Giving Thanks {Pear & Pistachio Cake}

Wishing everyone who’s celebrating today a peaceful and bountiful Thanksgiving.

In our house, we have a tradition of going around the table before the Thanksgiving meal and sharing something for which we are thankful.  So, in the spirit of tradition, I thought I’d give a little thanks here, as well.

I’m thankful for family, near and far; for friends old and new, for a roof over my head and more than enough food on the table; for a job that I enjoy and colleagues who I respect; for a husband who is kind and patient; for children who are growing and thriving; for a mother who taught me in word and in action how to be a good parent and person; for health; for freedom; for love.  I’m truly blessed.

Oh, and I’m thankful for this cake.  It appeared in a piece by Cathy Barrow in the October/November issue of Garden & Gun, and it was love at first sight.  I’m turning 38 on Sunday, so I decided to bake it in celebration of Thanksgiving/being two years shy of 40.

Let’s just say that this cake is monumental.   With 12 sticks of butter in a recipe that yields 12 servings, you’re only going to want to make this for very special occasions.  But make no mistake – you’re going to want to make it.  

Conceived by Stella Parks, pastry chef at Table 310 in Lexington, KY, and the author of BraveTart, this cake is a riff on a classic carrot cake.  Sort of.  In the headnotes for the recipe in the magazine, Parks is quoted: “My parents live in a home built before George Washington was president,” she says. “There are gnarled old pear trees out back—winter pears. Way too hard to eat, but they make a great cake.”  With three pounds of pears in the cake, and more for the pear chip garnish, the cake really highlights this seasonal ingredient.  Paired (peared?) with the pound of brown butter and an equal measure of pistachios, the flavors combine to create a warm harmony that sings of autumn.

It’s a little time consuming, but it’s well worth it in the end.  I promise – it’ll be one more thing to add to your list of things to be thankful for.

Get the recipe here:  Stella Parks’ Brown Sugar, Pear & Pistachio Cake

Of PBR, Moonshine and Cracker Queens

A couple of years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of working with and getting to know a local writer.  A colorful character with a storied past, Lauretta is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met.  We found kinship in our southern roots and in our love of Dolly.  Even after we’d both moved on to other places of employment, we kept in touch. Last year, I attended one of her Down Home Writing School sessions (and learned so much about the writing process) and have longed ever since to have the courage to share my heart the way she shares hers.

Vintage typewriter on display at The Hive – the setting for The Down Home Writing School last September

She’s fearless and full of kindness and happiness. She’s The Cracker Queen.

Her book, aptly titled The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life, tells a universal story of triumph over adversity – with a dash of moonshine and Munchkins from the land of Oz thrown in for good measure.  If you’re wondering what a Cracker Queen is, this is the definition in Lauretta’s own words:

The Cracker Queen is a strong, authentic Southern woman.  She is the anti-Southern belle.  She has a raucous sense of humor and can open up a can of whup-ass as needed.  She holds her head, and her cigarette, up high.  She curses, laughs inappropriately, and raises t-total hell when the line is crossed.  You might find her waiting tables or working the third shift at the factory.  The Cracker Queen knows loss and hurt; these things have made her beautiful, resourceful and, above all, real.

This is the kind of book you can get comfy with. It might make you laugh and cry at the same time – it’s cathartic like that.

A couple of months ago, Lauretta asked me to develop a recipe that she could include in her newsletter.  I was, admittedly, a little intimidated.  She has quite the following, and I wanted to make sure I did the Cracker Queen theme justice.  Her only stipulations were that it be easy to make and not include meat or seafood.  A bit later, she messaged me to say that maybe it could be a fun drink or cocktail (with or without alcohol).  Well, that sealed the deal right then and there.

My own early memories of summer in the South include pulling tabs off cans of cheap beer for Daddy (and sneaking sips on my way back from the cooler) and pouring Tennessee whiskey over ice for Grandaddy.  I loved the distinct sound as the pressure was released from the beer can and the way the foam bubbled up out of the key-hole shaped opening.  And there was something warm and comforting in the sweet scent of the amber liquid as it flowed down over the ice in the glass.

Times have changed for sure.  Back then, we’d take road trips and Daddy would stop off at the gas station and buy two or three tall-boys to drink in the car.  If my grandparents were going out for dinner (and taking me with them), Grandaddy would pour his whiskey-rocks into a Tervis tumbler (the old-school kind with the fishing lure sandwiched between the layers).  I’d sit between him and Grandma on the front seat of the Lincoln Town Car, and he’d hold that drink on his knee as he drove into town.  We’d listen to 8-track tapes of Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis and sing along at the top of our lungs.  Sometimes we’d stop off at the filling station at the end of the dirt road and he’d send me in to buy a pack of Camel filters for him.

Lordy, it’s a wonder I survived childhood.

The shot glass in this picture is from my grandparents’ collection. I’m not sure you can even find a 1 oz. jigger anymore.

I don’t recommend that you have your kids mix this drink for you, or that you take it in a go-cup as you mosey down the road.  Because, hello? Irresponsible.  Not to mention illegal and dangerous.  No.  What I do recommend, though,  is that you mix it up for your next get-together, or just to cool off with on a hot day. This is an ass-kickin’ cocktail masquerading as a pretty pink girly drink.  Like any self-respecting Cracker Queen, it’s a little sweet, a little sour, and it packs a punch when it needs to.

The Cracker Queen Cocktail
yields: 1 pint


  • 1 oz. of moonshine
  • 2 oz. of rhubarb simple syrup (recipe below; if rhubarb is out of season, you can use Grenadine in place of the rhubarb syrup)
  • juice of half of a lemon
  • dash of rhubarb bitters
  • ice for shaking
  • 1 12-oz. can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer
  • lemon slices for garnish
  1. Combine the moonshine, simple syrup, lemon juice, bitters and ice in a cocktail shaker (or pint-sized mason jar).
  2. Cover and shake to combine and chill.
  3. Strain into a clean glass (I like to use another pint jar, but that’s just me).
  4. Top with the PBR. It might foam quite a bit because of the sugar in the syrup, so I will sometimes pour the beer over the back of a spoon to direct it down the side of the glass – this helps to avoid a giant head on the beer.
  5. Stir to combine.
  6. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Rhubarb-ginger simple syrup

  • 2-3 stalks of rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces (you need enough for about a cup of rhubarb)
  • 1 thumb-sized finger of fresh ginger, sliced (you don’t have to peel it or anything)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  1. Combine everything in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid turns pink and the rhubarb softens/breaks down.
  3. Strain into a seal-able container and refrigerate.
  4. Should keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

On the Road: Carrot Cake Cookies

I’m getting ready to head down to St. Simons Island for three days of southern cuisine and hospitality.  I’ll be sharing my adventures here, on my facebook page and on twitter so stay tuned.  I’m looking forward to meeting some of Georgia’s best growers and producers and learning all about Georgia olives(who knew?!), honey, peaches, pecans, shrimp, spirits and more.

Before I get on the road, I wanted to share these cookies with you all.  I made them first for a bake sale fund raiser last weekend, and then again yesterday with the residual carrots I had left from making my youngest son’s 2nd birthday cake.  I’m planning to take some on the road today for sustenance (because who couldn’t use a little cream cheese frosting to keep them going?).

If you like carrot cake, then you’ll love these cookies – they’re kind of a cross between my favorite oatmeal cookie, carrot cake and a whoopie pie.  What’s not to love?  I was inspired by this recipe from Martha Stewart, but I adapted it to suit my taste, adding some baking soda and powder for leavening, and grating in some fresh ginger instead of dried (fresh is always better in my opinion, especially in recipes where the added moisture won’t affect the outcome).

Carrot Cake Cookies
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 12 minutes
yields: 20 sandwich cookies


  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. Whisk together your oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  3. Cream together the butter and sugars
  4. Add the egg and mix to incorporate
  5. Add the ginger and the carrots
  6. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients
  7. Fold in the raisins
  8. Drop teaspoon-full sized rounds onto prepared cookie sheets, 1 inch apart
  9. Flatten with your hand
  10. Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350F oven
  11. Allow to cool on a rack
  12. Spread 1/2 a teaspoon of cream cheese frosting on one cookie and place a second cookie on top to make a sandwich
  13. Enjoy!