Kentucky, 1996

I grew up eating generic cereal and milk past the expiration date.  I grew up with toys from the same dollar store we hid in during a tornado warning.  We had a Jeep that blew fumes into the ozone that ran down the line--it was my mom's car, then my brother's, my sister's.  It stopped running the month I got my license.  I took my sister's old Pontiac she bought for $500 from a Mennonite family down the road.

I swam in old flannel shirts and used to wear a belt with my sweatpants in kindergarten.  One birthday I got a compass, another a letter from my mother telling me how much she loved me. She decorated the margins with small daisies she used to doodle for me.  I wore glasses from Wal-Mart, thirteen dollars a pair, when I couldn't make out the words on the chalkboard.  It stressed me out so much I developed an ulcer.

We lived economically when I was younger, my dad worked the night shift most years.  He'd sleep during the day and we would play by ourselves in the summer.  There were piles of bricks in our backyard in Kentucky.  Nails, too.  My brother stepped on one when he was thirteen and it bled through his sock.  He never told my dad at the time, he didn't want to wake him up.  My brother still has the scar and I think of his eldest-son stoicism as he wiped the blood off the linoleum kitchen floor and held the heel until the bleeding stopped.  

My dad only woke up for water in the summer.  He had to be back to work by eight, right after dinner.  When my mother watched us on the weekends, we'd sit in our pajamas and she'd tell us about her day.  Emotional, lovable, and laughing, that's how my mom would tell stories.  She never made us feel poor, she would only ever make us feel important, engaged, part of her small world of three children and a nine to five at a grocery warehouse outside of Lexington, Kentucky.  

And in those days when things were tight, just like all the Midwestern women before her, she'd get creative with food.  Nothing could go to waste, we couldn't afford that luxury of a full trash can and an empty fridge.  Leftover chicken was soup the next day, same with the pot roast from last week.  We'd have breakfast for dinner when the eggs were going bad and I remember once eating rice with sugar and milk as a dessert.  If she bought fruit for our paper bag lunches, they'd find their way into other manifestations.  Cherries on vanilla yogurt.  Small-batch grape jam.  And the banana that browned on the kitchen counter all week from the hot Kentucky sun would soon be smashed down into banana bread.  It became so common in our house, my sister would ask for it instead of a birthday cake.

The homespun aroma of the quick bread would fill our home and I can still feel the heat coming off the cast iron loaf pan when I'd pinch crumbs from the cracked top to taste it.  I still remember how much love was in that little ranch house where my sister's room had the washer and dryer in it.  I still remember what my mom wrote in her note to me when she couldn't afford a present for my birthday. "Brett, you're the one good thing I've ever done. I miss you every day. In my heart and on my mind, I love you." 

Banana Bread Cinnamon Rolls

Because it's never good to let things go to waste and if you're like me, you probably have a few bananas you promise you'll eat before they brown.  These cinnamon rolls are light, chewy and delicate with an amazingly yeasty taste.  It's a taste of home you can have anytime.  Makes 16-18.

Ingredients for Dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, dark
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water, heated to 105*F
  • 2 packets of active dry yeast (highly prefer  Red Star Platinum Superior Baking Yeast for this recipe) 
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 5-6 cup all-purpose flour, sifted into a large bowl
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted

Directions for Dough:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat milk, brown sugar, and salt together on medium-high heat.  Stir occasionally until brown sugar and salt are dissolved (brown sugar may still have some flecks, this is okay). Continue cooking until small bubbles form around the edge.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. While this is cooking, pour hot water, white sugar, and 2 packets of yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment.  Allow to sit for 8-10 minutes until it begins to foam from proofing (more noticeable with a higher-quality yeast, such as Red Star's).  
  3. Beat eggs one at a time into the yeast mixture on medium speed, allowing the first egg to be fully incorporated before the second.  
  4. Next, with the mixture still running, slowly pour cooled milk mixture into the stand mixture.
  5. Switch from a paddle attachment to a dough hook (keep in mind that this can all be done by hand with a wooden spoon, but may take longer and may not produce a lighter end product)
  6. Begin pouring flour into mixer slowly, one cup at a time.  Between each cup, wet dough with melted butter.  You may not need the full six cups, but dough will be ready when it no longer sticks to the side of the bowl and forms around hook.  
  7. Turn out onto a floured work surface and fold in on itself 4 times.  Turn into a lightly greased bowl and cover with a towel.  Allow to rise for one hour.  While waiting, move onto the filling

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 7 browned bananas, mashed into a paste
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Directions for Filling:

  1. Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir together until fully incorporated
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in fridge while rolling out cinnamon rolls

Ingredients for Icing and Topping:

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped or crushed

Assembly and Directions for Icing:

  1. When dough is finished resting, punch down and turn back out onto floured work surface
  2. Cut in half and place one half to the side
  3. Roll out other half into a 12"x9" rectangle
  4. Using a rubber spatula, spoon half of the banana filling onto the dough
  5. Roll the dough onto itself, lengthwise and tuck edge underneath the log
  6. Using floss, twine, or a careful and sharp knife, cup one-inch rounds from dough
  7. Place onto a cookie sheet to rest
  8. Repeat with other half of dough with remaining banana filling
  9. Cover rolls with a towel and rest for 45 minutes
  10. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350*F
  11. When finished resting, place in oven (either use cookie sheet, or transfer rolls to pans like I did in the photos) and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden (begin checking at the 35 minute mark)
  12. While baking, make icing by beating cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together.  Add one cup of confectioner's sugar at a time.  If icing is too crumbly, add a little bit of milk to wet it.  Continue alternating between cups of confectioner's sugar and milk until you have the consistency of the icing you like (pourable, but not dripping)
  13. Take rolls out of oven, allow to cool slightly, and top with icing and walnuts.  Enjoy!

This post was sponsored by my friends over at Red Star Yeast, which is a company I have grown up with and loved ever since I began baking.  All opinions are my own, as I consider the Platinum line of yeast to be a superior choice for the recipe provided. See more wonderful baked goods on their Twitter, their Instagram, or just their website!

Where I Was From.

I believe in second chances and the inevitable twentieth. I believe the proverbial inch has always been the mile. I believe in exhausting those chances and believe in finding reasons to renew them. I don’t believe in falling in love, but I believe in sticking it all out until you can’t stick it out no more. You have to find a way to reinvent yourself and I have been reinvented over and over these last few months. I’ve been unemployed, a salesperson, and an administrative manager. I’ve been really shitty to myself, really shitty to others, and at times negligent of everything. Bills and housework, dogs and boyfriends. All my relationships kind of crumple when I don’t tend to them, they end up like flowers in the kitchen windowsill—swollen and hot, then brittle to the touch. But I’ve learned to brush the dust off my hands and work harder at the goals I have. And that is the Protestant work ethic. My reward will come from work, not by the grace of your God or mine, not by the outstretched hand of a friend or an acquaintance.

That work ethic has run deep and has presented itself in unlikely ways. It’s intravenous and liminal, static and electric. It’s down in my gut when I’m guilty of sitting on the couch too long and painstakingly obvious when I fall asleep with another To-Do list in the works. It will all make me a better person, every last drop of sweat. Every last missed opportunity. Every last night in and early mornings and missed vacation. It will all pay off, because you gain pride from the aceticism of owing someone else so much, too guilty to ever give yourself too much credit, buy yourself too many clothes, put a little back in your own bank account for that proverbial rainy day fund that disappears before that rain every dried up.

When everything is communal, you start to lay claims. And I thank whatever God that’s been bred into my consciousness that I can still hold onto that.   And I owe it to my roots, the kinds that haven’t taken hold. The kinds that are telephonic and casual, the kind I can pick up or ignore at will. The kind that still live in Pennsylvania, Indiana. North Carolina and West Virginia.   The kinds that inspired within me to be truthful of my intentions in this world and truthful to the person I’ve become.

My mother has arthritis at 43, deep in her clavicle. She said it came from working “hard jobs”. She’s been a janitor and a candy-maker, she worked in a deep-freeze at a Wal-Mart distribution center in eastern Kentucky once. She comes from a German stock; we’re all flat-boned and broad limbed. My dad never had to go to war, but he served our country just the same. My aunt has worked at the same factory for 15 years. My uncle drives trucks for a living and my sister makes coffee for truck drivers off an interstate near Maryland. They’re hard folk who eat hearty. They’re heavy folk who eat light in the summer until dusk and then they feed heavy. Meat and potatoes, biscuits and gravy. Dough fried in reserved bacon grease, informal dinners around the TV.

All this I recognized from my trip to North Carolina, all this I recognized in myself. And I can’t deny it any longer how my Midwestern values took root somewhere in my soul, and I can’t deny the satisfaction of having people like me exist in different circumstances that I could never see myself in. When everything is communal, I lay claims to my family and my pride in being from the salt of the earth.

And, in doing so, I have become so inspired by the every day. The roadside produce stands and the chainlink fence. The rope-tied dog that howls at the open moon and the crawdads you never knew could be eaten. The marriage of eating-this-because-we-have-a-coupon and eating-this-because-my-mother-made-it-this-way. Seeing beauty in that. Or how there are town-wide parades to celebrate the anniversary of my uncle who died in Afghanistan. Seeing beauty in the years of the hardworking middle-class that gave me my bone structure and reaping the benefits of those farmers and military men to move to California and willingly quit law school to find myself the hard way and know what it’s like to be really, truly poor for the first time ever and learning to cook because of necessity and not as a hobby.

The Protestant work ethic. The marriage of Southern tradition and Midwestern values. The sense of accomplishment at not losing my mind and finding a place in my family in June. It was all so holy to me. I didn’t know it was going to mean so much to me, but it was a pilgrimage, a Hajj, a Junrei of self-acceptance vis a vis familial acceptance. Where I was from, where I am going. Who I am. These are no longer existential cries of understanding, they are part of my here and now.

And in celebration of that knowledge, I cooked. I cooked with love, with honor and tradition. With understanding that these would be hearty ingredients, that the cast iron was necessary and not accessory. That the fatty dairy would have been pure, like how my grandmother Ruth would have made it straight from the cow (how maybe I would have, too, if my grandfather hadn’t sold the farm in the 70’s). I made this meal to honor every composite of myself. And it’s simple: meat, potatoes, and pie.

Steak and Buttermilk-Herbed Potatoes

This is a casual meal, thrown together without discretion for any kind of culinary know-how.  Love it for what it is, for where it came from.

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        For the Steak:

  • 2 rib steaks, 6-10 oz
  • Olive oil
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Garam masala
  • Paprika
  • Garlic salt
  • 2 TB Butter, softened

For the potatoes

  • 6-8 small to medium russet potatoes, sliced as thin as you can (do this before beginning cooking the meat.  If need be, place in cold water to keep)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 4 TB butter, melted
  • 1 TS salt
  • 1 1/2 - 2 TB Herbs de provence
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Directions for Steak:

  1. Completely thaw steak until malleable and soft, completely sandwich between paper towels and pat dry
  2. Brush with olive oil and rub in softened butter (the butter will give flavor, the olive oil will help to sear) and set aside, making sure to not wipe off the butter and oil.
  3. Use two separate plates for the rub.  On the first, pour the spices.  I would say I used 1 1/2 TS - 1 TB per spice (be cognizant of the flavors, for obvious reasons.  I used less salt, but knew the steak--and my tastebuds--could hold up to a more seasoned and spicy meat with garam masala and cayenne pepper).  Combine with a fork.
  4. Place oiled and buttered meats into spice plate and rub completely around.  Place on reserved plate.
  5. Heat skillet (definitely prefer cast-iron here, but make sure you have some ventilation for it).  Use additional oil and butter until the pan starts to smoke a little to enhance the sear of the meat.
  6. Put meat on skillet and let it sizzle.  As a general rule, do not touch meat until it voluntarily allows itself to be pulled from the metal.  Let it sear and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Check readiness.  Flip for additional 3-5 minutes, depending on how done you like your meat.
  7. Reserve steak grease for use. Wrap in aluminum foil and let sit while you prepare the potatoes.

Directions for potatoes:

  1. Place potatoes in bowl (dry them off as much as possible so the herbs and butter can stick).
  2. Melt butter in small saucepan or microwave, pour over potatoes along with buttermilk
  3. Add salt, garlic, and herbs
  4. In the same skillet you cooked the steaks, add additional oil or butter and heat back up.  Does not have to smoke-to-sear here.
  5. Pour potatoes in and stir constantly until all edges are crisp and inside is softened.  Some will be burnt and blackened, some will be soft and baked.
  6. Allow to cool for a minute.  Plate with steak.  (Additionally, enjoy these with a little cheese while still hot, if desired).
  7. Enjoy!

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Buttermilk-lemon Pie

And finally, for you, I have a buttermilk-lemon pie that truly invoked my newfound love of the South.  So pretty, so simple.  So versatile.  And did I mention pretty?


  • A good quality store-bought pie crust (okay, okay, I cheated here a little)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 TB raw organic sugar (not super-fine, but you want crystals) or brown sugar
  • 1 TS instant espresso


  1. Prepare 9-inch pie crust per your own recipe or the package directions
  2. Mix all ingredients (save the organic sugar and espresso) until well-combined.  It will be pale yellow and delicious.  ((I mixed all of mine in a Pyrex liquid measuring cup for ease)
  3. Pour into prepared pie shell
  4. In a small bowl, mix organic sugar or brown sugar and espresso with a until well combined.  With a spoon, gently shake and pour sugar until covering pie.  Use more if not enough (I eyeballed)
  5. Bake for 45-50 minutes until cracking and caramelized on top.
  6. Allow to cool in fridge for about 30 minutes for best consistency for slicing and taste.

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I was eight in Kentucky, visiting family that still lived in the double-wide trailer I was babysat at.  It was blue with a water bed, where my cousins and I would watch Twister with our aunt, Tammy.  I was at the mall and I didn't hold my mother's hand.  For two hours I was lost, wandering around and navigating the shops that lined the main concourse.  We probably circled each other's paces like satellites.  And when she saw me, she hugged me tight and promised not to let go.  

Of course, it's silly to promise things conditional on the human emotion, on circumstance and change.  I left my mother when I was seventeen and she was never able to hold my hand again.

But we place reminders on ourselves to not forget to stay connected, grounded to the bluegrass roots that shaped us in one way or another.  She used to leave me post-it notes on my dashboard to read before school and I still try to revive that tradition with an occasional text.  It goes unanswered, lost to the lull of technological synapses between our generations.  I have a reminder on my calendar for her birthday with a little heart next to the 14 and the days leading up to it are marked in my planner with "Don't forget to buy the card", "Don't forget to mail the card", "Don't forget to call her."  

They're all unnecessary insurance, anyway.  I don't plan on forgetting anytime soon.

But that's how I am with many things, with all things, in some way.  I like the insurance of planning, of making a to-do list and never marking anything off because it's all finished before I even looked to it for guidance.  That's how I am with myself, with my body.  I like to be organized, to have constant totems nearby to retrieve the inherent "me" that's sometimes fogged by the daily coil of corporate life.  I didn't want this to happen with writing, something I've always valued within myself.  I wanted to remember it as it was, and not lose it for two hours and come back scared.  I wanted my talent to shine in a way that was nurtured and remembered like when your mother remembers your favorite dish for dinner after you haven't been home for a year.  I wanted to build a relationship with my writing, and I just needed a reminder to appreciate it while it's still around.

My new tattoo is the Elder Futhrak rune Ansuz, which symbolizes the creative mind, the poetic soul, and the "god's breath".  I wanted to hold it on my forearm and invoke that metaphysical energy during my day-to-day life and remind myself of the innocence of the energy that, when reduced by half like a marsala wine, just boils down to love.




still healing.  don't you love this quilt?


PS, I updated my "Connect" page and you can find me on pinterest, instagram, and VSCOgrid. Feel free to say hi :)