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Misty Meadows Farm

Meet Ralph and Kathy Packard.

Ralph and Kathy run the Misty Meadows Farm in Payneville, KY, about 50 miles southwest of Louisville. They grow “everything but okra” on their bucolic 28-acre parcel of land; on our visit, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and blackberries were just beginning to come up. Heavy rains delayed the start of their planting season, and only now in late May are they getting a start in earnest on their crops.

Roosters cockily patrolled the chicken coop. Happy, inquisitive pigs came up to us in the barn to check us out. The two most recent were born on inauguration day, a male and a female inevitably named Barack and Michelle. The pigs come in black, red (with hair that shines fiery like copper filament in the sun) and one spotted pig that instantly became my favorite. Cattle are kept at a nearby Mennonite farm. The Packards’ two dogs, Maggie and Timmy, keep watch over it all.


Misty Meadows has the longest-running CSA in the state of Kentucky (ten years strong); started the local farmer’s market in nearby Brandenburg, KY; and were among the first farms to do organic gardening in the state (albeit not certified). As well as their produce, they sell farm-fresh eggs, various cuts of pork, beef and lamb, and homemade sausages including chorizo, sweet and hot Italian, and Kentucky-style breakfast links, redolent with sage. Their efforts have stood in defiance of the indefatigable encroachment of corporate and fast food that has all but crushed any semblance of local, indigenous foodways in this part of the country and others. It’s a glimmer of hope of a food renaissance, a return to the old ways of raising and eating honest food.

But their way of farming is at risk.

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Burgoo, classic Kentucky stew

Why is it that so many of the world’s tastiest foods are the least photogenic?

I grappled with this when writing about ropa vieja, molha … heck, even those rich-as-the-dickens mini Hot Browns are a tetch hard to make look as appetizing on camera as they are in life. It’s not like I deliberately go out of my way to make my beleaguered, talented photographer husband’s life more difficult. Brown food is good food, I guess.

Case in point: Burgoo. This most quintessentially Kentuckian dish delivers in the delicious department, but boy howdy is it brown.

Burgoo’s Kentucky roots are fairly universally credited to French chef Gus Jaubert of Lexington, KY, who served the stew to General John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate Raiders. Clearly, this is designed to be a dish of great proportions — to be made in quantities literally enough to feed an army. James T. Looney assumed the mantle of “the Burgoo King” and, according to The Kentucky Encyclopedia, had this recipe for 1,200 gallons of the stew:

…Lean meat (not game), fat hens, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, tomato puree, carrots, and corn, seasoned with red pepper and salt and his secret sauce…

That’s a fairly tame estimation of the ingredients. In A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections, Jean Anderson found anecdotal information that Jaubert’s original recipe contained blackbirds; more rustic versions allegedly contained mostly squirrel; and perhaps more alarmingly even heard tell of a “mysterious ingredient” that married the flavors together — a black snake that would fall into the stew during the dark of night.

Living as we do in a major modern metropolis, blackbirds and squirrel (not to mention black snake) are surprisingly difficult to source. Not wanting to disappoint, we resorted to the most readily available locally sourced ingredients we could find. There is, after all, no shortage of pigeons and rats on the streets of San Francisco.

Or, we could buy some chicken and pork.

Fact is, modern versions of burgoo are quite tame indeed. The recipe we used as our base, from Anderson’s book, is nothing more than chicken, pork, peas, corn, beans and salt and pepper. That’s it, though it doesn’t suffer from a dash of hot sauce.

And served with a hot biscuit fresh from the oven and a nice arugula-strawberry salad, it transforms from soldier rations to a satisfying brunch entrée.

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Mini Hot Browns

Happy Derby Day, y’all!

Like most non-veg*ans, I like bacon. A lot. Certainly at least as much as the next guy. But like some others, I am a bit over the baconization of the foodie Internets. Bacon is strong mojo. Like a psychedelic drug, it should be used with great care and respect. You can’t just use bacon for bacon’s sake. Mark my words, the day the Bacon Explosion exploded all over the web was the day bacon jumped the shark.

But bacon still has and will forever have its time and place. It is, after all, one of the high holy trinity that is B, L and T. It is also a seminal ingredient in the most quintessential Kentuckian sandwich, the Hot Brown.

This open-faced sandwich, created by chef Fred Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel in 1928, is not diet food. By modern standards, the Hot Brown’s combination of bread, turkey, cheese sauce and bacon is a total hot mess. But hey, all things in moderation, right? If you miniaturize them down to passed hors d’oeuvre size, each wee morsel is just a palpitation compared to the full-on heart stopper of a whole one.

And yes, they do taste just a little better when you’re wearing your big ol’ floppy Holly Golightly hat and a sundress, washed down with a mint julep. But doesn’t everything?

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On the road: A retrospective


Travel is a life-changing experience, for better or worse. Heaven knows my life — or at least my diet — changes every year when we return to Kentucky. Gone are the fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market, the artisanal breads, the lovingly pulled shots of Illy espresso and the assertive California wines. In their place come a flood of fast and prefabricated foods, peppered lightly with a few items of genuine culinary interest.

En route to visit the in-laws, DPaul suggested I document everything I ate during the trip. I thought it would make an interesting study, in sharp contrast to the last time I captured a week’s worth of food.

If the photographs are rather artless, so too were the subjects. One can only do so much food styling with paper plates and glassware emblazoned with Shrek’s verdant mug. So, if you have the stomach for it, follow me on six days/five nights of eating my way through Middle America, and understand how I managed to put on three pounds during that time, despite eating only two meals most days.

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Lilly’s, Louisville


To say that our annual pilgrimage to Kentucky is an adventure in eating would be euphemistic. Truth be told, as I have said in the past, much of what was ever good and real about the food in this state, at least in the areas we frequent, has been subsumed by the juggernaut of modern fast-food establishments.

I don’t mean to pick on Kentucky specifically. This is surely a problem of epidemic proportions around the country and, increasingly, the world. It’s just that this is the one place we go to most frequently where this condition is most apparent. But there is hope.

I noticed, when perusing the list of upcoming Outstanding in the Field dinners, that there was one in Louisville. Sadly, we were not going to be here in mid-September, when it was scheduled, but I read on with interest about the chef, Kathy Cary of Lilly’s. Ms Cary focuses on local produce, working with farmers in the region and even a garden of their own. A preview of the menu offered some insight into her culinary tendencies — firmly rooted in the South, but inflected with influences around the world. I made a reservation for 7 pm on the Friday of our visit.

Lilly’s occupies a corner unit on the main stretch of Bardstown Road in an area called Cherokee Triangle. No triangle at all, it’s an irregluarly-shaped parcel of land, about two miles outside Louisville’s downtown proper, that evolved in the late 19th century. Bordered by Bardstown Road to the southwest, Cave Hill Cemetery to the north and Cherokee Park (among Frederick Law Olmstead’s last commissions) to the east, the streets are lined with grand Victorian manses, some bordering on the phantasmagorical.

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Drink me: Plumpjack 13-year bourbon


It’s easy to forget, when you’re firmly esconced in your own happy bubble of culinary joy, that mediocrity fills the world like so much styrofoam popcorn. The one surefire way to burst that bubble is air travel. For when you are on the plane, the universe of diverse and wonderful consumables is suddenly and horribly narrowed to a meager selection of subpar goods supply of which, in Soviet-era style, is prone to running out even before demand has been given the opportunity to arise.

Coming home from New York, wedged in a middle seat, I sought succor in the form of Jack Daniels to numb the psychic pain of the trip and help make the time pass faster. (This is another thing about air travel — the eerie extension of time, as if the fuselage of the plane is some kind of time machine with the preternatural power to turn hours into days. Small wonder I always feel years older when I deplane.)

Now, DPaul and I like us the bourbon. A lot. Having been to Kentucky something like 500 times, we have had the occasion to visit a few of the distilleries, like Maker’s Mark and Labrot & Graham (producer of Woodford Reserve). Many distilleries are in idyllic spots* full of natural beauty (fresh mountain stream water is, you see, a critical ingredient), peppered with quaint and country-fied cottages and cabins. Yes, it’s all very Disney, but they do cultivate a marvelous image of old-fashioned booze-making.

(Photo: DPaul Brown)

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Moonlite Bar-B-Q

Praise the lord and pass the biscuits! Yet another extended piece of DPaul's birthday arose (like the South, again) last night, as we thawed, heated and consumed one whole pound of Moonlite Bar-B-Q pulled pork from Owensboro, KY. Moonlite is…

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