Monday, February 28, 2011

Cornbread – Mimi vs. Granddaddy

My Mimi told me something quite hysterically funny and dramatically morbid a few years ago…”If I die before your grandfather, he will have to eat something. I’ve taught him how to make cornbread. That should sustain him in between the three months I die and he remarries.”

Tears immediately streamed down my face at the humor and sadness that thought evoked. That is, however, a bit of my family’s humor in a nutshell… delightful and somewhat macabre running hand in hand. What has happened though is a rivalry between Mimi and Granddaddy as to who makes the better batch of cornbread. They both use the exact same ingredients, same iron skillet, and same kitchen and oven for baking, but there are slight differences I would like to address: first the title.

Since Granddaddy makes it himself, it is dubbed “Granddaddy’s World Famous Cornbread.”  Mimi’s boasts simply as “Mimi’s Cornbread,”  which I guess is the passive aggressive way of saying hers is best. Since everything she makes is wonderful, permitting Granddaddy to title his dish as such is totally apropos. Plus, that is Granddaddy’s personality – everything he or his children do, but especially anything his grandchildren take on, mind you, is the best, exceptional, or “world famous.” The feeling is completely mutual and reciprocating. I’m proud of my grandparents and there’s never been a doubt they are of me or the rest of the brood. I think their only flaw is that they gave me deep roots and short wings, considering I live two doors down. The cycle continues. I digress.

Back to the task at hand of denoting the difference between the cornbreads - I had to have a joint session discussion with them to decipher the real difference between their versions of this Southern staple. They both use a two to one ratio of cornmeal and self rising flour, but Granddaddy’s is slightly more quantity than Mimi’s. Granddaddy also uses an additional pinch of salt that Mimi doesn’t use. Finally, baking soda amounts differ between the two recipes.  Wham! Bam! Hot Dog! I got it!

It hit me like a bolt of lightning – baking is pure chemistry. The slightest change in the chemistry, the very makeup, can produce a different product. The catalysts for change here are salt and baking soda. Amazing, simply amazing, how the slightest difference, addition, or subtraction of the simplest ingredient can altar an entire result. I barely even passed chemistry in high school and mired my way through it at Auburn, but plant or culinary chemistry I totally understand. If only my professor would have taught us in a kitchen, I would have aced that course!

“His batter is thicker than my batter.” Mimi denotes. “I use a little more buttermilk than he.” Mimi doesn’t measure, mind you. Also, there is another difference that is more  psychological than chemical… because Mimi said “it was better to bake the cornbread at 400 for about twenty minutes,” Granddaddy said he “would bake his at 390 for exactly 28 minutes.” The result of a baked skillet full of cornbread is the same. Granddaddy’s HAD to be different in order to win the title of “Granddaddy’s World Famous Cornbread.”

Granddaddy’s cornbread is fluffier and milder in taste. Mimi’s is slightly lighter, and the flavor of the buttermilk is more palpable on the palette. Salt and soda would make that difference for sure!  With buttermilk in the equation, our kitchens are just a wallpapered chemistry lab! Since self rising cornmeal is so, self rising, because it contains salt and soda, the additional salt and soda from Granddaddy’s pinch makes a billowing pan of cornbread. Mimi, in her infinite culinary wisdom, knew this fact and left out the additional salt and soda. Honestly, I think this was an act of her humble love language, for Granddaddy’s is noticeably fluffier and makes a larger batch, which, is something he would want to have bragging rights on – “Granddaddy’s World Famous Fluffy and Billowing Cornbread.” Mimi just makes her pan of cornbread, watches us devour it, and hides her contentment in her heart; but that wink from her, as we swath a pat of butter over a “butterfly” piece of hot cornbread, gives me reassurance that she knows her cornbread is divine. Not necessarily better than his, but slightly different… all a matter of taste.

So here they are - the two recipes. Bake at your own risk my friends, for chemistry is at hand. I know that it is chemistry working its brand of magic, ya’ll, but I would rather believe in the mystery of food, the divinity of mixing ingredients, and the simple joy of feeding one’s friends and family. From this Farmer’s Mimi and Granddaddy’s kitchen to yours, enjoy yourself some cornbread!

Mimi’s Cornbread

1 cup of white self rising cornmeal (Martha White or White Lily… we are in Dixie after all.)
½ cup of self rising flour (Martha or Lily)
1 egg
2/3 cup of buttermilk plus a bit more to thin the batter if need be.
1 tablespoon of oil plus oil for the pan…another tablespoon
Mix above ingredients into a batter and bake in a hot iron skillet at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve hot with butter!

Granddaddy’s World Famous Cornbread

1 ½ cups of white self rising corn meal
¾ cup of self rising flour
1 egg
2/3 cup of buttermilk
1 tablespoon of oil
Pinch of salt
Pinch of baking soda
Mix above ingredients into a batter and bake in a hot iron skillet at 390 degrees for 28 minutes. Serve hot with butter!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Time to Plant and A Time for a Book Tour!

There are those projects in life that fill one’s soul to the brim with anticipation, joy, excitement, and that feeling of “is this really happening?”  Ask any of my childhood friends, my college roommates, my family or anyone who has ever met me and they will all testify that this Farmer boy has been talking about writing a book since he learned to write. It is with the joy of utmost joys that I am thrilled to announce the publishing of my first book, A Time to Plant, Luxurious Garden Living, published by Gibbs Smith Publishing, and due out this September! 

Here is where ya’ll come into play – I need to schedule appearances and book signings all across this great land… will you help me by sending me contacts you know at great stores, museums,  garden clubs, ladies groups, etc etc etc that would be interested in hosting a book signing for their favorite Farmer? The book tour will commence this September proper and I am so excited!

With the release set for September, this Farmer has commenced booking a few garden club lectures, book signings, and other festivities across the South. Of course, retail outlets and book stores will carry the book as well, but it is you, my friends and family, that will make the book successful. A grass roots campaign will launch my book tour into the success I dream it to be and I cannot wait to see and meet many of you out on the road this fall, in between Auburn and SEC football games of course.

Email me your ideas and contacts through my website as you think of them and my PR team will get busy booking. 

From this Farmer’s well spring of delight, I hope each of you will pick up a copy of A Time to Plant this coming September, this fall, or this Holiday season for sure! Preorders can be taken now through as well as very soon. See ya’ll on the book tour!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Nashville Antiques and Garden Show

The 2011 Nashville Antiques and Garden Show lived up to its reputation as a perennial hit, and this Farmer was honored to be a part of the event. Great designers, authors, antique dealers and landscape architects filled the Downtown Convention Center with booths chocked with treasures, displays of fabulous flora, and educated the masses on the art of living well. With the likes of Charlotte Moss, Alexa Hampton, Veranda’s, Carolyn Engerfield, Albert Hadley, Bobby McAlpine, Ben Page and Gavin Duke, Sarah Champier, Cathy Whitlock, and Julia Reed, this show was an all-star hit, and this Farmer felt enlightened by their knowledge, talent, and presence. Of course, with the generosity of Beckett Antiques, my booth was furnished with a few of Italy and France’s finest pieces.  

As for my part proper in the show, I procured a ten foot by ten foot booth to display my floral, landscape, and interiors panache with a mélange of flowers, antiques, and photos from gardens I’ve designed. With some fanfare and much excitement, I was also able to promote for the first time my upcoming book, A Time to Plant, due out this September! Gibbs Smith Publishing is publishing the book and I could not be more thrilled!  A whole post on my book is coming soon!

For my little space, I bedecked all I could with the color theme of my Antiques and Garden Show song – coral, salmon, and pink! Grapefruit, tangerines, and navel oranges filled a fantastic planter from Amsterdam. The inside color of the fruit’s flesh is truly remarkable, thus slicing the fruit gave texture and exposure to the sumptuous color hiding beneath the rind. “Delight” amaryllis, “bronze” snapdragons, quince, forsythia, lilies, antique and hot pink hydrangeas, and greenery from sassanquas and magnolia poured, spilt, and sprang forth from containers and planters, thus making my booth a blooming homage to the coming spring. “Crushed Orange” having been named the hot color by many designers and trendsetters, many folks asked if that was my inspiration for the booth. “I simply love orange!” I would answer… “Salmon, coral, peach, and apricot to be exact!” Being en vogue and a la mode was just, as we say down here, “a blind pig finding an acorn" or," lucky” for those needing a Southern translation.

Visitors from most all the Southern states perused the show, attended lectures, and bought antiques to feather their nests. Nashville itself is an amazing Southern city, and this Farmer was wined and dined by locals at the best restaurants and even a cocktail party was given in my honor by dear friends. The party may have been in honor of yours truly, but I was honestly more humbled by the graciousness and generosity of these fine Nashville natives. Many, many thanks my friends!

So after nearly a week of toasting, antiquing, learning, and experiencing all that the Nashville Antiques and Garden Show had to offer, this Farmer had to head back to Kathleen, which leads me to the topic of most discussion during my tenure in Nashville. “Where is Kathleen?” was asked a million times at least, but the best answer I can give is that this bucolic hamlet of Houston County is a suburb of Wonderful Robins, Perry-dice, and Hawkinsville… it is my home as are those said towns. The common ground among said towns is Kathleen proper. I too share the common ground among those small Middle Georgia towns, and though it is always grand to see and visit afar, it always just as lovely to return home. From Nashville to Kathleen and everywhere in between, this Farmer hopes you find antiques, garden, and fun shows wherever you can! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lemon and Rosemary Roast Chicken

Some flavors just meld so well together they may be intermingled with a myriad of dishes. Lemon and rosemary are two of those flavors. 

Each of these two flavors can stand up to the other and thus create a cadence for our palates that is truly delightful. I crave rosemary in the winter since it is so abundant and evergreen here in the Deep South. Lemons and other citrus coming in from Florida meld so well with the piney taste of the herb that a winter combo of the two is totally apropos.   

As is our custom, or at least my family's attempted custom, we try to have Sunday Dinner together, which may be directly after church or that evening or even on Monday. But at least we start the week with a communal meal. Mimi is always “roasting a hen” as she says, and hers are always perfect. This is my take on Mimi’s, which includes my stand by lemon vinaigrette as the basting liquid. Besides, what is better than roast chicken on a Sunday afternoon?  

Served with some pecan and cranberry rice, spicy collards, and of course, my house wine - sweet tea, we had a marvelous meal to commence one wintry week. My Cranberry Citrus Conserve with this roasted chicken was just what we needed to fight off Old Man Winter as well. Master roasting a hen with seasonal ingredients and you’ve got a meal waiting in the wings (pun intended) any time of the year. From this Farmer’s kitchen and Sunday table to yours, enjoy! 

Lemon and Rosemary Roast Chicken
  • 1 roasting hen (5-6 pounder is typical)
  • 3 lemons sliced
  • 3 small red onions or Vidalias, quartered
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Season salt
  • Olive oil
  • Butter to coat skin
  • 6 sprigs of rosemary

Lemon Vinaigrette (basting or marinade version) 
  • Juice of two lemons
  • Half a teaspoon of salt and half teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • Tablespoon of minced garlic
  • Tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • Half a cup of olive oil
Wisk all these ingredients together and season further to taste.  

Wash and dry hen. Place the bird breast side up on a bed of rosemary sprigs in an oval Dutch oven or roasting pan that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Pour lemon vinaigrette over the hen and into cavity as well. Oval Dutch ovens work well for birds. 

Stuff cavity as well as piling the base of the hen with onions, chopped celery, garlic and sliced lemons.  

Rub butter all over the bird’s skin. Season well with salt and pepper… it always takes more than you think… don’t forget to season the inside…  I use about a tablespoon of each. 

Arrange any remaining rosemary springs around, in, and on top of the bird and cover with Dutch oven lid, foil if using a roasting pan, or roaster lid. 

As for roasting… for a 5-6 pound bird, I roast on 425 for about an hour and twenty minutes and the last 10 minutes, uncovered, on 450 to brown the skin. Follow the time allotment for the poundage of the bird though… until juices run clear when a knife is inserted between the thigh and leg. Allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes. Slice dark and white meat pieces for those who prefer either…save leftover for chicken salad or sandwiches! Enjoy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Farmer’s Lasagna… Mangia, Mangia, Ya’ll

Though lasagna isn’t a Southern dish, per say, it does meet much of our cuisine’s criteria. It is hearty, rich in tradition, full of garden flavors, seasoned with love and stocked with our best local butchery. It is a comfort food, can feed a whole mess of folks, and each Mama has her own version, whether she has a honey tongued drawl or an Italian flare!

When I get a hankering for lasagna, I just have to have it! I like simple ingredients, simple tastes, and thus an elegant combo of said simple elements ensue. Lasagna is one of those dishes that encompasses all this. Pasta, cheese, vegetables, meat… how does that get any better? Well, add some of this or that and you’ve improved a classic.

For the meat, try a trio for texture and flavor. Ground pork or sausage, ground chicken, and ground beef give different tastes and form a great base. Each distinct meat lends a layer akin to the lasagna itself. Speaking of layers, lots of veggies in this Farmer’s lasagna make this a variable cornucopia of garden goodies. Tomatoes, onion and garlic of course, but some celery, mushrooms, zucchini and cauliflower add depth. Cheese – ahhh! Glorious cheese! Ricotta, parm, cottage all meld together to form that layer of deliciousness between the noodles and meat. As for the sauce, since I’ve chopped six kinds of vegetables, browned three meats, and boiled a box of noodles, I take my favorite jar and pour!

This New Year, one of my resolutions is to convert my freezer from the eternal death sentence for food, to preservation and preparation central, storing and keeping meals and ingredients for later on and not wasting and forgetting about food. My lasagna recipe makes two full pans, so it’s perfect to feed the family with one and freeze another for later on. I am in total awe of those who can plan and prepare meals in advance, and all these folks have one thing in common – they freeze things! So this is my attempt!

Here’s my recipe… nothing completely unique but it is, as Granddaddy say, “Pretty musty…  must he have some more!”

The Farmer’s Lasagna 
  • 2 medium Vidalia or red onions
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 6 medium tomatoes cored and chopped or 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • A heaping ¾ to a cup of sliced mushrooms… I use a mix or baby portabellas
  • 3 medium zucchini chopped
  • A small head of cauliflower
  • A scant pound of ground pork or sausage, beef, and chicken respectively
  • 1 jar to a jar and a half of your favorite jarred red sauce… depends on how much sauce you prefer
  • 2 tablespoons of butter or Smart Balance
  • Olive oil for browning veggies and pasta water
  • 1 box of lasagna noodles
  • 2 large cartons of ricotta cheese
  • 1 large carton of cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan
  • Shredded mozzarella or favorite cheese blend for topping
  • Salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste

Boil noodles as directed on the box…  add some olive oil and salt to the water to flavor and keep noodles from sticking. Drain and toss in olive oil. Keep covered with a warm cloth until “construction” of lasagna proper.

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven or pot. Brown onions and three meats, draining any excess grease… add garlic and seasonings when meat has browned and stir well.

Add chopped cauliflower, zucchini, and celery and mix well with meat and spices. Once they start to become tender, add tomatoes and remember to season with each step and to taste and try!

Continue to stir and cook vegetables until tender but not mushy. Add the sliced mushrooms and jarred sauce and bring to a simmer or at least warm throughout.

The pot is pretty full and needs to be stirred well. Reduce or remove from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, mix ricotta, cottage cheese, and parmesan thouroughly.

To assemble the lasagna, grease with olive oil or spray oil two large casserole dishes. I use the trusty French White corning ware…Mama, Mimi, Mary… we’ve all used it forever and its indestrubable!

Line the bottom with about 4 lasagna noodles. Cover with a layer of sauce and then a layer of cheese mixture. Repeat process… some like cheese first and then sauce layer or vice versa… take you pick!

Cover with shredded cheese mixture and bake at 350 until cheese is melted and beginning to brown…  about 20-30 minutes. Serve with a salad and good bread… Mangia, mangia ya’ll!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Nod to Yesteryear, a Toast to the Future

I have three first cousins engaged. Our year has commenced with showers, parties, and soirees of all sorts to wish the best for our new brides and grooms to be. As the cousin, groomsman, and /or florist to these events, I have been thrilled to also open my home for two of the three happy couples: once for a “New Year’s Day Party” and another for a “Meet and Greet” for folks to meet the bride and groom.

Traditional New Year’s fare was served for said day’s party, and we toasted the happy couple “best wishes” over collard greens, ham biscuits, black eyed peas, ambrosia, and tassies galore. For the “meet and greet,”  I turned to my Mimi’s generation for menu inspiration – a nod to yesteryear to toast to the future.

Here in the Deep South, many showers have been thrown with the same menu for generations. For a new generation who appreciates the ones before, I garnered the spirit of petit fours, ambrosia, tea sandwiches, and spiced nuts to present my guests, my grandmother’s friends and my friends alike, with a spread harkening the classicism of the Old South’s food and flare with a turn towards today’s style… a few traditions with a twist!
Cheese straws… staples of any Southern get together. Now, I love cheese straws, and each town and hamlet across Dixie has their “cheese straw lady” who makes the best. I can name a handful of ladies from Hawkinsville to Newnan and back who can pipe a mean cheese straw, yet for twist on the traditional standby, my friend, Michele Allen, created Parmesan Crisps… light and airy, deep with flavor and perfectly elegant and apropos with my citrus hued theme. Easy to make and beautifully presented, I think these Parmesan Crisps may be the modern version of yesterday’s cheese straw.

Petit Fours… instead of a cake, petit fours make for the perfect, bite sized snack at a shower. Once again, I enlisted the help of Michelle Allen for her famous petit fours. Michelle and her mama, Mrs. Charlene Heidt, make THE BEST petit fours! Gorgeous icing in any color, monogram, or design can be yours for any party! I use them for showers, parties, gifts, and personal dessert splurges any chance I can! The slightest touch of almond makes these succulent and tasty. I’ve told Michelle and Mrs. Charlene that I would gladly dive into a pool of petit fours and eat my way out! The cake itself is delicious and the icing is just right, and I don’t really like icing! I’m more of a cake purist when it comes to frosting and icing, but these little cubed delicacies are a mainstay at this Farmer’s events.

Tea Sandwiches… now these have been stacked on Southern sideboards for centuries! Rooted in England’s tea time lore, the Deep South has claimed the Tea Sandwich as one of its own. Antebellum as porches and columns, tea sandwiches, in various forms, have been the snack of choice for showers and ladies luncheons throughout the years. Another friend of mine, Sara Jo, has the knack for taking a tradition and twisting it for today. Her Tea Sandwiches are prime examples. Creamy pimento cheese on hearty rye, cucumbers and cream cheese on sourdough rounds, chicken salad with black sesame crusted wheat, and slightly sweet honey glazed turkey with cranberry bread are gentle reminders of yesteryear but with a fun take for the present. Besides looking good, these little wonders taste good, and, since we eat with our eyes first, that’s not such a bad duo!

Ambrosia…  the food of the gods! If the residents of Mount Olympus feasted on ambrosia, then I truly believe they were well fed. With a citrus theme for my Florida cousin’s shower, ambrosia was totally appropriate.  I served it too at my cousin’s New Year’s shower to ring in the New Year with the golden symbolism of health and good fortune for which the fruit stands. Good fruit makes good ambrosia. Sweet “Honeybelle” oranges, pineapple chunks, and lightly sweetened coconut is all you need. A garnish of pomegranate seeds and mint leaves make this simple, highly elegant, and very healthy dish ready for serving. Michelle does a great job with hers and mine is a similar take – no marshmallows, artificial sweeteners, or iridescently red cherries packed in syrup… just good fruit for a divine dessert. Try blood oranges for a further twist or even tangerines, tangelos, mandarin and Satsuma oranges. No need to head to Olympus when fabulous citrus is in season and at hand!

Last but not least, a can of party nuts on a cut glass tray was not present at this Farmer’s party. Pecan and Gorgonzola Sandwiches were the nut du jour, another dish from Michelle’s repertoire.  Tangy gorgonzola sandwiched between buttery pecans – deelish! With this year’s pecan crop falling all around us, using these quintessential Southern foodstuffs are quite en vogue, en style, and a la mode from the start to the finish of the meal. Pecan and Gorgonzola sandwiches are a modern update to the ol’ can-o-nuts. Try them at your next gathering!


One can only infer that I don’t hesitate to call in my sources when entertaining, especially from the likes of Michelle and Sara Jo. They too know the importance of hyper-seasonal eating, Southern classics, and charm of older recipes with a twist for today! From this Farmer’s wedding shower filled home to yours, I hope this year boasts as a time to interweave yesteryear into this New Year!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Citrus and Cranberry Conserve

With Georgia’s proximity to Florida’s citrus groves, we Southerners are so fortunate to taste the first fruits of our neighbor state’s delectable cash crop. Arteries of interstate commerce such as I-75 and I-95 zoom into the Peach State from the Sunshine State and bequeath our roadside stands and markets with the best citrus all through the season. The Holidays and into winter for my part of Dixie are marked by the freshest of oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines coming through this neck of the woods to other destinations further north. A friend of mine down in Indian River said once, “You Georgians get the best of our famous produce because we ship it out and ya’ll get it first!” On behalf of my fellow Georgians, we gladly accept!

Ambrosia, salads, juice… our citrus list goes on and on but a Farmer’s favorite is to combine the sweet and tangy flavors of oranges and kumquats with the tartness of cranberries for a delicacy worthy of placement on any table. Delicious with pork, chicken, fish, and on sandwiches, my Citrus and Cranberry Conserve will surely wake up any dish with a fresh zing of flavors, color, and luscious texture.

Somewhere between cranberry sauce and orange marmalade, this garnet hued delight is delicious on biscuits and yeast rolls as well. Try paring it with salty country ham on a biscuit and revel in the riot of complementary flavors this combo produces. Depending on your sweet tooth and the sweetness of the citrus, you can prepare this dish as sweet as you like –  personally, I like to keep it somewhat tart, tasting the essence of the fruits and not being overwhelmed with sugary sweetness. A bit of vanilla tones down the tartness and plays an underlying role throughout the palate. Bits of orange rind and kumquat add some physicality to the conserve’s consistent texture as well.

If only for the colors alone, this is worth the slightest effort it takes to prepare, for the glorious combo of reds and oranges are simply so – glory filled shades of jewel tones! Truly easy to prepare and delightful to share with friends and family, this conserve, I hope, becomes a staple in your home as it is in mine all winter long. From this Farmer’s favorite I-75 fruit stand and kitchen, enjoy this complementing conserve with any meal.

Cranberry Citrus Conserve
  • 3 blood oranges segmented 
  • 1 teaspoon of said orange zest
  • 6 whole kumquats
  • 4 tangerines or tangelos segmented
  • 1 teaspoon of tangerine zest
  • 2 bags of whole cranberries, about 8 cups
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • Tablespoon of good vanilla
In a lidded pot, add the segmented citrus and kumquats to cranberries and begin to cook on a medium low heat, stirring as to not scorch the fruit.

Add sugar and vanilla once fruit is warm and stir sugar into fruit until dissolved. Have a cup of water on hand if it needs to be thinned, but only if a thinner consistency is desired. If too tart, add more sugar, Karo syrup (clear), or orange marmalade to sweeten.

Cook down into “conserve”  state…somewhere between warm jelly and cranberry sauce. Keep stirring and make sure mixture doesn’t stick… serve warm, room temperature, chilled, or freeze for later. Also jars well as a gift. Enjoy!
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