Family Foodways: Summer Edition!

Summer is finally here in its sun-drenched glory. The Pacific Northwest will all but make a Southern girl like me go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, what with cold rainy days and low marine clouds through June. Even my tomatoes looked like curled-up bats until last week. I hasten my summertime comforts and nostalgia by planting a kitchen garden, and when necessary, outsourcing produce that's already in season in 85 percent of our country!

Sunny summer days make just about anyone pine for their childhood foods. And grandmothers we haven't had the privilege to eat with for a good 30 years. My food journalist cousin, Madison, stoked those home fires by asking me to contribute recipes and stories to her new journal, "Grlsquash," inspired by our diverse foremothers' foodways. Then two of my farmer friends, plus famous NC Chef Vivian Howard, provided me with some extra inspiration. I had a pile of collards from Local Roots Farm, a freezer full of ground pork from Idyllwoode Farms, and a set-to-expire load of pantry stuff. Vivian makes stuffed collards, like Greek dolmades, and I had a thought: what if I used the ground pork and collards to make "halpuki," the cabbage rolls my Slovak grandmother (Baba) used to slow-cook for us every time we visited. I'd be blending that memory with visiting my southern grandmother (Granny's) collards and potlikker. Since I didn't have Eastern NC pulled pork, I'd just use the ENC vinegary-peppery BBQ sauce to cook them in. Why not?! And sop it up with some cornbread plus sliced beefsteak tomatoes and salt on the side. Got cole slaw for the side, too? All the better!

Here's what I did (whilst cleaning out my fridge, giving its refuse to my yard chickens, and drinking a bottle of rose wine. It's Sunday...get homefires stuff done).


Set oven to 375 F

COLLARDS: Wash and trim large collard leaves just as you would cabbage leaves. Boil them in salted quickly until tender. Pull them out of the water and place them in a bath of cold water with ice cubes. Then lay them flat on cookie sheet or wax paper. Reserve that greenish collard water!

RICE: Cook a cup or two of wild rice or Carolina Gold rice in a rice cooker. Use the collard water in place of regular water. That water is called "potlikker" in the south and it's chock-full of vitamins! 

SAUCE: In a 1 quart Mason jar, fill it halfway with distilled white vinegar. Add 2 tbsp. sugar or brown sugar or sorghum. Add 1 tsp salt. 1 tsp pepper. 1 tsp cayenne. 1tsp onion powder. 1 tbsp. tomato paste; 1 can diced tomatoes. Fill to rim with water if needed. Put lid on it and shake.

PORK FILLING: Finely minced, cooked pork or a pound of ground pork/sausage will do. Whatever you have.. Put in mixing bowl.  Add a little salt and pepper. 1 big cracked egg or 2 little ones. 1/2 of a Vidalia onion, microplaned. Add your cooked wild rice. Mix with your hands.

Spray some olive oil in a lasagne pan. Spoon some of the red sauce on the bottom, to cover the whole bottom of it lightly. Put a few spoonfulls of the raw pork and rice mixture into the collard, in the middle. Wrap it tightly as you would a burrito or egg roll. Gently place each large roll into your sauced pan. Dump the rest of the sauce jar over your rolls. Cover with foil and bake for 45 mins to an hour!







I tried to grow collards. I worked my fingers to the bone all but for one little leaf
— My MeeMaw, Ruth Wilkinson, ca. 1978

Buried Treasure

Today is a terrible news day, the kind that mere words won't improve. On top of greater human tragedies, one of my very favorite singers and life travelers (Tom Petty) died. I didn't know what to do with my feelings this morning, so I went to the cemetery right next to my house. I've been going over there to hang out with the locals when I get overwhelmed. I always get some peace of mind and heart, sometimes I laugh at myself. 

Today I plopped down in my gym clothes, face a little ruddy and teary, and sat next to the grave marker of a young baby who died about ten years ago. Her parents still leave a little tin can full of rocks and fresh flowers, sometimes a toy. I wondered about her story, but not too much, because I felt her light in my sadness and tiredness. The sun was shining and I could smell the buttersugar, smokey smell of young autumn in the air. I breathed it in and felt all the love around. 

I exhaled and wished Tom P a beautiful cosmic journey and hope he and this kid get to have a jam together. They were both there for me today when I felt suffocated by evil and complexity. Just as I was sending the good vibes to them, I looked to the left, and noticed a little carved box. I went to check it out. It looks like someone, some time ago, half-buried a pretty little box under a bush by these graves. I gently opened it. Inside were two water-logged, ancient Pall Mall cigarettes. I wondered who they were for. Did one of the residents' loved ones bring it because they liked Pall Malls and wanted to have a smoke with them once in a while? Was it an offering? It couldn't be a teenager because no teenager on earth would smoke Pall Malls, let alone leave a box of them unsmoked. No matter. I felt a moment of inspiration.

I quit the habit of smoking many years ago, but I always have an emergency cigarette in my glove compartment, lest I come upon a tragic scene or traffic jam from hell.  So I went and got my stale Camel Light out of the car, lit it up next to the treasure box, smoked one for Tom, blew a kiss to baby girl, and honestly felt about 100 lbs lighter. 

Maybe someday I'll come back as a ghost in sneakers, smoking a cigarette, listening to The Stones in a cemetery. Doesn't sound so bad.


That'll Be All, Herman

Was there a tree that scared the crap out of you as a child? You know, an old decaying stump, a gnarly skeleton of scabby branches, or a lone tree in a field that just felt like a beacon for lightning? Trees should be the opposite of creepy: they are life-giving, even in death, but thanks to childhood talltales and movies like "Poltergeist", singular, abandoned trees often got a bad rap. I still can't even think about those spiteful, grabby apple trees from "The Wizard of Oz!" I had a tree. It was a bad one. It took me 40 years, but I finally faced it nose-to-trunk.

My great-grandmother lived in a swampy, sleepy town called Belhaven, NC. If you read my essays and posts you probably know a bit about this Faulknerian whistle-stop. When storms blew in from the Atlantic Ocean, across the whitecaps of the Pamlico Sound, and into the Great Dismal Swamp, it was a scary place for a four-year-old to be! Especially at night, in her old clapboard apartment house (now a bulldozed waterfront lot).

The swampside storms were just so much more fierce than the ones I was used to in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Maybe it's because everything was old (the walls, the creaky floors) and it made everything louder. Maybe it's because I was with an 85-year-old woman who had to mete out her patience to attend to my constant bellowing about the rain and thunder. Maybe it's because, in the sleeping room, whenever the lightning flashed, I would see two things strobe against the wall: a framed, black-and-white photo of my granddaddy, who died long before I came along, and the terrifying Fu Manchu-like fingerhooks of THAT TREE NEXT TO THE HOUSE. With every breeze, every lightning flash, the tree would lunge at the old, wobbly glass window, do a death dance of spiny reflections against the wall, and recoil into darkness while I waited for the next flash. Momma would come in and close the gauzy cotton curtains. I would quiet. But then the lightning would flash again, and the curtain merely made the tree shadow look fatter and stronger!

I recently went back to visit Belhaven and stayed at the B&B right next door to the old lot. My bedroom window happens to look out on this very tree. A stormy day was predicted and I felt embarrassingly nervous about facing a night with this tree right outside, even though I'm 42 and God knows how old the tree itself now is. There is was, right there in front of me. The stuff of the darker side of my memory palace. A few limbs have been sawed off but it still has foliage, still is at least as tall as the house. 

As charcoal grey clouds began to overtake the white ones and turned the Sound from blue to brown, I had to deal with what was coming. I had to reframe the fear as I've learned to do in times of anxiety. Was the tree an inanimate object? Well I think that's a bit harsh and not really true. Was it trying to get in and hug me? I think not, and maybe that's just as scary to think about! Well it needs a name then. The tree's leaves began to curl back in anticipation of the storm and lashing out at me and the old window pane. I had to name the damn tree HERMAN and then I just laughed at myself.

I went out and stood right in front of HERMAN. Looked straight up. And realized HERMAN was still trying to get my attention. It got to live in a beautiful world I actually never got to know. A "Giving Tree" of sorts. He shaded my great-grandmother's wooden porch on 100-degree days, presided over who knows how many conversations, my mother's first teenage cigarette smoke, a fair amount of porchside tears, and hugs and greetings from the long-lost and beloved. The tree survived scores of hurricanes and floods, and probably always had wet roots since it seeded, yet never failed to grow larger or withstand the torrents. 

HERMAN got my attention, as a child and an adult, and that's a gift in my book. A tree that wanted to be remembered, and wanted me to remember things and people. Now I know why MeeMaw didn't just cut that sonofabitch down! It had a job and a life, just like us.



Where Time Doesn't Run

Last November, I visited a friend and fellow cultural venturer who lives in The Garfagnana, the mountainous region in northwest Tuscany. While geographically situated in Tuscany, the terrain, traditions and foods are distinctively different from what Americans envision as “Tuscan.” The Garfagnana, known as a place “where time doesn’t run” (dove il tempo non corre), looks nothing like the cedar-lined hills of the Chianti wine region (or “Chiantishire” as it’s known because of its history of English expatriates and villa getaways), or the bustling, filigreed cityscape of Florence. Here, as hills turn to valleys and eventually rocky white and grey cliffsides, the urge to move on from a place, to look for convenience, and to keep track of time dissolves as the altitude climbs.

The blood and history of civilization itself flows through The Garfagnana, and its artery is the ancient Serchio River. The Serchio’s force carves through algific, impenetrable rocks with ease, floods hillside banks, roads and fields without time or thought for mercy, and levels itself into the Pisa plain, pushing West to the Mediterranean. It feeds the hills, silts the growing fields, and ultimately nourishes the bodies of its subjects, who don’t take its temper –or its place in Italy’s life- for granted.

This transalpine haven was also among the Poets’ favored retreats. Percy Bysshe Shelley captured its sublime dichotomy: the violence of nature’s forces, creating a peaceful hermitage for the weary thinker:

Against the Serchio’s torrent fierce,
Then flags with intermitting course,
And hangs upon the wave, and stems
The tempest of the...
Which fervid from its mountain source
Shallow, smooth and strong doth come,--
Swift as fire, tempestuously
It sweeps into the affrighted sea;
In morning’s smile its eddies coil,
Its billows sparkle, toss and boil,
Torturing all its quiet light
Into columns fierce and bright.

The Serchio, twisting forth
Between the marble barriers which it clove
At Ripafratta, leads through the dread chasm
The wave that died the death which lovers love,
Living in what it sought; as if this spasm
Had not yet passed, the toppling mountains cling,
But the clear stream in full enthusiasm
Pours itself on the plain, then wandering
Down one clear path of effluence crystalline
Sends its superfluous waves, that they may fling
At Arno’s feet tribute of corn and wine;
Then, through the pestilential deserts wild
Of tangled marsh and woods of stunted pine,
It rushes to the Ocean.

Seasons Change, People Change...

My blog posts have been far and few between. The main reason was a job change (I went from working full-time at the dairy to running a farmers cooperative). I also traveled to Europe for a few weeks, the holidays happened, and I had a car accident. My brain was full and I had so much to write about that I actually experienced decision paralysis! That being said,  I'm back now,

Salad in Season

A simple yet crunchy and sweet-tangy Treviso radicchio, apples from the neighbor's tree, green zebra and sungold tomatoes from the porch, parsley and Point Reyes blue cheese.  


You Can't Beat a Good Egg Salad

I just love egg salad. Always have. For about a decade I didn't eat it because it was the "eggs have cholesterol and cholesterol is bad" era. Now I'm 40, I eat a ton of eggs and butter, my cholesterol is fantastic, and studies show that eggs have always been great for you and then some. Now butter is best, sitting is the new smoking, and tomorrow will bring a new fad for the Worried Well.

Back to egg salad. I make mine with 4 chopped hard boiled eggs (of course), 3 dashes Tabasco, 2 tsp grainy Dijon mustard, 1/4 c Duke's Mayonnaise, salt and pepper.

Optional and worthy additions (all of these are great for deviled eggs too!) :

  • 2 tsp of olive tapenade (I really love Trader Joe's refrigerated tapenade)
  • 2 tsp capers
  • sweet onions
  • chopped celery
  • tuna in olive oil
  • chopped fresh parsley

Anne's Brunchy Open-Faced Sandwich:

Turn on the broiler and put a slice of sourdough or rye on a cookie sheet. Top your bread with dollops of homemade egg salad, bacon, ripe sliced tomatoes, and a slice of cheddar. Broil until cheese melts.

I just had it with an apple on the side and am very satisfied!




Baked Caprese

This could not be simpler: fresh ripe tomatoes, lots of torn basil, sea salt, cracked pepper, a drizzling of olive oil. Top or layer with mozzarella. Bake at 400 until golden. Serve with crusty bread, toss into pasta, or enjoy it by its perfect self. 


Lavender Wands

In the heat of high summer, whether you are in Provence or the San Juan Islands of Washington, this time of year is punctuated with the smell of fresh lavender. I inherited a large and healthy lavender hedge at our new home, and for the past few weeks, it's literally been shaking with happy native bees! It's a happy sight, especially as our native pollinator populations are struggling. Plant lavender, they adore it!

My farmer friend, Rosy, came over last evening to teach me how to make lavender wands. She said they were often made by aristocratic ladies long ago, in the summer. Rosy learned it from her family on camping trips in her native Canada. They would pass hours and hours making these. You rub them between your hands to activate that soothing, strong scent of lavender, and they last for years. You can use them for decoration or an adornment for gifts. I think they would be quite handy to have on an office desk when you need a "serenity now!" moment! 

The scent is wonderful and has relaxing properties so it's a great project to do on your own in order to wind down, as well as to enjoy with friends and children. 

Step 1: Harvest fresh lavender. Make sure it has not fully bloomed into purple flowers, but still looks like little purple pieces of rice. Cut the stems with scissors ...12-16 inches long. You want them to be long while you work with them. 


Step 2: Take an UNEVEN amount of stems, maybe 9, and bunch them up so that the top buds are aligned. Tie them together in a bunch, at the bottom of the buds, leaving the rest of your ribbon to work with. 

Step 3:  Turn your bouquet upside down and pull the long stems over the buds to make a "cage" around the buds. 


Step 4: Using the ribbon you tied, beginning at the top of the "cage", thread the ribbon  in and out of the stems, carefully, making sure you don't miss any stems. Pull it taut as you go and work your way down to the bottom of the cage area. It will take a while!


Step 5: Tie the stems together under the cage and at the bottom of the wand. Cut the stems at the bottom so that they are even.


Your first few will look like a mess, trust me! It just takes practice and it's a good kind of tedious. A lovely way to pass time on a summer evening with a glass of wine, if I may.... And I'll be longing for this in the cold dark winter, when all I can do is smell the wand and remember honeysuckles and dragonflies and dry native grasses!

Grilled Oysters

    Smoky. Lemony. Sea- salt air in a beautiful shell.

I've never been much of an oyster person, but grilling them fully converted me. I'm now one of those oyster people. Now that porch and grilling season is here, I cannot think of many better things to eat at sunset with a fresh-picked green salad and a glass of crisp white wine. 

Grilling oysters is astonishingly easy. Obviously you want to buy them from a reputable fishmonger. In this case, we are lucky to have oysters from local Taylor Shellfish Farm. Get about six per person, and ask them for good grilling oysters. They will know which ones to give you. Keep those babies on ice until they hit the grill.

Fire up your grill, preferably a charcoal grill (wood charcoal only) to 400F. Set the oysters right on the grill. It takes about 5 minutes but more importantly, you will know they are done when brine starts bubbling out. The smells evoke the sea, smoke, and all around goodness: like a campfire on the beach!

Carefully open with an oyster shucking knife, carve out the oyster delicately, and put the meat Back in the shell. Serve with lemon wedges, hot sauce, and a little shaved fresh horseradish if you like that! So simple and natural and elegant. 

I threw the shells in my garden. A happy reminder that we live close to the beautiful coast and a future reminder of summer dinners on the porch... 




Depression and My Joyful Life (or how the Bomb learned to love Me)

Anne has depression. Anne is depressed? No, Anne is not depressed. She has Depression. Is that more confusing? But Anne writes fun things on Facebook and works at the farm and visits with her friends every day, and shows up for work. And travels and stuff. Naw, that’s not depression. Yes it is. Confusing unless you live with it, too. But does that mean you are a problem for society. Hell no, it never has.

With all of the “enlightened” talk about depression in the wake of a horrific plane crash, I want to speak loudly about my depression and say my part about the dangers of stigmatizing a very, very large part of our everyday community. This does not involve any heavy lifting or research or clinical expertise. I won’t even add statistics!

I’ll start with this: if you think we need to screen out “depressed” people from certain workplaces (like piloting or teaching), I hope you also aren’t planning a family trip on a plane anytime soon, and that you’re planning to home school from here on out. Great news: you have that choice! But if you want to make it compulsory to screen out depressive individuals, you’d better have a fantastic diagnostic module to prove they are a danger, and a lawyer that would make Saul Goodman blush.

I live with depression and will live with it every day of my life. A life I live to the fullest and I am very thankful for, in part as a result of early diagnosis and managing it. It runs in my family and was exacerbated by environmental stresses from a young age.  I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder when I was 17. I was incredibly smart, “gifted,” and in tune with the world, but was also extremely tired and anxious for someone at a tender age. I had a “noisy brain” and sometimes it literally hurt. I was unable to rest, I got sick a lot, had an extra-sensitive temper and would get incredibly morose about events I could not control. When it began to shut my energy down, affect my ability to perform at school, and participate as an equal in friendships, I sought help. And I had to do a lot of that on my own. It was embarrassing, terrifying, and I was convinced I would be judged in every relationship and job for the rest of my life. I had to deal with angry and guilt-ridden parents who were dealing with their own complex realities. I did not have helicopter parents, I was not popular in the social sense, and good grades could not shield me from the emotional and physical pain that was real in my everyday life. I never thought about killing myself let alone anyone else, but I sure did wish I could just go to sleep for a few years or hide so that I was not a problem to those around me. I just wanted to exist in my complicated, busy head, and let everyone else move on.

I left my home at 17 because I had serious work to do in order to get better. That, in conjunction with therapy and medication, helped me to be very functional as a student and to make new friends. I still suffered a lot and had some serious coping issues to deal with, but the fear of letting depression define my adult and professional life drove me to push even harder: make friends with sympathetic professors, befriend a broad range of peers, push hard on my talents like debating and writing, and to travel. Over the years I completed college with high marks, went on to work in the US Congress and two of the world’s top marketing and lobbying agencies. I participated in some terrible relationships, and some great ones, but through all of this, I continued therapy. When I thought I had “made it” and no longer needed medication, within months, the physical symptoms would reappear (in a stressful, fast-paced career,  it’s harder to separate anxiety from depression…that takes a lot of discernment and even some serious wisdom). I was disappointed to have to return to the regimen, but you know what, once again, it made me more able, more successful, ever more determined to live. Not wither, and not suck the life out of anyone else. With time and counsel, I began to know myself better, know my body and how it responds to anxiety versus depression (the latter is definitely more dangerous for me), and to never, ever be afraid of being labeled as “depressed.”

You see, I am not “depressed.” I live with depression. It’s a broad stroke of a word and diagnosis. People are opening their eyes up to the width of the autism spectrum now too, perhaps they can relate to that analogy. I live richly with depression. I’ve traveled from Timbuktu, Mali, to Talkeetna, Alaska, with depression inside of me. Sometimes it makes me more tired than I should be, but sometimes the world and its colors and my words about it become extra-inspiring because of it. I have to admit, at its best, it makes me a better writer, artist, lover, coworker, and friend. Depression taught me empathy for people and situations that are largely ignored by many others. At its worst, I am my worst enemy. I am tired, more frail, self-conscious, and it’s hard to focus. But it’s never denied me a job, a great relationship, or the ability to enjoy something every day. My worst vices: overeating, overdrinking, being overly critical of myself and others: those largely stem from anxiety, a beast that affects every one of you too.

I am lucky, not because I have a “good kind” of depression, but that I know that it’s up to me, not others around me, to right the ship when it lists. I’ve watched with great worry and sorrow as close friends and family have let it slide and it’s robbed them of health, joy, and lasting relationships. It’s OK to have bad days and for people to see it. Really it is, and most people can relate more than you know. Those who cannot do not deserve your friendship nor your service. I learned that the hard way too. A few years on, now, I can feel better about it, even relieved. I was bright and successful and recruited for a job at a US intelligence agency several years ago. I was so afraid to say I had been treated for depression. The war had just started in Iraq and I lost schoolmates and seen my community devastated after 9/11. I would do anything to put my talent forward and help. One woman at my office interview, a 30-year veteran and “spook” there, said it was OK to take antidepressants, just don’t admit it before being hired, take meds AFTER you are hired. Think about that and think about all of the corruption, excessive torture, treason, and just plain crazy (yes crazy) judgment that came out of these ranks, where managed depression is suppressed as a professional liability. What because you are afraid we will torture and burn villages? It just so happens, as we all know today, that it’s not the case. In fact, the desire for sex and money seem to be more dangerous to anxiety-riddled professionals than anything. They will go down and lose it all for these two things!

But I digress. I’m glad I was open and that I didn’t have to work in that kind of environment. I guess a lot of military personnel, pilots, and teachers also have to suppress or delay their treatment. I think it is a dangerous and ill-conceived paradigm, and it’s time for it to shift. Nothing frightens me more than the thought of a pilot leading me and a bunch of sweet kids to a terrifying and pointless death. The man could have been a sociopath, just plain murderous, or he may have had a stroke behind the wheel. We’ll never know, probably, as he is now dust. But you know what, he might have also been depressed, and it might not have mattered at all when decision-time came. Maybe continuing treatment could have redeemed his life, both personally and professionally.

In the wake of this tragedy, experts whom I respect have noted the importance of teamwork in treating depression and preventing the death of an individual or innocent bystanders. Whether it’s a school shooter, a kid about to run off to Syria and join ISIS, a coworker who could at any moment commit suicide, or in this case, a deeply anguished pilot, we are the eyes and ears and it’s our responsibility, in order to lift each other up –if not just survive—to speak up. THIS IS A SYMPTOM OF SOMETHING SO MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAN DEPRESSION:  THE ABSENCE OF HOPE. Parents, friends, coworkers, siblings, coffee buddies, partners, kids, neighbors… please keep an eye on each other and say something. The only way to make this horror stop is to speak up, work through it, and end the stigma. We can live with depression, and in fact, I am living a life I never could have imagined because I wrestled it by the horns, had to be brave, and shed quite a few tears along the way. I made a lot of friends along the way too, and life started opening up for me.

Depression is a part of most of our lives. Why isn’t healing?