“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.” Erma Bombeck (from Ohio)

Gravy has always been a staple at my Mommy’s house (don’t worry, Daddy would call it ‘Mommy’s house’ too).  Growing up I could count on gravy for breakfast at least once a weekend.  Fresh biscuits too, if you were lucky.  Although in a pinch Grands would suffice.  My Daddy would always (and still does if given the chance) enjoy a pickled beet or two with his gravy.  If you have never seen this (you probably have not – I did not realize it was not the norm until I was an adult) it turns the gravy a lovely shade of lavender.  It is pretty.  And unusual.

Before we go too far here, you must understand that there are rules about gravy at Mommy’s house.  One, white gravy only goes with breakfast.  Two, gravy should move.  Three, dinner gravy should not come from a jar or can.  Four, there is no recipe for gravy – you just know.

At home there are two places that I will eat gravy – my Mommy’s table and the Dairy Queen.  Seriously, the Dairy Queen at home makes amazing gravy.  I used to eat it everyday in elementary school but only a half order – a full order would require a nap.

So, why am I talking about gravy?  Well, I recently read an article in Garden and Gun magazine about Southern Food in Chicago, specifically fried chicken.  Inspiring, right? Yes, everyone around the world loves fried chicken and waffles (together or alone).  I can personally attest to this – two years ago I saw first hand that Kentucky Fried Chicken is a favorite fast food chain of the Chinese – KFC and Starbucks litter the China landscape.

This article, my love of Southern cuisine, and my need for a gravy fix prompted me to initiate a search for Southern food in FW.  We already know that the Amish folks cook like the South and there is a Cracker Barrel in town, but I needed to expand.  And, my friends, I found it.  I found it at Pickles Cafe in Dunfee, Indiana.

Pickles is most definitely off the beaten path.  Dunfee, Indiana is barely a wide spot in the road. It seems that the only people who know about it are those that regularly travel County Line Road between State Routes 30 and 14.  But very few of those folks have had the opportunity to experience Pickles.  Why?  Because it is only serves lunch Tuesday through Friday and only serves breakfast and lunch on Saturdays.

I was informed about Pickles by my dear FW friend Globetrotter.  And I am thankful. We went to Pickles on a Saturday morning for brunch and we found a down home, country cookin’ experience.  The building itself looks like it was once a country store.  It is now perfectly weathered and covered with farm implements, what-nots, and country-inspired goodies.  The inside is much the same, complete with store counter and old fashioned candy with a horse tack stop upstairs.  The dining room is tiny, no more than 10 tables, and is flanked by a narrow outdoor (fenced in) patio with six tables of varying sizes.  The day was perfect and the patio was comfortable and relaxing.  We had a view of a green field and a happy fern outside of our area of the patio.  If we did not know it you could not have convinced us that we were in the middle of miles and miles of cornfields.  It seemed like home.

The breakfast menu was tough.  We had choices that included omelets, blueberry french toast, something called Hot Mess Hash (which was enormous and looked tasty) and, yes, biscuits and gravy.  The lunch menu was also an option but we ignored it (although it looked great).  Also note that the desserts are freshly made daily and include amazing pie selections. I selected a Mexican omelets (complete with refried beans and jalapenos) and we decided that splitting a half order of biscuit and gravy was a must.

Now, I have to say that this gravy was not nearly as pour-able as my Mommy (or I) would have liked.  However, it was truly the most sausage-y gravy I have ever eaten.  When Pickles says sausage gravy, they mean it and they do not short you on sausage.  But it as good.  And their biscuits were not an after thought, they were flaky and good.  Somebody’s momma knows what they are doing in that kitchen.

As for the name, I do not know how it came about but they do serve a trio of sweet pickles with every dish.  Sadly, I do not like sweet pickles.

After brunch we took a spin around the property and found a shop out back.  Two sisters have put together a collection of treasures, flowers, and decor for the perusal of Pickles’ guests.  It is a creative little spot with some pretty little things.  We did not leave with anything but it was pretty (and tempting).

It is always nice to find a little piece of the South elsewhere.  While Ms. Bombeck enjoyed a lot of gravy in Ohio and Pickles in Indiana does a great job, I still think the best gravy you can get is at my Mommy’s table and at that little Dairy Queen in Southwest Virginia.  And, of course, as a general rule the best Southern cuisine is most certainly found in the South, but, as it is, I will happily accept these Midwestern representations.

Farm Fresh Pizza

Drive down any Indiana state route and you will see signs for farm fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, onions, eggs and the like.  There is a farmers’ markets open somewhere nearly every day of the week.  But I only know of one place where you can get pizza fresh from the farm.

The J. L. Hawkins Family Farm (“HFF”), located just outside of N. Manchester, Indiana (about 40 minutes from FW), is 90 acres of gorgeous farm land that is a third generation family run farm. The farm has a small store as well as a share-system allowing people to purchase a share of the farm so that they can collect from the farm’s bounty all year long, depending on what is being produced at the time.  The HFF is a farm that offers more than fresh vegetables, grass-fed hogs and beef, Thanksgiving turkeys, and chickens.  Every Friday night during the summer the HFF makes its own fresh wood-fired brick oven pizzas using fresh locally grown ingredients.

I was advised of this “long time N. Manchester tradition” by a colleague who is close friends with Jeff and Kathy Hawkins – the farmer and his wife at HFF.  Upon hearing of such an offering I promptly devised a plan to check it out.  I called up Globetrotter and she was nearly as excited as I was.  So, Globetrotter, The Queen and I set out for N. Manchester with high hopes, a cooler, a blanket, and empty stomachs.  We were not disappointed.

We arrived at HFF at 5:15.  Pizza hours are from 5:00 to 8:00 and I was warned that some times they run out by 6:00.  So, we were prompt.  The farm is very pretty –  an old brick farm house sits in the middle of the road frontage and it is surrounded by super green fields that are fragrant and lively with baby Thanksgiving turkeys escaping from their pin and neighbors from around town setting up their tables, chairs, and blankets.  Please keep in mind that the HFF does not offer drinks, silverware, seating, or trash collection.  So, come prepared.

Soon upon arrival we realized that dogs were not allowed.  But Mr. & Mrs. Hawkins are so nice that they permitted The Queen to stay as long as she was out of sight of their dogs (visual detection resulted in a barking frenzy) and away from their cats (The Queen is not so cat-friendly).  We ordered our pizza – one pepperoni and one margherita – cracked open some sparkling water and enjoyed the sunny afternoon.  The good Lord has blessed the Midwest with some relief from the extreme humidity and heat and lately it has been very pleasant. And on behalf of everyone in FW, at least, I say thank you.

The crowd grew as the evening wore on and it was eclectic.  There was a group of older folks with folding chair gathered in a circle chatting like family; a couple brought their own table with table linens and wine service and seem to be on a date; a group of hipsters with a blanket, some imported beer and Chuck Taylors enjoyed the lawn; and a couple who are friends of the owners drove down from Michigan for their anniversary sat by the hammock and chatted with the farmer’s wife.  It was a unique way to share a meal.  Also, it was a great snapshot of small town life in the Midwest – quiet, laid back, and friendly.  Oh, and don’t forget the good and very farm fresh food – even pizza.

All of the proceeds from the HFF Pizza Fridays and their annual Between Heaven and Earth dinners go to support Hope CSA, a pastoral education program.  A good cause, indeed.

Here are some snaps from the farm . . . enjoy!

Pretty, for sure.

 I am no golfer, but today I could not resist – the weather was begging for it.  The temperature was warm but not oppressive.  The humidity has disappeared, at least for now.  And for a day it feels like you would imagine a Midwestern summer day should feel – warm but not painful, a sky filled with cartoonishly fluffy clouds, and a light breeze.  Perfect.  So, I dragged my clubs out of my little garage to a lovely course in Allen County, Indiana and hit the range.  I don’t have the attention span to play a round alone, but I really enjoy the quiet of the range and the lack of pressure.  I also hear that it is a good place to meet nice young men, but I digress.

If you are in Northeast Indiana and are in search of a golf course, do not fear.  FW is rich in three things – churches, restaurants, and golf courses.  You shall have your pick.

The photo above was my view for an hour or so this afternoon.  It is pretty.  For sure.

Ann Arbor Art Fair in Review

As promised, I have a full report on the Ann Arbor Art Fair (“Art Fair”).  The Art Fair is the largest in the country – to illustrate – the vendors list comprised four pages of the program, single spaced and in two columns.  It is large.  And fun.  And pretty.

The Art Fair is so big that it is not something that you want to do alone.  You need a partner in crime.  I was able to recruit such a person from work.  This lovely lady, we shall call her The Runner, left her husband and three super cute children at the lake (on their vacation) to join me in Ann Arbor.  Oh, and when I say The Runner, I really meaning running, as in serious running – marathons and all (including Boston).  She gets up at 4:30 a.m. and runs 13 miles before work.  Her discipline and dedication is awe inspiring.  Truly.  Especially since, as you know, I do not run.

So, we met in Marshall, Michigan and made our way to Ann Arbor. We made the very wise decision to catch the shuttle from Briarwood Mall into downtown for the bargain price of three dollars.  As you can imagine, the crowd is large so parking in the downtown area of Ann Arbor is very tight.  I recommend this strategy.

I also recommend taking your map seriously.  We did.  Upon drop off on Main Street we agreed upon a strategy.  We started at The Guild Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair near Main Street, then we moved on to the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original, then we hit the State Street Area Art Fair and then we finished up at the Ann Arbor South University Art Fair, which was conveniently located near our bus stop!  This is what happens when you have a lawyer and a pharmacist planning – hello Type A organization bordering on OCD.

I have to say that our plan worked flawlessly.  The only problem with the plan was that when you find that one piece of art or jewelry that you love at the 3rd tent you see and you pass on it, because it is the 3rd tent, it is a long haul to get back to it.  Luckily, the awesome reversible silver and stone jewelry we found in tent 3 was great but not so great that we felt the need to hike back.  Whew.

What we did find, in addition to that lovely jewelry, was an extremely diverse collection of art.  There was photography, pottery, paintings, mixed media art, polymer clay jewelry, glass work, giant outdoor sculpture (bunnies, sheep dogs, kids dancing and such), weird looking dolls that looked like I made them, lots of metal work, glass jewelry, woodwork, and tons more.

These lovely putters are gripped and ready for use. The perfect for the fancy lady golfer!

This jewelry is made entirely of polymer clay. It is uber lightweight and interesting.

Needless to say, it did not take long for us to make our first purchases.  The Runner and I stumbled off the main drag of Main Street, where you are sandwiched between white tents, to the sidewalk to look at some flowers crafted out of jello molds when we found Mr. Stephen Kinnard and his lovely framed photography.  Mr. Kinnard is based in Ann Arbor and does great work of the Great Lakes area and beyond. Both The Runner and I scored a framed picture.  The Runner bought a beautiful shot of three brightly colored adirondack chairs sitting in the dunes of Lake Michigan gazing toward the water.  I also got a lovely picture but I cannot describe it because it is a Christmas gift for a family member and my family actually reads my blog so I do not want to ruin the surprise.

We both went on to purchase more framed art and jewelry.  I made a personal purchase and some more Christmas gift selections with Ms. Kristin Perkins – she makes beautiful glass jewelry.  It is super bright and colorful and each piece is one of a kind.  The Runner found a stunning necklace at Hilary Hachey’s tent.  Ms. Hachey is a metal smith and her work is unique and pretty, it was hard to resist.

It was a win all around on purchases.  Below is a list of our finds – some we bought and others we just admired.  Please support these artists.  This is there way of life and what they do is pretty. And don’t you need a little pretty in your life?

Now, this would not be a proper Midwestern festival without the required food tents – and they were there like a great beacon for those of us who enjoy the fried, greasy, and cheesy treats that can only be found on the street.  I had a Wisconsin Dog – an all beef wiener with cheese, mustard, and jalepenos at 11:00 a.m.  I am ridiculous.  The Runner on the other hand eats like a normal healthy human and had a nice sandwich at Panera.  Of course, at Panera I had a frozen strawberry lemonade – that is healthy, right?  So I eat like a 12 year old, what of it.

This was the first time in Ann Arbor for both of us.  So, we were both interested in checking out downtown and the University of Michigan campus.   Luckily, the fair snaked through the Michigan campus and downtown Ann Arbor.  It was a great way to get the tour of town.  As the shuttle drove by the U of M football stadium both of us were giddy with excitement – seriously, we were like two little kids.  I can’t wait for college football to start!  But I digress.  The campus from what we were able to see is nice and has some beautiful buildings.  The Michigan Theater is also a great photo opportunity.  I like Ann Arbor and will visit again.

We completed our planned route by 3:00 p.m.  We had walked past every tent, we were sweaty, slightly dehydrated, and tired of lugging our loot.  So we decided that we had seen it and done it and promptly put ourselves in the long line for the shuttle.  It was a good thing, too, since that was when the good Lord decided to make it rain.  And rain it did, thunder and all.  But we had timed it perfectly and made it back to the car only slightly wet.

It was a great trip and a festival that I highly recommend for those who enjoy art of all shapes and sizes.  Both of us repeatedly remarked of the amazing selection of diverse art.  Art means so many different things to different people.  It is fun.  Speaking of . . . below is the short list as promised above.  Beware – the list is heavy on jewelry.  Enjoy!

Aaron Foster – he makes giant art out license plates.  It is super cool and I really wanted to buy one to go on the huge wall inside my doorway.  Unfortunately, my art budget was a little slim but I am keeping his information handy for future reference.

Jill Sharp –  She is from Roswell, Georgia and she makes some lovely jewelry.  As you would expect from a Southern lady – it is pretty.

Mary Filapek and Lou Anne Townsend – These ladies make beautiful metal jewelry that includes polymer clay inserts.  They can do custom pieces and each piece is one of a kind.  I purchased a pair of round silver earrings with a strip of black polymer clay in the center of the circle. They are very striking and pretty.  My Sister thinks they look like ear plugs, which I think makes them even more cool.  Go ladies go!

Pedra Chaffers – She has stores in Ann Arbor, Michigan and St. Croix and she makes beautiful beaded art that is framed.  Very unique.

Christy Klug – She is a jewelry designer from Austin, Texas (a super fabulous town and state).  Beautiful and unique jewelry.

It is always better to be sweet.

One of my favorite publications is Garden & Gun magazine.  It is not about guns or gardens.  What it is about is living and enjoying the “Southern way of life”.  Of course this Southern Girl appreciates that in a big and serious way.

The latest edition has a fantastic article entitled “Southern Women – A New Generation of Women Who are Redefining the Southern Belle“.  Two of my favorite passages are as follows . . .

“When you are born into a history as loaded as the South’s, when you carry in your bones the incontrovertible knowledge of man’s violence and limitations, daring to stay sweet is about the most radical thing you can do.”

So, yes, the Southern ladies can be sugary – why do you think we call each other “honey”? And we are regularly accused of being insincerely sweet.  Maybe we are sometimes, but is it really necessary to be nasty to no avail or when it is not necessary?  Isn’t it better to just be sweet?  Also, we are sweet because we were raised to be sweet.  Southern ladies take a great sense of pride in their personal communications, appearance, and family and community traditions because those things are important to us (and our mothers) even when times are bad.  We were almost all taught the you-catch-more-flies-with-sugar-than-with-vinegar rule (I always wondered why in the world we would want to catch flies?) because you are more likely to get your way, it is the kind thing to do, and it is what the Bible says.  Who needs more reasons to be sweet?

“There are other defining attributes, some more quantifiable than others. Southern women know how to bake a funeral casserole and why you should. Southern women know how to make other women feel pretty. Southern women like men and allow them to stay men. Southern women are not afraid to dance. Southern women know you can’t outrun your past, that manners count, and that your mother deserves a phone call every Sunday. Southern women can say more with a cut of their eyes than a whole debate club’s worth of speeches. Southern women know the value of a stiff drink, among other things.”