Cooking, Gardening

The foods of summer

To me, each season has its own type of food that makes it special. I think that summer foods are, by far, my favorite. I love a bowl of warm soup on a cold winter night, but the foods of summer are what I long for. Best of all are fresh foods straight from the garden. Living in a rural county I am lucky enough to be in a place rich in agriculture and farming heritage.
When my mom first put me in daycare in a nearby town at age 3 or 4, they had quite a time getting me to eat their food. I had never before had green beans that came from a commercial cannery. Oh no, I was used to the succulent beans that had been hand-picked and canned with great love by my grandmother and mother. To this day I don’t buy canned green beans from the store.
I have been lucky, all my life, to enjoy the most delectable fresh produce that my Uncle Tom and Uncle

Clip grew. Uncle Clip used to grow radishes just for me, because he knew how much I liked them. Uncle Tom would bring me the biggest, prettiest, pinkest German Johnson tomatoes you ever saw. One summer after traveling for a few days with my parents, I came home to find my bed full of the biggest tomatoes I ever saw. Uncle Tom had put them there as a surprise for me. I think they tasted like magic.

On Saturday mornings, Daddy would make homemade biscuits while Mamma fried up bacon or country ham. We’d slather a biscuit with butter and put a thick slice of German Johnson tomato on there. There’s really no other taste that can compare to a fresh homegrown tomato.
A few years ago I started my own little garden and have followed in the footsteps of my Mamma and Granny Jo in doing a little canning. I’m proud of my little garden, and the food that comes out, it just tastes so special to me. It tastes like summer.
If you don’t have a garden of your own or beloved uncles to shower you with fresh produce, I suggest checking out a local farmer’s market.
My tomatoes are coming along, but no fresh tomatoes yet, so I keep dreaming and enjoying other foods that taste like summer.
On Memorial Day, we had a few friends over for a little cookout and I made a corn and bean salsa that I think came across with great summer flavor. We roasted the corn on the cob on the grill for just a bit and then cut it off the cob. Into the salsa went a can of drained black beans, a can of Rotel (tomatoes and peppers) and olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. It’s a simple recipe you can whip up in a pinch. Using canned corned works just as well if you don’t have fresh. We served ours with chips and also ate some as a topping for our burgers.
Cooking, Uncategorized

An ode to pizza

Today’s post is quite simply an ode to pizza. Oh pizza, how do I love thee. Let me count the toppings. There’s that tangy sweet sauce topped with ooey gooey cheese and from there the sky is the limit.

For folks of my generation it seems like pizza always existed. I remember my Mamma telling me a story though of the very first time she had pizza. In East Bend back in the ’50s and ’60s there wasn’t a place to get pizza. She had her first slice at a restaurant in Winston-Salem called Vincenzos. I remember her always saying she never had a slice quite as good as that very first one. That restaurant is still in Winston-Salem and Mamma still used to enjoy it, but I think there was something special and magical about that very first slice.

As for me, I don’t remember the very first time I had pizza. I do remember making it with my Mamma sometimes at home, which was sort of a special treat. I always wanted to help carefully place the toppings on top.

For most people who enjoy pizza, they are very specific about the toppings they want and they seldom veer from their favorite toppings. For my dad, it’s always pepperoni, sausage and green pepper. I think pepperoni may be the variable most people agree on, but even that you can’t say for sure. I’ll admit that I actually prefer mine without pepperoni. I can do plain cheese pretty much any time.

In recent years I have begun to enjoy my pizza with a variety of more unusual toppings. I started out with ham and pineapple, then added bacon (have I mentioned I adore bacon?). Now I love all sorts of out-of-the ordinary toppings. One of my favorite pizzas at a local restaurant in Elkin has macaroni and cheese on it. Let me say that again, pizza with macaroni and cheese on it! Yes, it’s quite amazing.

My other favorite pizza hails from an area winery and it’s topped with brie and bacon (yes, again there’s the bacon!).

Pizza lovers don’t always agree on the same toppings (thank goodness for being able to do half and half) and they probably also don’t even agree on the best type of crust. Thin, thick, chewy or more on the crunchy side. The diversity represented by pizza eaters and their likes and dislikes is unbelievable.

The thing about pizza, in my humble opinion, that makes it so special is that it’s such a sociable food.

I think about being a teen and having pizza parties. It’s always an easy dish to pick up on the way to a friend’s house to watch a favorite sporting event on TV or a movie. I’m sure when you think back to fun times celebrating special events or just hanging out with friends, there is a good chance there were some slices of pizza being passed around. Making pizza at home can also be a fun meal to get the kids involved with helping cook dinner.

So next time you enjoy a slice of pizza, even if you want something like anchovies on it, think about the magic that is this delicious dish that brings so many folks together.

There’s a great recipe for homemade pizza dough on one of my personal favorite blogs, The Pioneer Woman. She says on her blog that she channels Lucille Ball, Vivien Leigh and Ethel Merman. I just channel the Pioneer Woman, minus that whole cattle ranch thing.

As for sauce, I normally cheat and buy a jar of pizza sauce, but I think making my own sauce would be fun. Let me know if you have a recipe. As for toppings when making pizza at home, I recommend getting a little out of your comfort zone and trying something other than the traditional pepperoni. I love caramelized onions, prosciutto and spinach on mine. And of course, there’s always bacon!


Wine festival fun

The Lush's Blush blogEleven years ago I attended my first Yadkin Valley Wine Festival. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there. I worked as a reporter for The Elkin Tribune for about six months the year I graduated from college and by default I inherited the role of wine reporter. I had never had wine before that and it was a bit of an acquired taste. I was the reporter on duty that weekend and had other places I would much rather have been than working on a Saturday.

But, there I was, roaming around taking pictures and getting comments about the wines from folks. I remember two people who stood out. The first was a man who hailed from New Zealand, but worked at a winery in northern Italy. How he found his way to our little festival in Elkin, I can’t recall. It was a fledgling industry at that point and I’m sure a hard comparison to the wines he was used to, but he gave a very diplomatic comment about everyone having a lot of enthusiasm for the new viticulture industry here. He was also intrigued by the sweeter wines made from our native muscadine and scuppernong grapes.theThe second person I remember was a little lady who brought up the fact that some in the area were against the wine industry. She quickly reminded me that wine is mentioned in the Bible, quoting specifically the passage from I Timothy that says “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake…” She said she thought the new up and coming wine region was a good thing.After I finished with my work that day, I decided to try a little wine myself. Needless to say, by the end of the afternoon I was no longer so grumpy about having had to work that day.I have attended the festival every year since then and have become a huge proponent of our wine region. I tell everyone I meet about it. Wine may not be the beverage of choice for everyone, but as a Yadkin County native, it thrills me that we have found such a unique way to continue the agricultural tradition of our region and bring visitors here.As our wine region has grown and matured, so has my palette expanded greatly since taking those first sips of wine more than 10 years ago. I began drinking the very sweetest wines made from muscadine or similar varietals. Now, I prefer the deep dry reds, with the occasional chilled dry white wine for nice summer days.The Lush's Blush blogI think each of our area wineries have such lovely and distinct venues and all boast wonderful wines. While I know some who are wine snobs and prefer vintages that hail from Italy or California, I have become a Yadkin Valley wine snob. I prefer to drink wines that hail from my hometown area.I am an even bigger snob about our area wine festival. I turn up my nose and frown if anyone suggests attending other wine festivals, which seem to be bigger and crowded and just not as much fun or as relaxing and enjoyable as our Yadkin Valley Wine Festival.

This year’s festival was extremely special as many of my friends came with me as a celebration of my upcoming nuptials. I was so proud to show off the Yadkin Valley Wine region to friends who had never been. We had a wonderful day sampling wines, enjoying food from the vendors and dancing to the great music.The Lush's Blush blogThe Lush's Blush blog


A taste of Persia

Though I’ve never traveled outside the U.S. myself, I’m excited to share with you some recipes that hail from other nations. This week I have some recipes from the middle east. Though I am an only child by birth, these recipes come to me by way of a sister. First let me tell you a little about the women I call my sisters.

In college I joined a very unique sorority called Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority Inc. Our organization was founded in 1997 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is all about celebrating and embracing diversity.

While some may think a sorority is just a social organization that women participate in during their college years, ours is much more than that and we have many who remain involved with the organization long after college graduation.

I have many fun and great memories of these women, but one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences I have had took place on what was a very sad day for me. I lost my Mamma to cancer in November 2013 and it was one of the darkest times of my life. On the day of her funeral there were a number of my sisters who came to support me and that meant more to me than I could ever say. Many of my sisters also came back home with me after the service. The funeral was the week of Thanksgiving and I knew that many of these women were taking time they normally would have been spending with family to be with me. My little sister in the sorority, Amanda, even flew all the way from Texas to be with me during this time.

Though it was an extremely sad day for me, I have a very calming and glowing memory that I hold close to my heart when I think of gathering with my sisters around the kitchen table that afternoon following the funeral.

And now on to happier memories …

One of the great things about being in a sorority is having women you have a deep connection with even if you’ve never met in person. Not long after I graduated from college, a sister and I decided we wanted to take a weekend trip to Washington D.C. Being recent graduates we were not exactly rolling in the dough and were hoping to spend as little as possible on the trip so we decided to see if there were any sisters in the area we could stay with. I had worked with a sister named Bahareh (We call her B for short) on some national committees and though I had never met her in person I emailed to see if she might be willing to host us for a few days in D.C. She readily agreed and off we went! Though she and I very seldom get to spend time together in person, we have remained close.
B was gracious enough to share some wonderful Persian recipes with me. These are dishes that hail from Iran and are specific to the northwestern part of the country near the Caspian Sea where B’s family is from.

“People from different parts of Iran will have their own variations on these basic recipes,” B explained. B and her sister compiled their mom’s recipes a few years ago and made a cookbook to give to family members as a gift. (What a great idea!)

“These are my favorite recipes because they are so flavorful — rich flavors of garlic, lemon, herbs, onion, olive oil, turmeric — I’m getting hungry just thinking about them,” B said. “Some meals remind me of summers growing up in Virginia when I’d devour a plate of food in minutes after a day of swimming. Others, like ashe-reshteh (a noodle soup) are really hearty and delicious on a cool fall day or a cold winter day. The loobia (Persian red beans and rice) is one of my go-to meals. So easy to make and so delicious.”

At the end of each recipe are the words “Nooshe jon” which means “to your health,” B explained.
“It’s something we say whenever someone says ‘yum’ or ‘this is delicious.’ It can also be used to say, enjoy!” she said.

The Loobia recipe calls for a spice known as Golpar which is ground Angelica. B said Angelica comes in a form that looks like cinnamon sticks, but you use the ground version for this recipe. She said the flavor is unlike anything else, although the closest comparison she could make was cumin. I’m not sure if Golpar or Angelica is available around here so if you attempt this recipe it may not taste like it does when B makes it.

Being a southern girl I was naturally drawn to a recipe that calls for pinto beans so I will be making Loobia soon!

Loobia (Persian Red Beans and Rice)
Ingredients (Amounts of ingredients are adjustable to taste)
• 2 cups pinto beans, soaked for at least 30 minutes
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 2 tbsp tomato paste
• 4 cups water
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 medium potatoes, cubed
• Olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Angelica ground to taste as garnish

Put all ingredients, except salt and potatoes, in a pot on medium heat. Cover and let cook until beans are soft. Add salt and potatoes. If stew becomes too thick for your liking, add water. When serving, in each bowl, drizzle a little olive oil and lime juice on top, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. To serve traditionally, also sprinkle Golpar (Angelica ground) on top. Serve with bread or with rice.
Nooshé Jon!

Kookoo Seebzamini (Potato pancake)
Ingredients (Amounts of ingredients are adjustable to taste)
• 3 large potatoes or 4 medium potatoes, graded or food processed
• 1 medium onion, graded or food processed
• 4 eggs
• 4 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp black pepper
• 1 tsp turmeric
• 1 clove garlic crushed/minced

Heat frying pan on medium with three tbsp oil. Mix all ingredients, put in hot frying pan and cover. Bring heat down to low-medium and let cook 20 minutes or until light brown. Flip kookoo over to cook other side (add additional oil if needed), don’t cover. Let cook 20 minutes on low heat or until golden brown. Serve with bread, feta cheese, and cucumbers, tomato, and onion salad.
Nooshé Jon!

Ingredients (Amounts of ingredients are adjustable to taste)
• 1 pound ground beef or turkey
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 can crushed tomatoes
• 1 tbsp tomato paste
• 1 tsp turmeric
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp black pepper
• ½ tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 lime (for juice)
• 2 tbsp olive oil
Make French fries to mix in (B says any kind of French fries will work)

Heat frying pan on medium heat, add oil, chopped onion, turmeric, and salt, cook until onions are translucent. Add meat and fry until brown. Add tomatoes and let simmer for about five minutes. Add lime juice, cinnamon, black pepper, ½ cup of water. Cover and let cook until mixture thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Top with french fries and serve with rice or bread, and cucumber, tomato, and onion salad or with cucumber-yogurt (yogurt, cucumber, mint, salt, pepper, amounts to your taste.)


I may eat sushi, but I’ll pass on possum

There is a big big world out there and in it are many delicious and delectable things to eat. There are also some food choices that may make you say, “ew, you eat that?” I know here in the country, there may be many of you who grew up (or still do) eat small game like rabbit, squirrel and even possum.

I’m not sure how it started, but for as long as I can remember, my Uncle has teased me about eating possum. He loves to tell me about the entire process that our own family used to go through years ago to prepare the possum. First you put it in a barrel and feed it a bunch of stuff so it gets nice and fat. When the possum is fat enough to make a meal out of it, you clock it in the head with a hammer and roll it in the ashes of a fire to singe off the fur before cooking it with either onions or sweet potatoes. My favorite part of this story, told to me by Uncle Clip, is about a family member who didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, so to speak, and the possum wasn’t dead when it was put in the ashes. It jumped up and ran out the door. Talk about fast food.

I just don’t think I have the nerve to eat possum, no matter how it’s prepared. I did have a bowl of

rabbit gumbo once, but as for other small game like squirrel, I just don’t think I can eat it. My fiancée hails from West Virginia. I teased him the first time he took me up there to visit his family and asked if they were going to make me eat squirrel. He calmly replied that no, they wouldn’t make me eat anything, but if I wanted to try squirrel gravy, his Uncle probably had some squirrel in the freezer and would be happy to cook it for me. I politely declined.

One new dish I did learn to eat in West Virginia, however, is now one of my favorites — pierogies. I had never even heard of this before, but it is a most delightful combination of mashed potatoes and pasta. You can find pierogies in the freezer section at your local grocery store. The original dish comes from Poland and is a dumpling like dough with a filling, most commonly potatoes and cheese.
I confess to having some sort of irrational fear of making any recipe involving dough so I have yet to try to make my own pierogies. My friend Judy had a mother-in-law of Slovakian descent whom she said made the very best pierogies. Of course, like most good old school cooks, she didn’t have a written down recipe. Judy found a recipe online though that she says most closely resembles her mother-in-law’s dish. If you give it a try, please let me know how it turns out!

While obviously talking me into eating something that combines two foods I already know I like (potatoes and pasta) was much easier than trying to convince me to try squirrel, the truth of the matter is, sometimes you don’t know until you try something whether you like it or not.
And, it may even take more than one try to determine if you really like something.

I had my first taste of Indian cuisine in college and wasn’t really impressed. I tried it again with some friends a few years later and now it’s a cuisine I love. Sushi is another food that I never though I would eat, but now enjoy regularly. Now mind you, I grew up eating bass, catfish and frog legs, but eat raw fish? Ew! In college a sushi stand opened in the student center and it was wildly popular. I did try the veggie rolls which had no seafood in them, but wasn’t yet brave enough to try any actual sushi. (I also gave up eating frog legs after having to dissect one in eighth-grade biology.)

A few years ago I did have one piece of sushi at a Korean wedding I attended. I was a bit squeamish about it, although I loved the kimchi (a traditional Korean dish of fermented cabbage or other vegetables). It was not until the last few years that I really became brave enough (after trying little bites of my fiancée’s food) to really eat sushi. Spicy tuna rolls are my favorite.

So, the moral of the story is, there is a big wide culinary world out there and don’t knock something until you try it. I’m still going to pass on the possum though!