Cooking Life Lessons, Cakes and Custards

I learned how to cook from my Dad and Gigi, my Mother’s Mother. Mom cooked but she was the less experienced more incidental chef, we often ate Cream of Wheat with an egg on the nights she was responsible for dinner. Dad and Gigi had a cache of recipes, tricks, and specialties that could make your mouth water, have you heaping your plate high, and coming back for more.

Dad was a legend on the grill. He was a butcher and would bring home all sorts of tasty cuts. He’d call me from work and give me a page of instructions on prepping dinner; how to season the meat, how to prep the vegetables, and (once he was sure I wasn’t going to light myself on fire) how to stack the grill and light it so it would be ready when he got home. There was something very primal about standing in the dusk beside Dad while he cooked our dinner over an open flame. I still dream about his grilled pork chops and I will forever think of him when I get a whiff of that charcoal tang.

Gigi was a wizard with casseroles, cold salads, and dessert. She was always clipping new recipes from magazines, I’d find them tucked into every cookbook, phone book, and half the novels spread over the house. Once I was old enough to push a grocery cart and see over the handle she’d send me in to the store with a list while she took my brother Jarred to ball practice. I’d have a list with ingredients from a recipe that she wanted “to try” and a handful of coupons, Gigi was adventurous in cooking but thrifty in mind. I felt so grown up shopping “by myself” but I was never really alone, remember my Dad was the local butcher so the cashiers would spot me coming in the door and give him a call to look out for his baby girl and her buggy. Once home Gigi would divide up the tasks, handing me the new recipe with the ingredients. I must have been pretty good at following directions because I can only remember messing up once…but it was a biggie.

One Saturday afternoon Gigi handed me a new recipe for a Mandarin Orange Cream Cake and told me she’d set the ingredients out for me on the counter. I got to work reading the directions and mixing and measuring, moving quickly and confidently through the list. I remember one phrase from the recipe directions very clearly, ” Add the rest of the ingredients….”, I followed those directions faithfully, mixed up the batter, poured it in a pan, and slid it in the oven. I reported back to Gigi on the status of the cake, she told me to go ahead and make the icing. I asked where the ingredients were, when she replied that they had been on the counter with the rest of the cake ingredients my stomach dropped. I went back into the kitchen, there were definitely no more ingredients on the counter. I read the directions again more carefully and found that I had indeed added ALL of the rest of the ingredients, including the icing, to the “cake” that was now in the oven. Gigi must have guessed that all was not well from the silence echoing from the kitchen and came in to inspect my progress. I confessed my blunder and offered to make it over, all the while knowing that I’d used every mandarin orange in the house. Gigi was not pleased but like the classy lady she was she told me it was fine, it was an honest mistake after all, and to just read the directions through completely next time before I got down to business. That poor Orange Cream Cake never did rise. We finally pulled it out of the oven 15 minutes past it’s done time, pronounced time of death, and left the sunken orange mush on the counter to cool.

A few hours later Dad got home from work and got started on supper, clinking and clanking around the kitchen. He came into the den where I was working on homework and Gigi was winning at Jeopardy with a small bowl in his hands that had a strong smell of oranges and cream, ” What’s this orange stuff on the counter Gigi? A custard? It’s pretty good!” Gigi and I looked at one another and began to cackle, out came the story of the ill fated Mandarin Orange Cream Cake along with two more bowls and spoons so Gigi and I could try my “custard”. I didn’t finish my homework that night and Gigi missed Double Jeopardy but we learned the valuable cooking life lesson that one woman’s failed cake is another man’s delicious custard.

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Crock Potting At Night: and Other Strategies to Survive the Southern Summer

I write this blog with a fan pointed straight up my skirt, cotton in case you are curious. Synthetic fabrics have no place in the closet of a self respecting southern person after April. I’ll make no bones about it, it gets HOT in SC in the summertime, with a humidity level that could drown a jellyfish. What do you do when it’s almost too hot to move? When you sweat and it just stays on your body because there is no room in the muggy air for the liquid to evaporate into? Not much after 12 noon, until the sun begins to goes down. Life in southern climates goes through a subtle shift in hot weather. Even today when we hop from AC bubble to AC bubble while working, shopping, and running errands you notice a drop in the volume of cars on the road and people out and about during the hottest part of the day. It’s because we don’t want to die, or run up a ridiculous water bill due to excessive showering. We find a cool spot to shelter in until the burning sun passes it’s zenith and we creep out to finish our chores in the late afternoon.

Cooking goes through a seasonal shift of strategy and timing that’s all about coping with the heat. Southerners are famous for their hospitality and that includes delicious, calorie laden, home cooking… but if you turn on the oven in my house before 6 pm in the summer you may find yourself with a flyswatter up your backside. Any appliance that adds heat to the house is given the squint eye, do I really need to turn you on? Any meal that can be cooked in the crock pot overnight becomes manna from heaven. Recipes on easy crock pot meals that eat those prolific garden producers like zucchini, okra, beans, and tomatoes fly between southern cooks like arrows of mercy on the battlefield. You will find that anything from vegetable soup to roast chicken to barbecue can be made successfully, and without tipping the temperature of the house into the cranky tempers zone, in a crock pot ( and yes in the Instapot too). Many a southerner has chuckled over the Charcuterie Board and Tapas trends as they munched on a cold plate with grandma’s pickled okra, hoop cheese, sliced tomatoes, and country ham or chicken salad for dinner. Cool and labor saving are the names of the game. I can personally exist on hearty dips like home-made salsa, guacamole, and hummus  for days if it means I don’t have to turn on the stove before September.

Many of us find our way to a favorite body of water to help beat the heat, whether it’s the river, pond, lake, or ocean we spend a fair amount of time immersed in H2O once the temps begin to soar. Of course if you are outside, even in water, you have to make sure that you are replacing the liquids and minerals that can leak out in the form of sweat at an alarming rate. Water is always a good choice but advertisements for “electrolyte” replacement drinks start popping up like mosquitoes come June. I’m sure many of these drinks are effective and delicious but I think I’ll stick to my glass of water and my watermelon sprinkled with a little salt. As a child I was always fascinated by my Grandmother’s practice of salting her fruit in summer, as an adult I discovered it was something she learned from her farmer father, the late 1800’s early 1900’s version of Gatorade.

These are just some of the ways and means with which I am familiar. What strategies do you use to cope with extreme temperatures in your home?  Do you find yourself, like me, following patterns learned from your elders? What new successful ideas have you discovered?

 

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Stories for Sample

Hey guys!

I’ve created a YouTube channel to share some stories for sample and just for fun! I only have a few at the moment but I’m working on more. Is there a story you would like to hear? Check out my channel and let me know what you think!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY8H7Xtf534rYcCBC2JLdCA

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Out Of Touch

Hello All!

It’s been a busy few months with the finish of the school year and the gearing up of gardens and summer storytelling! It’s been so busy I forgot to share that my business email at suchastoryteller@hotmail.com was hacked and lost in the month of May! If you have tried to reach me through email during this time and have had no luck you have found the reason why and I offer you a thousand apologies! My new business email is: jessthestoryteller@gmail.com.

I look forward to sharing new stories, recipes, and pictures in the coming months. This is an abundant time of year and we all have something to share! Have a great summer and I will talk to you soon! 🙂

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Garden Spaghetti Sauce

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I absolutely love red sauce. I have dreams about tomatoes during the frozen days of February..err..March. I love chunky, hearty, stick to your pasta, looks like a meal itself, sauce. I am not picky about the veggies, whatever happens to be fresh and in the garden will do just fine. This week it’s Kale, Spring Onions, Fresh Herbs, and Blue Oyster Mushrooms! (If you have any of those sweet little carrots from Gus left they would be DEVINE in this sauce)

I browned a pound of beef from the market adding a splash of Worcestershire Sauce, a sprinkle of Sea Salt, and Black Pepper. I mixed in 3 out of 4 of a bundle of Spring Onions roughly chopped along with 2-3 cloves of garlic minced. To that I added between 1/2 pound and 3/4 of a pound of Blue Oyster Mushrooms roughly chopped and a few ferns of Bronze Fennel and Oregano. On top of that I piled most of a bag of Curly Green Kale, washed and chopped into bite size pieces and let it cook a minute or two until the Kale turned bright emerald-green. Then I poured on a Quart jar of Brooklyn South’s Marinara and added two cans of organic tomatoes with Italian seasoning. I gave it all a good mix and let it simmer for an hour and a half on the stove. You can cook it longer or call it ready to eat in half an hour, it all depends on your taste and your time.  I love this with any pasta, even though I call it Garden “Spaghetti” Sauce, and think a sprinkle of Parmesan grated on top adds the perfect touch!

A big Thank You to the folks at Hill Creek Farm, Rebecca Farm, City Roots, Ricky James, Happy Cow, Brooklyn South Deli, and Ovis Hill who made the products available to create this delicious sauce!

 

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Grits-n-Greens

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Grits and Greens, two favored Southern delicacies in one to make a meal you won’t forget! This recipe can be altered to be as simple, or complex, as your heart desires. What follows is how I made my version, feel free to adapt at your will :).

Ingredients Grits:

1 cup Blizzard Branch Yellow Grits (B/c I don’t do white grits)

3 cups Happy Cow Milk

1 cup Happy Cow Buttermilk (trust me you will LOVE the tang it adds)

1 cup water

1/2 cup Colby Jack Cheese grated

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions for Grits:

Follow the directions on your Grits package for cooking time but regular (as in not Quick Grits) Grits take about 25-30 minutes on the stove top.If you are concerned about burning your grits on the stove top use a double boiler, it works like a charm. BUT if you are really pressed and need to cook while you sleep or work you can make them in the crock pot on low for 7-8 hours…just grease the sides of the pot with some oil or butter first. As you see from the ingredients list I believe in using milk in Grits but if you are a water fanatic you can certainly make them with just water. Once the grits are fully cooked add the cheese and mix in as it melts!

Ingredients Sausage and Greens:

1 lb Sausage browned ( I used the bulk pork breakfast sausage from the market but chicken or turkey will work just fine)

1 lb cleaned Collard Greens (as in washed, de-stemmed, and chopped)

1 thumb sized piece of fresh Turmeric Root grated (you can sub a Tsp of dried powder)

1 cup vegetable broth

2 tbsp of Balsamic Vinegar

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions for Sausage and Greens:

Brown the sausage in a pan, remove from pan when done. Use half of the vegetable broth to de-glaze the yummy sausage bits from the bottom of the pan and add the collard greens on top. On medium heat continue to stir the greens as they cook, adding more greens and broth as the bottom layers cook down. Once all the greens are in the pan add the turmeric, balsamic vinegar, and any remaining broth. Continue to cook for an extra 5 minutes or until greens are tender enough to cut with your spatula. Add sausage, greens, and drippings to your grits, stir and enjoy this savory southern sensation!

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Market Table Kale Salad

Hey Folks!

There has been a lot of hullabaloo about Kale in the last few years, it seems like you can’t throw a rock without hitting a smoothie with Kale…but there is more than one way to eat this Ancient Vegetable.

For those of you who may be unaware Kale has been around for quite some time, about 2,000 years, and is a close cousin of Cabbage and Collards. Like those favored southern greens Kale is excellent stewed and sautéed but it is equally delicious in the RAW…yes ladies and gentlemen RAW.

If you are looking for a winter salad to perk you up and provide some relief from heavy holiday food, look no further because you have found what you seek. This salad is easy and versatile and goes well with just about any meat, or makes an excellent light meal all on its own!

Ingredients:

Kale-any kind will do but curly Kale seems to work best

Carrots-adds a beautiful pop of color and lots of nutrients!

Raisins-Sweet and simple

Pecans-A little southern crunch

Olive Oil-Just like you are dressing a regular salad (For this I used about 2 tablespoons)

Balsamic Vinegar-Once again just like a regular salad (I used approximately 1 tablespoon)

Molasses-Just a tiny drizzle to add a little sweetness and compliment the tangy vinegar and kale(1/2 a teaspoon or less)

Salt and Pepper- to taste

Directions:

-Wash your Kale, de-stem and tear into bite size pieces

-**Add Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, and Salt-Gently massage into your Kale with your hands. This is an important step as the acid from the vinegar helps break the Kale down and makes it more tender and sweet.**

-Chop up your washed carrots and add them to the mix

-Dump in your Raisins and Pecans

-Drizzle on a little Molasses

-Toss to mix and Enjoy!

***You can replace the vinegar with any edible acid, other vinegars, citrus juices, they will all do the same job. Try changing up the acid in the dressing and adding different toppings. Apples, Walnuts, and Cheese are excellent as are Mandarin Oranges and Pomegranate Seeds.

Happy Healthy Eating!

 

 

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Food for the Soul: Market Table Broccoli Soup

I grew up on a small farm in rural SC; we kept chickens, a couple of horses, sometimes a pig, sometimes some cows, and always, ALWAYS a garden. I loved the animals but they were farm animals, working animals, and from a young age I understood that their time with us was limited. The Garden, on the other hand, was ever-present and always producing something new. There is nothing quite like picking something out of your own Garden to prepare for dinner and if you don’t have your own garden the closest you can get are the fresh veggies from the tables of your Local Farmers Market.

Not only are the veggies you buy from local farmers more fresh they contain, pound per pound, more of the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy and active. The longer a vegetable has to travel to make it to your table, the more nutrients it looses during its storage and travel time. Add to that, that you are literally putting your money where your mouth is and spending your cash in your local economy buying fresh from your local farmers market is a pretty smart idea.

What’s fresh on the table this week is Broccoli, yes it’s a great time of year for that great, green, floret of a vegetable that is so versatile and delicious. You can bake it, steam it, stir fry, or just eat it raw but this week I am going to share with you a different, and EASY, way to prepare this cold season vegetable.

Ya’ll this soup is so easy it’s almost a shame.

Ingredients:

Broccoli Crowns: Chop those crowns into baby florets. You only need enough to just about fill your chosen pot, here I am using a 6.5 qt pot

Broth: Pour in the broth until it just covers the Broccoli, here I used chicken broth but veggie broth would work just as well. I would not recommend beef, to overpowering for the broccoli.4-6 cups should be plenty.

Milk: I used Happy Cow milk and for my Broccoli and Broth ratio I went for 1 cup.

Cheddar Cheese: Again I used the 3 year Cheddar from Happy Cow and for my ratios I used 1 cup of shredded cheese.

Salt and Pepper to taste (I thought a touch of Cayenne added a nice spice but that’s optional)

Directions:

Chop those Broccoli Crowns into baby florets and place them in your pot. Pour in your chosen Broth until it just covers the florets and cook on med heat until the Broccoli turns bright green and is tender enough to cut with a fork (this will not take long once the liquid comes up to temp, maybe 5-10 minutes). Turn down the heat and bust out your Immersion Blender and let that Broccoli have it! If you don’t have an Immersion Blender I recommend using a Blender or Food Processor but please be careful and transfer your hot broth and veggies in small batches :). Once your Broccoli has been soup-i-fied you are ready to add the final ingredients. Slowly stir in your cup of milk and then add the cheese a sprinkle at a time to allow it to melt and meld with the rest of the soup. Once the dairy products are added taste and add Salt and Pepper as desired, Cayenne adds a nice touch for those who like a little heat but is not necessary. Allow the soup to meld together for another 15-20 minutes and you are ready to ladle it into a bowl and slurp away!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the soup!

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How Stories Travel

Stories aren’t just collections of words on a page, they are living things that exist in the land of feeling and image, knowledge and lessons. They want nothing more than to share those things with us who walk in the physical world but as they have no bodies of their own they must ask us to carry them.

When a story speaks to you, and it can be any kind of story, when it settles itself in your mind and heart and whispers to you from time to time it is asking to ride with you through your life and travel to its next destination. Whether you tell the story to others or keep it safe within yourself you are allowing the story to live in you, to live with you, both you and the story will be changed by the experience. You will find yourself drawing on the lessons and images within that tale to help you with decisions in your own life. You may come to see the story in a different light after a new experience gives you a new perspective.

Through these stories that travel from person to person over time and distance we come to understand people and places for which we often have no frame of reference. When the time comes to pass the story on to its next host it will have taken on some of the color of our experience and in that way our own story will live on inside another tale. So the next time you hear that voice talking to you from a story, pick it up and place it alongside the others in your heart. Let those stories speak and sing to you in a chorus and maybe, when you open your mouth to tell, your listener will hear not only your voice but the chorus of stories in your heart.20161228_1122401

Picture by Florence SC Artist Frank Cooper

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Suchastoryteller meets Arts Explorers

Do you know a young artist? Sign them up for Art Explorers! Our new lineup of classes will allow students to explore all disciplines of art such as dance, music, drama, cooking, painting & much more! Join us this Thursday, September 15th at the ArtFields office (110 E. Main St) for a lesson by Jess Willis from Such A Storyteller!

*NEW! Both age groups will have class on the same day.
3:30-4:30pm for grades 5K-3
4:45-6pm for grades 4-6

ARTFIELDS's photo.
ARTFIELDS's photo.
ARTFIELDS's photo.
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