Thursday, December 29, 2011


Tundra Swans at Lake Mattamuskeet, Down East, NC

          During the Holidays, many of us are treated to performances of Swan Lake, the classic ballet, followed perhaps by champagne and oysters on the half-shell.  

     Down East, you can have a more down-home winter's treat of Swan Lake and oysters, too.  I prefer nature's version at the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, where at least one hundred thousand and more tundra swans congregate from December to mid-February to put on quite a show.  You'll also find them at the nearby Pungo Lake and at the Pea Island refuge just over the Oregon Inlet bridge.

     These gorgeous and huge beauties fly in from their summer holidays in Alaska, and spend cold, wintry months in what they must consider hog heaven, feeding in the shallow waters of these lakes that might have been formed by meteorites.  They're noisy, honking constantly when not grooming or dunking their heads to eat.   Canadian geese and a variety of ducks also spend the winter here.

     The swans also like to feed in the vast fields of winter cover crops sown in the black, fertile soil of the flatlands of NC's Down East.  So, many farmers consider them royal pests who eat the grains they sow.

     This is also where the US Navy wanted to put their Outlying Landing Field so that jet pilots could practice their   stop and goes.  I thought it fitting that during one of the demo flights to show the efficacy of this area, a Navy pilot had to abort a flight because of contact with these swans and Canadian geese in flight.  Thank heavens, the plan itself has been aborted.

At sunset, the swans honk and start walking on the water for take-off, flapping their wings and finally taking flight, finding their night-time resting spots along the Pamlico Sound and other spots out of the wind.

After hiking around to find the best viewing of the swans on the water, we had built up an appetite.  And that's a good thing, as Martha loves to say, for we were also in hog heaven, in oyster country.  So at the dimming of the day, we continued our trek east on HWY 264, past humongous black fields dotted with escaped tufts of white cotton, to the tiny village of Engelhard.

"Stumpy Point is the best source of oysters in the Pamlico Sound, right?"  I asked the fellow steaming a peck of fresh oysters at the Oyster Bar at Martell's Feed House.

    "That's what they like to say," he said, an earnest look on his face.  "We claim these here are the best, from right out there," he said, pointing over his shoulder.

     "Rose Bay?" I asked, having stopped at the oyster processing plant on HWY 264 on our way to the lake.  Rose Bay, right next to salt marsh on the sound's edge, used to be famous for their salty, tasty oysters they harvested from the Pamlico Sound.  And just a few decades ago, they had competition from many other oyster houses that lined this section of our coast.  But then, storms and pollution, in the form of farm run-offs and fresh water from the huge drainage canals and ditches near those lakes and the pocosin swamps, and over-harvesting, all worked together to decimate the oyster industry along the Pamlico Sound.

     Amends have been made, with more conscious farming techniques, and the building up of reefs and oyster farms. During the last couple of years, oysters have make a comeback in NC waters.  Hallelujah!  Rose Bay Oysters are back.

     "So where is out there?" I asked when my shucker shook his head to Rose Bay.  Gull Rock, a hump in the sound, sorta near the route the ferry takes from Swan Quarter over to Ocracoke, he explained.  Just over there, across those fields, he said, pointing.  I reckon you can call THAT "local"!

     "There was a build up of oyster shells where folks used to dump the shells, you know, to make it so there were more oysters."  Over the years, hurricanes and nor'easters swept the heaps of shells away, he explained.  But the water bottom had been recently leased, the oyster reef re-built, and oysters were making their comeback in the area.

Fresh steamed oysters shucked at Martell's Feed House in Englehard
    He brought a huge peck of steamed oysters  to the counter where we were sitting, and began to shuck them, ladling them gently into our shallow dish.  We dipped those tender babies in melted butter and warm cocktail sauce, and popped them in our mouths.  A faint taste of salt, just right. OMG.  They were firm, like really, really fresh oysters should be. There was that oyster taste, the best I had experienced.  Those Gull Rocks were absolutely rocking.

"Yeh," he said with a trace of that Outer Banks Elizabethan accent, "these oysters were in the water this morning,"  and shook his head.  He talked about how the 4 a.m. start to his day on the water collecting oysters got to be too much for him, so he  became a lineman for the power company instead.  And he no longers eats oysters. Because?  "I just got sick of oysters," he said, shaking his head.  "Too many in my life."

NOT ME!  Bring on another peck, we said, and proceeded to slurp every single one of them down.  How often do we get day-old, fresh oysters plucked from the waters of NC?  Now that was a holiday treat.

The Oyster Bar at Martell's Feed House in Englehard is open Tues through Sun during bear and duck hunting seasons. . . . meaning, the cold winter months when oysters are really, really good.  Go get a peck!

A GREAT NEW YEAR'S RECIPE -  Try to score some fresh NC oysters of your own, and use this simple recipe to enjoy them.  No steaming required!

            This appetizer is so named because of how the oyster curls against the bacon when cooked.  A traditional savory from England, where ”rashers” wrapped around oysters are served on toast points, it’s also known as Oysters en Brochette in New Orleans.   Since oysters are plentiful in the sounds surrounding the Outer Banks, it seems a natural tribute to the Winged Horses scattered throughout these sand banks.  

12 slices bacon, divided in half
1 pint shucked oysters, or 2 dozen raw, in shell
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or ½ teaspoon hot sauce, like Tabasco or Texas Pete
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
toothpicks or skewers

  1. In a large skillet, lightly cook bacon over medium heat until just translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.  (Partially cooking the bacon will help keep the oysters from overcooking.)
  2. Drain shucked oysters, or if using raw, open oysters, retain juice and shells. 
  3. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, cayenne pepper or hot sauce, salt and garlic and oyster juice from shells.  Add the oysters and toss to coat.  Marinate for 10 minutes.
  4. Preheat broiler. 
  5. If using pre-shucked oysters, line a baking sheet with foil, then place metal rack on top.  If you have the shells, rinse and settle the largest half shells in crumpled foil on baking sheet. 
  6. Roll each halved bacon slice around an oyster.  Secure with toothpick or skewer, and place each on the rack or on a shell. 
  7. Place under broiler, and cook until bacon is crisp and the edges of the oysters have curled, turning once to cook both sides evenly.  Serve immediately on toast points or fresh spinach dressed lightly with lemon and olive oil.  
YIELD:  6 TO 8 appetizers – makes two dozen

Thursday, October 13, 2011

SWEET POTATO BISCUITS....Well, just shut my mouth!


     Perhaps Stephanie and Vivian, chef and proprietors of Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) will forgive me for using a portion of their restaurant's name, but I just couldn't help myself.  With a name like that, don't you just want to make the trip to Winston-Salem and check them out?  (336) 727-4844 529 Trade St.  I met them recently at a foodie event, and loved hearing about their menu and their efforts to honor foods that they grew up with.  Stephanie says she bakes hundreds of sweet potatoes a day!

     I love sweet potatoes....baked whole, french-fried, oven-roasted, made into a pie, and especially into biscuits.  These sweet and savory biscuits are perfect with butter, or perhaps sourwood honey, or apple butter, and especially with country ham. 

    This recipe is simple, and was shared with me by Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, for THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK.  The recipe is EASY, and the biscuits will turn out tender and thick if you follow these simple directions.  Only two things you have to remember:  One, don't overwork the dough.  It's like if you overwork a cook, she gets tough.  Secondly, when you cut out the rounds with the biscuit cutter, don't twist to remove them.  When you twist, it seals the dough and they're less likely to rise.

   And really, there's a third thing to remember.  Let the biscuits cool just a bit before taking a bite, otherwise you'll burn your tongue!

     First order of business is to cook a large sweet potato.  You can pierce it with a fork or knife tip, then microwave on high for about 5 or so minutes.  Or bake, wrapped in or under foil for about 45 minutes to an hour.  You might just as well cook 3 or 4 at a time to have on hand!

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly butter a large baking sheet.

Measure 1 2/3 cups flour into a large work bowl.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Then 2 1/2 teaspoons baking POWDER.  And for a touch of sweetness, 1 tablespoon packed with brown sugar.  Stir it up with a fork or the pastry cutter.

Cut 6 tablespoons of cold butter into tiny cubes.  Add to the flour mixture, and work it into the flour until the mixture sorta looks like cornmeal, or no big globs of butter remain.  If you don't have a pastry cutter, use two forks to crisscross and cut the butter into the flour.  Or, just use your clean fingers to mash the butter in.

Peel the cooked sweet potato and mash it with a fork.  You should have anywhere from 3/4 to a cup.
Add that to the flour/butter, along with 1/4 cup half & half.  This is when you do NOT overwork the dough.  Just sorta get it to clump together.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour.  Rub your hands with flour.  Dump the dough out, and knead or push the mixture together, folding, only SIX times.  Make sure the last time you fold it over that there's plenty of flour under the dough.

With your hands, shape the dough into a circle that's about 1 1/2 inch thick. 

I like to use a smaller biscuit cutter, 2 inches or less.  Place some flour into a small dish.  Cut out the biscuits, remembering to dip the cutter into flour EACH TIME BEFORE you cut.  The dough will be less likely to stick that way.  Gently form the scraps into rounds.  

Place biscuits on baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes.  They should be a bit more golden in color and firm to the touch. You may want to check their bottoms to make sure they are not turning black.

Allow to cool for just a bit, then serve.  And they're actually good the next day, too, as long as they've been stored tightly from the air.

After testing several batches of these
biscuits, I needed to work off some extra calories.  A hike to Bed Rock?  I could have taken a nap like a lizard in the sun, looking out over the Blue Ridge at Beacon Heights across the BR Parkway from Grandfather's Mountain last week.  Gorgeous view and colors!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011



     Destination know, when you don't care how long it takes to get there or about the long drive home, because the meal itself just rocks all your primary senses, and the scene and the setting  compound the outstanding flavors.  And more than likely, the chosen menu items are local and seasonal, cooked in a slow or at least a soulful way.
     DRIVING2EAT is not a crazy thing to do.  Edible adventures are extremely satisfying, in more ways than just solving your hunger game.
     So, every now and then, Carolina Foodie is going to take you on a road trip to a very special place to eat.  Grab your keys, gas up the car, and get hungry.


Leaf peepers are out in droves on the Blue Ridge Parkway during the colorful fall months.  Cars snake down the spine of these southern Appalachian mountains, some times bumper to bumper with painfully slow rubberneckers.  Reds and golds dominate, while rocks, waterfalls and mountain silhouettes delight even the most impatient drivers.
Then the hunger games begin, and there are only a few dinner options to play.
You can enjoy a delightful picnic at a gorgeous overlook, not a bad option if you planned ahead and packed some gourmet goodies. But it does get dark earlier now, and chilly, too. 
 Or, you can settle for some ordinary fried chicken and mountain trout, along with long wait lines and eccentric waitstaff at the few restaurants that are actually located on the parkway itself.  We once had an elderly waitress tell us at 7:15 pm that if we wanted the trout, she'd have to stand there and watch us eat it, or we could just order that fried chicken that's sitting right there ready to go because the restaurant closed at 7:30. Yes ma'am.
Or, you can exit the parkway at several touristy crossroads, and again, face few options beyond the standard, ho-hum fare.
Or, be a winner in the hunger games and follow this locavore’s lead to some pretty good restaurants that rank as edible destinations all by themselves, with the Blue Ridge Parkway just a colorful way to get there. 
And that's a winning combination in this Southern part of heaven - a marvelous meal and a dramatic drive.  There are even motels nearby.  Just make sure you phone ahead for reservations for both.

            If you start at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, up near the Charlottesville, VA area, head down and around Roanoke, VA, which will take you a good day, especially if you stop and take a gander, and maybe lunch, at Peaks of Otter.
            Near Mile Post 160 at Tuggles Gap, head west on Route 8 to funky Floyd, a one-stoplight town with a couple of great places to eat.
     Natasha's Market Cafe, 227 North Locust Street, 540 745-2450, is above a great gourmet type market, Harvest Moon.  Natasha, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, worked as a chef in several places before settling in this SW Virginia community.  Try goat cheese truffles, zucchini pancakes, or pasture-raised beef brisket slowly braised to melt in your mouth.  Seventy-five percent of her food is sourced from local and organic farms, and from the coast of VA and NC.  
     Oddfellows Cantina, 110A North Locust Street, 540 745-3463, like it's name suggests, features casual but gourmet with a bit of a southwestern flair.  They too, pride themselves on using local and seasonal foods.  Some nights you can catch a great musical performance of progressive bluegrass, blues, Latin or Irish music.

       Blowing Rock, okay, yeah, it's a touristy town.  But it's still got that old time charm, and Jimmy Crippens will use lots of his charm welcoming you into his namesake inn and restaurant, Crippen's, 239 Sunset Drive, 828 295-3487.  A new chef, Stan Chamberlain, grew up in these mountains, and takes the food he cut his teeth on, like collards and trout, and gives them a creative contemporary twist. Plus there's foie gras and tuna and other delectables not necessarily Appalachian but definitely prepared with Southern polish. Some of the produce and herbs comes straight from Jimmy and wife Carolyn's farm garden.
        In between Linville Falls and Crabtree Meadows, head west to Spruce Pine, an old railroad town that's on the bank of the Toe River.  Down on the lower street you'll find Knife & Fork, a surprising little gem of a place at 61 Locust St., 828  765-1511.   Chef Nate Allen won the Small-Town Chef Award from Cooking Light magazine, and Western North Carolina's Chef Challenge this year, then placed third in NC's Best Dish Contest, and in my book, is one of the best chefs around. He and wife Wendy Gardner decided to leave the star-studded but stressful L.A. area where he'd successfully cooked for ten years, and return to their home state.  To Spruce Pines, population of about 2,000, that perhaps never gave up that farm-to-table status.  You'll find rabbit, house-made bratwurst, and yes trout, but it's been house-smoked, among a very diverse menu.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Border Springs Farm photo credit Mike Saurez

Shepherd. Lamb fanatic. Owner of a thousand acres of Southern Heaven within the shadow of the Blue Ridge. A bon vivante whose contact list includes the who's who of chefs from the Mississippi to New York City. That's Craig Rogers, former Dean of Engineering, CEO of his own startup, now owner of Border Springs Farm in Patrick County, VA.

Once a year, Craig welcomes chefs, food artisans, writers, foodies and other professional fans of lamb to his Border Springs Farm for a three day orgy he calls LAMBSTOCK. Think Woodstock with music under a bandstand, yes, but more importantly, as a humongous picnic that allows you to gorge yourself with tender, succulent lamb prepared by some of the nations top chefs.
This year, George Mendes of Aldea in New York City, one of Food & Wines Best New Chefs; Sean Brock of HUSK, winner of the James Beard Best Chef in the Southeast; John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss, another contender for that award; and other big name chefs brought their staff and RVs or tents, slept in the sheep pastures and then for three days prepared lamb for our tasting.

EWE'RE HOT . . . . .COUNTING SHEEP. . . . BAAAAAD TO THE BONE (thanks to the American Lamb Board)

Here are a few things we tasted:

Lamb roasted on a spit supervised by Angelo Vangelopoulos of The Ivy Inn in Charlottesville.
Lamb tacos with a smoking hot adobe sauce, salsas. . . and did I mention freshly rolled, pressed on the spot, then grilled tortillas?

Lamb burgers, grilled with freshly made tomato catsup and homemade mustard.

Lamb posole, a spicy stew with hominy, salsa and fatback chips.
An older lamb, a whole splayed mutton, slowly grilled to 190 degrees like a whole hog, for a lamb pickin' by Jimmy Hagood, who owns the Que-osk in the newly opened Charleston Market.
Clams with lamb? You bet, with Rappahannock River Oysters, too.
And to balance the menu, there was gazpacho, and collards, and more collards, and roasted tomatoes . . . .

And dessert? Cookies and a gorgeous coconut cake.

Lime curd, Lemon Curd and a Coconut Paste separate the layers of this Coconut Cake.

Here's the recipe for Lamb Burgers that Craig Rogers shared with me for THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2010. (c) Please be nice and give credit.


Craig Rogers loves to wax poetic about his Texel sheep and lambs, and the Border Collies he trains to keep them in line at Border Springs Farm. These lamb burgers are the very best you’ll ever taste, he says. The mayonnaise provides an exquisite, finishing touch. “Leave the catsup and mustard in the refrigerator in you want to enjoy a true, farm fresh burger,” he says.


1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 pinch sea salt

¼ teaspoon pepper, freshly ground

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 egg, large, fresh from the hen

1 cup olive oil

Optional: 2 teaspoons dill, finely chopped and 1/3 cup feta cheese, OR, 2 teaspoons mint and 2 teaspoons rosemary, both finely chopped

1. In a medium bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, Dijon mustard and egg together well, using a whisk or egg-beaters (or a blender).

2. Very slowly add the olive oil while mixing vigorously or pureeing in the blender. The final product should be whipped-cream smooth and firm.

3. To add a twist try folding in your favorite herbs and cheese once the mayonnaise is complete.

a. For one variation try: 2 teaspoons dill, finely chopped and ⅓ cup feta cheese, crumbled. The dill adds some pizzazz and the feta a nice texture.

b. For another twist try: 2 teaspoons mint, finely chopped and 2 teaspoons rosemary, finely chopped.

4. Let the mayonnaise rest in the refrigerator for an hour before serving to allow the flavors to set.


2 pounds ground lamb

1 onion, finely chopped

½ cup fresh mint, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 eggs, large, fresh from the hen

½ teaspoon red chilies, crushed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cumin, ground

1 teaspoon coriander seed, ground

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground

Homemade Mayonnaise with a Twist (as above)

6 Buns

Sliced tomatoes and onions, optional

1. Prepare charcoal or preheat gas grill.

2. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well.

3. Form 6 burger patties from the mixture.

4. Grill slowly, for approximately 20 minutes. Leave the middle medium rare or to taste.

5. Serve on a good bun, with homemade mayonnaise, a slice of garden fresh tomato and onion.

YIELD: 6 Servings

Friday, August 12, 2011


Hey, it's beginning to happen here in the South, just like in metro areas such as New York City - fish and other seafood that were swimming in the ocean yesterday can land on our plates today, even on our tables at home.
It's the latest trend to hit the Fresh and Local scene. Shrimp, clams, crab and fish get loaded onto refrigerated trucks as soon as the boats hit the dock, and take a cold ride to inland farmers markets for lucky consumers like myself in Raleigh. Many CFAs, that's community supported fisheries similar to the CSAs that provide produce fresh from the farm, also give lucky subscribers boxes laden with the fresh catch of the week.
I've talked before about several of these fishermen-based co-ops, like Core Sound Seafood,, based out of the Morehead City area, and also Walking Fish,, a CFA that provides central NC customers with fresh seafood.
This Wednesday, I discovered LOCALS SEAFOOD, at Raleigh's Downtown Farmers Market. They offered ice chests laden with tuna, mackerel and other fish. Shrimp was from Dare County, in the northern Outer Banks. The shrimp were huge and as fresh as could be, so two pounds went home with us.
Recipes started stirring in my head, esp. after I remembered some locally made dried tomato and basil pasta I had brought home from the farmers market at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis. In fact, the fresh basil growing on the deck and tomatoes, fresh from our little garden, would be perfect paired with that pasta. And a nice wedge of crusty sourdough bread from La Farm Bakery's stand across the way would be perfect, too. A baby watermelon cut into chunks, sprinkled with almonds and basil, and feta? A perfect salad.
Yum, dinner was on the way!

Fresh pasta is just, well, awesome. And business is awesome for THE PASTA WENCH, a home-grown business out of Boone. Andrea's Organics is their farm that provides seasonal and sustainable veggies and herbs for the fresh pasta made in small, artisanal batches. In fact, the company boasts that 85% of ingredients used for ravioli, fettucini and other pastas are from North Carolina organic growers.
Just recently, the pasta production was moved from the dining room to a large business facility, after contracts were made with Whole Foods and a few other stores. You can still find THE PASTA WENCH products at many farmers markets from the mountains to the sea, from Boone to the Wilmington area. Check them out at

RECIPE *** SHRIMP with Tomatoes, Fresh Corn and Basil ***
I love mixing it up with fresh shrimp, adding whatever may be in season or in my pantry, like the few ears of fresh corn in the fridge. So I cut the corn from a few cobs to add even more taste to this awesome pasta dish.
And here's a handy hint I just read about myself: Get out a bundt cake pan or what I call a pound cake pan, the one with a hole in the middle. Place the cob on top of the "hole", and when you cut the kernels away from the cob, they'll fall into the cake pan rather than go all over your counter. Works like a charm!

As usual, it's best to have all your ingredients prepped and chopped and ready to go, because this recipe comes together fast. So go ahead and start to heat up the water for the pasta, and chop away!

SHRIMP with Tomatoes, Fresh Corn and Basil

9 to 12 ounces fettuccine, dried or fresh
1 small to medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined, washed and patted dry
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup of fresh corn kernels
handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, or a handful of sun-dried tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. While preparing shrimp, add pasta to boiling water and cook for the recommended amount of time. Pull out one strand and taste to see if done. Drain and set aside.
2. Add olive oil to a large saute pan, and add onions. Cook over low heat until onions are tender. Add garlic, and stir for about a minute.
3. Increase heat to medium, and add shrimp and butter, and corn if using, and stir frequently, until shrimp are pink and firm. Season with the Old Bay and salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, if using, and stir to heat through.
4. Sprinkle the basil or parsley over the pasta just before serving. Spread a mound of pasta on each plate, then spoon the shrimp mix over.

4 to 6 servings
As usual, be nice and give credit for this recipe to Elizabeth Wiegand, CarolinaFoodie, 2011.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


A baby goat being held during the 2010 Farm Tour at Horse Helpers at Wisteria Farm

You, too, can pet a goat or llama, get crowed by a rooster or clucked by a hen, or talk with a farmer about her sustainable methods of collecting and using rainwater or growing vertical tomatoes.
This coming weekend, August 6th and 7th, is the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture's annual Farm Tour. Each afternoon, from 2 to 6, you can get up close and personal with farm animals, take in farming methods, and see some gorgeous countryside. There are even suggested bike routes to take in some of the farms. Here's the link.
The Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture is such a fantastic organization. Made up by women, and for women, in agriculture, the proceeds from this farm tour will help provide women farmers in the High Country with resources and educational programs.
And besides, this farm tour is a great way to spend a weekend, whether you've got kids you want to educate or if it's just yourself you want to entertain.

Spring House Farm

I've visited most of these farms during past tours, and many of them wound up in stories or with recipes in my book, THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK.
It seemed as though we were driving to the top of the world as we wound our way up the steep and narrow drive to Big Horse Creek Farm, but oh, was the view alone worth it. Ron and Suzanne Joyner will delight you with their story of finding, saving and propagating heirloom varieties of apples, some of which would have died out if not for their efforts. The windmill and battery banks produce enough electricity for them to be "off the grid." And, they'll have some organic veggies and fruits for sale.
This year, I'm anxious to see Sally's new hoop-house and passive solar greenhouse used for growing and propagating heirloom tomatoes at Zydeco Moon Farm. Hang on for a fun but bumpy wagon ride to the top of the hill where they've got a field with a view. She and Joe will also have quite a variety of heirlooms for sale.

Hens gather at the Trailer Park(ed) at ASU's Goodnight Farm

Students will show you around the ASU Goodnight Sustainable teaching farm. I learned new things about garlic and egg production last year.

Charles Church has been farming the Watauga River valley for over 50 years

Charles Church is a delightful farmer, who ten years ago proved you could teach an old dog some new tricks when he switched from growing tobacco to growing organic foods. Purslane, beets, potatoes and some absolutely delightful spicy sausage made their way into my ice chest last year. Ask him to sign his own recipe for kohlrabi he contributed to THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK.
Maverick Farms provides an alternative, communal way of farming and during the last three years has established a CSA program with a few other farms. They've got a beautiful spot and usually have some good baked goods and homemade, organic pizza for sale.

The "Tunnel" at Tumbling Shoals Farm

And a little away from the Boone area is Tumbling Shoals Farm, where Shiloh and Jason are transforming a beautiful little valley into an organic oasis. AS former Peace Corps workers, they are used to hard work and being innovative. I enjoyed learning about the unheated high tunnels they use to grow tomatoes and other organic veggies, and the unorthodox use of rain gutters as a vessel for planting seeds in the passive solar greenhouse.
And I could go on and on, but you should go on yourself! Farm tours are a delightful way to see first hand the efforts it takes to bring good food to our tables. And, it's educational!

Be sensible. It's going to be hot, so wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunscreen. Take along some water, too.
Wear sensible shoes. Flip flops are not very good to walk in fields or rocky paths.
Mind your manners, and keep kids under control.
Note the visiting hours - two to six. Don't go early, and don't stay late. These are tired, working folks who may have been up since dawn to do the farmers market, or tend to animals.
Take some cash, and a cooler, to take home some of the wholesome, home grown food you'll find available at most farms. You can't get much fresher than that!
Tickets are available at each of the farms, or at The Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, Stick Boy Bakery or Earth Fare in Boone, and a few other retail outlets. For questions, call 828 264-3061 or email at

Here's a favorite from THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, 2010, Globe Pequot Press, (c) contributed by Shiloh Avery of Tumbling Shoals Farm. It's perfect for this hot weather, requiring little heating up of the kitchen!


As consumers, we are admonished to get to know who grows our food. Shiloh says that works both ways. “Real people with real faces and lives make me the farmer care about what I’m feeding them!” she writes in a monthly newsletter.

2 tablespoons butter

6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

3 cups sungold tomatoes, cut in half

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)

½ cup (packed) fresh basil, chopped

fettuccine pasta

Romano or Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Boil water for pasta. Add fettuccine when a rapid boil is reached. Cook and drain

2. Heat butter in a large pan. Sauté the garlic, being careful not to burn.

3. Add salt, pepper and halved tomatoes, allowing the tomatoes to “wilt” for a few minutes.

4. Add cream and cook gently, allowing the sauce to thicken.

5. When sauce is to your liking, add peeled shrimp directly to the simmering cream sauce. The shrimp will cook fast, so wait until the end to add them.

6. Add basil.

7. Mix with drained pasta, serve in bowls, and top with freshly grated Romano or Parmesan.

YIELD: 4 servings

Monday, July 11, 2011


So what happens when you take a Carolina girl as far north as you can go before you're out of the country, and as far east as the Atlantic allows?
You get comments like "Those look like crab pots." Or "We've got fish shacks like that." "Wonder how many up here have tasted Shrimp Burgers?"
We were in the Land of the Lobster Roll, traveling the coast of Maine, where a daily intake of lobster is required - not a hard regimen to follow at all. I can probably tell you where you can get the bestest and freshest, although with hundreds of lobster boats around, and floats marking lobster pots dotting the bays like flakes in one of those shake-up snow globes, fresh lobster is not an issue.
And why would I leave our Carolina beaches? Every summer when the temperatures soar, the heat really gets on my nerves, quite literally, since I have lived with MS now for over 30 years. So I was looking to escape the heat for a while. I just loved the cooler temperatures, and even the fog.
But I couldn't help but make comparisons to our NC coast.

So-named because Lobster Rolls use only the claw meat, not the succulent tail, a real win-win (except for the lobster!) in that the tail meat can be used in fancied-up dishes and the claw meat doesn't go to waste. It's usually just moistened with a bit of mayonnaise, and sometimes a tiny amount of celery and onion are added.
The roll itself is important. It's like a hot dog bun that's sliced vertically, rather than horizontally. It's usually toasted, the best with butter. And the best are also, not surprisingly, homemade.
They're served in a one-ended cardboard slide, usually with chips, and go down fine with one of Maine's many local micro brews.


A Crab Roll and a cold local brew in Camden, ME

Another version, the Crab Roll, is made from Joshua crab, a big, fat old crab found in colder waters. We found that crabmeat not as flavorful as our luscious Carolina blue crabs.

Thurston's Lobster Pound near Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island, ME

Most of the eateries serving mainly lobster are called "lobster pounds," like the entrapments used to house the many lobsters when the boats bring them in. Most are very casual places, many times a drive-in, with picnic tables available where you can watch the ten to twenty foot tides come in and out, and not have to worry about the inevitable mess that comes from eating whole lobsters!

The boilers for Trenton Lobster Pound on the causeway to Mount Desert Island
Most use a wood-fired outdoor stove to boil water in huge cauldrons in which they place the lobsters encased in a mesh sack. The one above is at the Trenton Lobster Pound, just before you drive over to the Acadia National Park, one of the most gorgeous places on earth. We took lobster rolls from here, along with a bottle of chilled Prosecco, to the top of Cadillace Mountain on Mount Desert Island, where we had a 360-degree view of the sunset. Spectacular!


A Shrimp Burger from Big Oak Drive-In, Salter Path. Note the sandy beach.

I gotta gimme a shrimp burger whenever I hit The Beach here in North Carolina.
When I'm headed to or from Morehead City, I stop at El’s, on HWY 70 between the railroad crossing and the hospital. El’s has been an institution in Morehead City since 1959, and it’s like driving into yesteryear. I love pulling into the parking lot, and vie for a shady spot under the spread of the live oak trees. It’s not long before one of the waitresses rushes out to the car, and asks through the window, “What’ll you have, shug?” Their shrimp burgers are always right on the mark with freshly fried shrimp, coleslaw that’s made daily, and ketchup.

Down in Salter Path, drive up to the Big Oak Drive-In. Coastal Living named the Big Oak as one of their top Seafood Dives a few years ago, and it's one of ours, too. Park, go place your order, then chat with others in line while you wait for them to call your name at the pick-up window. Then drive back up the island just a half mile to the beach public access and parking lot, and take your shrimp burger and big iced tea up the boardwalk and perch on the deck overlooking the beach. Can’t beat the view nor the burger.
Kill Devil Grill & Diner serves a fantastic shrimpburger, too, as well as a daily fish sandwich. Along the same lines as a shrimp burger are the fish or shrimp tacos served at The Bad Bean Taqueria way up in Timbuck II shopping center in Corolla.
The Wilmington area must have great shrimp or fish burgers, but I haven't been in a while. Why don't you send me some recommendations?
Although I absolutely love shrimp burgers, one of my very favorite sandwiches from the sea is a Buster's Hideout, a pita pocket stuffed with a fried soft shell crab, lettuce and tomato that's served at The Spouter Inn in Beaufort.

Crab pots waiting out the winter at Wanchese, NC

Lobster pots waiting for their turn near Bass Harbor, ME

Lobster pots are a bit bigger than our crab pots, but are similar in design. There's a place for bait to lure 'em in. A one-way funnel to get in. Distinctive floats that denote who the pot belongs to.
The lobster men and women haul in the pots in a very similar way, looping the line around a mechanical pulley, sorting the haul into baskets according to size, and baiting with fish. Lobsters have larger pinchers, but, they get wrestled into rubber bands. Crabs fling their pinchers about, all too eager to grab a finger.

At Round Pond near the Pemaquid Lighthouse, a young guy slung his jacket and lunch bag over his shoulder as he walked up the gangway from the docked lobster boat he'd been on since 4 a.m. "Got a good haul today?" we asked. "Pretty good," he replied, then laughed with us and answered a bunch of questions.
"What about soft shell lobsters? Are they any good?" We were curious because they were listed on the menus at a much cheaper price.
"My favorite." The meat is sweeter, he said. Juicer. "Just know they aren't as full," he said.
What he didn't say was that they would be full of water. And taste salty. And succulent and sweet. We were glad we were sitting outside on the balcony of our hotel room eating, where we could break each section of the lobster out over the ground, because the water literally gushed out of the shells.
Same concept as our soft shell crabs, but way different, too. The sea beast breaks free of its old shell, then retreats and hides while growing the new one. Those soft shell lobsters reminded me of the new but getting hard "paper shells" I've had on the Outer Banks.

I was so honored to find the SOFT SHELL BLT in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK on the menu down at O'Neal's Seafood Market in Wanchese, in their new facility which now included a cafe´.
This is a fantastic sandwich, one of my very favorites.

SOFT SHELL BLT (c) from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK: Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2008.
This is a delightful play on the classic Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. Pancetta is an Italian bacon made from the belly of the pig, salt-cured but not smoked.
You choose whether you grill, fry or saute the soft shells. A gas grill is the easiest and less messy for cleanup. Also choose either a savory mayonnaise or a spicier version.
4 thin slices pancetta or thickly sliced bacon
4 jumbo soft shell crabs, cleaned
4 round, soft sandwich rolls
3/4 cup Creole Sauce (recipe follows)
4 to 8 romaine lettuce leaves or mesclun
4 large slices very ripe tomato
Place the pancetta in a skillet and turn heat medium high. Fry until almost crispy, then drain on paper towels.
Prepare soft shells by either grilling , frying or sautéing.
Meanwhile, place inner sides of sandwich rolls on the grill on under a broiler to toast lightly. Slather with your choice of sauce.
Layer the lettuce, tomato and warm pancetta on each roll. Top with cooked, hot crab, add another dollop of sauce. Serve immediately.


With just a bit of a kick, this sauce adds a sassy finishing touch to crabs, shrimp or grilled fish, and it couldn’t be easier to make.

½ cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons drained capers, chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped chives

2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish

1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

¼ teaspoon salt

several grinds black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small serving bowl. Taste for seasonings and adjust.