Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Spring Peas, so sweet and  savory.....  yodel for this bread man  . . . . and a two of my favorite things.....fresh, local asparagus and strawberries

My husband hates peas, a secret he has harbored for over 30 years.  I just can't believe it...not that he kept a secret that long from me, but that he hates peas?  Who can hate those sweet spring offerings, when done just right, meaning gently boiled or steamed for just a few minutes until al dente?  I just can't imagine. 
As I sat on our back porch, enjoying warm but moist spring weather, and loosened the small globes from their pods, I couldn't help but remember sitting with my grandmother on her front porch, watching the cars drive by our busy road, while shucking peas and beans.  I wish I could hold her knobby, arthritic hands, the ones that soothed my childish brow and patted my teenage back, and talk with her more about her ways in the kitchen.  I miss her.
So I added last week's peas from the market to some shrimp sauteed in butter with slices of green garlic (which looked like spring onions), that we poured over hot capellini.  Steve had brought the shrimp from B & J Seafood in New Bern on his way home from Oriental, where he went sailing with our neighbor Joe.  I watched as my husband shoved the peas around and around his plate, just like our kids did when they were little.  Just like the school marm that I once was, I admonished him to eat his peas, please.

Bread Imported from Havelock
With flour dusted over his apron, the owner of Swiss Chalet Deli & Bakery wearily toted baskets of bread from the back of his van to his booth at the Raleigh State Farmer's Market.  It was 11 o'clock, rather late for setting up at the market.  When I asked, he said he had  made several deliveries in New Bern after pulling these loaves from the oven at his bakery in Havelock.  Havelock is between New Bern and Morehead City, a good three hour drive from/to Raleigh.  There is not much of a market for his breads in Havelock, and so he makes the trip to Raleigh three times a week.  Yes, he was tired.  It's a baker's life, one he learned before leaving his native Switzerland.
His baguettes were good, but I want to try the whole wheat and sourdough next time, in hopes of finding more texture.  

Two of my Favorite Things.....
Fresh Asparagus    Cooked until just barely tender, fresh, spring asparagus is such a wonderful treat.  I never ate asparagus growing up around here, but it does grow okay in our muggy weather and heavy clay soil.  My friend Missy had a great patch going until she decided to do a thru-hike on the Appalachian trail, when the weeds took over and she lost interest.  But I remember she had to dig a deep trench, then use manure from her horses and other composted materials to cover the roots of the asparagus slips she laid in the prepared trench.  The next year, we strolled in her garden to take a look, and finding tender, pencil-thin shoots, snapped them off and ate them right then and there. What an intense "asparagus" flavor.  Dynamite.  I'm sorry she's given up on her garden now.  
I usually cook asparagus like this:  Snap off the tough ends.  Rinse, then place in a skillet wide enough to hold them all laid out flat.  Cover the asparagus with cold water, then place on high heat.  As soon as the water comes to boil, the asparagus will probably be just right. Give it a taste to see if it's done to your liking, then drain and either add a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper.  
Or, you can either grill or roast asparagus. Wash, snap and dry the shoots.  Place on a flat baking sheet, or on a perforated grill pan, and sprinkle with a little extra virgin olive oil, shaking the pans so that the asparagus rolls around and distributes the oil evenly.  Then either grill over medium heat, or place in a preheated 400 degree oven for several minutes.  Cooking time depends on the thickness of each stalk, so watch and taste for doneness. Here's how I taught my kids:  pick up a stalk, hold it at the bottom and if you can make the the top wiggle, it's done.
Fresh, local strawberries
I LOVE strawberries.  Used to have a huge patch as a 4-H project.  Would sit in the field with my basket, but few picked berries made their way to the kitchen, for I about ate my weight in strawberries.   
Strawberries are everywhere at the markets right now.  You could fill up just on tasting the berries offered by the vendors at the State Farmers Market.  This year, I plan on trying to "put up" some preserves, using a method prescribed in this new book I just love, HOW TO PICK A PEACH:  The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons, a food & wine columnist for the LA Times.  He recommends working with very small batches, like 8 cups of sliced strawberries, with equal parts berries and sugar, left overnight to "marry," then cooked down till they are thickened, but not as thick as regular jam.  You can refrigerate the five pint jars you'll get, or boil them to seal the lids.  
To serve with the fresh strawberries I brought home this week, I made the Little French Fudge Cakes, a recipe reprinted in our newspaper from Lynn Rosetto Kasper, author of THE SPLENDID TABLE and host of the NPR show by the same name.  They are a rich chocolate-y cupcake, a good substitute for the fudgy brownies I usually serve with strawberries.  

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I've told you my first book, THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK:  Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands will be available May 1st.  Today, I got to cradle my baby in my own hands.  I have to admit I cried and did a little Happy Dance as well.
The very first time I laid eyes on a real copy was in my sister-in-law's office.  Lee  is graciously helping to arrange a signing at the  NC State Alumni Club where she works.  When we went over to have dinner with her, she asked if I was excited now that I could see and hold the book.  I said "not yet."  Ha!! She had a copy before me. A slice of Humble Pie.
The next check on my ego came when the UPS guy brought a couple of boxes to the door.  Hooray!  I now have my own copies!  Not!  I eagerly sliced them open, only to discover they were copies of The Scouts Outdoor Cooking.  It felt like Christmas as a kid, opening the boxes meant for my kid sister.  Humble Pie again!
But today, the boxes delivered to my door held MY book.  My baby.  I am the mother of three, and I can tell you that giving birth to this book has not been quite as painful, but has certainly taught me patience.  Copy was due this past June.  Editing, then editing again.  Globe Pequot Press was thorough, and for that, much appreciated. 
Now I can't wait for some of the elderly folks who let me into their kitchens and stores of memories to have a copy.  I'm headed to the Outer Banks soon to hand deliver them.

Here's a recipe to try from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.  Since there's not a great variety of fresh seafood available just yet, give these pecans a try!

Pecans grow very well on Roanoke Island, where every island home tried to have a couple of trees growing in the yard. Seven different varieties reportedly grow within the village of Wanchese.
These pecans are wonderful additions to Happy Hour on the beach.  
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or Texas Pete sauce, added to melted butter (optional)
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add seasoned salt and pepper, and Tabasco or Texas Pete sauce if desired.
3.  Remove an from heat, and add pecans, stirring until well coated.  Spread pecans in a shallow baking pan and bake until toasted, 8 to 10 minutes.
4.  Cool completely before storing.
copyright 2008 Morris Morris Book Publishing LLC

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK: Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands

If you have ever ridden the ferry over to Ocracoke, walked the surf line at Nags Head, driven the beach past Corolla or caught wind in your sails at the Canadian Hole, you probably love the Outer Banks as much as I do.  Just conjure up the salt in the wind and the salty flavor of oysters, clams, shrimp and all kinds of seafood from the waters of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
In my new book, THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK:  Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands there are recipes, almost 200.  Some from long-time residents who recall what the "Banks" were like before the tourists came, some from contemporary chefs with their new takes on local and seasonal foods, and some of my own from 35 years of chasing fish and dreams on the coast of North Carolina.
Good books, including cookbooks, tell good stories.  I had the privilege of talking with the son of one of the last OBX lighthouse keepers who recalls an isolated but wonderful life as a boy on Bodie Island, scouring the waters for their evening meal.  Miss Jeanie, 94, still cooks in her Manteo home and shared her favorite recipes, as did other older folks who have remained or returned to their beloved OBX.  I also have historic tidbits and local legends.  It's a good read.
Plus, learn how to pick seafood from the market to guarantee its freshness, and then store it when you get it home....and of course, what to do with it, with easy, practical recipes that allow you more time to spend at the beach or sailing or fishing.  
I had a blast getting all the information together, interviewing chefs, residents and fishermen.  The Outer Banks has a hodgepodge of independent folks who love where they live. 
I'll be doing book signings, cooking demos and just about anything else legal to promote this book.  Send me ideas!

Available May 1st, 08 at major bookstores, independents and online

Here's a taste of one of my favorite recipes:  

Figs grow profusely in Ocracoke village, perhaps due to the moist, salty air.  Residents tend to place oyster shells around the base of their trees, or add a fish to the soil around them. Although figs were grown on most Southern homesteads, they are not native to the New World but rather to Asia Minor.  They probably migrated with the Spanish via the West Indies, but perhaps it was a pirate, like Blackbeard, who frequented the port of Ocracoke and left this treasure. 
The ladies of Ocracoke are known for their fig cakes, using the preserves they "put up" from all the figs that ripen during the summer.  Some use a cream cheese frosting between the layers, others make a tube cake.
Dale Mutro's grandmother, Mrs. Ollie Styron Mutro, taught him how to make this version, which uses twice as much fig preserves as the standard Ocracoke recipe.  Dale claims this one is so moist it needs no frosting.
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 2 tsp hot water
1 cup nuts, preferably pecans
1 pint (2 cups) fig preserves
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 10-inch tube pan.
2.  In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt.  Set aside.
3.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs.  Add the sugar and oil.
4.  Alternately add the dry ingredients with the buttermilk.  Add vanilla, then soda dissolved in hot water.
5.  Gently stir in nuts and fig preserves.
6.  Pour in prepared pan, and bake for about 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
C0pyright 2008 by Morris Book Publishing, LLC

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Early Spring at the Farmers Market

Creasy greens to old-timers, watercress to the gourmet crowd.  These spring greens are known for their peppery taste, which can turn bitter as it grows older.
An elderly couple leafed through the box, taking a big handful.  They were going to boil them with some turnip greens, to cut the strong taste, they said.  "They're a spring tonic," the gentleman said.  
"And, they'll clean you out, so watch it!"   I remember my grandmother talking about picking tender shoots as they emerged on damp banks of the little creeks on our farm.  In the old days, creasy greens were such a treat after having only root vegetables available during the winter.
With my big handful, I picked the tender leaves from the stalks, washed and dried them in a spinner, then used the watercress as a backdrop for a lovely spring salad, with goat cheese, tasted walnuts and a light lemony vinaigrette.  Another dinner they served as a bed for the beets I had also bought and roasted, with goat cheese and toasted walnuts, too.  Now that's a spring tonic!

Max Jones speared a piece of sausage from the skillet at the MAE Farm Meats booth, located in the inner building at the Raleigh State Farmers Market.  Max is a fourth grader, helping his mother, Suzanne, man the booth during his school's spring break.  He pointed to a poster board full of mug shots with him and his sisters and the pigs they raise on their Louisburg farm.  "We grow our own pigs, all natural.  No animal cruelty," he declared. 
Max pointed me to a New York Times piece featuring his father and his efforts to bring pig farming back to a more natural affair allowing pigs to roam and root like pigs are wont to do.  Working with A & T University in Greensboro, Mike Jones has helped about 70 farmers in eastern NC get started, using a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation.  MAE Farms' pork chops are phenomenal in flavor and texture.  The spicy Italian sausage was delicious paired with mushrooms, peppers and a tomato sauce.  Check them out at

 Do you get wild eating foods from NC?  Perhaps, when you get out into the woods and fields of NC to learn to forage for edible wild plants.  A feast of collected foods provides the final climax for the last weekend in April, the 25th to the 27th, and held at the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4H Center, four miles from Reidsville.  You can stay in rustic dorms with bath facilities and enjoy Southern home cooking.  Contact Debbie Midkiff at or (919)489-2221.

The huge spans of rosemary in my gardens have boasted sweet blue blossoms for several weeks now.  I've found shoots of garlic chives, but not my regular chives, so I'm worried about them.  The Greek oregano is getting enough leaves to borrow a few for pasta and veggies, and the Italian parsley is looking good.  The rain this past week has been so wonderful.  April showers are so welcomed this year after the drought.
I do not have a vegetable garden, only a small one for herbs near the house that the deer tend to leave alone.  The deer are quite a problem for me.  They've decimated azaleas, hostas, tomatoes or anything, really, that likes to grow except for the weeds.  So last year I planted herbs and tomatoes and some greens in pots on the deck.  The squirrels were delighted.  They decimated most plantings.  Now what is a frustrated green thumb to do?  We have deported a few squirrels with a Have-A-Heart trap, but to keep that up, we'd have to develop a bus system for the bushy-tails.