I Love Sharing My Culinary Heaven at Our Waynesville Bed and Breakfast

Some gardens are huge, like the size of a small farm. Some
are postage stamp size. Most are somewhere in between. My little piece of
culinary heaven happens to be just outside our bed and breakfast kitchen growing in two whiskey
barrels each surrounded by a very small rectangle of soil. This is the area
that makes up my herb garden here in Waynesville, NC and it’s my favorite place to play when it comes
to ingredients for our dinner dishes as well as for many of our savory
breakfasts.  I am an herb nut, just ask
my four grandchildren (who may know the difference between Italian and flat
parsley, or oregano and marjoram if they were listening closely to their Opa!).
To me there is nothing better than picking a bunch of chives, thyme, parsley,
marjoram and basil to use in one of our breakfasts for our guests, or in one of
our dinners for ourselves.  One of Jen’s
favorites is a penne pasta concoction I developed over many years of testing different
herbal combinations (I’m still testing! It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to
do it!). So, each dish is a little different from the one before. It’s
basically julienned yellow onions and bell peppers sautéed in olive oil, with
diced tomatoes, kalamata olives (if I have them),salt and pepper,  and … wait for it, the herbal blend du jour
(i.e., whatever comes in from my herb garden that evening).  It’s therapeutic for me to chop the parsley,
pull the tiny leaves off the thyme and marjoram stems, trim a handful of chives
with a kitchen scissors a few millimeters at a time, and fold and cut the basil
until I have a pile of green aromatic herbs on top of my onions, peppers and
tomatoes! Can you smell it! I can!! They get mixed into the sautéed veggies with
the penne pasta (al dente) with a generous grind of asaigo or parmesan on top.

In cooler weather I make several soups and stews which I
freeze (if they don’t all get eaten first).  Again, I use as many herbs in these dishes as
possible. In winter my options are more limited, but I’ve been amazed at how
many of my herbs can withstand hard freezes and come back for more here in
Western North Carolina. It may be due to the usually balmy days (even in
January and February) we enjoy even after a harsh sub-freezing night which
allows the herbs to recover a bit. Simon and Garfunkel would be happy to know
they include parsley, sage rosemary and thyme!  Even my chives usually survive until about
Christmas.  As some of you know, I’m a
vegetarian, so our favorite stew is a veggie root stew of potatoes, carrots,
turnips, parsnips and a product from fermented wheat called seitan (pronounced like
the devil, but not as nasty!).  I use the
aforementioned herbs in a ‘bouquet garni’ which is just a bundle of these herbs
rolled in a swatch of cheese cloth like a cigar and tied together at both ends
with kitchen string. I toss this into the pot with the rest of the veggies, the
seitan cut into pieces that resemble meat chunks, and simmer them in a broth of
veggie bullion, diced tomatoes, and onions and garlic that were first sautéed in
olive oil along with the seitan covered in flour, salt and pepper. My mother
swore this was beef stew because the seitan fooled her into thinking it was
beef chunks. She even thought she saw gristle!  This stew is good with a loaf of pumpernickel
bread which I also make (if I’m not too lazy) in our 15 year old bread maker
(thank you sister, Alice!).  Alice is
also my seitan supplier since I like a certain brand of seitan (you can
actually make it yourself, but…) called Ray’s Seitan which is available in PA,
but not here. Wow! I almost wish it were winter so I could whip up a batch of
stew right now. But, then we’d miss the beautiful views of fall of our Blue Ridge Parkway yet to come before the cold weather sets in.

Finally, as I mentioned I use lots of fresh herbs in our
savory breakfasts. They include frittatas, stratas, and soufflé’s among other
entrees. I also whip up herb omelets for folks who have dietary restrictions when
we are serving a sweet breakfast they can’t have such as French toast or German
apple pancakes.  I also just re-started
my indoor winter ‘gro light’ garden, a Christmas present from Jen’s mom (Thanks, Jeannine!), so I can have at least some of my
favorite herbs year round.  This includes
mint for Jen to use as garnish on some of our breakfast plates.  All in all I
wouldn’t know what to do if I woke up someday without my herb garden.  It just wouldn’t be the same cooking without
fresh herbs. I guess I would just have to adjust to using dried herbs. Nothing
wrong with that…. I guess!

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