Dolly Parton’s Retired Tour Bus Now Premium Lodging at Dollywood

For those who want a glimpse into the life of a legend, Dollywood is introducing the “Suite 1986” Tour Bus Experience. Today, guests can begin booking stays on the Prevost tour bus that was Dolly Parton’s favorite home away from home for 15 years. The bus was recently acquired by Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa and has been transformed into the property’s ultimate suite, now situated on a permanent parking pad just behind the hotel.

Guests of Suite 1986 will not only have the most interesting accommodations in Dollywood’s history, but they’ll also get the opportunity to enjoy some special amenities. The suite features dedicated concierge service for the entire length of stay, the chance to sample one-of-a-kind food offerings created by the resort’s award-winning culinary team, and customized keepsakes to take home as souvenirs. The tour bus sleeps two guests, but each reservation also includes a room at DreamMore Resort, which can accommodate up to four additional guests.

There’s a two-night minimum stay for Suite 1986 and a starting rate of $10,000. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Dollywood Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dolly’s enterprises. In part, it funds Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which gifts free books to children from birth to age 5 as part of an ongoing effort to instill in everyone a passion for reading. So far, more than 2 million children have benefitted from the program.

Dolly herself loves to read, and she’s a writer at heart. In fact, she wrote her “Backwoods Barbie” album as well as “9 to 5 the Musical” in the comfort of the bus, plus some books and scripts for television shows and movies.

Though Dolly is a free-spirted traveler, she doesn’t enjoy flying and much prefers to have her own space, food and belongings rather than staying in a hotel. Her tour bus served as a rolling sanctuary that was customized to ensure that she and her companions traveled in comfort and ease no matter how far the journey. And it was specially adapted and upgraded so Dolly could do two of her favorite things – writing and cooking – from any locale.

She enjoyed making meals in the kitchenette and sharing them with her best friend and personal assistant, Judy Ogle, who traveled with her most of the time, and driver Tim Dunlap, who was responsible for the vehicle and its passengers during its length of service. To install a full-size refrigerator in place of the smaller size that comes standard in most vehicles of this type, the bus’s windshield had to be removed and then replaced.

Those who are curious about Dolly’s incredible wardrobe may be interested to learn that three of the bus’s six standard bunk beds were removed and replaced with a special closet that could accommodate all the glitter and rhinestones. When Dolly has welcomed visitors onto the bus, she’s taken great delight in showing off her wig cabinet, which probably isn’t something you’d find on any other tour bus. It’s a truly “Dolly” touch.

Guests may not need the wig closet, but they might appreciate the custom bathtub and electric doors that were added to the vehicle to transform it into a luxury suite on wheels. “I have homes all over the United States,” Dolly once said. “But my favorite place is the bus because that way I can just feel those wheels rolling.”

In addition to providing a unique glimpse into the icon’s life, the bus affords its guests beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains, where Dolly grew up. It also provides easy access to Dollywood, the theme park she established here in 1986 (hence, the bus’s new name) to provide both a source of employment for residents and a spark of joy and inspiration for the millions of visitors who are drawn to the region.

For more information about this once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, please visit www.Dollywood.com/Suite1986.

Looking to the future of lodging in the area, Dolly was in Pigeon Forge this morning to visit the construction site of Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort, her second hotel in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. The 302-room property is slated to open in late 2023.

Tucked away in a beautiful cove in the rolling foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort will welcome the outdoors in with high ceilings, exposed beams and natural layered textures. The resort will offer lodging options for multi-generational families and couples, including spacious family suites and bunk rooms that will feature touches inspired by the beauty of the Smokies. Many of the rooms will include balconies that provide sweeping views of the vast resort property.

For more information about anything connected to “Destination Dollywood,” please visit Dollywood.com.

Great Lakes Lighthouses and Keepers’ Manitou Windjammer Cruise

One of the most unique hands-on Pure Michigan experiences is to spend several days sailing the freshwaters aboard a dual-masted tall ship. You’re invited to board one of the largest sailing vessels in the Great Lakes during one of these autumn windjammer cruises aboard the Tall Ship Manitou with the Traverse Tall Ship Company. Coming up September 13-17 is a four-day excursion focused on the hundreds of historic lighthouses throughout the Great Lakes region with best-selling author and freelance travel writer, Dianna Stampfler.

“We introduced this themed cruise last year and it was a sell-out success,” notes Stampfler, who has been researching and writing about Michigan’s nearly 130 lighthouses and their heroic keepers for close to 25 years. “There was something really special about projecting images on a canopy aboard the tall ship after dark and sharing spooky stories from my first book, Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses. This year, I’m excited to also add tales from my newly released title Death and Lighthouses on the Great Lakes. A third presentation, “Ladies of the Lights” will focus on the many female keepers who served in the state.”

Each passenger will receive an autographed copy of one of Stampfler’s books (with an option to purchase additional copies). The tour also includes a special tour of the 1852 Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Northport, inside Leelanau State Park at the end of the Leelanau Peninsula.

“Last year it was great to just sit around and share stories about Michigan with all the passengers,” says Stampfler. “Today, we all seem so busy running around that we don’t often find the time to relax and just get to know people in a casual and serene environment — the Manitou provides the perfect opportunity. The backdrop of Grand Traverse Bay is also inspiring for would-be writers and I welcome guests to bring their projects with them. If there is interest, I’ll offer guidance on how to get things moving along for those who aspire to become authors or published writers.”

Chuck and Brenda Marshall – creators of the lifestyle blog Life in Michigan – posted a detailed account of their experience (along with dozens of photos) after the 2021 Lighthouse Cruise: https://www.lifeinmichigan.com/tall-ship-manitou-life-in-michigans-sailing-adventure/.

“Each evening, I’ll be presenting for about an hour on the deck of the Manitou, sharing stories from my two books as well as the fascinating tales of our female keepers here in Michigan,” said Stampfler. “The setting really is unparalleled…as the sun sets around 7:45 (and I present around 8pm, so it is twilight). It is something special to be on the tall ship after having sailed all day – from Traverse City up to Suttons Bay and Northport. It’s also a little challenging as when we aren’t docked and hooked up to power, we’re drawing from the battery for an hour to run my laptop and the projector! It definitely is the most unique venue I’ve ever presented in. Not only do we get a chance to tour Grand Traverse Lighthouse, but we get within camera view of Old Mission Point Lighthouse. I think several people were planning to visit that light on their way home, or to travel down the coastline to Point Betsie near Frankfort.”

Guided by the passionate, skilled and entertaining crew, this voyage sets sail out of Grand Traverse Bay aboard a replication of an 1800s “coasting” cargo schooner. A traditional two-masted, gaff rigged, topsail schooner, Manitou measures 114 feet in length with more than 3,000 square feet of sail. Passengers are free to leave the sailing to the experienced crew, but it’s much more fun to lend a hand and learn the arts of the sailor.

“It’s also pretty cool to see people lounging around the boat during the day reading your book while sipping on a cold beverage,” said Stampfler.

The exact course of the trip cannot be determined in advance, as the captain and crew rely on the winds to guide the path of the ship. Yet, no matter what the route, the sights, sounds and stories meld together for a truly one-of-a-kind experience. There is plenty of space for sitting and moving around Manitou’s deck while under sail on the freshwaters of Michigan’s inland seas.

This trip is limited to 22 individuals, with accommodations provided in 11 double-bunk cabins. Fare includes lodging, all meals and sailing activities. Boarding takes place on the first day between 6-8pm, with a return in mid-afternoon on the final day. To make reservations, call 800-678-0383 or order tickets online at www.TallShipSailing. Gift certificates are also available.

Traverse Tall Ship Company is located at 13258 S.W. Bay Shore Drive (M22) in Traverse City.

Making the Case for Macon

Macon, Georgia, which is just 90 minutes from Atlanta and 3.5 hours from both Birmingham and Chattanooga and four hours from Charleston and Jacksonville, is often an overlooked destination.  Located in the center to Georgia–or should we say the very heart and soul of the state–Macon is a fun-filled destination with both a fascinating history, an exciting present, and a bright future. Still need convincing? Here are four reasons among many to put Macon on your bucket list.

  • Makin’ Fun: Macon is the home of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, so sports-aholics can get their fix of every sport at every level of play. But for some what’s best about Macon’s athletic scene is that it’s home to the best-named baseball team in the whole game: the Macon Baco. Yes, really. That alone should prove that Macon is a fun place. As for the Macon Bacons, it’s part of a wood-bat collegiate summer league whose roster teams (pardon the pun) with top players from schools around the country. Not only does the team have a delicious name, but it also has a mascot that really sizzles: Kevin, a seven-foot-tall slice of bacon. Get it … Kevin Bacon? Our pal Kevin Bacon loves to dance particularly it’s one of the songs from the movie “Footloose.” A dancing strip of bacon imakes sense. After all Macon is a city that’s all about music. As an aside, the Bacons’ archrivals are the Savannah Bananas. We love that name but really, if it’s a contest between bacon and bananas, we’d choose bacon every time.
  • Makin’ Movies: The baseball team plays at historic Luther Williams Field, built in 1929 and recently refurbished. Even if you haven’t been to a game (yet), the field might look familiar to you because it’s starred on the screen in “The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings,” a 1976 movie starring Billy Dee Williams; “The Trouble with the Curve,” a 2012 film featuring Clint Eastwood; “42,” the 2013 biopic about baseball legend Jackie Robinson; and the Hank Azaria TV comedy “Brockmire.” Macon is the site of plenty of movie-making, most recently welcoming an all-star cast that was in town filming the remake of “The Color Purple,” which is set for release in 2023. The film is being produced by Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones. (As an aside, if our mention of Kevin Bacon above has you playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” you might be interested in knowing that each of those producers has a Bacon Number of 2. The actor, we mean. Not the baseball mascot. The version wearing a frying pan as a cap is probably separated by a few additional degrees.)
  • Makin’ Music: This new version of “The Color Purple” is an adaptation of the Broadway musical, so Macon was the perfect location. This is a city with deep musical roots (fun fact: this is where the kazoo was invented, by a formerly enslaved man named Alabama Vest all the way back in 1840), and it lives up to its tagline, “Where Soul Lives.” It’s the hometown of Otis Redding, Little Richard and The Allman Brothers, all of whom left indelible marks on the place and its people. Today, visitors can learn more about Macon’s musical history by checking out live performances at an array of venues, visiting the Otis Redding Foundation Museum or the Allman Brothers Museum at the Big House, or taking a public or private Rock Candy Tour, which could focus on music alone or the delightful combo of music and food.
  • Makin’ Dinner: Macon has an incredible food scene, and some its top restaurants have ties to music. The Downtown Grill a fancy English steakhouse, is where Greg Allman proposed to Cher, but it’s H&H Soul Food where the band spent even more time … and then took its former owner, Mama Louise, on the road with them so they could have their favorite meals on the tour bus. Today you’ll find everything from upscale to down-home offerings, plus plenty of liquid refreshment to accompany all the amazing tastes.

Pro tip: For a great lunch option, hit The Rookery and order pretty much any sandwich or burger … and a milkshake chaser. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that many menu items feature bacon in a starring role. Because, as we know, it always comes back to bacon.

And there you have it … in just three degrees of separation from baseball to burger, Makin’ it in Macon is all about fun, food, sports, history, and so much more.

For more information or to begin planning a trip, start here

The Guardian: Restoring Hawaii’s ancient food forests

The Guardian: The farmers restoring Hawaii’s ancient food forests that once fed an island | Hawaii. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/17/hawaii-traditional-farming-methods-ancient-food-forests

Our community has been using their skills and creativity to pivot, fill food system gaps, and serve Hawaiʻi’s nutritional needs during this unprecedented time.

Through thoughtful interviews and photographic portraiture, we spotlight the necessity of a collective commitment needed to sustain our emerging system of resiliency, of a self-sufficient Hawaiʻi. From Feeding Hawai’i.

The Last of Howard Johnson’s

The loss of an American iconic restaurant and motel chain.:

HoJo’s no mo’: The last remnant of ‘the oranging of America’ has closed https://flip.it/l2.5Rk

It’s the End of an Era

Courtesy of New York Public Library.

With its signature orange roof, glistening pool with both high and low dives, restaurant with signature clam strips and 28 flavors of ice cream when nationwide chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla were typically all that was offered, Howard Johnson’s had it all.

Learn more about it in the book A History of Howard Johnson’s: How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain Became an American Icon (American Palate).

9 things you didn’t know about Pioneer Playhouse

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt.

In 1950, Kentucky’s legendary Pioneer Playhouse in charming Danville, KY, debuted its first season, opening at the Darnell State Hospital, now Northpoint Prison. On June 10, 2022, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater – also one of the oldest in the country – opened its 73rd season with “Dracula Bites,” a kooky spin on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Theater History

More than seven decades of history have been written on the page and the stage of this Kentucky Historic Landmark, a time capsule of 1950s summer stock theater that was the dream of its visionary founder, Col. Eben Henson, who wanted to bring Broadway to the Bluegrass. And boy, did he ever!

At Pioneer Playhouse, an evening of theater under the stars begins with the ringing of the Old Danville Firehouse Bell to announce dinner – a Kentucky farm-fresh menu that is served on a covered patio and accompanied by live music. It is followed by outstanding professional theater and a chance to explore moments and memorabilia on the Playhouse’s timeline as well as browse the gift shop.

Here are nine things you may not know about the Pioneer Playhouse:

  • The actor best known for his roles in “Pulp Fiction,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Grease” got his start at Pioneer Playhouse. John Travolta was a 15-year-old kid from New Jersey when he made his theatre debut here in 1969. The show was “The Ephraim McDowell Story,” an original play about a nineteenth-century Kentucky surgeon. (Visitors to Danville can tour the former home and office of this pioneering surgeon, considered “The Father of Abdominal Surgery,” at the McDowell House Museum and Apothecary.
  • After serving in WWII, founder Eben Henson studied acting in New York City on the GI Bill with such promising up-and-comers as Harry Belafonte, Tony Curtis and Bea Arthur.
  • You know him as the “Six Million Dollar Man,” but back in the day, he was Harvey Yeary – a name he changed immediately to Lee Majors upon his arrival in Hollywood direct from the Playhouse. His first show? The TV western, “The Big Valley,” starring Barbara Stanwyck.
  • Eben’s wife, Charlotte Henson, has been singing for Playhouse dinner guests for over 50 years. The great Kentucky composer and collector of ballads, John Jacob Niles, called Charlotte’s voice one of the purest he had ever heard. Want to hear for yourself? Buy a CD of Charlotte’s record from the early 1970s at the Playhouse gift shop.
  • The Pioneer Playhouse box office is the original train station from the 1957 MGM classic, “Raintree County,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Eben Henson moved the train station to its current location and used it as an anchor for the Playhouse complex, which includes the theater, Antiques Alley, gift shop, patio dining, indoor exhibits and campground. 
  • Charlotte and Eben Henson raised four children on Playhouse grounds, with the kids helping out behind the scenes and sometimes acting. The late Holly Henson was a nationally known stand-up comedian. Robby Henson has made acclaimed movies with such stars as Kris Kristofferson, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Billy Bob Thornton. Eben Henson has a successful sign and design company and is also a drummer for many local bands. Heather Henson is a nationally recognized, award-winning author of children’s books.
July 18, 2017, Pioneer Playhouse, Danville, KY “Guarded” – July 11-22, 2017
  • Speaking of books, Heather’s most recent book is a novel for teens called Wrecked, a contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in Kentucky against the gritty backdrop of the opioid crisis. Her most well-known book is That Book Woman, which celebrates the work of the Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky and has become a classic of children’s literature. It is published in many countries around the world and is part of the fifth grade curriculum in South Korea. Heather’s books are available in the Playhouse gift shop.
  • Holly Henson was artistic director for many years following the death of Eben Henson in 2004. She lost her battle with breast cancer in 2012. Robby and Heather returned from Los Aneles and NYC respectively to help keep Pioneer Playhouse going after Holly’s untimely death, and Charlotte, at 91, remains the backbone of the theatre – and still sings for dinner guests.

Pioneer Playhouse has been managing a NEA (National Endowment for the Arts)-funded, life-changing outreach program for 12 years called “Voices Inside at Northpoint Prison,” so in a sense they’ve come full circle. Playhouse Artistic Director Robby Henson teaches playwriting to inmates and works with a New York City theatre to bring inmate-authored plays to NYC each year. Several participants of the program have won the PEN Award for Best Inmate Play in America.

Celebrating Almost Three-Quarters of a Century

The Pioneer Playhouse’s 73rd season runs now through August 6 with these shows: “Dracula Bites,” “Southern Fried Nuptials” and “Cockeyed.” On Aug. 12 and 13, the Playhouse presents “Elvis and Patsy Cline Together Under the Stars!” and on Aug. 19, Music Weekend complete with food trucks and bar. See show details here. Performances are nightly, Tuesday through Saturday. Dinner and Show: 7 p.m.; show only: 8:30 p.m.

Plan a Danville theater getaway: Book an overnight with the Hampton Inn Danville or Holiday Inn Express & Suites and receive a discount when you mention “Pioneer Playhouse.”

Tickets may be purchased online at www.pioneerplayhouse.csstix.com. For more information, visit www.pioneerplayhouse.com or call 859-236-2747.

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Pioneer Playhouse

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Kathy has a new interactive Cincinnati-themed book arriving summer 2022!

Follow Kathy on Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Mr. Jiu’s in Chinatown: Contemporary Asian Recipes

He cooked in Italy, honed the seasonal California-Mediterranean style in the kitchen of the Zuni Café, and learned Californian contemporary cuisine with Italian influences at Quince. But when it came right down to it, Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco who just last night won this year’s James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: California, missed his grandmother’s cooking.

“What I remember from eating my grandma’s food is after eating, you feel good,” says Jew whose original family name was spelled Jiu but was changed when the family moved here when going through customs. “That sensation is what I want people to experience. Understanding that chefs back in old China—they were considered doctors too, where they were healing people and giving remedies to fix your ailments. A lot of it was basically what they were feeding you. I try not to take it too seriously, but there are things I feel like as a chef, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make people feel good afterwards too.”

But those years cooking Cal weren’t wasted.

Lion’s Head Meatballs

“Cantonese cuisine and California cuisine really align in how ingredient-driven the food is and how minimal—the goal is to do as little to a perfect ingredient,” says Jew. “Finding that perfect ingredient and thinking of the cooking method to showcase its natural flavors the most, to me, is very Cantonese and Californian. I’m using that mentality to bridge the two together.”

A bio major, Jew says it starts with the ingredients.

“There are just some classic things we want to reinterpret,” he says. “There isn’t a lot of specific recipes for a lot of things. Chop suey just doesn’t have really any recipe to it. We’re taking the creative freedom to do our version of that, or even something like egg foo young.”

All the recipes and images used in this story are with permission from Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown: RECIPES AND STORIES FROM THE BIRTHPLACE OF CHINESE AMERICAN FOOD.

LION’S HEAD MEATBALLS

Anything that needs slow braising will do well in a clay pot. The porous clay distributes an encompassing gentle heat all while sealing in the juices. The slightly alkaline clay also keeps proteins loose and tender. I appreciate a clay pot for its kindness to cooks. It holds heat so well that you can set it aside off-heat for an hour or two and come back to find everything inside still nice and toasty. And if you don’t have one, a small Dutch oven with a tight lid will do. Lion’s head (獅子頭, shī zi tóu in Mandarin) are a classic Chinese meatball (the bumpy texture looks like the curly manes of mythical lions). We use savory ingredients ingredients—mushrooms, seaweed, and a blend of pork—that compounds the sīn flavor exponentially. Use whatever delicious fungi you’ve got. Sometimes I drop a handful of fresh cordyceps (蟲草花, chóng căo huá) sautéed with garlic, or shave matsutake as in this recipe. For the bacon, choose an intensely smoky kind. You can use a meat grinder or hand-chop everything old-school.

Active Time — 1 hour, 15 minutes

Plan Ahead — You’ll need about 3 hours total, plus time to make Chicken Stock; pre-soak the clay pot for 2 hours

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Special Equipment — Meat grinder (optional), soaked 9-inch clay pot or a small Dutch oven

Lion’s Head Meatballs

  • 3 oz / 85g nettles or stemmed lacinato kale
  • 1 tsp neutral oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 oz / 115g skin-on pork belly
  • 12 Savoy cabbage leaves, thick stems trimmed
  • 12 oz / 340g pork shoulder, cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 3 oz / 85g pork back fat
  • 3½ oz / 100g medium-firm doufu
  • 4 tsp peeled and minced ginger
  • 1½ Tbsp light soy sauce (生抽, sāng chāu)
  • 1 Tbsp powdered milk
  • 1¼ tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1½ cups / 360ml Matsutake Broth (recipe follows)
  • 2 Tbsp neutral oil
  • 3 oz / 85g fresh wild mushrooms (such as matsutake, black trumpets, or chanterelles), chopped if large
  • ½ rosemary sprig, about 2 inches long
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 1 fresh matsutake mushroom, very thinly sliced or shaved with a mandoline

To make the meatballs: While wearing thick gloves, strip the leaves from the nettles and discard the stems.

In a wok or a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the neutral oil until shimmering. Add the nettles and a pinch of salt and cook until wilted but still bright green, about 1½ minutes. If using kale, this will take about 3 minutes. Finely chop and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.

Remove the skin from the pork belly. Add the skin to the boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds to firm up. Using tongs, remove and set aside. Add the cabbage leaves (work in batches, if needed) to the water and blanch until just wilted, about 30 seconds, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet to drain.

Place the pork skin, pork shoulder, belly, and back fat in a single layer on a plate and put in the freezer until the surface is just frozen but the center is still soft enough to be ground, about 15 minutes.

If using a meat grinder, grind the fat and skin through a fine grinding plate (⅛-inch / 3mm holes) into a large bowl. Switch to a coarse grinding plate (¼-inch / 6mm holes). Regrind about half of the fat-skin mixture back into the large bowl, then grind the shoulder and belly through the same grinding plate. Mix gently to combine. Regrind about half of the pork mixture again. Grind the doufu through the coarse grinding plate into the large bowl.

If chopping by hand, separately mince the pork belly skin, pork belly, pork shoulder, pork fat, and doufu using a chef’s knife or cleaver (two if you got ’em). Transfer to a large bowl as each one has formed a sticky paste and then mix well.

Add the nettles, ginger, soy sauce, powdered milk, 1½ tsp salt, pepper, and fish sauce to the bowl and use your hands to mix until well combined and a sticky paste forms but the meat is not overworked.

Divide the mixture into six portions. Roll each portion into a ball that is firmly packed and smooth. Wrap a cabbage leaf around each meatball, leaving the top exposed (save the remaining cabbage leaves for the clay pot). Refrigerate until ready to cook, up to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the wrapped meatballs in a single layer in a soaked 9-inch-wide clay pot or small Dutch oven. Tuck the remaining cabbage leaves between the meatballs, then add the broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Transfer the pot to the oven and bake uncovered until the meatballs are browned and cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm a wok or a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the neutral oil and let it heat up for a few seconds. Add the mushrooms and rosemary, season with salt, and stir-fry until the mushrooms are browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Discard the rosemary.

Spoon the stir-fried mushrooms and any oil left in the pan over the meatballs and top with the pine nuts and shaved mushroom. Serve immediately.

MATSUTAKE BROTH

Makes 1 ½ cups / 360ml

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, sear the bacon until dark golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the onion to the pan and sear until very browned on one side, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-low; add the seared bacon, chicken stock, both dried mushrooms, and kombu; and simmer until reduced to 1½ cups / 360ml, about 1 hour.

Fit a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Strain the broth and discard the solids. Stir the fish sauce into the broth. Let cool, transfer to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

SIZZLING FISH

On a weekly basis, my mom would cook corned beef with cabbage, or chicken à la king, or sausage lasagna. It was too expensive to travel internationally, but we got to eat all over the world from our kitchen table. When she cooked food from her childhood, though, she would make us this steamed fish, topped with ginger, green onions, and fermented black beans. The flavor of steamed fish in Cantonese cuisine is all about sīn tìhm (鮮甜), the essential flavor of a fresh ingredient in combination with a pure, smooth sweetness. The final lashing of hot oil in this dish infuses the green onions and ginger into the flesh of the fish and enriches the soy. Take care not to overcook the fish; I like to turn off the heat in the last minutes of cooking and let the steam finish the job. The flesh should pull off the bone in tender morsels, not flake. I always score round, fleshy fish to help it cook evenly. Then I steam the fish only until the thickest flesh right behind the gill area is not quite opaque or, as Cantonese cooks say, “translucent like white jade.”

Active Time — 20 minutes

Makes 4 servings

Special Equipment — Steamer, 9-inch pie plate

  • 1 Tbsp fermented black beans (optional)
  • One 1½-lb / 680g whole fish (such as black bass or Tai snapper), gutted and scaled
  • large handful aromatics (such as thinly sliced ginger, green onion tops, and/or strips of fresh citrus zest)
  • ¼ cup / 60ml high-smoke-point oil (such as peanut oil)
  • 2 Tbsp premium soy sauce (頭抽, tàuh chāu) or light soy sauce (生抽, sāng chāu)
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and thread cut
  • 3 green onions, thread cut (white parts only)
  • Young cilantro sprigs for garnishing

In a small bowl, cover the black beans (if using) with water, let soak for 30 minutes, and then drain.

Prepare a steamer in a wok or a large, lidded pot following the instructions on page 167 and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, using kitchen shears, cut off the gills and the fins (careful, sharp!) on the top, bottom, and sides of the fish. Run your fingers over the skin, especially near the gills and belly, toward the head to check for any last scales; remove the scales with the edge of a spoon or the back of a knife.

On both sides of the fish, make eight 2-inch-long parallel slits into the flesh, not quite deep enough to hit bone, starting about 1 inch from the gills. Place the fish in a pie plate. (The fish can hang over the edges so long as everything fits in the steamer. If not, cut the fish in half to fit and hope none of your guests are superstitious.) Tuck some of your chosen aromatics into each slit, then stuff the remaining aromatics in the cavity. Top the fish with the black beans.

Place the pie plate in the steamer, cover, and steam until the eyeball is opaque and the flesh of the fish is white and flaky at the thickest part near the head and first slit, 10 to 12 minutes.

While the fish is steaming, in a small heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat, slowly warm the oil.

When the fish is ready, remove it with the pie plate from the steamer. (Reassemble as a whole fish if you cut it in two.) Drizzle with the soy sauce, then top with the ginger and green onions. Turn the heat under the oil to high and warm until it just starts to smoke. Immediately pour the oil over the fish, getting as much of the ginger and green onions to sizzle as you can. Garnish with the cilantro and serve with a spoon big enough for drizzling the juices.

TAIWANESE-STYLE EGGPLANT

For this recipe, I prefer medium Chinese eggplants, the pale purple, slender ones that are ten to twelve inches long, over similar-looking but more bitter varieties. This calls for oil-blanching and, because eggplant is basically a sponge, brining them for an hour first until they are saturated but not bloated. During frying, the water turns to steam and makes the eggplant creamy and not at all oily.

Cooking is really the study of water. It takes water to grow everything, of course, and so the amount of water that remains in an ingredient after it is harvested or butchered dictates how it will heat through in the pan, whether it will soften, seize, crisp, or caramelize. You’re adding water when you use stocks, vinegars, or alcohol. You’re creating barriers to water with starches. How you cut ingredients and the order in which you add them to the pan is about controlling how and when they release the water inside them. Even the shapes of cooking vessels are about releasing or retaining moisture. When cooking with a wok, changes to water happen so quickly that split-second timing is essential.

Active Time — 25 minutes

Plan Ahead — You’ll need 1 hour for brining

Makes 4 servings

Special Equipment — Deep-fry thermometer, spider

  • 2 medium Chinese eggplants
  • 5 qt plus ¼ cup / 1L water
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 qt / 1.9L neutral oil
  • 3 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2¼ tsp granulated sugar
  • 5  garlic cloves; 2 thinly sliced, 3 finely chopped
  • 5 red Fresno chile, cut into thin rings
  • ¼ cup / 5g packed Thai or opal basil leaves, torn in half if large

Trim and discard the eggplant ends, then cut into thick wedges, like steak frites—first cut crosswise into three 3-inch chunks, then halve those lengthwise repeatedly until you have 1-inch-thick wedges.

In a large bowl, combine 1 qt / 950ml of the water and the salt and whisk until the salt is dissolved. Add the eggplant, making sure it is submerged, and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Fill a 5-quart or larger Dutch oven with the neutral oil and secure a deep-fry thermometer on the side. Set over medium-high heat and warm the oil to 375°F.

Meanwhile, drain the eggplant and dry very well with paper towels. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ¼ cup / 60ml water, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set this sauce aside.

Add the sliced garlic to the oil and fry until crisp and light golden brown, about 30 seconds. Use a spider to transfer them to a paper towel to drain.

Check that the oil in the Dutch oven is still at 375°F. Set up for the second fry by setting a dry wok or large skillet over high heat.

Carefully slide all the eggplant into the oil. Stir until the eggplant has darkened and caramelized at the edges, about 1 minute. Remove the eggplant with the spider and drain well over the Dutch oven, then transfer to the screaming-hot wok.

Immediately add the chopped garlic and most of the chile rings (reserve a few for garnish) to the eggplant in the wok and toss everything to combine. Add the reserved sauce and continue to toss until the sauce thickens to a glaze and the eggplants are browned at the edges, about 1 minute. Add most of the basil leaves and toss until wilted.

Transfer the contents of the wok to a serving platter. Crumble the fried garlic and scatter it over the eggplant with the rest of the basil and chile rings. Serve immediately.

Women Traveling Solo

Dining aboard the Costa Verde Express, a luxury train through Northern Spain.

More and more women are hitting the road—and they’re traveling alone and loving setting their own itinerary and the freedom of being on their own. Indeed, consider the following statistics.

Travel companies dedicated to woman-only customers increased by 230% over the past few years.

32 million single American women traveled by themselves at least once over the past year and 1 in 3 travelled 5 times or more.

The search volume for the term ‘female solo travel’ across all search engines has increased by 62% over the past three years.

Bruchsal Palace, Bruchsal, Germany. Photo @janesimonammeson

But inflation and costs are also a concern. According to Seven Corners, a global travel insurer, released data in spring 2022 showing that one of the greatest concerns of Americans traveling this summer was the rising cost of travel. For women traveling alone, the cost of travel is different than when traveling as a family. Rather than worrying about the expense of 4+ tickets to a theme park, the concern could be based on up charges for accommodations for a single occupant. It can also be more difficult to find cost-effective transportation.

T/F talked to Becky Hart, communications specialist with Seven Corners for insights and tips on women traveling solo.

BH: Women travelers have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Up until 1925, women in the U.S. could only receive a passport in their married name. As a result, it’s safe to say that if you weren’t married, you weren’t going to be taking many international trips prior to 1925.

Maulbronn Monastery, Maulbronn, Germany

Today, it’s estimated that women account for 56 percent of leisure travelers. They also make about 85 percent of all travel decisions, such as where to go and what to do. Women are making these decisions, not only for their families, but also for themselves. Pinterest saw a 350 percent increase in women “pinning” solo trips from 2014 to 2021.

Although women still experience travel guilt more than men, the number of women who report feeling shame for bucking traditional gender roles and responsibilities in favor of traveling is declining. If we can continue on with that trend, and as women gain greater financial independence, it’s likely that we will see even more women traveling by themselves in the future.

T/F: For women wanting to travel for fun, what are some of the best/safest destinations and why?

Korakia Pensione, Palm Springs, California

For those traveling solo in the U.S., I recommend Portland, Oregon. As the largest city in Oregon, there’s just about anything you could want or need, yet it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly large. You shouldn’t have trouble finding the right accommodations for your budget in a neighborhood where you feel safe. You’ll also find excellent food and reliable public transportation, two things that can quickly eat up your budget. You can save even more money by bicycling. It’s an extremely bike-friendly city. There are plenty of bike lanes, and drivers know how to share the road.

Boredom can be a concern for many solo travelers, especially if you’re away for a long time. Portland has plenty to do, from quirky art exhibits and nature parks to late-night doughnut runs at the famous Voodoo Doughnuts and wine tasting in the nearby Willamette Valley.

If you’re looking for a destination outside the U.S., I recommend Chile. Having traveled in South America more than once, Chile is one of the countries I felt the safest. Its geography provides endless activities, whether you love beaches, mountains, or desert, and it doesn’t take much to get off the beaten path. Isla Chiloe in the far south is a fishing village full of fascinating — and sometimes humorous — folklore you won’t want to miss. This part of Patagonia is a relatively inexpensive region as well, so you may be able to make your travel budget stretch farther here.

Princess Majestic

T/F: I understand you’ve traveled by yourself. What are some insights you’ve gained?

Especially the first few times you travel solo, it’s hard. Harder than when you travel with someone else. That makes it the perfect opportunity to lean into challenges, whether it’s the logistics of rebooking canceled flights, navigating a new city, or feeling comfortable in your own skin. All the small victories that come during a solo trip build confidence, not only for your next solo adventure but also in your everyday life.

Trakošćan Castle, Croatia. Photo courtesy of Croatian Tourism Board.

Because solo travel can be more difficult, build in a little more time to recover during your trip than you might normally. For example, after a big day of touring an unfamiliar city where you’re using a lot of mental energy to learn your way around, staying aware of your surroundings, making sure you get the right train, maybe even communicating in a different language, spend the next day doing something more low-key. Schedule a single museum visit or a walk around a botanical garden so you don’t burn out.

I also recommend joining groups when it makes sense. While I enjoy the freedom of traveling solo, only doing what I want to on my schedule, teaming up with other travelers can work to your advantage. When I visited the Scottish Highlands, it didn’t make sense to rely on public transportation, which I’d been doing all over the UK for financial reasons. Buses didn’t always go to the rural Scottish castles I wanted to visit, and even if they did, it would have taken much longer than if I had my own transportation, limiting what I’d be able to see. I joined a tour group for the afternoon, complete with a van, driver and kilted tour guide. My bucket list was complete, and I didn’t break the budget by hiring a private car. There are plenty of ways to meet other travelers — on social media, through tour companies, in a hostel common room — if you need to find a group.

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire. Courtesy of Visit Scotland.

Finally, people aren’t paying you as much attention as you think. I only mention this because worrying about sticking out in a crowd is enough to make some people cancel their plans before they even get started. So many solo travelers have a fear of dining alone. If you’re really concerned about eating at a restaurant by yourself, carry a book or journal with you. It gives you something else to focus on besides your anxieties.

T/F: Why do you think the stigma of women traveling alone has changed so much?

I think the stigma around women traveling alone has diminished in many of the same ways women doing anything independently has diminished. As we continue to make inroads professionally and become more self-sufficient financially, we have the freedom to travel more. One of the reasons women enjoy traveling solo is because it puts them in charge of their own adventure. We don’t need to compromise on where we go, what we eat, or what sites we visit when we can call our own shots.

Cheese shop in Amsterdam. @janesimonammeson

I also think continuing to break the stigma of women traveling solo can transfer to empowering women in their everyday lives. We build such important intangible skills when we travel — creative problem solving, empathy and cultural awareness, confidence to advocate for ourselves, greater understanding of our own self — it only makes sense that we would bring our knowledge back home.

T/F: What cost-saving advice do you have for women travelers?

One cost-saving tip is to look for tour companies and accommodations that don’t upcharge you for being on your own. Some hotels, for example, charge you for double-occupancy accommodations, even if you’re the only one staying there. Ways I’ve gotten around this is by staying in hostels that charge by the person rather than by the room (and sometimes sucking it up and bunking with strangers), or by booking a single room at a B&B. A bed and breakfast can be pricier than other options, but I’ve found that you typically also get more for your money. And as a solo female traveler, I also find a sense of security in the personal service. A B&B operator may be more likely to notice if you don’t come back in the evening or if you’re too sick to come down for breakfast. You’re less likely to find that amongst a rotating shift of employees at a large hotel.

Izmal, Mexico @janesimonammeson

Airbnbs are another good option for saving money on accommodations. Look for properties that are renting out a room or apartment that better fits your needs and budget rather than an entire house.

One of the things I love most about travel is eating. I want to sample all the new foods I can’t find at home. With travel companions, you can order multiple entrees and share. However, as a solo traveler, that can be unrealistic. Instead, look for food markets where you can sample smaller portions. Haven’t seen that fruit before? Buy one piece instead of a whole bunch at a store. That one pastry that looks too good to pass up? Get it. Vendors might be more willing than a grocery store employee to give you a taste of something, too. Make a meal out of sample-sized treats. This is one of the things I like about tapas in Spain. I’m not committed to too much of any one dish.

Torre Loizaga, Spain @janesimonammeson

Finally, try to be flexible about when you travel. If you can book during the offseason or shoulder season, you’ll often find better deals on flights, hotels, excursions, maybe even restaurants than at other times of year.


T/F: What safety procedures do you recommend for women traveling alone?

Paris Cafe at night @janesimonammeson

Some safety tips apply to everyone, regardless of who they’re traveling with and where. Number one is to do your research. It’s easy to make sweeping statements about this city or that country being safe. But anywhere you go will have exceptions. Once you’ve decided on a destination, take it a step farther and research which neighborhoods are safest.

If you’re arriving at your destination by plane, try to schedule your arrival for daylight hours. You’ll find it easier to orient yourself in a new city, and it’s safer than at night. Only arrange rideshares or taxis through verified and trusted companies. If you aren’t sure, ask your lodging or host to arrange a ride for you so you can be sure your transportation is legitimate.

Stay alert to your surroundings. The obvious reason is so you can spot if you’re walking into a potentially dangerous situation before it’s too late. But being aware can also help you avoid a cultural faux pas that inadvertently escalates and puts you in harm’s way. Observe what the locals are doing and imitate them if it’s appropriate. This includes everything from how to queue in line at the café to more complex religious practices.

I also think it’s always a good idea to think about your travel style and what you’re comfortable with, then make adjustments to your plans based on that. Some women love to head out for the day without much of a plan and just see where the winds take them. Personally, I get nervous without a plan and knowing where I’m going. I tend to get lost easily, and that makes me feel less safe. So, I rarely set out without having researched bus lines or having a general set of directions if I’m walking, all jotted down in a tiny notebook, which also has important phone numbers and addresses, that I carry with me at all times.

T/F: Why do you recommend travel insurance for women travelers?

Old Montreal @janesimonammeson

I recommend travel insurance because it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. Especially if you’re a woman traveling solo on a budget, you want to know that the investment you’ve made in your trip is protected if something goes wrong. If your luggage is lost or damaged, travel insurance can help. If you get sick, travel insurance can also help cover the costs of medical treatment. Travel assistance services, which come with all Seven Corners’ plans, are also a great benefit for solo travelers. Navigating a foreign health care system is tricky enough. When you’re the one who’s sick or hurt and you don’t have a travel companion on site to manage things or advocate for you, having a team like Seven Corners Assist to help you find medical treatment, arrange translation services, and even arrange to have you evacuated or brought back home in extreme cases can be extremely beneficial. Those aren’t things you want to have to figure out for the first time when you don’t feel well.

T/F: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

West Baden Springs Resort, West Baden, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Visit French Lick.

There will always be an excuse to not take a trip. Chances are that those obstacles aren’t as unbeatable as you think. Your family can manage at least a couple of days without you. So can your employer. Your budget might be able to stretch farther than you realize if you plan well and play it smart. All those doubts about whether you have what it takes to do it on your own are in your head. Start small if you have to — a long-weekend microcation or a vacation to a place you’re already somewhat familiar with — but just start. Take the trip.

Cover photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Oceania Cruises’ Regatta a trip of a lifetime that inspires the desire for more

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt

When starry-eyed wanderlusters dream of that trip of a lifetime, don’t be surprised if Oceania Cruises’ Regatta glides into their mental picture. The ship is elegant but comfortable, exquisitely styled but approachable, expensive but worth every. single. penny.

Photo courtesy Oceania Cruises Regatta

Much of the allure lies within the ship’s luxury-level décor, finishing appointments and amenities – thanks to a multimillion-dollar stem-to-stern redesign in 2019 – paired with attentive service, an unstuffy attitude and warmly welcoming atmosphere.

Oceania Regatta’s Grand Staircase welcomes guests aboard. Photo: Kathy Witt

From sweeping Grand Staircase, its balustrades framing a gold-leafed tree against a silver backdrop and given soft illumination by the crystal chandelier to chummy lounge areas and seating nooks, to tastefully decorated staterooms and suites – each an oasis of calm and comfort with custom-crafted furnishings and designer accessories – this ship is catwalk ready.

DINING IN BEAUTIFUL DIGS

Regatta Toscana. Photo courtesy Oceania Cruises Regatta

The Grand Dining Room channels a stately five-star sensibility one might find in European restaurants, with seating, linens and tableware working in concert beneath a chandelier centerpiece that sets the stage for the global-inspired cuisine featured on the Chef’s Tasting Menu. Chicken ballotine, molten cheese souffle and caviar-stuffed potato fritters open an evening of gastronomy that moves onto Marseillaise fish soup, duck a l’ orange and butter-roasted Maine lobster and finishes with ice cappuccino parfait, apple crumble pie and a velvety-rich ice cream dish called “Elvis, the Fat Years.” (The chef is not without a sense of humor.)

Photo by Kathy Witt.

Two specialty dining experiences await at the Italian restaurant, Toscana’s, where family recipes of the Italian staff are incorporated into the menu, and Polo Grill, a classically styled steakhouse with all the time-honored food and furnishing traditions one would expect – including the tableside fanfare of preparing the Caesar salad. There is no upcharge for either restaurant, but reservations are required and should be made as early in the cruise as possible.

Tea time aboard Oceania Regatta. Photo: Kathy Witt
 

At Horizons, the English custom of four o’ clock tea is celebrated daily. Four-tiered, glass-topped carts laden with finger sandwiches, petits fours, crumbly scones with clotted cream and bite-size sweets roll from table to table, the white-gloved waitstaff plating up the goodies. As napkins drop in laps and tea is poured and sipped, a classical string quartet plays softly in the background.

LIBATIONS, LIVE MUSIC, LIBRARY

Whether shaken or stirred, Martinis offers the classic cocktail in a sophisticated setting that feels like the kind of place James Bond might foil an espionage plan – all Grecian blue and chocolate brown, silver-white marble and walnut paneling. Live piano music adds a dash of charm in the evening. Poolside, Waves sets the afternoon cocktail hour in motion with the Grand Bar a hotspot for pre-dinner gatherings.

Photo by Kathy Witt

Showtime in the Regatta Lounge might mean an afternoon watching an Oscar-winning movie or attending a guest lecture on astronomy or another topic. Evenings bring on the Motown classics or Great American Songbook standards, a 1920s floorshow accompanied by Prohibition-era cocktails or a dance party tribute featuring hit makers like Gloria Estefan and Michael Bublé.

An old-world aesthetic emanates from the library, from the glass-fronted cabinets shelving two thousand books to wingback and leather chair and ottoman seating groups to cushioned window seats overlooking the sea to the fireplace focal point. Above, a curved atrium ceiling charms with its painting of birds, florals and trees against a sky blue background. The library is a refuge for reading and working (if one must work on a cruise) where everyone tends to talk in whispers.

ONBOARD INDULGENGES

Regatta has numerous places to indulge in a little self-care, with the Aquamar Spa + Vitality Center topping the list. The wellness retreat menu includes all those rejuvenating therapies that pair so well with a vibe of relaxed luxury, like the moisture-boosting Caviar Firm and Lift Facial. A selection of complimentary classes offers gentle guidance for finding your center: sunrise and sunset stretches, guided meditation and re-set breathing classes and yoga flow vinyasa sessions.

Some cruise lines host hairy chest contests and come-as-a-pirate party nights on their pool deck, but Regatta eschews these in favor of an atmosphere designed for R and R, with shimmering pool flanked by two whirlpool spas and surrounded by plump loungers and daybeds. A frothy cocktail in one hand and book or tablet in the other completes the picture of sliding directly into vacation mode.

Oceania is known for its onboard art collections, and the Regatta enchants with its paintings and sculptures splashing color and drama across the walls, surprising from pedestal perches tucked near the stairwells and posing within niches about the ship.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

Photo courtesy Oceania Cruises Regatta

At a time when many cruise lines are trimming housekeeping staff and duties, Oceania continues to offer twice-daily maid service to refresh and restock cabins and provide evening turn-down with those coveted Belgian chocolates placed on the pillow. Bathrooms are stocked with Bvlgari bath amenities – shampoo/shower gel, shave balm, lotion and more – fragrant with notes of green tea, the citrusy scent of Italian bergamot, cardamom and other spices. Complimentary 24-hour room service is an appreciated touch (and one many cruise lines not only limit in terms of menu options but charge a fee for) that includes items such as avocado toast, Tuscan kale salad, omelets, petit beef fillet and Thai coconut red curry.

Luxurious with an atmosphere of laissez-faire, there is never anything stuffy about Regatta. It strikes just the right balance that inspires dreams of future Oceania cruises.

PLAN YOUR TRAVELS

Featuring a beautifully re-inspired ambiance with decks resplendent in teak, custom stone and tile work and lounges, suites and staterooms showcasing designer residential furnishings, Oceania Regatta carries under 700 passengers. It is the flagship of a fleet of six designer-inspired ships of a cruise line known for its culinary- and destination-focused experiences. Cruises are offered across Europe, Alaska, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, New England-Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Tahiti and the South Pacific and epic 180-day Around the World Voyages.

For more information: www.oceaniacruises.com.

About Kathy Witt

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Kathy has a new interactive Cincinnati-themed book arriving summer 2022!

Follow Kathy on Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes

I remember the first time I heard the word victuals. It was uttered by Jed Clampett—only he pronounced it as “vittles”–on that great TV series from The Beverly Hillbillies+ which ran from 1962-1971 and told the story of a family who had moved from Appalachia to, well, Beverly Hills, California.  The Beverly Hillbillies, now in syndication, is televised daily around the world and the word victual, which means “food or provisions, typically as prepared for consumption” has become a go-to-term in the food world with the rise of interest in the foods of the Mountain South region of our country. The joke at the time was that the Clampett were so out-of-step with all the wonders of Beverly Hills and that included their use of the word victuals. But the joke, it seems, may have been on us as we deal with the overabundance of processed foods and yearn for authenticity in our diets. You know, like victuals,

In her book, Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes (Clarkson Potter 2016; $16.59 Amazon price) winner of James Beard Foundation Book of The Year and Best Book, American Cooking, author Ronni Lundy showcases both the heritage and present ways of southern cookery in this part of the United States and also shares the stories of the mountain. Lundy, a former restaurant reviewer and editor of Louisville Magazine, highlights such roadways as Warrior’s Path, the name given by English settlers to the route used by the Shawnee and Cherokee traveling for trade, hunting and, at times, to prepare for battle. Describing the towns, villages and hamlets along these routes, Lundy shows how an amalgam of immigrants some willing (Scots, Germans) and some not (African) brought with them foodways and how they merged with other ethnic groups and the foods available in the region.

The author of ten books on Southern food and culture, Lundy’s book, Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken, described as the first first regional American cookbook to offer a true taste of the Mountain South, was recognized by Gourmet magazine as one of six essential books on Southern cooking. Lundy also received the Southern Foodways Alliance Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award.

To gather the stories, recipes, traditions, and foodways, Lundy traveled over 4000 miles through seven states. Along the way, she did a lot of stopping and eating. Each chapter in her book delves into an identifying food of a region or its heritage–think salt, corn, corn liquor, and beans. And, in many ways, reconnecting to her own roots. Born in Corbin, Kentucky, she remembers shucking beans on her aunt’s front porch.

“They taught me how to break the end and pull the string down and break the other end and pull the string back on the bean,” Lundy says. “I would watch them thread it up on a needle and thread, and they would hang that in a dry place in the house…We developed these things, like drying beans for shuck beans, or drying our apples so that we could through the winter make apple stack cakes and fried apple pies. We’d have dried beans on hand, cure every part of the hog.”

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Bacon & Orange Sorghum Vinegar

“Delicious root vegetables love the cool of both spring and fall in the mountains. Gardeners love the twin harvest,” Lundy writes in the introduction to this recipe. “The root cellar is where such vegeta­bles were stored in plenty of mountain homesteads, although some folks kept them in baskets and bins in a cool, dark place in the house. In fact, folks with larger houses might close off “the front room,” as the living room was more commonly called, to conserve on heat when the weather got cold. That room might then become an ad hoc fruit and vegetable cooler.

“My mother kept the Christmas fruit in the front room until company came, but not vegetables. We ate them too fast then—boiled, buttered, and salted or eaten raw with salt. Today I make this lovely salad first in the spring, then again as autumn splashes the hills with the colors of the carrots and beets.”

Serves 4

  • 3 medium yellow beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • 3 medium red beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • 4 red radishes, thinly sliced
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked
  • Orange Sorghum Vinegar (see below), to taste
  • Drizzle of bacon grease, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wrap up the yellow beets in a large piece of aluminum foil. Do the same with the red beets, and place both packets on a baking sheet. Roast until the beets are tender at the center when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, on a separate baking sheet, toss the carrot pieces with the oil. Season with a sprinkle of salt. Roast the carrots for about 25 minutes, until tender and caramelized.

When the beets come out of the oven, carefully open the packets to release the steam, and let the beets cool. Once the beets have cooled, gently rub the skins off and cut the beets into wedges.

To assemble the salad, lay the red beet wedges on the bottom of a large shallow serving bowl. Lay the roasted carrots on top, and then the yellow beet wedges. Throw in the sliced radishes and red onion. Break up the bacon slices and scatter the pieces on top. Season with salt and drizzle with the orange sorghum vinegar. Toss ever so gently. Give it a taste and determine if a drizzle of bacon grease is needed. Serve.

Orange Sorghum Vinegar

Makes ¾ cup

  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sorghum syrup
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Pour the vinegar into a small glass jar with a lid. Add the sorghum and shake or stir until dissolved. Add the orange juice and shake or stir to combine. Use as directed in recipes, and store any that’s left over, covered, in the refrigerator.

Sumac Oil Flatbread with Country Ham & Pickled Ramps

makes two large flatbreads (serves 4 to 6)

“In early mountain communities, one farmer might own a valuable tool or piece of equipment that was made available to family and neighbors as needed,” writes Lundy in the introduction of this recipe. “There was often a trade involved, although more fre­quently implicit rather than directly bartered. If you were the man with the sorghum squeezer and mule, you could expect to get a couple of quarts from your neighbors’ run. If you loaned a plow, you could count on borrowing the chains for hanging a freshly slaugh­tered hog. Or when your huge cast-iron pot was returned, it might come with several quarts of apple butter.

“With a little of that same sense of sharing, Lora Smith and Joe Schroeder invested in a traveling wood-fired oven for their farm at Big Switch. In their first spring back in Kentucky, it rolled over to a cou­ple of weddings, as well as providing the main course for the Appalachian Spring feast. Joe says plans are to take it to a couple of music festivals down the line to both share and perhaps sell enough pizzas to pay the gate.

“Music makes a good metaphor for what happens in this recipe. Lora adapted a fine flatbread recipe from acclaimed chef and baker Nick Malgieri for the crust, then added some local color. In the way that European mandolins and violins were transformed by new rhythms and melodies into something purely mountain, the use of sumac-scented olive oil, tangy country ham, and pungent pickled ramps makes this a dish that tastes distinctly of its Kentucky place.

“If you have access to a wood-fired oven, bake away there according to how yours works. The direc­tions here are for a home oven.

“The flatbread slices are even better when topped with a handful of arugula, mâche, or another bright, bitter green that has been drizzled with Orange Sorghum Vinegar (see recipe above).”

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal, plus extra for rolling the dough
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • 2½ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110°F)
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 6 ounces country ham, sliced about ¼ inch thick and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ¾ cup Will Dissen’s Pickled Ramps (page 000), at room temperature
  • ¼ cup Sumac Oil (recipe follows)

Combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse a few times to mix.

Combine the yeast with ¾ cup of the warm water in a medium bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Add this mixture to the food processor and pulse to combine; then let the processor run continuously for about 10 seconds, or until the dough forms a ball. You may need to add up to another ¼ cup of the warm water at this point if your dough is not coming together.

Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.

Move the rested dough to a floured work surface and flatten into a thick disk, then fold the dough over on itself. Do this several times. Return the folded dough to the oiled mixing bowl (you might have to oil it again first). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.

Sprinkle a floured work surface with a little cornmeal. Transfer the risen dough to the surface and divide it in half. Working with one piece of dough at a time, gently press it into a rough rectangle. Roll the dough out as thin as possible, aiming for a roughly 10 × 15-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to a prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with second half of the dough.

Pierce the dough all over at 1-inch intervals with the tines of a fork. Divide the country ham evenly between the two portions of dough.

Bake the flatbreads until golden and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes, switching the baking sheets’ positions about halfway through cooking.

Remove to racks and let cool slightly. Divide the ramps and sumac oil evenly between the flatbreads, and serve.

sumac oil makes about ¹⁄³ cup

Native people gathered the crimson berries of the sumac plant (not the noxious, poisonous white-berried variety, of course) to dry and grind them into a powder that gave a delicious lemony flavor to fish cooked over an open fire. They and the settlers who followed also used the sumac to make a drink akin to lemonade. You don’t have to gather berries and make your own; you can buy good-quality ground sumac at almost any Mediterranean or Middle Eastern market and some natural foods stores.

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground sumac
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Use immediately.

Slow Cooker–Roasted Pork Shoulder

“Thrifty homesteaders knew how to cook all cuts of the hogs that were slaughtered in the winter,” writes Lundy. “The shoulder, slow-roasted with fat and bone, produced a richly textured, deeply flavored meat worth smack­ing your lips for. Modern mountain cooks use the slow cooker to create the same effect that roasting in a woodstove, kept going all day for heat as well as cooking, once provided.

“I buy pork from one of several producers in my neck of the Blue Ridge who pasture their pigs and process them humanely. They also tend to raise her­itage pigs that naturally come with more fat, and the cuts I favor reflect that. The last roast I cooked like this weighed about 3½ pounds at the market with a top fat layer about an inch deep. I trimmed that fat to ½ inch and the roast was then about 3 pounds.”

Serves 4

  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3-pound pork shoulder or butt, bone-in
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sorghum syrup
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Rub the salt and pepper into all sides of the roast, including the top fat. Place a heavy skillet over high heat and as it is warming up, place the roast in the skillet, fat side down. The heat will render enough fat for browning the rest of the roast without sticking. When there is enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan well and the fat on the roast is turning golden brown, flip the roast over and brown the next side.

Brown all sides of the roast. This may entail using tongs to hold the roast to brown the short edges, but it only takes a minute or so and is worth it since it will intensify the flavor. You may also need to spoon some of the rendered fat out of the skillet as you are browning—the point is to sear the meat, not deep-fry it.

When the roast is browned all over, place it in a slow cooker. Carefully pour off the grease from the skillet. Add ½ cup of water to the skillet and deglaze it. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the vinegar and sorghum, stirring to dissolve the syrup. Pour this mixture into the slow cooker.

Peel the onion, quarter it, and break apart the sections. Scatter the pieces around the edge of the roast in the pot. Cover, and cook on the high setting for 30 minutes. Then turn to low and cook for 4 hours.

The pork roast will be well done but meltingly tender when the inner temperature is 165°F. Remove it from the pot and allow it to rest under a tent of foil while you make the sauce.

Strain the pan juices to remove the onion pieces. Degrease the juices and pour them into a small pot set over medium-high heat. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with ½ cup of water to form a slurry. When the juices in the pot begin to bubble, whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Continue to whisk as the mixture bubbles for about a minute and thickens. Remove from the heat.

To carve the roast, begin on the side away from the bone to yield larger, uniform pieces. Pass the sauce on the side.

Buttermilk–Brown Sugar Pie

“Pies were the Mother of Invention because neces­sity required that they be made from whatever was on hand. In the summer there was no dearth of fruit that could be gathered—often by small children who would eagerly do the work for just reward later.,” writes Lundy. “In the winter dried apples, peaches, and squash could be simmered into a filling for the hand or fried pies beloved in the region. Vinegar pie was as tasty as, and easier to come by, than one made with lemon, and apple cider could be boiled to make a tart and tangy filling. Buttermilk was enough to turn a simple cus­tard filling into a more complex delight. And using cornmeal as the thickener in these simple pies added character as well as flavor.

“My cousin Michael Fuson introduced me to brown sugar pie. It was his favorite, he told my mother when his family moved from Corbin to Louisville and he began spending time in her kitchen. “Well, honey, then I’ll make you one,” she said. That my mother could make brown sugar pie was news to me. Mike was as generous as a homesick teenaged boy could be and allowed me an ample slice before consuming the rest on his own. It was, I thought, one of the loveliest things I’d ever eaten. But then I made a version of my own with buttermilk instead of cream, and the sum of these two pie parts was greater than the whole of all pies put together.”

Makes one 9-inch pie

  • Single unbaked pie crust (use your favorite recipe or 1/4 batch of Emily Hilliard’s Pie Crust below)
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup very finely ground cornmeal*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup whole buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the crust in a 9-inch pie pan and refrigerate it while making the filling.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cornmeal, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the melted butter. Add the dry mixture and stir vigorously until the brown sugar is dissolved. Add the buttermilk and vanilla. When all is well combined, pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 45 minutes, or until the center is set (no longer liquid, but still tender to the touch).

Allow the pie to cool until just barely warm before slicing. I like to drizzle about 1/2 tablespoon of buttermilk over my slice.

Emily Hilliard’s Pie Crust

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into slices
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup ice-cold water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or fork and knife, cut in the butter. Make sure pea-sized butter chunks remain to help keep the crust flaky.

Lightly beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in the ice-cold water and the vinegar.

Pour the liquid mixture into the flour-butter mixture and combine using a wooden spoon. Mix until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Be careful not to overmix. Use floured hands to divide the dough in half and then form into 2 balls. Wrap each ball tightly in plastic wrap. Let them chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

Note: if you cut this recipe in half, it will work for a two-crust pie.

The above recipes are reprinted from Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. Copyright © 2016 by Ronni Lundy. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.