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Archive for the ‘Southern Life’ Category

Backstreet Cultural Museum

Friday, October 5th, 2012

My friend Amanda tried to take me to the Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans last year when I visited, but we missed it  - all that dancing … so last month when I as in town we went.

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is located in the historic New Orleans neighborhood of Faubourg Treme, and for the past decade has accumulated an incredible collection of costumes and memorabilia, etc. from Mardi Gras Indian public performances, Second-Line Parades and Jazz Funerals.

Amanda is what I’m going to call an aficionado of the Mardi Gras Indians and  is my primary source of background on their culture. They are a symbol of New Orleans known for their colorful hand-sewn costumes, secretive traditions, music (ever heard “hoo na nae”) and celebrations. It is a privilege to work on a Mardi Gras Indian costume. The elaborate beadwork and feathers on the “suits” requires thousands of dollars (raised via private connections and social clubs) and hours (by a limited group of friends and family who each take on a patch at a time during the course of several months). Each suit when finished can weigh a couple hundred pounds. Last year Amanda and I met a local quilt maker and her daughter, both of whom we were very excited to learn have worked on suits!

Mardi Gras Indians come out on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and St. Joseph’s Day.  They have no set parade route (the police want them to and they are philosophically opposed to it) and roam the streets for hours in their neighborhood (so go to Treme not the French Quarter for the authentic experience  - Amanda goes by bike and pedals around for hours in the middle of the night with fellow strangers following the Indians – SO COOL!).

At one time Amanda explained to me, Mardi Gras Indians were rival gangs – up until the 1970s/80s they actually fought while in costume! One costume we saw at the museum had a tomahawk covered in beads (an actual tomahawk). Tootie, “the chief of chiefs” of the Mardi Gras Indians (read his obit in the NYT) took the suits to another level and stopped the fighting turning meetings into ceremonial face-offs. Now when Indians meet in the streets of New Orleans they dance and show respect competing for the best (“prettiest”) suit. Each year a new design is unveiled by each tribe on Mardi Gras.

What I also found fascinating is the hierarchy of the tribes - The Spy Boy goes ahead of the procession and scouts for trouble/other gangs (Indians) and signals (by sound or dance) to the Flag Boy who signals (with a flag or stick) back to the Big Chief.

Before Katrina the tribes were more distinct coming from uptown and downtown – now some of the costume traditions/designs have blended.

For more information: Check out this terrific PBS piece on the Indians. My FB buddy Matthew Hinton took this gorgeous pic of Mardi Gras Indians at Jazz Fest (his last day at the Times-Picayune is coming up – look for his pics everywhere soon). A fun video of Mardi Gras Indians at Jazz Fest.

Bead work on Mardi Gras Indian Chief costumes.

Days of Football

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

How about that game Monday night with the Chicago Bears shutting down the Dallas Cowboys by 16 (34 – 18)!?  The beauty of linebacker Lance Briggs intercepting the ball and running for a 74-yard touchdown. They looked good..and linebacker Brian Urlacher (my favorite player) he was all over the field knocking folks down. They are 3-1 with 12 games to go including one against the daunting San Francisco 49ers and a rematch w/ the Green Bay Packers in November and December. Go Bears!



While I was in New Orleans last month I went to the Bayou Beer Garden to watch the opening game of the New Orleans Saints season. *The Bears were playing that day so I made sure my iPhone was fully charged and checked in on their game (they won) every few minutes – love the Chicago Bears app!  It was a good time and wow do those Saints fans get into the game. The Saints lost to the Washington Redskins (who I don’t like, but I do think their quarterback RGIII is pretty fantastic), but it was a pretty energized four quarters. The fans drank, sang, drank, jumped up and down, drank, sang…it was righteous. As someone who can get pretty rowdy watching the Bears play I appreciated the energy!

Arkansas Sweetly Spiced Apple Crumb Pie

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Tis apple pie making season what with all the lovely apples from my share of the Out on a Limb Heritage Apple CSA. I’ve been a shareholder since 2010 (its sophomore season).  I get approximately 1/4 bushel of historic and unusual modern varieties of  Maine grown dessert (fresh-eating) and culinary apples at each pickup (about 10-12 lbs).  Overall I’ll get 30 – 40 varieties during the course of the season. Some varieties will be organically grown, others IPM (integrated pest management) or conventionally grown. The CSA costs $125 for the season

What I used to make this pie:

Uncertain origin, 17th century or earlier. The most famous of all pie apples, also good for dessert and sauce. There are numerous strains including this deep purple-red strain found in old orchards in southern Maine.  No one knows the origin of the apple.  Although most experts say Italy or Germany, it is possible that the apple comes from Russia.  Interestingly, Gravenstein was brought to North America from two directions.  Europeans brought it to Canada and Maine, while Russians brought it to the West Coast.  It is still grown commercially in both Nova Scotia and California.  Old trees can still be found here and there in Maine, especially in mid-coast and southern districts.

Duchess of Oldenburg
Originated in Russia, 17th c. In 1835 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society imported the first of many apple varieties from Russia. These were Alexander, Tetofsky, Red Astrichan and Duchess of Oldenburg. Duchess was planted extensively wherever growers needed varieties with extreme cold hardiness, and it is still popular today in most of northern New England, especially Aroostook County. Highly esteemed for all sorts of cooking, Duchess is an excellent pie apple. It makes a zesty pie, and it cooks up quickly into thick, creamy, delicious sauce.

(Descriptions from OLHA CSA site. Photo mine. *Check out this New York Times piece on the Common Ground Country Fair featuring John’s thoughts on farming, mentoring and apples.)

Arkansas Sweetly Spiced Apple Crumb Pie from the Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe by Alisa Huntsman.

9-inch pie shell, unbaked
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
6 cups 1/2-inch-thick sliced peeled apples (any baking variety)

Brown Sugar and Oat Crumb Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet and set aside. In a large bowl, rub the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves together with your fingertips until blended. Add the apples and toss to coat. Dump the spiced apple slices into the pie shell, including any sugar and juices that have accumulated in the bowl. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the pie, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border uncovered. (The topping will cover the entire pie. If you put the crumbs close to the edges, they may run out with any juices that boil over, leaving no topping near the edges.) Bake in the middle of the over for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling and the crumb topping is lightly browned all over. Let cool before cutting, although this is the hardest part, because who can resist warm apple pie?

Brown Sugar and Oat Crumb Topping (makes about 1 cup)

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Place the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and baking soda in a bowl and mix gently to break up any lumps of sugar, taking care not to crush the oats. Add the butter and gently rub the ingredients together with your fingertips to produce a mealy mixture with some lumps that clump together when squeezed in your hand.

Yield: one 9-inch pie; serves 6 to 8

The ‘Tupelo Honey Cafe – Holiday Recipe Contest!’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Oh no I did not just use the word “holiday” in this title. Yes dear readers, actually I did…and by the way some of the big box stores already have twinkle lights and even (I think this was at Target) a pink flamingo with (pink, of course) holiday lights. That particular item I might actually be picking up soonish – not for the holidays – certainly not what most anyone who didn’t know me well enough and my place would think – it’s for the old “outhouse” that now exists in the barn. It’s not used so don’t get all eww on me – nope – hasn’t been for years…but dandy little spot w/ a window (that just happens to have a bench w/ a hole w/ a flip cover…) and everything just waiting for some fun decorations. You’ll see…I’ll post a picture soon as I get the flashy pink thing and hook it up.

Really, what does the above have to do with this particular post on the Tupelo Honey Cafe’s contest- not much except it’s sort of well holiday related.

Before we get into the rules and all that normal contest stuff…let’s just get this out of the way – the Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook rocks comfort food – specifically creative twists on Southern favorites.  I’ve been cooking from my (now) dog-eared copy, gifted to me last year by friends who ate at the Cafe, a lot. Crammed with delicious recipes including Tupelo Honey Coleslaw, Bacony Egg Salad, Chicken Apple Meat Loaf with Tarragon Tomato Gravy (made this again last night – anything that requires an apple in it from my share of the Heirloom Apple CSA is fair game) and Shrimp and Goat Cheese Grits with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (so good, so very good). Now that I think we’re clear on the fact that this is one of my favorite cookbooks let’s get to the cafe’s super fun contest…

OK, The Contest

With the holiday season fast approaching, the Tupelo Honey Cafe would love to see what fantastic festive fare you can come up with!

Do your tasty recipes have what it takes to impress Tupelo top-chef Brian Sonoskus? This holiday season they’re accepting creative and flavorful holiday-inspired recipes in three categories:

- Sides


- Leftovers!

The Holiday Recipe Contest runs from October 1st through November 16th, and all entries will be judged by Chef Brian Sonoskus and his hungry team of taste-testers! The three winners will be announced on December 3rd, each receiving a $200 gift card to be used at the Tupelo Honey Cafe Online Store , or at one of their restaurants.

Each week during the contest a drawing will also be held where one lucky participant will win a copy of their cookbook: Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen.  (This is the one I have, love, live with.)

To keep up with additional news and offers follow them on Facebook.

Back to New Orleans

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Some posts take longer to write. This was one of them. Sure, I’ve been sidelined by bees, a puppy, chickens, charity work and work that pays the bills…but this subject also means a great deal to me.

Leaving New Orleans didn’t feel like going home, it felt like being pulled from it. I felt sad forcing Bacchus to leave a place we love. Earlier in the day I tried to eat lunch unsuccessfully (that’s a big one for me if you consider I devoured a pizza today). It all probably had a great deal to do with my fear of flying, but sitting on my friend’s porch taking in the sounds of the people on the street, the rooster (it crowed all day) I couldn’t do much but hold onto the rails. As much as I love my life in Maine, New Orleans also feels like it should be my home. I want to do both, I must. It’s not just what you might think – the food, music, weather (would you think that anyway as humid as it is and what with the generous hurricane season)…it’s….

The people, they come from different walks of life.

The noise.

The man fishing for his turtles on the Bayou.

The dentist who drives a luxury car with tinted windows that’s seen better days and markets himself as Dr. Gold Teeth.

The strangers who welcome you to their table and talk to you on street corners.

The occasional bit of shade and breeze along the Bayou.

A place where you see the oddest things, and there they just make sense.

The takeout Chinese food that might be the best you’ve ever had from a place in Mid-Town you’ve been told not to walk to. In New Orleans! Good Chinese takeout!

The folks who painted their out house (why they have one in their front yard, who knows it’s New Orleans) Saints colors.

The horn players, the best the only ones today who recall an age before I (and likely) and you were born.

The need to dance in the street, in the bars..the impromptu jazz parades.

The Tulane student studying the Mardi Gras Indian dialects for linguistics class.

The woman I met in a bar who makes headdresses for Mardi Gras.

and so, so much more…like the great writers that come from there….case in point…Chris Rose’s incredible 1 Dead in the Attic, a collection of stories he wrote for The Times-Picayune between August 29, 2005 and New Years Day, 2006 recounting the first harrowing year and a half of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It is surely one of the best books I’ve read ever and sums up everything I love about what may be the last outpost where you can be who you want to be and letting it all hang out is a right not a privilege. The book sits you down on a front porch Uptown in a (blue tarp covered) devastated wasteland with survivors and those who’ve come back home – hands you a beer and invites you to South Louisiana. You trod through the waste and the life with Rose waking to the reality that this city and her people will always triumph not because they can, but because they must. New Orleans won’t wash away, this city won’t ever drown….and thank everything for that New Orleans folk.


A few favorites:

Maple Street Book Shops where I purchased a (new) copy of 1 Dead in the Attic.

My friend Amanda in the French Quarter walking towards Frenchmen Street.

The Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchmen Street

Amanda playing the bones. Are my friends the coolest or what!?

The next night at Kermit Ruffins’ Treme Speakeasy. He played an early set (around 7pm) and then several musician friends from NYC, 9th ward…joined him. We “soul trained” – danced in the bar in a line. SO MUCH FUN!!!

I don’t know why, but I thought this was beautiful – outside Kermit’s place.

NOMA Sculpture Garden

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

If you like art check out the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden the next time you are in NOLA and want to check out something outside the French Quarter.  Maybe after Friday lunch at Galatoire’s (arrive several hours in advance for a seating on the first floor where first come, first serve still holds true…do NOT do the lame ass thing and make a reservation for the second floor…just go to Amelie or another nice French Quarter restaurant). Fridays, the museum and garden are open late with really cool events.

(from the website) The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art occupies approximately 5 acres in City Park adjacent to the Museum. Atypical of most sculpture gardens, this Garden is located within a mature existing landscape of pines, magnolias and live oaks. The garden design creates outdoor viewing spaces within this picturesque landscape. A reconfigured lagoon bisects the site and creates two distinct halves: a mature pine and magnolia grove adjacent to the Museum, and a more open area of 200-year-old, Spanish moss-laden live oaks across the lagoon near the New Orleans Botanical Gardens.

 An Untitled reflective, stainless steel 78 inch tall cube sculpture by British,Indian-born artist Anish Kapoor, created in 1997 and is a recent acquirement.

and inside…

Bayou and City Park

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

I stayed in Mid-City, which conveniently is where Cheryl (who rescued Bacchus) lives (her house is amazing – front porch, iron gate, backyard w/ a patio, floor to ceiling windows in the front, tall ceilings and so incredibly New Orleans). Each day we’d walk Bacchus and one of her Chihuahuas along the Bayou and through City Park. Quintessential NOLA: I chatted with a man fishing in the Bayou for his turtles. He said they didn’t like the food from the pet shop and this was a nice way to spend the morning. I couldn’t have agreed more. Lovely fellow, hope he finds what he’s looking for. Another day, in City Park, Cheryl pointed out members of the 610 Stompers who looked to be working out.


City Park

Hanging Out in the Barn with Friends

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

My (new) friends R & J visited me all the way from Nashville for a few days last week. We laughed so much and J gave me some ultra cool Instragram user tips. Check out my photos… (p.s. I cannot wait to visit them so we can tour Loretta Lynn’s house/museum in Hurricane Mills, TN)

Recipe of the Week: Turnip and Mustard Greens w/ Smoked Bacon and Vinegar

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

This week’s recipe comes from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing, the chef and owner of a restaurant called Lantern in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It’s chocked full of easy to make, taste good, hearty recipes like Old-Fashioned Baked Beans with Smoked Bacon (p.185) my other favorite from the book.

There is an overflow of mustard greens in my garden and not a lot of appealing recipes to use them, except for this one. The bacon (I use turkey) balances out the Dijon. Feel free to double the amounts, this dish is as good the second day heated up or not.

Turnip and Mustard Greens with Smoked Bacon and Vinegar from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing

3 big bunches (about 1 1/2 pounds) mixed mustard and turnip greens
2 tsp expeller-pressed vegetable oil or EVOO
2 thick slices smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 onion, halved and sliced lengthwise
Kosher salt
Vinegar from pickled chile peppers (see recipe below)

Wash the greens, remove the thick stalks and coarsely chop the leaves. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the oil and bacon. Cook the bacon until it is about halfway rendered and still soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the onion and season with salt. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until the greens are very soft and the water from the greens has evaporated. Adjust the seasoning and serve with spicy vinegar.

Yield: 4 servings as a side dish

*Pickled Chili Peppers

4 cups loosely packed hot, semi-hot or sweet fresh chili peppers, with seeds
3 Tbsp kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups distilled white vinegar

If your chiles are large, cut them into chunks or rounds. If they are small, simply split them in half lengthwise. Put the peppers in one or more jars with tight-fitting lids. In a medium bowl, dissolve the salt and sugar in the vinegar. Pour this over the peppers, close the jar and refrigerate for at least one day before using.
Makes about 1/2 quart

Dear Dad, I went to an Oyster Farm

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Every spring growing up my father would take me to Chincoteague Island where we would spend our days at the beach and National Wildlife Refuge and at night eat an unlawful amount of oysters and mussels.  My dad liked his gin and tonics, fresh seafood and wildlife (alive in the wild) in that order. That, a rocking chair some stars above and quiet were all he asked for on his holidays. I learned just about everything from my dad including my love of raw oysters, starry skies and reading (while he was drinking his gin (with a little tonic) on the porch I was engulfing the most recent science fiction novel or biography for young adults).

He considered it sacrilege to put anything on a raw oyster – you ate them raw out of the shell or you didn’t bother. Buckets of mussels, on the other hand, were consumed with copious amounts of melted butter and garlic (thank everything for my extremely high metabolism when I was a child).

I don’t remember ever eating oysters or mussels at home, but I’m pretty sure the amount we would consume in a week of visiting two or three of his favorite restaurants on the Island held us for the rest of the year – it also earned me recognition from more than one member of various wait staff – a fact I’m quite proud of to this day. We might have had some at restaurants in D.C., but those never held the same impact as the ones eaten on the Island.

It’s funny, only now do I wonder how did a man who grew up in rural Arkansas and moved to Washington, D.C. in his early 20’s develop a love of oysters and mussels…of the sea? Was it that he never experienced them as a child and his introduction opened a window. These are the kinds of questions I wish he were alive to answer – these and for so many more reasons.

Well, dad you would have loved this – my friend Cheryl and I went to an oyster farm and I held two-month old oysters and later, with oyster juice dripping down my leg (my arms covered in OFF) hunched over a counter in a (really nice) restaurant kitchen consumed maybe the most delicious oyster – a Nonesuch Belon – it was of the sea.  Of this he would have been proud.

My favorite oysters: Nonesuch, Hog Island, Glidden Point , New Orleans (whatever I’ve had there), Fisher Island, East DennisPemaquid and Island Creek Oyster. Obviously, whatever I was eating in Chincoteague would be up there!

Past oyster posts: Barb Scully and Glidden Point Oysters,  Erin Byers Murray’s book and Pemaquid Oysters in Damariscotta , Oyster Po-Boy in New Orleans (one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth), B&G’s Oyster Invitational (go to B&G’s in Boston and eat oysters!! DO this if you want a truly educational oyster experience – Rowan Jacobsen instructed the staff on oysters and owner Barbara Lynch ROCKS).

Pick up a copy of Rowan’s book A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America. I just did and while thoroughly enjoying it am learning a heck of a lot about one of my favorite foods.

My visit to Nonesuch Oysters upweller/nursery in Biddeford followed by a visit to the farm in Pine Point:

Abigail Carroll, the founding farmer of Nonesuch Oysters. Less than five years ago she was living in France and engaged to a count!   She’s smart, down to earth, determined and wait till you hear the story below about the upweller. Wow!

Noreen and I checking out the upweller (thanks for the photos Cheryl!)

Chris Betjemann, a Biddeford real estate developer and owner of Full Circle Design and Abigail consulted with Aquaculturalist Bill Mook of Mook Sea Farm about how to build a ‘land based’ upweller as most of them are integrated into floating docks.

Bill set out the general requirements, inflow/outflow, screen sizes, disease prevention, and then Chris designed it according to a few criteria Abigail had. She wanted to use the lobster tanks because she found them for a low price and  to base the whole system on the 5-gallon bucket because it’s small, cheap and ubiquitous. Abigail had worked on an upweller, but it was a large scale float and she wanted something ‘chick friendly,’ that smaller people could work without breaking their backs. Chris ran with the project. He put it all on auto-cad and figured out how to design the plummin using pre-fab pvc pipes. Abigail’s team (an employee, two UNE interns and herself) helped Chris with the construction, everything from re-fiberglassing the tanks to gluing the pvc pipes to configuring the buckets etc.

Jeri Fox of UNE got her aquaculture lab involved in this project – and Dale Levitt of Roger & Williams College in Rhode Island consulted as well.

(Second from bottom – empty oyster shells add calcium)

The fine screen bottom allows water to flow up

Two-month old oysters!!!

Making our way to the farm.

Completely random…we passed Fun Town. I’d heard so many radio ads had to take a photo, never have to go there.

A Belon!

According to Abigail, all oysters grown in bags appear white with some color markings on them. All oysters (American and Belons) grown on the ground are hearty and green.

A Nonesuch Belon Oyster = the taste of the sea.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” –  Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast