Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dismal Creek Flowers

Dismal is one of those words that really does not come to mind around Evins Mill. If someone asks me to describe my cooking or the ambiance at the waterfall or even my relationship with the owner, dismal would be a stretch to use. Although not too far away, there is a quiet, tranquil place by the name Dismal Creek. I am not sure how its name came to be, but it is the home of one of our long time staff and her business, Dismal Creek Flowers.

If you are a regular to Evins Mill, there is a good chance you crossed paths with Diane's drinks at the bar or her graceful, professional service at your dinner table. Maybe not as well known as the other feathers in her hat, Diane has an eye for natural beauty in flowers and the gift of arranging them in a way that makes you feel as though they were never touched by human hands.  

Diane's Dismal Creek Flowers produces wonderful arrangements for our guests to place in their overnight accommodations, on their dinner table or even as extensive as weddings.  They are available in all sorts of sizes and are always in an interesting, creative vessel that makes the entire arrangement feel well thought out from beginning to end. It is obvious that Diane's flowers are full of love and gathered with care.  She uses only flora that are in season and are locally grown and cultivated - most right on her organic farm. This makes everything Diane does unique and very personal.

Dismal Creek Flowers are a natural choice when you need to add that extra special touch to your next stay at the Inn. Just mention "dismal" to our reservation office and they will know what you are talking about. We will see you then!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wedge Oak Farm

What is your favorite thing to cook? Where did you go to school? Can I get the recipe? How long have you been cooking? How long have you been at Evins Mill? 

These are some of the many questions I am asked on almost a daily basis. Chef small talk is fun, and I love meeting guests and finding that common ground that binds us all together - FOOD. Well, after cooking for a number of years - 20 as of this summer - I have come up with a question of my own that I do not believe I've been asked by a guest. I am not sure that I have asked it myself until recently - Where do I find my inspiration to create and keep cooking?

Creating new or recreating old dishes has always just kind of happened for me, but maybe the natural aging process has caused me to ponder an answer deeper than the surface. I think it has been an evolving answer over the course of my career, but I have certainly found the muse these days in a love for the food itself. Not the finished dishes - I am talking of food in the purest form. 

Knowing the food personally from as early in its life as possible. Like noticing the tiniest green tomato after the bloom has fallen and watching it grow and then using it on a salad. Or the breed of chicken that laid the green egg that made such a brilliant yellow creme brulee. Or that the pork chop I just grilled was taken from a pig down the road that was selected just for me. That personal relationship with the food holds me to a higher standard. I want to prepare that food the way it would have prepared itself if it could. 

I have always joked with the staff when a guest wants to know the secret ingredient I used in a certain dish - tell them it's love I say. Well, maybe there is more truth in that than I realized. 

The inspiration for writing this blog was not so that I could answer my own questions but to show some love for our newest partner in our Farm to Table adventure. Wedge Oak Farm is located in Lebanon, Tennessee and has provided us with the best pork loin money can buy, as well as Poussin, spring chickens that are as perfect in size as they are in flavor. I knew we were in for a treat when I met with Karen a couple of months ago to discuss logistics. 

I love her approach to not having loads of items in the freezer waiting for us to order. We send an email to let her know what we want and she looks out at the farm and decides which animals are ready to go. Next thing you know we are serving farm fresh meat for dinner. That is all the inspiration I need to get the creative juices flowing. We featured these two items along with French wines recently at one of our wine tasting events. I must say that the Tennessee meats paired well and might have even stole the show. 

Anyone familiar with Allen Benton of Benton's Bacon will also be interested to hear that he has dubbed Karen's pork chop as the best. If any one opinion of pork should be respected, it is Allen's. I was also interested to learn that Wedge Oak is one of the suppliers of pork to Benton's. So nice to be part of a smaller food chain! 

If you would like to learn more about Wedge Oak Farm and their line of products, just check out their blog.  My hat is off to Karen and Wedge Oak Farm. Thank you for inspiring me, and here's to many delicious, creative dinners ahead at Evins Mill.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Art Revolution

Winter around Evins Mill is traditionally a quieter season with the crackling of the fire places drowning out or at least competing with even the liveliest of conversations. It is a time when the staff, including myself, can get a few things done that might have been paused during the boisterous celebrations of marriage and the changing fall foliage. I am usually keeping myself busy working with the menu, writing a few recipes, cleaning, planning the coming year, and counting wares that did not get broken. This winter has progressed much as I expected it too, but with a new twist.
Evins Mill is part of a, we are not bootlegging or storing up small arms; we are supporting "Art Revolution". Dekalb County and Smithville are fortunate to have a passionate group of citizens that have started and are operating a non-profit art program for teenagers. Many local artists are teaming up with this organization to teach skills like clay, drawing, guitar, drama, writing, photography, graphic design, painting and even culinary. This is where Evins Mill comes in.
I was asked to teach a Culinary class to students ranging in age from 13 to 18. The class would run for nine weeks, meeting once per week for two hours. I had never taught in a classroom setting before so I was not sure what to expect. I laid out a plan for the nine weeks and set off for my first class. I have not been that nervous professionally since I began my training at Culinary school. It certainly gave me a new respect for all who are teachers of our youth. Trying to hide my fear, I somehow managed to make it through those first two hours of lecture, getting to know the students, tastings and goal setting.
It did get easier. I learned quickly, lucky for me, that the way to a teenagers heart and mind is food; they are always hungry! I think once they realized I was going to feed them, and ultimately teach them to feed themselves, they were ready to listen and learn. I am very impressed with how much they could accomplish over the course of only two hours. I came to class with what I thought was a possible, yet challenging list of dishes to make. Every week we were finishing lists and completing menus with plenty of time to sit as a family to eat, taste and talk about our culinary creations.
It always warms me to see guests enjoying their food but to watch these kids create something with their own hands that they have never tried before and to taste and enjoy is life changing, for them and me. In our "drive- thru" dining world, I watched six students prepare and taste 40-50 dishes they had never tried before and clean their plate every time. That makes me want to do the Snoopy dance!
Needless to say, it was a great experience and I certainly plan to teach again next winter. Evins Mill played a huge roll in allowing us to borrow small equipment as well as donating certain ingredients that are not as easy to come by. We also procured food donations from some of our local vendors that supply Evins Mill. Gourmet Pasture Beef, Mother Earth Meats, and Folsom Farms were all quick to answer when told about the class and were asked to help.
Art Revolution is available to all youth in Dekalb County ages 13-18, and tuition assistance is available making it truly possible for any child with a passion, desire, or even just curiosity to take a class. Having grown up in Smithville, I am very proud to be a part of an organization that has worked so hard to provide something that was lacking in our community and finally see it come to fruition. If you would like more information on
Art Revolution or to see a few great photos of the Culinary class and more, visit their website or Facebook. We look forward to seeing you back at the Mill soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mother Earth Meats

Reconnecting the consumers, farmers, and the land is the mission set forth at Mother Earth Meats. I am both proud and excited that I get to help with that reconnecting process. These fine folks are committed to raising and supplying food that has been treated with respect throughout the entire process. From the pasture the Bison is grazing on, to the amount of fuel it takes to deliver the steak, no detail is too small when providing the tastiest, most nutritious, cleanest food possible.
We have been using Mother Earth Meats here at Evins Mill for the past year. I have fallen in love with their variety of handmade sausages from chorizo to andouille; twelve in all I believe. We have experimented with some of their less common items as well, like the bison rib loin and rabbit saddle which is now a staff favorite if nothing else. They have also been supplying our whole chickens, chicken breast, pork loin, pork tenderloin, and even our free range turkeys we served for Thanksgiving. The variety and consistency is what really sets them apart from other farms. I have been nothing short of impressed with every delivery.
Mother Earth Meats is located in Maryville, Tennessee and makes a tour across the state about every month or so with deliveries. This requires us to be a little more organized and order in bulk, but is well worth the effort. Their website is full of information on how you might be able to enjoy some of their offerings at home, but you can count on having something from their farm on our table at the Mill every weekend. Hope to see you soon.