WE have to do better.

I don’t remember growing up in a household that said or did prejudiced things, not by my parents or any relatives. I recall mom telling me once that when they were trying to get the loan for our house, that they were told if we were black that we could get some help. That just made her mad, but I don’t think it was because a black family would get some help, but that the loan officer actually told them that, but didn’t have any help he could get them. It would be their first home and they had three boys and one on the way. Times were good, but times were hard for a young family and all they could tell her was that we needed to be a different kind of bad off.

If there were other things, I don’t remember them. Maybe that’s good and maybe not. I don’t want to remember my parents for their shortcomings, but I don’t want to be predetermined to fall into the same. I do remember distinctly some things that a neighbor would say. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but he would say it, not I. I was too young to speak back to Charlie. Yes, the man that I revered so much for teaching me how to put out a garden, gave me my first summer job mowing his yard, took me hunting even though we both hated it, and the man who’s hospital room I spent many hours in after work, right up to the night he passed away.

I could say he was a product of his time, but so were my granddaddies. I don’t remember them using the N word and they grew up in the basically the same area and same time. I could say he just didn’t know any better, but Mary would scold him and his daughter would exclaim “Daddy!” when he would say something racist. It wasn’t often, but it was enough for me to remember. I don’t want to remember him that way. Mostly, like most people, I remember the good stuff and try not to let the bad stuff outweigh it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I guess the good is that I remember it and that I remember not liking what he said. He did help mold me into the person I am today, so I think he did some good.

There was a black family that moved into the town next to us. I remember them because I don’t remember any other black families living near us. They had a daughter that was in my elementary class. I remember her as being pretty and her hair smelled good. She sat in-front of me for a while. I don’t remember her name, but then I don’t remember lots of the people I went to school with. I have probably blocked lots of them out, but that’s for another Tale. On Halloween that year we went past their house. I didn’t know where she lived until then, but I was excited to see her come to the door. I wondered why she wasn’t out trick-or-treating. I’ve not thought about it until now, as I write this, but I am sure her family didn’t feel safe taking her door to door in a town where they were the only black family. I don’t know where she is today. I think they only lived there for a short while. We were probably in the 3rd or 4th grade.

There was an uproar in our church not long after that too. A black family began attending each Sunday. One of the deacons got so upset that he refused to return to the church as long as they were there. Mom and dad thought he was being an ass, and the church split not too long after that. His wife and her sister still attended and I remember feeling bad for them. They were both sweet ladies.

At my grandmaw Barton’s church though, there were some black folks that held positions in the church. Sister Mary was there every Sunday. We didn’t go with her often, but when I spent a few weeks with grandmaw I went to church with her and Uncle Lester. I thought it was funny that she called grandmaw “Sister Hazel”, but not because it sounded like they were sisters, but no one else but folks at her church called her Hazel. It was the only place I was with her that she wasn’t just mom or grandmaw.

On one of our trips to see grandmaw and granddaddy Edge in the late 1970s, we stopped at a rest area north of Richmond, VA. While we were there, a young black girl, about 20, asked if we could give her a ride. She said we looked safe since there were 4 kids in the car. She was holding her high heels in her hand and was wearing a red dress. She told mom and dad that she had been on a date and the guy she was with dumped her out there and she had no way home, and she had been there all night. She lived in Richmond, just a few miles away. Normally we would take a bypass around the city, but we agreed to take her home. She got in the back seat with us four boys. I remember she was funny. She was hungry too and asked if we had any food. She may have approached my parents originally just asking for some money for food, that she had been there all night. She may not have asked us for a ride, and mom and dad were known for helping a stranger. It just so happened that mom had packed some sandwiches, chips, and drinks because we wouldn’t get to grandmaw and granddaddy’s until after lunch. Mom told her to get herself a sandwich out of the cooler in the back. I can still see the crumbs of the white bread on her chin. She was so hungry that she tore into that sandwich quickly. I don’t think we took her all the way home. I seem to remember her having us drop her off. I’m not sure she wanted us to take her into her neighborhood. I don’t know if she didn’t her family to know she had strangers bring her home, or did she worry about a station wagon of white people driving through where she lived.

My early years obviously made an impact on who I am today. I would like to think that I see all equally and treat all equally. But, I know that my world was not that small. Society at large helped form me too. This pas week we took a few days to take a vacation. We booked a place at Myrtle Beach and the day before we headed out, there was a gang shooting there. This was the 3rd in two weeks. I just assumed that the gang members were black. I don’t remember reading that, but that was where my mind first went. That’s all I’ve been told by the news and politicians. I am embarrassed that my first thought was that the gang members were all black. I know that’s not always the truth, but I’ve been conditioned to believe that.

As a gay man, it infuriates me when someone assumes something about me just based on my being gay. I have fought against that. Written my legislators, spoken at city counsel meetings, spoken at and organized rallies for our rights. So why in the world would I let myself do that so someone else. It infuriates me that I have. I recognize it and I apologize for it. I don’t have anyone in particular that I can apologize to. Maybe every black man that I saw walking down Ocean Blvd last week? I remember thinking most of the time though that I just wanted to jump out and say I am sorry for what is happening in our country, shake their hands, give them a hug. Not thinking though that I could have contributed to any troubles they face any given day. I recognize that now. I will do better now. I will do more now.

I never intended to use this blog for anything other than telling Tales of growing up in Appalachia, posting some recipes, and making connections with others. But, this is a Tale of growing up in Appalachia. I encourage you to look inward. I encourage you to use any platform you have to speak up for others, especially when others are speaking down.

This past week a black man by the name of George Floyd was killed by police officers. It was disgusting. It was wrong. We have to do better.

I also want to take this moment to celebrate again the first Black Female Cookbook Author. Her name was Malinda Russell. Here is a link to her cookbook.

Coffee Moonshine brownies

Brownies have been a favorite treat in our house. My mother-in-law gave me her recipe for that she had been baking for more than 50 years. It is simple and good. But, when challenged to up my brownie game, I took that simple recipe and amped it up a bit. Coffee has always been a favorite to combine with chocolate, and spirits used in baking has been a tradition of Appalachians for centuries. And it doesn’t get much more Appalachian heritage than moonshine. So, using a Coffee Moonshine from Old Forge Distillery to develop a new brownie recipe was just meant to be!

These brownies are rich, dense, and fudgy! We don’t like cake brownies in our house, but we do like chocolate cake. But, those are two different things. The Coffee Moonshine adds a depth of flavor that just takes the cocoa to the next level. These didn’t last long in our house. I would say these aren’t for anyone under 21 though, as you can still taste the moonshine, but with just a quarter cup in the whole batch, the sugar and chocolate would affect you more than the moonshine.

Coffee Moonshine Brownies

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup white granulated sugar

1 cup self-rising flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup regular cocoa

1 50ml (1/4 cup) mini jar Old Forge Distillery Moonshine

1 stick butter melted

2 large eggs

Directions:

Sift together sugar, flour, salt, and cocoa. Stir in coffee moonshine, melted butter, and eggs. Prepare an 8×8 inch pan with cooking spray or line with parchment paper. Mix well and spread into pan. Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes. 

Giving back

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you hopefully have noticed that I try to support my community when I can. My parents raised me and my brothers that way. Dad was a volunteer fireman for more than 50 years. Mom was in their auxiliary and raised money for the American Cancer Society. And, they both did quite a bit for their church, even leading the youth groups for many years.

Back at Christmas one of our local animal rescue groups, Noah’s Arc Animal Rescue, put together an online auction for baked goods. I offered 2 cakes and together they raised $675! I was blown away to say the least. I couldn’t afford to make a donation a donation that large, so being able to give my time was where I put my focus.

Last week they were holding their largest fundraising event of the year. I offered what I could, but decided to up the ante. I modified my World Famous Carrot Cake (my world is kinda small, so being famous is pretty easy!) and added a little moonshine. I guess I’m kinda on a kick cooking with spirits. They put it in a silent auction, but I don’t know yet how much it raised. The Old Forge Distillery helped me out with it, providing me with a jar of their Oatmeal Cookie Moonshine to use in it, and, they donated a basket of great products for another item in the auction. See, when you tell someone you have an opportunity to give back, they want to give back too! It’s a win, win.

So, here is the recipe. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think. If you get by Old Forge Distillery in Pigeon Forge, TN, tell them Thank You! Small businesses need support right now and they are a great small business, tied to several other great small businesses. They didn’t pay me to say that, and you may know that I have been working with the family of businesses for 21 years now, so I could be a little biased. But, I think our philosophies on life align pretty well, so even if I didn’t work here, I would tell you that they are great supporters of our communities.

Moonshine Carrot Cake

Makes Three 8 inch layers or Two 9 or 10 inch layers. I used Old Mill Plain Flour, but you can use your favorite flour.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups white granulated sugar

4 large eggs

3/4 cups vegetable oil

3/4 cup whole buttermilk

1/4 cup Old Forge Distillery Oatmeal Cookie Moonshine

2 1/2 cups grated carrot

8 oz crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Spray and line your pans. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Mix the sugar and eggs until well combined. Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, and moonshine and combine well. Add in the dry mixture a little at a time until all is combined and then add the carrot, pineapple, coconut, and pecans. Mix until fully incorporated.

Separate equally into your prepared pans and bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven on the middle rack for 35-45 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean they are done. You will also see the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the pan a bit when they are done. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Run a knife gently around the edges of the pans and turn out the cake. Immediately remove the parchment liner from the bottom of the cake so it does not stick. If you wait until full cooled, it can be difficult to remove. Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

Moonshine Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

2 sticks butter, room temperature butter

2 8oz boxes of cream cheese, room temperature

2 tablespoons Old Forge Distillery Oatmeal Cookie Moonshine

4 – 5 cups powdered sugar

Garnish:

1/4 cup shredded coconut soaked in 2 tablespoons Old Forge Distillery Oatmeal Cookie Moonshine

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Cream butter and cream cheese. Add moonshine and whip until well combined. Add powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time until each is well combined. At 4 cups, frosting should be coming together. You want it the consistency of a peanut butter. Add more powdered sugar as needed.

To frost your cake, spread a generous amount between layers as you assemble. Crumb coat the sides and top and set the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up. Also chill the remaining frosting. Finish frosting and garnish the sides with pecans and top with the coconut. Get creative and use as many pecans and as much coconut as you like!

If you like it, it’s because I put a ring on it.

Well, here it is…. Valentine’s Day. Remember when we were kids in elementary school and we had to get Valentines for every kid in the class, even those you didn’t like? Then when we got older it got a little more serious and you could send a rose to someone you liked, or that was your secret crush, in high school. I think it was a fundraiser for the cheerleading squad or something. But then you get to a point that you celebrate being single on Valentine’s Day. I think it’s as much a right of passage as having a Valentine.

But then a day comes along that Valentine’s takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not a giddy, giggly meaning, but a bit of a serious one, a grown up one. A meaning that shows you glimpses of what you will be doing in a few weeks, a few years, and even a few decades. And more importantly, who you will be doing it with. You see places you will go, meals you will enjoy together, the house you are going to buy, the cars you will test drive, and the porch you are going to sit on and wave at the neighbors as they go by. You don’t see it as clearly as that, but you know it’s all there. That is when you know what the meaning of having a Valentine is. It’s way more than buying a card. It’s promising more than either of you could ever imagine.

As the saying goes… “You better put a ring on it!” But, if you are not quite that serious yet, maybe you would rather just put some rings on this.

Heart’s A Fire Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I got some moonshine cherries from Old Forge Distillery, which they call Pineapple Upside Down Cake because they’re soaking in pineapple moonshine, and I thought why not take a traditional southern cake and add a little heat to the sweet. You don’t have to use moonshine cherries if you’d rather not, you can just use regular maraschino cherries. I also used Old Mill Flour in it, as I do for most of my baking. It helps that I get an employee discount too!

Ingredients:

1/2 stick butter

2/3 cup light brown sugar

9 pineapple rings

Old Forge Distillery Moonshine cherries (or Maraschino cherries)

1 1/2 cup Old Mill Plain Flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

2/3 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

Directions:

Melt butter in a 10.25 inch cast iron skillet or 8×8 square pan. Sprinkle brown sugar in pan. Lay pineapple rings in desired pattern and place a cherry in center of each ring. 

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. 

Cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add buttermilk and mix well. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until well blended and smooth. 

Carefully pour batter, which will be thicker than most cake batters, over pineapples and cherries. 

Bake at 350* for 40-45 min or until done in center and edges brown. 

Remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes to begin to cool a bit. Place a platter over pan, invert it, and leave for a couple of minutes for juices to drip down. 

Hey dumplin’

The other day a friend asked me if chicken and dumplings could be made like a pot pie. I said, why not. I had made a few other pot pies so I thought about it for a couple of days and made it for dinner tonight.

The recipe is really just a breakdown of simple chicken and dumplings, but instead of dropping the dumplings in, they sit on top and make a thick and fluffy crust with just enough chicken and broth below. It makes a great one pot meal and serves 4-6 easily. It also takes less than an hour from start to finish, so a hot and filling meal can be on the table pretty quickly.

Chicken & Dumplin’s Pot Pie

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts, cubed

1 cup diced carrot

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 teaspoon garlic

Salt & pepper to taste

4 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup whole milk

2 teaspoons flour

Dumplings

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup shortening

3/4 cups whole milk

Extra flour to bring dough together and for rolling

Directions:

In a 12 inch cast iron skillet bring chicken, carrots, onion, garlic, broth, and salt & pepper to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 min. 

Preheat oven to 350*. 

While simmering, prepare dumpling dough. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in shortening until flour resembles coarse cornmeal. Make a well and pour in milk. Mix dough, adding any extra flour needed to bring dough together so that it pulls away from bowl. Turn out onto a well floured surface and roll out into a 12 inch diameter. 

Reserve 1/2 cup of simmering broth and set aside. Bring chicken back up to a boil. Blend the 2 tablespoons flour into the 1/2 cup milk and stir it into boiling chicken mixture, cooking for 1-2 minutes and then remove from heat. 

Carefully lift dough and place on top of chicken mixture. Cut crisscross lines in dough, making squares about 2 inches in size. Pour reserved broth all over dough. Place on a cookie sheet into oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. 

Serves 4-6. 

I retired from the game, but not the party.

My dad used to yell at the tv while he watched something that I had no interest in. If it made him that mad, why in the world would I want to watch it. That was my first introduction to football.

When I was big enough to play the game myself, it was more of a game of torture with my brothers and Little Richard, not the singer, but the kid next door we called Little Richard because his dad was Big Richard. Those were the Fogles we grew up next to. They still live next to our house, but now one of my brothers bought our house after mom and dad were gone. They were always good neighbors. Big Richard was a big guy that could pick us all up at one time if he had to. He was deaf, but would speak just a little bit if Peggy wasn’t with him to translate. He was a giant, but he was gentle. We still didn’t want to make him mad though. Anyway, I don’t think I played much, but at that point some of my baby teeth were gone and my permanent teeth were coming in. So with all those gaps in my mouth, when I got tackled I managed to only bite through my tongue instead of biting the end of it off. I guess that was lucky, but it didn’t feel like it, so I picked my self up, went back to our yard, and retired from the game.

As a teenager, we would go with mom and dad to a friends house to watch the Super Bowl. There was lots of food set up in the kitchen, so that’s where I spent the game. Again, there was lots of yelling in the living room. I didn’t get the appeal, but the food was good. So, I was all for a good Super Bowl party. Years later I would go see some friends near D.C. to watch the game, but mostly we just ate and talked and occasionally someone would check to see what the score was. There were some legit football fans there, but nobody was losing their minds when their team was behind.

We will invite some friends over this weekend to watch the game, make fun of the commercials, and yell at the half-time performer for whatever tragedy they’re putting on. I make a bunch of food and this year I think I’ll make some homemade Sloppy Joe’s, Bacon, Spinach, & Artichoke Dip, and Mick wants some chocolate fudge.

Bacon, Spinach, & Artichoke Dip

Ingredients:

1 12oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained

1 12oz bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

3-4 strips crispy bacon, chopped

8oz softened cream cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 1/4 grated or shredded parmesan cheese

1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

Press all of the water out of the spinach once it has thawed. 

Mix well the artichoke hearts, spinach, bacon, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic, and 1 cup of the parmesan cheese.

Spread into a 2-3 quart casserole dish and top with remaining parmesan, mozzarella, and cheddar cheeses.

Bake at 350 degrees, covered for 20. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more or until top is bubbly and beginning to brown.

Serve immediately with crackers, pita chips, tortilla chips, or toasted bread points.

Pennies, Dollars, & Gold Pot Pie

In the Appalachia’s there are lots of superstitions and traditions that many people still hold on to today. Who knows if people still believe in them, but it does keep us connected to our past and to one another.

Mary used to always have pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. Before I would even walk through their back door I could smell the sauerkraut. I love it to this day. She said that when they first got married they moved to Ohio for work and rented a couple of rooms above a nice old woman. The first New Year’s Day that they were there, she knocked on their door and gave them a pot of sauerkraut and pork roast, and a slice of cornbread. She told them that it would bring them wealth and good luck in the new year. Mary said they made it through that year and eventually back home to Virginia, so it worked and she made it ever since. I took that to heart and have made sure each year that I have something for wealth, health, and good luck in the new year. Lots of years I just made sure I had a bite of kraut at work or picked some up on my way home. When I started working for The Old Mill they offered Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s and I asked why. “For money of course!” was what I was told “And you need to eat some greens, kraut, and cornbread too!”. I already knew that the sauerkraut was for luck and the pork for moving forward and prospering. So from then on I added money to the list of things to look forward to in the new year. I recently read that for money in the new year it’s “peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold”. I have always gotten by, even with some years being leaner than others, but it has always worked!

Mary also had me walk through her front door on New Year’s Day and she would sweep out the house from back to front and down the front steps. She always told me how handsome I was, which was the only time I’d ever known her to not be completely honest, and it was important to have a handsome man cross the threshold on that first day. I’ve read that it should be a dark-haired man for good luck, but not a blonde or red-headed man or woman if they are the first to cross that day. They would bring bad luck. And, sweeping out the house was to get all the bad out and cast away.

In my very first blog post I told you about Maryanne. She was the neighbor who made lye soap, still had an outhouse, and told fortunes for money. The new year was a very busy time for her too. Everyone wanted to know what the new year was going to bring them.

Early this year I was working on a recipe for a contest, which I didn’t get into the qualifying rounds of, but I thought this could be perfect for my New Year’s Day dinner to bring me lots of luck, good health, and lots of wealth. I’ve modified it a bit and I think I’ve gotten everything in it that I need.

Pennies, Dollar’s, & Gold Pot Pie

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 45-50 minutes

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 

Pot Pie Filling:

2 strips bacon

3/4 – 1 pound pork loin cut into 1/2 inch cube pieces

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced gold potatoes

1 1/2 cups frozen corn or 1 15oz can drained

1 1/2 cups frozen black eyed peas

1 1/2 cups frozen chopped collard greens

2 cups water

1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh parsley

1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried chives or 1/2 teaspoon fresh chives

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup heavy cream

Cornbread Crust:

1 cup Yellow Self-Rising Cornmeal

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

2 tablespoons mayonaise

5 tablespoons browned butter; reserve 3 for cornbread batter and 2 tablespoons to drizzle on top

Directions:

  1. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, cook bacon strips on medium heat to slowly crisp bacon and render as much grease as possible. Remove bacon when crisp and set aside to crumble to return later to the recipe. 
  2. Cook pork loin cubes in bacon grease over medium high heat until it begins to brown. Sprinkle flour over pork loin and toss to brown flour slightly. 
  3. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, corn, black-eyed peas, and collard greens. 
  4. Add water, parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Stir gently. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to med. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and let liquid reduce. 
  5. Add heavy cream and return to a simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. 
  6. While vegetables begin to simmer; preheat oven to 425 degrees, and in a microwave safe glass measuring cup, brown the butter in the microwave, cooking on high for 3 minutes. 
  7. For the cornbread topping, combine cornmeal,  buttermilk, egg and mayonnaise. Mix well. 
  8. When butter has browned, add in 3 tablespoons of butter and mix well.
  9. When pork and vegetables are done, find and remove the 2 bay leaves, add in the crumbled bacon, and carefully pour cornbread batter on top and smooth to the edges of pan, being careful not to mix it into pot pie filling. Carefully pour remaining 2 tablespoons of browned butter on top, including the brown bits. This will add extra nutty flavor to the topping.
  10. Place skillet on a baking sheet, lined with parchment. and bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until top browns. Baking on a lined baking sheet will catch any filling that may bubble out.
May the New Year bring you all the best!

Here is why we eat what we do on New Year’s and why we don’t eat other things:

Pork – we eat because the pig is always rooting forward, finding what he needs. It is important to move forward in the new year.

Chicken – we don’t eat because they are always scratching backwards, kicking their good luck into their past.

Black-eyed Peas – we eat, but there are several stories as to why. One is that it was the only thing left on many southern plantations during the civil war after troops had raided and taken all their livestock and other foods, believing that the black-eyed peas were just feed for livestock and no good. Slaves adopted this early on and it was thought that the more black-eyed peas you ate, the more luck you would have. Another is that they represent money, which loosely ties back where the name “bean counter” comes from, talking about someone who counts money or does the accounting, but if you were a slave, you counted the beans too.

Catfish or other bottom-feeding fish – we don’t eat because they do feed off the bottom of the lake and no one wants to be a bottom feeder.

Cornbread – we eat because it is gold! Well, if you use yellow cornmeal, but any corn or form will do. Like the black-eyed peas and greens, it’s about wealth in the new year.

Beef in any form – we don’t eat because cows eat standing still and it’s all about moving forward in the new year.

The Appalachian Tale

Memories, recipes, and Tales of an Appalachian Boy.