Sweet Home Alabama

I met Amy Norton through a mutual friend on twitter. See if you can follow this: I featured my neighbor Tim Gaddis in a blog post about his amazing barbeque sauce (see: Barbeque & Extraordinary Moments). Tim tweeted the post, Amy follows Tim on twitter, she made his sauce, tweeted a picture of it, Tim shared this with me, and like a good blogger, I cyber-stalked her and introduced myself. When I found out she lives locally, I set up an interview with her. A modern-day, social media miracle!

Amy lives in Atlanta in a neighborhood of modest ranch homes built in the 60s. When my husband and I pulled up, the first thing I noticed was her lovely red hair that fell loosely on her shoulders. Amy is a self-proclaimed barefooted earth child – a description that fits her to a T. I was struck by the genuine warmth and hospitality she radiated during our visit.

Amy’s home is like a mini commune. In addition to raising three chickens, she also tends an organic garden with kale, tomatoes, basil, carrots, beets, turnips, collards, arugala, butternut squash, purple basil and peppers. Right in the middle of Atlanta! It was very impressive. I asked her if she canned any of her produce, and she said she didn’t because her mother was a big canner. This led to a tour of her home.

Amy’s kitchen is modern and organized. The cabinets in the eating area have pull out shelves packed with jars and jars of green beans, potatoes, vegetable soup, tomato relish, spaghetti sauce and salsa canned by her mother. I grew up in New Jersey in a family that served instant mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. This canning thing fascinates me. I couldn’t wait to hear more about her life.

It turns out Amy grew up on a farm in Heflin, Alabama. Her parents raised feeder calves, and she and her sister were expected to contribute to making the farm work. Ever since her foot could reach the pedal, Amy drove the truck that hauled the hay. Her mother, in addition to working on the farm, worked in the food service industry her whole life.  She was the main cook at their church as well, and the family would host 20-30 people every Sunday after church for supper – even more at Christmas or homecoming. Food and sharing meals was a central part of their lives.

When Amy turned 29, her mother gave her a cookbook filled with handwritten family recipes. It includes the recipes she grew up with, like her grandmother’s Brunswick stew, and this one for red velvet cake. Dessert was a big deal in her home. Her family ate dessert every day after lunch AND dinner. There was always a cake around. Red velvet was a hit especially at Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

And it was a hit that late summer day as Amy, Mike and I ate big, yummy slices of that delicious cake with thick layers of cream cheese icing. I could eat it all day. I was impressed with Amy. She is a conscientious person with incredible time management skills and a generous spirit. She’s what you call “a good egg.” I left her home feeling grateful that a family recipe (and twitter!) brought us together.

Red Velvet Cake, a la Avis (Amy’s mamma)

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups canola oil

2 eggs

1 tbsp vanilla flavoring

1 tsp vinegar

1 bottle red food coloring

2 1/2 cups self-rising flour

Grease and flour 3 9-inch cake rounds. Line the bottoms of each with parchment paper.

Put soda in buttermilk and set aside

Cream sugar, oil, and eggs. Add dry ingredients. Mix in red food coloring. Add buttermilk mixture last.  Mix well.

Divide evenly between cake pans. Bake at 350 until done.

Cool cakes.

For Icing:

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 box powdered sugar

1 1/2 blocks of 8 oz cream cheese

Cream together and spread on cooled cake. Sprinkle pecans on top and sides.


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