Kentucky's Regional Cuisines

Have y'all read your July issue of Southern Living yet?

I just loved the Letter from the Editor this month. Lindsay Bierman, who has done a great job with giving the magazine a hip and relevant edge, addresses the big issue of Southern food. It seems a small-town newspaper criticized the venerable publication for using "exotic" ingredients like fennel, and claimed they should get back to the basics by including more traditional Southern recipes like fried chicken, grits, and so on. Mr. Bierman does a lovely job of countering those complaints. He notes that Southern food is an inclusive cuisine, encompassing styles from Cajun to Lowcountry to Appalachian. I loved this manifesto so much that I mentioned it on Twitter. And, no big deal, the editor of Southern Living tweeted us back.

Now, if you write about Southern lifestyles, there are three gospels to which you adhere: Southern LivingGarden and Gun, and the Oxford American. Getting a tweet from the editor of one of these publications... Well, it's like one of those Belieber kids hearing back from The Biebs. It made my day: Lindsay Bierman liked what we had to say!

Mr. Bierman's manifesto also got me thinking about the foods that define Kentucky. There's Western Kentucky's mutton barbecue. There's Central Kentucky's beer cheese and burgoo. There are the Louisville foods I traditionally think of as "Derby Recipes" -- benedictine and hot browns. As the holy trinity of Southern lifestyle magazines are starting to tell us, there's the stack cakes and soup beans of my youth, now re-branded as Appalachian cuisine. There are country hams and tomatoes. And that doesn't even count all the ways we can cook with bourbon. There are so many tastes that are unique to the Commonwealth. As Mr. Bierman articulated in his "manifesto", there are new tastes and old tastes and room for inclusion. And they all taste pretty darn good.

We'd love to hear from y'all. What foods are your idea of "Kentucky Cuisine"?

Southern Festival of Books: Saturday Recap

Thai Food Truck at the Capitol.
Last weekend, I went down to Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books. I wrote about the Festival for Ace Weekly magazine, describing the sense of "place" that arose time and again during the festival's programs and events. I also wanted to share a more informal "travelogue" with y'all. We had such an amazing time taking in both the festival and one of my very favorite cities. Here's my recap of Saturday’s events. You can read about Friday's adventures here. – HCW

I don’t know why, but the Central Time Zone kicks my behind every single time. Every. Single. Time. I lived in Nashville for two years, and I never got used to Prime Time television starting at 7 p.m. This day was no exception. I gotup really early for a Saturday, and yet somehow I was still running late.

Now, I've always jokingly called the strip of I-65 from Southern Kentucky past Nashville "The Cracker Barrel Corridor" because it seems you can find one at every exit. As we pass the signs for a few of those, it felt like a good excuse to avail ourselves of some biscuits and hashbrown casserole. At first, I was a little concerned that we'd miss the session on the politics of SEC football, but then I realized that we were surrounded by that very topic. From the Volunteers dog collars and baby clothes in the gift shop to the Gators fans who've driven up for their game against Vandy, the politics of the Southeastern Conference were everywhere, so we just sat back and enjoyed our carbs.

We arrived downtown, surveyed the vendor booths, and headed in to an auditorium a few minutes early for the Grit Lit panel. As we sat down, we realized that we'dcrashed another session. Turns out, we were sitting in on a Q and A session with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, who talked about how she chooses settings for her work. It was neat and unexpected. 

The panel I was really there to see was comprised of the editors and featured authors of the anthology Grit Lit: a Rough Southern Reader. It was a funny, gritty, and real presentation. I was transfixed by the stories told by Rowan County native Chris Offutt. He's from nowhere, Kentucky, just like me. He's written for some of the smartest shows on TV. He was also as funny and offbeat and fascinating as I expected. I reached for my phone to tweet about the awesomeness, and found that Southern Living staffers were in the Grit Lit audience as well. Around the same time, the panel members started talking about the articles they've written for Oxford American. People who write for the very publications I read most closely -- the ones for which I dream of writing -- were are all around me, participating in the same conversation. It was a great feeling.

After the panel discussion, my beau and I walked around the booths of some of the University Presses  exhibiting at the Festival. We talked with booksellers and lit review editors. We discussed interesting books. We got some ice cream. (Jeni's, to be precise. Salted caramel, which is okay, and whiskey-pecan, which tastes like some sort of fantastic milky Christmas punch made with Early Times.)

After we took in more booths, musicians, and authors, we headed back to the hotel for a nap and some college football. It is a Saturday in the South, after all. Between the nap and the evening's big games, we headed out for some low-key dinner. There, in a suburban chain restaurant, I found my confidence bolstered by the day's events. I'd spent the day among writers who, as is often said, started out with an idea. I began to tell my beau the story of the novel I want to write. I'd never really discussed it with anyone before, but now it's out there. It's real. It was a terrifying and liberating moment.

Back in the hotel, I fell immediately asleep. Les Miles had to coach without me. I had big dreams of first drafts and the fantastic cup of coffee I'd be drinking in the morning.

Appalachia's Moment

A few days ago, I curled up on the front porch to read the October issue of Southern Living.

I had a Tervis Tumbler of Diet Coke in my hand and my black labs playing at my feet, a scene that was surely being recreated on porches all over the South that crisp autumn weekend. As I leafed through the recipes, renovations and travelogues that comprise every Southern mother's favorite magazine, I ran across a sentence that caught me off guard:

"Appalachia is having a moment right now."

I was taken aback. I mean, I've seen plenty of claims that Southern culture is trendy this year. Still, no matter how often I hear that hipster New York restaurants are serving up fried chicken and pork rinds or that bourbon is this year's spirit of choice, I always make a subtle distinction. Those things are part of the larger Southern culture, and it's a lot easier to imagine "city-Southern" having a broader appeal. It's a whole lot easier to talk to non-Kentuckians about Derby than about dulcimers, that's for sure. Moonshine and old-timey fiddle music and soup beans and handmade furniture -- the things celebrated in the Southern Living article? Well, those things are set aside for us mountain folk.

I was raised to revere my Appalachian heritage. It was an act of almost defiant pride to celebrate the artisans and educators and writers and dreamers and fiddlers and builders

of my extended family. Some of my earliest memories are of Appalachia Day, theAlice Lloyd College

Homecoming festival which proudly features many of those very artists. I've always been extremely proud of this rich heritage, but I guess I've always figured that it wasn't something that outsiders would find too interesting. There's always been something about the mountains that lend themselves to seclusion; feeling "set apart" seems our geographic birthright.

I guess that, much like the late, brilliant Christopher Hitchens, I've always kept two sets of books. I'm a Southern girl with my city friends and a Mountain girl with my family. It's a pretty common practice; I think a lot of us assume that nobody else is interested. Douglas Roberts, author of the Southern Living piece, put an interesting spin on it:

"Appalachia is that rare part of the United States dedicated to the study and celebration of itself. And it's easy to believe on a drive through the area that this is the true heartland -- a still-intact petri dish of the independence, ingenuity and authenticity of the American spirit."

Maybe my heritage doesn't have to be revered

quite so much. Maybe I should focus instead on enjoying it a little more. Maybe Appalachia


having a moment, and maybe that's a celebration of the fun aspects of our culture. You can't get any more hip or fun than the Avett Brothers, who basically play the same brand of mountain music my granddaddy did. Every Appalachian family has a big jar of moonshine hidden in the kitchen. Maybe it's time to bring it out and sip it. Maybe it's time to add soup beans to my Cajun-low country-Southern fusion kitchen repertoire; that

sorghum-and-cider recipe

sounds interesting. Hell, maybe it's even time to take back the idiom, as they say, and acknowledge that I'm a Hillbilly Girl at heart. At the very least, I'm going to enjoy Appalachia's moment. Y'all have a lot to learn from us.

Tailgating Wishlist

Two weeks 'till football, y'all.   I don't know about you, but I've had enough pool time and miserable heat.  I'm ready for cooler temperatures, pumpkin spice lattes, and SEC football.  Just think -- we have two more teams to follow this year!  As we head down the home stretch, I've put together a little tailgating wishlist.  Most any Wildcat fan will find something they need here.

I can't wait to try Southern Living's brand-new Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook.  Great food and great football tradition -- this promises to be a perennial fall favorite.

Of course, I would never slip bourbon into the stadium.  But, this Smathers and Branson needlepoint flask is a rather stylish way to do so, if one were so inclined.

LOVE the Wildcat PlaidThis scarf is a stylish, understated way to rep the 'Cats at work or a tailgate.

You can't tailgate without cornhole.

These National Champs Tervis Tumblers are a must.  They keep your drink magically cold, and they commemorate the best day of 2012.

This gorgeous Maxi dress from Modcloth is stylish and looks so comfortable.  And, of course, is just the right shade of blue.

Two weeks.  Go 'Cats!