Visitors Inspire Cooking Flurry

One of the nice things about having people visit, is you clean house. The other nice thing, is sharing meals. Catching up on each other's lives over good food is one of the distinct pleasures of being alive, or so I believe.

Our friends, Billy Joe and Halley Tatum came to visit. It's been years since they've been here, and about 3 since we've been to see them at Wildflower, their home outside Mountain View, Arkansas. Dr. Tatum has retired from doctoring and Billy Joe has retired from writing. But for many years she had a very popular column in The Ozarks Mountaineer. She's also the author of one of my all time favorite books on plants and food, Billy Joe Tatum's Wildfoods Cookbook and Field Guide (Workman Press). Long out of print, if you can find a copy it is one of the best wild foods guides ever written. She and Halley came up for an overnight, just to visit. We walked in the garden and talked plants, cooked, ate, cooked and ate some more.

I was knee (or was it arm pit) deep in writing an article on mint for The Herb Companion magazine, and was in the process of testing some of the mint recipes. The article will run in the March issue and contains many of the recipes we tested and tasted this week. Mint found its way into several dishes including the Herby Beer Bread. I went searching for an easy and quick beer bread recipe and ran across the best sounding recipe on Farmgirl Susan's blog. She's on my favorite blogs list and I check to see what she's up to fairly often. She had posted a recipe and I tinkered with it and added my own ingredients, including some mint, lavender, rosemary and sharp cheddar cheese. It came out tasting so good I will make often. The lavender flowers are kind of like little crunchy bites, with a pleasant sweetness. Of course you can leave out the beer and use 7-Up or root beer instead, but the alcohol evaporates out, and the yeastiness of the beer gives it a particularly good flavor. Even my Aunt Lea, who would never let alcohol pass her lips, goes in disguise to the liquor store to buy beer for her beer bread! Here's the recipe, adapted from Farmgirl Susan's recipe:

Herb Beer Bread
The lavender flowers give the bread a nutty texture. Any seed can be added to the top, from whole rolled oats to sesame, poppy or others.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves, crumbled
1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
12 ounces dark beer

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, herbs and cheddar in a mixing bowl. Stir in beer and mix until combined. Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan, top with 1 teaspoon whole rolled oats, raw sunflower seed or sesame seed and bake until golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Shepherd's Pie, without the mint (but with rabbit, chicken and pork) was on the menu for the next meal, served with minted carrots and a Persian cucumber salad, more mint, of course. It's good that spearmint continues to produce leaves just above the ground so I could finish the mint article, which features an, "International Buffet Featuring Mint." Of course you would never want an entire meal with mint as the main herb. But like any buffet, you pick and choose what looks best to you. Look for the article in the March issue of The Herb Companion magazine.

Meanwhile I'm heading to Little Rock for a writing workshop with Crescent Dragonwagon. Instead of going back to Thailand for more cooking classes and summer temperatures this month, I'm heading only slightly more south and only a few degrees warmer. Crescent, author of a wide range of books as well as novels, children's books and more, can be every bit as exotic and inspiring as a beach in Thailand. She even offers a money back guarantee for anyone who isn't inspired by the Fearless Writing workshop. Details soon.

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