Author: Suzy Neal

When you’re a kid, you don’t really think of all it takes to have a family and run a household. We never wanted for anything growing up, but looking back on it now, its because my parents both worked very hard and made smart financial decisions that allowed us to not ever know a birthday or Christmas that wasn’t filled with celebration and gifts.

As I got older, I scoffed at my mom clipping coupons and buying store-brand foods, vowing one day, I wouldn’t do the same. Well, fast-forward to today, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I hate for food to go to waste. Hate. We belong to a CSA and get fresh vegetables and fruit in season, so there is a lot of chopping and vegetable scraps that would go to waste if I didn’t have a plan for them. When we lived in south Georgia, we had a compost pile and would put our peelings on that, but since moving to the north Georgia mountains, we have stopped composting because of our neighbors, the bears.

I am not afraid of black bears, mind you, but I respect all wildlife and have seen a bumper sticker around town that says “A fed bear is a dead bear.” Basically, bears are lazy and will forage for scrapes of food, be it your trash can, compost pile or camp site — recall the old Yogi Bear cartoons where Yogi would hide out in the campground and steal pick-a-nick baskets.

Co-existing with wildlife is important to us and respecting nature and not attracting wildlife to our home by feeding them is a huge part of who we are. With that in mind, here is a recipe procedure, of how to use your vegetable (and chicken) scraps.

Best quality chicken & vegetable stock

Get a gallon size freezer zip bag or reusable container and as you cut and peel
Garlic, onions, carrots, celery, okra, green beans, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, etc. — anything but cruciferous vegetables, they make stock skunky, put the scraps and end pieces in the bag.
Also, apple and pear cores and peelings are good additions
Chicken parts, like necks, skins, backs, wings, etc.
I have left out the chicken before when cooking for vegetarians and its equally yummy.

Keep this bag and its contents in the freezer. When its full, add it to your largest stockpot and add a big handful of fresh herbs if you have them. I usually have oregano and rosemary. Fill up the pot completely with cold water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down to a nice easy simmer and leave uncovered, cook for 3-4 hours and turn the heat off, cool a bit and strain the stock.

If you have 4 legged kitchen helpers like we do, pick through and find some yummy chicken pieces, watching for tiny bones, and make your hounds happy that you are a thrifty cook.

Today, mine made 4 quarts of nutrient-rich and flavorful stock. Usually I freeze it, but since I bought a gigantic candy roaster winter squash, I will refrigerate my stock and use it this week to make soup.

Making homemade stock is easy, let me know how yours turns out and show me some pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
#UnicoiPreserves

Growing up, my mom would pack my lunchbox and I was always happy to find the occasional Tastykake Jelly Krimpet. If you’ve never had this fun little snack cake, it’s a simple yellow sponge cake injected in three places with jelly.

Vampire Bites are an ode to the Jelly Krimpet. A fast, simple and great way to enjoy our Georgia Vineyard Spread.
Here’s what you need.
Ingredients:
9 oz. jar Unicoi Preserves Georgia Vineyard Spread
1 box yellow cake mix
Eggs
Cooking oil
Special equipment
Mini cupcake pan & liners
Pastry or plastic food storage bag for filling cupcakes
Pastry tip – Bismarck tip 230 (I had this but if you don’t, just snip the corner off a plastic bag)
Chopstick or other similar rounded device
Preheat oven as directed on the box, then prepare cake batter, also as directed on the box. I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract to boost the flavor but you can skip this if you like.
Put the cupcake liners in your pan and fill 3/4 ways full. I used a small cookie scoop I had to fill the cupcake liners.
Bake until the cakes spring back or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, Mine took 12 minutes. 
Cool on rack & repeat with remaining cake batter.
Mine made 48 bites, this could vary on how full you fill the pans and how drippy you are when filling them.
To fill your bites after cooling
Using the blunt end of the chopstick, poke a hole in the cupcake but not all the way to the bottom & wiggle it to make room for the Chamboucin Spread.
Spoon the jelly into your pastry bag or plastic bag & shoot each bite with jelly so some shows through the top.
Our Georgia Chambourcin had a name change & is now called Georgia Vineyard Spread.
Serve and enjoy. Can make up to 2 days ahead, possibly longer but there are none left 48 hours after making them.
Don’t forget to share your pictures on our Facebook & Instagram pages when you make them. #UnicoiPreserves

We were blessed with a beautiful but windy fall day for the 2nd Annual Suwanee Wine Fest.

Arriving in plenty of time to unload & stage our tent for the festival, we were greeted and helped by many volunteers to get our wagon unloaded and to our assigned spot. This was our first event using our tent weights and the fall crosswinds put us to the test. Once Clark hung our 8-foot banner, the gusts made us wonder if we would get to stay and enjoy the festival or if we’d be meeting folks in the Kansas heartland.
We met a lot of people that had never tried our taste of Northeast Georgia wine country. Clark & I have become pretty good at estimating crowds and based on cracker, cookies & cream cheese that we sampled, upwards of 3000 people were there. Suwanee really loves Unicoi Preserves and we are looking forward to expanding our market in the area.
There were over 200 international wines to sample, a craft beer tent, food trucks and live music all benefiting  Annadale Village, a non-profit organization that provides life assistance to adults with traumatic brain injuries & developmental disabilities.
Cheers & many thanks to the sponsors of such a well run event:

Such a beautiful and well maintained park and town. We’ll be back for sure next year, thanks Suwanee!

Fall has finally arrived here in the southern Appalachian mountains. The forest is starting to pop with oranges & reds as the days grow shorter and the nights are cooler. We have had a mild summer but its still so much nicer now to sit outside on the deck and enjoy lunch.

 
Apples are coming in from our area and inspired a quick salad for lunch today.
 
Fast and simple, Monday morning cooking here! Chopped rotisserie chicken, mixed with diced apple, onion, and sliced toasted almonds and tossed with a few tablespoons of mayo and our Georgia Apple Cider Pepper Spread. Served over organic mixed greens tossed with a splash of apple cider vinegar and olive oil.


As tradition goes, summer’s last big hurrah is Labor Day weekend. I cannot think of a better way to wrap up a busy summer then with a celebration of the harvest of wine grapes then Yonah Mountain Vineyard‘s Crush Fest. Fine wine, grape stomping, live music all day long, food trucks and vendors made for a fun day.

We were fortunate to be able to set up Friday afternoon, so the Saturday morning of the event, we were there at the beautiful vineyard and able to enjoy a little time to walk around and enjoy the opulent and massive tasting room that is Yonah Mountain Vineyards. This winery could be anywhere in the world but its right here in White County (pinch me!)  Having been at the event every year since its inception, we knew we were in for a busy day of food demo, so we took advantage of the quiet time and enjoyed a tasty cookie from That Bread Lady of Cleveland.

I had laid in plenty of supplies for demo — crackers, cream cheese, cookies and napkins. Such a big shopping cart full of  food and was surprised the clerk didn’t ask where the party was at. If she had, I would have directed her to Crush Fest!

When the crowds came, they came in force starting around 10 am. At one point, we stopped, looked up and it was 3:30. Talk about time flying when you’re having fun. There had been a chance of rain all day, but we were thankful for everyone that it held off until the end of the event. Some pretty big rain and thunder passed as quickly as it came in.

We met a lot of new faces and saw a lot of friends we’ve met in tasting rooms and other events. Some of our fans hadn’t tried our Georgia Vineyard Fire and were instantly hooked. They were also glad to see that we had listened to their requests and we had gift boxes for our spreads at the event and could ship them as well.

We look forward to next year’s Crush Fest but we’ll be there again before then and hope to see you there. Call and ask about their wine cave tours and live music schedule.

Martha Stewart’s sister Laura Plimpton passed away suddenly this past week. Reading Martha’s heart-felt blog post made me really reflect on my feelings and relationship I have with my sister Betsy.

We are both very unique individuals, probably with as many things in common as we have different. Betsy got all the artistic genes. She is the mastermind behind the Unicoi Preserves graphics, branding and label design. She’s the painter, the sculptor, knitter, graphic designer. Me, I’m the middle child. I got the outgoing gene, I’m the one most likely to chat up a stranger, to be on an adventure in the forest, to do something that may be borderline questionable. We did both get the cooking gene from our mom, our love of baking bread, from our mom. But canning?  Betsy is the one who inspired me to start preserving food in jars.

Betsy & I at the Helen Festhalle
 

Betsy and I talked the other day, trying to recall family canning memories. I have very faint memories of my early childhood living in a rural farming community in New Jersey. There was a pickle factory in town and they had big wooden crates of free cucumbers outside that were too big for them to pickle. I’ll never forget the smell and picking through those huge cucumbers with my mom. We took home paper bags full of them and I do recall her making dill pickles and sweet pickles. We picked strawberries in NJ also, (but that didn’t happen again after a snake encounter in the field.) I recall strawberry freezer jam. Pickled peaches when we moved to Georgia and candied pickles as well.

This past weekend, Betsy and I spent some time canning together. She had a big pot of tomato jam simmering when I got to her house with my watermelon rind that I had prepped to make into preserves. Looking over the recipe for the watermelon preserves, we both decided it needed more flavor and between us, we came up with a combination of flavors that’s both sweet and warm.

As we were filling the jars, Betsy looked at me and asked why we didn’t use any hot peppers. Why, why indeed!?!

I need another watermelon and another canning session with my sister. Soon.

RIP Laura Plimpton.

We like to keep a full calendar of demo and promotion work on the weekends for Unicoi Preserves, so more and more often, our time has been split between different venues on the same day. The weekend of 12 Spies Vineyard Anniversary celebration was no different.

The debut weekend of our new hot and spicy wine spread, Vineyard Fire, was made more special by it being included that evening on Sylvan Valley Lodge’s winemaker dinner menu with Habersham Winery. Thankfully, we had a fast breakdown at 12 Spies Vineyard and were able to get back home, feed the hounds, freshen up and make it to Sylvan Valley Lodge before the appetizer was served.

 

Vineyard Fire loves cheese and made its appearance in the third course.  Ginevra & John Boyes of Sylvan Valley Lodge and Chef Rob Rotunno love to play with unusual flavors and pairings for the winemaker dinner series and this evening was no different. The earthiness of the portobello mushroom with goat cheese and Vineyard Fire with Habersham Scarlett was spot on.

Wonderful service, delicious food and world class wines, nothing else like it in White county. Be sure to check out Sylvan Valley Lodge and make your reservation for lodging and one of their upcoming wine dinners.

One of the many things I love about living in White county is the sense of community that we have here. A community that works together, supports each other and understands the big picture of working together to make a better place to visit and live. A small community where you see familiar faces at the post office and grocery store and have people hold the door for you, look at you, speak to you, let you out in traffic. Its our mountain version of Mayberry, but with world-class wines, bountiful fruit and vegetables and a network of talented musicians.

When there was a tragic fire in downtown Clarkesville that resulted in downtown businesses and employees losing their income, possessions and livelihoods,  both White county and Habersham county residents and businesses pulled together and put together fund raisers to help them not only gain some income but to show support and empathy for the loss they had suffered.

The wineries and tasting rooms here on the Unicoi Wine Trail collaborate and work together and we were very excited to participate in an evening at The Cottage Vineyard and Winery. Serenity Cellars joined them and together, The Cottage Vineyard & Winery and Serenity Cellars each had 5 wines set up for tasting on the hillside.

If you have not been to The Cottage, you should put them on your list. Not only are the views spectacular, their hospitality is second to none, the wines they are making are top notch and their tasting room was just voted Best in White County. Go there!

Wonderful live music from Teddy Baker, fabulous and beautiful food from Cindy Gibson of Garden Gate Catering, diverse wines and my famous jelly roll cakes made for a perfect evening.

We have had 12 Spies Vineyards & Farms Anniversary Party on our calendar for several weeks. As Saturday’s outdoor event grew closer, the weather forecast did not look promising and it was indeed pouring rain here in Sautee as we loaded the car to head north to Rabun Gap.

That’s not grass on the weather map

Really, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised it was raining. Rabun county has the title of the rainiest county in the state of Georgia, with average rainfall of over 70 inches a year. Regardless of the weather, we were going to be there. When we commit, we follow through, and the event was advertised as rain or shine.

Things always seem to work out for us though.

One of many examples…
We have had a new product ready for about 2 weeks now but have been waiting on labels for it. We had hoped they’d be done in time so we could debut our third product at 12 Spies. It wasn’t looking like we were going to get them in time, but then, we got shipping notice and not only did they arrive in time, they arrived on the Monday before the event so it wasn’t a week of wondering if we’d be bring Vineyard Fire with us. It was going to happen!

Vineyard Fire is our newest and spiciest pepper spread. Using plenty of spicy jalapenos and blending them with sweet Chambourcin wine, Vineyard Fire stands up well on an appetizer plate with creamy goat cheese and roasted pistachios, almonds or walnuts.

So with Vineyard Fire, Chambourcin & Georgia Apple Cider spread on board, as well as jelly roll cakes & other goodies for tasting, we were in the car hoping for a break in the weather.

I have made 21 jelly roll cakes since we began Unicoi Preserves

When we got to the vineyard, there was a flurry of activity with everyone working to get set up for the day.

Wish you could smell the coffee roasting that Kervin Kaffee of Eastanolle had going when we got there
Tonya Kimsey of Mud Fairy Pottery was doing pottery demo and made it look easy (I know its not!)
Lisa and Mike were very considerate and thoughtful of all the vendors who came up for their celebration and instead of having everyone set up EZ-Ups in the field, we were all inside and Unicoi Preserves was blessed to score the best possible location for jelly sampling — in the winery tank room right in front of the lab sink! It was absolutely perfect for us with access to hot running water, soap and towels! Serving jelly roll cake, cream cheese, crackers and jelly can get a little sticky at times.

Clark Neal, Jr. – Purveyor of Preserves

We met some really nice and interesting people, to include a man retired from the FBI, and some people from as far away as Houston, TX and California. In addition to new friends, we were so happy to see some of Clark’s family that live in Tiger. Technically, Clark said they aren’t family, but we all talked about and agreed,  when you marry into the Neal family, you are part of the Neal family.

Towards the end of the day, our friends Chris & Sarah came by to do a tasting and see the vineyard. Awesome friends, not only did Sarah & her girl Lucy visit & give our greyhounds a turnout before coming, they helped us load out quickly so we could get home and get ready for Sylvan Valley Lodge’s dinner with Habersham Winery.

Colbie, Fox, Bonnie & Lucy the honorary greyhound
Bonnie says “Please pet me!”

Things always work out, you just have to Believe.

Have you ever noticed that it takes forever for the second in a series of books or movies to come out? Well, suffice it to say, sometimes blog posts are the same way.

My last blog entry found me back in my hometown of Albany, in south Georgia, for my high school reunion (now’s the time to refer back to that post in case you missed it.)

After a good night’s sleep at Ashley & Frank’s home, a healthy, home-cooked breakfast & coffee, I was out into the world to reconnect with friends and family throughout the area.

My first stop of the day was to visit my beautiful friend Anissa. It was an exciting day for Anissa and her husband Mark, as they were filming a new tv commercial at their office in downtown Albany. They’ve done extensive renovations to bring an older home back to its glory.

You should see the inside!
After visiting for a bit, meeting their staff and vowing to not let so much time go by without reconnecting, I left. As I was leaving, I drove around the block and went back. I had forgotten to take a picture with Anissa, so I parked, went in and we had a fun time hamming it up in front of their office.

In 9 out of 10 photos, I will have my eyes closed.

Next on the agenda was a trip out to Lee county to see Tiffanie, Vonnie and Cadence. They had sold their home in town and moved further out to a great new home in the country with access to the creek.


 So quiet and peaceful. Driving out to their home on all the roads we used to ride road bikes on together, I had so many memories of times spent there and wished I had my bike with me. Next time!
I could take a similar picture in our garage. We actually have that same rack.

Third stop of the day was to see my sis-in-law and family. They are such a high energy bunch with so many things going on, so I was glad I could pop in and visit.

At that point, I was running out of time but being the optimist that I am, went back and picked up Ashley and Frank and headed out to Arlington to StillPond Vineyard. In total bad form, we arrived at their tasting room about 15 minutes before closing time. The ladies in the tasting room were still very gracious and we did a tasting and bought some wine to bring home.

The distillery is new and the still is gorgeous!
Frank & Ashley humoring me in the hot, bright sun

By now, I was out of time for visiting friends and actually late to my reunion. Whoops! However, as perfect timing would have it, I may have missed the initial showing of old pictures from high school, but I was just in time for dinner. It was a great southern spread that included fried chicken and sweet tea. Two of our high school teachers were there as well as the assistant principal Commodore Conyers. He would always call school assemblies to order by saying “Young people, young people!” and he gave us all a thrill when he walked up to the podium that night and addressed us that same way. Good memories for certain.

Sunday morning my internal Fox alarm went off early, so I said my good-byes to Frank and Ashley and headed north. Knowing I’d be driving right through the Atlanta area, I didn’t want to miss a chance to visit with my favorite sister, so I called her in route and we had a good visit  over lunch.

I had no more stops in mind, I was ready to get home to my family. Came home and discovered Clark and the greyhounds enjoying some outdoor time brewing beer.

Bonnie & Colbie supervising Clark

It was a whirlwind of a weekend. I can’t wait to do it all again. Soon.