Agrestic Music and Arts Festival!

So, what are y'all doing next weekend? 

If I were you, I'd make plans to spend the 6th and 7th of June in Whitesburg at the Agrestic Music and Arts Festival for Autism.

For those of y'all who aren't intimately acquainted with the Southeastern corner of Kentucky, just take my word that everybody needs to visit the mountains in the summertime. Go ahead and pick up some allergy medicine before you go, because the pollen count is brutal, but trust me that the area is gorgeous this time of year. In case you need a better reason that natural beauty, how about live music, food, and art in support of autism education?

Two of my favorite hometown bands are on the Agrestic stage on Saturday. There's country-rock duo Sundy Best, and my daddy's band, Idle Time

Wait, Heather, what's that you say? Your old man is a rock star? You've been HerKentuckying with us for three years now and you haven't mentioned it before?  (Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I just was waiting for the perfect time to drop it on y'all casually, like when Billy Gibbons showed up on that show about Zooey Deschanel's sister.) Anyway, Idle Time is my dad's classic rock band. They're awesome, and they're rocking the Agrestic Festival.

Family loyalty aside, y'all should check out the Agrestic Festival next weekend. While you're in Whitesburg, get the pimiento cheese and fried green tomato hamburger at the Pine Mountain Grill. It's worth the trip.

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Appalachia Proud

You know when you hear an idea that is so simple -- so brilliant -- that you can't believe somebody didn't think of it before now?

Here on HerKentucky, I've shared many stories of growing up in Appalachia. As I look back over so many essays and blog posts I've written about my Eastern Kentucky childhood, I realize that two themes have surfaced time and again: the need for a diversified economic base in Eastern Kentucky's Appalachian region and the delightful fresh-from-the-farm food that we love back home.

Sunflowers from my aunt's Floyd County garden.
I'm certainly not the only person who's noticed those two facts. But, like the old Reece's Cup commercial said, somebody finally put those two great tastes together. Yesterday, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced a new marketing initiative called Appalachia Proud: Mountains of Potential. An offshoot of the Kentucky Proud brand, Appalachia Proud will connect the dots between the area's economic needs and its amazing agricultural potential.

I am so excited to see Appalachia Proud branding on local products in and around my hometown. I can certainly attest that the best tomatoes and beans in the world are grown in Floyd County, Kentucky. I can't wait to see how these and other local products are showcased by the Appalachia Proud branding. It's been so amazing to watch the Kentucky Proud incentive transform the way food is served across the Commonwealth.  I always enjoy finding new ways to try Kentucky Proud products -- my favorite Vietnamese restaurant here in Louisville serves Pho with locally-sourced beef -- and I can't wait to see how products from the Eastern Kentucky mountains find hip new incarnations!
Tiny tomatoes in my mother's garden.
I am so impressed by the Appalachia Proud initiative. It's far more than just a brand to stick on locally-sourced products. It's a well-designed plan to effectuate real economic change in the mountains. It's a sustainable project that seeks to train a new generation of farmers and provide a long-term impact on a fragile economy. Here's hoping it blossoms!

The Christmas Repeal

We don't drink in my hometown. 

Well, people do drink alcohol, of course, but it's never been as socially acceptable to go out and have a glass of wine or a cocktail in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky as it is in the Commonwealth's bigger cities. Part of it is a religious distinction; there's a whole lot of Baptists in our neck of the woods. Part of it is economic; there isn't a lot of extra income for frivolous things like drinkin'. And, more than a little of it comes down to the booze we produce. The Appalachian end of the state doesn't produce Kentucky's storied bourbon. We don't have limestone in our water, nor do we have oak barrels charred to exacting specifications. We have a proud -- or perhaps infamous -- history of moonshine stills. Most of us have a 'shiner or two on our family tree, whether we want to admit it or not. When your spirits are less than legal, you generally don't announce them with pride.

via Maker's Mark

That all changes, come the holidays. Now, it's never been any surprise to me that the 21st Amendment was repealed on December 5th. You need to break out the good stuff for the Christmas baking. And, we may need a little nip in the house, because you never know if company will want some. Even the most devout Baptist grandmas suddenly know their liquor store order when it comes time to make holiday confections. They want Maker's Mark or Early Times. Or rum for the cake. It's not like we drink the rest of the year. It's simply a month-long lift on the Prohibition, in the name of good cheer.

My grandma Margaret would never touch a drop, but she sure would soak her fruitcake. My great-aunt Marie made these weird little cookies with raisins and cherries and a whole lot of rum; they were strangely addictive, and the whole family loved 'em. And then, there are the bourbon balls. My family's recipe. I can't make enough of them during the holidays; everybody wants some. It doesn't matter if you touch bourbon the rest of the year.

This week, we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal, and the far longer-standing tradition of the Christmas Repeal. Here's my family's bourbon ball recipe, if you find yourself in the mood for drinking or baking.

  • 1 to 2 cups good bourbon whisky (preferably Maker's Mark) 
  • 1 cup chopped pecans 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup whole pecan halves (optional) 
  • 1 two-pound bag of powdered sugar 
  • 1 stick butter, softened 
  • 1-2 bags semisweet chocolate chips (preferably Ghiradelli)
  •  paraffin wax 

  1. Place 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped pecans in shallow bowl. 
  2. Pour bourbon over nuts, immersing completely. Cover and let soak 12 hours to overnight. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecan halves in shallow pan and toast lightly for about ten minutes. Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. 
  4. Combine bourbon-pecan mixture with just enough powdered sugar to form a stiff ball. Refrigerate to let stiffen slightly. Roll dough into small balls. 
  5. In double-boiler (or a sauce pan placed over a cooker full of boiling water), add a third to a half a bag of semisweet chocolate chips and a small shaving of paraffin wax (no more than 1/4 cup). Heat until just smooth. Dip dough balls into the chocolate mixture. The key is to coat them quickly and make small, frequent batches of melted chocolate. 
  6. Place bourbon balls on wax paper to cool. 
  7. Top each ball with a toasted pecan half, if desired. Results are better if you leave them to cool at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator.

What's Cooking in Kentucky

If you live in Kentucky, then you've probably seen What's Cooking in Kentucky.
It's one of those cookbooks that's just everywhere. It's in the gift shop at each of Kentucky's State Parks. It's in the Kentucky Interest section of every bookstore across the state. It's been a traditional wedding present for Eastern Kentucky couples for generations. It captures the spirit of traditional Kentucky cuisine. And, it originated in my teeny-tiny hometown of Hueysville.
Irene Hayes, via What's Cooking in Kentucky.
Now, growing up, I just knew that the cookbook was a part of our community. I knew that the book's author,  Irene Hayes, and her family had known my own family for decades. As I've said before, when you're a kid, you don't always know that the folks around you have done impressive things. You simply know them as the people you know. Way before I could be impressed that the great chef and food writer James Beard gave What's Cooking in Kentucky glowing reviews in his Cooks' Catalogue, I simply knew that Irene and her husband Rondal were the backbone of our church. I knew that Mrs. Hayes was a dynamic, opinionated woman who got things done.

When I sat down to learn more about What's Cooking, I wasn't surprised to learn that Mrs. Hayes began the project in 1965 as a fundraiser for the Hueysville Church of Christ. Over the years, the cookbook -- comprised of recipes submitted from home cooks across the Commonwealth -- was released in four editions and sold over 200,000 copies. A sequel, What's Cooking for the Holidays, sold over 20,000 copies.

Hueysville Church of Christ, photo credit: Susan Patton Salisbury

The original Hueysville Church burned when I was a kid (the congregation built a larger, more modern building in its place) and both Rondal and Irene passed away several years ago. The cookbook lives on -- Mrs. Hayes's daughter Sharon continues the legacy by keeping What's Cooking in print. It's a wonderful feeling to still see What's Cooking on the shelves of local booksellers. The classic, uncomplicated recipes reflect nearly fifty years' worth of Kentucky recipes, and they always remind me of home.

How a Wedding Photographer Plans Her Own Wedding

I am so happy to share today's guest post with y'all. I've known Amy Wallen for as long as I can remember -- our families have been friends and neighbors for generations. It's kind of amazing that the cute toddler who played in the yard with my little brother is now a beautiful bride-to-be with a unique and creative eye for photography and a business of her own! Amy agreed to share with us a few of the pro tips she's learned along the way and that she is working into her own upcoming ceremony. You can see more of Amy's awesome work on her website and her Facebook page. -- HCW

I just love the fact that my life is engulfed in weddings! What can I say? I love love, and I love photographing it! I still can't believe that I've created this business doing something that I'm so passionate about.

My fiance and I are coming up on our own wedding day, June 22.  Being on the other side of weddings, mixed up in all of the hype of planning, has truly given me a better sense of what a couple goes through when planning a wedding.

As a photographer, I never got to see behind the scenes during the planning process.  I would come to a wedding and instantly get excited. The venue is beautifully decorated, the bridesmaids are tending to the bride, the vendors are getting place.  It all seemed so fun to me! But now that I am so close to my own big day, I've realized just how much hard work, effort and MONEY goes into planning this monumental day. 

One thing that I like so much about shooting weddings, is the fact that each and every wedding is different from the last.  A ceremony on an airport runway, in a castle, at the church where her parents were married. Horseshoe favors, signature drinks, sparkler exits.  Everything about all of these little touches just gives me the warm fuzzies. I'm all about letting your personality shine through everything that you do. And when my clients show off a family heirloom, have a special father daughter dance, or incorporate a high school letterman jacket, I feel as if I'm right in the middle of their love story.

When I began planning my wedding day, I knew that I wanted it to be unique, and very true to Sam and me.  We are laid back, goofy, country and a little bit old school.  We love Sunday drives in his '83 Chevy truck, fishing at Jenny Wiley Lake, dancing in the kitchen, and laughing constantly. Our breezy outdoor field ceremony fits perfectly with our personality.  We both love being outside, and spending time with our friends and family. The woods were the perfect venue.
Amy and Sam
I love the idea of not being matchy. You can throw in SO many personal touches nowadays, there's no reason to try to blend in!  Mismatched bridesmaids dresses also pulled our big day together. Light peaches and pinks with breezy fabrics surely fit the bill.

Being a photographer really almost makes me overanalyze my decisions. “What if it rains like it did at x’s wedding? What if we run out of food? What if???” So many things run through my mind, just because I’ve seen so much of it before. At the end of the day, every single wedding I have shot has been beautiful, due in part to the bride and groom being head over heels in love. Isn’t that the most important part?

Sometimes I feel like we forget the reason for a wedding. It’s meant to share the love between two people amongst family and friends. I can’t wait to have my own wedding. Regardless of everything else, I’m marrying my soul mate.  That’s good enough for me.

{all images courtesy Amy Wallen.}

June 1, 1980 -- A Guest Post by Allison Johnson of PinkLouLou

Do y'all read our friend Allison's blog, PinkLouLou? It's your daily dose of over-the-top pink decor, pugs, big hair, and all things Carrie Underwood. Allison, a Lexington native and UK alumna, was kind enough to share this adorable story about her parents' wedding. Somehow, their story of what may be the worst wedding day ever seems unique and precious. Thank you so much for sharing this sweet story, Allison! -- HCW

June is often thought of as wedding month, and since we are in wedding season I thought I would share a tragic, but very very sweet story. This story is about my sweet parents, who just celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary. (They dated 7 years before they got married, mom would kill me if I left that out!) Anyways… My mom was oldest of 5, and grew up very privileged with nannies, and housekeepers and the whole nine yards. She grew up in a beautiful home, but always felt just very different from her brothers and sisters. She was interested in music, and saving baby birds etc. (ha!) and not at all into the froo-froo-ness of a wedding. She didn't want a diamond engagement ring (pause.. Insert gasp here) she just wanted to be with my dad. Dad had a break in between Med-school and his residency and I quote, mom said "I think this might be a good time to get married." and that was it.

The wedding was planned for June 1 (I feel positive my Nana was involved in this!) My mom had insisted on making her own wedding dress (which was beautiful, might I add) and everyone came home to Pikeville, KY for the wedding weekend. Wedding was planned for Sunday, and that Friday evening before the wedding, their neighbors were having a dinner for the wedding party etc. My mom remembers not feeling well, and wanting to stay home and nap, but of course no one in there right mind was gonna let the Bride get away with that, ha. 

And then, it happened. Not sure exactly who discovered it, but my grandparents' house, that my mom and her siblings had grown up in, was on fire. There is still debate about the cause-I have heard many things over the years (you know how stories seem to change with time). Everyone ran next door and watched my grandparents' home burn to the ground. The city fire department would not come, as my grandparents' house was a few miles out of the city limits- so there was nothing to do but stand there, and watch all of their memories go up in smoke. My mom's wedding dress was inside. My Aunt Lucy was home from college, and all of her things were inside. All of the baby books, pictures, childhood memories that meant so much to my family- were inside. My mom's suitcase that she had excitedly packed for her honeymoon was inside. The family Boxer, Oscar, was inside. My mom tells me she remembers watching her brothers try and throw the iron pool chairs through the sliding glass doors to save the dog, but they wouldn’t break. The rest of that day, and the days to follow were a huge blur. My mom says she hardly remembers her wedding. The entire family had to go to Dawahares, who opened their doors especially for them early Saturday, to buy new clothes for the wedding, and my parents honeymoon. I know you are thinking, WHY in the world did they not postpone the wedding?? Well in all seriousness I think it is because my Nana was scared my parents would never actually get married if they did that, HA! ;) so they went on as scheduled. My parents left the next day for the Virgin Islands, and wouldn't you know the airlines LOST all of their luggage, so they had to go by brand new clothes all over again once on their honeymoon. Yep… serious. Icing on the cake right? 

This next little thing I have to share, is my favorite part of the story, and I know could only be orchestrated by God. While my parents were gone on their honeymoon, the rest of the family spent time going through the ashes of the house. Guess what they found. A small little box. The fuzz on the outside was all melted away, and the hinge had broken. It was the ring box holding my dad's wedding band that my mom had gotten for him. The ring was inside, untouched, and untarnished. Just sitting there perfectly. To this day this little charred box sits on my mom's dresser in her closet, with the ring inside. Is that not the sweetest thing you have ever heard?

Another sweet little tidbit? After my mom got home from her honeymoon, she re-made her wedding dress that she lost in the fire. My sissies and I all plan to wear this dress on our rehearsal dinner nights, just the way she made it. (we might have to add some fabric... we aren't exactly 95 pounds, HA) Isn't it just beautiful and timeless? 

 Not sure what possessed Aunt Liz and Cam to pose for a pic in front of the remains? 'Awkward family photo' for sure, right? ha ha 

Sweet parents :)

My teeny tiny adorable momma!

And last but not least, meet Imogene. I am pretty sure I got my poofin' skills from my g-ma. I mean look at that volume!

 I guess things worked out alright, because my parents have been together for 40, (married for 33) years, and have a wonderful marriage. They had us three girls, and I bet if you asked them, they would tell you that life has been pretty good. :) Some people have the perfect storybook wedding, and unfortunately don't make it. It really is about so much more than the "wedding." My parents had all they needed, and still do. Each other, and love. Love you mom and dad!

Dogwood and Redbud Winters

Have y'all noticed how cold it's been lately? The flowering trees are in bloom, and  the temperature is dipping down into the 40s at night. Of course, there's an old-timey mountain tradition to explain the phenomenon. Here's an essay, first posted here on HerKentucky last year, about just that. -- HCW

When I was growing up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, I rolled my eyes at a lot of conventional mountain wisdom.  Some of that was, of course, the traditional child's prerogative; parents and grandparents simply can't know what they're talking about with their old-fashioned perspectives.  And, to this Muppets-and-Madonna-loving child of the '80s,  old-timey mountain traditions seemed a relic of a long-gone era. 

As an adult, I've had to rescind quite a bit of my know-it-all scorn. The twangy mountain music that my granddaddy played on his vintage Martin guitar sounds curiously like the hipster-standard Raconteurs and Avett Brothers tracks that fill my iPod.  My grandmother's Crisco-and-butter cooking turned out to be far healthier than the fake food revolution of my childhood.  And, so many pieces of folk wisdom -- the most embarrassing, "unscientific" observations of the natural world -- have turned out to be true.  I've been forced to eat my words time and again.  The most dramatic example is Redbud Winter and its close, usually later, cousin Dogwood Winter.  

Now, when I was a kid, I hated hearing about these supposed weather phenomena.  When the first warm spring rolled around, it should be warm and pretty and springy from then on.  Without fail, someone would note "Oh, it'll get cold again.  We haven't even had Redbud or Dogwood winter yet.  Don't put your coats away." That was surely just an old wives' tale.

Except, it wasn't.  Every spring, the pretty, delicate blooms on the flowering trees brings a dramatic cold snap.  This year was no different -- last week brought 85 degree days, then the redbuds and dogwoods started to peek out.  As I started to unpack my spring dresses and shorts, I immediately thought that I'd better leave out a few cold weather items, just in case.  Of course, redbud winter came a few short days later, bringing cold mornings and brisk days.  

I guess the old-timers are right after all.

{all photos taken in my mom's Floyd County backyard}