Almond Butter to Get You Through the Apocalypse

The lights are out. It’s dark in my apartment. But darkness is expected at two in the morning; it’s the silence that awakens me, the jarring absence of modern life’s electronic hum, that jolts me from my sleep. It’s eerie, but I pound my pillow a couple of beats and go back to sleep. Electricity goes out occasionally–a strong wind, a blown fuse. By the time my alarm chases me out of bed in the morning, and I stumble towards the kitchen, rubbing sleep from my eyes, the power is back, and the lightbulbs shine their yellow light at the flick of a switch.

But what if they didn’t? What if the lights stayed out, and the refrigerator didn’t cool, and double-clicking Chrome connected you to nothing (a tale of horror I assume will be added to the next Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology)? That’s the premise of Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest. Eva and Nell are two sisters ensconced in their remote forest cabin as society crumbles. Eva, a pre-professional ballerina, misses the musical accompaniment to her dancing, but Nell is a modern girl: her longings are for internet and food. Continue reading

Making Locality a Priority: Turnips and Greens Risotto

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“I suppose my generation is farther removed from food production than any other, just one more step down the path of the American food industry. More than our parents, we rely on foods that come out of shiny wrappers instead of peels or skins. It still surprises a girl like me, who actually lives on a real farm with real animals and stuff growing out of the ground, that so many young adults couldn’t guess where their food comes from, or when it’s in season where they live,” Camille Kingsolver, “Taking Local on the Road” from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Earlier this year, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that describes Kingsolver’s family’s endeavor to keep a small farm in Virginia, complete with chickens and turkeys, and to eat only foods grown in their county for a year. The book is filled with some trials, but mostly successes from Kingsolver’s family’s year in local eating. The book is also littered with colorful and informative essays from Kingsolver’s then-teenage daughter Camille. Continue reading

The Virtue of a Cookie

img_1696When I was a child, I was – often to my parents’ exasperation – obsessed with learning about how to do “grown-up” things. I would climb into my mother’s lap while she booted up AOL, giggling at the funny sound of dial up and watching her fingers fly across the keyboard as she composed emails for work. I would follow my dad around and watch intently as he washed his truck, always trying to help out even though all I could reach were the tires. I even insisted on helping feed the dogs, even though the bowls were about half the size of me at the time. That being said, it’s no surprise that I was also very curious about how things worked in the kitchen.

My mother has always been a very traditional southern cook, and I was certainly no picky eater. By the time I was four or five, I began to wonder where all of these wonderful things like chicken and dumplings, sweet potato casserole, country fried steak and gravy, and peach cobbler came from. I carefully watched my mother dredge thin green tomato slices in meal and flour or chop potatoes into hearty quarters for a roast, usually begging to help and pouting every time she said I wasn’t old enough. One Saturday morning when I was about six or seven, I suppose my mother had either gotten fed up with my nagging or finally decided I was old enough to help, so she pulled up my little stepping stool to the foot of the stove, smiling at me and fishing a skillet out of the cabinet. “How do you feel about scrambling the eggs for us this morning?” she’d asked, fishing enough eggs for our family of four out of the carton. I nodded vigorously, rolling up my pajama sleeves. I was ready to get to work. “Everyone needs to know how to cook an egg,” my mother told me as she demonstrated how to crack one on the side of the skillet. “It’s one of those staple foods.” I looked on in fascination, a spatula clutched tightly in my small hand. Continue reading

PieLab: A Big Taste for a Small Town

What draws people to a restaurant?  Looks?  Taste?  History?  When it comes to a restaurant like PieLab, all three of those categories are not only sufficiently met, but go beyond expectations.  Other reviews found on the internet glow with praise, so it’s not surprising that mine will be doing the same thing.

My experience began with the hour-long trip from Tuscaloosa to Greensboro, where PieLab is located. The highway between the two cities was lined with cozy homes and trees that had just begun to change colors, despite it being late October.  I drove over rolling hills while the sun shone brightly overhead.  When I pulled into the small downtown area of the city, it was quiet, though cars filled the parking spaces on the street and a few people could be seen roaming the sidewalks, going about their business.

img_8729Looking at the exterior, you notice that it is a crisp, clean white, proudly displaying the restaurant’s name in a bold, black font. It makes a large statement for the small town that PieLab is located in.  Windows allow you to peer inside before you go in, and inside you can see employees behind the open kitchen’s counter, working on food orders with a sense of diligence, but not one of urgency.  It’s simple and sweet to watch from the outside, but even the outside of the restaurant invites you to come inside.  Written on the window panes on both sides of the door is this humble phrase “Pie & Conversation, Optimism & Inspiration.”  But then the restaurant takes it one step further on their invitation for you, and tells you a little bit about their story, right on their front door.  The idea began on a napkin by a group that calls themselves “Project M” somewhere in Belfast, Maine.  Then it became a pop-up shop in Greensboro, Alabama turned restaurant, job-training center, and community space, all within the confines of an abandoned pool hall.  The restaurant’s mission is the final few sentences on the door.  They read, “PieLab strives to be an open and inclusive environment where all voices of the community can be heard.  So welcome.  Welcome to our pie shop, our community and our story.”  It’s a powerful welcome, and that’s just from standing on the outside. Continue reading