My Prize-Winning Cornbread

That’s right. When I was just nine years old, I was the winner of the Florence (SC) County 4-H corn muffin contest. It was my first competition of any sort and at age nine, a great beginning to my 4-H career.

I no longer make muffins, just good old-fashioned cornbread. The kind you bake in a cast iron skillet, though you could use a glass casserole dish or a metal cake pan–I’ve done both with success. But nothing quite compares to cast iron for cornbread.

These days, we make our cornbread with home ground meal from our homegrown Painted Mountain*corn. This corn is so pretty you can just use it for decoration. But it sure would be a shame to miss out on its delightful taste (though when we hang the ears up to dry in our bedroom, we keep them there for months for the sheer joy of admiring them).

Our grinder is pretty basic so our meal has a coarse texture that adds a delightful chewiness. If you have the chance to try this recipe with a coarsely ground meal, do! Otherwise, use what you can buy at your favorite grocer’s. I won’t judge. It’s a great complement to soup.

Carole’s Prize-Winning Cornbread

Preheat oven to 400.

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-4 Tablespoons sugar (optional, but …)
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Melt butter in your skillet or other pan while oven is preheating.

Meanwhile, sift and mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. (Note: we never sift. It works out fine.)

In smaller bowl, combine all liquid ingredients except butter.

Swirl melted butter to cover bottom and sides of your baking dish, then pour remainder into other liquid ingredients.

Stir liquid ingredients into dry ones.

Bake about 25 minutes or until toothpick or sharp knife comes out clean.

* Painted Mountain corn is an open-pollinated corn and can be purchased from Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s Seeds, Baker’s Heirloom Seeds and other seed companies.

Our Favorite Lentil Soup Recipe

Sorry, but I don’t recall where we found the original of this great recipe. Something makes me think it may have come from one of Frances Moore Lappe’s books. It’s ridiculously easy and oh, so tasty.

As usual, over the years, we’ve tweaked according to our own tastes. That’s what you’ll see here. This recipe is easy to modify according to your own preferences.

Saute in large pot for three to five minutes:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup onion (you could easily double this if you’d like more onion)
  • 3-4 sliced carrots (cut larger slices into smaller pieces)

Add 1 teaspoon thyme for last minute


  • 3 cups of your favorite stock (or water mixed with bouillon cube or powder)
  • 1 cup rinsed, dry lentils
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley (if we don’t have fresh parsley, we just omit this step. Still great.)
  • 1 quart home-canned tomatoes (or you can use a 28-oz store bought can)

Bring to boil, then simmer in covered pot 45 minutes.

Now comes the part that makes this soup truly special:

Fill the bottom of each bowl with 1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese; ladle steaming hot soup into bowls; to each bowl add about 2 tablespoons dry, white wine of your choice. (The chef gets an extra swig or two! ) You could omit either of these two ingredients, but IMO they’re what takes this soup from good to terrific.

Want a really great complement for this dish? Pair with my prize-winning cornbread recipe.

The Return of the Prodigal Potato Soup Recipe

Way back in the last century–the mid-’70s to be exact–when the Gnome and I thought we were hippies (we were so not), my brother and his wife gave us a treasured gift: The Mother Earth News Almanac.

We devoured it. In particular, we devoured this soup whose recipe was on the pages of the almanac. We fell in love all over again. In the course of a couple of moves and boxes long left unpacked, we lost track of the book–and the recipe. Ultimately, we forgot the source of this recipe. But on many a cold winter night we just recalled it, reminisced about it, and mourned its loss forever.

Or so we thought. A couple of years ago when we were sorting through our small library, we came across our beloved, well-worn Mother Earth News Almanac.


You know how it is when a reader comes across an old book (any book, really). To heck with the job at hand; I had to at least scan its pages. I noticed one that was bookmarked. Guess what it was. You got it–our favorite cheesy potato soup!

This recipe is for two hungry people, but can be doubled or tripled easily enough.


  • Boil 2 potatoes (a little larger than medium-size, whatever that is)
  • Drain, but save the liquid
  • Mash the potatoes
  • Add drained liquid back into the pot to obtain desired thickness. If you’ve added all the water and the mixture is still too thick, add more water.
  • In a small skillet, brown 2 ½ Tbsp flour in 2 ½ Tbsp melted butter, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
  • Add browned mixture to potato-water mixture; bring to a boil and cook while stirring for 2-3 minutes to thicken.
  • Fill each soup bowl 1/3 full with small chunks of cheddar cheese (the sharper the better, we think).
  • Cover cheese with soup. You want the soup hot enough to soften, but not necessarily to melt the cheese.
  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of diced onion and a few sprinkles of apple cider vinegar to taste. (We like the extra zing of the vinegar, so we add anything from 2 Tbsp-1/4 cup–you might want to start lighter and go from there.)
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.

As good as the cheese-potato mixture is, the addition of the onion and vinegar is essential to make this recipe extraordinary (not to mention that they are the healthiest ingredients).

Rib-sticking thick, this soup is a great comfort food for a chilly wintry day. Add my prize-winning corn bread recipe for a tasty, filling combo.


Just a Few Reasons I Love Life on the Diagonal


Bright meteor showers

Brilliant fall colors

Seas of valley fog with mountain tops peeking out like islands

Water tumbling over rocks in roadside creeks

Being able to live without curtains or blinds, waking up to the natural rhythms of light



Cloud shadows drifting across the mountainsides, creating an ever-changing kaleidoscope of light and shadow

Magnificent displays of lightning with surround sound

Fog drifting in the house through open windows and doors

Wild blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, and strawberries

Raccoons, groundhogs, possums, skunks, chipmunks, bears, and bobcats


Toads with golden eyes

Making echoes

Quiet walks with time and room to think

Neighbors willing to help and willing to leave you alone

Ginseng, wild ginger, trillium, mayapples, jack-in-the-pulpits, ladyslippers, evening primrose

Slipping outside in the early morning to see dew-covered spiderwebs on fences, trees, and grass