Family + Food = Vacation!

Money is tight these days. Our summer “vacations” have been as simple as a nice dinner out, fun with visitors, or country drives. We also managed to get in a couple recent family visits. One such trip to upstate South Carolina to visit my family produced some excellent culinary memories for me. My Sis took me out for an early Birthday celebration at one of the best restaurants the South has to offer, American Grocer, in Greenville, S.C. (recently reviewed in Garden & Gun’s profile on Greenville, too). We had an amazing meal. They source as much local produce and meat as possible. Their menu is well thought out and very seasonal. Each course was paired with a special wine selected especially for us. The service was stellar and the food divine. What a treat- I love this place!

Sadly, the only photos I captured. I was too preoccupied with the food!

The next morning, my brother-in-law took me to the big farmer’s market in the old, newly renovated downtown area of Greenville. He warned me ahead of time, “It isn’t that big really.” Boy was I surprised. This was one of largest local farmer’s markets I have ever seen! True to Greenville’s nature, it seemed well organized, too, with little printed banners for each farmer’s stall. There was a fantastic looking stall with homemade pasta, tons of heirloom tomatoes, corn, artisan cheese, and some of those famous South Carolina peaches- a personal favorite of mine. I also realized Greenville has a couple other weekly farmer’s markets- a “slow food” one and an organic one at the Shi Center for Sustainability at Furman University. Go Greenville!

Greenville's downtown Saturday farmer's market.

The next day, I got to help my Mom make one of her famous pound cake recipes! Growing up, we spent many weekends in the mountains of Virginia with my Mom’s family. She would always bake a homemade pound cake to take my Nana. One of my favorites was her brown sugar pound cake with caramel icing! Not being much of a cake baker myself, I thought it was high time for me to start learning all of her secrets so I asked her to let me help her bake one. We had so much fun! And, we decided to serve it that night with some of those S.C. peaches I had brought her from the farmer’s market. Delicious!

Mom's kitchen.

Mom’s Brown Sugar Pound Cake

½ lb butter
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 box and 1 cup brown sugar
5 eggs
1 cup milk
3 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Bake in well greased and floured tube pan at 325 degrees for 1 ½ hours.
(I don’t usually use vegetable shortening but I am not an experienced cake baker and haven’t yet experimented with ways around this… stay tuned for more details or if you have any suggestions, please let me know.)

A week ago, we returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Old familiar views on the drive over to West Seattle. The Mountain taunted and teased us!

The impetus for our trip was to visit Grant’s ailing parents so the majority of our time was spent with family but we so seldom get to visit the great Pacific Northwest that we managed to get at least short visits in with most of our favorite PNW people. We just so happened to be there the most beautiful week of the entire year which made us even more homesick.

And true to our nature, we somehow managed to cram in many delicious meals…

We were only in Seattle for two whole days really, one on each end of our visit, and I think we spent a good bit of that time sipping coffee and enjoying food with family and friends. Right off the plane, Bray & Kathy whisked me off to Volunteer Park Cafe for a delicious fig, caramelized onion jam, and gorgonzola pizza accompanied by this amazing fennel artichoke salad which was followed by my first visit to Molly Moon’s for ice cream (In case you were wondering, I had the salted caramel which was divine!). Oh how I miss these type of gatherings with these two over food.

Before heading up to Whidbey Island to visit the family the next day, Bray took me to Eltana in Capitol Hill for wood fired bagels with the most delicious spreads! My favorite was the fava bean mint. I grabbed a dozen bagels and a yummy apricot fig compote to take to enjoy with Grant’s family.

A little while later, for a belated anniversary dinner, Grant and I stopped in the International District for some salt & pepper squid, hand-shaved barley green noodles, and the best Chinese green beans at one of our old favorite spots, Shanghai Garden. Grant says this place has been around since he was a kid.

The majority of our visit was spent with family up on Whidbey Island, which was a perfect retreat from our 90-100 degree summer in Nashville. I’ve always loved the Skagit Valley area on the drive from Seattle to Whidbey Island but this trip cemented my love!

Up on Whidbey Island, we shopped at the Coupeville farmer’s market where we bought perfect blueberries and the biggest blackberries we have ever seen! These made the most perfect pies to take to Grant’s parents.

Our niece Adrienne just got accepted to Whitman College in Walla Walla where it is customary to send each incoming freshman a box of Walla Walla sweet onions. My sister-in-law had a field day with these and fried up the most delicious, light onion rings I have ever tasted!

Being back at the ocean, we had lots of delicious fresh seafood!

Those world famous Penn Cove Mussels are from Whidbey Island. I love that area!

One night we went to an art opening at a friend’s gallery in Anacortes and got dinner at Adrift. We had clams and halibut, at last! (We don’t typically ever eat these in middle Tennessee.)

Grant even managed to squeeze in time for a gig with Knut Bell at the Conway Pub. I love Conway! And not only did I get to hear that great big Skagit Valley voice of Knut’s and see Grant tear it up on guitar in his home territory, but I also had fried oysters for the first time. Ohh, they were really good and apparently, Conway Pub’s specialty.

The day before we left to return to Tennessee, we crammed in lunch at a new restaurant all our friends have bragged about- Revel in Fremont. This is a modern take on Korean food and oh, so delicious. This last day was so fun food filled that it was like two vacations in one!

Then later that evening, our friends Lewis & Shirley cooked up a feast for us. First we had an afternoon cocktail. Shirley concocted this refreshing (and slightly decadent) peach cocktail which I think she said was inspired by a feature on a cooking show she had recently seen. She named it, “Kentucky Peach Potion” in honor of her sister who had just recently visited from Kentucky.

Shirley’s Kentucky Peach Potion
serves 4
½ can sweetened condensed milk
1 tray sweet tea ice cubes (obviously, make these ahead of time)
2 peaches, pealed and sliced
4 oz (1/4 cup) Maker’s Mark bourbon
4 big mint leaves, chopped + a few more leaves for garnish
1 Tbsp honey or agave

Mix all in a blender and pour into a pretty glass. Top with a mint leaf.

We had one more seafood treat before returning to land-locked Tennessee, locally caught grilled King salmon with an arugula pistachio compound butter that Lew had whipped up. It was beautiful and paired so nicely with the fish. They served it up with simply blanched green cauliflower they had picked up at the farmer’s market and Grant’s favorite smashed potatoes. Lew was kind enough to share his compound butter recipe with us. I believe this recipe was originally from a Sunset Magazine.

Arugula & Pistachio Compound Butter
1/4 cup shelled, roasted unsalted pistachios
1 cup arugula
1/4 cup butter, softened.

Whirl pistachios and arugula in a food processor until minced.  Add butter and whirl until smooth, scraping down inside of bowl as needed. He added salt and then formed it into a log and wrapped it in parchment paper.

Lew & Shirley didn’t know what we were going to cook before we all went to one of our favorite grocery stores ever, The Ballard Market, for ingredients that day. At some point along the way, Shirley insisted they make Pavlova for dessert. With the sweetest, kindest, high voice, she kept saying, “PAVLOOOOVAH!” I couldn’t wait to taste this masterpiece. This recipe came from one of their many cookbooks, The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl. (I chose to leave the description in from the cookbook because I thought it was so funny!) By the way, this dessert was named after the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova.

With billows of soft whipped cream, crunchy meringue and smooth fruits, these pavlovas feel like a miracle in the mouth, slipping smoothly from one sensation to another.  The vinegar in the meringue makes it crispy outside while it stays chewy within.  Although this Australian classic will be welcomed wherever it goes, its ruffly white beauty makes it the perfect production for a bridal shower.

4 large egg whites, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cram of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

for whipped topping:
1 1/2 cups very cold heavy cream
2 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Put rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 250 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until whites just hold soft peaks.  Add the granulated sugar a little at a time, beating at low speed, then beat at high speed until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vinegar, cornstarch and vanilla. With back of a spoon, spread meringue into 3 1/2-inch rounds on baking sheet, making a slight depression in center of each (to hold fruit).  Bake until crisp on outside but soft in middle, about 1 hour. (Lewis cooks it until it is slightly brown because he likes the texture better that way and Lew is one smart cookie when it comes to food and coffee so just do it the way he does!) Carefully peel parchment from meringues and cool meringues on a rack for at least 20 minutes. (They let theirs cool and the parchment peeled off just fine.) Beat cream with confectioners’ sugar, if using, in a large bowl until it just holds stiff peas.  Serve meringues topped with fruit ad whipped cream. (Shirley likes the fruit cooked down just a bit first. They used blackberries and peaches. It was yummy!)

Ollie helped with the dessert assemblage!

For way more detailed foodie info from the great Pacific Northwest (and beyond!), you must spend some time with one of my very best buddy’s blog- Bray Hayden blog.

And speaking of Greenville… our friend and Greenville native, Nikki Lane has a killer new video out. It’s part cool biker-chic and part Hee-Haw Honey. Check it out!

Plus, we were blessed to have Nikki and the amazing Carey Kotsionis play our little Red Barn Round-Up last month. You can find both of their music here:
Nikki Lane
Carey Kotsionis

Oh, I so typed way too much here. I think I was just trying to make up for all that time between posts! If you happen to have read all the way to the end you must truly be a good friend. I promise to work on short and simple informative posts from here on out!

Happy vacation, whether you actually get to travel or not.