Asheville; the beer and barbecue version

img_7001After hiking up Black Balsam and climbing the equivalent of 75 floors (yes, we are fitbit geeks), we were thirsty and hungry.  Luckily, Asheville has an abundance of breweries and barbeque restaurants.  We left the car at the guest house where we were staying and walked a few blocks over to Catawba Brewing Company and Buxton Hall Barbeque.  Honestly though, I have not developed much of a taste for beer and did not indulge in any of the brews on tap.  Catawba Brewing Company is located in a large open space with plenty of seating options to match the number of brews available on tap.

img_7002Beer Kegs are all over the space.  These were located near the entrance and under the chalkboard that announces upcoming events and releases.

img_7006The back wall of the building is lined with windows, the seating area is bright and open racks of kegs line the walls.

img_7007When I mentioned the large amounts of brews available on tap, I really wasn’t exaggerating.

img_7010Located right next door to Catawba Brewing is Buxton Hall Barbeque.  They had me at pie…This pie case immediately caught my eye, and those are real pies, not just for show!

img_7011Like the brewery, the space is large and open and so is the kitchen.

img_7021We were seated near the bar.  The restaurant was packed and it was a Wednesday evening, after Labor Day.  Like many of the restaurants around town, the sources for the ingredients used in the kitchen are on the menu.  Since we were starving, we ordered full plates!  Fried chicken is a weakness of mine and I will order it on occasion but when I read that this version was made with smoked chicken, I had to order the quarter dark plate.  Alix decided to indulge in barbeque and neither of us was disappointed!  It is easy to see why Bon Appetit and Southern Living magazines called Buxton Hall Barbeque one of the best new restaurants for 2016.  Be sure to save room for pie, we had a slice of the Banana Pudding Pie and it was worth every calorie; creamy custard, homemade cookies and caramelized marshmallow topping, the perfect end to a wonderful day.

img_7024An open kitchen means that everyone can watch you work.  Seeing this cook prepping away brought back many memories of long evenings spent working the line and prepping for the next day.  Back then I worked in the pantry and spent many hours picking stems off spinach leaves and peeling shrimp 10-50 pounds at a time; I do not miss that at all!

img_7025Looking forward to going back to Asheville so that I can try some more of the restaurants.

Gan Shan Station; hungry hikers paradise

img_6986One of my favorite things about traveling to new places is the chance to try new restaurants.  Trust me folks, Asheville did not disappoint!  Every meal we had was well worth the visit.  After our big hike up to Black Balsam Knob, we followed another recommendation from the wonderful folks at Local Provisions (the first being the hike up to Black Balsam Knob) and went to Gan Shan Station for a late lunch.

This small indoor space makes great use of the natural light and we were seated at a table that was next to the large wall of windows in the front of the restaurant.

img_6988Having hiked at least 6 miles (did 9 miles of walking for the day), we quickly drained the water bottles placed on the table.

img_6990This old building was perfect for camera play-I loved the light fixtures hanging above the tables.

img_6991Sorry, couldn’t resist…

img_6992My choice for lunch was a spinach and tofu salad.  Trust me when I say that this is not what I expected.  It was also as delicious as it was different, those crunchy bits on the top…Seriously though, this dish was only offered as a special and for those of you who visit the restaurant, I hope they offer it again!  It had a little bit of a bite to it but the crumbled tofu and cooked spinach were well flavored and served cold-perfect and refreshing for the hot day and the hike we had just completed.

img_6994The rest of our meal included pork dumplings and fried tofu.  Be sure to check the special board to see what fillings are available for the dumplings because they change them frequently.  We devoured them!  The filling was a typical Asian style pork recipe with ginger and garlic and all of the other ingredients you would expect to find but it was the sauce that made them.  It was a creamy peanut sauce with what I think was a touch of red curry and if we had been there alone, we might have fought over who was going to have it all.

The fried tofu was light and crispy, fried to perfection in a well seasoned starch mixture and again, the sauce was a big part of the success of the dish.  It was not your typical salty-soy sauce and we used it freely as we ate the crispy sticks.

img_6996Between us, we also shared a grilled vegetable salad that included squash, peppers and avocados.  This was the first time I ate a grilled avocado and honestly, I don’t think it made any difference to the flavor; ripe avocados are the food of the gods and nothing can improve that!  Again, be sure to check the special board, that is where the good stuff is.  At least it was on our visit because most of what we ate, was ordered off the board and not the menu.

img_6999And if you need any proof, we joined the clean plate club and walked away feeling full but not stuffed!  It was the perfect way to refresh ourselves after our hiking adventure.

img_7000The verdict, if you are in Asheville, take the trip over for lunch, it isn’t in the downtown area but it is worth the time you will need to get there.  My plan is to go back sometime and try the dinner menu.

img_2344Remember that mention of Local Provisions?  We were staying nearby and walked over for cocktails before heading out to dinner.  When I read the description for the Midnight Voyage, I had to have one.  It was the first time I have ever tasted Honeysuckle Vodka and I probably could have consumed a quart of this mixture!  The cocktail is a blend of honeysuckle vodka, Creme de Violette, St. Germain and lime juice.  It was a little sweet, very citrusy and just a bit floral; it was also like a glass of grown-up limeade that did not remind me of really bad margaritas, which is something lime juice generally does for me.  They knocked it out of the park with the addition of a stem of begonia flowers.  How is it that this gardener did not know that begonias are edible???  They have a tart flavor that will get you at the back of your jaw but in this drink, they were the perfect addition!


Hiking the Black Balsam Knob area; a girls trip

img_2347Recently, I flew to Atlanta to visit one of our daughters.  Once she had picked me up from the airport and we were on our way for some much needed coffee (it was only 7:30am at this point), she surprised me with the news that we were headed to Asheville.  Hiking was on our list of things to do and we set off on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We stopped on several occasions just to admire the view.

img_6960As we drove on, we gained altitude and the views just got better and better.

img_6961We were lucky, the weather was perfect; sunny, clear and not too hot.

img_6965At one stop, the old Buck Spring Lodge site is near the Pisgah Inn on the Mt. Pisgah Summit and there are a few trails around the parking area.  Take the stone stairs and follow the trail toward the inn, the views are worth the walk.

img_2353We were headed for Black Balsam Knob and we drove on.  These were spotted on the Flat Laurel Creek Trail.  If anyone can identify these, please do-I have no idea what they are.

img_2349Even though were around 6000ft, honeybees were present.  While I am sure that the altitude was not an issue for them, I could only wonder if they were there because a beekeeper has hives out there somewhere or if there were feral bee colonies.

img_6976These were spotted along the Art Loeb trail as we hiked up to the top.  They had finished blooming for the year and were loaded with seeds for next years blooms.

img_6971There was no shortage of Mountain Ash berries.

img_6980And with goldenrod in bloom, the bees had plenty of flowers for foraging.

img_6984Again, I am looking for an assist on the ID, if you know what this is, I would love to know as well!

img_6973When we finally did reach our goal, not the entire trail but a nice high elevation, we were standing on this rocky spot.  The pattern in the surface of the stone is intriguing.

img_2355We stopped for a bit and enjoyed the view.  If you want to take a hike near Asheville, we highly recommend making the trip to Black Balsam Knob.img_2351img_2354img_6969img_6966img_6968My hiking partner, Alix.  It was a wonderful surprise and it was a perfect afternoon!

sour cherry jam with brandy

IMG_6857Remember those cherries I posted about a few weeks ago?  When I made the drunken cherries, I took two baskets of the four that I had purchased and turned them into jam.  My mother in law sent me the cutest little book on jam making, Seasons of Jam by Jeannette Habit and I decided to try the recipe for cherry jam.

IMG_6861To make the jam, rinse, dry and pit 3 pounds of red tart cherries.  Combine the cherries with 2 cups of sugar and the juice of 1 lemon in a bowl and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Pour the mixture into a stainless steel or enamel pot and simmer for 30 minutes.  Be sure to stir it frequently and skim off any foam that forms.  Pour into a heat proof bowl, cover with parchment and chill overnight.

The next day, return the jam to the cleaned pot and boil on high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently and again, removing the foam as necessary.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.  It will get darker and the liquid will look more like a syrup.  Add 1/4 cup of Kirsch, Brandy or your favorite liqueur and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Cook until it reaches 210F, the jam should set properly.  Ladle into prepared canning jars, and you can process them as you wish.  For mine, I used the water bath method.  It will make 5-6 half pint jars.


spicy bread and butter relish

IMG_6843When it comes to sweet pickle relish, most people either love it or ignore it.  Personally, I like it in very small quantities and really only as an ingredient and not a stand alone condiment.  Tuna salad, Thousand Island dressing and potato salad are all likely to receive a dollop of sweet pickle relish in our kitchen but only my husband will eat it by itself and only if it is on a hot dog.  My strange aversion to it is a little weird when you consider that I could probably eat a jar of bread and butter pickles all on my own and if you compare recipes, you will see that they are nearly identical in the ingredients used.

As I picked the last of the Homemade Pickle cukes from the shriveling vines in the garden, I wondered what I could make with them.  Our pantry shelves already had dill slices, dill spears, bread and butter chips, sweet relish and relish with a bite so why make more?  The answer is obvious when you think about the fact that it keeps and it also makes great gifts; more than a few folks I know will be getting a package of canned goods from the garden during the holiday season!

IMG_6834Making pickle relish is a new thing for me.  My preference for avoiding it meant that I would rarely try one when available but with the goal of canning and preserving as much of the produce from the garden as I could, I decided to make some since Darry does enjoy it.  The first batch I made was a small one and it filled only a few tiny jars and since he enjoyed it so much, I have now made two additional batches, both larger, and we have enough until the next cucumber harvest-a year away!

If you are familiar with relish, then you know that it is made with tiny pieces of cucumbers, lots and lots of tiny, little pieces.  Bow down and thank the inventor of food processors, who ever that person(s) is, they just saved us from spending hours of slicing and dicing!  You will first need to clean off the little spines on the outside of each cuke, then remove the blossom and stem ends, slice them lengthways and if the seeds are large and fully developed, scoop them out with a spoon.  The jelly in the seed area can remain if the seeds have not formed yet or if they are tiny, similar in size to a sesame seed because they will be tender.  Once cleaned, cut each piece into chunks so that the food processor will chop them evenly without reducing some to puree.  Pulse the chunks in the processor, a portion at a time, until the pieces are smaller than peas.  The mixture will be uneven in size to some extent but that is okay, you just do not want huge chunks and tiny pieces together because it will cook unevenly.  If you find that it is hard to get a uniform size, pull the large chunks out and dice them further by hand.

In my batch in the photo, you will notice that I sliced the onions and left them in strips, I did this so that they would be more obvious in the finished relish.  Honestly, half of the needed pound of onions came from our garden too, but they were so small, smaller than a golf ball, that I just sliced them and left them in strips because I could barely see through the tears!  Cut your onions into what ever size you like; it is also acceptable to cut them into chunks and pulse them in the processor to match the size and appearance of the cukes.

One thing I would suggest, don’t use the machine for the peppers.  They tend to juice out so much that dicing by hand is better.  In this batch, I used jalapenos that had turned red but you can use green ones or any other type of pepper you prefer.  Previous batches included dark green poblano peppers as well as green bell peppers.  My intention was to make a hot and spicy batch but surprise, those jalapenos turned out to be the variety that isn’t so spicy.  Even so, they gave it a little heat but more importantly, a lot of color.

Once the vegetables are all diced, toss them with the salt and let them sit in the fridge overnight.  This helps the flavors blend together and develop and it also allows for the water to be released.  When you are ready to make the relish, allow the mixture to sit in a colander and drain for at least 20 minutes, give it a press or two to help get the excess liquid out.  Taking this step will help preserve the crunchy texture of the vegetables by removing the moisture and therefore shortening the cooking time.

IMG_6839First, the sugar and vinegar are heated to make a syrup.  The spices and vegetables are added and over medium heat, allowed to simmer.  It is important to stir it frequently so that the water can evaporate and to prevent sticking.  As it cooks, the color changes.

IMG_6840The longer it cooks, the more the golden color deepens.

IMG_6841When finished, the vegetables will be mostly translucent and fairly even in color, except for the red peppers.  My suggestion, make small batches and experiment with the onions and peppers; red, yellow or white onions, whether sweet or not could be used just as any type of peppers.  Keep in mind, you are cooking it down and if you reach for the ghost peppers, it will be beyond fiery!

IMG_6849Bread and Butter Relish

makes about 6 half pints

8 cups diced pickling cucumbers-about 3 pounds

1 pound onions, sliced or diced

1 cup finely diced red jalapenos

1/3 cup pickling or sea salt

11 ounces sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon celery seeds

3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

The day before you will make the relish, toss the vegetables with the salt in a bowl or container that is non-reactive.  Cover and store in the fridge for 12-24 hours.  When you are ready to cook it, dump the mixture into a colander or mesh strainer over the sink and allow it to drain for at least 20 minutes.  Give it a few presses with your hand to help it along but do not press it so much that it is completely dry-you want some of the juices for the flavor they will add.

In a large pot, combine the sugar and vinegar and over medium-low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar.  When it comes to the simmer, add the spices and then the vegetables and raise the heat to medium.  Allow the mixture to cook, stirring frequently, and reduce until most of the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are translucent.  Depending on the pot, this will take a while, about 30 minutes for my batch.

While the relish is cooking, prepare your canning pot and jars by boiling them.  Remove the jars from the boiling water and drain upside down on a rack so that you are filling hot jars.  Using a canning funnel, fill each jar so that there is a half inch space at the top, wipe the rims if necessary and cap the jars.  Fasten the bands so that they stay in place but do not tighten them too much or the tops will buckle.  Process in the water bath for 10 minutes, allow the jars to cool completely on a rack before storing in the pantry or cupboard.  It will taste best if stored for a few weeks before eating.

For more information on proper canning techniques, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website.

baking from the garden; cucumber bread

IMG_6786Gardeners have preferences when it comes to the plants chosen each season and I am no different than most.  In my flower beds, I always include a mix of herbs and edible flowers as well as those that will attract beneficial insects and help repel the destructive ones.  My vegetable garden follows the same plan and tucked in between the crops are many of those same herbs and flowers.  Companion planting is another of my strategies in the garden but honestly, I haven’t seen a huge improvement by following the does and the don’ts of plant location.

This year, like every other year, I have planted cucumbers in my garden.  The selection of varieties chosen include Marketmore (both #70 and #76), Homemade Pickles, Charming White, Lemon and Tendergreen.  The weather pattern this summer has been challenging and while none of my squash plants survived and produced fruits, the cucumbers have done well, at least, two varieties have.  Homemade Pickle plants produced enough cukes that I have completely stocked my pantry with pickles and relish and I have enough gathered now to make one last batch of relish.

Making salads with cucumbers is another one of my favorite summer activities.  While I enjoy adding slices to green salads or just mixing the slices with a little rice wine vinegar, honey and chili flakes, I decided to try something different.  With more Tendergreen Cukes than I could eat, I thought about a loaf of bread and what it might be like with cucumber puree in it.

IMG_6790The previous photo is a Homemade Pickle and this one is Marketmore #76.  In the past, Marketmore #76 has been a great producer, this year, not so much.  My thoughts are that the weather has affected the yield but more importantly, I think the soil is still lacking.  If you have been following this blog, you are aware that we started this garden from the ground up two years ago and this is the first year that we are planting in the ground.  Lots of layering with materials such as compost, leaves, coffee, chicken litter from our hens and eggshells has greatly improved the structure but I think it needs to be amended further and turned as well as given a season off to let the nitrogen levels fix.

IMG_6792The tendrils are amazingly strong and these plants would sprawl out all over if I give them a chance.

IMG_6769For my first batch, I peeled, seeded and pureed some cukes.  The pale green liquid was added to a hard roll recipe and the dough was shaped into batards.  My thought was to keep it simple and I added a few dill seeds to the mix.

IMG_6775Once baked, it was nearly impossible to see that the cucumbers had an effect on the dough.  The interior of the loaf is nearly white and the crumb is a tiny bit compact.  Not the results I was hoping for but still a good loaf of bread.

IMG_6780After giving it some thought. I started a second batch of dough using a different recipe.  For this batch, I left the skin on the cukes but removed the seeds before pureeing.  The liquid was a much darker shade of green and had little flecks of skin in it.  For the dough itself, I settled on a recipe that used a Poolish style starter to develop more flavor in the dough.  After letting the flour, water and yeast mixture age overnight, I mixed the dough using a method that does not include kneading the dough.

There are several good books out there that use this method but I chose to follow the Country Loaf recipe found in Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and found here in this New York Times Recipe.  To clarify, I did not use his recipe, just his method for mixing, shaping and baking the dough.

IMG_6781As you can see, the inclusion of skin gave the dough a good amount of green color.  The little flecks of skin provide some visual interest and a little texture, as well.

IMG_6799Using a lovely little banneton mold that my husband gave me, I was able to give the loaf a nice spiral pattern on the surface.

IMG_6806As you can see, the interior has a tint of green to it and a few green specks here and there.  The crust baked up crisply and it tasted wonderful while still a little warm.  The problem, it just didn’t taste like cucumber, at least not while it was warm.  Once the loaf cooled and sat for several hours, the flavor of caramelized flour and dough from the crust of the bread was no longer the predominant flavor.  The subtle, earthy and almost sweet, flavor of the cucumbers was fairly obvious.

This loaf recipe is a work in progress and if all goes well, it will be part of my next book.  Until then, I will have to make more bread and test it for flavor and color, and you will have to forgive me for not including a recipe that is only half done!

latest news from the garden

IMG_6810In the beginning of the spring, I was so hopeful that the garden would be producing enough vegetables to feed us for the year.  Quite a few of the results are in and thanks to a cool, wet spring and a hot, humid summer (all above the norm), we would go hungry if the garden was our main source of vegetables.  So many plants did not come close to expectations.  Just about all of my squash plants rotted away from the moisture and the sole survivor has yet to produce a single squash that did not rot.  Eggplants are struggling, barely producing and so are the peppers.

Having no choice but to remove my tacky string fence to keep out the deer, I have had to watch my 20 tomato plants get munched away.  While they are still trying to set fruit, almost none of them have except for a few.  The Gold Berries are one of the only plants producing fruit.

IMG_6811These are small cherry tomatoes, about an inch in diameter and they are a little on the tart side.  The color is what I really love; that brown blush at the top, so unusual and so pretty!

IMG_6815The color develops as the fruit grows rather than as it ripens.  In technical terms, the color is on the “shoulders” of the fruit.  Whatever you prefer to call that area, the seeds are available from my favorite source of heirloom seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

IMG_6816One of the only other plants with fruit is the Chocolate Pear.  What happened to these fruits is a mystery.

IMG_6830Garlic chive blossoms are so delicate but beware, if you let them flower, they will reseed and you will have chives everywhere.  Honeybees like them so I am leaving these flowers in place, yes, I like to live dangerously and I ain’t afraid of plucking plants…

IMG_6823While wandering the garden, I was surprised to find a Charentais melon.  Unlike the squash plants, the melons in my front bed have been sprawling out.  With any luck, we will get more than one.

IMG_6824Near the Charentais is another variety called Golden Crispy.  Having never had one, I cannot tell you anything about it but we have several fruits on the vine and I will have to wait patiently for them to mature.

IMG_6820If you take a moment to look in all of the carrots and parsley, you will find swallowtail caterpillars.  Lots of them actually, probably about two dozen or so out there now.  We have a variety of swallowtail butterflies that visit the garden; zebra, tiger and spicebush swallowtails are abundant but these are zebra swallowtail caterpillars.

IMG_6827The biggest surprise of the day was spotting this monarch caterpillar on a swamp milkweed plant.  In the two years we have been gardening out front and with all of the butterfly plants we have added, we have seen so few monarchs.  Finding this caterpillar was like winning the lottery!

IMG_6829The abundant milkweed plants have also attracted this milkweed leaf beetle.  They look a little like a monster sized ladybug and mainly eat the leaves of the plant.

IMG_6825This butterfly weed, which is a native variety of milkweed, has set seeds and will soon explode and release them into the wind.

IMG_6826One of my favorite plants, Ironweed.  It too is a butterfly magnet, and I just love the color of the flowers.  When we had our home in Nashville, I planted Ironweed on a slope in the yard and it spread by reseeding.  With some luck, this will spread as well.

IMG_6828And another one of my favorites for attracting butterflies, Joe Pye Weed.  If you have an area that gets a lot of moisture and would like to try a rain garden, Joe Pye Weed can tolerate moist soil, a win-win!

As the season progresses, I will be sure to share more from the garden, stay tuned!