BLACK-EYED PEAS + COLLARD GREENS

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet | for the love of the south

New Year’s is a time for reflection, celebration, and, if you were raised in the South, black-eyed peas, collards and cornbread. Waking up on New Year’s Day, the glitter of the evening still evident in my hair while little strands of popped confetti littered the floor. Resolutions have been resolved. Paper crowns and empty Mason jars are scattered about the living room as I make my way past the gold and silver foiled-lined doorway and into the kitchen to my beloved, saving grace: the coffee pot. Within moments, the aroma of chicory coffee filled the air. The scent of ham hocks and collards babbled away on the stove along with black-eyed peas and pork sausage crooning away in a cast-iron skillet, and golden, crackling studded cornbread sizzles in the oven. This is the aromatic symphony of New Year’s Day.

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet | for the love of the south

Each ingredient has meaning and purpose. Black-eyed peas represent coins, collard greens represent dollar bills and cornbread represents gold. Eating each Southern staple on New Year’s Day is supposed to guarantee a prosperous year, ensuring wealth and luck. While, I do not believe in luck, I do believe in the power of tradition.

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet | for the love of the south

This New Year’s custom dates back to the Civil War, when union troops pillaged the Southern landscape, leaving behind black-eyed peas and greens as food for animals. These nutrient rich, humble ingredients became cherished as they saved many families from starvation during hard times, and the tradition of the celebration of these ingredients was born. The story may differ from table to table across the region, but the common bond of the unity of family and friends brought together by thankful hearts and renewed hope for the New Year remains the spirit and soul behind the tradition.

So, here is to the New Year, may it be greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine. May it be filled with boundless courage, laughter, and…black-eyed peas and collard greens! Cheers, y’all!

Recipe: Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet

Serves 4

Note: This dish has all of the components of a Southern New Year’s Day traditional meal, but it is also a lovely, comforting dish perfect on any winter’s day.

1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for drizzling

¼ pound of smoky bacon, cut into thin strips

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, chopped

Pinch of red pepper flakes

½ pound of dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight

1 cup of collards, rinsed and torn into small pieces

½ cup of cornbread crumbs

Salt and pepper, to taste

Hot Pepper Sauce, Sea Salt, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for serving

Preheat broiler

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Add bacon and cook until golden and crispy. Toss in onion, garlic, tomato, carrot, rosemary leaves and red pepper flakes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables softened, about 10 minutes.

Drain black-eyed peas and add to the pan. Cover with water, season again lightly with salt, bring to boil and lower the heat to simmer for 45 minutes, until the beans are tender and most of the water has evaporated. Toss in collards and cook just until the greens are bright green, about 2 minutes. Take off heat, adjust seasoning, and cover with cornbread crumbs. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and place under the broiler until the crumbs are golden and browned. Serve with hot pepper sauce, flaky sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet Ingredients | for the love of the south

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOME & HILL

Spring Picnic | for the love of the south

Tennessee. This is a lovely state in which I’m grateful to call my home. I’m enjoying discovering sweet family farms that sell fresh eggs, with their only advertising being a hand painted sign leaning at the front of their fence. Farmers markets with some of the most passionate farmers tending to their stands, making sure you choose the best possible produce for your weekend meals, and the whispers of the South’s history being sung in the graveyards and historic battlefields. I’m educating myself in tobacco-scented sorghum, golden benne seeds and wild emerald green ramps.

Thyme & Garlic Infused Fried Chicken | for the love of the south

It’s no secret that I’ve been enraptured by Tennessee’s seasonal displays of autumn and winter, but as I pass the gently green rolling hills of Franklin, white petals blow in the wind like gently falling snow. I begin to realize this is easily my favorite season yet. Lovely dogwoods and cherry blossoms reveal their beautiful blooms, enticing us for a picnic so we can revel in nature’s spring splendor.

Homemade Potato Chips | for the love of the south

So in preparation of a lovely spring picnic, I decide to create a menu of thyme and garlic infused fried chicken, gently bathed in buttermilk and cayenne pepper, paired with crisp homemade potato chips and a wonderful sweet delight of floral elderflower marshmallows.

Elderflower Marshmallows | for the love of the south

I pack all the picnic treats in a vintage wooden basket. Nestled paper bags filled with chips, silver bento boxes of marshmallows, and a lovely milk glass dish of fried chicken line the basket. Packing up anything, especially food, reminds me to take a piece of home with me wherever I am going, or in this case, my kitchen. As I pull out my everyday flatware, white flour sack dishtowels, silver Laguiole knives, and Mason jars filled with lemon slices among the green grass and blushing blossoms, I am reminded of my sweet home on a hill in Tennessee.

Spring Picnic | for the love of the south

I am grateful to be able to contribute to the lovely quarterly, Home & Hill, which is dedicated to people who love this state as much as I do. You can find these recipes exclusively in Home & Hill Issue No. 3. You can order the magazine here!

GUILTLESS PLEASURES

Ghirardelli Intense Dark-3

There are some things in life which people call guilty pleasures, but I think pleasure is something we should seize, not something we should feel the least bit guilty about. If something gives you gratification, embrace it, and if at all possible, allow that pleasure to be part of your everyday life, especially if that indulgence can be found in the kitchen, which many of mine are. One of my pleasures comes in the form of sinisterly dark chocolate, perfectly paired with sea salt and smoky, chicory coffee.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark | for the love of the south

Slowly cracking open the fridge, I pull out a cherished square of chocolate that I secretly tucked away for safekeeping. To its gleaming, chilled surface, I sprinkle on tiny shards of winter white salt. The contrast between intensely dark chocolate and starkly white salt gives me a certain, unspoken gratification. The kettle begs for attention as it whistles from the stove, steam rises from the coffee press, and I magically become transported to a place all my own. I sit on the counter in my kitchen, dark chocolate speckled with crunchy sea salt in one hand and earthy chicory coffee in the other and become lost in downright decadence. When my days are filled with so many things that plead for my attention, it’s in these moments that I take time out for myself, which is something I never feel guilty for.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark | for the love of the south

This cast of characters always has a place in my home, but even when I’m far away, I know if I have a piece of dark chocolate sprinkled with salt and an afternoon cup of coffee, I can delight in my daily pleasure and never feel the least bit remorseful. I think that’s the way pleasures in life should be, or at least the ones that take place in the kitchen.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark | for the love of the south

Many thanks to Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate for sponsoring today’s post and allowing me to share my perfect pairing. If you would like to share your perfect pairing as well, upload your Ghirardelli Intense Dark photos here or #IntenseDark on Instagram. I’d love to hear what y’alls favorite pairings are!

A SOUTHERN WEDDING

Wedding Photos

This post is in remembrance of a wonderful, strong Southern woman, Meme Dupes. Being Michael’s grandmother (and lovingly adopting me as a granddaughter), she was one of the greatest pillars in our relationship. Weeks before the wedding, she became ill and passed just 2 days before the ceremony. Honestly, her presence was very much there in every moment of our wedding and her memory lives on with us everyday. 

The air was cool and crisp on the night before our wedding day. Family and friends gathered in an old, historic home in Courtland, Alabama. The grounds were laced with magnolias, charm, and the heavenly smell of beef roasting away on the bricked patio. Galvanized tubs, filled to the brim with glass bottles of Coca-Cola welcomed guests as they made their way across the threshold into a moment in time. Antique silver platters and vases were strewn across the dining table. White orchids, ranunculus and hydrangeas filled silver vases throughout the house and the flicker of candles created a warm glow on the evening. Just as Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” commenced, I walked into the living room where a roaring fire had been set ablaze, and I couldn’t help but feel I had been transported into another world. A world of Southern elegance, grace and charm.

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After a dinner of perfectly cooked beef tenderloin, charred-roasted tomatoes, and one of the most wonderful salads in the world, we gathered around the hearth and Michael’s family welcomed me as one of their own with the kindest of words, the best of wishes, and the most overwhelming sense of family, warmth and love anyone could ever ask for.

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The skies were overcast the next morning, but faithfully we gathered at the Tennessee River. The breeze tossed my hair as I walked down to meet Michael on the moss-shrouded grounds. I was covered in a billowing white dress laced with pearls and Michael was decked out in a navy blazer and his infamous smile.

Pose on the Tenneessee

Solo Pose

We met with the rest of the family at a reception held in the historic town of Mooresville, Alabama at the Limestone Bay Trading Co. Life flooded the building as we arrived, and we were embraced with such love and warmth and happiness. Dinner was delicious as we were served brisket, roasted potatoes, heavenly creamed corn and the best broccoli salad I’ve ever had. The rest of the evening was a blur of laughter, cake and candlelight. We drove off into the night, leaving the closest of our hearts behind, cheering us on in this new venture of life.

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From Boudin & Crawfish Ponds to BBQ & Cotton Fields

Louisiana Landscape

Imagine a map of the United States. Now, based on that map draw a mental circle around what you would consider to be “The South.” If I asked 10 different people to describe their circle, I would have 10 different answers, especially if those 10 people were all from the south. Does geographical landscape, culture, food or accents form our opinion about the south? Did you include Texas? Florida? Where do you draw your boundaries? And what makes the south “The South?” Until I moved from my thick roots of Louisiana to the knee-deep culture of Alabama, I really didn’t appreciate the differences myself.

Cottage Path

I didn’t travel much whenever I was young. I lived in a circle that reached as far as Houston is to New Orleans. You should have seen my reaction whenever I found out that the whole country did not partake in Mardi Gras or eat boudin from their local gas stations. I lived in a world where French was many peoples’ first language and taking your curlers out of your hair in the morning was an option, not a necessity. There were not many conversations you could have with someone you just met without asking them, “Who is yo’ mama?” Almost everyone was Catholic and making a roux was in your blood. Dinners were excuses for everyone to get together. Men spent their pre-dinner time around the trucks, knees against the mud flaps, talking about LSU football. Women gathered like hens in the kitchen, quickly prepping the fixings while “catching up.”

The Yard

The food is humble, reflecting its people. Louisiana food, like almost all Southern food, imitated what was on the land. Crawfish, rice and roux showed up on nearly every table of my childhood. No one had much, but they appreciated what they did have. Everyone’s lot looked about the same, and I don’t remember anyone ever complaining about it. Good food and family remained consistent in my life. As far as I knew, those were the only two things you needed to be happy.

Going from crawfish ponds to cotton fields was a completely different Southern experience. I went from ever-flat terrain to hills. Actual hills! North Alabama landscape changes with the seasons. Many people take this for granted, but for me, this was a first. In Louisiana, a lot of the trees are evergreen, so watching the majestic ridge by our house transform from grassy green, to soft amber, then to a fiery red was magical. I felt myself get as giddy as a schoolgirl at the turn of the seasons.

Cotton Field

On the subject of fare, there is one thing that I was made aware of very quickly: pig is king. Barbecue is a way of life in Alabama. Whether the inspiration is Cherokee, Floridian, Appalachian, Mississippian, Georgian, Texan, Tennessean, or just plain Alabamian, barbecue can be found all over the state with significant distinctions. And these Alabamians have it down to a science: to the kind of wood to smoke with, kind of sauce to baste with, and how long to cook it.

History still peeks its head around the corners of the old homes in the Alabama country. Silverware that was buried during the Civil War remains in drawers lined with black velvet. Rocking chairs and tables are passed down from generation to generation. Great wealth was not part of my culture. It was unfamiliar to me. It reminded me of a great European family, where things are not bought, they are inherited. Therefore, pieces of history are kept close to the heart and the mantle like treasures. One of those treasures came in a frame: a photo of a sweet, elder black woman who was a member of the family.

Southern Spread

I gathered around the pimento cheese and pickles one afternoon and listened to native Alabamians pour over these black women that served as guideposts in their lives. There seemed to be a deep respect and love that each one had for the other. These women were considered as part of the family. It was as if they were second mothers to many. This relationship, again, was unfamiliar. Growing up, I never heard stories of anyone having servants or any kind of help other then relatives or friends. Sure, there were racial tensions that I witnessed, but I never had that deep, emotional experience that these women underwent. It was like a different world. A world somewhat tinged with guilt but great pride for these women.

Through the South’s many differences, the two bonds that seem utterly Southern are food and family. No matter what the food or family looks like, these are the bonds that seem to tie us together in the beautiful, broken, hospitable, proud place we call “The South.”

Spanish Moss

*Photo Credits: Louisiana Landscape (author’s own), Cottage Path (etsy.com),The Yard (Jesse Harding), Cotton Field (auntpeaches.com), Spanish Moss (gardenandgun.com), Southern Spread (southernliving.com)

Giving Thanks

Photo Credit: Bon Appétit November 2011 Issue: Friends, Family and Tradition Way Down South

Thanksgiving. It’s a moment to take a step back and to be grateful for what we have, to focus on our closest friends and family, far and nearby, but always near and dear to our hearts. This moment is not about making the perfect turkey or the ideal piecrust, but our grandmother’s recipe of smoked bird, our aunt’s red velvet cake and our sister’s candied yams and green bean casserole. It’s about the tradition. For everything that is unsure in life, you know without a single doubt in your mind that your favored pumpkin pie, the same pumpkin pie that comforted you as a child, will be waiting for you at the dessert table. Your mother’s cornbread dressing will greet your smiling face as the aromatics waft past your nose. And the crispy onions atop the green bean casserole will be missing, yet again, and you grin knowing full well you are the culprit.   This meal reflects childhood memories and Southern reassurances. In this world where nothing seems to be a sure thing, on Thanksgiving Day, these dishes are always there for us, acting as thread to a quilt, lovingly binding us together for this holiday season and keeping us warm for the season ahead.

In this nation, today is the one moment that perfection seems to be expected from our kitchen. What we end up with at the conclusion of the meal is a moment, a snapshot in time, of laughter, love and happy tummies. Perfection may or may not have been reached, but a memory will be forever etched into the hearts of those you shared this day with. Our Southern passion for food and family will be the gift that will be remembered. So, here is to carrying on old traditions and to making new ones. Here is to focusing on what truly matters in life and forgetting the rest exists. And, here is to giving thanks for what we have. Cheers.

Dreamland Bar-B-Que

A trail of smoke guided me through a neighborhood to Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Birmingham.  The smell of smoke was my lighthouse.  White bricks with red lettering were the only sign of decoration to the building. As I walked into the restaurant, license plates and beer signs supplied hints of color to the dark booths and tables. The clientele was a mixture of businessmen and blue-collar workers elbow deep in ribs and conversation.

Behind me, there was a man tending to a plethora of ribs in a brick pit. The smell of wood and meat took me back to my grandparent’s house on a Saturday afternoon. My waiter greeted me and I ordered a rack of ribs and fries. Seconds later, a Styrofoam plate filled with white bread and their signature sauce appeared on the table. Such a humble presentation for the most addictive sauce in the universe; spicy, vinegary, with a tomato base.

Shortly after, ribs and fries were piled in front of me. The ribs were drenched in the signature piquant sauce, crispy at the ends, tender on the inside. I dunked the crispy, perfectly seasoned fries in the sauce (I would have drunk it if I weren’t a lady). Full and content, I gazed outside and there was a haze from the smoke billowing away from the restaurant. As I got up to leave, I noticed the paper that my ribs were served on and it read, “Ain’t nothing like ‘em nowhere.” What an appropriate assertion as I venture through the smoke, wake up and get back to reality. Thank you, Dreamland.

My Thick Cajun Roots

Let me just start by saying that I may fool many people I meet. My roots run deep with Cajun culture but I give no signs of it. I have no dog named Duke. My English is not broken Cajun-French. I do not hug EVERY stranger that I meet and invite them over for gumbo. Even though on the outside I do not drip with Cajun culture, it shapes the very person I am.

They may not be the most refined people in the South, but these people, my family, have hearts of gold (no Saints color reference intended). They stand together no matter what. No tragedy can separate the bonds that these people share.

Cajun Dancing at D.I.’s Restaurant in Basile, Louisiana

There are many quirks that are unique to my culture. It is a Cajun’s cruel joke to ask people that are not from Louisiana to pronounce their last name. Broussard, Fontenot, Fruge, Duplechain may be pronounced like Brow-sard, Font-e-not, Fruggie, and Dup-lee-chane anywhere else in the country. There are things that we put on the Sunday afternoon buffet that you may call an exterminator for. We will eat frog legs and alligator meat and tell everyone that it tastes like chicken. Little hint: it does not and never will.

Crawfish Hole in Lake Charles, Louisiana

No matter what kind of dog, male or female, they are named Duke or Lady. Gender is never relevant. This is where I get my unnatural addiction to Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong (and yes, I can do the impersonation). I let people know that they need a passport when they go into Deep South Louisiana because it is like a whole other country. It is nothing like you have ever experienced. One thing I can say through all of the craziness is that we know how to laugh through anything and everything. My strength draws deep through my tangled roots of Louisiana but I would not have it any other way. We are a resilient people.  I know whatever comes my way in life that it will be tackled with hard work, love for others, and a love for life.

All of this to say that Louisiana is my home and the people in it are my family. I would not be the same strong and sometimes crazy person that stands in front of you right now without my culture. I carry it with me in my pocket and in my heart. I love how through everything there are people that will never leave Louisiana through hell or high water (literally). No matter how much nature and man may build and teardown and build back up again, it is always home. You learn it is not about possessions. A home is built not with wood and steel but love and community. My culture has a sense of togetherness. Whenever anyone asks where I am from, I will proudly say that my home is and will always be Louisiana.

Crawfish Pond in Basile, Louisiana

Crawfish Boil

 

As I look across the ever-flat terrain of the deepest parts of Louisiana, I see the land scattered with four-inch tall crawfish holes. These mounds of mud might seem insignificant, but an immense part of the Louisiana culture lays in these crawfish dwellings. Louisiana produces nearly 50,000 tons of live crawfish a year, which are harvested from November through June. These little critters have become a culinary symbol. The spring and summer months are filled with thick, humid air and the smell of backyard crawfish boils.  Or, if you are between bayous Des Canes and Nezpique, your nose is directed toward D.I.’s Restaurant in Basile, Louisiana. D.I. and his wife Sherry started the restaurant in his farm equipment building and placed an all you can eat spread of boiled crawfish for $5.00. Now, the restaurant seats 275 people and includes  live Cajun bands and a dance floor. People from all over the world, “with the exception of Australia”, says Sherry, have come to visit and engage in the unique Cajun culture. Piles of bright red crawfish cover the tables at D.I.’s, along with laughter, Cajun music and the cracking of shells embody the Cajun tradition.

Crawfish Boil Recipe From John Besh’s My New Orleans

2 cups of salt

1 package of Zatarian’s Crab Boil spices

5 lemons, halved

3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper

5 whole heads of garlic, halved

5 onions, halved

3 stalks of celery, cut into large pieces

3 bell peppers, seeded and diced

¼ cup of canola oil

20 small bliss potatoes

8 ears of corn, shucked and halved

20 pounds of whole crawfish, rinsed with fresh water

Fill a crawfish pot with 10 gallons of water, bring to boil then add the salt, spices, cayenne, garlic, onions, celery, peppers and oil. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and corn and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the crawfish and simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Strain the liquid from all of the other yummy ingredients. Dump all of the crawfish and vegetables on a platter or newspaper-covered picnic table. Serve with vinegar, salt and pepper mixture.

 

Louisiana Memories

Photo taken by family member in Eunice,LA.

In Louisiana, the endless summer nights were filled with fireflies, crawfish boils, and blackberries served with homemade vanilla ice cream. Everyone would gather in the backyard, the picnic table was covered with newspapers, and there was a gigantic silver pot slowly boiling away with spices that filled the warm, moist air. Vinegar and pepper in one bowl, a simple concoction of ketchup and mayonnaise in another; these were the only two condiments allowed on the table. Everyone had their own technique of how to peel the crustaceans. Being a seafood vegetarian, I would normally end the night in my own little chair, playing with the only survivor of the tragic boil. I named him Earl. My family would spend hours upon hours whipping through pounds and pounds of crawfish, enjoying the company, enjoying the food, enjoying life. It wasn’t about the meal; it was about the tradition, the family, and the smiles. The food brought us all together. As I sat back and watched the last of the summer blackberries disappear with the sun, I reflected in the belief that there’s no place like home.

 

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