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!

You look like you could use a cocktail & carbs

I know many people are feeling a lot of emotions after the election. Maybe you’re feeling triumphant and excited, and you’re ready to celebrate with a gargantuan bowl of carbs, a rip-roaring drink, and a shiny new book. Maybe you’re feeling low and anxious and addled and need a dose of mellowing, homey food, a cocktail to take the edge off, and the hideaway of a book.

Viana La Place Recipe

Either way, we got you. Today, we’re pausing our regular programming to bring you all a nice, comforting meal and a stiff drink. Jarrett and I put together for you these two recipes: one of our favorite pasta recipes from a vintage cookbook and a new cocktail recipe inspired by an upcoming book.

Because, of course, both celebration and depression are improved by a good meal and a good drink.

So now that we’ve made it through, let’s all sit down to dinner together again, forget all the whacky stuff that happened this year, and focus on some really simple food, a great fall drink, and some uplifting reads. I know we can’t fix some of the hurt that’s happened this year, but if there’s anything on this planet that will heal us, it’s got to be spaghetti.

Viana La Place’s recipe for spaghetti with tomato and fresh ginger

Viana La Place Recipe

It’s so funny how we sometimes don’t know our own tastes. I was given Viana La Place’s Unplugged Kitchen by an author and didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. It doesn’t have a single photo in it; the jacket is pretty hideous (but it’s gorgeous with the jacket slipped off); and the author is very opinionated. Weirdly, I fell wildly in love with it. It’s so quiet. Quiet can feel good when you spend all day looking at food blogs and overwhelmingly gorgeous cookbook spreads.

That’s the point of the book: to unplug your kitchen and enjoy the hand-work of cooking. Viana tells readers to chuck their food processors (she says they mash rather than slice and that their sound is horrid in a kitchen); she advocates hand-tearing your lettuce and treating it more gently than we usually do with our spinners and knives; and she thinks we’re missing the point if we make simple food quickly, rather than simple food mindfully.

It’s a good distinction, and it’s a great book. It’s sadly out-of-print now (although still available used online), but here’s one of my favorite simple and slow recipes to make out of it. You’ll be done cooking in 20 minutes or so, and you probably have every last thing on hand already. So why not go ahead and slow down a bit with it, enjoying each little knife slice of garlic as it happens?

Viana La Place’s Recipe for Spaghetti with Tomato and Fresh Ginger

Viana La Place Recipe

Serves 4
Ready in 20 minutes

6 garlic cloves
1 large knob of fresh ginger
1 16-oz package of spaghetti
2 tablespoons of sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
10 fresh basil leaves

Place a large pot of water over high heat. While it comes to a boil, peel and finely dice the 6 garlic cloves, then peel and finely dice the ginger until you have ¼ cup of it.

Your water should be boiling about now, so drop in the package of spaghetti and 2 tablespoons of salt. Set a timer for 2 minutes less than the package indicates.

In a medium sauté pan over low heat, add 1/4 cup of olive oil, all the garlic, and ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes; add the ginger and stir for another minute. Add the entire can of tomatoes and stir, smashing the tomatoes if you like it a little less chunky.  (By the way, you can store any leftover ginger in a sealed baggie in the freezer. It’ll keep at least 6 months, but I’ve kept it longer and lived to tell the tale.)

Cook the sauce for about 10 minutes, until it begins to thicken. Sprinkle with more salt to taste and grind some pepper over it. As the sauce cooks, wash and chop your basil. A chiffonade is nice, but chop it however you darn well please.

Strain the spaghetti, add it to the sauce, toss, and top with basil. Drizzle a bit more olive oil and grind more pepper over each serving at the table. Or, just eat it on the couch, in a big bowl, in your jammies, with a strong drink.

Jarrett has a great one for you:

The We’re-All-Gonna-Be-Okay Cocktail

Pear Brandy Cocktail Recipe

This election year has been something—no matter where you stand, it was a stressful and trying year for us all. But now, at last, November 8th has passed, and we can finally get back to the important things: drinking together.

I’ve got just the thing to wash away any lingering bad tastes on your political palate—this drink is strong, it’s balanced, it’s got integrity, and it’s running for president in 2020. So sit down with it now, share it with a friend, put on some New Orleans parade music, and remind yourself that we’re all gonna be okay.

Makes one drink (but tripling encouraged!)

2 oz. pear brandy (We love Catoctin’s Pear Brandy, but you can also create your own!)
3 tablespoons pear preserve
1/2 oz. lemon juice
Splash of club soda

Combine the brandy, pear preserve, and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass. (It’s really important you double-strain this particular drink as the preserve creates a lot of undesirable clumps.) Top with a splash of cold club soda.

Recipe inspired by Maggie Hoffman’s upcoming cocktail book, Just One Bottle, represented by Alison Fargis at Stonesong and to be published by Ten Speed Press. Follow Maggie on Twitter here!

What to Read This Week:

15 Authors Running Fantastic Book Promotions on Instagram (Diana Urban for BookBub): I’m a big believer that authors shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel for their marketing campaigns. Instead, just find a few people in your genre who are doing it well (like these 5 authors who are killing it with authentic marketing), then observe, analyze, lather, rinse, and repeat.

What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get About Bookstores (David Sax for The New Yorker): “The key question for Riggio now is figuring out what purpose Barnes & Noble serves today. Amazon dominates the industry with low prices and a vast selection, and is even flirting with brick-and-mortar bookstores, having opened two in the past year. Independent bookstores—once assumed to be on their way to extinction—own the romantic notion of a bookstore as a place, like a church or a social club, where communities are nurtured. Barnes & Noble is stuck in the middle, a giant saddled with hundreds of huge stores, and an image of corporate sameness in a market that has increasingly come to treasure defiantly independent bookstores.”

17 Literary Home Accessories Every Book-Lover Should Own (Sadie Trombetta for Bustle): Christmas is coming! If you love a book lover, I highly recommend the library-scented candle and the books-shaped plates. Also, that Kate Spade collection with the watercolor books? Be still my leaping heart.

The Making of the Sqirl Cover, an Illustrated Story (Ali Slagle for Food52): Ever wondered how many iterations of a book cover happen behind-the-scenes before it’s released? This is a great illustrated look at how covers evolve and how competing opinions can be carefully managed. (P.S. This cover is so eye-catching!)

Plenty of Room on the Island (Seth Godin): “…it turns out that the real competition is inaction. Few markets have expanded to include everyone, and most of those markets (like books and music) have offerings where people buy more than one. This means that if there’s more good stuff, more people enter the market, the culture gets better, more good work is produced and enjoyed, more people enter the market, and on and on. So encouraging and promoting the work of your fellow artists, writers, tweeters, designers, singers, painters, speakers, instigators and leaders isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s smart as well.”

Cheers!

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How to Handle a Writing (or Kitchen) Disaster

Laurie Colwin Potato Salad recipe(short)

But first, the stories worth reading this week:

All the Food That’s Fit to Print: How Culinary Scientists are Building the Meal of the Future, Layer by Layer (Susie Neilson for The New Yorker): This is an absolutely fascinating look at what 3-D printing can do in the food world. If you don’t have time to read the full story, watch the 2-minute video here.

What Makes a Bestseller? Two SMP Authors Say They Know the Formula (Jim Milliot for Publisher’s Weekly): “What are the components a manuscript needs to become a bestseller? According to two St. Martin’s authors, Dave Eggers knows.” It’s also worth reading Mike Shatzkin’s rebuttal on The Shatzkin Files: “The idea that the odds a book will make the bestseller list can be calculated from the content of the book alone, without regard to consumer analysis, branding, or the marketing effort to promote the book, is ridiculous.”

Webinars & Summits: An Author’s Guide to Selling Books through Online Events (Chad Cannon): “Secret ingredients to sell books: win someone’s email address, demonstrate your authority and teach valuable content, strategically get in front of a captive audience. A killer way to do these three things online… for free… all in one fell swoop? Online events.”

Dissecting the Success of Malcolm Gladwell (The Tim Ferriss Show): A great listen for any fans of Gladwell who want to learn more about his writing process. One sneak peek: “’For every hour I spend writing, I spend three hours thinking about writing.’”

11 of Our Best Potato Salads (Sam Sifton for New York Times Cooking): This has nothing to do with publishing, but everything to do with your happiness this weekend. Seriously: do you have your potato salad game on lock for this weekend? Jarrett and I are ready–we special ordered Duke’s Mayo off of Amazon just to make the potato salad recipe you’ll see below. This is both something to be ashamed of and something to be very, very excited about. We’ll be making it tonight, so follow me on Twitter to see how it turns out!

How to Handle a Writing (or Kitchen) Disaster

Laurie Colwin Potato Salad recipe

Here’s something I hear myself saying to authors a lot: “It’s going to be okay—don’t worry!”

That’s because disasters happen. They always do. And that’s okay. There’s no good challenge you’ll take on that doesn’t experience a hiccup, change of course, or outright fiasco along the way.

It’s just like being in the kitchen—sometimes you perfectly poach that egg and other times you end up with egg on your face.

Which has happened to me. I tried to poach an egg in the microwave once, and it exploded in my face. At work. In front of other people. At a publishing house.

After a good cry in the bathroom and many, many paper towels to wipe the shell and yolk and mild burn marks off myself, I got it together and went back and sat at my desk like nothing had happened. And it was okay. And I laughed about it.

It’s the same thing with your manuscript or your book. Yes, it’s much more important, and deeply personal, and it’s your life’s work. There is no contesting that.

But it’s also all very fixable. What’s not fixable? Losing your health. Losing someone you love. Losing a part of yourself that guided you.

But plot tangles, photo shoot fiascos, endless rejections? They can’t really hurt you.

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Read, Eat, Drink–Weekend Roundup

Read:

Harper Lee writer

Have you ever heard of this little novel called To Kill a Mockingbird? It was pretty famous.

Well, in the most exciting literary twist of 2015 yet, there is a SEQUEL COMING!! My reaction to the press release on Tuesday:

Kermit1

This is probably the most exciting thing to happen in publishing in the past year forever and ever. And ever. Here’s what we know so far:

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