Sep 28, 2015
words by Tonia Trotter / photos by Rugged and Fancy
I am and have always been a girls' girl to the core. Nothing makes me feel more in my element than a good old fashioned girls' night. True friends aren't always easy to come by, especially as you grow older and your schedules tend to revolve around your families... and especially if you relocate to a city that is anywhere other than where your girls are.
Two years ago I packed up and moved my little family from Nashville, Tennessee to Birmingham, Alabama. I felt isolated and desperate to recreate the close female friendships I had cultivated in my twenties in Music City. It took some work and going out on a limb to find my people here, but I am now incredibly happy and thankful for the women who I have come to call my friends here. They're smart, interesting, funny, genuinely kind and authentic.
Julia Child famously proclaimed, "People who love to eat are always the best people."
Since I always insist on being friends with the best people, it goes without saying that a passion for good food is definitely a common interest within my crew. I love to cook for my friends and family, and I often get requests for Korean dishes since they aren't exactly common in the land of cornbread and fried chicken. Don't misunderstand, I really love those things, too. This past Sunday marked not only a significant lunar event (so I have heard) but also Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving and, most importantly, a rare evening that all my girlfriends had a free night without their babies and husbands.
THIS fact alone warranted a celebration. And since I am especially grateful for these friends this year, it was the perfect opportunity to host a Korean-themed girls' night in!
Traditionally, you'd eat rice cakes on Chuseok, but since I am only half Korean and was raised in the land of fried okra and sweet potato pie, I decided to prepare some of my personal favorite foods that I know are beyond foolproof.
I'm a firm believer that all celebrations call for champagne, so we ladies kicked the party off with some "YEOWANGS." Korean for QUEEN, the Yeowang signature cocktail is a lychee-orange libation topped with a little bubbly.
Following cocktails and chatting, we gathered around the table. The tablescape was a gold and soft blue theme with an eclectic contemporary vibe and key Korean details. I combined some tradition from my own Vera Wang china and cut crystal and everyday glasses with some of the amazing new pieces from West Elm.
I made my mom's Yaki-Mandu, a pork and veggie dumpling that is pan-fried and steamed, sauteed Bulgogi, thin strips of steak marinated in a sweet, savory and slightly spicy marinade. As a Southern nod, I served a cooked seaweed and spinach salad to serve as a bed of greens.
For the second course I prepared my all-time favorite Korean dish Naengmyeon, a chilled buckwheat noodle soup. I set up a DIY bar of noodle bowl toppings, including daikon radish kimchi (made by mother and tightly sealed and double bagged until serving on account of the, ahem, strong odor), hard boiled eggs, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, chopped green onions, red pepper and sesame seeds. Chopsticks optional.
For dessert, red bean popsicles were a hit. Popsicles can absolutely be a grown up treat when served alongside a stemless wine glass. You don't have to worry about slurps and drips when you can simply place the pop in your glass. The final touch was a cup of hot ginger and rosebud tea that paired beautifully with the red bean popsicles and served as that final moment to relax with my girls and pour over funny stories, in-depth discussions on style, motherhood, new reads and TV indulgences.
Around that table and over that meal, we five women shared bonding moments over personal struggles and achievements, and maybe a couple moments of over-sharing, too. (Of course there was plently of that. We are girlfriends.)
The night ended later than expected and definitely past all of our bedtimes, and it made me feel like the night was a great success. I cleaned up and floated to bed on a cloud of garlic and wine with a full belly, a full heart and a very thankful spirit. It was indeed a happy Chuseok.
RECIPE: YAKI-MANDU (PORK DUMPLINGS)
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Drop a small spoonful of stuffing in gyoza skin. Dampen edge of skin with water, fold and press edges together.
Pan fry uncovered with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil until golden brown on one side (about five minutes) on medium heat.
Carefully add 1/2 cup of water to the pan. (CAUTION: the water may pop!) and quickly cover to simmer for 5-10 minutes.
FOR DIPPING SAUCE:
Mix soy sauce, rice vinegar and ground red pepper to taste.
To follow Tonia Trotter's adventures in food, fashion, motherhood and more, click here. This was not a sponsored post, though the fine folks at West Elm at the Summit loaned us some beautiful items for the night, including the chargers, votives, table centerpiece, prep bowls, table runner, branches and berries.
Apr 4, 2015
I grew up telling myself that I was a "guy's girl," convincing myself that I just had better friendships with guys than gals. I think I told myself this after several failed female friendships going as far back as childhood. It created a pattern for me, so naturally I began to seek out female friendships that were just simply doomed to be toxic for one reason or another. I then began telling myself that I had notoriously bad judgment about women. Man, the patterns we set ourselves up for!
So in my recent efforts to become a more loving, peaceful, giving human in this world, I have resolved to spend more time cultivating beautiful relationships with people around me, especially female friendships. I used to tell myself that femininity was weakness and silly. That to be strong, I needed to be more masculine, powerful, intimidating. That is such a lie, for me anyway. I think we can each become more powerful women by tapping into ancient femininity, peaceful power and love.
I really believe that women need other women. I don't know how to verbalize it yet, but it has something to do with something ancient and older than all of us. Something to do with wisdom, spirituality, rites of womanhood and motherhood. Something to do with the cosmic nature of things, gentle power and sensuality. It is support. It is tribal. It is something about universal love and acceptance-- these things could start with women. Come on, that's super powerful and so cool.
So all of this is to say that I had a couple of girlfriends over the other day to simply share beautiful, health supporting delicious food, to sit outside and enjoy the sunlight, conversation and each other's company. Each of these ladies are total brilliant, talented and beautiful women who I am so glad I am connecting with on a deeper level by simply being open to new energies, new possibilities and letting myself be open to giving up my "alone time" and being open to new people, new things.
Today Melina Hammer, photographer, stylist, recipe developer, Iyengar yogini, is sharing this easy "recipe" for Chickweed Scramble. Chickweed is a beautiful sign of Spring and that the soil is really fertile and ready for the new season. High in minerals and vitamins, you can use chickweed in a culinary capacity as an alternative to a Spring green or spinach.
Pictured here, Melina has rinsed the fresh chickweed, plucking off the flowering tips and is simply separating it. Super easy.
For the scramble:
1/ Rinse a handful of salt-packed capers under cold water and shake or pat dry. Over medium-high heat, fry capers in a glug of good olive oil until the buds pop and become golden, stirring occassionally. About five minutes. Transfer to a plate.
2/ Use two or so pasture-raised eggs per person. Crack them into a bowl, beat eggs, add freshly cracked pepper, and if you have herbs you'd like to use (like parsley, chervil or dill), add half in now. Using a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-low heat, melt coconut oil or butter. Pour in the egg mixture. After about a minute, swirl the eggs using a rubber spatula and making sure that with each swirl you scrape the bottom of the pan. Keep the eggs moving around so that they remain a custard quality, rather than hardening up into separate curds. They should take less than five minutes start to finish.
3/ Empty the still creamy eggs into dishes and top with the remainder of herbs or serve alongside tender greens, such as chickweed, a juicy Spring favorite.
4/ Add a few avocado wedges and top all with a scatter of fried capers. Enjoy this elemental, bliss-filled meal!
*** We added a couple brined caperberries on top since I have never had one before. Strange little tangy treat. There's the faintest sweetness to it that's tempered by the tart brininess, and the texture is great.
We were so caught up in enjoying the moment and each other's company that I totally failed to take pretty pictures of the afternoon. So here are my girlfriends, mid sentence, mid bite, mid Instagram! By the way, you should totally follow Melina on Instagram @melinahammer. Talk about INSANE INSPIRATION! And check out this piece about uses of capers that Melina did for Food 52, here.
Enjoy this beautiful Springtime. Spend quality time with people. Experience life.
Jan 23, 2015
I didn't even realize it happens to be National Tea Month. 2015 is the year I back off of coffee and yerba (shock!) and pursue my interests in tea. I recently steeped a cup of masala chai, but did it kind of half-assed with no milk and a nontraditional preparation. I had a friend over to the house yesterday who is currently fasting, so I wanted to make her a special treat. Me and the Masala Chai? We took it all the way.
Masala Chai is a black tea mixed with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger root, black pepper and cloves that originated in India. Traditionally it is prepared verrrrry slooooooowly. Historically, Indians have regarded tea as herbal medicine rather than recreational beverage. I think my personal tea pursuits are for both reasons.
I use RishiTea Masala Chai. It's organic and fair trade with no use of pesticides. After this, I may look into making my own chai. It would be fun. I'll update you.
1/ Place two tablespoons Masala Chai in a pot. Add one cup water. Bring to a boil.
2/ Add one cup milk, stir and reduce heat to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to steep for about three minutes. Some people add the milk in the beginning with the chai and water, allowing it to all come to a boil. Others add the milk after a boil. This may be a "potayto, potahto" situation.
I used an almond and coconut milk blend that I am obsessed with and use in everything. Also, you'll notice that I've doubled this recipe in the photos.
3/ Add 1-2 tablespoons of a sugar traditionally. I only use honey and put about one teaspoon to very lightly sweeten it. Pour the hot chai over a strainer and serve.
So next up in my adventures in tea... matcha. And maybe that made from scratch chai.
Have a great weekend!!
Jan 14, 2015
Duquette and I love cooking so much. On weekend nights, we sometimes put our eleven month old Tennessee to bed and then go in the kitchen, cook together, listen to music and dance around and then have a beautiful dinner together and watch a movie. It's like a date night in our own home. This night in particular, we put blankets and pillows in the floor, lit some candles and had a picnic in our living room. It was great. So here is this really beautiful meal of ribeyes, haricots verts and roasted sweet potatoes. It was delicious, decadent and just what we needed for date night.
-haricots verts (French green beans, ours were organic and frozen!)
-two medium, equal sized sweet potatoes
-3 cloves garlic
-half of a shallot
-1 tablespoon coconut oil (or olive oil)
-1 tablespoon grass-fed butter (we like Kerrygold)
-salt and pepper
THE SWEET POTATOES.
These take the longest to cook so you will want to put them in the oven when you first start cooking. Sweet potatoes are easy and so delicious if you prepare them as follows:
1/ Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2/ Wash sweet potatoes and place on a baking sheet. DO NOT POKE HOLES IN THE SWEET POTATOES because it releases all of their sugar. You want it to stay inside and caramelize. These need to cook for about an hour.
3/ Use a fork to test the potato at the end. The potato should be nice and soft. If not, let it go another 15-20 minutes. (Don't worry, forking it at this point doesn't ruin the beautiful sweetness!)
4/ Pull the potatoes out, let cool slightly and pull skin off. I like mine with a sprinkling of sea salt, though you can also add some grass-fed butter and brown sugar.
NOTE: Towards the end, it may look like a giant charred bubble has come out of the potato. That's just sugar that has seeped out and burned. That is actually a good sign that your sweet potato is going to be super tasty. Also, in the picture there is salt on the skin of the potato. This isn't really necessary and doesn't actually make a difference in the taste if you're discarding the skins.
1/ There are two ways to prepare the haricots, one involves blanching, rapidly cooling and then returning them to a skillet to season.... or you can get a deep pan, put the beans in shallow water and let them blanch/steam over medium-high heat. How much water? You want them to essentially steam, so not too much! Fill up below the bean line, ha. We like to go ahead and salt the haricots at this point so that it locks in the flavor. As a general rule, we salt things in the cooking process so it makes its way all the way through You don't want to overcook them-- the ideal point to steam or blanch anything is to let it go until the color turns really rich and vibrant. See how beautifully green the beans are? This can take from 5-8 minutes. They will still have snap to them.
2/ If at this point you still have considerable water in the pan, pour that off. Add one tablespoon coconut oil to the pan of beans. It adds an amazing flavor to the haricots and prevents them from burning and sticking to the pan.
3/ Coarsely mince three cloves of garlic and julienne (or very thinly slice) half of a shallot. Add those to the pan, stir. Add some coarsely ground black pepper and any more salt if needed, to taste.
1/ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place ribeyes on a plate and let it come close to room temperature. You just don't put a cold steak on the stove. Have a clean iron skillet on the stovetop, or a skillet that is oven safe. Let the skillet get hot over medium high heat. Make sure the skillet is slightly oiled so the meat doesn't stick.
2/ Right before you put the steak in the hot skillet, salt and pepper generously. Place the steak in skillet salt and peppered side down. Salt and pepper that other side, that's now face up. Sear it on that first side for five minutes. Flip the ribeyes, add a tablespoon of grass-fed butter, a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of thyme. Let it sear for one minute on this side, while spooning the melted butter, juices and herbs over the steaks.
3/ Put in the preheated oven for four minutes. Remove from oven, place on a plate and let it rest for five minutes. Serve it.
NOTE: Cooking times vary slightly depending on the size of the steak and what temperature you want it. This recipe results in medium-rare to medium. If you pull the meat and want it a little more done, place foil over the steak on a plate for a minute or two.
Jan 6, 2015
I'm getting into teas. I've come to the sad realization that more than my initial cup of coffee in the morning rends me a twitchy, anxious wreck. It's true. I actually thought I was dying the other day. Turns out it was a caffeine induced anxiety attack. I am slowly accepting this new reality.
So teas. I think there's something mysterious about tea drinking. Like, what are these tiny strange leaves? Can someone see my future in the bottom of my empty cup? Should I plan a ceremony around my afternoon cup? I love the scent. I love the potential for pomp and circumstance. I love the various decorated tins that house these precious little dried up leaves and bits.
2015 is all about Morgan and the teas.
So I am going to occassionally share tea stuff. Today, I am preparing Masala Chai with minimal effort. I use Rishi Tea as they're USDA Certified Organic and non-GMO and don't use pesticides on their leaves.
Masala Chai is a rich spicy tea (typically prepared as a latte) traditional to South Asia. With a base of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger root, black pepper and cloves, this Chai smells sweet and spicy. The clove and hint of black pepper give you that bit of numbness deep in your throat. It's kind of nice. The taste is smooth and totally satisfies a craving for something I can't totally put my finger on...
Recommended brewing includes boiling the tea and spices with water, then adding milk and simmering, adding a little sweetener at the end. Well I am sitting at a desk right now, so I just poured 8 oz hot water over one tablespoon of tea, contained in a tea strainer inside a mason jar.
It worked. And it's good.
So what teas are you into? I very seriously want to know! And special thanks to Mr. Andy Smith for literally giving me a hand making my tea today. You should totally check out his blog, Mr. Smith Styling Company. It's one of my favorites.
Dec 3, 2014
Food is such a huge part of our life. Food is pleasure. Food is sustenance. Food is what brings people together around a table, and who knows what is possible in those gatherings! This year marked a real change in the way we see food, where it comes from, how it's made and what it does to our bodies. Since becoming so much more aware of these things has really unlocked this floodgate of beauty and experimentation for me. If you want to read about some of my experiences or see some quick, natural, super easy recipes... check out the FOOD category.
Here are some of my favorite photos of the food, the table, the gathering in 2014.
Nov 25, 2014
We are a couple of days away from Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays. It brings people together around the table and really amazing things happen over a shared meal. In years past, I would throw all dietary caution to the wind, eating all the bread and pies and candied whatever I wanted. I always regretted it, too. This year we have really put a high priority on our health and that includes abiding by certain dietary restrictions. I am slowly beginning to reintroduce foods as I continue to heal from an infection I had after I had the baby. Hello again to small amounts of potatoes, tomatoes and jasmine rice and carrots! But I cannot have any wheat, corn, soy, sugar, fruit, most beans, vinegar or vegetable oil. This sounds like it could present a few problems over Thanksgiving, right?
Here is how you can handle this, if you're a guest at someone's house: politely inform them ahead of time that you have some dietary restrictions and ask what dish you could prepare to bring. Offer to make something you can eat and share with others. Ensure your host/ess that you will be fine. If you're a paleo or primitive diet person, there will most likely be turkey, ham, salad and whatever dish you bring rounds out a really nice meal.
Here are a few recipes that are either Paleo/primitive/Whole 30 or could easily be modified to be. Where will you be and what are you bringing to Thanksgiving?
1/ BEETROOT AND FETA TART. Make the pastry with Pamela's Baking mix and coconut oil as a modification.
2/ SPICED PUMPKIN MOUSSE CUPS. Egg, nut, dairy, sugar free.
4/ LEFTOVER BOWLS. Use organic jasmine rice or riced cauliflower and add leftover brussel sprouts, turkey, ham, beets, sweet potatoes and more.
5/ CHARCUTERIE/ ANTIPASTI. Never underestimate the value of fine sausages and gourmet little sides. It's my favorite to graze on or even have as a meal. My favorites include: soppressata and speck for sausages/salami, roasted garlic, roasted beets, arugula with olive oil and sea salt, chicken apple sausage, celery root, radish, cornichons, a good mustard and more.
Nov 11, 2014
December is my favorite month. Streets and windows are aglow with bright and colored lights. People run around with a kind frenzy, rushing to get home to their families while still saying "happy holidays" and holding a door open for a passing stranger. Somehow everywhere you go you hear the faint jingle of bells, though this Alabama native has never seen a sleigh in her life. And now I have another reason to love December-- the Garden & Gun Jubilee weekend December 5-7 in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Garden & Gun Jubilee is the tastemaking publication's celebration of Southern culture and craftsmanship, featuring an incredible marketplace of the best makers in the South, book signings, more special food events than I can wrap my head around (hello, Southern food truck rally, oyster roast and Jubilee feast!), great sporting events including a special quail hunt and an opportunity to have some quality hang time with artists, chefs, designers, writers and friends.
You should totally get your tickets now for December 5-7 in historic Charles Towne Landing in Charleston, SC. And we are excited to tell you that when you use the code SUBSCRIPTION when buying your ticket, you get a free one year subscription to Garden & Gun (while supplies last).
So today we are talking to James Beard award winning Chef Ashley Christensen who will play a big culinary role at the Garden & Gun Jubilee. Native of Raleigh, NC and owner and executive chef to eight amazing concepts, including Poole's Diner with its famous comfort food classics, local sourcing and a little French technical flair, we have had the pleasure of seeing Chef Christensen in action with the Fatback Collective at several fundraisers, and we are super excited to see what she dreams up (and cooks up) with Chefs Mike Lata and John Fleer for the Jubilee Field Feast.
Here are five questions with Chef Ashley Christensen...
1/ You're stranded on a desert island with unlimited supplies of five ingredients. What are they?
Lemons (zest and all)
White Acre field peas
Chicken thighs, heavy on the skins
2/ Dinner with a dead chef, who is your guest? My mother's grandmother...she wasn't a professional chef, but she was the "Original Gangster" professional chef in our family. I'm fairly certain that the cooking that she passed on to mother is one of the reasons that my father married my mother, and I'm ABSOLUTELY certain it's the reason I'm a chef.
3/ If your culinary style was a movement of art which would it be? Is there a particular artist from this movement you feel particularly akin to? It would be which ever movement was catalyzed by an artist who was not formally educated, cared not for fancy frames and simply wanted to make the folks standing in front of the art feel considered and part of the work itself. And, you know, to make delicious "work."
4/ When you prepare the Garden & Gun Jubilee feast with Chefs Mike Lata and John Fleer, what will be your soundtrack?
Drive By Truckers
War on Drugs
Built to Spill
5/ You're a superhero-- what's your name and what is your special power? Greyhound Girl (fueled by Tito's vodka and scurvy-fighting fresh grapefruit). I am bulletproof and omniscient. (I happen to be sitting across from Wright Thompson, who consulted on my superhero name and power, and I insist that you include this in the interview.)
Nov 12, 2014
Trying to live a life focused on helping change the world in positive and productive ways can be such a challenge is this digital age where the web is littered with trolls who thrive on negativity and stirring the pot until it is ready to blow up in your face. It is exactly why I want to help spread the word about our dear friends' Rohan Anderson and Kate Berry's newest venture in their journey called The Nursery Project. I am not sure if there is a man more passionate about helping others learn to live a healthier life than Rohan and a strong woman and mama dedicated to changing the world for their children's generation.
I will be the first to say that Rohan can be controversial and his ways are not for everyone. But in his heart of hearts, his mission is pure and he truly wants to share with the world his story and how it has saved his life and given him a new one. Let's face it, the world is set up so the easiest food is cheap and quick and is so incredibly toxic for your body, filled with strange chemicals and fillers and preservatives. But there is another way-- it just involves being willing to change, putting in extra work to either grow and produce your food or source your food properly so you might prepare food for you and your family that is delicious, nutritious and actually gives you life. Believe me I understand this better than many people do. If you have followed my wife's journey after being so sick earlier this year, then you know we had to make radical changes to our lifestyle and the way we eat. It was literally a matter of life or death in our household as my wife faced a potentially deadly bacterial infection in her guts and organ failure from complications. For her to heal, we had to change everything overnight. It has been one of the greatest decisions we have ever made, and it actually started when we first met Rohan over a year ago. Before the actual necessity for change arose, we spent time with Rohan in Birmingham, Alabama and were so deeply affected by the passion with which he spoke about his own life changing revelation of health, food and a better life. It stuck with us. It made us start questioning things and wondering if life really could get that much better by modifying our relationship with food. The answer is yes, absolutely.
We recognize how difficult and overwhelming and daunting these kinds of changes can sound. It doesn't have to be that hard. You just need to start somewhere, and that somewhere could be the way you think. The work of it comes easily if you can just start with looking at something with a different perspective.
Rohan and Kate have become family to us and we support them whole heartedly, even as we live in the United States and they're all the way in another hemisphere in Australia. They are a beautiful family, working to change the world by changing the way we and our children and future children will eat.
They are currently in a fundraising stage for their blood, sweat and tears project The Nursery Project. Basically, they need our help to raise $100,000 to purchase land, build mess halls and educational facilities and to cover administrative costs. The gardening? Yes, it'll go there, too because that's what they do. They're making this place so that people have a place to go to learn skills, to learn about food, to touch the food and prepare it and eat it. It's about life and health and community. And that's what we are here, a community. We implore you to become a part of this story--- GO HERE AND SHOW SOME LOVE!
All the love,
Duq, Morgan and Tennessee
Oct 15, 2014
I love okra. It reminds me of being a kid in the country, spending the night with my great great aunt Lib, picking apples from her tiny orchard, churning butter and frying up or pickling okra. We quilted, too. It was very Little House on the Prairie. Anyway, okra can be a vegetable of contention. I love it in all of its slimy glory. Duquette hates the sliminess. Fried okra? Well it often lacks any flavor and is usually breaded or fried, negating any nutritional value it once had. So here is my solution. And it's easy. BAKE IT!
WHAT YOU NEED:
-a lot of okra, it cooks down in size tremendously (try a couple of pounds). I used this really beautiful purple okra that they say is less slimy. However, making it this way it doesn't really matter.
WHAT YOU DO:
1/ Wash your okra ahead of time and lay out to fully dry on paper or cloth towels. If you allow the okra to dry completely, it won't be slimy. (You're welcome for the life saving tip there.)
2/ Preheat oven to 375.
3/ Slice okra in even pieces (like 3/4" pieces) and discard the stem tip and the tiny piece of pointed ends (that's preferential).
4/ Lightly coat your roasting pan with coconut oil. It has a higer flash point and doesn't burn off as easily. And I really love the way it adds a richness of flavor to foods.
5/ Place okra in an even layer on the roasting pan and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
6/ Bake for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how crunchy or crispy you want it. I prefer mine a lot crispier so I do mine for 45 minutes, stirring up the pieces about halfway through.
You can either serve it hot as a side item or allow the okra to cool and sprinkle over your favorite Fall salad with beets and candied pecans. It's also a great finger food snack for Paleo and gluten free people.
What do you do with okra? Let me know in the comments!
Oct 9, 2014
Being deep in the South, our warm months last a little longer and that means so do the flowers and herbs. Now that the temps are cooling, the leaves are falling and the people are finally sighing with sweet relief, it's time to harvest all the basil. And that means it's time to make pesto! My recipe for pesto is super easy, nut free and cow milk free.
WHAT YOU NEED:
-a lot of fresh basil
-heaping handful of fresh arugula
-a lot of good olive oil
-two to four cloves of fresh garlic
-a strong, hard sheep cheese, I use Manchego
WHAT YOU DO:
1/ Wash the basil stems, place on paper towels to absorb all that water. Pluck the basil leaves from the stems and place on a paper towel to further dry. I don't use the basil flowers in my pesto as I find them to be too bitter.
2/ Take the basil leaves and the heaping handful of arugula and chop coarsely just to give your blender a little break. Come on, my blender can start smelling funky if I work it too hard. Don't judge, it's just well loved, right?
3/ Take the coarse chopped basil and arugula and throw in the blender. Pour a few glugs of olive oil over the top, cover blender and begin to blend on low. If it looks like the leaves are getting stuck at the bottom and not blending well, pour in more olive oil, give a stir with a long wooden spoon. Replace the top of the blender and blend more.
4/ Toss in garlic cloves (without the papery outside, of course) and maybe a teaspoon of sea salt and shavings of your cheese. Total, I end up using about 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup of Manchego. I find that sea salt really just brings together all the flavors and binds them, but don't oversalt it.
5/ Blend more. You want it to look thick and slightly oily, like a paste with a really rich green color. It will smell and taste pungent and that's perfection! Put pesto in a tight jar. Use it in a reasonable amount of time refrigerated.
1/ Rice pasta with pesto sauce and chicken.
2/ Rice pasta with green peas/petit pois, garlic, shallot, chopped ham or lardons and pesto.
3/ Green eggs and ham, scrambled eggs with pesto, shallot and diced ham.
Sep 30, 2014
This year has brought so many changes in our home, most noted: having a baby and really changing our approach to health/wellness and food. So as someone who used to be a REALLY BAD COOK... I am pretty proud of how far I have come! While yeah, I have picked up a lot of skills out of trial and error and have honestly gotten to be a pretty good cook, I think good food is something that we can all achieve with just a little effort and guidance (and trial and error, too). And look at your time in your kitchen as a beautiful, peaceful time rather than a chore!
I love cooking a bunch of veggies on a Saturday or Sunday to have on hand for fresh, fast and super healthy meals. With the arrival of Fall comes the arrival of all the amazing squashes. I used to be really intimidated by the prospect of making my own squash because they're these large, hard, odd shaped things that seem like SO much effort to yield little food... I WAS WRONG. Yes, there's a little effort, but if you set aside the twenty minutes to prep a large amount and throw them in the oven, you'll have the most delicious sweet and savory treat to use in meals or snack on for the whole week!
WHAT YOU NEED:
-large roasting pan
-butternut squash (you can do one to three large ones on a pan)
-coarse sea salt
-as many cloves of garlic as you want (optional)
-fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
WHAT YOU DO:
1/ Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
2/ Wash any excess dirt off the outside of your squash. Cut off the stems on each end. This will make the squash stand up, carefully cut the squash lengthwise. Take a spoon and scoop out the seeds and fleshy bits. It's okay if there is a little fleshy bit left.
TIP: I find it easiest to have a plastic grocery bag beside me to scoop everything into and to throw the outside of the squash into once I cut it up. Easy cleanup makes better cooking experience, right?
3/ Take each half one at a time, slice into pieces down the length of the squash. Turn each slice on its side and slice off the outside of the squash. Try to maintain as much of the actual squash in this process- that's your food! But don't spend much time in the precision of this. You're not peeling it, just cutting off the outside and moving on!
4/ Now you've got these large wedges of squash, cut them into smaller, even pieces. If they're about an inch to two inches and relatively uniform in size, they'll roast evenly.
5/ Take your roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Optionally, you can crush and roughly chop some garlic cloves to spread on the pan. It can add a little depth that is nice if you like garlic. Spread the squash out on the pan. Pieces will touch and overlap and that's fine if it's evenly distributed. If you want to throw some sprigs of fresh thyme on top, go for it. Generously sprinkle coarse salt and grind pepper across the squash. If you want a softer squash at the end, drizzle a very small amount of olive oil over the top of the pan. If you like a denser, almost crispy outer, leave off this extra oil.
TIP: It's always better to start with a more conservative amount of salt because you can always add more. About halfway through roasting, you can taste a sprinkle a little more if needed.
6/ Stick pan on the middle rack of your oven and bake for one hour. Halfway through cooking, take a spatula and move squash around a little to evenly distribute flavor. Taste a piece and add salt, pepper or thyme if needed. Remove from oven and enjoy!
I prefer a firmer and crispy final result, so next time I will leave off the drizzle of olive oil on top. So yours may look dryer than this if that's your preference too.
- Use as a side item, duh.
- Mash it up as a potato substitute and serve with skirt steak, cilantro and a little bit of lime.
- Throw it in a hot iron skillet with some brussel sprouts and lardons or bacon, top with a fried egg.
-Snack on it all day.
Jul 15, 2014
So as many of you know, I have a lot of dietary restrictions. After having Tennessee in February, I became really sick with an intestinal superbug that pretty much decimated my immune system and my gut health (which pretty much governs all of your health). Additionally, it turned out my liver was in really bad shape and my thyroid was INSANELY unhealthy. We started seeing a nutritionist who really has given me a total wellness makeover, entirely based in whole foods and vitamins. It's miraculous, and I really mean that. The turnaround in my health, well being, attitude, overall quality of life and ability to care for my family has been miraculous and totally comes as a product of the changes I have made in my lifestyle.
The following list of eliminated foods is what we have determined is necessary for my personal health journey, recuperating from a difficult birth (C-section), a really bad case of C.diff (the intestinal weapon of mass destruction that has kind of obliterated my once iron stomach) and a messed up thyroid and liver. I am not saying that this is a health regimen for everyone. It's just what I do.
Wheat, Corn, Soy, Sugar (including fruit), Dairy, Black Beans, Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers)
Okay, so now you're asking 'So what does she eat???'
Y'all, I eat well. I eat better than ever before honestly. The sugar was probably the hardest to give up for me (man, I loved something sweet), but after a month I was pretty much over it. Sugar breaks down your proteins, and proteins feed your brain. Kind of important for me. The following meals are really easy. I mean it. As a wife, mama, business owner easiness and speed is pretty high priority around here.
This was super easy pan seared and oven roasted chicken thighs with only salt, pepper and a few sprigs of rosemary thrown in. The veggies are organic frozen broccoli, cauliflower and carrots seasoned with salt, pepper, lime and grated fresh ginger. If you need something a little starchy, put it on a bed of organic jasmine rice seasoned with saffron.
Saturday night we went to a cookout with our dearest friends. I know it's in these moments with friends and parties that it can seem hard to stick to your nutrition. We knew the plan was to grill burgers and dogs, so I just planned on modifying mine a bit. Burgers with fresh goat cheese (I'm fine with goat milk, hallelujah) on a bed of arugula with some hummus, a couple Beanitos chips (made of white beans) and organic mustard I brought from home. My cocktail to the side is my famous Tequila Summer.
This is straight up comfort food and one of my favorite, fastest dishes. I don't use it often, but rice pasta is the jam. I can't even tell the difference! (Be sure to get one without corn ingredients.) Cook your noodles and in a skillet heat up a lot of chopped garlic, add frozen peas, then diced ham (the organic sandwich sliced variety), season with salt and pepper and a little thyme as you go. Then add this to pasta, then add goat cheese and stir. It melts down to this beautiful creamy sauce. This is such a treat around here. We make extra to have leftovers.
This was breakfast this morning. Soft boiled eggs with salt and pepper, plain arugula and two slices of preservative free organic ham. These healthy sliced deli meats are a staple around here. I can roll it up with arugula and mustard or goat cheese. Or dip it in hummus. Or more, I'm sure. I eat this for breakfast and/or lunch. Other breakfasts include egg scrambles with garlic, shallots, chopped up leftover steak or chicken or pork that we ate the night before and cilantro! Yum. Oh, and coffee black or sometimes with a little honey. (See, I can have something sweet! Honey is a-okay).
So this was a really informal guide to how I eat. Yes, there are a few occasions that I get bummed I can't have birthday cake or a fresh baked cookie in the evening. BUT...my health is so much more important and it took a real life scare to fully embrace this lifestyle and commit to the change. That's the best advice I could offer anyone interested in switching things up. It's changing your lifestyle. It's creating a new way of living for yourself. It will change your life. It could save your life.
That puts it in perspective, right?
Jun 18, 2014
We all need quick meals on stand by. And this one happens to be gluten free, too. It's got healthy fat from the avocado, a ton of nutrients and gives great energy. It's a quick snack or meal anytime of day and only takes about ten minutes start to finish. Call it the new fast food!
Gluten Free bread, I used the hamburger buns from Whole Foods (they're like biscuits and can be split)
Garlic, crushed and chopped finely
1. Preheat oven to low broil and slice your bread of choice.
2. Crush and chop up fresh garlic. I used two cloves (I LOVE garlic). Spread garlic on bread and stick in oven. (I throw it in there while the oven is still preheating. By the time your other ingredients are prepped, your bread is toasted).
3. Prep other ingredients: Slice up a handful of grape tomatoes, chop a handful of mixed greens (make sure there's arugula! The peppery taste is perfect), slice half or a whole avocado.
4. Pull your toast out when the garlic is fragrant (or when it's your preferred toastedness) and spread out the tomatoes, the avocado slices and the chopped greens.
5. Drizzle balsamic vinegar and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt.
Mar 27, 2014
LIFE HAPPENS. And life is GOOD, but don't forget that what you put in your body should only be to the benefit of what you're trying to put out in life. It can be hard, especially when you have dietary needs (I can't do wheat, corn or soy) and/or limited time or constraints of big efforts. I love preparing a complex or slow meal more than anyone, but sometimes... sometimes that ain't gonna happen.
I found this recipe on Pinterest a while back and threw it on the meal plan, now that I am making a meal plan. (What?! Seriously, I ask myself daily if I am now actually a woman who makes a meal plan, and yes, yes I am.)
I made a few amendments to cut out the wheat, change the flavor a little, and here it is. Super easy, super healthy one described by my husband as "One of the top pastas ever made in the Johnston house."
spinach pasta (wheat and corn free, you can find this at most grocery stores next to the rice noodles)
1 box or can of diced tomatoes with juice, 16-25 oz depending on how much tomato you want
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 cloves garlic, chopped as fine or coarse as you want
1 sweet onion, vidalia (sliced to about 1/4 inch pieces)
red pepper flakes, I used about 1/4tsp (but it's to taste)
dried thyme, I used about 2 tsp (but again to taste)
raw sugar (totally to taste, I put maybe 2-3 tsp, it marries the acidity of tomatoes, sweetness of onion and the salt)
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
one bunch of fresh basil
fresh grated parmesan
1. Get out a big pot, we like using cast iron around here. The flavor is sealed in the iron, it's the best.
2. In pot, combine dry noodles (trust me), tomatoes, vegetable broth, chopped onion and garlic.
3. Sprinkle red pepper flakes and dry thyme into pot, drizzle olive oil (maybe a tsp).
4. Cover pot and bring to a boil, stirring so noodles don't stick to bottom of pot.
5. Reduce to a simmer, adding sugar, salt, pepper to taste, stirring occasionally. Remember that it takes a few stirs for the flavors to develop. (TIPS: if it tastes too acidic of the tomato, add a little salt. If it tastes too salty, add a little more sugar. If you got it too sweet, add a small dash more thyme and pinch of salt.)
6. You'll keep it at a simmer with the lid on between stirs and adjustments long enough for the liquids to reduce so that there's only about a quarter inch of liquid left. This can take 10-15 minutes.
7. Once reduced, chop up your fresh basil leaves and stir into pot to release flavors. You only need to put them in there a minute or two before serving. Ideally, the leaves will be a slightly deeper green and slightly wilted when you've got it just right.
8. Serve and shave or grate fresh parmesan on top.
It's super easy, super delicious and has so many potential variations. Add fresh cherry tomatoes or mushrooms and olives or capers. Or change up the flavor using oregano. And you can always add a protein by using leftover chopped chicken or pork or...
I don't claim to be an amazing chef. I just love real, good, beautiful food. Let me know if you try it!
Dec 20, 2013
Right now I am sitting in the recording studio waiting to rehearse for an event tomorrow, wondering when my son will be born, planning for his arrival and more. So my writing might be rather scatter brained, just being honest here.
I am very fortunate to be a part of Pipe and Gun and get to record and write in an such an inspiring and incredible space. From my vantage point Pipe and Gun is an art house. I will not try to go into what all Pipe and Gun is doing. This about an experience, it is about art, the art of music, the art of clothing design, the art of food, the art of painting and beyond. A Pipe and Gun event is a living thing.
So tomorrow in the neighborhood of Woodlawn, at a new venue Sound and Page, will be the first Pipe and Gun open shop. There will be clothing from LyonState out of Fairhope, Alabama, Bushsmarts camping gear, grooming products from Baxter of California, food from the kind gentlemen of Knife Party, libations from Joseph Yancey and music by Armand Margjeka, Noel, and myself. I hope you can all make it out.
Sep 19, 2013
Last night in the humid concrete valley of downtown Birmingham, Alabama 100+ people gathered by twilight on one city block, amidst cabbages and kale, arugula and seven foot wild flowers. The smell of city exhaust disappeared once crossing onto Jones Valley Teaching Farm, where the thick billows of barbeque smoke and fresh turned dirt filled your nostrils. It was the 8th Annual Twilight Supper, a tradition that goes back to the farm's first incarnation, a large-ish lot on a busy street in the Southtown Projects.
Duquette and I have had the honor a few times to attend the Twilight Suppers, on the original farm, out at Mount Laurel and now in The Gardens at Park Place. The Twilight Supper has evolved from a very small gathering with some good food to a select and intimate event for JVTF's greatest visionaries and supporters, with some fantastic music, superb cocktails, a spectacular live auction and a meal prepared by some of the greatest chefs our country has to offer.
It's the Benevolent Order of the Long Table, BOLT, and the people gathered at that long table, only a foot from the very foods they sit and share together as a family, are there to share in the joy and hope of the night's festivities and fundraising and tomorrow's education of young minds. The people that gather at the table are taking responsibility and investing in the future of children and their education through school food and farming programs in the inner city. At the hands of director Grant Brigham, JVTF has achieved its goal to educate 10,000 students in 2011 and launched the Good School Food program to bring hands-on food education into schools. In 2013 JVTF has educated another 10,000 students and is in multiple schools across the Birmingham Metro area. Grant is really inspiring to me and Duquette-- inviting people not to give or donate, but to invest in a long-term vision and to spread the gospel of good food. This really is community.
And last night that community included The Fatback Collective, a group that now includes chefs, restauranteurs, thinkers and entrepreneurs from across the country. They strive to challenge the average, to build community and to support farmers, artisans and good causes.
Who They Are:
These are the heavy hitters in food, y'all. You need to know them, you need to eat at their restaurants. You need to follow them-- online and to the events they put on.
The meal was ridiculously indulgent, with rounds of red snapper and corn salad, followed by whole pork porchetta and black eyed peas, followed by BBQ chicken and the most delicious potatoes I've ever had. I got so excited about the courses, so caught up in the process of clearing room on the table to help each other portion out this delicious fare, I forgot to take photos of the food. But I think that is a strong testament to just how good something is-- you forget about chronicling it and you just EXPERIENCE it.
This is a whole pig porchetta. You take the bones out, roll it up in itself and let it cook over hot coals for a really long time. It was beautiful.
After dinner we all made our way to a rolicking live auction featuring 20+ year old bottles of Pappy van Winkle, trips to Brazil and a personal 10 guest dinner prepared by Chef Frank Stitt. Following the auction, Nashville musician Nikki Lane took the stage as revellers grabbed anyone in the vicinity and danced into the night.
And as you made your way to the outskirt of the farm, before crossing that threshold back into the sights and sounds of the city, you once more passed the giant glowing "BOLT, " shining brighter than the full moon above. JVTF graciously gifted each attendee with a copy of Rohan Anderson's Whole Larder Love, a treasured tome about hunting and gathering and changing your life with food. Rohan spent some time in Birmingham and with Jones Valley earlier this summer, which you can read about here. He came all the way from Australia, and it just goes to show that community is so much bigger than your geography.
Join us in spreading the message of good food, in taking back our health and in helping bring up a new generation of people connected to their land, connected to their health, connected to their food.
Sep 3, 2013
Have you ever seen a Scuppernong? It's a giant golden grape that only grows in the South, where temperatures seldom drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. With average sized hands, I can only fit about five in my palm, and with a rather big mouth, I'd be lucky to get more than three in there. But that's not the sort of "grape" you start shoving fistfulls into your mouth.
Growing up in the deep South, I remember finding muscadine vines out in the country that just seemed to have planted themselves and grown there for generations. To a small child, such a large grape seems like something out of a bedtime fable. (Well, when little girls go walking in the woods and happen upon a giant vine with giant grapes...) There were a few times I saw old glass jugs passed around a small gathering, containing Muscadine Wine, a strange sweet and pungent libation that just wasn't very good. You're not going to see a lot of muscadines or scuppernongs unless you know to look for them, and they're not something people are clamoring to buy at the market. Their skins are tough, their pulps are thick and filled with so many seeds, and it's just not a food I would ever sit around and eat (though the taste is both sweet and sour and worth the experience).
So why am I writing about Scuppernongs? We ended up with two pounds of them last week in a little farm basket, a gift from a kind 65 year old farmer who lives in Hayden, Alabama. Long story short, Duquette never meets a stranger and spent the day with Mr. Mann on his farm after having a conversation that morning at his farm stand just at the bottom of Smokerise Mountain. I let those Scuppernongs sit on my counter for days. I looked at them and thought how beautiful they are, but didn't have the slightest idea about what to do with them.
And then Labor Day weekend came, the last days of summer. I wanted to cook a big meal for friends, and those Scuppernongs were singing the faintest song, challenging me to do something amazing with them. With my cookbooks and iPad on the counter in the kitchen, I searched and searched for a Scuppernong recipe that people would actually enjoy. There were a lot of results for jellies and wines, but that's not what I wanted. I wanted something old Southern, traditional, and tasty. And then I found Rebecca Lang's food blog and "The Recipe That Almost Died," belonging to her grandmother Tom. An old Southern recipe that was in peril of extinction? A woman named Tom? This was it!
Let me tell you that working with Scuppernongs requires time, dedication, and the sure belief that it is going to be worth it. Separating the hull from the pulp and seeds took about an hour. Or more. But I believed in it, and I tasted the cups full of juice it was yielding, this nectar sweet tartness. I should also mention that your pie will be mostly made of of the HULLS of Scuppernongs. I was nervous but on a mission. Did I mention this is the first pie I have ever made??
The result, after about two and a half hours of prep and nearly an hour and a half of baking, that pie came out of the oven just as guests arrived. What started as the most beautiful golden grapes became a rich berry color, bubbling through the um, "rustic" crust of a woman's first pie. It smelled DELICIOUS. We waited until after dinner to cut into it. The anticipation and nerves had certainly built after A DAY spent making this pie. It was still slightly warm and we paired it with Vanilla Bean ice cream...
IT WAS THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER MADE. Everyone was raving about the wild sweetness with a slightly sour aftertaste (which paired perfectly with the ice cream). The hulls had softened and caramelized, making the perfect filling. And even my ugly crust was just perfect. Everyone had seconds... and talked about it all weekend. I wrote the recipe down on a 3"x5" card and stuffed it in my much loved recipe box, the newest addition to the Johnston family arsenal of amazing desserts. I will probably reserve it for once a year, when the Summer is drawing to a close and you're gathered with family and friends with nothing to do but sit around and eat pie.
Special thanks to Rebecca Lang and her grandmother Tom for this! Want the recipe? Follow the link above!