Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I had the idea for a food blog about a year ago.  I decided then that I would eat as much locally grown and produced food as possible and blog about it.  I set the lofty goal of eating only food produced in a hundred and fifty mile radius of my home.  No outside seasonings, drinks or ingredients. 

My love of all food got in my way.  While I am eating locally, I just can't bring myself to cut out the little things that put a meal over the top: freshly ground sea salt, cumin, sugar, Coca cola. 

But, in the spirit of that original idea I have decided to blog about some of my favorite delicious local ingredients - with some non-local ingredients thrown in, too.

At the beginning of fall, it is only appropriate that I begin with one of my favorite ingredients of the season: apples.  I am truly blessed to have a wonderful apple orchard at my local farmer's market.  You can check them out at www.ayresapples.com

I love just biting into a crisp, juicy apple.  My favorite is dipped in caramel.  I'm also a big fan of apple cider.  Fried apples.  Dried apples.  Apple pies.  Apple and pork recipes.  The list goes on.

There's one recipe, though, that has particular significance for me.  I've been making it for years and -- when I do it right -- it's delicious.  Everyone loves it.  And it has all the components that I look for in a great recipe:

A feeling of creation (not just heating up something processed or pre-packaged).

A great back story.

Use of local ingredients.

And, above all else, can't sit still and eat it delicious.

Here's the story:

My first semester of college was spent at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, KY.  There were things I liked and didn't like about it.  I enjoyed my work assignment in the Financial Aid Office on campus and made quick friends with the office staff. 

No big surprise, I talked about food a lot.  And it just so happened a local church was publishing a cook book that semester.  I showed interest in the cook book and received it as a Christmas gift in the office gift exchange.

Back home over winter break I flipped through the pages.  A 'Fresh Apple Cake' recipe caught my eye.  It was a cake made completely from scratch with one of my favorite ingredients.  I had never made a cake completely from scratch before and was intimidated, but with my mom in the kitchen beside me I worked up the courage to tackle it.

I've baked this cake dozens of times since and can't help but be reminded of the confidence it gave me and how honored I felt to be a part of it's history.  The recipe was actually contributed by the Financial Aid Director, Nancy Melton, a lady I came to greatly respect during my time at ALC.  The recipe was her grandmother's.  Ironically, her grandmother shared the same name as my great grandmother. 

In my own non-scientific rating method, I would say the recipe is moderately difficult.  And each time I make it, I think about the kitchen it was first prepared in.  How much more difficult it would be to make without modern conveniences.  How much more of a treat it must have been.

I encourage you to visit your local orchard, and try your hand at this delicious recipe.  (I've included my own notes.)

Fresh Apple Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients.  The mixture will seem drier than most cake batters, but will come out super-moist after baking.  I have found it is easier if the butter is melted prior to mixing.  Pour into a 9x13 inch greased pan.  Bake in a 325 degree oven until done, when toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes.  Poke small holes all over the cake with a fork, toothpick or skewer.

Icing: (This also serves as a good caramel recipe for dipping apples, but will harden fairly quickly.)

1/2 stick butter
2 tablespoons white Karo syrup
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan on medium heat.  I use a 2 quart sauce pan.  The mixture will boil to the top, but not over.  (I used a smaller saucepan the first time and it did boil over.  There may be a second of panic, but I've never had the icing boil over in the 2 quart pan.)  Boil to soft-ball stage (234 to 238 degrees).  Immediately pour the icing over the cake as soon as it reaches this stage/temperature.

This cake is delicious while it is still warm, but we've found that the caramel seeps into the cake and it becomes even more delicious the second and third days.  Also great heated up and served with ice cream.

Enjoy.  And please let me know if you have any questions on this recipe and/or what you thought!

Recipe taken from "What's Cooking on Caney Creek?"

Monday, October 1, 2012

Food Inequality

A few weeks ago while driving back to work after lunch, I was overwhelmed with emotions I still can't quite describe.  Having just eaten a large meal, my thoughts turned to the next one.  I was trying to decide what to do for dinner.  I was leaning toward cooking instead of eating out and contemplating "what sounds good."

A now-forgotten recipe entered my mind, and at a stop light in front of a grocery store on the two-mile drive between work and home, I began lamenting that I didn't have all the ingredients for it.  I would have to make a very inconvenient trip to the store or settle on something else. 

And not the grocery store I was stopped next to.  I had visited it a couple times and judged the ambiance and freshness of produce and meat better at another local store.  One that is about two miles from my house in the other direction.  It's a real hassle.

Disappointed at my tough luck, I began thinking of things I could make with what I already had in the cupboard.  Head in hand, I pulled away at the green light and was hit with the thought of the millions of people around the world who had no lunch to eat that day and would have no dinner.  Maybe not the next day or the next either.

Hollow, starved people who would gratefully eat any food available to them.  For whom choices in supermarkets, grades and cuts of meat, and processed or fresh produce are completely foreign.  People who wonder how far they can stretch a pot of rice or beans.  When I only wonder how much I can eat and still fit in my pants.

In my car, I wondered how I would feel eating my big, juicy steak in front of their big, hungry eyes.  I was reminded of a recent trip to visit family and friends in Wichita where I literally ate myself sick trying to cram in as many restaurants, meals and visits with people as possible.  I felt even sicker when I looked into the eyes of a homeless man who had only what people offered him to eat. 

I was overcome and ended up with more questions than answers that day.  More overwhelming problems than workable solutions.  But, this is what I decided:

First, to do a little research.  According to worldhunger.org there are 295 million hungry people in the world even though more than 2700 calories are produced daily for them.  That's an inequality that should sadden and enrage all of us.

Second, to do something about it.  There are plenty of organizations, locally and globally, that work to feed people.  I'm getting involved with them and encourage everyone else to, as well.

Third, to think about the food I eat.  Differently.  While I understand that my leftovers can't be shipped to hungry kids in China, I can eat less to leave more for others.  I can eat smarter and more responsibly.  I'm not going vegetarian or vegan, but I do recognize that rice is more sustainable than beef.  And if I save money on the food I eat, then that money can be used to buy food for others.

Last, to be grateful.  The fact that I've only ever worried about what to pick to eat and not when I will get to eat is an amazing, amazing blessing.  So is the fact that I can choose between supermarkets and farmer's markets and family farms and backyard gardens.  I'm more thankful than ever at the delicious food I'm privileged to eat.  And I feel more responsible than ever to savor it and save it.

I still am committed to celebrating food, but I want as many people to join the party as possible. 

Invite others to your dinner table, too.