Country roads lead to glory and good food

Published 8:12 am Thursday, October 6, 2022

The drive to West Virginia was like a tantalizing snack before carving into the main course – I couldn’t wait to dive in.

A blast is the one word that sums up last week’s writing retreat to the newly designated New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The writers picked out beautiful sites, drilled out relevant history, and dipped in regional foods – inspiring all senses. Over three days, we augered down, mined for words – and extracted a few core samples of fine writing.

Our destination was selected from travel writer Frommer’s recommendations for the top 10 places to travel in 2022. Having never traveled to West Virginia, I was anxious to discover what all the dust and drift were about. We stopped in Beckley, where our train car rumbled on metal rails, descending into black bottom deposits of a deep, barren coal mine – grounding us in coal mining relevance.  A veteran, an old-timer miner, backfilled our heads with stories of close brushings with death from his days working in shafts.

Sometimes used as stools, an exhibit of metal meal buckets caught my attention – like banded deposits of coal, the pails were  3-tiered. Hot water filled the bottom band to drink and keep food warm, and the middle was for the meal. The top, called the pie pan, usually held a scoop of dessert. Mealtime was like light from a safety lamp – a bright spot on an otherwise dark and dreary day of work.

The writers toured a reconstructed coal mining community– a simple miner’s home, a well-appointed superintendent’s home, and a two-room schoolhouse. In the chapel, resting upright against the piano’s music desk, was an old Cokesbury worship hymnal opened to closing hymn 203, “Lead, Kindly Light.”

“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom,

Lead thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

Lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet;

I do not ask to see…

The distant scene;

one step e-nough for me.

The following day was sun filled – with light and beauty. We rented a townhouse in Fayetteville – our crib for the next couple of days. After arriving at Hawks Nest State Park – our views were nothing less than staggering.

I was reminded of lyrics from Christian singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson’s song “Nothing More to Say.”

“I’m broken by this majesty,

so much glory in so little time,

all praise to Him who reigns on high.”

At the park, we got up close and personal with the New River and bridge. An old crusty riverboat “captain’ with a gray, scraggly beard, donning rainbow striped clip suspenders, greeted us as we embarked on a covered, open-air jet boat. In contrast to a ruddy complexion, his sparkling blue eyes suggested he knew deep secrets about this river. He jetted us out 3 miles to the foot of the world’s longest single-span bridge. With squeals of steel on steel, a locomotive pulling more than 250 cars – many open coal cars – ran alongside us. We had arrived – we were definitely in deep, coal mine territory.

As we disembarked,  the captain bid us farewell with an old proverb,

“And always remember…that wherever you go…there you are.”

He’d spit out a bucketful. We’d gone from the coal mine – pitch black darkness – to an indescribable light and beauty of a river gorge – similar to our day-to-day lives.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that we’ll have moments of both in life. But we can’t run from ourselves or our problems. Despite difficulties – don’t fret. Learn to appreciate this moment as all there is – not the past or future. Happiness is found where you are today. Stay mindful – be present.

You never know what’s coming next – maybe a little Appalachian folk-flavored, progressive “new grass” music with Celtic forays … yep.

Imagine driving down a one-lane road for miles to a deserted, historic, abandoned mining community. When you get there – you run into world-renowned cellist – Yo-Yo Ma, West Virginia native and country music singer Kathy Mattea, and former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops – Hubby Jenkins.

It happened. Life happens.

Down a simple backroad in West Virginia.


6 shoulder pork roast

1 chopped onion

2 Tbsp. vinegar

4 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 cup spicy catsup

Brown sugar (optional)

Red pepper (optional)

Prepare roast by trimming off any fat. Salt and pepper meat. Cook roast in a 325-degree oven for 15 minutes per pound or until tender and meat falls off the bone. When tender, remove and discard all fat. Tear off meat and place in bottom of a crock pot. Add chopped onion to top of meat. Cook 2 hrs. on high. While cooking, prepare the sauce. For sauce, in a bowl, combine spicy vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and catsup. For sweet sauce, add brown sugar to taste. For spicy sauce, add red pepper to taste. Shred the pork, and then add as much sauce as desired to meat. Reduce crock pot to low heat, and heat 2 hours or longer.


3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

¾ lb. diced zucchini

3 sliced scallions

2 tsp. chili powder

¼ tsp. dried oregano

¼ tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper

15 oz. drained, rinsed pinto beans

1 cup cooked corn

2 cups chopped baby spinach

¾ cup tomatillo salsa

Pulled pork

1 pkg. hard taco shells

1 cup crumbled farmer cheese

Fresh lime juice

Grilled sliced pineapple (optional)

In a skillet, heat oil. Add zucchini and scallions and cook 5 minutes. Add chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook 2 minutes. Stir in drained beans, cooked corn, chopped spinach, and salsa of your choice. Cook 4 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Heat taco shells in microwave for 45 sec. Spoon ¼ cup veggie mixture and ¼ cup pulled pork into taco. Sprinkle top with cheese. Drizzle with freshly squeezed lime juice. Top with grilled sliced pineapple.


2 lbs. trimmed, halved Brussel sprouts

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pinch salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

White wine vinegar


Trim base and slice in half if they’re large. Otherwise, keep whole. In a baking pan, add Brussel sprouts. Drizzle olive oil over vegetables and toss. Salt and pepper, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes, if desired. Roast in a 450-degree oven for 25 minutes while occasionally tossing. Test for doneness. When crisp-tender, remove from oven. Drizzle with white wine vinegar and honey. Toss again until evenly coated.


2 beaten eggs

¾ cup light brown sugar

½ cup softened, salted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

2 ½ cups shredded cooking apples

½ cup chopped walnuts

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. In a bowl, cream sugar, and butter. Add butter mixture to eggs and mix well. Beat in flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix well. Fold in nuts until thoroughly incorporated. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 60 minutes or until tests done. Allow to cool 5 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack for cooling.


1 cup soft bread crumbs

3 Tbsp. parmesan cheese

2 cloves minced garlic

2 tsp. grated lemon rind

1 tsp. each chopped basil/thyme

¼ tsp. pepper

3 Tbsp. chopped parsley

6 4-oz. trout fillets

2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

In a processor, combine bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, lemon rind, basil, and pepper. Process until fine. Stir in chopped parsley. Dredge trout fillets in bread mixture. Arrange in single layer on a butter-greased 13 x 9 baking dish. In a bowl, combine melted butter and lemon juice. Drizzle over coated fillets. Cover and bake in a 500-degree oven for 10 minutes. Uncover and bake 5 minutes or more until fish flakes easily. Garnish with lemon.


1 pkg. (2) refrigerated pie crusts

1 cup caramel spread

4 ¼-inch sliced Granny Smith apples

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. apple pie spice

¼ tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. sliced almonds

1 beaten egg

2 Tbsp. water

Coarse sugar

Caramel sauce

Unroll 2 piecrusts. Place one pie crust directly on top of another. Roll dough into a 14 x 10 rectangle. Leaving a 2-inch border around crust, spread with caramel, Nutella, apple butter, or other favorite sauce. Refrigerate 15 minutes. For the filling, in a bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, and vanilla. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, cornstarch, spice, and salt. Add flour mixture to apple mixture and gently toss to coat thoroughly. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Then strain apples. Leaving a 2-inch border, arrange single-file rows of apples. Sprinkle with almonds. Fold the 2-inch border over apples. In a bowl, beat egg with water. Brush egg wash to coat dough. Sprinkle with coarse decorator sugar. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes until golden. Use foil to prevent crust from over-browning. Drizzle with warmed caramel sauce, and serve with scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can make these in small, square individual servings as well. Store-bought caramel or other sauce works fine.


½ cup salted butter

1 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add brown sugar and whisk until combined. Cook while whisking for 3 minutes or until thickened. Whisk in whipped cream until thoroughly blended. Continue to whisk for 2 minutes. Serve warm. Drizzle over baked goods, confections, or ice cream.


20 crushed chocolate/Oreo wafers

¼ cup melted salted butter

4 beaten egg yolks

1 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch

2 Tbsp. water

½ cup sugar

2 cups scalded whole milk

2 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. gelatin

2 Tbsp. cold water

2 Tbsp. light rum

4 beaten egg whites

½ cup sugar

3 Tbsp. shaved chocolate

In a food processor, crush chocolate cookies or Oreos (wafer only). In a bowl, combine crushed cookies with melted butter. Press mixture in bottom and up sides of a butter-greased 10-inch pie pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. For first layer, in a mixer bowl, beat eggs with cornstarch that’s been dissolved in a little water. Gradually add sugar and scalded milk. Slowly cook while continuously stirring on stove or in double boiler over hot water until slightly thickened and coats a spoon. Measure out 1 ½ cups of this mixture into another bowl. To this bowl, blend in 2 oz. melted chocolate and vanilla. Blend well. Cool and pour into bottom of cooled pie crust for chocolate layer. To remaining custard on stove, add gelatin that’s been dissolved in water and stir until dissolved. Stir in rum. In a mixer bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently beat in sugar until stiff. Fold egg white mixture into remaining custard. Cool and pour over chocolate custard layer. Completely chill. Cover with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.


1 lb. dry, soaked, cooked black beans

1 ½ cup cooked fresh corn

3 diced tomatoes

1 diced hot pepper

1 bunch chopped cilantro

3 crushed cloves garlic

1 juiced lime

Salt, to taste

As alternative, you can use 45 oz. canned rinsed/drained black beans and 10 oz. can of drained corn. In a bowl, combine cooked beans and corn, tomatoes, hot pepper, cilantro, garlic, and juice from lime. Salt, to taste. Chill overnight. Serve with chips. You can also use as a filling in burritos.