♥ miss edna lewis, my valentine ♥

“So many great souls have passed off the scene. The world has changed. We are now faced with picking up the pieces and trying to put them into shape, document them so the present-day young generation can see what southern food was like. The foundation on which it rested was pure ingredients, open-pollinated seed—planted and replanted for generations—natural fertilizers. We grew the seeds of what we ate, we worked with love and care.” ~ Edna Lewis (“What is Southern?”)


For me, she’s the one. The more I learn about Edna Lewis, the more I love her.

Since today marks the 7th anniversary of her passing at age 89, it’s a good time to celebrate her remarkable achievements as an award-winning chef, cooking teacher, caterer, cookbook author and Grand Dame of Southern Cuisine with a love-in-your-mouth piece of her Warm Gingerbread. Mmmmm-mmmmm!

long view

Miss Lewis, as she was always known, grew up in the small farming community of Freetown, which is located behind the village of Lahore in Orange County, Virginia (about 66 miles from where I live). Her grandfather founded Freetown with two other freed slaves and started the first area school in his living room.

Long before it became chic to advocate fresh, organic, seasonal ingredients and field-to-table cuisine, Edna and her fellow Freetown residents were enjoying a bucolic live-off-the-land existence — growing, harvesting and preserving their own food, gathering nature’s bounty (seeds, fruit, nuts), fishing the streams, hunting wild game in the woods, cultivating domestic animals.

In The Taste of Country Cooking (Knopf, 1976), a classic of Southern cuisine edited by the brilliant Judith Jones (also Julia Child’s editor), Edna shares recipes and reminiscences of the simple, flavorful, uniquely American, Virginia country cooking she grew up with, lovingly describing how they anticipated the select offerings of each season and celebrated special occasions like Christmas and Emancipation Day with full-out feasts.


We are reminded that there’s nothing better than a freshly picked sun-ripened apple, relishing a dish of Spring’s mixed greens (poke leaves, lamb’s-quarters, wild mustard), celebrating Summer’s bounty with deep-dish blackberry pies, apple dumplings, peach cobblers and pound cakes, sitting down to a Fall Emancipation Day dinner of Guinea Fowl Casserole, “the last green beans of the season and a delicious plum tart or newly ripened, fresh, stewed quince.” As Alice Waters says in her introduction, “sheer deliciousness that is only possible when food tastes like what it is, from a particular place, at a particular point in time.”

Continue reading

spotlight: author/illustrator allen say

“Most people seem to be interested in turning their dreams into reality. Then there are those who turn reality into dreams. I belong to the latter group.” ~ Allen Say


Open any one of Allen Say’s picture books, and chances are good you will see lots of windows and doors.

Some of these are the wood and paper shoji doors found in Japan, while others are flat panel doors or double-hung windows commonly found in homes across America. 

For Say, these may be portals to a dream state, concrete symbols of conflict and exclusion, or simply the way an outsider views the world — looking at the lighted windows in a cozy home and wishing he belonged inside, or sitting inside viewing the rest of the world through panes of glass.

I’ve been a big Allen Say fan since the late 80’s, traveling back and forth between Japan and America with him via his books, keenly identifying with his dilemma of a dual identity, walking the tightrope between cultures.

Continue reading

laura for a day

“Once you begin being naughty, it’s easier to go on and on, and sooner or later, something dreadful happens.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

    Carrie, Mary, and Laura Ingalls

Which children’s book character would you most like to be for just one day?

I’d like to be Laura Ingalls, mainly because her childhood was so vastly different from mine. I would love to have three sisters, a father who plays the fiddle, a dog named Jack, and a more intimate knowledge of how food was grown, cultivated, preserved, and prepared in the late 19th century. It would also be quite cool to be called, “Half-pint.”

Pioneer life was much harder than is depicted in the Little House books, so I wouldn’t necessarily want to actually be Laura Ingalls Wilder — no, just the Laura in the stories who eagerly watches Ma make Pancake Men, takes her turn at churning the cream, marvels at eating a little heart-shaped cake made from white flour, and is there to smell and taste all the bread and biscuits fresh from the wood-fired oven.

Continue reading

happy birthday to the bard!

“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” ~ Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

Chandos portrait of Shakespeare, not yet authenticated.

Huzzah, I say, Huzzah!

And, bullyrook, scullion, rampallian, fustilarian! Let me tickle your catastrophe, o trencher-friends!

Lords, Ladies, Cousins and Curs: don your finest cauls, corsets, breeches and brocade! Only your finest jeweled or flowered ruffs will do. If thou hast need for a codpiece, joyfully tie a big one
on — for today is Will Shakespeare’s 445th birthday!

Ay, our most beloved red-haired poet, actor, and dramatist from Stratford-upon-Avon, who gave us 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and several other poems besides, is still the brightest star amongst all the luminaries who ever dared to tarry with the English language. His comedies, tragedies, and histories are still the most widely performed on the planet, and even after centuries of scholarship, speculation, and debate — some details of his life, as well as doubt over his authorship, continue to mystify and enthrall enthusiasts and detractors alike.

Franco Zefferelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1968).
photo from EmMe09’s photostream.

I must admit I didn’t truly “get” Shakespeare until I saw the Franco Zefferelli version of “Romeo and Juliet” in high school. I remember swooning over Leonard Whiting, and thinking Olivia Hussey the most beautiful woman ever. For the first time, I really listened to Shakespeare as these actors delivered their lines, and realized how beautiful, varied, complicated, precise, multi-faceted, and glorious the English language really was. For months afterwards, I listened to my R&J record and recited some of the most memorable speeches, imagining myself in “fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”

Continue reading

a cool birthday, and those famous daffodils

“All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” ~ Wordsworth, Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, 1802.

    photo by heart felt

I’ve been seeing daffodils everywhere, so it truly must be Spring.

Though crocuses are usually the first to pop up at winter’s end, it’s those showy yellow daffodils, bobbing their heads in the breeze and trumpeting Spring’s arrival, that makes it official.

          Wordsworth portrait by William Shuter, 1798

It just so happens that the man who wrote the most famous daffodil poem ever, William Wordsworth, is celebrating his 239th birthday today. You probably know him as the preeminent poet of England’s Lake District, who, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, pretty much ignited the Romantic movement.

Continue reading