We’re going on an Appalachian road trip!

Jarrett and I have decided to be wildly irresponsible (well, by our standards) and take a few days off to go on an epic Appalachian road trip. We’ve been wanting to trek down the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from Virginia into North Carolina, for a long time, but when Jarrett gifted me Victuals by Ronni Lundy, we stopped dreaming and started planning.

 ronni lundy book cover victuals

Victuals is such a gorgeous book. It inspires that feeling of awe in me that only a beautiful book, full of heart and story and soul, can instill.

I’d asked Jarrett for a book on traditional Virginia cooking for Christmas, since I figured it was about time to build that section of my library now that we’ve lived here for several years. I was expecting The Virginia Housewife by Mrs. Mary Randolph, published in 1824 and considered to be the first truly American cookbook. But now I’ve fallen straight in love with the modern warmth of Victuals and the incredible profiles of chefs, farmers, and everyday folks who are revitalizing the food systems of Appalachia.

If you love the South, or you love good Southern food, or you read Hillbilly Elegy and wanted to learn more, or you just want to bring something new into your kitchen, Victuals is just what you need. (And no, I didn’t represent this book—I just love it!)

You know a book is fantastic when it inspires you to get up off the couch and drive out to all of the places it’s talking about. As soon as we realized Jarrett would be able to take two weeks off before starting his new think tank job, we started scheming for an adventure. So we’re packing up our little (and currently stinky) hatchback, heading straight west from Alexandria, and then winding down Skyline Drive through the mountains, pointing straight to Asheville.

Along the way, we’re hoping to stop at:

Three Notch’d Brewery and Brothers Craft Brewing (Harrisonburg, VA)

The Shack (Staunton, VA)

Dip Dog Stand (Marion, VA, where we’ll also be visiting our future newest addition to the family, Pepper, who just had 8 pups but will be joining our little family in February! Also, how perfect is it that there’s a legendary slaw dog joint where our future doggie lives? You know that made me too happy.)

The Red Hen (Lexington, VA)

Ralph Stanley Museum (Clintwood, VA)

Everything in Blacksburg, VA

The Palisades (Eggleston Springs, VA—another Victual recommendation)

Seeing what there is to see in Johnson City, TN

Picking up Farm & Sparrow bread (Asheville, NC)

Rhubarb (Asheville, NC [because I couldn’t talk Jarrett into detouring out to Blackberry Farm])

NOT 12 Bones Smokehouse because they are closed and all our hearts are broken.

 

We have a few nights booked at The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, VA and at The Biltmore in Asheville, but other than that we’re going to Hotel Tonight it. (Has anyone used this app before? It will be our first time!)

And for once, we’re throwing caution to the wind and not planning every day of the trip. This makes me both nervous and excited. I usually like to have every hotel night booked, every sight slotted into the calendar, every meal reservation booked. But if there’s ever a time in our lives we can wander and a place we can do so without getting hopelessly lost, it’s this trip now.

So follow along with us on Instagram as we get lost in Appalachia!

In the meantime, because you know I wouldn’t take off and leave you empty-bellied, here’s a fantastic recipe that I adapted from Victuals, as well as an interlude from Jarrett on how to properly and non-psychopathically care for a vintage cast iron skillet.

Potato and Kale Cakes


kale potato cakes recipe victuals ronni lundy

Recipe adapted from Victuals by Ronni Lundy

Serves 6

3 pounds russet or other starchy potatoes
Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds kale, washed and chopped
Olive oil
5 green onions
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano, or another hard, nutty cheese
4 eggs, beaten

Put a large pot of salted water over high heat. While it comes to a boil, peel and cube the potatoes. Drop the potatoes in the boiling water and cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

As the potatoes boil, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet. Add as much kale as will fit in your skillet, cook until it just begins to wilt (don’t overcook it!), remove to a bowl, and repeat until all the kale is cooked.

Drain the potatoes and mash them roughly in a large bowl, then add the cooked kale. Finely chop and add the green onions and grate about 1/2 cup of pecorino romano or another hard cheese directly into the bowl. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Add the beaten eggs and mix well, then form into patties about 3 inches across and 1 inch thick.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in your cast iron skillet and fry the patties, working in batches and being careful not to crowd the pan.

Serve with some Duke’s Mayo whipped in with ketchup and whole grain mustard, or with a few fried eggs on top.

kale potato cakes recipe victuals ronni lundy

See how grubby and greasy that cast iron skillet is? That’s why we have Jarrett here to tell us how to clean it the simple way!

The Sane Person’s Guide to Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet

Maria and I were lucky to receive a beautiful, vintage Griswold cast iron skillet for Christmas. A close friend–an auctioneer, of course!–found one of these beauties for us after we had told him we were on the lookout. And yes, having a well-made cast iron skillet makes all the difference.

Old-fashioned, vintage skillets (brands like Wagner and Griswold) are superior to the modern-day Lodges of the world. The iron for these older skillets was cast through a process that made for smoother and more consistent iron surfaces, which means a more durable skillet and a better cooking experience, with more even heat.

Although Wagners and Griswolds are sadly no longer manufactured, you can find them at auctions or on sites like Ebay. Happily, there are also some new companies, like Virginia-made Butter Pat Inc., that are making skillets via the old-fashioned method. You can expect to pay more, but at least you’ll be getting your money’s worth, too.

Now that we have this glorious hunk of iron, we had to figure out how to clean a cast iron skillet properly. But as anyone who has Googled how to clean a cast iron skillet knows, you can read about this stuff until you’re blue in the face. The think-pieces about how to clean a cast iron skillet are legion–for example, J. Kenji López-Alt has written not just one, but two 2,000-word essays on the topic. He even claims that the cardinal rule of cast iron maintenance–never use soap–is actually wrong. (If you want to go deep on the subject of how to maintain cast iron, both pieces are great reads.)

But all of this pontificating on skillets makes using one seem like a hassle, which is a shame since you can cook so many awesome things in skillets (including Maria’s recipe above, or this Founding Farmer’s Cornbread!). So, today, Maria and I have for you:

The Simple Way to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

Here we lay out a few, simple rules, which we’ve distilled from the advice of Brian, our auctioneer friend who has sold and taken care of dozens of vintage, highly valuable cast iron skillets over the years. If these rules are good enough for the precious Griswold and Wagner cast iron skillets he deals in, then they’re good enough for me!

Here’s all you really need to do:

  • After using your cast iron skillet, just wipe it clean with a dry cloth or paper towel.
  • If the skillet is extra grubby, you can scour it with a damp paper towel or with coarse salt.
  • If the cast iron skillet still isn’t getting clean, boil a small amount of water in the skillet until it evaporates and then wipe or scour again.
  • Once finished cleaning, rub lightly with any neutral oil, such as vegetable oil.

And that’s it! All you really need to know to clean your cast iron skillet easily is this simple 2 step process: wipe/scour + oil.

By the way, we stay away from soap–it’s unnecessary if you follow the above steps. Added bonus: you won’t have to choose sides in the heated soap vs. no-soap debate.

Happy cooking & cleaning!

Our wedding photos!

At last, they’re here! Well…truthfully we saw them a few months ago, but now we finally have the shareable files! Many of you were so sweet in asking to see photos of our wedding, and I didn’t want you all to think I wasn’t going to deliver on that promise.

Looking back on them now, almost 5 months after our wedding, I can barely believe it all happened and whirled by so quickly. I didn’t think I could feel more grateful, but each time I look through the photos, my heart grows two sizes.

I know everyone says this about their wedding, but honest to god, we know the best people. They hauled and sewed and ironed and cleaned and arranged and sweated and saved the day about a thousand times a minute on our wedding day, and all the months before.

Thank you, every one of you. The gift you gave us is one we can never repay.

As I mentioned here, we had planned for an all-outdoor wedding from the start (one of the few things I felt strongly about, not having been a planning-since-I-was-five type!). The forecast was clear, clear, clear right up until the morning of, when, I kid you not, a monsoon suddenly swept through Ann Arbor. I just remember looking out the floor-to-ceiling window at the salon and watching these huge raindrops smacking the pavement. My makeup artist turned my chair around quickly so I wouldn’t have to look at the rain anymore.

So what to do? Step 1: have a good cry. Step 2: fix it. After my salon appointment, I trekked through the mall, dead-set on buying myself a very cute, very expensive pair of rain boots that would work with my dress. Jarrett was a nervous wreck, too, and as soon as he texted “Want me to come to you?,” I felt better. He picked me up, and we sat in the mall parking lot, laughing, crying, laughing some more over how caught up we’d gotten in making the day “perfect.” We were definitely those people that got buried in the details.

It was kind of hilarious that it was our wedding day, and we were sitting in our sweats in a mall parking lot. I think that’s what made me feel better–that I could spend a few minutes alone with this guy and not have to give a hoot about all the fuss of the wedding, because we were getting married that day no matter what fell out of the sky.

So, when people ask me what my favorite moment of the day was, it was that very unglamorous moment in the parking lot. It’s not in these photos, but it’s still one I’ll never forget. And after all that, the rains ended up passing and we were able to have most of the wedding outdoors anyway!

Now, enough with the cheez whiz, here are the photos! As you’ll see, we had to move the ceremony into the barn on account of that rain, but we still got to have dinner outside after the skies cleared, which made me very, very happy. All of that was thanks to the unstoppable force of our friends and vendors who were hauling our entire wedding around while Jarrett and I sad-giggled in a parked car.

And before anyone asks if I’d have an outdoor wedding again: yes. One thousand times yes.

A huge thank you to Dustin Stockel of Dustin Francis Photography, for capturing the memories of our day!

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And that’s a wrap! 🙂


What I’m Reading This Week:

Two Bloggers Who “Burned It All Down” with Risky Writing (Dianne Jacob): This is such a fascinating topic for discussion–Dianne shares the stories of two food bloggers who got deeply personal and asks whether there’s a place for that rawness in blogging. I couldn’t resist and left my own comment on the discussion, but I’m curious to hear how other blog readers feel about highly personal writing!

Book Marketing Resources for Authors: The Best of 2016 (Jane Friedman): A fantastic roundup of book marketing basics, updated for the here and now. Bookmark it and come back to it whenever you’re feeling stumped.

What It’s Like to be a Cookbook Ghostwriter (Katherine Martinelli for Bon Appetit): There’s a lot of shrouded mystery (couldn’t help the pun…) around cookbook ghostwriting. But I get asked about it all the time, by chefs and writers alike, so this is the piece I’ll start pointing them to.

Paying Rent with Words (Susan Shapiro for City Lab): “Departing from a focus on pure craft, more schools are helping students learn how to turn a profit.” Hallelujah. The less you need to do other stuff to pay the rent, the more you can write.

Publishing a Cookbook: Photography (Part One) (Thriving Home): My lovely authors Polly and Rachel have been writing a fantastic behind-the-scenes series on publishing their cookbook, From Freezer to Table. This post will not only tell you what to expect when staging a cookbook lifestyle shoot, but it will also make you smile at how cute their families are.

How Much Does Facebook Advertising Cost? The Complete Guide to Facebook Ads Pricing (Alfred Lua for Buffer): Thinking about taking out a few Facebook ads for your book or other product? Here’s a handy primer to lead the way.

Building a Platform to Land a Book Deal: Why It Often Fails (Jane Friedman): “Platform building doesn’t stop if you do land a book deal. Your journey has just begun. The good news is that authors can build a platform by engaging in activities that are most enjoyable to them—because if they’re not enjoyable, you won’t continue doing them for the time required to see any kind of pay off. If you build platform only as a means to an end, it generally fails, and that’s why I tend to get cynical when authors try to do it only in service of securing a book deal. It doesn’t reflect an understanding of the much bigger picture: the tremendous value of being visible to your audience.” Amen.


What We’re Cooking This Week:

It’s a NYC week for me, so here’s the gritty truth:

Monday: Burrito bowls (made by Jarrett!).

Tuesday: Rice and beans at my Yaya’s!

Wednesday: Scavenge.

Thursday: Soup on the train, if I’m really lucky.

Friday: Jarrett’s been left very specific instructions to make BBQ chicken drumsticks and brussels sprouts for us to eat before we takeoff to the airport. (We’re in Ann Arbor for the long weekend!) Let’s all send positive thoughts his way.

Cheers!