A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

As I ran out the back door toward the woods behind our house, I yelled to Mom, “I’m going to go play Pioneer!” I grabbed a small bucket, filled it

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

As I ran out the back door toward the woods behind our house, I yelled to Mom, “I’m going to go play Pioneer!” I grabbed a small bucket, filled it

It Tastes Better at the Kids’ Table

Grilled pimento cheese and ham sandwiches, crispy rice treats, and Carolina hot dogs

As I ran out the back door toward the woods behind our house, I yelled to Mom, “I’m going to go play Pioneer!” I grabbed a small bucket, filled it with water from the garden hose, and race-walked to my forest kitchen, holding the bucket with both hands, careful not to spill. In the woods, my imagination and sense of wonder thrived. In my 6-year-old mind, I was a pioneer cooking for the wagon train. I used a stick to dig a hole in the dirt, which made for my mixing bowl. I added some water to make mud pies, seasoned with grass and pine straw and served with a side of pine cone meatballs.

Chef Lynn Wells' menu from her childhood "restaurant," Lulu's.

Growing up, Lynn Wells ran a “restaurant” from her childhood home. Today, an old menu from “Lulu’s” hangs in her kitchen.

By the time I turned 11, my favorite pastime was playing restaurant. I’d spend my Saturdays making notes of what we had on hand in the pantry and refrigerator. Then I’d create a menu and invite a few neighborhood kids over to eat. Inspired by a character on the TV show Hee Haw, I called my restaurant LuLu’s.

The menu consisted of hot dogs, tomato or chicken noodle soup (depending on what red-and-white cans were in the pantry that weekend), and peanut-butter-and-jelly or grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Sandwiches were always cut on the diagonal and plated with the two points together to create a butterfly, a LuLu’s specialty. After I took orders and cooked, my guests and I would sit around the table, putting black olives or Bugles on our fingertips and raisins on our front teeth, belly-laughing so hard that we couldn’t catch our breath.

I’ll always be grateful to Mom for keeping one of my menus from LuLu’s. Today, it hangs on the wall in my grown-up kitchen, where I still make hot dogs, sandwiches, and soup when I’m craving childhood memories.

Carolina hot dogs

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Hot Dogs All the Way

Yield: 6 hot dogs.

For the chili:
1 pound ground chuck
1 small yellow onion, diced (about ¾ cup)
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ cup water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 (14.5-ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a large skillet, brown beef on medium heat until cooked through. Remove beef from skillet, leaving drippings. Add onion to skillet and cook until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the ground beef back to the skillet along with the rest of the ingredients and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

For the slaw:
½ head green cabbage
2 teaspoons celery seed
½ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar or dill pickle juice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Cut cabbage into large chunks and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Place chopped cabbage in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are well combined. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the hot dogs:
6 kosher all-beef hot dogs
1 cup hot water
6 hot dog buns, lightly toasted
Yellow mustard
Chopped slaw

Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium-high. Place hot dogs in skillet and let cook for 1 minute. Roll hot dogs with a fork or tongs until all sides are cooked. Add 1 cup hot water to skillet and cover with lid. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Place hot dogs in buns and top with mustard, chili, and slaw.

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Grilled pimento cheese and ham sandwich

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Grilled Ham & Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

Yield: 2 sandwiches.

For the pimento cheese:
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, hand-grated
3 tablespoons whipped cream cheese
2 tablespoons chopped pimientos
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon hot sauce

Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

For assembly:
1 cup pimento cheese
4 slices sourdough bread
6 ounces Black Forest ham, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons salted butter, softened and divided

Spread pimento cheese on 2 slices of bread and divide the ham between the two sandwiches. Top ham with the remaining slices of bread.

Spread 1 tablespoon butter on bottom of each sandwich and another tablespoon butter on tops.

While buttering bread, heat skillet on high. Place sandwiches into skillet and reduce heat to medium. When one side is toasted to preference, flip sandwiches over and continue cooking. After toasting on both sides, remove from skillet. Let cool for 1 to 2 minutes and cut in half.

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Bowl of chicken noodle soup

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Chicken Noodle Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried sage
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (12-ounce bag) wide egg noodles
3 cups rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Add butter, celery, carrots, and onions to a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.

Add chicken stock and add thyme, sage, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper.

Bring broth to a boil. Add noodles and cook just until noodles are al dente.

Remove pot from heat as soon as noodles are just barely tender. Stir in chicken and parsley. Taste the broth and add more seasonings and salt if needed.

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Crispy rice treats with rainbow sprinkles and white chocolate chips

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Rainbow Krispies Treats

Yield: 9 large bars.

½ cup unsalted butter, plus extra for coating baking dish
1 (10.5-ounce) bag mini marshmallows
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
Rainbow sprinkles
½ cup white chocolate chips
Flaked salt (such as Maldon)

Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, making sure to reach all corners.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat until it starts to foam, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring continuously until bubbling stops, another 2 to 3 minutes. At this stage, the milk solids should go from golden to medium-dark brown.

Immediately remove pot from heat. Add marshmallows to butter. Stir until marshmallows begin to soften, about 1 minute.

Return pan to low heat, add kosher salt, and stir until marshmallows are almost smooth, about 1 minute. Turn off heat. Stir in vanilla. Use a spatula to fold cereal into the mixture until evenly distributed.

Pour cereal mixture into prepared baking dish. Using the spatula, gently push and pull the mixture, spreading it out to fill the pan; avoid pressing too firmly.

While still warm, top the treats with rainbow sprinkles, white chocolate chips, and a light sprinkle of flaked salt. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Once cool, remove from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut treats into 9 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

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This story was published on Feb 14, 2024

Lynn Wells

Lynn Wells is a personal chef with more than 20 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry and a degree in Nutrition Management from UNCG.