A SOUTHERN FOURTH OF JULY

28th June 2015

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Other than Halloween – which is, without contest, the best day of the year – I tend to rank all other holidays based on their food and dining possibilities. For the big three – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter – I feel like my Dad and I are compelled to one-up each others’ holiday menu, even when we’re thousands of miles apart and wont even be sitting at the same dinner table. I’ve recently decided to add the Fourth of July to that list, a day that is usually dominated by an area of my dad’s expertise: the grill.

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Since we’ll be traveling on the Fourth to a kitchen-unknown (read: an airbnb in Colorado), I had to act before the big holiday. So we planned an impromptu southern inspired cook-out in our back lot this weekend. The smell of freshly lit charcoal lured our upstairs neighbors down and the promise of homemade lemonade is what probably ensured that they stay. Inside I stuffed peppers with crumbled queso fresco and wrapped them tightly in bacon – trying again to one up my Dad’s own pecan-stuffed jalapeno poppers – and squeezed lemons till my palms hurt.

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We lit two grills: our small portable one – perfect for small sides and things that require quick stints over the coals, and our larger one that we covered with brats, sausages, and buttered rolls. A small army of various mustards stood at the ready. A butcher-paper covered table held a massive pitcher of homemade Blueberry Lemonade sweetened with smokey sorghum syrup and crushed blueberries and the nearby tray of fresh peaches impatiently waited to be grilled for dessert. The buttermilk biscuits baked the day before had already fallen victim to nibbling.

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The sun began to set and cast a perfect glow over the dying coals on the grills and I quickly brushed the peaches with a melted mix of butter-honey-and-salt. They took a quick turn on the grate and then were sandwiched between two halves of a biscuit and topped with vanilla bean ice cream to form the most American shortcake I could ever dream up. Their summery sweetness was tempered only by the slow, lingering burn from one-too-many jalapeno poppers. Not that anyone is keeping track, but I think I may have won Fourth of July this year.

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Blueberry Sorghum Lemonade
makes about 1 gallon

2 1/2 cups lemon juice
1 gallon cold water
1 cup sorghum or cane sugar
1 ½ cups blueberries
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additional lemon slices and fresh blueberries for garnish

1. In a large pitcher, combine the lemon juice, water, and sorghum and stir until thoroughly combined.

2. Add 1/2 cup of the blueberries to a wide bowl. Using the bottom of a heavy glass, or the back of a large wooden spoon, gently smash the berries to release some of their juices.

FAMILY STYLE: If serving the lemonade in a large clear drink dispenser or pitcher, add the smashed blueberries and the whole ones to the bottom of the container. Top with the lemonade to mix. Serve with additional blueberries and lemon slices for garnish.

COCKTAIL STYLE: If serving the lemonade by the glass, add a teaspoon or so of the smashed blueberries to the bottom of a glass. Top with ice cubes and a few more whole berries. Carefully pour the lemonade over the cubes so that the drink slowly fades from dark blue to lightly purple at the top. Garnish with a lemon slice and serve.


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Grilled Peach Buttermilk Shortcakes with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Serves 6 to 8 (depending upon how big you cut the biscuits)

FOR THE BISCUITS:
1 1/2 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter, chilled
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
½ cup buttermilk

1. Set the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and sugar. Using two forks or your fingertips, cut in the cold butter until the mixture is crumbly with only pea-sized pieces of butter remaining.

3. In another small bowl, whisk together the vanilla, egg, and milk. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it just comes together. Pat or roll out the dough until it’s about ½-inch thick. Using a round biscuit cutter (I used a 2.5”) or a thin-lipped glass, cut the dough into circles. Transfer dough circles onto a baking sheet, brush the tops with a bit of leftover milk or egg, and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops just begin to turn a golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on the counter slightly before serving.

FOR THE SHORTCAKES:
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon tablespoon honey
pinch of salt
peaches (firm, but ripe), washed, halved, pits removed (one half per person)
vanilla bean ice cream

1. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, honey, and salt. Brush each peach half (cut side only) with a thin layer of the honey butter.

2. When the grill is heated and the coals have died down slightly, place the peach halves cut-side down on the grill. Continue to grill for 3 to 5, until the bottoms just begin to caramelize. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly.

3. To assemble a shortcake: cut a biscuit in two and place the bottom half in the bottom of a bowl or plate. Add one grilled peach half and top with the top half of the biscuit. Finish with a scoop (or two!) of ice cream. Repeat with remaining biscuits and peaches. Drizzle any juices that accumulated after grilling the peaches over the bowls (or any leftover honey-butter) and serve.


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Grilled Jalapeno Poppers stuffed with Queso Fresco
makes one dozen

¼ cup cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces (about 6 tablespoons) queso fresco, crumbled
black pepper to taste
6 jalapenos, washed and patted dry
6 strips of uncooked bacon, cut in half crosswise
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1. In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, queso fresco, and black pepper. Set aside.

2. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the peppers in half, lengthwise. Leaving the stems intact, scoop or cut out the seeds and ribs and discard. Fill each pepper half with the cheese mixture. Wrap a half piece of bacon around the middle of each jalapeno and secure with a toothpick.

3. When the grill is heated and the flames have died down, carefully place each jalapeno half on the grate, cut side up. Grill the peppers for 15 to 20 – turning or moving as necessary – until the cheese is bubbly and the bacon is cooked through.

NOTE: if the peppers are too small, place a piece over heavy-duty aluminum foil over the grate to keep them from falling through.


This post was sponsored by and in collaboration with the lovely folks over at Birch Lane. Per usual, I would never put anything on this blog that wasn’t already something I used or was proud to associate with, so you can trust me when I say that Birch Lane has some of the swellest – and lets be honest, most photogenic – bits and pieces for your kitchen and table. All the pieces I used in this post can be found through the links below.

pictured: red gingham napkins | blue flower napkins | blue glasses | glass + galvanized drink dispenser | galvanized tray | portable grill | gold painted wooden forks

EVERYTHING GREEN SALAD

22nd June 2015

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There are days when I fill my shopping cart with everything but anything green colored. I feel the check out clerk silently judging – that box of quinoa isn’t going to do her any good without a serving of leafy vegetables on the side – I know what they’re thinking. I leave feeling guilty as all get out and I know that I didn’t make my case look any better with that 6-pack of Mexican Coke. So on other days, I see how many green things I can buy at one time (mint oreos and green fruit-roll-ups not included). This salad, for all intents and purposes, was born of a sugar coated guilty conscious, but oh what a salad.

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And because I was so overwhelmed by the green color palate that I forced upon myself, I couldn’t come up with a better name than Everything Green Salad. I hope its lackluster name doesn’t undercut its loveliness. I fervently filled my basket with farm-grown heads of leafy greens, bunches of fresh mint and pokey chives, and handfuls of fresh English peas with the curliest pea tendrils and shoots to match. Green tomatoes came next, followed quickly by little green pickling cucumbers, and a handful of elegantly long French green beans for good measure. I always feel like a salad is instantly given the white linen treatment when blanched French beans are involved.

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I decided to just go for it and make an equally green dressing to go on top. I’ve been a fan of green goddess dressing since I was in the womb – or so I’ve been told – so I whipped up a homemade version using herbs I had in my porch garden. Fresh mint gives this dressing a refreshing twist and pairs accidentally well with the fresh English peas and pea shoots.

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After piling everything on a big serving platter and drizzling just so with dressing, I ate a quarter of the bowl by myself with my hands. I know salad is a fancy food meant to be eaten like a lady, but no one was with me on the back porch and I seem to make less of a mess of myself without utensils. And I’m not ashamed to admit I had pizza later for dinner – without any shred of vegetable on the side – because my produce pride quota had already been filled to the brim and then some.

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Everything Green Salad with Herb Buttermilk Dressing

FOR THE DRESSING:
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons parsley
3 tablespoons chives
1 tablespoon mint
6 ounces plain yogurt (not Greek)
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, add the garlic, parsley, chives, and mint and pulse a few times to chop. Add the yogurt and vinegar and blend until smooth and thoroughly mixed. While the processor is running, slowly add the olive oil to create an emulsion. Salt and pepper to taste.

Alternatively, you can finely chop the garlic and herbs and blend everything with a whisk in a large bowl.

FOR THE SALAD:
French beans, blanched and chilled
English peas, blanched and chilled
green tomatoes, quartered
cucumbers, thinly sliced
green leaf lettuce, washed, dried, chilled and torn into bite sized pieces
pea shoots and tendrils
chives, roughly chopped
mint, roughly chopped
green goddess buttermilk dressing

In a large shallow bowl, toss together the chilled beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and pea shoots. Sprinkle the chopped chives and mint over the greens. Drizzle with green goddess buttermilk dressing and serve with crusty bread and something sparkly to drink.

Pro Tip: chill whatever bowl you plan to serve the salad in for about 20 minutes before prep.

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FATHER’S DAY GIFT GUIDE + BACON JAM POP TARTS

17th June 2015

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How is it already Father’s Day? How are things moving so quickly? Summer is already half over! In order to feel less anxious about this, I’ve decided to take a page from my own Dad’s advice book (although he doesn’t ever seem to follow it himself) and do things that force time to slow. First up, baking. Even simple baking projects – like these relatively easy Homemade Bacon Jam Pop Tarts with Maple Icing – take time and patience. So that’s a good place to start.

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And although Pop Tarts are generally considered an on-the-go breakfast option, these are really meant to be enjoyed on a porch with a cup of hot coffee that you brewed yourself. Maybe you get to read a few chapters of a novel you keep putting off or take a few moments in between flaky bites to weed the garden. These are the pop tarts for the man who admires the simple things in life.

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They involve a ridiculous amount of butter, lots of bacon, a generous dollop of onion jam (I used the one that came in my Mantry crate from Blackberry Farms in Tennessee), and a perfectly sweet maple icing on top. Dad will thank you and expect a double batch.

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And since my Dad appreciates aesthetics, I figured I’d kick these up a notch with a few tasteful and somewhat manly gold sprinkles. I think they add a bit of vintage americana to an otherwise plain pastry. We’ll see what he says.

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Homemade Bacon + Onion Jam Pop Tarts with Maple Icing
pastry recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 9 pastries (which will not be enough)

FOR THE PASTRY:
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk
1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)

FOR THE BACON FILLING:
8 strips thick-cut bacon, cooked, drained, and finely chopped
1 teaspoon bacon grease
1 heaping tablespoon Onion jam (I used Blackberry Farm Smoked Onion Jam)
Salt and pepper to taste

FOR THE ICING:
2 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using two forks, a pastry blender, or food processor cut the butter into the flour mixture until pea-sized lumps of butter are still visible, and the mixture holds together when squeezed. Whisk together the first egg and the milk and stir them into the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive. Transfer dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead together as necessary.

2. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a smooth rectangle, about 3×5 inches. You can roll this out immediately on a lightly floured surface or wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. In a small bowl, combine the bacon, bacon grease, onion jam, and black pepper. Alternatively, you can leave the bacon strips whole and use a food processor to chop and combine the ingredients. Set aside.

4. If the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften slightly. Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″ rectangle. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Set trimmings aside. Cut each piece of dough into thirds – you’ll form nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.

5. Set the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease or line a baking sheet.

6. In a small bowl, beat the additional egg and brush it over the entire surface of the first dough. This will be the “inside” of the tart and the egg wash acts as glue. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each rectangle, spreading into an even layer and leaving a 1/2-inch perimeter around it. Place a second rectangle of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around the pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides. Using the tines of a fork, crimp the edges of the dough. Repeat with remaining tarts.

7. Carefully transfer the tarts onto the baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork. Refrigerate the tarts for 30 minutes.

8. Remove the tarts from the fridge, and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Cool in pan on rack.

9. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, powdered sugar, and heavy cream until smooth. When the tarts have cooled completely, spread a thin layer of icing on the top of each tart, leaving the edges bare (just like the real thing). Serve to Dad.


Better late than never, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite Father’s day gift ideas for the food loving Dad. Thankfully my Dad and I share pretty much the exact same taste when it comes to anything in the kitchen, so he’s pretty easy to shop for (and then I get to use whatever I buy him!). Many of these products can be found online (on Amazon even) and you can always hand them over after the big day and keep the Father’s Day gifting going all month long.

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1 – We own at least a dozen of these traditional French workingman’s knives (some we even bought in France and brought back with us). The are inexpensive, but made with quality materials that seem to last and last. I’m particularly fond of their kitchen collections, especially these Opinel table knives that come in a dozen different colors. Perfect for picnics, camping, and pretty much anywhere else you’d need to cook.

2 – This Texas-made product makes the cut because A) it’s from Texas and B) my dad’s name is Larry. But it’s also a great way to flavor meats, veg, and anything else you throw on the grill. You can find Larry’s Bag-Of-Smoke plus plenty of other Texas made picks at my new favorite online boutqiue, No. Four St. James.

3 – I recently tried a Mantry crate subscription and can’t get over the curated collection of products these guys put together. I had a Tennessee crate – filled with things like moonshine cake, hot chicken rub, and the onion jam I used in the Bacon Pop Tarts recipe – but they also have collections based on food themes or other stateside locales. Your Dad will love this.

4 – When King Arthur Flour debuted their new baking magazine called Sift earlier this Spring my Dad and I each pre-ordered a copy for one another unaware that we had done so. Our copies arrived on the same day, we called each other, and laughed about how funny the whole situation was and then quickly set to figuring out what we planned to bake first.

5 – My Dad is a collector of many things, but seems proudest of his vast cast iron collection. Most of the pieces are antique store scores or family heirlooms, but US brands like Lodge are making such a comeback that it only seems fitting to add a few of their pieces to the collection, too. I’m thinking this little cast iron melting pot would be perfect for melted butter for all the pies and biscuits he makes.

6 – Established in 1920, Falcon Enamelware hails from England, but fits right at home in an American kitchen (or camp mess kit for that matter). Another thing I’ve learned from my Dad is a love for all things enamel, which is why I think he’d love these enamel prep bowls (because so do I).


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STRAWBERRY TOMATO TWO-BITE GALETTES

13th June 2015

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Just when I feel like things are winding down, they seem to wind right back up again. As a long-term planner, jumping from project to project – many with ever extending ETAs – can be quite stressful, but I’m thankful to not have the monotony that accompanies most 9 to 5’s. In the next couple of weeks we will be traveling to Colorado, then Texas, then back home to New England and then back South just a few states to Washington D.C. where I plan to spend an annoying amount of time in the Library of Congress trying to convince them to give me a research fellowship. I like traveling and love each of these destinations, but that overwhelming sense of nesting has already started to pick at the back of my mind. Clean this, organize that, prep your calendar because who knows when things will happen. It definitely doesn’t help that we just found out that we are having a little girl *involuntary squeak* and all I want to do is daydream about all the flour-covered kitchen adventures we’ll get ourselves into. Is it too soon for matching aprons?

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I plan to teach her plenty of things – how to bike, how to fish, how to sew, how sharpen a knife, how to identify every little plant, tree, and flower when we walk – but I’m itching to share all this kitchen wisdom that has been passed down to me from my own mother and grandmothers. I’ve learned plenty, if not more, from my Dad, too, but there’s some special gene that all Southern women seem to carry that requires us to pass along cast-iron secrets down the female line. It’s like the Sisterhood of Traveling Pants, but with more old wooden stirring spoons and bundt cake pans and less teenage angst. That’s the best explanation I can offer.

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So I’ve been trying to come up with recipes we can make together – granted this won’t be for quite a while, since I assume you have to be able to at least hold up your own head in order to work in a kitchen – and my current trend has been all things miniature. I know she wont have teeth for the longest time and teensy strawberry tomato two-bite galettes aren’t really the best solids to start an infant on, but I’m just planning ahead.

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I can’t wait to explain to her all the little historical and cultural bits and pieces that make up these little pastries. I’ll either capture her curiosity or bore her to tears with stories about Southern buttermilk, the origins of French galettes, and why the combination of strawberry and tomato works so well. Until then, I’ll just keep baking and eating for two.

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Strawberry Tomato Two-Bite Galettes
makes about 2 dozen

FOR THE DOUGH:
adapted from this Garden & Gun recipe
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
4 oz. chilled buttermilk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Using two forks (or a food processor) cut in the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the buttermilk and vinegar and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.

2. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and work into a large flat disc. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for a half hour or until ready to use.

FOR THE FILLING:
1 cup strawberries, finely diced
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if rather large
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
egg + dash of cream or milk for egg wash
sugar for crust

1. In a small bowl, combine the strawberries and tomatoes. Sprinkle the sugar and salt over the bowl and gently toss to combine.

2. Set oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper.

3. Transfer chilled dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll out dough to about 1/4-inch or less thickness. Using a biscuit cutter or the open end of a similarly sized glass, cut the dough into rounds. Roll each round again – once in each direction to create a slightly thinner and larger circle. Spread the rounds onto the lined baking sheets.

4. Carefully drain any excess liquid that has pooled at the bottom of the strawberry-tomato mixture. Onto each round, spoon a tablespoon or so of filling. Using your fingers, gently fold over and slightly crimp the edges of each dough round to create a little ring around the filling – the middle will be left exposed. Lightly brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with remaining dough rounds. Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake – rotating halfway through – till they begin to turn a golden brown and the crust has set, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Best eaten on the porch with iced tea.

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WEEKLY SUNDRIES

7th June 2015

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top row: a shipment of Texas 1015 Onions from grandma, Jess shopping and looking lovely at Follain in Beacon Hill, National Donut Day spent on the porch with a tray of Beignet inspired donuts; bottom row: new summer strawberries, my photography displayed in the now open windows at Pantry, homemade strawberry coconut water twin popsicles.

sundries, n.

Pronunciation: /ˈsʌndrɪz/
Etymology: plural of sundry adj. used subst.: compare odds n.
Definition: Small articles of a miscellaneous kind; esp. small items lumped together in an account as not needing individual mention.

Though its definition can be a little misleading, I really enjoy the term sundries. It fits well within the Southern vernacular and seems to be a word that is slowly coming back into style. It has an assortment of applications and more or less means a collection of bits and pieces. Which is exactly what this post entails. Bits and pieces from around the world, web, and my frame of reference that I thought might be good to share. I’ve always been fond of little collections – stamps, vintage books, bottle caps, ticket stubs – this is just another one of many (albeit a much less cluttered curation). This week’s sundries are all fairly recent pieces of news, but sometimes an old standby might slip through. The term weekly is also subject to change because weekly is sometimes just too aspirational.


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Not sure whether to blame it on the lovely throw-open-the-window weather, the constant urge to nest for this upcoming baby, or just my general desire to make sure the house is presentable, but I’m loving the newest Homesteading Edition of t.e.l.l. New England. I recently had my own work on the historic New England rum trail published in this online magazine and hope to submit something again in the future, but for now I’m pouring over their latest articles DIY Homemade cleaning products, pickling how-tos, and their instructions for dying linens with natural vegetable and fruit based dyes.

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“An African-American Army cook at work in City Point, Va., sometime between 1860 and 1865.” – NPR | image from Library of Congress

I know it may seem that I only get my news from NPR, but they’ve just been killing it lately with their food coverage. This past week, one of their historical features entitled “Slavery, Famine And The Politics Of Pie: What Civil War Recipes Reveal” and centered on food and society during the 19th century. Like all wars, food played a pivotal role in determining victories, advances, and ultimately a winner, but during the Civil War food became another dividing factor in an already war-torn nation. As author Nina Martyris notes, “there was very little in common between the kitchens of the Yankee North and the Confederate South.” Interestingly, these divisions still exist – to some extent – today. If nothing else, NPR is keeping me fed with intellectual fodder until I start my PhD program at UNC next fall.

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On a much lighter note, the winners for the Saveur Food Blog Awards have been announced and my favorite blogging gal, Molly Yeh has taken home top prize! Her wonderful work – from the unique recipes she dreams up to the humble yet vivid photography she uses to tell her stories – deserves every ounce of recognition and praise. Be sure to check out all the 2015 winners and also the finalists. Plenty of good reading and recipes to go around!

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And last, but not least, my current obsession is all things rhubarb and all things flavored by nature. So of course this Rhubarb Rose Mint Jam by my fellow Boston blogger Betty over at Le Jus D’Orange makes the cut. All of her recipes are lovely and so wonderfully captured in her photographs, but I got to taste this one in person at a styling event she and fellow MA blogger, Meg of Bread + Barrow, hosted in the South End last month. It paired perfectly with Meg’s rose scones, the floral and spiced ice cream we had at the end of the event, and, from what I heard, right off the spoon, too.

Happy Sunday, y’all.