Cornmeal Catfish with Tartar Sauce | Recipe & Review

Southern from Scratch:  Pantry Essentials and Down-Home Recipes by Ashley English is in stores tomorrow, April 24, 2018.  Visit Roots & Reads for my full review of this lovely recipe book here.  Thanks to Roost Books and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC to review!

I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to test out several of the recipes in this book over the past month, including the one featured here.  Catfish fried lightly in cornmeal with a tangy tartar sauce and a side of hushpuppies is a meal that will be well-received at most any Southern table!

“The fish fry is pretty ubiquitous across the South.  What distinguishes my fry, though, is a light coating of oil, not a full deep dive (that’s reserved for the hush puppies served alongside).  And since hushpuppies and tartar sauce are as classic a combo as Fred and Ginger, Mickey and Minnie, and Dolly Parton and wigs, I’m also offering up a special sauce.”
-Ashley English


Cornmeal Catfish with Tartar Sauce
Recipe by Ashley English from the book Southern From Scratch
Serves 4


For the tartar sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 tbsp coarse-grain mustard
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • several dashes of hot sauce

For the catfish

  • 1/2 cup medium-grind cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup fine-grind cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • 1 1/2 lbs catfish fillets
  • Light olive or peanut oil for the pan
  • Hushpuppies, to serve (see my own recipe at the end of this post)
  • Lemon wedges, to serve



  1. Make the tartar sauce.  Whisk the mayonnaise, relish, horseradish, mustard, lemon juice, and hot sauce in a small bowl until fully combined.  Store in a lidded container in the refrigerator until serving time and use within 2 to 3 weeks.
  2. Mix the medium- and fine-grind cornmeal in a shallow dish with the garlic, salt, and several grinds of pepper.
  3. Whisk the eggs with the hot sauce in a medium mixing bowl.
  4. One by one, coat the catfish fillets in the egg mixture, then lightly dredge them in the cornmeal mixture.  Set aside on a large plate.
  5. Lightly coat the bottom of a cast iron skillet with oil and warm over medium heat.  Add the catfish fillets and cook in batches, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, depending on thickness.  Add oil to the pan between batches when necessary, to prevent sticking.  Serve immediately with tartar sauce, hushpuppies, and lemon wedges.



I remember many fish fry events when I was a kid.  My dad would go fishing with his dad and brother and they’d usually bring home a cooler full and we’d spend the evening frying up the fish with hushpuppies.  My dad was of the “go big or go home” variety when it comes to frying hushpuppies, so ours were always way bigger than you find in a restaurant.  I try to keep mine around golf ball size to balance out a full meal.

Here’s how I make my hushpuppies


  • 1 1/2 cups peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup self rising flour
  • 1/2 cup self rising yellow cornmeal mix
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 onion, diced well
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and diced (optional)
  • whole milk



  1. In a cast iron skillet, add peanut oil to warm over medium heat.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper together.
  3. Add onion and jalapeño to the mixture.
  4. Add just enough whole milk to wet the batter completely and stir well.
  5. Working in batches, drop teaspoons of batter into a skillet of heated peanut oil until browned.
  6. Place hushpuppies on paper towels to soak up excess grease, then serve and enjoy!



Happening in the Holler | Spring 2018

I’ve been quiet around here but spring planting is finished and our seeds are beginning to sprout.  We spent a lot of time expanding the garden at the beginning of the year so our growing space has nearly tripled!  Most of our tomatoes and beans will be growing vertically to maximize the space so we’re really curious to see what this year’s harvest will yield!  We’re growing a lot more beans and peas this year and trying a few new things as well.

I thought I’d share a few photos of the beans in different stages of sprouting:


It never fails to amaze me how you can plant a bean under a couple inches of dirt and more grow.  It’s incredible to watch it happen.


The black beans are off to an incredible start!  They were the first to sprout and it was as if they all came up overnight.
We have a few more peppers plants not pictured but these are Cubanelles and green peppers called Emerald Giants.  We grew peppers in burlap for the first time last year with amazing success so we’re trying it again this year; fingers crossed we get the same results!
Our tomatoes grew so fast this year we couldn’t keep them under lights because they outgrew the space!  We ended up setting up a transport in and outside with a tarp and it looks like we’ll be building a hoop house for next year.
The goats are shedding all their excess winter fluff and seem to enjoy using the fence as a brush.
This sweet girl still won’t hold a full grown chicken so she’s looking forward to the baby chicks in the fall.

I’ll have a garden walk through post up soon (and of course hen and goat photos because really, who can resist those?)

Seed Saving & Catalogs

The dream begins in winter.  December is a rush of celebrating with family, friends, food and gifts.  I open my mailbox and every few days there’s a new seed catalog waiting for me.  I slow down a few minutes each day to plan our garden.  I forget to rush and overeat and overspend.


Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I browse randomly at first, taking in the photos.  Then I start circling/highlighting and dog earring pages until eventually it looks like a student textbook.

Of course you can always browse the seed catalog online but I prefer the physical copy in my hands; it’s easier to compare and read notes on certain vegetables.  It also signals the start of the growing season when they show up in your mailbox, which is my favorite part.  If you visit the website you can request a free copy of their catalog and each year after you’ll get their updated catalog in your mailbox, too.


Basic seed catalog information:

  1. Each catalog will tell you what type of seeds they offer:  heirloom/non-hybrid, non-GMO, organic, etc.
  • Heirloom seeds are a variety that have been saved over several generations, usually passed down in families/communities.  They are open-pollinated, meaning you can collect them each year and expect them to produce much the same the following year.
  • Hybrid seeds are cross-pollinated (usually labeled in catalogs as F1), meaning two plant types have been crossed and bred to produce a desired trait.  These seeds will not produce the same each year or may not even grow at all so hybrid seeds cannot be saved but must be purchased new each year.
  • Non-GMO means non-genetically modified organisms.  That means the seeds you’re purchasing were not created in a laboratory using genetic engineering.
  • Organic also means the seeds contain no GMOs and were grown without pesticides/fertilizers.

2.   Most arrange their contents alphabetically and include sub-categories.
(example: peas may be listed by categories snap, shelling, snow, southern/cowpeas and tomatoes may be listed by color or if they’re determinate/indeterminate).

3.   If you’re purchasing heirloom seeds, many companies will give you a history:  where and when the seeds originated.

4.   Seeds are offered in packs and there should be an estimate on how many seeds you’ll receive per pack.

5.   Germination time (how long it’ll take for a seed to sprout) and time to maturity (how many frost free days you need and when to harvest) are usually included, along with how many hours of sunlight, soil type and watering instructions.

6.   Disease/Pest Tolerance is useful information and generally included with plants known for issues like tomatoes.

7.  Many companies offer live plants.  You may order any time of year but live plants (example:  apple trees, potatoes) will ship according to your climate zone.

8.   Check to make sure the seed/plant is available to ship to your area.  For instance, I had no idea until browsing seed catalogs that cotton cannot be shipped to three U.S. states, including my home state of Georgia and some states, like Virginia, require a permit to grow cotton.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog lists planting information for tomatoes and the types (determinate/indeterminate) so you can decide which is most suitable for your gardening space.  Tomatoes are then divided by color and notes those with excellent disease resistance.
Seed Savers Exchange catalog also offers a brief description of determinate and indeterminate tomato plants and then lists the seeds available in alphabetical order, noting flavors and those excellent for canning.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog offers a basic description here of okra and most listings advise how tall plants get and the length at which okra should be picked to remain tender.
Seed packet from Baker Creek.  Year packaged is stamped on the back and the seed history and planting instructions are explained.


Seed saving

I’ve found that even though we have a good stock of seeds in our pantry, I always want to try something new so we will swap seeds with friends (free seeds, plus you get to try something new!) and I usually order (…okay, always order) a few new things that catch my attention each year.

If you decide to save your own seeds, it’s pretty simple!  You’ll want the seeds to dry out completely.  When we save tomato seeds, we leave them on napkins up to two weeks before putting them all together in an envelope.  Seeds that do not dry out will clump together and grow mold and then they are useless.  Zero moisture before packing if you want success!

Envelopes, cute DIY packets, mason jars, and old (cleaned) coffee/tin cans all work just fine to store your seeds.  Keep it labeled with the name and year and place in a cool/dry, dark space.  We’ve kept our seed packs in dresser drawers and stacked in the back of the food pantry. Anywhere in your home that’s dark and doesn’t get too hot or cold will work.

My husband’s seed saving gives the year, tomato name and type (ID= indeterminate)
To get my daughter interested in seed saving, I found this free printable seed packet that she could color here. (The back has label space for name/date)
You can find this cute DIY seed packet to print for free here.
Another way to interest my daughter in gardening?  Her own book of garden notes!  She can draw/color what she sees or imagines for our garden each year.  You can find the free printable here.


Christmas all over again in January when the seeds arrive at my door.

Before you order:

  • Know what garden zone you’re in.  Plug in your zip code and it’ll give you your zone.  (For my local people, that’s 8A!)
  • Know your frost dates.  Plug in your zip code to determine the first and last frost dates in your area.  This will let you know the length of your growing season (I have a generous 271 days!) and a general time frame of when you can direct sow seeds and transplant your seedlings outdoors. (For my local people:  I  start my tomato and pepper seedlings indoors mid/late January and transplant them outdoors the week after Masters.  There always seems to be one last surprise frost around Masters so the rule of 2nd week of April has never failed me yet!)
  • If this is your first year growing food, decide where you want your garden space and then note how many hours of sunlight that space gets each day.  Most veggies you plant will need at least 6 hours of full sun each day in order to thrive.

Start simple:

  • Beans are great starter veggies.  You can grow bush or pole beans; pole will allow you to grow up so you can maximize your garden space.  They require very little work, just decent soil and watering.  They do well in extreme high temps here in the south and as far as pests go, the beetles are easy to spot.
  • Tomatoes are the most popular food to grow but check out the types carefully (you need to stake/cage certain types while some are great in small containers and can conveniently be moved around for optimal sunlight).  Look for info on disease resistance, heat tolerance, and size.  You’ll need to check regularly for cracks on the fruit as well as hornworms (my arch nemesis!)

There’s so much additional information:  how and when to seeds indoors, how to build up rich soil, harvesting your food, etc.  Honestly, this is all a learning process.  I still learn new things each year.  I make sure I write down if something does amazingly well or completely awful to look into the variables of why (temperature being a main factor).

Have fun:  check out different companies (there are so many!) and what they offer, order what interests you (it’s like a science project but without the poster board), ask local gardeners for input and try to keep notes so you can keep track of what worked and what didn’t.

Seed catalogs, planting and saving all give you something to look forward to when you’re in your long johns dreaming of warm weather.


Christmas Citrus Garland | DIY

I’ve been keeping my daughter busy with small activities this winter since the cold weather has set in and we’re not spending much time outdoors.  I love that most of these activities take place around the kitchen table and they add excitement to the upcoming holiday for her.

Dried citrus can make a festive tree or window garland or even a potpourri satchel with a few spices added.

I read a couple different methods for drying citrus (oranges, tangerines, lemons):  placing slices on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet and drying in the oven at 250 degrees for 3-4 hours, or placing slices in a food dehydrator for 8-10 hours.


I decided the food dehydrator was the way to go!  I cut an orange into thin 1/4 inch slices and placed them on two stacked drying racks and flipped the switch on just before I went to bed.  Nine hours later I had perfectly dried orange slices.  I wanted zero moisture left so I made sure they didn’t bend at all.  If they are leathery, it means there’s still moisture remaining.

You want these to be Legally Blonde bend and snappable.  Except, don’t actually snap them; that wouldn’t be pretty.

I stacked my slices in a mason jar for a couple hours to make sure no moisture appeared on the glass, just to be safe.  I want my garland to last for months so it’s important they are fully dried out to prevent mold from growing.  You don’t have to do this extra step unless you want to.
Another option is holiday potpourri.  You can add the orange slices along with cinnamon and star anise to a small burlap bag, slap a tag on it and turn it into a Christmas gift.
Maybe add some fresh rosemary for the scent and the greenery.
If you have jute twine or fishing line, you can make holes in the center of the orange slices and make a string of garland.




The citrus looks lovely on a string of twine wrapped around a Christmas tree or on fishing line hanging in a window.  The sunlight catches in the slices and reminds me of stained glass!

You can mix orange/blood orange, tangerine, and lemon slices for variety.

Here’s my lovely window at the kitchen sink that obviously needs dusting on the inside and scrubbed down on the outside.  We spent so many evenings in the summer running through the sprinkler right outside this window and even though it’s December I’m not prepared to wash away that last piece of summer.

Winter Madeleines | Recipe


Madeleines are probably my favorite treat to bake.  All it takes is a few basic baking ingredients and a $10-ish madeleine pan to make a lovely cake-like cookie.

I regularly make lemon (my personal favorite), pumpkin spice, blueberry and honey madeleines but I was looking for something a bit more festive for Christmas when I found an image of deep red madeleines while scrolling on Pinterest.  Swoon.

Looks like winter, tastes like summer.
(I started thinking of the song Drops of Jupiter after I typed that because of the line “She acts like summer and walks like rain” and so I had to look up who did it.  It was a band called Train.  I didn’t realize they’re still making music.  Do you guys remember that show Behind the Music on VH1?  Hmm, this makes two posts in a row where I’ve mentioned something VH1 related.  Weird.  I don’t even think they play music anymore.)

Wait, where was I?
Rosemary and strawberry blended together in the middle of winter?  
Yes, please!

Living in the deep South means I can wear shorts on a Monday in December and have a forecast for snow on Friday because we’re ridiculous like that.  Since Georgia actually received some snow fall this week (not my area, thankfully) and I’m puttering around the kitchen in wool socks now, it felt like a great time to use up some strawberries we froze this summer and remember the scorching 90+ degree heat and humidity.

These cookies are beautiful, delicious with a unique flavor thanks to the rosemary simmered in butter, and you can dress them up several different ways!


Rosemary & Strawberry Madeleines
from A CupCake For Love

(makes 24)


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10-15 drops of red food coloring (optional, just add if you want the dark red)


  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat.
  2. Add rosemary and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Turn off stove and remove pan from heat, letting rosemary butter rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Using a blender, puree the frozen strawberries until thick.
  5. In the bowl of your mixer, add the eggs and sugar; blend on low until foamy.
  6. In a separate bowl, stir flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  7. Add strawberry puree to the egg mix.
  8. Add the flour mix to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.
  9. Pour your melted butter through a strainer into the mixing bowl.  (You want the strainer to catch all of the chopped rosemary so it doesn’t get in your batter.)
  10. Optional:  Add food coloring a few drops at a time, stirring between for your desired red.
  11. Put your batter into the fridge for 20 minutes and preheat your oven to 350 degrees while you’re waiting.
  12. Fill each madeleine mold 3/4 full and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
  13. Cool for a few minutes in the pan before removing to a wire rack.
  14. Once madeleines are cool, you can add icing/glaze and/or powdered sugar to dress them up.






Oh Snap! Gingerbread Cookies | Recipe

As Andy Williams croons, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
I had to look up who sings that song because I just assume every Christmas song on the radio is sung by Bing Crosby.  Or that one Mariah Carey did in the early 90’s that will apparently never go away.

There was also that time Bing Crosby and David Bowie sang Little Drummer Boy together.  I have the VH1 channel of my childhood to thank for introducing me to that gem.

So, Christmas= lots of baking.  We usually make sugar cookies and lather them in icing and sprinkles but this year I thought it’d be fun to try gingerbread cookies.


The biggest issue folks seem to have is finding cookie recipes that won’t spread out when they bake.  If I’m making cookies without a shape then I don’t really mind; if one cookie comes out the size of three, I can still say I only ate one cookie so there’s less guilt.  That’s my pro baking tip of the month.
But when you’re working with cute cookie cutters the worst thing is pulling your cookies from the oven only to discover they have oozed into some unidentifiable shape.

I tested three recipes and did some tweaking to create this recipe and I can assure you that these cookies will hold their shape beautifully!  The only problem you’ll have is making sure the legs don’t snap off when you remove them from the cookie sheet or while decorating…  which is how I came up with the name Oh Snap! Gingerbread Cookies.


Oh Snap! Gingerbread Cookies
(you’ll get about 24  gingerbread folks but that’ll change depending on size/shape of your cutter choices)


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp lemon extract (optional)


  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and whisk the first five ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Using a mixer, cream together the butter and and brown sugar in a separate bowl.
  3. Add the egg and mix.
  4. Add molasses, vanilla, and lemon extract (the extract is just an extra flavor touch but not necessary).  Mix until incorporated.
  5. Pour your flour mixture from step 1 slowly into the mixing bowl until dough forms.
  6. Roll dough out on wax paper (or a floured surface) to 1/4″ or 1/2″ thickness.
  7. Use your cookie cutters to create the desired shapes; carefully peeling and placing them on greased cookie sheets.
  8. Bake 9 minutes at 375 degrees.
  9. Transfer cookies (carefully, unless you’re going for the snapped limbs on your gingerbread people) to a wire rack to cool before decorating.
I love a golden brown cookie.
Some cookies did not make it off the cookie sheet with all limbs intact.



Any time I photograph food there’s guaranteed to be a photo on the memory card of my daughter’s blurry hand darting into the frame.
Here’s my decorated Oh Snap Gingerbread Dude.  I’m a minimalist when it comes to cookie decorating.  Maybe one day I’ll get fancy.
My favorite Christmas cookie tin of Norman Rockwell’s “The Discovery.”  It gave me the idea to recreate the scene with my daughter this year!
My painterly photo of Haven, inspired by Norman Rockwell.


Pumpkin Latte Streusel Muffins | Recipe


I guess it was around five years ago that the pumpkin spice craze began.  Fall came and with it that year (and every year since):  leggings, oversized sweaters and every food and drink item known to man suddenly flavored with pumpkin.  Each fall the world suddenly has a sixth Spice Girl.

While pumpkin pie is a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, my husband won’t eat pie.  Any kind of pie.
The weirdo.
Just kidding.
(But seriously, what a weirdo.)

What I’m trying to say is that if I make a pumpkin pie and I’m the only one in the house who will eat it, then I will eat it.
All of it.
In one sitting.

Since this is the season of pumpkin flavored everything, I have plenty of options to include it in our Thanksgiving meal.
My brainstorming led me to remember some amazing blueberry muffins with a streusel topping a friend of mine gave me the recipe for last summer after Haven and I picked a ridiculous amount of blueberries, then while looking at waffle recipes (because we finally added a waffle iron to our kitchen appliances!) I found a recipe for pumpkin chai waffles and that made me think of a chai latte.
Then it hit me:  why not put pumpkin and a chai latte into a muffin and top it with streusel?

I  used the base for my sweet friend’s muffin recipe, added pumpkin puree with chai spices and topped it with a traditional streusel to create a Thanksgiving breakfast or after dinner dessert.



Pumpkin Latte Streusel Muffins
makes 12 muffins


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (vegetable/canola oil will be just fine also!)

Chai spice mix:

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • tiny pinch of black pepper

Streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups all purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray your muffin pan with cooking spray before adding the muffin liners.
  2. In your mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the pumpkin puree, egg, milk, vanilla, and oil.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together all the spices for your chai spice mix, then add the flour, brown sugar and baking soda and stir together.
  4. Add your bowl of dry ingredients to the mixing bowl of wet ingredients.  Set your mixer to stir (or the lowest setting) until just combined.
  5. Using a teaspoon, scoop the batter into the muffin liners, filling each about half full.
  6. Make your streusel topping by mixing together the butter, sugars, and cinnamon until sugar begins to dissolve.  Add flour a cup at a time and stir until you get a dry paste (like the consistency of wet sand).
  7. Add streusel topping to the top of each muffin.  Make sure you get lots of crumbs to cover the batter of each completely.
  8. Place muffin pan in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes.
  9. Muffins are done when you stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean.
  10. I chose to pop mine back in the oven under the broiler for 1 minute to give the tops a nice golden/dark brown coloring.  Totally up to you if you want to do that.  If you choose to, make sure it goes no longer than a minute or you will have some burned muffins!

Store leftovers in an airtight container and re-heat muffins for 10 – 12 seconds in the microwave.

This tea towel is amazing, right?  I started collecting them and now they don’t fit in the tiny kitchen drawer designated for kitchen cloths/towels and my husband may think I have a problem.  He’ll probably still build me a special cubby for them because he’s an enabler though.


Do you like my well-loved muffin pan?  I bought 2 muffin pans about 9 years ago and I still have them.  Some people don’t like how dirty/stained they get over time…
but it makes me feel legit, like I bake lot and know what I’m doing.
Can you really trust someone whose muffin pans are spotless?


Licking spoons.

I was just 18 when my husband and I started dating.  There were road trips to concerts, talking until the sun was up and then long distance phone calls and handwritten letters until he finally moved back to Georgia.
I’d decided at an early age that I would never marry.  That didn’t mean I was swearing off love, just marriage.  In my short life I’d seen far too many people ruin a seemingly good thing by getting married and letting it change everything.  It seemed I’d save myself a lot of time (Have you ever sat in the social security office?  Time moves backward there!) and heartache by skipping the nuptials.

I was barely 19 years old when I accepted his proposal as a head-over-heels, butt-crazy-in-love (didja catch my Clueless movie reference there?!) silly girl.  After 3 years of engagement, the longest engagement in the history of ever according to some *eye roll*, we were married in front of our families, both of us just 22 years old.
(Now at 31 I’m sitting here thinking to myself, “Ohmygawd, we were babies!  We thought we knew everything and really we knew nothing!”)

I have a photo of my dad walking me down the aisle that I still laugh at.  I look like a deer in headlights; like a woman-child, unsure of what I’m getting myself into.  I lost control of my facial muscles; they twitched as if I’d had a mini-stroke while I fought back tears.  My dress seemed to weigh me down with each step as I clutched my dad’s arm and I was thinking of a story I’d just been told in my dressing room.  I don’t remember who, but someone had come in to see me before the ceremony and told me this story about a husband and wife who wore their wedding attire each anniversary to see if it still fit.  This sweet story then turned in to a sad tale as the bride died in a head-on collision and was found with her fingers still clutching the steering wheel.  This was what I was thinking about as my own fingers clutched at my dad before we rounded the corner and I saw my future husband.  Luckily I lost the deer caught in headlights look before too many people noticed and the sad tale of the dead woman was forgotten once I noticed Joe begin to cry.  I still joke that I made it down the aisle by imagining the car accident and deciding that there are things worse than marriage.  That is my dark sense of humor for you.

See that terrified baby face?  And that’s my dad in his “special occasion” outfit.  If he’s attended a wedding, funeral, or any other event that expects more than jeans and a t-shirt in the past 10 years, he has worn this outfit here.

It is only after nine years of marriage and being a little wiser (while also a little less sane) that I can say with assurance that I was afraid of marriage because I thought it would somehow become my identity; that I’d lose myself.  I grew up in an oddly traditional-but-not-really home where my mom worked in the home and raised me while my dad worked constantly outside the home to provide for us.  By the time I was able to take care of myself, I feel my mom was more than a little lost and struggling to figure out who she was or who she could become at that point.
After becoming a mom four years ago, I realized that my mom sacrificed so much to focus entirely on raising me.  I am forever grateful that she did that for me and sad that it took all these years for me to understand the enormity of what she did, choosing me before herself.  I didn’t understand how lonely it would be sitting home alone with an infant who demands your full and constant attention.
Without realizing it at the time, marriage and motherhood went hand in hand and after what I witnessed growing up, I subconsciously believed I’d lose myself becoming someone’s wife and a mother.
My marriage has changed my perception on partnership and having a child healed a lot of hurt in my relationship with my own mom.

Forget about the fact that it looks like I may be naked here, that look on my face is pure adoration for him.

At 22, I survived the social security office and name change, the new awesomely bad driver’s license photo and I settled in to living with a boy.  I spent the first year rolling my eyes at Little Debbie snack cake wrappers strewn precariously around the house and a pile of dirty socks and wet towels tossed on the bathroom floor next to (not inside of) the hamper.
There were seldom arguments but the few we had I handled by licking every spoon we had in our utensil drawer and placing them back in with smug satisfaction.  I learned early on that Joe wouldn’t share a utensil with me.  Would he kiss me every day?  Absolutely!  Would he take a bite of food off a spoon that I had seconds before used for the same purpose?  Certainly not!  So when all of his snack cake wrappers and towels piled up, I licked those spoons for my own amusement and as a free therapy session.

Another amusing kitchen game for the early years of marriage is something I called marital chicken.  It’s where one of you uses the cast iron skillet and hopes the other will clean it so you say you’re placing it in the sink “to soak” and really you’re not fooling anyone, it’s going to set in that sink until one of you breaks.

My sense of humor was mostly lost in translation with Joe in the early years.  I remember saying something about the French language to him and because he was only half listening, assumed I’d just told him that I spoke French.  I playfully acted astonished that we’d been together so many years without this piece of knowledge coming to light.  I began making sounds in a French accent (remember the episode of Friends where Phoebe tries to teach Joey some French for an audition?) and before I knew it, Joe thought he was telling our dog Riley to sit in French.  I promptly forgot about the entire thing until months later Joe asked me how to say something else in French and I spent a while laughing before explaining the best I could do was sing Lady Marmalade.

I think we began to get the hang of things after a couple years.  We learned to rely on one another, make decisions together and how to tell when the other was joking.  Little Debbie wrappers began making it to the trash can, towels and socks found their way into the hamper.  I stopped licking the spoons because there was no longer reason to do so; we’d learned to talk about things.  There was truly a sense of bliss as we realized we were as happy together as we’d hoped we’d be when we said our vows in 2008.
Mignon Mclaughlin wrote:  “A successful marriage requires falling in love over & over again, always with the same person.”
I’ve fallen in love with Joe several times as we’ve grown up and become many different people already in our lifetimes.  He reminds me each day why I fell in love with him to begin with.  There is no other man who would accept me as completely as Joe.  He encourages me to do the things that inspire me and to be my own person; he is my greatest supporter and fiercest defender.  He looked at me in awe while carrying our giant baby inside my body for 41 weeks and treated me as if I had super powers after giving birth and breastfeeding our daughter.

We didn’t know anything then but we’ve had each other since this moment and that has been everything.

It isn’t always easy but here’s the important stuff I’ve learned:

You can’t both be crazy at the same time.  One of us has to be clear and level headed at all times so we take turns being strong for one another.

Talk.  About anything and everything.  Bottling up things makes them fester and before you know it, you’ll be licking spoons and whispering “Justice!” like that chick Flo on the car insurance commercials.  (Remember her?  Where is she now?)

Choose your battles wisely.  Snack cake wrappers and dirty clothes should be the least of your concerns and not cause for marital discord.

Laugh.  A lot.  I still run in and wrap the shower curtain around Joe while he’s showering.  It keeps him on his toes.  There are always good days and bad days so laugh as much as you can: it gets you through the bad days.

Love wholeheartedly.  You don’t dip your toes into marriage testing the waters.  You dive right in once you’ve decided to take your vows, otherwise, what’s the point?

Forgive.  And when you forgive, really forgive.  Don’t say you did and then continue to bring it up.

Work at it, every day.  Marriage is work.  You invest your time, love and effort.  Of course you have to work to maintain your investment.

Remind yourself your marriage is your own.  It is not your parent’s marriage or anyone else’s.  Regardless of what you grew up believing marriage to be or how you watched it unfold for others, you don’t have to follow what you saw or were taught.  You get to decide together what you want it to be.

It’s okay if instead of having an idea of what you want your marriage to be you just know what you don’t want it to be.  ‘Nough said.

And last:  If the skillet has been “soaking” in the sink for more than 3 days, just clean the damn thing already!

The honest truth of the matter is that you go into marriage wide eyed and hopeful.  You hope for the best, pray about it, work at it …and lick a lot of spoons in the beginning.

A photo taken last year, inspired by Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

Happening in the Holler (with price breakdown for our 2nd meat flock)

Our garden flourished this year.  The tomatoes managed to thrive even through the heat, our green beans were epic once again (I lost count of how many pounds went into the freezer), our first try at okra, tomatillos, and cow peas (purple hull and black eyed peas) was a major success; and as fall settles in, we still have an abundance of carrots and green peppers.




We processed our second flock of meat birds as the garden was winding down.  This time we decided to try a hybrid chicken, the Jumbo Cornish X Rock.  These birds are specially mated to produce maximum meat in a shorter period of time than a heritage bird.  Because these birds are hybrids, they aren’t meant for breeding (the next generation will be inferior and due to their extreme growth rate, they are usually too large to breed at time of maturity anyway).

We’ve read horror stories of these hybrid birds: growing so quickly their legs break under their weight, they eat so much they literally kill themselves, they are sedentary and lay down when not eating/drinking causing a high rate of being trampled.
However, the numbers kept us curious.
A bird raised for 6-8 weeks producing an average of 4 pounds of meat?  It just sounds too good to be true!

Preparing the brooder for the chicks arrival.
Early morning post office visit to pick up our box of chicks!
The yellow chicks are the cornish x.  We also purchased some Americauna and Rhode Island Red pullets for eggs next spring.

Here’s the breakdown of our meat flock costs the second time around:

  • 28 Jumbo Cornish X Rock males arrived from Murray McMurray Hatchery in August (we ordered 26 and they sent 2 extra chicks because it is common to lose a chick or two in transit) $80 (including shipping)

  • We purchased 12 bags (50 lbs each) of chick starter feed $170.00
    (The only other cost incurred was the pine shavings for the 3 weeks they were in the brooder and I didn’t include it because it was less than $10)

  • We lost 3 chicks during the first week in the brooder (a combination of the summer heat and being smothered while piling on top of each other)

  • 2 chickens broke their legs at 6 weeks and were unable to walk to food or water so we processed them earlier than planned.  (At 6 weeks they were both dressed out at 3 pounds each.)

  • 23 chickens were processed at 8 weeks and averaged 6.5 pounds per bird.

  • We put approximately 160 lbs of chicken in our freezer and spent $250.00 on the chickens and their feed for 8 weeks.

  • Approximate cost of our homegrown chicken meat:  $1.56 per pound

To read about why we chose to raise our own chickens for meat, click here.
To read about how we process chickens (with photos), click here.

Pros of raising hybrid meat birds:

  • Only 3 weeks in brooder (compared to 6-7 for heritage birds)
  • 8 weeks total (compared to 16-20 weeks for heritage birds)
  • More meat in a shorter time period (2.5 lb difference from our first heritage breed flock)


Cons of raising hybrid meat birds:

  • The Cornish X birds growth rate is because of their appetite.  They want to eat 24/7 and most certainly will if you allow them to.  We had to feed the birds on 12 hour on / 12 hour off schedule and actually tracked how many pounds per week to feed them based on other homesteader’s experiences.
  • Despite a strict feeding schedule, two birds did break a leg because of their abnormal growth rate.   Their legs simply could not support their weight and they were unable to walk to food and water.  Both had to be butchered at 6 weeks.
  • They are very sedentary birds.  If they were not walking to food or water, they were lying down even though they had a large, open pen.  For this reason, we had to be even more vigilant than usual about cleaning the pen so that they weren’t lying in mud and manure for extended periods of time.


If I’m being honest, these birds were pitiful.  I am all for cost effective meat production but these are not your average chickens.
Non-hybrid chickens (at least the heritage birds we’ve raised) do not over eat so we don’t have to monitor them for over eating.  They are usually walking around and pecking when they are not dust bathing and they sleep off the ground on roosts.  These hybrid birds were too large to roost; they had no choice but to sleep on the ground.

While we are very pleased with the amount of meat we have in our freezer thanks to these birds, we are not happy with their quality of life.  We raised them humanely and to the very best of our ability knowing some the issues that are common in this breed but it was awful to see the abnormal growth rate and the pressure it placed on their bodies.  8 weeks is a short life span but I was honestly so relieved to see them go because I don’t think they had a great quality of life (through no fault of our own).

We plan on sticking to heritage breed meat flocks, like our first flock of Australorps, in the future.  Their growth rate is steady, they don’t have to be monitored for overeating, and injuries are rare.
We began October with processing the meat flock and canning a huge amount of chicken stock and we ended the month with a Foo Fighters concert for our wedding anniversary and our annual trip to Clyde’s Fresh Produce.
You may remember I posted about our visit last year here.
Clyde’s provides us with honey and the majority of our lettuce, corn, onions, and potatoes each year.  We appreciate what they do for our community and that they open their home to us each fall to celebrate the growing season.
Here’s a couple photos I snapped while we were there.


Hocus Pocus | Spellbook Brownies Recipe

Halloween is a two month long celebration around here!  We start in September to get the maximum enjoyment out of it.  Halloween movies are in heavy rotation around the house:  Monster House and The Adventures of Ichabod for the kiddo; Rear Window and Beetlejuice for me.  Also, did you know Once Bitten is on Hulu?  That made my week when I noticed it in the line up recently!

My daughter Haven discovered how amazing Hocus Pocus is last year so we had fun working on a craft for it this year.  While scouring the internet for crafty ideas, I came across Half Baked Harvest’s recipe for Spellbook Brownies and I knew immediately they had to be made.

We ended up making this silhouette of the Sanderson sisters on card stock and using a frame from Dollar Tree.  These are plastic frames but I love the shape/design so much I bought up all they had in the store that day (because you can feel rich when shopping in Dollar Tree; make it rain with those dollar bills!) and I may have went back and purchased more when they restocked.  Don’t judge me.  Please.


Twist the bones
and bend the back
Trim him of
his baby fat
Give him fur,
black as black
Just. Like. This…

So it took about 10 minutes to complete our Hocus Pocus silhouette.  I have to keep crafts short and sweet since Haven’s attention span is still lacking and everything becomes “sooooo boring” after 5 minutes.

One thing she will be somewhat patient for is sweet stuff.  Especially chocolate.  And when I told her this brownie recipe called for chocolate brownies dipped in melted chocolate, I had her undivided attention.


The candy eyes are what make these brownies!  I found the candy eyes and a 2 pack of black food writer markers (for drawing eyelashes) at Wal-Mart and I’m pretty sure I spent under $4 total.


  • If you don’t have black food dye or activated charcoal on hand for the frosting, you can use 10 drops each of blue, red, and yellow food dye mixed together (though it will dry to more of a gray color).  It would work in a pinch if you’re not patient enough to wait for a trip to the store.

  • If you don’t have coconut oil, vegetable or canola oil would work just as well!

  • I skipped the instant coffee granules and the taste was still incredible, so just know you can choose to skip that ingredient if you’re not into coffee (I’m not going to judge you) or don’t have any available.

  • I found a 16 ounce microwavable tray of semi sweet chocolate in the baking aisle of Wal-Mart that was perfect for melting.  One less dirty dish in the kitchen and what you don’t use on the recipe can be placed in the refrigerator for later!


I let my daughter help make the icing and decorate the brownies with it so mine aren’t quite as lovely as those created by Half Baked Harvest but the taste is phenomenal and the theme is still obvious.
This is truly an excellent recipe with straightforward directions that even people unsure about their baking skills can pull off without a hitch.
You can find the link to this Half Baked Harvest recipe at the bottom of this post!



Come little children,
I’ll take thee away,
Into a land of enchantment.

Come little children,
The time’s come to play,
Here in my garden of magic.


Oh look,
another glorious morning.
Makes me sick!


I put a spell on you
and now you’re mine…


You can find the recipe here at the Half Baked Harvest blog!

And while we’re discussing Halloween, here’s the annual Halloween photo I created for my daughter, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s books The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

“And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bed-sheets around corners.”

-Ray Bradbury