It was late June, infant summer. The day was going to be all strawberry swell & glossy red but the sky was mute. I was driving to Nashville early in the morning, mountain mists and all. I thought I was late so I didn’t brew fresh coffee, letting the grinds bloom caramel, but rather opted for a Styrofoam bucket of battery acid from the gas station. My stomach ached as I drove. I cursed, drank it anyway. I arrived at a big gray barn beside a big white house on a thin country road. Honeysuckle spirals and heaps of hay, old filling stations, and crooked mailboxes flanked my way. Exactly what you hope to see when embarking on a bucolic morning of berry picking.
Turns out, I got there an hour early, failing to calculate the time change from Eastern to Central. It always surprises me because we live on the line. If I shuffle slightly left the time changes on me. Seems like the sort of thing that could cause metaphysical vertigo if you aren’t careful, weaving in and out of time like that. But that’s a risk I’ll have to take. Because I’ve grown fond of Nashville & some of its choice denizens.
I’d driven up to Valley Home Farm to pick strawberries with Hannah. We traced the rows of strawberries up and down, posing both ourselves and strawberries for the odd photograph. We are food bloggers. These things happen, must happen. The berries we diligently collected were destined for a strawberry-centric dinner at Rebekka’s the next night that led, subsequently, to the blackberry dinner at my place I posted last week. We have a running theme going. I guess we’ll just have to visit pumpkin patches and apple orchards in the coming months to keep up our streak. Both of these suppers have been of the too-good-to-be-true kitchen bonding, victual voodoo variety, the sort of company & food I live for. So it’s a streak I have an interest in keeping up.
I was driving up for the weekend, and I’d actually never met either one of them in person before. It was like a blind lady friend date. I was nervous. Until, of course, I met them. It wasn’t long after our initials hello’s before we were planning not only the next supper at my house (the blackberry dinner) but to co-host our upcoming Kinfolk Campfire & Grilling Workshop, which sold out in couple of days. We’re awfully excited about it, and have everything planned from herbal fire starter making to cast iron pie baking over an open fire to grilled bone marrow to some mighty fancy homemade s’mores fixins. I’m very excited to be able to share the kismet kitchen magic I’ve discovered with these ladies with our guests. And no worries…if you didn’t get a chance to nab a ticket, we’ll be co-hosting another Kinfolk workshop come November on culinary infusions, so keep a lookout for them to go on sale early that month!
So that weekend Hannah and I wandered her neighborhood through the damp grass to the edges of the forest, navigating ditches and brambles, to clip honeysuckle to brew up some of my honeysuckle cordial for the supper. Honestly, it felt like the sort of thing I did as a suburbia roaming kid and hadn’t done since. It felt good and dewy and young. We headed to Rebekka’s impossibly charming & beautiful home Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it; it’s really a piece of work. Cooking that afternoon was a leisurely affair, something I’ve come to appreciate greatly. I think that cooking & entertaining are about the relationships formed both in the kitchen and around the table, and I take a more family style approach to gathering as opposed to the school of high maintenance, formal affairs. You’ll find no passed hors d’oeuvres at the bulk of my dinners and if you get in my line of site you’ll probably find yourself chopping veggies. And that’s exactly what this supper was like; we all pitched in.
My part was fixing up this apple cider and honey braised cabbage & lentil salad with odds and ends that Hannah had in her fridge plus a few choice items picked up at Porter Road Butcher’s & herbs from Rebekka’s backyard. It’s so much more than the sum of it’s part, hitting all the notes, taste & texture at once: sweet, tart, and savory with the creamy umami of blue cheese and crunch of nuts and all with the unexpected brightness of mint. It would actually be excellent along with my faux smoked roasted pork shoulder & would transition well into fall. It may seem like an odd crowd in that bowl, but trust me, they all get along. Meanwhile, Rebekka concocted an amazing savory brown butter & strawberry pasta sauce, and Hannah made one of the most inspired desserts I’ve had all summer, a sweet corn pot de crème topped with strawberry coulis. The whole thing was to dadgum die for. By the time I left, driving back to Chattanooga in the middle of the night with my Monday deadlines looming but no longer looking so bleak, we had big plans. And I cannot wait to share more of them with you all in the future.
A few things…
Imen has made me fall in love with this cookbook without even having held it. Apron Strings (that title!) is now on my must buy & gift list. You can get it here & here.
Want more of my recipes? (Of course you do!) You can visit me at my column every other Monday on Food 52. All seasonal, all southern.
This post on the foibles of local food captures a lot of my sentiments.
Want to watch a clip of me ostensibly making biscuits on local tele? You can here!
Apple Cider Vinegar + Honey Braised Cabbage & Lentil Salad
This recipe was one of those "use what we have on hand" moments, and as such, it isn't an exact science. You can use goat cheese instead of blue cheese, bacon instead of guanciale, basil instead of mint, pine nuts instead of pecans. So feel free to use what you have & play, add a touch more honey or vinegar if you like, season to taste as you go. Love herbs? Add a handful instead of a quarter cup! This is your salad.
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3 Tbsp honey, divided
- 1 1/4 tsp salt, divided plus more to taste
- pinch of cayenne
- 2 tsp minced fresh thyme
- 3 ounces guanciale, diced (can sub bacon or pancetta)
- 1/2 head of red cabbage, shredded
- 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh mint, julienned
- 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
- Heat oven to 325°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment.
- In a small sauce pan melt the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the honey.
- Add the pecans, 1/2 tsp of salt, thyme, and cayenne, and stir to coat.
- Spread nuts on the lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until lightly browned.
- Cool completely while making the rest of the recipe. Once cool chop roughly and set aside.
- Add the diced guanciale to a large skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy.
- Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels and set aside, keeping the drippings in the pan.
- Add the cabbage to the pan with the drippings along with the 2 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1/2 tsp of salt, pepper, and 2 Tbsp of honey. Stir to coat. If there aren't a lot of drippings you may need to add a tsp of olive oil.
- Cook cabbage until wilted but still slightly al dente, stirring occasionally. Stir in lentils and season to taste with salt, vinegar, and honey if desired.
- Remove from heat and stir in guanciale, mint, nuts, and cheese. Can be served warm or at room temperature.