Monday, April 13, 2009

Food, Fun and Friends-West Virginia Style

If a tree falls down in the woods and no one is around to hear it- does it make a sound? If you have the most breathtaking scenery and mouthwatering food but not your best friends to share it with, is there any joy in having it?

My childhood girlfriends came from New York to visit me in West Virginia this weekend. After spending a few days in our wonderful state, wild and wonderful became so much more to them than adjectives painted on a welcome sign.  

Fortunately, when they arrived on Friday, I had just received my CSA from Fish Hawk Acres and was able to incorporate some of Chef Hawkins dishes into my welcome dinner. His Bean Soup with Spinach and Ramps was a hit. The recipe was really simple to prepare and allowed all the ingredients to compliment one another while maintaining their distinct flavors. It was also a nice way to introduce my friends to the famous West Virginia ramp.

The second item I prepared from my CSA was a gorgeous Simple Spring Salad suggested by Chef Hawkins. The flavor of the freshly harvested lettuces was the perfect precursor to my main course, “slow and steady” barbequed chicken.
A good meal was what we needed to gain sustenance and courage for our Saturday morning adventure, a rafting trip down the spectacular Cheat Canyon. Our trip began at Cheat River Outfitters in Albright, WV and ended thirteen miles (and several class 5 rapids) later at the Jenkinsburg Bridge. It was one of the most exhilarating adventures I have ever experienced in my life. Besides being an absolute blast, the beauty throughout the canyon was breathtaking, truly a majesty that could never be experienced from a car window. Our guides, Mike and Travis, were wonderful! They were superior rafters with a keen sense of the river, not to mention a whole lot of fun to spend the day with. Our entire group concurred that even though the river was a wild ride, we felt safe under the direction and guidance of the folks at Cheat River Outfitters.

The weather for our rafting trip was cold and rainy, and staying warm was a bit of a challenge.  (Don't let this deter you, this is when the rapids are at their best and from my perspective, as long as you dress properly, it is manageable.) I did learn a food related tip from our raft boat guide, Travis Cobb, that I thought was a great tip to share with readers. In the cold, your body burns up more food in order to keep warm. When we stopped for lunch, he suggested that we eat some of the peanut butter that was provided, since it’s high in fat it would help keep us warm. I looked it up after our trip to confirm that it was in fact true and found several articles confirming his advice. So the next time you’re preparing to go out in the cold, eat peanut butter (as long as you aren't allergic)!

It brought me much joy to share West Virginia with friends that I love this weekend. Our trip down the Cheat River was such a memorable day; we’re considering a trip to Fayetteville in September to experience another of West Virginia’s rafting rivers, the Gauley. Look for Jessica Schueler's upcoming article on white water rafting and the town of Fayetteville in WV Living’s Summer 2009 issue.  

Chef Hawkins Recipes:

Bean Soup with Spinach and Ramps


1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup ramps, chopped
2 cups chopped raw spinach
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup cooked cranberry beans
1 can (14 ounce) diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste


In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add garlic and ramps; sauté until soft. Add spinach and sauté, stirring, until wilted. Add broth, cooked beans, the tomato, herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes. Ladle into bowls; sprinkle with freshly grated Romano Cheese if desired.

Simple Spring Salad

Salad greens, washed and spun (or dried)
1 ½ oranges, (1/2 juiced, 1 segmented)
½ lemon, juice only
½ small red onion, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt and fresh ground pepper
½ cup walnut halves, toasted
1/3 cup black olives (the wrinkly, oily ones), pitted

In a medium bowl whisk together the juice of 1/2 orange, lemon juice, most of the red onion, olive oil, and salt. Whisk together until emulsified, taste and adjust with more salt or lemon juice if needed. Peel the remaining orange and cut into segments, removing any seeds you might encounter. Set aside.

When you're ready to serve, place the salad greens in a large bowl. Toss very gently with a generous splash of the dressing. Add the orange segments and walnuts. Give another toss. Taste and decide if you need to add more dressing, if needed, add a bit more at a time, giving a good toss between additions. Make sure the nuts and citrus haven't all gone to the bottom; help them back up to the top if needed. Serve salad topped with the remaining red onion and olives.

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