Scotland, they call them Oat Cakes. They are a perfect companion to really good cheese, especially blue cheese. I’ve been hanging out lots at The Bloomy Rind and she has an excellent selection of U.S. artisan blue cheeses. So many! I’ve been slowly working my way through all of them which made me start to crave the little oat crackers I can’t seem to find anywhere around these parts. So, I came up with my own recipe! It’s really hard to know what to call them since the idea seems to stem from the Scottish Oat Cakes yet, they are more like cookies but since they aren’t very sweet, they are also kind of a cracker. I decided to call them Oatmeal Cake Crackers.

Oat Cracker Dough

Oatmeal Cake Crackers
1 ½ cups Rolled Oats, coarsely ground in a food processor
1 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
¼ cup Demerara Sugar (or Cane Sugar or Brown Sugar)
¾ tsp Sea Salt
½ tsp Baking Soda
½ cup Unsalted Butter
¼ cup Buttermilk (I used Hatcher whole buttermilk.)

Oat Crackers on Sheet

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients together with your hands or a food processor. Roll out on a floured surface to ¼” thickness. Using a small biscuit cutter, cut into rounds and place on a cookie sheet. Brush the tops with egg white. Bake for 15-16 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. These are delicious with cheese, especially the blue or cheddar varieties.

Oat Crackers Baked

Last weekend was a big bluegrass weekend for us as Grant’s bluegrass band, Off The Wagon, had three shows. Saturday they played The Station Inn and our friend Bradford Lee Folk joined them for a few songs. It reminded me of how much I love his voice and that I forgot to mention his new album, Somewhere Far Away, which came out a couple months back.

Bradford  & OTW

We first became familiar with Brad, or at least his voice, back when we lived in Seattle and we saw his old band Open Road play one of our favorite venues, the Tractor Tavern. So, when we first met him in Nashville a few years back, we were thrilled he had moved to town and excited to hear his new music. What a voice!

Brad&Mic-2

You can find his new cd plus lots of other good merch and his touring dates all on his website here. His songs are so beautiful and his voice is really unique. Definitely check his music out!

Brad at Roberts

 

Colorful Winter

Lulu the hound dog in one of her favorite snuggling spots.

Lulu the hound dog in one of her favorite snuggling spots.

Look at all these colors- colorful snuggling, colorful cooking! I love colorful meals and we’ve been lucky to find so many colorful veggies lately. It makes me really happy.

2- Colorful

I had someone ask me recently, “You have a soup blog, right?” Guilty. It seems last summer I had an herb blog and now, a soup blog. I do like my soups. They are so super easy to make, loaded with nourishing veggies, and so easy to eat. A big pot means we can have it for dinner and leftovers for lunches throughout the week. Plus, they are delicious. I got obsessed this week thinking about roasted vegetable soups. The roasted flavor creates an added layer. I made a batch of Banana Bread this week and had some coconut milk left over. That was the inspiration for this soup- one cup of coconut milk that I didn’t want to waste. It had a slight Indian spice to it but mostly, it was just delicious.

3-SwtPotSoup

Simple Roasted Sweet Potato Soup
4-6 servings

  • 1 Yellow Onion, cut in half and then quartered
  • 2 medium sized Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
  • 2 medium sized Red Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
  • ½ Red Pepper, cut into 1” pieces
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt & Black Pepper
  • 5 cloves Garlic, with skin on
  • 1 cup Coconut Milk
  • 4 cups Stock (I used chicken stock but vegetable would be good as well.)
  • 1 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 ½ tsp Curry Powder
  • 1 small bunch Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh Parsley

Preheat oven to 400. In a large baking dish, add the onion, potatoes, and red pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper. Mix together. Bake for 30 minutes. Stir. Add the garlic and place a little more olive oil on the garlic. Roast for 20-30 more minutes. Meanwhile, heat a soup pot on the stove at medium heat. Add the stock, paprika, curry, cilantro, and parsley. Remove the vegetables from the oven and blend with 1 cup of coconut milk. Whisk the blended veggies together with the broth and cook for a few more minutes.

This next dinner came about because I wanted to make Creamy Tomato Cashew Soup but realized I didn’t have all the ingredients. I made it anyway and then it wasn’t quite right. I thought about what I could do to it to make it better for a day and then Grant and I decided to turn it into a sauce with meatballs. I know people who make great Italian meatballs are vehemently opposed to using ground turkey but we chose to use it here to keep the recipe leaner. It turned out really well. Here’s the final recipe.

4-turkey meatballs

Turkey Meatballs in a Vegetable Nut Ragu
Serves 4

  • ½ cup blend of- raw Cashews, Walnuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds
  • ½ cup Water
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil or Ghee
  • ½ small Red Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 big Carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups Diced Canned Tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Italian Herbs (I used an Italian herb blend from Frontier that I love but any would work- basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc…)
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped
  • Sea Salt & Black Pepper to taste

Toast the nuts and seeds. Cool. Blend in a blender with water. Set aside. Heat a soup pot on medium and add oil or ghee. Add onions. Cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes or so. Add garlic and carrots. Cook for another few minutes. Add tomatoes. Stir and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Add tomato paste, herbs and seasonings. In small batches, blend the tomato mixture in the blender with the nut milk and then return to the pot to heat through a few more minutes.

Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground Turkey
  • 1 large Shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning mix
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • ½ tsp Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 -2 Tbsp Olive Oil

In a medium size bowl, mix the ground turkey with the shallots, garlic, and seasonings. Once it is evenly mixed, form into small meatballs (we like ours about an inch in diameter). Heat a large skillet on medium high and add the oil. Place the meatballs in the skillet and cook on both sides until lightly brown and cooked through. Add the sauce to the skillet, on top of the meatballs. Cook for a few more minutes. Serve the sauce with meatballs over cooked pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano. We served a simple salad on the side and washed it all down with a glass of red wine.

I haven’t been posting many sweet recipes lately. I still make pies from time to time for others but we have sort of lost our sweet teeth. And once you don’t eat much sugar, you don’t really ever crave it. When I do want sweets, it is usually in the form of a cookie or a little piece of good chocolate. I found these great Theo chocolate bars (one of my favorite chocolate companies whose chocolate factory just so happens to be on the street I lived on years ago in Seattle!) on sale at several grocery stores this month. The Salted Almond chocolate bars are so good. Luckily, I had a couple stowed away in the cupboard when it came time to figure out a cookie recipe to make for a dear friend’s birthday last week. Here’s what I came up with.

5-chocolate bar

This recipe was adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s, “Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies.” It is our new favorite! There is nothing better than a perfect cookie.

Chocolate Almond Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen

  • ½ cup Cane Sugar
  • ½ cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 stick Unsalted Butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • ½ tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 ¼ cups All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raw Almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 1 Theo Salted Chocolate Almond Bar, chopped
  • Parchment Paper (for storing and baking)

Preheat to 300. Beat the sugars and butter together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda. Add the flour and salt and mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate and the almonds. I like to divide the batter into 3-4 balls and, on a piece of parchment paper, form each ball into a log about 1” in diameter. I then wrap each cookie dough log up in the parchment and place in a plastic bag. You can keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze them for months. When you are ready to bake some, simply slice them off and place the slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 18 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

6-cookies

It seems many of our friends and neighbors are all working on new albums. There are many in the works and I can’t wait! For now, keeping with the colorful theme- in name and sound- I have been listening to a local band I became aware of last Spring, Great Peacock.

Great Peacock at a neighborhood gathering one Saturday in June, 2013.

Great Peacock at a neighborhood gathering one Saturday in June, 2013.

Great Peacock’s Blount Floyd and Andrew Nelson combine a bold harmony-driven sound, nicely crafted songs inspired by their upbringing in the South- Alabama and Mississippi respectfully, lots of energy, and a love of old country music to create some really fun songs. I’ll close with this video they put out in December, of their single, Tennessee.

NIKKI & RAY

It’s taken me a few weeks to pay tribute here to the one and only, the great Ray Price- not because he wasn’t worthy or I didn’t care. It is quite the opposite. I felt a strong fondness for Mr. Price. He was one of our true musical heroes. When my husband Grant and I first moved to Nashville, we visited the Ryman Auditorium and went on the tour. We had our photo made up on that stage and we knew then that it is one of the coolest places on earth.

Photo 1- G&K Ryman

That’s us on the Opry stage back in 2006!

I remember saying to Grant, “Maybe one day you’ll play on this stage, right here where it all began.” And sure enough, one year to the day of us arriving in Nashville, Grant got to play guitar on that stage.

Photo 2- Grant at Ryman

Grant performing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium with Jon Langford at Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam. June, 2007.

Our very first concert at the Ryman, though, was in September of 2006. My sister got us tickets to see Ray Price for my birthday and our new friend from the neighborhood, Buddy Spicher, was up there on stage playing fiddle. Grant and I got all dressed up and were so excited to be there. We arrived anxious and excited, walked in and squeezed into our seats on our pew in the 6th row. The woman beside me looked up at us and said, “They let you in? Did they card you?” In our thirties, we were some of the only “youngsters” there. It was an amazing show. Ray’s voice was still, at age 80, so strong and wonderful. The band sounded top-notch, of course.

Photo 3- Ray at Ryman

Ray Price on stage at the Ryman Auditorium. September, 2006.

We got to see Ray Price another time, about a year later, at the “new” Opry house while he was on tour with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. They called it “The Last of the Breed Tour.” I always hated that title, it sounds so sad… But, those three together? We felt so incredibly lucky to experience that.

Eddie Stubbs interviewing Ray Price at the CMHF with Hank looking on.

Eddie Stubbs interviewing Ray Price at the CMHF with Hank looking on.

A few years later we went to a special talk with Ray Price at the Country Music Hall of Fame which coincided with the Hank Williams family exhibition. You see, Ray Price had been Hank’s friend and roommate at the end of Hank’s life. He had witnessed Hank’s life first hand. That had a lot to do with why he lived such a clean life.

Ray Price left this world on December 16th at the age of 87 due to his illness with pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only soul we lost to to pancreatic cancer this year.

I once asked our dear friend Nikki which one of Waylon’s songs was her favorite and this was her answer. It’s one of my favorites, too. I didn’t know a whole lot about Waylon when we first moved to Nashville nearly 8 years ago. But upon our arrival, I quickly learned so much about many musicians and country legends. I was quite eager to learn but even if I wasn’t, it seems impossible to live here and not learn about these larger-than-life musical personalities as their history is so much apart of the environment here. I love it. Waylon quickly became one of my favorites.

I first met Nikki on one of the saddest days of my life, the day the mighty Mister Moses died back in 2007. Moses was one of my soul mates and best friends. He was one of the coolest dogs ever. Seriously. I mean, anyone who knew him would say the same. That is not a biased opinion. It’s a fact.

Photo 5- Moses

Anyway, one morning Moses suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to the 24-hour emergency pet clinic. As I waited all day in doom and gloom to find out that Moses would never be able to leave, this bright ray of sunshine (named Nikki, wearing a Waylon t-shirt) entered the waiting room for about an hour. It was if she was sent there to comfort us all and offer support as she waited for her big cat Shinery to get some stitches. She wanted to know all about Moses. She gave me her card and told me to keep in touch. A couple weeks later I emailed her to tell her that Moses had passed away but how nice it had been to meet her. (To this day, I believe it was Moses who arranged our meeting. He knew I needed to know her.) Next thing I knew, Grant and I were meeting Nikki for lunch. We met her at the Waylon office as Nikki was Waylon’s business manager and she drove us to lunch in Waylon’s old Cadillac. We had so much fun. That was one of many meals we shared and a friendship was born through our shared love of dogs, food, and music.

Photo 6- Lunch w Nikki

Nikki, Lucy, and me with Waylon’s Cadillac.

Besides being a real-life hero, always living life to the fullest and encouraging those around her to do the same, she was an amazing friend. She was spread thin between all her animals (she rescued anyone who needed to be rescued!); her long and steadfast career with Waylon Jennings music; her hobbies which included flying planes and fly fishing; creating a new community for good food, friendship, and music down in Normandy, Tennessee, she still managed to make time for good friends.

Photo 7- Nikki & Buddies

Photo 8- Nikki & Cafe

Nikki at the River Cafe in Normandy, the cafe she and her brother Mike started.

She always made each of her friends feel as if they were of utmost importance to her and always introduced every friend by one of their strengths. I came to realize that she always lit up every room, not just that waiting room at the emergency pet clinic. She told the best stories about growing up in Texas, all of her many careers and adventures, and all the characters she met along the way. There was even one about Ray Price- them both being from Texas and all.

We didn’t get to spend nearly enough time getting to know Nikki but every moment we had with her was memorable and really special. When we first found out she had pancreatic cancer a few years back, I was just sick. The pain was real and in the middle of my gut. It just ached for days. But Nikki kept living and I began to believe she would be with us for a long time. She accomplished more in the last few years than many of us ever do. Somehow she was able to add the hospital visits and the time for treatments into all she was already juggling.

Sadly, we lost Nikki in June to pancreatic cancer but not before she planned her own memorial service and you know what, it was a wonderful celebration of life and she was right there with us. I could feel her presence. In the last email I have from Nikki in the weeks before she passed away she wrote, “Your love and energy is always felt and will be with me forever and ever!!” Even then, she was trying to lift me up and since her death, I feel her friendship all the time. Our friendship has just taken on a different form and even though I don’t physically have her here, I sense her presence with us so often. It feels like her presence is even bigger and more spread out now and I can just carry her around with me all the time. I feel her encouragement and strive to be a better person because of her.

Our last dinner with Nikki, we all cooked a giant Paella down in Normandy. April 2013.

Our last dinner with Nikki, we all cooked a giant Paella down in Normandy. April 2013.

The other day I was remembering the pecan muffins Nikki started making awhile back. She kept trying them out. She brought us some when she came to visit and then made them for us one time when we spent the night down in Normandy with her. I never asked her for the recipe because I knew she had plans for these. The other day it occurred to me to ask her friend Rhonda if she had the recipe and lucky for me, the recipe had belonged to Rhonda’s Mother and she gave me permission to share it here. These are especially good with a cup of coffee. They make the perfect breakfast treat for house guests but are rich so they also make a nice little dessert.

Photo 10- Muffin Batter

Pecan Mini-Muffins
Makes 2 ½ dozen
1 cup Brown Sugar, packed
½ cup All Purpose Flour
1 cup Finely Chopped Pecans
⅔ cup Unsalted Butter, softened
2 Eggs
Dash of Salt

Preheat oven to 350 and grease mini-muffin tins. Combine sugar, flour, nuts and set aside. Mix together butter, eggs, and salt and then stir into the dry mixture. Stir just until moist. Fill the muffin tins ⅔ full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on the oven. You can check to see that the center of one is done by inserting a cake tester or a toothpick. It it comes out clear, they are done. Remove immediately and cool.

Photo 11- Pecan Muffins

I want to close with this link to The Nikki Mitchell Foundation. Nikki’s friend and flying partner, Rhonda who helped care for Nikki throughout her illness, quit her job this summer and founded this organization to continue Nikki’s work in bringing awareness to pancreatic cancer. Two years ago, Nikki organized the first of many benefits to raise awareness to her cause down in Normandy called, Full Moon Full Of Life. It was a way to raise money for this important cause while creating a musical event that was affordable for the community of Normandy, so everyone could bring the whole family.

Full Moon, Full of Life benefit in Normandy, October 2012.

Full Moon, Full of Life benefit in Normandy, October 2012.

So, not only did Nikki and Ray have Texas, country music, and (very sadly) pancreatic cancer in common, they both fill some of our most cherished Nashville memories. We will continue to listen to Ray and our friendship with Nikki will never end.

What Month Is It Anyway?

Oh my God, I think we just hibernated through the entire summer. While I am still holding on to the last few hot days with sadness that it has passed so quickly and that we were so preoccupied with some heavy life stuff to really notice, deep down inside, I am sort of yearning for fall and all that comes with it. Our best summer moments were spent up in Washington for our dear friend’s beautiful wedding during what everyone there said was the best weather week of the summer. It was glorious- the weather, the food, our friends and family, so much love and celebration.

Seattle 1

Seattle 2

Seattle 3

Seattle 4

For one of the celebrations, a family picnic, a small group of us made some salads. This potato salad recipe below was one of the dishes that Grant and I contributed and our friend asked for the recipe. Grant and I made it up, based loosely on one his sister makes which I think is based on a Barefoot Contessa recipe. Here is how it went…

Potato Salad

Cornichon Potato Salad
6 large Red Potatoes (about 5 or so cups), washed, cubed, cooked in boiling water until done
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
⅓ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 Tbsp Liquid from the Cornichons
1 Tbsp Raw Organic Cane Sugar
Sea Salt & Black Pepper to taste (1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper is what we used)
⅓ cup Cornichons, chopped
¼ cup Fresh Dill, finely chopped
¼ cup Fresh Italian Parsley, finely chopped

Drain potatoes and let cool. In a small bowl, mix the oil, vinegar, Cornichon liquid, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper together to form a dressing. Mix the herbs and cornichons in with the potatoes. Pour the dressing over and gently stir.

For some time now, I’ve known about all the health benefits of eating quinoa yet, neither Grant nor I really love it. Still, I continue to try to make it in new ways with new combinations and usually we have the same results. It tastes OK but we just don’t love it. Finally, I came up with this little recipe that we both enjoyed and happily ate all the leftovers. I used it to stuff some small Italian peppers from our garden. It made for a colorful dinner. I served the stuffed peppers with Rosemary Roasted Cauliflower.

Peppers

Peppers & Pinenuts

Italian Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large Tomatoes, sliced
½ Red Onion, sliced
A few glugs Olive Oil
1 cup Quinoa, cooked
¼ cup Pine Nuts
¼ cup Fresh Chopped Italian Herbs (I used parsley, basil, and lemon basil.)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan Reggiano
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
2 cloves Garlic, crushed & chopped
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
Bell Peppers (I used mini ones but any will do.)

Quinoa

Slice the tomatoes and toss with the onions and a small amount of olive oil. Roast them in the oven at 400 for about 20-25 minutes. Cook the quinoa (be careful not to cook too long, you don’t want it too mushy), drain any excess water, and set aside. Once the tomatoes are done, mix all of the ingredients (except the peppers) together and then stuff the peppers. Rub a tiny bit of olive oil on the outside of the peppers and cook in a baking dish on 375 for about 25-30 minutes. If you have excess of the quinoa mixture, it makes a great salad.

08-26

And rapidly trying to eat more and more basil before it all completely flowers (but excited for fall soups!), I came up with this lovely lemony Basil Pea Soup. It is very light and flavorful.

Flowering Basil

Basil Pea Soup
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Vidalia Onion, finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic
4 cups Frozen Peas
Juice of 1 small Lemon
1 tsp Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
5 cups Vegetable Stock
1 cup Basil Leaves
1 cup Walnuts, lightly toasted
Parmesan, grated for garnish (optional)

Soup

Heat soup pot on medium. Add oil. Saute onion until it begins to turn translucent. Add garlic. Stir. Add peas, lemon, salt and pepper. Stir. Cook for a few minutes to heat the peas and let the flavors coalesce. Remove from heat. In small batches, blend the basil, walnuts, and the soup to puree. Be careful not to fill blender too full with the hot liquid as the heat can make the top of the blender come off and cause the hot liquid to splatter. So, don’t get burned. Return to heat. Heat for a few minutes. Stir. Serve. I topped with some grated parmesan but this is purely optional.

Basil Pea Soup

I will close with this little cookie recipe I came up with based on another I adapted from somewhere… Just the right little ending to any meal. I like to refrigerate the batter and bake a few at a time so I can’t get all Cookie Monsterish or anything.

cookies

Small Batch Nutty Cacao Cookies
1 cup White Lily Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Sea Salt
3/4 tsp. Baking Soda
¼ tsp Baking Powder
½ cup Light Brown Sugar
½ cup Cane Sugar
1 stick Unsalted Butter, softened
1 Egg
1 big tsp. Vanilla Extract
¼ cup Cacao Powder
½ cup Chopped Raw Mixed Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pepitas, lightly toasted and chopped)
Sprinkle tops with Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mix the butter with the sugars using a mixer. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix. Add the cacao, flour mixture, and nuts. Form into small balls and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle tops with sea salt. Bake for 12-13 minutes.

More music coming soon!

Happy Birthday Loretta!

Carrot-1

One of Grant’s best friends from college, Tim Baker, and his wife Kelly were some of our favorite friends to eat with when we lived in Seattle. They are super creative people and love food as much as we do. These two had an awesome house with an amazing little back yard. They had created such a great life inside their house that I always felt like I never wanted to leave which is how I imagined they also felt. It was as if they were a self contained family unit inside the square footage of their house and they never really needed to step outside- except when necessary for work, etc., but if they never had to leave they would be happy and complete with everything that was contained within those walls because it was such a creative, comfortable, and positive environment. I think they have been a quiet inspiration in my subconscious as we have created our home here in Nashville. One of my favorite desserts that Tim used to make for us was Carrot Pie. I had never had Carrot Pie before. He sent me the recipe, sort of, months ago and I just recently realized I had not made it yet. I had to fill in a few of the measurements but it turned out nicely. I only wish Tim and Kelly had been here to enjoy it with us. This is a perfect springtime dessert! And to quote Grant Johnson, “This might be the tastiest expression of carrots, ever!”

Carrot-2

Carrot Pie
2 cups Pureed Carrot (approx. 6-8 big fresh organic carrots, cut, steamed, and then mashed)
3 eggs
2 Tbsp candied ginger, chopped very finely
zest of one orange
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 cup cream

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients together with a mixer and then add in the cream. Pour into a prepared, unbaked pie crust. Bake for 50 minutes.

loretta

This pie is made in honor of Loretta Lynn who is celebrating her 81st Birthday this week. My friend and ever-so talented songwriter, Terri Joyce, makes dang sure everyone in Austin remembers Loretta’s birthday by holding an annual party and benefit in Loretta’s honor called the “Hey Loretta Hillbilly Hoedown & Pie Social” in which all the ladies sing and bring pies to raffle off. The money raised goes to support the SIMS Foundation which provides life-saving mental health services for Austin musicians and their families. This is a bunch of talented women. One year I’ll be there in person to hear the show but in the meantime, I will continue to bake a pie in Loretta’s honor and send all good thoughts down Austin way.

Cookies Are Good (& So Is Derek Hoke’s New Album)

Vanilla Wafers on vintage plate and *brand new* Dolan Geiman table cloth!

We don’t actually eat many sweets but I love making desserts, especially for guests. My Momma brought me up right! However, unlike my Mom, I tend to gravitate towards desserts that aren’t too sugary. I often use less sugar than a recipe calls for (to which Grant always reminds me, “We are in the South now, people like things sweeter!”), use alternate natural sweeteners, or just select recipes that are naturally less sweet. These recent dessert recipes struck a chord with me.

Vanilla Wafers with Noble Springs Dairy fresh chevre.

I took that Vanilla Wafer recipe (I altered it a little so am posting here again) and first paired it with some fresh chevre from Noble Springs Dairy. This was a special flavor, chocolate, that they don’t always have but you could easily make up some of your own, I would think, starting with a plain chevre. These would also be delicious with their Apricot Honey Chevre!

Vanilla Wafers
½ cup Unsalted Butter
½ cup Raw Cane Sugar
¼ cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 ½ cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350. With a mixer, mix sugar and butter together until creamy. Add egg and vanilla and mix. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix. Refrigerate for about half an hour. Roll dough out to ¼” on a well floured board or pastry cloth. Cut with a small cookie cutter. (Or you can form dough in a log and slice.) Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet and they will crisp up.

My Dad and Stepmom were recently visiting and I used these same vanilla wafers to make Banana Pudding. I used little ramekins and tiny jars to make individual servings.

I found this Vanilla Pudding recipe to work well. I combined a Real Simple recipe with a Martha Stewart recipe and came up with this…

Vanilla Pudding
½ cup Cane Sugar
3 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
½ tsp Sea Salt
2 cups Whole Milk (I used local Hatcher Dairy milk)
2 Egg Yolks (I used local Willow Farms)
2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 Vanilla Bean

Whisk together sugar, flour, and salt in a saucepan. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both the seeds and the pod to the pan. Pour ¼ cup of the milk in and whisk it together to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining milk and the yolks. Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it starts to thicken, about 15 minutes. DO not allow it to boil. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the butter. Pour into a bowl or, if making individual Banana Puddings as I did, have tiny jars or ramekins laid out. Place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each and then place about 5 slices of banana on top of the cookie. Pour pudding over and then top with another cookie or cookie crumbs and cover with wrap. Let cool and then refrigerate for at least one hour.

Inspired by my friend (and pastry chef at City House) Rebekah’s amazing homemade cookies, in particular here- her graham crackers, I decided to try to make my own. I looked at many recipes online and adapted this one from Smitten Kitchen (which she had adapted from a couple other sources). Mine went like this…

Graham Crackers
2 ½ cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
¾ cup Brown Cane Sugar
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Sea Salt
7 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
¼ cup Honey (I used local Wildflower.)
1 Tbsp Molasses
5 Tbsp whole milk
2 tsp Vanilla Extract

For the topping, mix together:
2 Tbsp Cane Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon

Mix the flour together with the sugar, baking soda, and salt in a big bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix the honey with the molasses, milk, and vanilla using a whisk. Add the butter to the flour mixture. I just used my hands to gently crumble the butter while mixing it with the flour, as I do for making pie dough. Then once the butter is incorporated and not larger than rice grains, I poured the honey mixture in and combined. Divide the dough into two portions and pat into a rectangle about 1” thick and wrap it up. Chill for an hour or two. Flour a dough board or pastry cloth. Roll the chilled dough out to ⅛” thickness. Trim the edges to form a straight edge on all sides. Cut into desired sizes. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar and place crackers on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Of course, the thought of graham crackers always brings to mind homemade S’mores so I searched for a more natural recipe for marshmallow cream and found one from Bon Appetit that sounded promising. I added a some cacao powder to include the chocolate element and made these little S’more Sandwich Grahams!

Homemade Marshmallow Creme
¾ cup Cane Sugar, divided
¼ cup Water
¼ cup Cacao (I like Navitas brand.)
4 Egg Whites
½ tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Vanilla

Combine ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the cacao. Occasionally swirl pan and brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush. Using a candy thermometer, simmer until thermometer reads 240. Place egg whites, salt, and vanilla in a bowl and mix on high until frothy. Slowly add the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Whip until peaks form and then pour the hot syrup into the meringue in a slow, steady stream while whipping. Increase mixer speed to high and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to medium and whip until meringue is cool. Use this to sandwich between two homemade graham crackers! YUM!

I can only imagine that these homemade grahams would also make an amazing crust for your favorite Key Lime Pie recipe. I have never made a Key Lime Pie- mostly because I never need to. Our friend and Red Barn Round-Up cohort, Allison, makes the best! She very kindly agreed to share her recipe here.

Allison makes all sorts of yummy treats!

Allison’s Key Lime Pie is a regular to our Red Barn Round-Up parties, as pictured on far left.

Allison’s Key Lime Pie
Allison originally got her recipe from the bottle of the Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice! The trick, though, is a good crust. They say graham cracker, but she makes hers out of crushed gingersnaps. She says a mix of half graham cracker crumbs and half gingersnap crumbs works well, also.

9″ graham cracker pie crust (or gingersnaps)
14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
½ cup Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice

Combine milk, egg yolks and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie crust and bake at 350º for 15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before refrigerating.

By the way, did you know that Derek Hoke’s favorite pie is Key Lime Pie? It is.

Grant’s been playing with Derek Hoke for a couple years now. It was actually Allison who first introduced us to Derek’s music, specifically, his first album, Goodbye Rock N Roll. (I love that album.) Grant started playing for him shortly thereafter.

Grant & Derek at the 5 Spot. August, 2010.

And speaking of Derek Hoke, last week was Derek Hoke week in our neighborhood. His brand new, very anticipated album, Waiting All Night, was just released. This follow up album, produced by Dexter Green, features eleven new Hoke songs and world-class musicians. It is pretty awesome. Last Monday he was interviewed on my favorite radio station, WSM, where he and the band played a couple songs and talked with Bill & Charlie (my fav!). Then on Tuesday, he had his album release party at the celebrated 5 Spot and played to a packed house.

Derek Hoke Album Release party. 5 Spot. August, 2012.

He even has new merch! That’s right. You heard me! Hurry up before it sells out! Then on Sunday, he and the band (who were dubbed “The Hoke Ridge Boys” for last week) did an in-store at The Groove record store. Allison and I provided treats (cookies and biscuits and pies, oh my!) and dj Tim Hibbs played some of the best music ever heard from a vintage 45! All in all, it was a good week for Derek Hoke, but it doesn’t stop here… get a copy of the new album now and watch the new video here (featuring a special guest appearance by our friend Rose!).

Listen out for interviews (NPR y’all!) and upcoming shows. And, there’s always $2 Tuesdays at the 5 Spot… always Derek Hoke, always fun, always $2. See you there!

Dreaming of Spain (As I Listen to Davis Raines)

Grant and I love Spanish food. For years, we have dreamed of traveling to Spain to experience all the amazing food and wine first-hand. While living in Seattle, we settled for celebrating special occasions at one of our favorite restaurants, Harvest Vine, and shopping for all of our favorite Spanish ingredients at the Spanish Table down near Pike Place Market. Grant learned to make an incredible Paella from an old Spanish man who he knew through his wine job way back when. Now, living here in middle Tennessee, we still dream of our future trip to Spain and enjoy a Paella feast from time to time made with ingredients we’ve either ordered online, had friends bring to us, or scraped together serendipitously through various trips all over town.

Big Smokey’s Paella, March 2012

A couple years ago we stumbled upon an Anthony Bourdaine episode in which he was in Spain, enjoying the grilled Spring onion festival with a family in the countryside. We were reminded of this last week as we grilled up a bunch of vegetables, and decided to throw some spring onions on.

As we tasted them, we were immediately reminded of our friend, Bray’s Romesco Sauce and thought that would be the perfect dipping sauce for the sweet grilled onions.

This is one of Bray’s most famous dishes so I immediately contacted her for the recipe. Meanwhile, the spring onions had run their course and were no longer available at the farmer’s market but we found some red scallions and some green onions and we made it work! We also grilled some potatoes and zucchini to enjoy with it and decided to grill the red peppers for the Romseco instead of using jarred roasted red peppers which the recipe originally called for. Here is our adaptation of Bray’s recipe which she originally adapted from an Epicurious recipe.

Grilled Pepper Romesco Sauce
1/3 cup Whole Raw Almonds, blanched to remove skins and then toasted
1 slice Whole Grain Artisan Bread, torn into pieces
1 Garlic Clove
½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
½ tsp Smoked Paprika
1 large Grilled Red Pepper, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
½ tsp coarse Sea Salt, or to taste
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 Tbsp water to thin out a little

Finely grind almonds, bread, garlic, red pepper flakes, and paprika in a food processor. Add grilled peppers, vinegar, and salt, then purée, adding oil in a slow stream. Add a little water to thin out (because grilling the peppers makes them drier). We found the sauce to be so versatile- delicious as a dipping sauce but also amazing on sandwiches, over pasta, as a bruschetta topping, and as a side dish on top of grilled potato rounds! YUM!

(Side note: I never knew how easy it was to blanch almonds. All you have to do is throw the almonds in boiling water for 1 minute exactly. Remove from the water. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Squeeze each almond in your fingers and the skins slip right off! Easy! The whole process took about 10-15 minutes.)

Speaking of sauces, we had a major heat wave this week and suddenly, our poor little raised bed garden was in danger! I saw the basil begin to shrivel up so I picked a bunch of it to save it and made a couple different pestos. I made a classic walnut one with the Genovese basil and with the Thai Purple basil, I combined it with a little lemon basil, cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes, sea salt and olive oil for a Thai sauce. Not yet sure exactly what we will make with it but I think it would be great as a marinade for a grilled chicken satay, a start to an Asian salad dressing, or to top a piece of grilled fish.

Also last week, I finally got to hear the great songwriting and sound of Davis Raines. This guy is the real deal, y’all. He’s from Alabama and he has an old school country music vibe. I felt like I had discovered a lost country music soul! Listening to his new album, Santa Maria Hotel, I am sometimes reminded of Merle Haggard and occasionally he conjures up a little of Wayon’s spirit with some cut-time drum beat but this album is not a copy cat album of any sort. It is all Davis Raines and really great. What a great list of musicians on this album, too- you need this album! (You can see a youtube of a Nashville performance at Douglas Corner here.)

Davis Raines at the Station Inn June 2012 (phone photo!)

I’m going to make some more of those homemade Vanilla Wafers this weekend to enjoy with some homemade Peach Ice Cream!!!

Vanilla Wafers
½ cup Unsalted Butter
½ cup Raw Cane Sugar
¼ cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350. With a mixer, mix sugar and butter together until creamy. Add egg and vanilla and mix. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix. Refrigerate for about half an hour. Roll dough out to ¼” on a well floured board. Cut with a small cookie cutter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet and they will crisp up.

And I close with this little tip- Vinho Verde helps keep you sane during the heat wave!

Stay cool, y’all!

Spring Veggies & Bluegrass Underground

La Connor, Skagit Valley, & Seattle- May 2012

Wedding at Oddfellow’s Hall on Orcas Island.

Oh, I have fallen so behind on my blog posts. I have so many photos of all the things I have eaten and no time to post them all. I will attempt to get somewhat caught up here. As shown above, we have been busy with a big trip to Washington- family visits, Grant had several fun gigs, and the main reason for this trip was to partake in the amazing celebration of our dear friends’ marriage on Orcas Island. What a beautiful week to be in the great Pacific Northwest!

That trip was soon followed by another family trip to South Carolina for my big Sis’ art show at the super fun and wildly popular Art Bomb studios. Art Bomb is one of my favorite places! If you have never been to Greenville, South Carolina, you better hurry up. It is becoming a really cool city.

I’ve been super busy making tons of my mini Herbed Cheese Biscuits for all these very special events!

Herbed Cheese Biscuits
3 cups all purpose soft wheat flour (I use White Lily.)
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp sea salt
10 tablespoons unsalted organic butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I use local Hatcher milk.)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar (Or your favorite aged cheese.)
a bunch of fresh herbs, chopped  (I used rosemary.)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Mix the salt and baking powder with the flour and the add the chilled butter in a medium mixing bowl. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the butter pieces are a little larger than an English pea, but not larger than a lima bean. Mix in the grated cheese and the herbs. Work quickly so that the heat of your hands won’t melt the butter. Pour in the buttermilk and, using light pressure, fold the mixture a few times with your hands until it holds together. Do not over mix. In order to make light biscuits, it is important to work the dough as little as possible. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and fold it quickly and gently a few times until it begins to be all stay together. Sprinkle a little flour under the dough so that it won’t stick to the board and lightly dust the top of the dough so that it won’t stick to the board and lightly dust the top of the dough so that it won’t stick to the rolling pin. Roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch thickness. Grind black pepper over the top of the dough. Cut the dough into 2-inch rounds, place on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for about 14-15 minutes.

So now it is spring and we’ve been so busy trying to catch up that we’ve been making lots of salads and easy dishes that we can eat on all week while on the go. Here are a few of our favorites. Coincidentally, they all have the color red in common! This first recipe was also posted on Dolan Geiman’s blog this week but we just enjoyed some leftovers and I decided to post it here as well.  I really loved the Vidalia Vinaigrette I came up, it was nice with the raisins.

Kale & Red Cabbage Cole Slaw
1 bunch Kale (I used Lacinato for this but any would work.)
1 wedge Lemon
½ head Red Cabbage (core removed)
2 Carrots, cut into matchsticks
¼ cup Raisins
¼ cup Fresh Parsley
½ small Vidalia Onion
¼ cup Olive Oil
¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar
½ tsp (or to taste) Sea Salt
Black Pepper to taste
1 Tbsp Raw Cane Sugar

Clean the kale and then remove the thick middle veins on each leaf. Chop the leaves into thin strips and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt and squeeze the lemon over. Stir or massage the leaves with your fingers and let sit while you chop the other vegetables. Chop the red cabbage into small strips. Chop the parsley. Add the carrots, red cabbage, parsley, and raisins to the bowl with the kale. In a blender or mini grinder, blend the onion with the remaining ingredients to make a dressing and then pour the dressing over the raw vegetables. Stir and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Grant has been grilling some and I always get tons of veggies ready to go on the grill with whatever delicious meat recipe he has created and then we use the grilled veggies all week- in salads, in enchiladas, with rice, in eggs, etc. Having those already prepared makes it so easy to have a quick meal loaded with tons of veggies!

Sometimes we even get lucky and a friend shares their fresh eggs with us! These came from our friend Nicole’s chickens! Grilled Veggie Frittata with fresh eggs is hard to beat- easy and delicious!

Next up- two beet recipes! One is super simple. The other night as I was preparing the second featured beet recipe, I had a few extra beet rounds and decided it would be fun throw those on the grill, too. I sprinkled them with a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once they were off the grill, I threw some chopped lemon basil from the garden on top.

My friend and coworker, Brenda, brought a beet salad to work one day this week and gave me a taste. It was delicious and so different that I ran home and made it for us that night. I added some thinly chopped kale to it to get some greens in. This salad is loaded with goodness!  It goes like this…

Brenda’s Raw Beet Salad with Horseradish
1 cup thinly sliced Kale leaves
juice of 1 Lime
2 medium sized (or 1 large) Raw Beets, peeled, sliced in ¼” rounds, and then cut into matchsticks
3 tsp prepared Horseradish
1 tsp olive oil
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
2-3 oz Crumbled Feta

Place the kale in a bowl and squeeze lime juice over it and sprinkle with salt. Massage the leaves with your fingers or stir well. Let sit for a few minutes while you cut the beets. Mix the beets in with the kale and then add remaining ingredients and stir.

OH- and our new favorite spring beverage is this yummy hard cider we first enjoyed at The Family Wash and then found for sale at our favorite neighborhood wine shop, Woodland Wine Merchant.

I was super excited last week to see some fresh, organic rhubarb on the produce stand. I bought a huge bag and made a couple Strawberry Rhubarb Pies. My favorite version had a whole wheat pastry flour and oat crumble top.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Crumble Top
1 pie Dough Ball
3-4 stalks Rhubarb, cut in ½” pieces
1 pint Strawberries, sliced
1 cup Raw Cane Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsp Flour
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon

For Crumble Top:
½ cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
½ cup Rolled Oats
½ cup Brown Sugar
½ cup Unsalted Butter

Preheat oven to 425. Roll pie dough ball out and place in pie plate. Scallop the edges and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. I just started doing this and this helps the scalloped edges stay prettier and hold shape better once in the oven. Place rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, flour and cinnamon in a bowl and stir. Pour into pie shell. Mix the ingredients for the crumble topping in a bowl with your hands. Sprinkle the crumbles on top of the rhubarb strawberry mixture. Bake for 15 minutes on 425 and then reduce to heat to 350 and bake for another 35-40 minutes.

As I think about the hot summer that is already well on its way, one place sure to stay cool is the Volcano Room at the Cumberland Caverns. Not only does the temperature remain at a constant cool temperature 333 feet below ground, but this is one of the coolest places I have ever encountered.

I had been wanting to go for awhile but it wasn’t until my friend Lesia called and offered me a ticket to go with her to Bluegrass Underground one day back in February that I actually got there. (Thank you Lesia!) Bluegrass Underground is a radio show recorded live from the Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tn. Here, nature created one of the most acoustically pure natural spaces on earth. This is truly an amazing space to hear music. As a teenager and visiting a cave for the first time, I remember thinking how incredible it would be to hear live music down there. Now, at this amazing place, it is possible! This place is just magical and everyone there seemed so happy and on some sort of natural high. I guess this was also due in part to the awesome musicians on stage- Jim Lauderdale and The Time Jumpers, two of Nashville’s musical treasures.