BLESSING OF THE HOUNDS

Milk Punch | for the love of the south

The sun gently creeps over the recently harvested cotton fields of the North Alabama landscape. We pull onto a muddy road and make our way to a remote nook where fellow farmers and landowners are anxiously congregating. Polite conversations suddenly halt as the sound of horse hooves hitting the ground and dogs howling steal our attention. We race to the cleared field to observe this historic Southern ritual of the blessing of the hounds. Spirited speckled hounds with their ivory and chocolate colored coats happily lead the way to the alcove while still residing close to poised riders with crimson coats and deeply black helmets.

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

It is as if I stepped back in time. A time when tradition was not only revered but cherished, when etiquette reigned above victory, and a decoration on an outfit spoke volumes about a person. A last name could be traced back generations in the mind of the person you are shaking hands with for the first time. It’s a time I’ll never truly know, but on this glorious morning, I am allowed to be part of its past just by being present.

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

The horses and hounds gather in a horseshoe shape as they reach the alcove. Younger riders in black jackets remain in the back of the pack as the leaders in red coats are situated toward the front. Antique silver goblets, which are gracefully balancing on sparkling silver trays, are passed to each of the riders. Riders laugh and converse with one another as they enjoy their punch. The hounds stay close to the Master, who remains attentive in the front of the pack. The Master dons a bright red coat, a brass bugle and is positioned atop a beautiful snow-white horse with a braided mane.

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

A cheerful atmosphere quickly alters to pure reverence as the priest in his billowing white and purple robes walks to the middle of the clearing and begins to bless every rider, horse and hound that is to be part of the hunt. After the blessing, there is a brief silence, and then a sound from the bugle. They are off! Barking and galloping fills the little alcove once again, and the riders vanish around the clearing and into the woods.

With the sound of the hunt well in the distance, we begin to make our way back to our vehicles. Simultaneously, we begin checking our boots before getting into the car. A sweet man dressed in tan tartan top to toe laughed at us and said in a thick Welsh accent, “ If you find anything on the bottom of your boots, it means you’ll find luck!” I sat in the car for a moment and realized indeed, I was quite blessed!

Milk Punch | for the love of the south

Milk Punch

Makes 1 Cocktail

Note: This is a cocktail I imagine riders sipping as they relax on their horses before a morning hunt. This recipe is inspired by Brennan’s Milk Punch recipe in New Orleans. It is a straightforward recipe of this classic Southern cocktail.

To make simple syrup, stir together equal amounts of recently boiled water and granulated sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2 ounces brandy or bourbon

4 ounces half & half or milk

1 ounce simple syrup (See Note)

¼ ounce vanilla extract

Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Combine brandy, half & half, simple syrup and vanilla extract in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until frothy, and pour over a glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with grated nutmeg. Enjoy!

 

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

 

THE HAUNTED ROCKY HILL CASTLE & A GIVEAWAY

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Mulled Cider | for the love of the south

It was only a matter of time before I heard the story of the haunted Rocky Hill Castle. The story unfolds at the dinner table, where all the best stories are told. The antique silver candlesticks are laced with wax. The autumn breeze rustles the trees outside the dining room window. The spicy scent of mulled cider fills the air. It is the perfect setting for a ghost story. Now, I’m not one for ghost stories, but this one whet my appetite since it retells of a home that once belonged to my family in Alabama.

In the mid-1820’s, owner James E. Saunders built Rocky Hill Castle, which proudly sprawled across the rich red dirt and majestic cedars of Courtland, Alabama. Saunders was a man pricked with pride, which echoed in the grandeur of his plans for the Rocky Hill mansion. He hired an architect, who beautifully blended Greek Revival and Italian style architecture. Identical Doric front and rear porticos with fluted columns and a crowning cupola adorned the exterior of the castle. An elegant walnut spiral staircase greeted every guest as they entered the front door. Decorative motifs, double parlors, arched windows and Italian marble mantles graced the rooms of the majestic home. The house was glorious, so much so that even the Saunders’ wealth could not afford the cost. As the architect presented the bill, Saunders was astonished by the price. Saunders lost his temper with the architect as they both spat angry insults at one another. The empty-handed architect left Rocky Hill Castle, cursing at its “thieving master.”

Rocky Hill Castle | for the love of the south

Years later, the Saunders family gathered at their long dining room table for dinner when they heard loud noises coming from the cellar, which sounded like someone pounding on the foundation of the house with a hammer. As members of the family rushed to the cellar to investigate, the noises mysteriously subsided. Then, as soon as they made their way upstairs, the noises began again. The cryptic hammering continued as along as the Saunders family lived at Rocky Hill Castle. The family eventually became familiar with the sounds and gently jested of the angry architect’s ghost trying to destroy the mansion he created by striking it off its foundation.

Then, sometime after the Civil War, a more convincing spirit called, “The Lady in Blue,” took up residence at Rocky Hill. She made her first appearance to Mrs. Saunders as the family moved back to the castle. (The family sold and repurchased the property three times.) The excited Mrs. Saunders rushed up the stairs to see her beloved view from her bedroom window, but she was surprised to be greeted by a woman standing on the staircase dressed in a dusty blue gown. Just as Mrs. Saunders went to greet the lady, she vanished. Her family teased Mrs. Saunders whenever she retold of her encounter…that is, until Colonel Saunders was confronted with “The Lady in Blue” as she sat, smiling at him in his wine cellar as he searched for a bottle of blackberry wine. He locked the cellar, never returning to his wine again.

Pumpkins | for the love of the south

The final encounter came as Mrs. Saunders, who was annoyed instead of terrified by these unexplained occurrences, was getting dressed one morning. She impatiently shouted, “If there’s anybody there, speak up or forever hold your peace!” Immediately, she received a reply, “Madam, I’m right here!” Two hours later, the Saunders family moved out of Rocky Hill Castle forever.

The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner...

The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner…

All that’s left is a patch of cedars where the castle once stood, scattered pieces of the mansion that are treasured in family homes, and this ghost story which keeps the spirit of the Rocky Hill Castle alive…

*This story has been retold and passed down from Thirteen Alabama Ghosts & Jeffrey.

P.S. The marble tabletop I use to take so many photos on is originally part of the Rocky Hill Castle! Most of the pieces I use in photographs are steeped in Southern history…

Cotton Field in Alabama | for the love of the south

P.P.S. {Because I love y’all, I am giving away a set of wooden utensils including an ebony spreader, maple scraper, and a set of 4 flat sauté tools in bloodwood, maple and ebony from Early Wood to stir and sauté all of your lovely autumn dishes. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below letting me know your favorite autumn dish between now and midnight, October 25th. The winner will be chosen randomly and will be contacted via email on October 26th. Limit 1 comment per person, pretty please! Good luck and happy fall, y’all!}

Pumpkin Pie Spice Mulled Cider

Serves 8

Note: This cider has the same blend of spices found in a traditional pumpkin pie!

You can prepare this cider ahead of time and stash it in the fridge after discarding the spices! Once you are ready to serve the cider, just bring it to room temperature and heat through on the stovetop. Also, to make this a boozy treat, just add a shot of your favorite dark liquor to each glass of mulled cider, and crown the cider with a homemade marshmallow

2 liters pure pressed apple juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

Pinch ground ginger

¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated

6 allspice berries

6 whole cloves

4 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Pour the apple juice into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes until the juice is warm. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, ginger, nutmeg, allspice berries, cloves and sugar. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. The cider should have a lovely, spicy flavor with a balance of sweetness, but it should not overly sweet. Allow the cider to continue to steep and simmer until it reaches your desired spiciness. Take off the heat and strain, discarding the spices. Serve with a homemade marshmallow!

 

 

 

KITCHEN WISDOM + LEMONADE

Summer Fruit Lemonades | for the love of the south

I’m not a chef or even a trained professional cook. I am, however, an eater. A professional eater. Hopefully this puts you at ease, because like you, I’m someone who loves food and the stories behind them, and, like many of you, my kitchen is not pristine. I cook on an electric range that sometimes has a mind of its own. I use my kitchen table as extra prep space and store my Le Creuset on my countertop because I lack sufficient storage for it. These things do not make my kitchen less desirable; on the contrary, I adore my kitchen. It’s my space where I am allowed to create, discover and share. This is where many friends and family members are welcome to laugh and cry (or cry because they’re laughing too hard) at any given time. And it’s because of my kitchen’s little eccentricities that make me love it even more. It has character and personality, just like all of us.

Lemonade | for the love of the south

It’s in this charming space where I discover pearls of kitchen wisdom, which usually spill out of nooks and crannies at the least unlikely of times. I uncover them whenever I’m alone in the kitchen on any given afternoon, doing something that may seem mundane to others. But what I love is how the clamor and clatter of the world falls away, and I am left with the sound of my paring knife gently slicing through the thin skin of a Yukon Gold potato as wind chimes from my neighbors garden softly ding in the summer breeze.

Peach Lemonade | for the love of the south

Sometimes pearls tumble onto the floor whenever a dear friend takes a seat at my table with a cup of chicory coffee. The steam rises as my friend slowly tells of her tales, and I stand at the helm of the stove, flipping pieces of cornmeal crusted okra in my skillet while savoring the laughter that quickly fills up the kitchen, pierced by the whistle of the teakettle and the sizzle of cornmeal hitting hot oil.

Strawberry Lemonade | for the love of the south

A kitchen may not be able to erase the troubles in life, but it can be a sanctuary that has the ability to soothe an anxious soul, steady a shaking hand, and ease a broken heart. When the hottest of days hit us like a ton of bricks, we can find shelter in simply preparing a refreshing glass of lemonade, which may not be the answer to life’s problems, but it has a way of lifting weary spirits. Maybe life is meant to be lived this way, in a procession of pearls strung out in long afternoons spent in the kitchen, to be cherished around our necks and worn close to our hearts.

Summer Fruit Lemonades | for the love of the south

I had such a wonderful time creating these 4 Summer Fruit Lemonade Recipes for Relish! Hope you enjoy!

Master Lemonade Recipe | Serves 10

Note: Rub the lemons with the granulated sugar before juicing, which releases the natural oils in the lemon skin and perfumes the sugar for the simple syrup.

Try adding fresh herbs to these fruity lemonades. A sprig of oregano with the strawberry lemonade and a rosemary sprig with the blackberry lemonade creates a lovely herbaceous aroma to this classic summertime beverage. Mint goes great with watermelon and thyme works well with peach lemonade. Adding herbs to lemonade is easy breezy and it looks lovely when entertaining.

½ cup of granulated sugar

3 ½ cups of water, divided

½ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ cup of fruit purée, optional (see recipes below)

Before juicing the lemons, rub the skin aggressively with ½ cup of granulated sugar (see note).

Combine ½ cup of recently boiled water to perfumed granulated sugar. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside.

Combine the remaining 3 cups of water, lemon juice and simple syrup in a pitcher. Add fruit purée at this point, if using. Stir. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

If desired, serve with fresh herbs making sure to rub the herbs in your palms first to release their natural oils. Enjoy!

 

Blackberry Purée:

1 cup of blackberries

1 tablespoon of water

Purée blackberries and water in a food processor until liquefied. Strain, reserving the juice and discarding the blackberry pulp.

 

Strawberry Purée:

1 cup of strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of water

Purée strawberries and water in a food processor until liquefied. Strain, reserving the juice and discarding the strawberry pulp.

 

White Peach Purée:

1 cup of white peaches, cored and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of water

Purée peaches and water in a food processor until liquefied. Strain, reserving the juice and discarding the peach pulp.

 

Watermelon Purée:

1 cup of watermelon, cubed

Purée watermelon in a food processor until liquefied. Strain, reserving the juice and discarding the pulp.

THE PECAN TREE

Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Outlined against the illuminating midwinter sky, delicate black branches of the pecan tree gently wave like arthritic hands toward heaven in prayer. Emerald fruit the size of a newborn’s fist are scattered under the bowing boughs of the ancient pecan tree. Mossy jackets peel away like damp pieces of cardboard, revealing a black and brown tiger striped shell.

My grandfather is one of the most patient men I have ever met, and, therefore, the caretaker of the pecan trees. He is tender at heart, wrinkled around the eyes and deeply rooted. After gathering the pecans, he perches himself at the vast wooden kitchen table, his mighty, weathered hand grasps the pewter cracker. The weight of the metal breaks the shell, exposing the tender, sweet, earthy meat of the pecan. Meticulously separating the two halves from the center of the nut, he carefully places the pecans in labeled bags, with the exception of the occasional stragglers that just have to be tasted. It’s a sweet reward for tending to his beloved pecan trees.

Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Some years, the tree would be barren, either from drought or an autumn storm, which would strip the tree of all its green fruit. But, then, it’s prolific once again, as in life. Even though this past year the steadfast tree hasn’t produced well, he is still patient and tends to it, like a member of the family, waiting and caring for the tree in gentle spirits.

Pecan Milk Ingredients | for the love of the south

Recipe: Homemade Louisiana Pecan Milk

Makes 4 servings

Note: Making this recipes is like bottling pecan essence. If you can’t get your hands on Louisiana pecans, use whatever you can find. Just know there will be a difference in flavor when using grocery store pecans rather than fresh, local ones.

You can reuse the leftover strained pecan meal if you don’t like the idea of tossing it. I add some of the damp meal to cornbread batter, pancake batter or biscuit dough. It’s also yummy stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. You can also add it to a vanilla ice cream base to make a quick pecan ice cream!

1 cup of Louisiana pecan halves

2 tablespoons of local honey

Pinch of kosher salt

Place pecans in a bowl and cover with water by 2-inches. Let stand at least 12 hours (the longer the pecans soak, the creamier and smoother the milk with be.)

Drain pecans and discard the soaking liquid. Place pecans, honey and salt in a blender. Add 4 cups of hot, filtered water to the blender and blend on low speed, increasing to high for at least 2 minutes.

Strain pecan milk through a tea towel or a fine-mesh sieve into a medium-sized bowl, pressing down on the solids. Toss or reuse the pecan meal (see note above.) At this point, adjust the sweetness and saltiness of the milk to taste. You can also add more water if you desire a thinner milk. I usually double strain my pecan milk, but the beauty of this recipe is that you can make the milk to your desired taste and texture! Enjoy!

Honeycomb + Sea Salt | for the love of the south

HELLO AUTUMN

Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee | for the love of the south

There is something enchanting about the onset of a new season. We never know what is in store, but nonetheless we gather our amber spices, harvest fruits and golden foliage in preparation for this time of year. Autumnal air is heady with the embracing aroma of apple pie gently bubbling away in the oven, and beloved mugs are filled to the brim with sweet, sticky cider warming our hearts and hands from the lovely chill in the air. We relish in these traditional fall flavors in a completely undiscovered new spell of life.

In the South, we break out our favorite plaids and worn leather boots well before the temperatures dance and dip below 70 degrees. We may not know what autumn holds for each one of us, but we know the temperatures will eventually drop, in time the leaves will be like fiery rubies and golden nuggets pirouetting in the wind, and there will be cinnamon wafting through the house filling every nook and cranny with spice and warm thoughts. There is something cozy and reassuring about this idea. In life, we are separated by so many things, but at the same time, brought together with this lovely change of season. So, with a leap of faith and a spoonful of spice in my iced coffee, I will face this glorious unknown season with joy, happiness and a wonderful the sense of togetherness. Cheers!

Recipe: Serves 2

Note: I love making this drink in a Mason jar for more than one reason. Yes, it is Southern, but it also has measurements on the side of the jar so I don’t have to dirty any measuring cups or jiggers whenever I want to make this lovely autumnal beverage! Also, I usually avoid adding ice to my coffee because it waters down the flavor (I adore strong coffee), but this is just my personal preference! Add ice if you like! P.S. if you are wondering, this libation is like devouring a gingerbread man in liquid form.

Handful of ice (optional)

6 ounces of strong coffee, cooled

4 ounces of half & half

1 ounce of pumpkin spice syrup (recipe below)

Place a handful of ice (if using coffee) in a Mason jar. Add coffee, half & half and syrup, Stir well and sip until it’s all gone!

Pumpkin Spice Syrup: Makes 8 ounces

¾ cup of sugar

¾ cup of water

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients in a small skillet and place over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisk and reduce to simmer for 10 minutes. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.

Cucumber Mint Spritzer

Summer days began with the whistling of a train as it passed behind my grandmother’s country home. I don’t care what kind of Southern literary sentiment that a train whistle may have, at 6 years old it scared the daylights right out of me every time (and still does). After I regained my composure, I threw on my denim shorts and whatever t-shirt was my current favorite. I could hear the beloved sound of pitter-pattering on the roof as the morning rain invited me into the kitchen. There, on the counter, laid a gargantuan mountain of emerald cucumbers just brought in from the garden. I remember sitting in my grandmother’s plot of paradise in the afternoons, when the temperature slowly, slowly began to drop from stifling to almost comfortable. I watched the sun go down on my childhood days with three gifts: a smile on my face, ingenuous secrets from the day, and a bright green cucumber giving me strength for the next.

*Note: The cucumbers used in these photographs were from grandma’s garden in Louisiana!

Recipe: Serves 2

½ cup of water

¼ cup of sugar

1 cup of ginger ale

6 slices of cucumber

½ sprig of fresh mint

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Dissolve the sugar into the water over low heat. Once all of the sugar is dissolved, take off the heat and let cool.

In a measuring glass, measure out 1 cup of ginger ale. Add 3 tablespoons of the simple syrup to the measuring glass. Toss in cucumber slices and the mint, torn into small pieces. Stir to combine. Pour over 2 glasses filled with ice.

Cane Sugar Blackberry Limeade

There is something utterly impossible to portray, so I will go without describing it. But I will go on to depict myself eating it, well gnawing on it to be exact.  I recall sitting under the haven of the porch on a summer’s day. I thought I would be duplicitous and enjoy my day early enough so the heat wouldn’t catch up with me. But alas, the sun beat me every time. As I sat there, confined to the porch, my paw-paw would bring my saving grace. There, in his strong yet gentle hands, were two tall sticks of sugar cane. He would take a knife out of his pocket and carefully strip away the rough stalk and what would be left were the sweet, white insides. And there I would sit, gnawing on the sugar cane and spitting out the fibrous insides when I was finished. I never said I was a lady back then, but I did feel like Lady Liberty waving my scepter to the heat as if I was the one having the last laugh. Ha Ha Ha Ha!

This recipe uses a copious amount of raw cane sugar, which I could put on just about anything. That sweet, intense saccharine flavor is the basis to this drink. You might have thought it would be the blackberry juice or the limes, but it’s the earthly undertones of this cane sugar that will leave you with a smile and an empty glass.

 

Recipe: Serves 8: Adapted from Martha Hall Foose’s Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

4 cups of fresh or thawed, frozen blackberries

6 limes, juiced (zest 1 of the limes before juicing it)

1 cup of water

1 cup of raw cane sugar

3 cups of ginger ale

In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and the zest of 1 lime on medium-low heat. Make sure all of the sugar has dissolved while bringing the mixture to a boil. Take off heat and cool. Chill until needed.

In a medium sized bowl, mash the blackberries with a potato masher very carefully. Transfer the mash to a sieve. Reserve the blackberry juice and discard the blackberry seeds and pulp.

In a pitcher, combine the syrup, blackberry juice, lime juice and ginger ale. Serve in glasses filled with ice.

Root Beer

Hot, steamy Louisiana summers can be treacherous. I remember as a child playing in the hot summer’s day, I would make up games to cope with the heat. Pretending that I was a prisoner on a secluded island, that I was locked in a scary tanning bed, or I was battling a fire-breathing dragon. At some point, my imagination would get dehydrated and I had to head for the house. On days like this, my great grandmother, Grandma Domingue, would have a treat waiting for my dad and his brothers and sisters on a long, hot day. She crushed ice in this little contraption. It was about a foot tall, ivory on the outside with rows of fangs that lived on the inside. Crushed ice was a treat in itself on a sweltering day but she made it even sweeter with homemade root beer. She poured the root beer over the ice and this became the ultimate treat for the sweaty, blonde tikes. This in itself gave the kids the strength needed to withstand any deserted island and slay the most furious dragon.

 

Recipe: from Tex Joy : Makes 1 Quart

This recipe isn’t even a recipe! Just add 1 Tbs. of Tex-Joy Root Beer flavoring to a quart of water and sweeten with sugar to taste!

Strawberry Lemonade

 

The saccharine smell of strawberries, paired with the tart juice of lemon is absolutely heavenly. The union reminds me of summer in a glass. Homemade lemonade by itself is something that makes you feel special but adding strawberries elevates the experience to a new level of Southern comfort. The flavors are muddled together, forced to mingle and blush and burst to release their wonderful essences. Sugar gently falls over the crushed fruit like a cascade of fairy dust. A wave of frigid water calms the battered fruit and leaves us with a pool of summer serenity. The drink blushes as it hits the lips of the thirstiest souls in the south.

Recipe: Serves 2

1 lemon, sliced into rounds, seeds discarded

6 strawberries, hulled and halved

4 tablespoons of sugar

½ cup of water

½ cup of ice

Combine lemon slices and strawberries in a bowl. Using a muddler or the flat end of any kitchen utensil, bruise the fruit so that the lemons and strawberries are juiced and crushed well. Add the sugar and let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir well and add the water and ice. Separate between two glasses and enjoy!

Sweet Tea

My grandpa was the tea-maker in my family.  He would always have the tea ready when grandma’s rolls came out of the oven.  Lipton was the brand of choice.  I remember staring at the microwave and watching the water in the clear measuring container bubble in a murky sea of brown.  Lines were cast over the side of the clear glass, but there was no hope.  The little bags of tea were goners. They were tossed overboard, and the brew was combined with a mountain of sugar, stirred together with an ingenious angled spoon that my grandfather invented to ensure full mixing power.  He then added water and carried the pitcher to the end of the island with a little bowl of lemons.  I never remember drinking water at my grandmother’s house, only iced tea. As a child, I was convinced that the mixture of sweet tea in my body and sweating on a hot summer night (or hot winter night) attracted mosquitoes.  Now, I usually drink two glasses, one for me, and one for the mosquitoes.

 Recipe: Makes 3 Quarts of Sweet Tea

4 family-sized tea bags (regular or decaf)

1 cup of sugar

Ice cubes

Lemon slices and fresh mint (optional)

Combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to boil and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. *

Place the tea bags in a pitcher with 3 quarts of water. Let steep for 30 minutes or until desired potency. When taking the tea bags out, do not press the bags against the pitcher. Whenever the tea bags are pressed, it leaves the tea with a little bit of bitterness. Add the simple syrup to the tea. Stir to combine. Serve over ice with lemons and mint.

*Note: if you like the taste of mint but not having pieces of mint floating around in your tea, add the fresh mint to the simple syrup and let steep for 5 or so minutes then discard. This will give you that fresh taste without having to chew on the mint if that’s more of your cup of tea!