You may not know this, but I’m a huge bookworm. Seriously, I could easily open my own library with all of the different books stashed here and there (thank God for kindle!). Add in to that a deep love of country and bluegrass music and good stick-to-your-ribs country food.
So, when I was offered the chance to review Recipes and Road Stories: Life on the Road with Sisters Caroline and Hannah Melby of the duo HanaLena, I jumped on it.
Before we get to the book, here’s a little back story on HanaLena and their book. . .
By the time Hannah was in the 11th grade and Caroline was in the 7th grade, the Melby sisters were touring the country in bluegrass bands, with Hannah on fiddle and Caroline on mandolin. Today the sisters are the front persons of a very popular Nashville-based country music touring band named HanaLena.
The sisters, who grew up in Starkville, Mississippi, performed from an early age—Hannah is now 28, Caroline is 24—evolving from bluegrass to progressive country as they perfected their songwriting and performance skills out on the road. In 2008 they won the “Best New Act in Country Music” competition at the Colgate Showdown in the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville—and took home a check for a cool $100,000 presented by country music star LeAnn Rimes.
Do they ever have some great stories to tell about coming of age on the concert trail! Recipes and Road Stories blends touching and rollicking road stories with an assortment of tasty recipes, and then tops everything off with plenty of exciting photographs. Also contributing recipes are friends they made on the road, including Rhonda Vincent, a 5-time Grammy nominee who has been called the “Queen of Bluegrass,” and Claire Lynch, who is the reigning Female Vocalist of the Year for the International Bluegrass Association.
Recipes and Road Stories: From Life on the Road with Sisters Hannah and Caroline Melby of the duo HanaLena was published by Sartoris Literary Group in September 2014 and is available for sale on Amazon.
Now, back to the book.
Written as a series of short stories told from each sister’s perspective in a loosely chronological order with photographs included, I found myself laughing, crying (I was honestly in tears after just a few pages – you’ll see why in a minute), and daydreaming about running away to join a bluegrass band. Even though I can’t carry a tune.
I read along as the sisters transversed the country from New Orleans to Orlando to the Windy City of Chicago, growing as musicians, sisters, and as a band. And from prom night to performing at the historical Ryman Auditorium, Recipes and Road Stories, took me for a memorable ride with several well known musicians earning mentions. Just picture Tim McGraw and Faith Hill playing softball. Or how about Little Jimmy Dickens? I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting, behind-the-scenes peek into the fascinating world of the music industry.
And the recipes? Can’t forget about them, can we?
At the end of each chapter are recipes submitted by those near and dear to the sisters. Appetizers, soups, side dishes, main entrees, and desserts aplenty (Inside Out Chocolate Cake, anyone?) are all featured. One of my personal favorites: The Cornbread They Never Told You About. Two words. . . . hilarious and delicious! I know, those two words aren’t normally used together, but trust me, they’re completely perfect in this case. If you’re like me, you’ll giggle like a fool and start getting out your cast iron skillet at the same time.
Whether you’re a bluegrass fan or just a lover of good country cooking (or both, like me), I highly recommend this book.
Now, for a little special treat. . . . an excerpt straight from the book. Remember how I said you’l understand why I teared up, well, here it is:
Excerpt from Recipes and Road Stories:
A High Lonesome Cowboy Wedding Never to Forget
This is one of our favorite stories. It is dear to our hearts, but it is a hard story to tell for reasons that soon will become apparent.
It was a hot summer day in Mississippi. We drove for hours from Nashville, down to Sallis, Mississippi, located outside of the “big city” of Kosciusko. Once we arrived in Sallis, we turned down a winding, gravel road that led us to an old high school gym.
We unpacked our gear for what we thought would be a typical wedding. What we didn’t know was this would be anything but a typical wedding, and it would probably change all of our lives a little, even if we didn’t know it at the time.
We were greeted by a handful of handsome boys dressed in heavily starched white shirts and jeans. They had matching tan cowboy hats to top off the outfit. They helped us carry our sound equipment into the small, but inviting gym that had been transformed into a beautiful wedding venue.
The groom stepped up and introduced himself with a firm, good ole boy handshake that made you feel like the world would be in good hands with him. The bride was a beautiful mother of five with a smile as wide and bright as if she had won the lottery.
We set up for the ceremony and got ready to perform. But before the wedding began we all gathered around to say a prayer. It was a well-spoken and beautiful prayer, the kind that made you feel like God was watching over the couple at that very moment.
When the wedding began, we played “Ashokan Farewell” as the doors opened and the bride began her long walk to meet her husband at the altar. As she began that journey, she was accompanied by one of her sons who walked at her side. Then after a few steps they paused long enough for another child to replace the first child—and so it went, the bride alternating her children so that each of them ended up walking her closer to her soon-to-be husband.
Something about the togetherness of that moment touched every heart in the room. The bride finally reached the spot where she would change her last name and hopefully her entire life. On either side of the couple were a line of finely dressed boys and girls, each of whom was one of their kids. I say “their kids” because I have never seen a family as close as they were on that day. They didn’t point out whose children were their biological ones. They were a family. That is all they needed.
After the “I dos” and the every so anticipated kiss, they turned and walked down the aisle a second time, but now as husband and wife. We played the reception soon after. They cleared the chairs and got ready for a good ole time! They had their first dance. They looked at each other was with such compassion and adoration. They somehow knew they were supposed to be there together at that very moment.
The bride and groom each danced with the children, one by one. During one song, the bride’s youngest boy walked on stage and pulled on my dress like you would expect any small child to do
when he wants to ask a question. I bent down to listen to his request. It was the sweetest and saddest question I have ever heard.
“Would you play a song for my mommy and me?” he asked. “I haven’t danced with her yet and I am afraid she has forgotten about me.”
I hugged him and said you bet!
I’m not sure, but I might have stopped the song we were playing half way through to honor his request. I was so touched by his innocence and his need to have a dance with his mom. As I watched with awe, the bride came over and grabbed her youngest boy from the stage and held him close while she danced with him.
After the last song was played and the last dance was danced, we loaded our instruments into the car and were ready to head home. The boys in starch all came up and gave us their going away present; I believe it was almonds tied up in a red bandana. We had the best time. Before we left we got a big hug from the bride and groom. They told us “thank you” as most people do. But, they decided to tell us why this wedding was so special to them. We knew a little background about them, but nothing prepared us for the story they told.
The bride had lost her husband a little while back. She was left with five kids. She was doing all she could to hold the family together, but it never seemed like enough. One day she was praying for the Lord to send her a man that would love her and all of her children, and it wouldn’t hurt if he was tall, dark, and handsome. She told God that the man would have to come to her, because she didn’t have any time to go out and search for him.
While she was on her knees praying, one of her daughters came looking for her and told her someone was at the door. She got up with tears in her eyes and opened the door. There stood a man. He was tall, he had dark hair, and he was handsome. He asked her if her husband was there. He had known him a while back and heard he lived here. She invited him in and told him of her late husband’s passing. They talked for hours. His wife had passed away as well.
Shortly after that meeting, they fell in love and got married. God had answered her prayers. He had sent her a tall, dark, and handsome man that loved her and all of her children, and she loved his children as well.
We left the old country place with tears in our eyes and a new-found appreciation for love and an acceptance of the mysterious way God works. We traveled home in silence, reflecting on the life changing day we had experienced.
I wish my story stopped there.
A few months after their wedding, the mother of her five children and of his three, answered a knock at her door. A man was standing there. With a pained look upon his face, he removed his hat. She knew something was wrong before any words were spoken. He told her he regretted to inform her that her husband’s train had derailed, and that he had not survived the train wreck.
For the second time, her world fell apart. She had to put aside her pain. She had eight children to take care of now, so for the second time, she was forced to become strong.—Hannah
And as a bonus – a recipe from their book, too:
Deep Fried Oreos
Courtesy of Cleek Farms, Kingsport, Tennessee. Host of annual Cleek Farm Corn Maze.
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar (sift for best results)
- 8 cups vegetable oil for frying
- Mix first 6 ingredients.
- Heat oil. A deep fryer works great, but you don't have to use one.
- Dip the Oreo in the batter, place in fryer until golden brown.
- Remove, cool slightly, and apply sifted powdered sugar.
- This is a simple funnel cake mix.
Disclosure: I was given this book to read and review. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.