The Great British Baking Show

cake 033

I got inspired with the last season I watched.

I don’t watch that much TV (cuts into reading/writing time). I like HGTV, a few Food TV shows, have a weakness for Jeopardy, and sometimes catch the news. But the one show I will actually rearrange my schedule to watch is on once again.

I ADORE the Great British Baking Show. And after a brief (failed) attempt to mix it up with new judges and hosts, they’ve gone back to the original. Ahhh. Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Sue, and Mel.

Friday was a double header. And yes, I stayed up until 11 p.m. without dozing off. I don’t even do that on New Year’s Eve.

So what makes this show must-watch for me? It’s no single thing–the sum being greater than the parts–but I think the main thing is . . . it’s nice.

Sure, it’s a competition, but the competitors seem to support each other. Maybe even like each other. They’re just regular folks who all enjoy baking. And while Paul can be pretty direct in his critiques, he’s never mean or cruel. And Mary is usually right there saying something like, “the flavors are good,” or “the texture is lovely.”

So much of “reality TV” these days focuses on people behaving badly. It’s bachelors or bachelorettes pushing the relationship envelope as close to an R-rating as they can. It’s family’s airing their dirty laundry. It’s competitions where the goal is to undermine everyone else.

The Great British Baking Show feels supportive and friendly while also pushing amateur bakers to show what they can do. Of course, it also looks delicious. Towering cakes, cream fillings, fresh-baked breads, sweets, savories, scones! It’s dangerous to watch so late, when I know snacking is a bad idea.

Plus, everyone has a British accent. I mean, really, what’s not to love?

Appalachian Thursday – 155 Candles for WV

wv-10-14-026.jpgYesterday was West Virginia Day. That would be the 155th birthday of my home state. Often, I celebrate the day by subjecting my readers to the history of how West Virginia became a state (and was almost called Kanawha, which I think would have been nice!), but this year I’m giving you a break. Instead of a history lesson, I thought I’d give you some fun facts about the incredibly unique southernmost northern state/northernmost southern state.

FUN FIRSTS – some more dubious than others . . .

  • On July 1, 1921, West Virginia was the first state to institute a sales tax.
  • Mother’s Day was first observed in Grafton, WV, in 1908. You can visit the Mother’s Day Shrine there today.
  • The first brick street in the world was laid in Charleston, WV, in 1870.
  • It was the first (and only) state created by presidential proclamation. Thanks Abraham Lincoln!
  • Jackson’s Mill is the site of the first 4-H camp in the United States. And I went to camp there!
  • The first US prison exclusively for women was opened in the state in 1926.
  • Minnie Buckingham Harper, a member of the House of Delegates by appointment in 1928, was the first African American woman to become a member of a legislative body in the United States.

FAMOUS WEST VIRGINIANS

  • Stonewall Jackson – Civil War general
  • Pearl Buck – author
  • Chuck Yeager – test pilot
  • Jerry West – basketball player and coach
  • Don Knotts – actor (Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show)
  • Brad Paisley – country singer
  • Jennifer Garner – actress

STATE SYMBOLS

  • Bird – Cardinal
  • Flower – Rhododendron
  • Tree – Sugar Maple
  • Animal – Black Bear
  • Fish – Brook Trout
  • Food – pepperoni roll

State Motto – Montani semper liberi – Mountaineers are always free!

So how about you? What fun facts do you know about your state?

When did food get so complicated?

sink

Those are cherry tomato plants in the back.

I remember the first time I heard of free-range chicken. Having grown up on a farm, I couldn’t think what that meant. What other kind of chicken could there be?

Then I found out about tiny cages, cut off beaks, and other abominations. And I learned that “free-range” didn’t mean chickens actually went outside–it simply meant they could if they happened to find that little door in the side of the massive chicken house.

Eating seemed relatively simple when I was growing up on the farm. We raised a fair amount of what we ate–garden stuff, fruit, dairy products, domesticated and wild meat. And when we bought things at the grocery store we were generally looking for the best quality at the lowest price.

That was that.

In college, it was all about the cost. My goal was to get the most of the foods I liked for the least amount of money which I also needed for education, car expenses, entertainment, clothing, and so on.

Then I started focusing on things like fat and calories. “Healthy” eating. Food became the sum of its parts–fiber, protein, sodium, saturated fat, vitamins, etc. I started paying more attention to those nutrition panels on the sides of packages.

And now. Now I’ve read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Palin and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. I’ve become aware of the atrocities happening daily in our food system. I’ve become aware that a fair amount of what’s sold in the average grocery store isn’t even food. It’s a man-made approximation of food. Now I’m reading ingredient lists or even better, buying things without a label. You know, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread from the baker, or a fresh chicken at the farmer’s market.

Which brings me full circle to what my grandparents ate. They grew it or made it. If they didn’t have it or couldn’t get it locally, they did without. No tomatoes in January. No strawberries in December. No shrimp or crab in central West Virginia at all.

But there was fresh-caught trout rolled in meal from their own corn. There were Sunday pork roasts from the hog butchered on Thanksgiving Day. There were cakes made with milk from the cow and eggs from the chicken. There was hot cornbread with apple butter.

I think a big part of the problem with our food system today is that we no longer eat to fuel our bodies. Food has become a form of entertainment. We don’t eat so that our bodies and minds have the strength they need–we eat to titillate our taste buds. We eat to satisfy cravings and delight our senses.

And, I would argue, this is not a bad thing in and of itself. God made food GOOD. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We all know the delight of tasting something good.

But when I’m willing to sacrifice the well-being of animals, the land, and the environment just because I crave a feedlot beef cheeseburger followed by chocolate dipped strawberries out of season–that’s when I’m in trouble.

Food shouldn’t be so complicated.

So here are a few things I’m doing to try and reset the natural balance:

  1. Buying local food. At the farmer’s market it’s easy. In the store I’m checking to see just how far those peaches were trucked. From South Carolina? Good. From South America? Not so good.
  2. Making things from scratch. Okay, I did buy donuts for an event at work the other day. But the goal is to make more things from scratch. Homemade pancakes are actually not much trickier than from a mix.
  3. Composting. A huge amount of our landfill waste is FOOD. A compost pile at the far end of the driveway doesn’t even smell bad.
  4. Growing a few consumables. My husband will tell you I have a black thumb. Even so, I can keep a pot of herbs going. And I have a tomato plant in the flower bed that’s currently loaded with wee fruit. Here’s hoping I can harvest some soon!

How about you? What are you willing to do to simplify your food?

Appalachian Thursday – Lightning Bugs

You know it’s summer in the mountains when the lightning bugs start putting on a show. As kids, we loved to catch them and drop them in a mason jar with holes poked in the lid. Then we’d put that jar on a dresser in our rooms to watch them twinkle until we fell asleep.

Now I’d rather just sit outside and watch the show all across our yard and into the trees. And while I now know what’s happening is actually a cutthroat mating dance, it’s still incredibly lovely. And peaceful. And a little bit magic.

I realize some of you out there don’t have lightning bugs (or fireflies if you prefer). So I thought I’d offer you a peek at last evening’s light show . . .

Time to Complain About the Heat

Ah, June. Those days of complaining about how cold it is are well behind us. Mild spring days have wound down. Some afternoon it’s even getting . . . hot.

While the first true day of summer may not be until June 21, school is out this week, I’m going bare-legged in skirts and dresses, we’re getting produce at the farmer’s market, and I say this is summer.

Which means it’s time to start complaining about how hot it is. Except I’m trying to learn a lesson from my dog. She doesn’t complain, she just gets cool. And here’s her favorite way to do it . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Summer Outdoors

grass

Learning to hold a blade of grass between her thumbs so she can blow across it and make a marvelous sound.

In the cool of the evening my husband and I often sit on the front porch steps. We chat lazily, watch Thistle poke around, and wave at passing cars.  It’s a very Appalachian-summer thing to do. Of course, if we were kids, we’d be up and off the steps taking advantage of what a fabulous playground the front yard supplies.

Summers on the farm meant being outside. There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with ever-changing rules. We generally played barefoot and would get all sweaty and breathless then there would be that prickling feeling as the sweat dried and the cool of the evening settled in. Mom sometimes only washed our filthy feet before bed. I think the prospect of bathing three tired children helped her prioritize.

Of course, we also caught fireflies and stowed them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. We were occasionally allowed to bring these in to flicker in our rooms as we drifted off to sleep. When the June bugs came, we’d sometimes tie a thread to a leg (a tricky job) and have a bug on a leash.

Then there were all the things you could do with what grew in the yard. Pinch a blade of grass between your thumbs and blow on it to make a wonderful, honking sound. Tie flowers together to make chains for your hair and neck. Chew on sweet clover.

It was easier in those days to be drawn outside. There were only two or three channels on TV, no video games or electronics, and even toys paled in comparison to the wide world of summer outside the door. I sometimes see neighbor children outside on summer days and it makes me glad. Maybe I’ll stop by and show them how to tie flowers together, how to blow on a blade of grass–these are skills worthy of being passed on.

How Real Should Writers Get?

We’ve all read those novels. You know the ones.

  • The heroine has been riding in a covered wagon for two months when she meets the dashing cowboy who saves the wagon train. He finds her lovely in spite of the fact that she hasn’t washed her hair since late winter and it’s now well into spring.
  • The heroine is lost in a storm in the English countryside. When the hero finds her the rain has made her hair spring into ringlets that cling to her cheeks and her gown is, err, also clinging to her curves.
  • The modern-day heroine is volunteering in a community garden where she ends up working in the mud with at-risk children. When the hero encounters her he can’t resist swiping a smudge of dirt from her adorable cheek.

And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all that. Often, it works. As readers we don’t necessarily want to think about going to the bathroom, sweating, or having a really bad hair day. I don’t know about you, but I’m reading to escape much of that!

yikes~And yet. Here’s how I look after taking Thistle for a hike and helping my own personal hero with yard work. I went into the bathroom to start washing up and couldn’t stop laughing. Let’s see . . .

Her skin glistened while errant curls sprang from her brow. Her cheeks exhibited a rosy glow of health and Joe Dashing simply could not take his eyes from her.

No, I guess he couldn’t. Thank goodness my husband was working in another part of the yard and I was able to get myself into a semblance of order before he saw me.

So as a reader, how real do you want writers to get? I wrote a heroine who was fuller-figured than her peers and was absolutely covered in freckles. But she was still attractive–especially to the hero. I’m writing a character now with a significant birthmark who is otherwise stereotypically lovely.

What do you say? Do you want more physically flawed characters? Or would you rather preserve the illusion that there’s such a thing as someone who looks good all the time?

I think I’ll go with minor flaws, but I’m not giving any character I write hair like . . . well . . . like mine after a stint in the yard in the heat!