Into the Woods
This past weekend (4/10/21) I had the opportunity to feed over 100 people - guests, band, crew, family, and staff - at an outdoor house concert in western Virginia. There are so many levels of happiness in this, that I'm not quite sure where to start, so I'll make the bed and then get in it...
The Little Cheerful is a cozy, 1966 Airstream-turned-Kitchen run by the one and only "Backstage Mama," Aimee Watkins. She's a Force of empathy, care, and kindness, a music fanatic, and has been caring for artists, like The Wood Brothers, backstage at music festivals for years. My husband, Oliver, always came home with a full heart and stories of banana pudding whenever he encountered her out on tour.
It took a pandemic, but I finally got to meet this darling woman. Since there were no music festivals, The Little Cheerful has been parked on the Watkins's 48-acre "Into The Woods" farm, full of memories and potential. And since Aimee missed all her artist pals and the vibe of live music, she and her master-builder husband, Andrew, have regraded their enormous lawn, named "Turtle Field" after an unfortunate mowing accident, built a stage complete with grounded electricity, a roof and weather-protective sun/rain sails, and put in a mulch patio in front of The Little Cheerful just for hosting events from the comfort of home. AND there's an additional Airstream and a cabin where bands and their families can stay onsite.
In order to subtly charm Oliver into performing there, Aimee and Andrew invited our family out last October for a weekend getaway and we absolutely LOVED it! There are so many gorgeous hiking trails complete with rushing streams, plenty of flora and fauna, and a firepit fit to make any pyro happy. We had plenty of time to ourselves, but also enjoyed getting to know the Watkins family and carve out a deeper relationship with them. What precious, talented, generous people they all are!!
Since October, Oliver has completed a record, separate from The Wood Brothers, called "Always Smilin'." We both have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and he was booking shows in Brevard, NC, so it only made sense that he also play "Into the Woods." And I was invited along as a guest chef!
Aimee and I worked together to create a menu of one of Oliver's favorite meals (recipe below!), and she was able to source many of the menu's ingredients from local farms and artisan purveyors. Tyler at Autumn Olive Farms made about 40lbs of smoked andouille just for us to cook down with collards, white wine, and veggie Better than Bouillon. We used cornmeal from Wade's Mill and eggs from the chickens just out back to fry up hoe cakes in my Granny's giant cast iron skillet that I hauled with me, which we served up with local honey butter (can you guess what goes in that?). A side of sweet potato wedges rounded out the meal. Lagniappe, Aimee made her renowned bacon wrapped dates and banana pudding and I brought my famous lemon poundcake, which we served up with macerated strawberries and mint julep whipped cream (WHAT?). OH! Not to forget the chocolate chip cookies with just a little sprinkle of salt on top. Holy Moly!
It's always astounding to hear the uproar of compliments over such a simple meal, but the thoughtful sourcing of quality ingredients really makes the most out of some pretty basic recipes. You can taste it with your tongue and your soul when somebody cares about what goes into the pot!
THEN THERE WAS A CONCERT IN THE RAIN!!!
Oliver Wood, Jano Rix, and Ted Pecchio put on a RIGHTEOUS show while water poured from the sky. The attendees were warned ahead that "there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." And everybody was so happy to be at a show with TONS of space for a distanced dance party, that the rain seemed to add an extra layer of adventure instead of dampening (pun intended) the good vibe.
On a more personal note, I'm still sorting out my anxiety issues. Big Fun still makes me puke and shake, but I'm now armed with a new medication that I'm taking on a test run, situationally. For this particular event, the meds enabled me to return to my tasks, after excusing myself to my nurse my convulsions when necessary. I'm hopeful that I can get a handle on things, between "exposure therapy" (just getting out and having fun) and using the meds as a tool to be able to just show up. I had such a loving group of supportive humans around me that it took some of the guilt and embarrassment out of the equation. I'm super grateful to Aimee, Megan, Molly, and Levon for taking good care of me and being able to correctly interpret my kitchen instructions when I could hardly utter them aloud.
This event was just one more blaring example of the remarkable healing nature of the complementing and intricately complicated relationships between great music, good food, and the delights of human connection.
RECIPE ALERT - this one will be in the Studio Mama cookbook!
Slow Cooked Collards with Smoked Sausage
2 bunches collard greens
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (1 to 1½ cups)
1 cloves garlic, smashed
1 pound smoked turkey or chicken sausage
4 cup (1 quart) chicken stock
1. First prepare the collards. Wash the greens two or three times, making sure there’s no sand or grit left. (There’s very little worse than chomping down on a piece of enamel-threatening sand when you’re expecting warm, squishy happiness!) Rip the green leafy part away from the stems. Discard the stems or place them in the compost bin. Chop the collards coarsely and set aside.
2. Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and heat to medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage, and stir and lightly brown it, about 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Pour the chicken stock into the pot, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the greens. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer, covered, until the collards are tender, about 1 hour.
Makes 4 servings.
Studio Mama Note: Add about ½ cup sherry (or tired white wine from the back of the fridge) for every bunch of greens in the pot, and this will be your SECRET WEAPON! While the collards are cooking, coat some sweet potatoes with oil and bake in the oven at 350 degrees until soft and dinner is complete!