From East Tennessee to Catalonia, Onions Inspire Spring Festivals

The crispiness of a slice of sweet new spring onion perched on a crunchy saltine cracker is not only an addictive snacking combination. Some even maintain that the daily consumption of this humble vegetable is the key to a life of good health.

You may know that Georgia has its Vidalia, Texas has its Texas Sweet, Washington has its Walla Walla, and they all have their festivals. But there’s more. From Italy to Germany to Switzerland to the UK and beyond, the humble onion inspires countless celebrations.

And that brings me to the ramp and the calcot (pronounced cal sote), two members of the onion family whose spring arrival is celebrated almost simultaneously. Polk County, Tennessee is the home of the Annual Ramp Tramp Festival (one of many ramp festivals throughout the US) and Valls, Tarragona, located on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain, is the home of Calcotada.

In the Catalan region of Spain that includes Barcelona, the calcot eating begins in January and runs through April. The calcot’s mild sweet flavor is attributed to a cultivation method that involves piling soil around the plant to protect and lengthen the white part of the onion.

Throughout Catalonia the spring arrival of the little onion is observed with cooking demonstrations, parades, eating competitions and Calcotada, the harvest festival.

Calcots require little to no cleaning prior to cooking and are typically grilled over open flames until blackened, then wrapped in newspaper, and served on terra cotta tiles to keep them warm. The traditionalist will eat each calcot by first dipping the white part in Romesco sauce before tipping back his head and guiding the entire calcot into his mouth. It’s a messy business but a true Catalonian delicacy.

While Catalonians are harvesting, grilling and eating their little onions, ramp festivals are sprouting up just about anywhere ramps can be found. They grow wild in mountainous regions from North and South Carolina through Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Canada. Polk County, Tennessee located about two hours south of Knoxville or an hour east of Chattanooga, is the home of one such festival: the Ramp Tramp Festival has been held annually since 1958.

During the first days of the festival, ramp lovers armed with digging equipment will tramp up mountains through forests and hollers in search of a fine stand of ramps. They must be harvested carefully leaving behind undamaged plants for regrowth.

To the tune of bluegrass and gospel music, cooks carefully clean the dirty ramps and prepare the ultimate festival meal of white beans cooked with streaked meat (fat back), garnished with sliced raw ramps, and served with cornbread. The ramps, whose flavor has been described as a combination of leek and garlic, can be scrambled with eggs, fried with potatoes, wilted in bacon fat or roasted and grilled whole.

This time of year, look for ramps in farm markets in regions where ramps grow wild. But you had better act fast. By the end of April, ramp and calcot lovers alike will have to be content waiting for next year.


Copyright Susan Motley 2017

Dreaming in Spanish

The gardens of the Alcazar in Sevilla

A few years ago, an acquaintance who had recently returned from a holiday in Spain assured me that I didn’t need to see that country until I had exhausted my travel bucket list. “Nothing there,” she said, “that you can’t see elsewhere in Europe.”

I went anyway as a volunteer English speaker.

A bus load of us, roughly half Anglos and half Spaniards, were brought together to inhabit Pueblo Ingles for eight days of English-only conversation in a mountain resort outside La Alberca. We came from all walks of life. Among us there was a doctor, a college professor, a meteorologist, a travel writer, a few teachers working and retired, and a host of business professionals. We were mothers, fathers, single, newly married, facing divorce. We ranged from young global wanderers to a spunky eighty-something Irish woman, also a global wanderer. Two of us were British ex-pats who had years before chosen to live in Spain.

We Anglos were all looking for the opportunity to give back something while experiencing the vibrance of Spain and its people. The Spaniards were earnest in their determination to improve their English speaking skills, and we Anglos were charged with that responsibility.

Monument to La Alberca’s pig

During those eight days we ate every meal together. We partied together. We watched futbol, Madrid vs. Barcelona. We planned and delivered presentations, we acted in skits, and played games. We talked about everything from the mundane, the weather (Please don’t take that personally, Sebastian), to the vital: raising children, helping ailing parents, working too hard, maintaining and ending relationships, making career decisions. We laughed every day. Ostensibly we Anglos had come to volunteer, but truthfully, like our Spanish counterparts, we too had come to learn.

I learned that Spaniards are justifiably proud of their towns, cities and regions; and since that time at Pueblo Ingles with the big hearted Spaniards who came together there, I have had a dream. I dream of returning to Spain and renting a small villa for one or two months in Valencia or Jerez. I want to see the dancing horses and the white-washed cities. I want to see more Flamenco and hear the guitar. I want to visit every cathedral, I want to go to Basque Country and San Sebastian. I want to go to Cordoba, Toledo, Cuenca, Malaga, Avila; and

The walled city of Avila seen from the highway.

I want to see everything in each of those places. I want to see a bull fight and a football match. I want to drink the wine, eat the ham, sip the sherry, enjoy the tapas, and drizzle good Spanish olive oil on everything possible. I want to walk the Camino de Santiago. I want to go to Gibraltar and see a huge ship pass through the straits. I want to return to the Alhambra, and take in the sweet scent of Seville’s gardens. I want to seek out every crazy Spanish festival and so much more.

Because there is so much more to Spain. From its history and culture to its stunning architecture and natural features to its beautiful language and its generous people; there are so many things not to be found anywhere else in the world or Europe for that matter.

The Illegals

We had boarded our wee-hours-of-the-morning flight with plans of a wedding party lunch in Miami, but before we were even settled in our seats, the pilot announced that the plane had not received mandatory maintenance the night before and that we should deplane. We were told to rest easy though. The maintenance crew was already on its way—from Charlotte! But no worries as they say. We had a long layover in Miami, and in the highly unlikely event that we didn’t arrive in time to make our connection, there was a nearly empty flight to Montego Bay taking off from the same concourse. We could hop right on. Still we watched uneasily as other passengers were booked to other flights while we waited and earnestly considered Bloody Marys.

To shorten this saga of mishap-filled air travel, we did not connect to our flight out of Miami, and the Montego Bay flight did not exist. Six members of our party of eight had been automatically ticketed for a much later flight. The remaining two were routed to Dallas where they would spend the night and fly to Jamaica the next day.

Hoping to stick together, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening regularly pestering and alternately befriending the gate crew. We wanted to be first in line when two seats opened up for the direct flight to Jamaica. We were rewarded with vouchers for more airport food than we could eat.

The prospect that we would all fly together began dimming in direct proportion to the growing crowd and noise level in the gate area. Then the inevitable announcement rang out. The airline needed ten passengers to give up their seats. Ten.

I don’t remember who of us approached the gate crew to find out how this could happen, but we learned that ten illegal immigrants were being returned to Jamaica on our flight.

The Dallas bound members of our party said good bye, and the rest of us craned our necks for a look at the ten despicable heinous hardened criminals who would be taking those ten seats condemning ten paying passengers to spending the night in Miami and receiving free flights to anywhere in the continental United States. Ten villains.

Just at boarding time, the group was escorted onto the concourse where they lined up to board first. An uneasy assemblage of ten women and children.

My Grandma’s Pretty Garden

My pretty Cullipher Farm CSA. Elsie Heiskell would find it pretty.

With a small metal dishpan and a paring knife in her hand, my Grandma Heiskell would call her little dog Scrapper to chase away the snakes; and we would take the short walk up the dirt and gravel road to her vegetable garden just above the house.

There we plucked sun-warmed tomatoes, okra, and corn. We pulled sweet onions from the ground and dug new potatoes. We placed these things in the dishpan. Standing in the shade of the rows of corn, I would be dismayed that there were no green beans to be found, but with my grandmother’s encouragement to look with my hands, there they were in abundance.

On the way back to the house, my grandmother would exclaim “how pretty” the food in the dishpan was. Pretty! Back then I thought pretty a strange word to describe the produce from the garden, the produce that she had labored over since spring fending off every sort of weed and pest.

But pretty was her word for the unblemished ear of corn, the plump green bean, the perfectly ripe tomato, the shiny white onion, the crisp green lettuce or cabbage.

Today I delight in our weekly CSA share of leafy greens, reds, and purples that are just simply so pretty.


Copyright Susan Motley 2017

My Flower Ban Has Been Lifted

The New Leaf van on Valentine’s Day 2017

I must have been desperate for dinner out or for an escape from the daily grind when a beautiful and obviously expensive flower arrangement arrived from my husband. I thanked him but told him firmly that from that day forward there were to be no more flowers. “Take me to dinner or a movie, a concert or a play,” I said. “Flowers die. And then they are thrown out. It’s a waste of money.”

What was I thinking? I love flowers. Everyone who knows me knows this about me. Still, I never took back those words.

In the years that followed, I gleaned the elements of our holiday table arrangements from our backyard. We brushed away the occasional insect or spider that appeared on the tablecloth. We ignored the brown frost spots on camellias and the black spot on rose leaves. Family and friends kindly overlooked the less than perfect symmetry of my homemade arrangements.

Then this past Valentine’s Day, my husband and I agreed to assist the two regular delivery persons for a local florist shop. You see, the ten to fifteen arrangements a florist typically sends out every day, escalates to nearly two hundred over two days when Valentine’s Day falls during the week. And often these arrangements are made to detailed specification. One customer required that the arrangement “Include one and only one sunflower.” No berries in another. While another emphasized that the two dozen roses he was ordering “must be pink. No substitutions.” While some customers request that the flowers arrive on the thirteenth, most must be delivered on Valentine’s Day.

On February thirteenth, my husband and I set out with eleven arrangements and a route that took us to offices and homes. We quickly understood that, in addition to flowers, we were the bearers of surprise and delight.

“For me?”
“How sweet!”
“Look, everyone.” And everyone does look.

It was fun! The back of our SUV had never looked so beautiful or smelled so sweet, and I began to think about what I had been missing since had invoked my flower moratorium.

The next day, February 14, the number of arrangements swelled. We delivered to professors and business professionals. We left flowers with receptionists and neighbors who promised to make sure they were received. We left flowers with housekeepers—one exclaimed: “He always spoils her.” Always there were smiles. Smiles from the student whose parents had specified there had to be orange in the arrangement. We all smiled with the husband who came into the shop asking for 35 roses—one for each year he and his wife had been married. Quick glances at notes brought smiles. One note read, “For my beautiful wife,” while another note revealed the flowers were “for the best mother in the world.” And from far-away parents to their university student daughter: “Honey, we are so proud of you.”

Late in the afternoon on February 14, the shop owners put a “Happy Valentine’s Day” message on the answering machine. The last arrangement had been made and delivered. The stock of roses and tulips and iris and wax myrtle, and hydrangeas and orchids and daisies and carnations and greenery and berries had been depleted. The floor of the workroom had been raked up. And in dorm rooms, on office desks, on dinner tables and in foyers sat vibrant fragrant expressions of every kind of human affection.

I have definitely been missing something, and I am officially lifting my flower moratorium.

Copyright Susan Motley 2017

Barren Ridge Celebrates Mid-Winter

The Alphorn

The Alphorn

John and Shelby Higgs, the owners of Barren Ridge Vineyard and Winery, really know how to throw a party, and even though Barren Ridge is far removed from the alpine peaks of Switzerland and Sweden, on January 28, 150 guests answered the call of the alphorn to attend their annual Swedish Fire Festival.

Barren Ridge, located at the end of a country road in Fishersville, Virginia, is graced with mountain views and glowing sunsets. The comfortable tasting room is warmed by a large stone fireplace and complemented by a patio that looks out over the vineyards and mountains. The shale and limestone soil and the expertise of the winemaker contribute to a collection of palate-friendly wines well-worth the drinking.

The festival commenced in the Barren Ridge tasting room where servers were quick to refill the glasses of Petit Verdot that accompanied the warm Raclette cheese served on thin slices of baguette. The buttery rich cheese and the liberally poured wine paired perfectly.

Upstairs in the banquet room, guests were treated to chef Tracy Hiner’s Swedish and Swiss inspired feast highlighted by a beautifully prepared venison and boar ragout and a poached salmon that would have been too beautiful to eat except that it was so perfectly prepared. Barren Ridge Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and the classical guitar stylings of John Paul Gladwell and John B.Clark complemented the festival dining. When the pear tart dessert arrived, so did Harmony, the Barren Ridge suggested dessert pairing.

After dinner guests returned to the tasting room for cups of hot mulled Red Barren before progressing out to the patio to enjoy the hauntingly beautiful tones of an Alphorn duet. A row of Swedish fire logs blazing just beyond the patio diminished the winter darkness and warmed the spirit if not the body.

John Higgs laughingly offers the disclaimer that this seemingly Nordic tradition is wholly a Barren Ridge creation, and it is a tradition worth perpetuating. Next year, be sure to watch the Barren Ridge website for the date in late January. The Higgs say the event always sells out. Make your reservation early and consider spending the night at either the Stonewall Jackson Hotel or one of the area’s charming Bed and Breakfasts. Come celebrate mid-winter Barren Ridge style.


Copyright Susan A. Motley 2017

Dear Mr. President


January 23, 2017

Dear Mr. President,

Although I am pretty sure I once heard Kelly Ann Conway say that you don’t take advice, I am writing to offer some that is free and sincere. By the way, that advice policy is in keeping with the essentials of Machiavellian leadership. Machiavelli advised Lorenzo DeMedici to take only solicited advice—not advice that is randomly offered like mine and Machiavelli’s for that matter. And like Machiavelli, I am forging ahead anyway. So here goes.

Let’s start with the Tweets: I like that you Tweet. It shows that you live in this century. But Mr. Trump, every middle school student knows that inappropriate Tweets can alienate friends and create enemies. They never can be denied, and they never go away. Keep your Tweets positive. Praise. Congratulate. Express your excitement. Never criticize. Never lambast. If you have a problem with someone, take it up privately. You have those resources.

President Trump, you need a team of accomplished speech writers, and you need them now. Let’s face it. You are not Shakespeare’s reincarnation. Your only superlative is very and your most frequently used pronoun is I, two words that high school English teachers everywhere have banned from their students’ writing. And don’t even think about replacing very with extremely. Our English language is graced with excellent words to replace “very, very, very bad.” Wordsmiths know these words. The word I always weakens the impact of an opinion. You are the leader of a nation now. Talk about us and we. Just so you know, your inaugural address was not as bad as I expected it to be, but it could have been much better.

Please, Mr. President, work to mend your relationship with the press. The press is traditionally viewed as a fourth branch of government, the watch dog branch known as the Fourth Estate. Because most of us watch and read the same news sources every day, whether it’s the reporting extremes of Fox and CNN or the moderate PBS News Hour, Americans will never get the story without a bit of slant. And you will never be satisfied with what is being reported and how it is being reported. Let it go. If you want Americans to know the facts, hold press conferences. Talk about governance. Avoid indignation. The hallmark of every democratic society is a free press. You and we the people must protect freedom of the press. It’s in your job description.

Avoid contradiction. It makes you seem insincere and maybe a little like you are losing it. Some even call it lying. Now I know Machiavelli advised that leaders say whatever is necessary but do only what is in their best interests. However, it’s 2017 not 1517. Your actions are public, and your audience is vast. Some members of your audience are actually paying attention, Mr. President. When at your Inaugural luncheon you observed how much you respect the Clintons, they winced because they remember the “lock her up” chant. They want to see your tax returns. You promised. If a wall is built, Mexico should pay for it. You promised. Keep your promises and explain when you cannot.

The Presidency is a massive responsibility. Thank you for your determination to serve. I only hope that something included here will make the next four years just a bit easier.


Susan Motley

copyright 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

IMG_4616Really I did not know what to expect!

I mean, I had been regularly checking and reading the Women’s March on Washington website. I had my reasons for going, and every day I learned of one more acquaintance planning to go because she had reasons too. I had ordered my metro card, purchased a pink hat, and had poured over maps carefully selecting a spot for meeting my daughter who would be traveling by bus from Brooklyn. I had been to a meeting where there was much talk about safety: to not respond when approached by hecklers, what to do if violence breaks out.

As I lay in bed Friday night, I prayed. I prayed for the safety of everyone. I prayed that the march be peaceful as had been planned. I prayed that the message be an expression of a desire for a forward thinking progressive agenda rather than the regression that seems embedded in the rhetoric of the new administration. And frankly, I prayed that I would have the stamina to do this thing.

Saturday morning at 3:55, I met up with just over 100 marchers, diverse in gender, age, race, and reasons, ready to board Rally Buses headed to DC. Two more buses would be leaving an hour later.

Still, it wasn’t until we had joined the buses streaming into RFK Stadium parking, it wasn’t until I had caught sight of the undulating sea of pink hats progressing up the hill to the metro station, it wasn’t until more than one National Guardsman, police person and metro worker had thanked me “for doing this,” it wasn’t until we had traversed the throngs boarding the trains, it wasn’t until I had joined in cheering at every stop the marchers boarding my train, and it wasn’t until the marchers, jam packed into L’Enfant Plaza metro, began the chant, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” that I began to understand the enormity of the day that lay ahead.

copyright Susan Motley 2017

Civil Service

My husband and I stopped for dinner at a popular eatery on the way home. It was crowded when we arrived, and we opted to eat at the bar rather than the uncomfortable table for two we had been offered.

We ordered, the crowd of hopeful diners grew, and my husband and I congratulated ourselves on having arrived just in time. A group of three men squeezed into the single space next to me. Customers were stacking up everywhere waiting to be seated for dinner.

As our food arrived, I noticed them: a man and a woman jockeying for a position at the bar. They stood; they waited. Unnoticed, he raised his hand to flag a bartender. But at that moment, the staff huddled at the register to confer. When they finished, they took orders from the customers closest to the register. The couple, who by now had leveraged a place at the bar, waited for a few more minutes. Their order was never taken, and they walked out.

I am married to a man who does not wait. He would not have waited as long as that couple did, but the time they lingered gave me time to notice that the only other brown faces in that room were working in the kitchen. It gave me time to wonder if they were second guessing the reason they had not been served. It gave me time to think about how far we’ve come yet how far we need to go. If race were no longer an issue, that man and that woman would be just another hungry couple leaving to find a less crowded place to eat. But today race remains an issue, and I can’t help thinking about how they might have felt.

I Am Not Whining; I Am Concerned

I challenge you to find Donald Trump in this collage of business ethics.

I challenge you to find Donald Trump in this collage of business ethics.

I am not a whiner, and I am not a sore loser. I am not woefully wringing my hands over Hillary Clinton’s loss. I understand that Donald J.Trump is America’s president-elect. I hope that his administration improves the lives of the citizens of this country and enhances the global stature of our nation. But when Mitch McConnell, speaking on one of the Sunday morning political talk shows, stated that Democrats needed to grow up and move on, something snapped. He, like so many others, is missing the point, and it is simply this: most Americans have little confidence in the ability of this man to lead our nation.

Therefore, as it is my Constitutional right as a citizen of this great country, I do plan to be vigilant and vocal when I disagree with this president’s words and actions. I am already concerned.

Everyone from the President of the United States to the lowliest of pundits has observed that words matter. Our President-elect has effectively used crass language to alienate minorities, women, immigrants, and disabled citizens. He plowed through the Republican field of candidates with insults so unbecoming a leader, I don’t know when I will be able to view him as anything more than a childish bully. He has claimed he could stand in the middle of Times Square and shoot someone and suffer no consequences. Bear in mind that his Tweets will be translated and possibly misinterpreted over the coming years. His inability to express himself precisely could imperil the security and safety of our country particularly if Kellyanne Conway is not there to defend and clarify.

Trump’s cabinet appointments suggest the ascendency of plutocracy, rule by the rich. They are generals and billionaires out of touch with the needs and concerns of most American citizens. It it no leap to imagine leadership of the one percent to the advantage of the one percent. His inclusion of his children in government suggests nepotism in the extreme and conflict of interest so complicated even Trump cannot speak to the management of it. If not illegal, the appearance is concerning and no one knows the power of appearances better than DJT. Remember he once ordered a mock up of a construction site to close a deal.

Of greatest concern to me and others is that we simply do not know this president’s core beliefs and many doubt the existence of any kind of moral compass. One day our intelligence community doesn’t know what it’s talking about; the next day they probably do. He challenged Russia to hack Clinton emails, and praised WikiLeaks while insisting it had no impact on his election. One day he will build a wall that will be paid for by the country he is wishes to barricade; now the US will be reimbursed for the structure. On his first day in office, the Affordable Health Care Act will be repealed and replaced; Americans still don’t know what or when the replacement will be. In spite of his being elected, he continues to claim the election was rigged and that voter fraud is real. He claimed that Martha Raddatz cried as she announced his victory and has refused to retract this falsehood. In the last days of the current administration, he has inserted himself inappropriately into the governance of our country seeking to undermine the current President. He reveals his priorities when he tweets that Arnold Schwarzenegger is not doing as good a job as he did as host of Celebrity Apprentice.

We have elected an egotistical charlatan. I am not whining, I am not a sore loser, but I am justifiably concerned.

So with thousands of others, I will be exercising another Constitutional right: I will be marching in Washington on January 21.


copyright Susan A. Motley January 2017

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