Ever since I went to Mark and Jill's Brown County State Park wedding in 1986, I've loved lemon poppyseed cake the most. They were dad's graduate school friends and my siblings and I were thrilled at the thought of a wedding where we could camp. So exciting! I honestly just used the Betty Crocker mix for years, but this time, I modified a Bon Appétit recipe for Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cake. I went with two round cake pans because I wanted a schmear of lemony cream cheese in the middle to break up the sweetness (I have a non-scientific idea that this lowers the glycemic index and I'll live in denial because baking is so infrequent in hour house). I added poppy seeds and I used a cream cheese/lemon/maple syrup icing. Just in time for my birthday, mom sent this amazing cake tin from home that I've been oohing and ahhing over for ages. Not only is the handle an acorn, but there is an oak leaf pattern around the perimeter. Adorable and we love oak trees in this house.
We had a few friends over for the tree burning and then we made them sing to me and fed them some of this cake. Very festive!
Time consuming cake or meditative lemon peel grating? You be the judge. Eight lemons, sunshine aroma, and an improved mood!
Thank you, Mom! Oak love to the max.
Now, back to being the antler holder for a couple of months.
My little brother Jon and I at the Brown County wedding in 1985 loving cake.
This post is not about running or hiking, but its subject is all I thought about on today’s run. It is sort of about my own natural history, about a food that shaped me and grew me up.
There was always cornbread in our house growing up, but the first time I remember really relishing it was on an August evening in my parent’s kitchen in Kentucky. We had just returned from our annual trip to St. Augustine, Florida where we would share a beach house with our dear family friends, the Someras. During those weeks, everyone took turns making the most delicious and well-vetted seafood meals adorned by the many vegetables we would haul down there from Moores Creek in our metal Coleman cooler. One week both families shared a one bedroom little bungalow, but no worries because we spent all of our time outside anyway and when inside, we didn't want to be too far from one another. We would play hard in the surf, developing elaborate moves to glide over, through, or under big Atlantic waves. For a family of land locked Kentuckians, we LOVE the ocean, and wanted to be marine biologist surfers. Those trips were full of some of our favorite people, activities, and natural history. The food tasted especially good after playing all day laughing, soaking in salt water and then enjoying it all among friends.
So, upon that particular return to our home in 1995 with peeling noses, seashells, bottled seawater and anxiety for the start of school, mom made a huge garden meal with all of the goodies that had been growing untamed that week. I don’t remember the specifics, though it likely included green beans and potatoes and it absolutely included fresh green onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and freshly made and hot out of the oven cornbread. To this cornbread, I went a little wild and added butter, which I had been scared of for a few years (because I was fifteen and cared deeply about being thin and because it was the era of thinking butter was bad). This meal converted me to loving food in a way I hadn't in years. I specifically remember the melted butter on the cornbread with the still warm from the garden tomato. Heaven.
Similar cornbread graced our table at least once a week growing up. If it wasn’t on the table, it could generally be located in a cast iron skillet kept in the oven, bagged up with the other bread, or residing in the freezer with countless other pones of cornbread. Sometimes we joked that we didn’t know where it all went. There were years when I didn’t eat it, but it remained a prolific staple. Did it just feed the compost slowly making its way back to our dinner table in the form of a tomato? Did this cornucopia of cornbread get thrown in the pond and sunk like a bad guy in a movie and fuel the bluegill and snapping turtles?
It would show up as a toasted version of itself the day after and we would float it in vegetable soup or “poor man’s soup (potato)” like a fancy crouton. We would get a piece with peanut butter as a snack or crumbled up in milk like our Grandma Davis liked it. It was the non-vegetable on our plates much of the time. I think this was true for my mother's childhood supper table too. Grandma cooked mainly from the garden and root cellar with one hog killing a year and the occasional chicken, so there wasn't always meat. Cornbread, for them, was often the non-vegetable treat.
What to eat for health and for the health of the earth is increasingly confusing. One week I will be sure that cutting back on beef is the most important thing I can do for climate change and the next week I hear that some vegetables (lettuce) require just as much water and fossil fuels as bacon (the study is explained and and generally debunked here with the take home being eat more broccoli and less lettuce). In the 80's we ate low fat, in the 90's we ate soy and then there's being on a budget. Grocery shopping quickly became an anxiety-inducing mess. So, I am returning to what Michael Pollan said because it is an easy phrase to remember: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." We have foraged for many an apple and plum, we try to raise gardens, and go to the farmers market, but it is still something I want to get better at. Lately I have thought quite a bit about this study that showed how your thoughts fool your stomach (kindly explained by NPR). I am not sure we can stretch those results to mean that if we think lovingly and mindfully about our food, then it can't hurt us, but it it is a nice thought for now.
Food is a very personal thing, so why not capitalize on that and eat foods that you can feel warm and bubbly about? I always think of Like Water for Chocolate (Allende) where communication and transferral of family history happens through food.
""Something strange was going on. Tita remembered that Nacha had always said that when people argue while preparing tamales, the tamales won’t get cooked. They can be heated day after day and still stay raw, because the tamales are angry. In a case like that, you have to sing to them, which makes them happy, then they’ll cook."
If you have forgotten, Tita ends up having to sing to the tamales to save them. Good stuff.
Cornbread is very dear to my heart and in many of my food memories, so I believe it has special powers that bring me closer to my family, our garden and the idea of living and eating close to the land. Granted, I didn't raise the corn to make the cornmeal here in New York, but I'll glaze over that fact and consider it symbolic of those things I hold dear.
In the south, cornbread recipes between families are as diverse as curries to Indian families. Some people add sugar, some add lard, some make cake-like cornbread, and others make a more hearty version. There is an abundance of information out there on the histories and stories of many a cornbreads. Post-PhD, I got REALLY into reading about and listening to podcasts about southern food. I think I craved story and heart after so much science where the story was tough to chase. I love two shows on PBS: Mind of a Chef (the season with Sean Brock) and A Chef's Life. Sean Brock and Lillian Howard are champions of staying true to the food of their respective people and places and also being aware of the histories of those foods from their seedbank to their African origins. Sean grew up in southwest Virginia and his mom makes a cornbread very similar to my family's, but lard actually goes into the batter. Whoa back yum. I also really enjoy the Gravy podcast done by Southern Foodways Alliance.
So, here is my mother's recipe. She recently made this for us in our new (awesome wedding gift) giant cast iron pan. She exclaimed that it was...."the biggest pone of cornbread this holler has ever seen!" She then said...."wait, what's the name of this holler?" Until that point I didn't even realize that we live in a holler, but we basically do.
Anyway, the recipe (they use each other's phones interchangeably - so while it says "dad," it is actually mom). She had to help me after I made a batch of crumbly cornbread (apparently I was missing an egg).
Pat Wagner Cornbread
*use a well-seasoned cast iron pan
*use full-fat buttermilk
*i've also seen mom use yogurt, which gives it a nice punch of sour
What are some dear-to-your-heart family recipes?
We eat our fair share of yogurt for probiotics, but I love and crave fermented veggies. Unfortunately, they are often quite pricey, so I figured that fermenting our own was a good thing to do with my funemployment time. I've heard that my maternal grandmother always had sauerkraut working in her kitchen, which I'll have to try next.
Round Two of making Kimchi in an effort to increase probiotic variety is somewhat based on what was in our fridge and pantry and somewhat based on what could have gone better the last time. The fermentation is a bit aromatic, but I figured I might as well go for it because of all the hard cider we already have fermenting by the wood stove. Also, I like to be as cool as possible and kimchi is hot right now: #kimchikool
This recipe is a combination of a few I liked that had similar ingredients to what I could scrounge up. One is nice and quick from The Kitchn, another by The Splendid Table with a few tips from Crazy Korean Cooking.
Isn't napa cabbage beautiful? The rose is courtesy of the ever romantic, Subaru dealership.
1 head of napa cabbage
1/2 of a daikon
4 green onions
4 small peppers of your choice (I used cherry bird peppers)
2 tbs grated garlic
2tbs grated ginger
4 table spoons crushed red pepper (**most Korean kimchi recipes call for Korean hot pepper flakes (gochugaru), but I didn't find it at Wegman's and I have yet to go to the asian market.
4 tbs fish sauce
1/2 cup coarse sea salt
Steps and Tips:
1. Prep Veg: Wash and drain cabbage and other vegetables.
2. Cut cabbage into quarters and those quarters in to 2 inch squares and place into a bowl with sea salt and enough water to cover the mixture. I let this sit for 3-4 hours.
3. Chop daikon and carrots into matchsticks, dice pepper, and grate ginger and garlic.
4. Blend paste with the ginger, garlic, hot pepper flakes, fish sauce and sugar.
5. Drain and squeeze the cabbage and taste it to check the saltiness (retain some of this salt water brine to top off your jars). If it seems too salty for your liking, rinse the cabbage until you have optimal or slightly salty cabbage (some of the saltiness goes away in fermentation).
6. Combine the other veggies with the cabbage and mix in the paste while giving everything a nice massage.
7. Stuff the concoction into some kind of container (I use glass jars because that's what I have). Fill jars to within a half inch of the top and then pour brine in the jar until it covers the mixture.
8. Place lids on top of the jars, but DO NOT TIGHTEN. These gassy little jars will need to breathe as they work.
9. Nestle the jars on something that will capture liquid if they bubble over and place in a dark area.
10. Fermentation time! Allow this to sit out for 1-5 days until your desired ripeness.
11. Upkeep: check the mixture daily and use a clean spoon or chopstick to press the veggies back down into the jar. The fermentation process causes gas to release and push the veggies up.
12. Refrigerate after it has reached the potency you desire and keep it sealed up tight (in Korea people actually have kimchi refrigerators to not only maintain the perfect temperature, but to quarantine the smell).
13. Enjoy! We like to add our kimchi to everything from plain rice to grilled brauts. Feel confident that you are making your gut very happy!