Sandra Garrett and her husband, John Dewey, are big fans of the first meal of the day.
“Since my husband works nights, and I work part-time in the afternoons, we get to luxuriate over breakfast a lot,” Sandra said. “We enjoy our breakfasts.”
She enjoys experimenting with recipes. For instance, she enjoys combining different ingredients in her omelets, including pepperoni and cottage cheese as well as smoked salmon and cream cheese.
Sandra now has an extensive menu she has compiled around the breakfast meal.
“I have some favorites that I’ve developed: baked oatmeal, oat flour-spelt pancakes, baked eggs with greens, tofu scrambler, oven-baked pancakes with apples, sausage biscuits, and of course, milk gravy and biscuits.”
Sandra’s an enthusiastic breakfast advocate.
“I encourage people to have fun with breakfast, to slow things down and enjoy it,” she said.
Sandra laments the notion for some that breakfast is a “throw-away” meal. “I’m happy to be part of a breakfast renaissance,” she said.
The couple also enjoys entertaining.
Sandra said her brother, Mike, his girlfriend, Lindy Russell, and his sons, Ben and Lucas, are frequent weekend guests.
“I always cook a Sunday breakfast for six.”
At one of those family breakfasts, she prepared an oven-baked pancake with sausage inside and apples on top.
“My nephew offered to help market that one,” she said.
Other members of the couple’s family include John’s sister, Teresa Timmers, who lives in Crystal, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. Sandra’s other siblings include a sister, Karin, in Missouri. “She’s a cook, too,” Sandra noted. “She raises a lot of her own food, including meats, and also is great at preserving game, including snapping turtles.”
They enjoy having breakfast and other meals on their back deck or on their basement patio with magnificent views of nearby Holston Mountain.
Sandra also enjoys gardening. She has collected different varieties of bell peppers and tomatoes.
Her husband noted that their home’s previous owner had let the garden decline, but that they have worked to recover it. They have raised a lot of their own produce, including cabbage, garlic, onions, potatoes, green beans and Swiss chard.
“I have herbs planted in a kitchen garden,” she said. “I can just go out and snip something.”
She grows such herbs as mint, lemongrass, Thai basil, thyme, oregano, sorrell, sage, rosemary and marjoram.
At the end of the growing season, she enjoys using her basil harvest to make fresh pesto.
“Some herbs dry on the stem, and can still be gathered in winter,” she noted.
“I am also interested in food preservation — mostly canning — although I’m studying up on fermentation and do dry some things.”
She noted that she recently canned nine pints of sauerkraut.
Her other culinary interests include eating with the seasons, making truffles and baking.
“I also enjoy cooking lots of Greek stuff, although I don’t have a drop of Greek blood,” she said.
Her interest in Greek cuisine developed from a family birthday tradition that lets the person celebrating the birthday select their favorite foods for a celebratory meal.
“One time my husband wanted Greek food, but we didn’t feel like going out,” she said.
She acquired a Greek cookbook and proceeded to make enough Greek dishes to feed a dozen people. “We ate off that meal for a week,” she joked.
The next year, they planned an entire birthday party and invited guests to attend a feast of Greek favorites.
The couple moved from Minneapolis to Elizabethton in November of 2004.
Sandra’s brother, Mike Garrett, was already living in Johnson City, and the couple decided that East Tennessee represented a great opportunity to “start over.”
They came to the region for a week in September of 2004 to hunt for a house. They found what they were looking for on Unaka Subdivision Road seven miles up Stoney Creek.
“We’ve never looked back,” Sandra said. “We have felt very welcome here.”
Her husband, “Mr. Dewey” as she likes to call him, agreed, noting they love their new home in the East Tennessee mountains.
For the past five years, the couple have also been active at First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton.
“There are a lot of good cooks at FBC,” Sandra noted.
John is employed at Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin while Sandra works as the office assistant at First Presbyterian Church.
She also honors some family traditions in her cooking.
“Every Christmas I make dozens of fruitcakes from a recipe that has been handed down through at least five generations of my family,” Sandra said.
“I think I may be one of the few people who do not think grandma was a good cook,” Sandra said, noting that her paternal grandmother was a bad cook. “The blessing was that she liked her own cooking,” she joked.
“My great-grandma sure was a good cook, though,” Sandra said.
She didn’t come by her cooking skills through watching her mother.
“My mother was one of those people who could not tolerate another human being in her kitchen,” Sandra said. “She also would have been the first to admit she didn’t like baking.”
Lacking an abundance of family examples, Sandra acquired an interest for cooking from another arena.
She credits her interest in cooking with a fondness for the vintage cooking programs of the late Julia Child and Graham “The Galloping Gourmet” Kerr.
“I just loved Julia’s relaxed, casual approach to food,” Sandra said.
Although both Sandra and John grew up in the Midwest, she has family ties to the South.
“I was born and raised in northern Illinois, but my parents both came from southern stock,” she said. “I grew up eating fried chicken, pork chops, sausage gravy, green beans with side pork, soup beans and cornbread and the like,” Sandra said.
She added that she has enjoyed studying the food ways of Appalachia.
“I think I have mastered sweet potato biscuits and my milk gravy beats any I’ve had around here, if I do say so, myself.”
Sandra enjoys hosting her brother and his family for long weekends.
“My nephews will tell you that the best thing I make is chili,” she said.
Sandra is happy to share recipes with friends, with a few exceptions. So far, she has held close to her recipe for fruitcake, truffles and cinnamon rolls.
She noted that her acquisition of the book, Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, has revolutionized her kitchen.
“I make my own fresh bagels as well as hamburger and hotdog buns,” she said. “I haven’t bought a loaf of bread in months.”
At First Presbyterian Church, Sandra has acquired a reputation as a “pie baker extraordinaire.” She enjoys making both sweet and savory pies.
Sandra has also had some experience cooking professionally.
“I worked in fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s, and I also apprenticed in a Czech-German restaurant in Minnesota,” she said, noting that she learned how to make spätzle, red cabbage, wienerschnitzel and potato dumplings during her apprenticeship.
Sandra and John also have an interest in the birds that visit their yard. They often get to watch the birds while dining on their deck or patio. They keep a list of their sightings and have identified over 50 species of birds in their yard since they moved here almost eight years ago.
They typically see a variety of songbirds, including goldfinches, juncoes, wrens, chickadees, cardinals, bluebirds, indigo buntings, red-winged blackbirds and mourning doves. They also receive visits from woodpeckers — Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied and Northern Flicker — as well as hummingbirds, tufted titmice, robins, blue jays, brown thrashers and, at certain times of the year, pine siskins.
“Our neighbor has a pond so we also get to see green and great blue herons and egrets, although we haven’t seen any egrets this year, oddly,” Sandra said.
“We hear Pileated Woodpeckers a lot, and get to see them in the yard once in a while,” she noted. “We had two fussing at each other in our back yard a month or so ago.”
They’ve also seen owls, hawks and vultures.
“Once in a while we get a visit from an oriole, a rose-breasted grosbeak, cedar waxwings and a meadowlark,” Sandra said. “We’ve had incidental visits from an osprey and an immature ibis.”
The couple share their home with a dog, Chester, and three cats — Yancey, a very friendly kitty, and two less outgoing felines named Ralph Stanley and Hazel Dickens, named for regional music legends.
Sandra is sharing some of her favorite breakfast recipes in this week’s column.
Baked Eggs With
Herbs and Greens
2 tablespoons Half and Half or cream
1/4 cup sharply flavored cheese of your choice (e.g. parmesan, bleu, gorgonzola, brie, sharp cheddar)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mixed greens and herbs of your choice (e.g. basil, sorrel, tarragon, dandelion leaves, romaine, chard — use the wilted lettuce in your produce drawer!), roughly chopped or torn
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
Any other vegetables you may have on hand that you would like to use up! Grate or finely chop these.
2 cloves of garlic, minced.
Spray two 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins. Bring some water to a boil.
Heat olive oil in a skillet. Sauté the onions and any other vegetables you have on hand for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic, herbs and the greens. Sauté until the greens are completely wilted and tender. Divide this mixture into the two ramekins.
Break two eggs into each ramekin. Break the yolks. Pour a tablespoon of Half and Half over the eggs in each dish. Sprinkle or dot with the cheese, dividing evenly. No matter what kind of cheese I use, I sprinkle some freshly grated parmesan reggiano over the top. Season with freshly ground pepper.
Pour an inch of boiling water carefully into a baking dish that is large enough to accommodate both ramekins. Place the ramekins into the water.
Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 350ºF oven OR cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven or microwave and remove the ramekins from the water. Set them on a dish towel to dry the bottoms, and serve with your choice of sides and toast.
NOTE: Sandra said that this dish is great for feeding a group.
1 pound oat groats (or thick cut “Scottish”-style oats)
1 cup walnuts, or other nuts
2 tablespoons yogurt, kefir, whey or buttermilk, for soaking
Dash sea salt
2 cups whole, fresh milk
Up to 1/4 cup maple syrup (optional)
1 cup raisins, dried cranberries, or a mixture of dried fruits (chop larger fruits like figs, apricots and so on)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
Food spray for greasing baking dish
1. Pour the oats and nuts into a mixing bowl.
2. Add enough water to cover. Add a dash of salt and two tablespoons of fresh yogurt, whey, kefir or buttermilk.
3. Allow the oats and nuts to soak, covered, overnight in a warm place in your kitchen — about eight to 12 hours.
4. After the mixture of oats and nuts has soaked overnight, dump them into a colander to drain and place the mixture back into the mixing bowl.
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 13 x 9-inch rectangular baking pan.
6. Meanwhile beat together eggs, milk, maple syrup (if you’re using it), until well-combined and frothy.
7. Pour the mixture of eggs, milk and maple syrup over the soaked oats and nuts, stirring well to combine into a porridge-like mixture.
8. Gently fold dried fruit and cinnamon into the porridge-like mixture.
9. Pour the mixture into a greased baking pan and smooth it out with a rubber spatula to ensure even baking and a good appearance.
10. Bake in a preheated 375ºF oven for 40-45 minutes or until the oatmeal achieves a pleasing golden-brown color on top, a knife inserted into its center comes out clean and free from liquid and the fragrance of baked oats, dried fruit and cinnamon perfumes your kitchen.
11. If you can bear the wait, allow the baked oatmeal to cool for five to ten minutes before cutting into squares and serving.
12. I serve mine topped with fat-free yogurt sweetened with a little local honey, fresh fruit (or dried, in winter) and a sprinkle of chopped nuts.
YIELD: 12 to 16 servings
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup flax meal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs
1-3/4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Honey-Pecan Butter Syrup
1 cup local honey
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.
In medium bowl, beat eggs. Add buttermilk and vanilla and combine thoroughly.
Add moist ingredients to dry. Combine until dry ingredients are incorporated.
Scoop 1/4 cup portions of batter onto a hot griddle or frying pan that has been lightly sprayed or oiled. Cook cakes until they start to puff and small bubbles are visible on the edges. Flip cakes and cook another minute or so until lightly browned. Keep cakes on a cookie sheet in a barely warm oven until all are cooked.
Combine all ingredients in a heavy small saucepan. Heat over medium heat and allow to boil until the butter is melted and does not separate from the honey. Be careful that the mixture does not boil over!
Serve pancakes with a side of warm syrup. I often top the pancakes with cooked apples as well.
Makes about 12 three-inch pancakes.
This week’s column was written by Bryan Stevens, assistant editor of the Elizabethton STAR.
To submit your own recipes or suggest a person for “Chef’s Corner,” email lifestyles@starhq. com or call 297-9077.