The Winter Heritage Festival

Attention history buffs!

This weekend, January 24 and 25, the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and the Cades Cove Preservation Association (CCPA) will be hosting the Winter Heritage Festival. This two day free event will feature local historians, descendants, and former residents of Cades Cove. Visit gsmheritagecenter.org for the speaker line-up. There will be some very informative and interesting presentations, so make it a point to come out and see us!

This photo was from last year. Although I can’t cook everything on an open fire for this cast iron lunch, it will all be cooked in cast iron.

J&R Farms (My husband John and I) will be hosting our second annual Cast iron dinner at noon on Saturday the 25th. We will be serving pinto beans, cornbread, hominy, collard greens, and peach cobbler! A plate and drink is $10, cash only.

We will be preparing the food in cast iron, and at the event itself, we will be cooking some of the food on an open fire. I must point out that our food will be seasoned with Benton’s Bacon. Need I say more?

Last year was a great success and I am looking forward to cookin’ again.

I rarely take photos of myself…but I like the goats in the background here.

We will have a donation box available for Coats for our Community, a program that the Blount County Fire Department always heads up. I will also be sure to have a box for actual coats. Please bring your gently used coats (or brand new!) to donate as well.

Help us make this year a good one– and come out to learn some history and fill your belly with some traditional Appalachian food!

For more info, here are the websites once more:

Gsmheritagecenter.org

Cadescovepreservation.com

The Story I Never Wanted to Tell

I prayed I would never have to write a post like this. But here we are, and I’m using the space I have here to tell a story about a miscarriage.

Every pregnancy is different. Every woman is different. I didn’t want to join the ranks of mother’s who’ve went through a miscarriage. I’ve prayed every pregnancy that this wouldn’t ever happen. But it did.

After a week or so of feeling not quite right…and not quite pregnant anymore (which is hard to explain), we started worrying that something was wrong. I’ll not go into detail here, but after a week of questions we got our answer about what was going on inside. No more pregnancy was the final answer.

People will tell a woman going through this that the Lord knows best or that your body just knew that this wasn’t going to be a viable pregnancy. While these things do help to know, you still wish it wasn’t the truth.

I had a few moments of thinking everything would be okay but I didn’t let my hopes rise too much because sometimes you just have an intuition telling you the truth.

As we tried getting to sleep while processing through all this, I had one thing pop into my mind. It was an old hymn, some of you may know it.

“Do the tears fall down your cheeks unbidden? Tell it to Jesus alone.” Tell it to Jesus played over and over, and looking back I am thankful I had the quiet hours of the night to reflect and pray and sort everything out in my mind. It was a great mercy to let this happen when I could have time to process what was going on.

Of course, all sorts of crazy thoughts raced through my mind as I had that constant stream of the peace of the Lord. I had to shew those crazy thoughts away and hook myself onto the rock that I knew was solid.

After a conflicted and sorrowful night, our family went up to the mountains to be alone and get some fresh air. We always go to the mountains when we’re going through hard times and it always proves to be a balm to us. (“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2) This time was no different. The night before was stormy– literally, our power had gone out and it rained all night. But the morning was so beautiful and the weather was perfect for January. It was warm and pleasant so walking around Tremont and being in nature helped heal me just a little more.

Through a painful stormy night, joy came in the morning, just like God promised in Psalm 30:5. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” We were so thankful for this.

When you get to thinking about such hard things, many truths become more real. Maybe this is why this happened to me. I learn new things every time we go through trials we’d rather not have to walk through. And I thought sharing them might help someone else understand if they’re going through a hard time, too.

This truth is real: there is a part of me that is already with Jesus. It feels weird to write. It’s something I haven’t been able to say until now. We believe that life begins at conception. If I had a living being in my body, that isn’t there anymore, then my baby is with the Lord.

My mother shared something profound with me that she had read: A baby that hasn’t been born yet hasn’t even had the opportunity to be “born” into sin. All of us who have been born, have been born sinners and in need of Jesus to save us. These little ones that haven’t breathed outside the womb are spared the stain of sin. They are acceptable before God and He carries them right into heaven with him. Regardless of your theological leanings, this is a great comfort, isn’t it?

I thought it was.

My family is so blessed and thankful for everyone that covered us in prayer during this time. We certainly felt them and we are at peace and are comforted by His Spirit. It’s our desire that this experience will glorify our God in a great way and comfort anyone else that has been through the same thing.

John 1:16 “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

New Year Greetings: Happy 2020!

It’s the new year! I tried my best to explain to my little boy what a new year means. To a four-year-old with no concept of months or years, it was a difficult task. But he knows that we are going to celebrate it anyway. So, we will celebrate with hog jowl, greens, and black-eyed peas with our family and ponder what it means to start 2020.

A few changes have come upon J&R Farms in the internet world. I decided after a few months of deliberation to remove us from the Facebook scene. It was something I felt like I should do…because I do not write these stories for social media attention…and the best way to make that clear to myself was to completely get off the screen. I also have trust issues with a big platform such as Facebook.

So no more Facebook and no more checking the app constantly to see if I should post something or check and see if I got any “likes”. That was mind numbing to me.

I also considered getting rid of the blog permanently, but I decided that I really do like the outlet to write my stories. And maybe there’s a few folks out there who enjoy reading what I scrounge up. Thank you to those few people! So now instead of reaching out through Facebook, if you happen to check this blog site, still feel free to email or comment on the site instead of on good ol’ Facebook. I have decided to keep Instagram, so I may post farm photos every now and then just for fun. Of course, if you are on Facebook, give the link a share if you feel like someone may benefit from reading a post.

As for soap orders, I always will be available through my email, johnandrachel33@aol.com.

Part of our desire to live “old-timey” didn’t make much sense if I was checking my phone every time I had the chance. I much prefer the low-tech lifestyle.

My time is much better spent watching my little boys play in the yard instead of trying to get my internet to work in our patchy service up here in the East Tennessee hills.

Enough of that talk, let me share some more exciting news from our family. We are expecting baby #4! We shared the news with our family on Christmas, and the reactions from our family members were great.

I am enjoying this time of year where I can really slow down, stay at home, and care for my little boys in peace! Thankfully the weather turned quite warm after Christmas, and my husband was off for the whole week. We had much needed outside time (for the little farm boys) and I was able to catch up on a few things.

We cleaned out and purged…then made room for new Christmas goodies. We ate terribly unhealthy for a few days now I want to get us back on track. It all comes together in time for the new year.

I love starting fresh. I always set goals, and while I don’t stick to them perfectly, (who does?) I still like to plan and dream.

Here’s to the new year! (I’ll raise my glass of non-alcoholic muscadine juice.) Everyone in our family hopes you and yours had a great holiday season, had time to reflect on the Lord’s goodness, and now off to a good 2020!

The Importance of Fixin’ Dinner

I saw a commercial the other night. It was of a family rushing around, trying to get out the door, and they didn’t have time for dinner. The catchy phrase in the ad was “There are more important things than fixing dinner.”

That line stuck with me for a few minutes. My husband didn’t even notice it, but I think it reflects some things that the world is trying to tell our families.

Here lately, I’ve been really immersing myself in some great podcasts about godly mothering, family, homemaking…and I’ve also been reading along the same topics. So this phrase in the commercial really stuck out because it’s not what I’m used to hearing.

(Disclaimer: I’m not bashing anyone who happens to have a busy evening every now and then and has to stop and get fast food. I’ve been there a hundred times. I’m just reflecting on a wider topic—hoping to shed some light on the importance of family time.)

Our family doesn’t watch TV a whole lot. There are many reasons…and listening to worldly views about family is a big reason. In the media, children are disrespectful, fathers are bumbling dummies, and mothers are busy, very fashionable and usually in charge…rolling her eyes at her idiot husband and grounding her mouthy children, and this is usually followed by laughter from the audience. Again, I’m not against fashion or women leaders! But the way the world presents the family is becoming more and more distant from what God’s design was meant to be.

In the world of outspoken and rampant feminism, the family unit is falling far from what it was meant to be. I’ll not elaborate on that topic just now…but if you want to look further into what the Bible says about family roles, see Ephesians chapters 5 and 6; or Titus 2. Just to name two sources.

Back to the commercial.

It’s no secret that in recent times, having dinner around the table as a family has gone by the wayside. We are just too busy! There are more “important” things than fixing dinner.

But I just wanted to ask you…what’s more important that sitting down with your loved ones after a long day, and filling your belly with a hot, delicious, nutritious meal? Filling the hearts of your family with love and togetherness?

I’ve been so very blessed to grow up in a home where my mama made sure we were always together around the table.

Not every evening was picture perfect. In fact, I remember my daddy telling my brother and I to stop acting like monkeys at a circus and eat our dinner and shut up!

I can relate to that now with three boys and my husband at the table! Just like my mama, and her mama…and hers…I make it a point to have dinner and sometimes FORCE everyone to sit at the table!

I don’t do it because it’s a rule that I think has to be followed, or that somehow having family dinners makes me a better Christian. Not at all.

I do it because I want my children and husband to see how much I love them.

I want to show them that dinnertime is a time to slow down, talk, and enjoy time together.

I hope, just like my mama, to instill in my children that being together for a little time in the evening is a stabilizing, predictable part of the day.

Please don’t go away from reading this thinking that I have it all together with my perfectly mannered boys, eating their dinner with smiles and prayers and gratefulness. (I wish! Ha!)

Sometimes it’s quite the challenge. The oldest boy refuses to eat something that he enjoyed the week before. He throws up. I scream. Milk is spilled. The floor is a disaster. He has to sit at the table and finish his food or he can’t go outside to play. The counters and sink is full of dirty dishes and I’m too tired to clean it up. Cheese is caked to the oven and it’ll take a scalpel to remove it. My husband is rushing out the door to get to his chores and I’m frustrated that I didn’t get to say a single word to him! I could go on!

But despite all that, even though it seems hard at times, I know that it is the best for us.

After I fill everyone’s plates and sit down for the first time, I take a deep breath. Before anyone asks for anything else, I can take at least three seconds to look around and think to myself “I am so blessed to be able to serve my family.”

It may not be the popular opinion these days, but it’s something I will strive for every single day. Who cares about popular opinions, anyhow? I will make time to do what is important: and that is serving dinner to my family.

Five Lessons From the Garden

Although it still feels like summer here in East Tennessee, the garden seems to think it is fall. It has been in the 90’s this week, and it is the first week of October. I think everyone is ready for some cooler weather…and some rain.

My husband let our corn dry on the stalk, and he picked it last night for hominy making. He also picked the remnant of green beans for seed and hopefully for soup beans. The garden is pretty much done. (It’s been rather dry here…so it’s been done for a few weeks now.)

I was just reflecting on the summer and our growing season, and I realized that I have learned a few valuable lessons from the garden. Here are a few that come to mind.

1. Don’t pick the seed cucumbers.

What in the world do I mean by this? Well, I made a rookie mistake in the garden earlier this summer. We had planted some heirloom Cades Cove White Cucumbers, and despite a weird early blight on all our squash and cucumber plants, some still managed to push through and produce. But not many. I was busily and hurriedly picking cucumbers one morning because if we missed a day of picking, there would be wasted cucumbers because they grow so fast.

I made sure to get all of the special white cucumbers, even a larger looking one, because I didn’t want to miss any.

When my husband got home from work, he noticed I picked the white cucumbers, and then went on to fuss a little because I picked the cucumber he was letting go for seed. Oops.

When you want to save seed, especially heirloom seed!, you want to let the vegetable get pretty big, so the seeds will be…well, big. I accidentally almost ruined a seed saving opportunity. Thank goodness the early blight didn’t completely kill the plants just yet, and we saved the seed out of another good looking big cucumber.

I would have hated to single handed-ly ruin next years white cucumber seed.

2. Don’t count your salsa jars before the tomatoes hatch.

This is a sad one. We set out sixty-some-odd tomato plants this year. I may be a little strange, but one of my favorite things to preserve is tomatoes. So we made sure we had plenty! I love canning at least fifty quarts of whole tomatoes, several spaghetti sauce jars, and especially different types of salsa. I even did homemade Ro-tel a few years ago. I love canning tomatoes. I love not having to buy them from the store even more!

I had a good start on canning the tomatoes. I didn’t let them pile up too awful bad, and I was canning whole tomatoes left and right. Then, I started to notice the tomatoes that were coming in the house was not big bright red and juicy like they were a week before. Not too long after, my husband said the plants were dying.

I was pretty upset that our crop of tomatoes, much like the squash, got hit by some kind of blight. It was very unfortunate.

I didn’t get any salsa canned. But that’s the way life goes on a farm. I’m sorry to have to buy it, because home canned is so much better!

3. Deer and tater bugs want to destroy it all.

Last year, my husband heard that if you put human hair around the border of the garden, the deer will stay away. (His mother cuts hair at her own beauty salon…so that’s how we came by hair…in case you were wondering!) It worked for a while. It was a good solution, but maybe the deer got used to it, and they were caught trying to eat whatever they could.

This year, he heard that putting Irish Spring soap up around the borders would keep the deer out. So he tied Irish Spring and Ivory soap bars up on poles around the garden! It may have looked a little funny, but it worked! A few deer tracks were spotted, but they didn’t get in and destroy anything, thank goodness!

Another ridiculous pest in the garden is potato bugs. They appear out of nowhere, and they can’t be stopped.

Method #1 was trying a homemade bug repellent, made out of hot pepper, onion, and vinegar, but it didn’t work.

Method #2 was having little boys squish all the bugs they could find. That would work in theory, but as soon as they squashed one, two would show up.

Method #3 was the last resort, but the only way to save the tater crop. He had to spray with insecticide.

My organic gardening ideals were sort of really hurt…but my husband assured me it was for the best. (I prayed and told myself even though they were sprayed, it’s still much less toxic than what they’ve got at the grocery store.) So the lesson was, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do for a good turnout in the long run.

4. The garden doesn’t cooperate with my schedule.

This summer was a whirlwind of busyness. I hate to say that, because I don’t want my life to be characterized by being too busy all the time! But it was a blur. We had a lot of things to do. By the time August came around and it was time to start school, I was ready for a break from running around so much.

The garden keeps us at home more than most families. All season, my husband would get off work and come home and work in the garden.

Our routine was pretty nice, thinking back on it. If I was busy throughout the morning, we were always home in the evening. As I was fixing dinner, he would take the older boys to the garden with him, and work until supper.

After supper, they would head back out and stay until dark. Sometimes I went too, but having a baby and cleaning up supper dishes kept me at the house.

We had to miss activities because we had to pick the garden.

My husband couldn’t relax until he got the tilling done, or the hoeing, or the picking.

It just had to be done.

The garden definitely ruled the activity planning.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

5. Gardens are reminders of greater truths.

Every year, when the ground is plowed, the seeds planted, and the produce grows…I am first reminded of this: “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”” Genesis 1:29, and “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15.

After Creation, God took Adam and put him in a perfect garden to tend to. I can only imagine the beauty of that place. It is nice to think that man’s first job was to garden. But…

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17b-19

After the Fall, when sin entered the world, even gardening became cursed. Something that was perfectly holy and beautiful at first is now cursed. All because of sin.

Our world is not perfect and the results of the fall, the curse, are everywhere.

I just picture my hardworking husband sweating buckets into the soil and it is exactly as God said. We have to toil to make our food.

That sounds pretty grim.

But, even when God cursed the ground, he gave us a glimmer of hope. He promised a Deliverer would come to one day fix what was messed up by sin.

I won’t keep ya’ll guessing…the Deliverer is Jesus!

Jesus took our curse on the cross. He took on the punishment that we deserved for our sin. Our fallen bodies and fallen gardens will not be made completely whole now…

But through redemption in Jesus we have a promise that one day, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Saints will have new bodies and I bet the gardens that we will keep will be unlike anything we can imagine. No blights and no tater bugs.

It’s a wonderful mystery to think about. The world was turned upside down after the fall in the garden of Eden. Jesus will one day turn it all right again.

The Easiest (Healthiest) Fried Okra (THM-FP, S)

This year, we grew a delicious variety of heirloom okra that is called Longhorn Okra. It is perfectly tender even when it grows long…which if you know anything about picking “normal” okra, it will be tough as a cob if it gets too long.

We had oodles of okra this year. I pickled a bunch, cooked it, and then gave some away, and then cooked some more.

This recipe is my new go-to for fried okra. I used to get out three separate bowls to make fried okra. But I found this shortcut to making it easier—and the coating I use is a healthy alternative to your traditional flour or cornmeal breading.

Here’s how I did it:

Chop up the okra into little coins, about ¼ -1/2 inch thickness. Make sure you at least chop the pieces uniformly so they cook evenly.

Heat a good two to three tablespoons of <a href=”LouAna Pure Coconut Oil (All Natural) 30 fl oz“>refined coconut oil in a skillet on medium high heat. (Refined coconut oil doesn’t have the coconut flavor.) (Amazon affiliate link for <a href=”LouAna Pure Coconut Oil (All Natural) 30 fl oz“>LouAnna coconut oil! It’s the best!)

(Side note: you can use less oil if you’re aiming for THM-FP…but I think it cooks quicker if you keep the oil plentiful.)

Add the uncoated pieces of okra to the skillet. Season with mineral salt and pepper, and optional garlic powder. (Just sprinkle at first.)

Coat the tops with THM Baking Blend. This is a combo of almond flour, coconut flour, flax meal…a wonderful combo that makes any recipe taste close to wheat flour. Only healthier! (Above are my THM Affiliate links for mineral salt and Baking Blend.)

Toss in the oil, and coat with more baking blend. The sliminess of the okra causes the baking blend to stick wonderfully. No need for the egg, I’ve found.

That’s it! Almost tastes like popcorn.

Make a Bigger Plate: Wisdom from the Farmer

H: Why aren’t you doing (insert chore/craft here) anymore? Why don’t you make (insert any homemade/homecrafted goody here) anymore?

W: (Shrugs) I really want to! I just have too much on my plate! I go in spurts, I can only focus on a few things at a time!

H: Well…make a bigger plate.

Okay…this was a conversation between an anonymous husband and wife. (You can guess who if you want.)

I have to do some confessing, because just like the scenario above, I have a lot on my imaginary plate and I’m struggling to make it all fit.

At the beginning of the year, I wanted to start writing stories and publish a blog post twice a week, build a website, maybe generate some income, start a soap business, sell eggs on the side of the soap business…this is what I’ll consider “outside” of my normal house work. I also have a list of historical articles I want to work on, people I want to interview, places I need to visit…

Then, I really wanted to step up the self-sufficiency/homestead game, and vowed to make all my bread at home, only make homegrown, homemade, seasonal meals, make all the baby food myself, use cloth diapers…milk my goat, tend the garden, preserve all the produce that came through the door, make herbal concoctions…not to mention maintain a tidy, sane home (which is like trying to keep a pig pen clean…quite literally.)

Then, school time started, and I set a lot of those activities aside because I want to provide the best preschool ever to my two pre-K boys. I spent a month preparing the house, reading articles, deep cleaning so I would feel refreshed, organizing, and finally…preschool started and it’s going great.

Now, after three weeks of a great start to our sweet little school, I have decided to call it quits on the goat milking. This was a big deal in our home, because it was the first time either of us ventured into the chore of having a dairy animal. We did this chore all summer, and it worked out great. I really did love getting up before the boys and having alone time in the little barn. It was nice…until we weaned the baby goats and twice a day milking commenced. It became just plain hard.

I have set my soap sales on the back burner, and this was the conversation that started last night when my husband was encouraging me to keep up with what I started at the first of the year. (I just owned up to the anonymous conversation, didn’t I.)

Let me tell you a little about my husband, who I like to refer to as the Farmer. He is perhaps the hardest working man I know. He never runs out of energy. He has a chore list a mile long, but he somehow keeps all our critters alive and our beef and pork business afloat. He has big dreams in that arena, which we are just praying and waiting on. He is a true farmer.

He has a ton of obligations on his plate. He gets up early to go to his job. He comes home and takes care of literally everything…the animals, the garden, and then somehow helps me with the boys. Does he get burnt out? Sometimes! But he gets right back on the horse as soon as he takes a nap. (Which is rare.)

He comes in the door with bushels of green beans, after working hard at his job all day, and encourages me to get the boys in bed so we can do some canning. I say, “Ain’t you tired? I can’t do no canning tonight, I’m wore OUT!” But– he sits on the couch, breaks the beans, and somehow, the canning gets done. I guess I know how to do it in my sleep by now.

He is constant. He does his chores, adds a little more work, then keeps doing the chores. He doesn’t quit. And he doesn’t complain. Unlike me…I’m not constant, I get excited, do some work, then get lazy and burnt out and I can’t do it anymore.

The internet and the world will tell me that I deserve and should demand, some rest and relaxation—no matter what. (Don’t get me wrong here…I always make time for that…don’t go thinking I’m worked to death!) But here’s a few things that the endless opinions on the internet don’t understand:

-We’ve chosen to live on a farm. If we choose to rest for too long…the farm will suffer.

-We’ve brought the goats, the pigs, the chickens, the bunnies, and the cattle to the farm and we have to take care of them. If they don’t get fed…they die.

-We’ve planted the seeds in the garden, and we have to preserve the harvest. We don’t put it up in cans…it goes to waste and our money is flushed down the toilet.

-I’ve birthed three boys to take care of. They have to be fed, too, right? (I’m being silly, my boys are always my #1 priority.)

-We’ve decided to live this way…

So we have to work durn hard. Everyday. If I want a break…guess what? It’s pizza for dinner and I’m really not doing anyone a favor. The beans go bad and I’ve disappointed myself…and wasted time driving to town when I could have whipped something up from the freezer instead.

It’s healthier, better, more delicious, more fulfilling, and more blessed if I keep myself at home and do it from scratch.

Think about Great-Grandma. She did all these things and MORE! When I consider how much work these women did even75 years ago, my day looks like a walk in the park. I have a washing machine for pity’s sake.

So…my husband’s words were filled with great wisdom.

MAKE A BIGGER PLATE.

I can do this!

I realized something. Instead of limiting myself to a small plate, why not make it bigger?

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, (I believe this is a direct quote from my Mama) so use it wisely. Instead of taking two hours to drink my morning coffee, I can get up and start a load of laundry or get some reading done while the boys are still asleep. I can wake up thirty minutes earlier and milk the goat.

I can purposefully plan my meals to make sure I set out the chicken to thaw, ensuring a quicker meal prep.

I can carve out 20 minutes to speed clean the kitchen and make it appear like it’s under control!

I can ask my husband to help give the boys a bath while I preserve the veggies on the counter (or at least get it started).

I can make that soap to sell to the soap customers!

I read a book recently that I will recommend to you. It’s called What If You Could (#wiyc) by Danny Valdes, and it really psyched me up. It’s just as the title says… what if I could have a bigger plate? Now just to make it happen. I can do this!

Thank you for letting me rant, dear readers, because it has certainly helped me! I hope it will help you, too.

Do some hard things, get out and get dirty in the garden, cook some delicious meals and fill your expanded plate with all sorts of blessings.

Copperhead Bites (An Original Stuffed Pepper Recipe from the Farmer -THM-S, Low-Carb friendly)

Happy Labor Day everyone!

By the time you’re reading this, the day will probably be over and your Labor Day cookouts will be wrapping up.

I’m going to share my husband’s original recipe for stuffed peppers that we made for our Labor Day burger grill. He was pumped to be using this new pepper variety that we planted in our garden. So while Papaw had the grill heated up, my husband cooked these Copperhead Bites!

This particular variety of jalapeno pepper we used is called “mucho nacho”. They are larger than a regular jalapeno, and milder on the spice scale. You could definitely use jalapenos, or even bell peppers for a very mild, un-spicy version.

Here’s his recipe: (Note: he wanted to name the recipe something amazing…if you know my husband, you won’t be surprised that he came up with this!)

Copperhead Bites

One pound sausage (we used pork that was more on the spicy side)

One 8 oz package cream cheese

12-15 jalapeno peppers (We used 13 macho nacho peppers)

Shredded cheddar cheese to top them.

Directions:

Slice the peppers in two. Remove the seeds, and scrape the pepper clean. Set aside on a baking sheet. Meanwhile…

Brown the sausage in a skillet. When it is cooked through, transfer it to a bowl and add the whole block of cream cheese. Stir it well.

Stuff one pepper at a time with the cream cheesey sausage. When the peppers are stuffed, sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese all over the tops.

Place them on the grill for 15-20 min, or until the cheese is browning and bubbly.

Serve these at your next tailgate or cookout. Tell folks the name of this recipe, and they will have to try ‘em! (At least my husband thinks the name is awesome.)

Chili Cheese Taters

This recipe was born out of my love for chili cheese fries. I know it’s not smart or healthy to stop by the neighborhood Sonic for my chili cheese fix…so I made these at home with ingredients we had on hand. Easy, cheap, and so delicious! Serve it with Ranch dressing and it knocks it out of the park.

Chili Cheese Taters

Preheat oven to 375.

Thinly slice three to four white potatoes, and start cooking them in 4 tbsp of butter, in a skillet. I drizzled a bit of olive oil over them once they started cooking too. (About 1 tbsp olive oil or less.)

Add one teaspoon of salt, and about ¼ tsp pepper over the potatoes. Cook them until they are starting to get tender, 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown 1 pound of ground beef in another skillet. Add about ½ cup of the onions and 2 cloves of garlic.

Cook until the meat is browned and onions are tender, then add 1 can of Rotel tomatoes.

Add the following spices to the meat:

1 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

1-2 tsp cumin

Stir it all together and cook over medium heat for just a minute or two.

In the potato skillet, arrange the taters in as even a layer as you can.

Pour the meat mixture over the taters.

Add enough grated cheese to cover the top of the meat. (I piled it on…so it was around a cup or more.)

Put the whole skillet into the oven for about 20 minutes to crisp the cheese on top.

This is fantastic alongside ranch dressing, you can find a homemade version here.

No need to stop at Sonic or Cheddar’s now! Give this a try!

The Beauty of a Bell

Just imagine a misty morning in the mountains. You may see birds flying in the clouds painted beautiful colors by the dawn, and you hear a bell tolling in the distance.

If you lived in Cades Cove, or any other community 100 years ago, the sound of a bell pealing through the air caught your attention. You’d stop whatever you were doing to listen.

A bell could signal a birth, a wedding, a death…so many life events were heralded by the ringing of a bell.

Nowadays all we have to do is scroll through social media to “hear” about our community’s announcements. But there’s something about the sound of a bell that is nostalgic and beautiful.

Gloria Motter, the director of the Cades Cove Museum wanted to be sure the museum featured a working bell just like the people in Cades Cove would have heard. She found this bell at an estate sale in Johnson City. Even though it isn’t native to the cove, it is similar to what would have been there.

The bell was brought to the museum, but it needed a stand to be put on in order for someone to ring it…that’s where my daddy, Donny Abbott, came in.

He is a very talented craftsman specializing in blacksmithing. And as the bell stand shows, he’s pretty good at welding, woodwork, and etching. Blacksmithing is an old art and my father has been interested in the historical craft for nearly 15 years.

He started learning at Fort Loudoun State Historical Park, where he and I started reenacting as volunteers. Fort Loudoun was an 18th century French and Indian War fort. Once a month volunteers get together to portray daily life in a British fort. I loved reenacting as a little girl, and my daddy learned how to blacksmith the traditional way. (Meaning no electricity or new-fangled machines.)

Since he began learning how to forge S-hooks and fire steel sets, he’s broadened his repertoire to include knives, swords, hinges, and now…bell stands.

My father took the measurements, and after collaborating with Stephen Weber, president of the Cades Cove Preservation Association, and Richard Anderson, treasurer, he came up with a design that would be a perfect fit for the old bell.

He made a sturdy stand out of one-inch square steel, and added an artistic twist in the body of the design. The stand itself is 3 feet tall, with the wooden base 2×3 feet. He forged the steel and welded it all in his shop. He made a plaque out of copper etched with ferric chloride that reads: “CCPA 2019 by P. Don Abbott, Jr.” He even made the cart to deliver the bell and to transport it to and from events. He didn’t take enough credit for the cart…but it is really beautiful and looks like a nice tool straight out of 19th century Cades Cove. (All the materials except the steel was repurposed from what he had on hand in his shop. Another old-timey skill is using what you already have and recycling materials!)

My father Donny is a descendant of Russell Gregory, John “Baldy” Myers, and Absalom Abbott of Cades Cove. He is responsible for my interest in history and he always encouraged me to read and learn for myself. He and I share the same passion for preserving tradition, especially the history of our people in East Tennessee.