Cook Up a Vacation: Summer Pasta from a Kentucky Farm B&B

Sheltering in place during the global pandemic doesn’t mean your senses are confined to your home kitchen. Send your taste buds on a holiday with flavors from far-flung destinations.

This quilt barn marks the location where you turn into Snug Hollow Farm B&B. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I grew up in Kentucky, and when I travel back to my “Old Kentucky Home,” I love to travel to some of its rural areas, including to the arches of Red River Gorge and to a beautiful organic farm bed and breakfast called Snug Hollow, owned and operated by Barbara Napier.

Snug Hollow is built sustainably on 300 acres of gorgeous, pesticide-free farmland 20 miles from the lovely college town of Berea, Kentucky, just an hour from Lexington and about 45 minutes from Natural Bridge State Park, which I first visited when I could still ride on my papa’s shoulders! Snug Hollow Farm is an escape into nature—partly cleared forest land that’s full of birds, wild animals, and gently rolling hills and brooks.

Barbara Napier cooks an organic farm breakfast for guests of Snug Hollow Farm ©Laurel Kallenbach

Barbara cooks up fresh-from-the-garden, organic, vegetarian meals for guests. With curtailed travel, you too can cook organic farm-fresh cuisine like that served at Snug Hollow.

And there’s good news for those looking forward to venture outside their homes: Snug Hollow is welcoming guests again starting June 1, 2020. With all that outdoor space on the farm, physical distancing is joyful, not a constraint. There are acres of forest to roam, so you can enjoy the sunshine and fresh air without worrying about bumping into too many other humans on your rambles around the property. (Encounters with wild turkeys, cardinals, deer, and other wildlife are an added surprise.)

The pasta recipe below is from Barbara Napier’s cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories: A Cookbook from Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast is available to buy online.

Bowtie Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce & Snap Peas

This quick and simple pasta dish reminds me of Barbara Napier’s delicious home cooking from the two visits I’ve made (so far!) to Snug Hollow Farm B&B in central Kentucky.

Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes; c
ooking Time: 5 minutes

12 ounces dry bowtie pasta

12 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh snap peas

7 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as basil or thyme

3 cups heavy whipping cream

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1½ cups chopped fresh tomatoes

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Steam snap peas in a steamer insert over boiling water or in a microwave oven on high (100 percent power) for 3 to 4 minutes. Plunge the peas into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add lemon zest and juice, garlic, and fresh herbs. Stir together and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add cream and bring mixture to a boil; turn off heat. Stir in salt and pepper.
  5. Add cooked pasta and snap peas; stir thoroughly to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl, and top with chopped tomatoes and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

From Barbara Napier’s cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories: A Cookbook from Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast.

Some Memories from My July 2013 Visit to Snug Hollow

The sometimes windy, sometimes narrow road from Berea, Kentucky, to Snug Hollow leads through hilly pastures and small residential enclaves. I drove past barns of all sorts—some weathered and tumbling down, some bright and new, some decorated with quilt-pattern blocks or black stallions. I wanted to stop to photograph each of them, but there was often an impatient local on my tail, so I couldn’t slam on my brakes when I encountered a picturesque one.

An encouraging sign ©Laurel Kallenbach

With rolling hills and valleys and lush knobs covered in dense forest, this is truly beautiful country. There are signs to Tater Knob pottery, and I stopped by to purchase an artisan quiche dish and some lovely bowls as gifts.

Finally I reached the turnoff for Snug Hollow and began the ascent up the narrow gravel and dirt road. I held my breath at every turn, wondering what I’d do if I encountered someone coming from the other direction. I hit a pothole hard as I was gunning the car to get up a particularly steep stretch. Occasionally a posted sign encouraged me: “Snug Hollow: Keep on Going.”

At last, after opening and closing a cow gate on the road, I arrived at a Snug Hollow sign beside an old-time, historic cabin. Another 20 yards and there was a place to park. Within moment, curly-haired innkeeper, visionary, and land steward Barbara Napier ran out to greet me. (We’d met back in 2008 when I visited as part of a brother-sister Kentucky nostalgia tour.)

The main house overlooks the property and is a great place for bird-watching. ©Laurel Kallenbach.jpg

Barbara feels a little like a soulmate to me; she’s a native Kentuckian who’s passionate about healthy eating and organic farming and preserving these rural hollows (prounounced “holler” in these parts). She’s built the structures on the farm using reclaimed and recycled materials, and she has a wabi-sabi knack for creating beautifully designed spaces with old, antique art and eclectic furnishings.

And boy can Barbara cook! As I got out of the car, I smelled lasagna cooking and onions sautéing on the stove. My first night, a group of 17 mothers and daughters who used to live in Berea were having a reunion dinner, and the screened-in back porch was filled with tables decorated by vases of fresh flowers from around the farm. The whole group dined on a heaping bowl of fresh-from-Barbara’s-garden greens, followed by veggie lasagna paired with sautéed carrots and crisp, sweet Brussels sprouts. For dessert: the most decadent chocolate tart you can imagine, served à la mode. It was a locavore feast!

Country cooking from scratch at Snug Hollow ©Laurel Kallenbach

“The Gathering Place” Cabin

I stayed in the very private cabin up the hill from the main house and the historic cabin. Designed for families or for small group retreats, yoga classes, corporate retreats The Gathering Place is huge (for little me at least) with a capacity to sleep six. The cabin had a wrap-around porch, including a porch swing, an old-fashioned glider, and outdoor rocking chairs. Blooming mimosas scented up the room with sweet fragrance.

Snug Hollow’s sitting room/living room offer tranquil views over the land. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Inside was airy and woody: knotty-pine ceilings and wall paneling, loads of windows with good screens (to keep the skeeters out!), and a smooth oak floor with handmade, braided rugs. It was all one open space, with four ceiling fans to circulate air and keep it cool.

There was a living-room area with an upholstered sofa, love seat, and chairs—plus a rocker and small table. The farm is far away from summer-sweltering steel-and-concrete cities, so I never needed the window-unit air conditioner. (For winter guests, there was a gas stove for warmth.)

The dining area was outfitted with a table for six, and it was adorned by a lovely flower arrangement in a vase made by a local potter. (During COVID-19 times, meals are taken in private quarters, not in the communal areas.)

Appalachian folk arts thrive in Central Kentucky. This dulcimer is just one of the traditional instruments Barbara keeps at Snug Hollow. If you’re lucky, one of her friends will drop by and sing and play. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A dulcimer graced one wall; other local artwork completed the simple, yet welcoming décor. The kitchenette was outfitted with a full-size fridge, dishes, coffee maker (with tea and coffee), microwave, wine glasses and bottle openers.

Night Falls

That evening I sat on the old metal glider on the retreat cabin’s deck. As the sun disappeared and the moon rose, the animals, birds, and insects of the night began vocalizing under cover of dark. It’s an unseen jungle here in rural Kentucky.

I heard Barbara’s Jack Russell terrier, Hillary Rodham, barking a few times at the main farmhouse. Hillary’s canine ears and nose told her what kind of wildlife was out there: but I could only imagine. At the pond, the bullfrogs brayed; another unidentified critter emitted twangs that sounded like a banjo string breaking in the distance. Fireflies—the biggest I’ve ever seen—twinkled in the clearing like floating stars. I was in heaven.

The porch view from Gathering Place cabin ©Laurel Kallenbach

Some kind of bird screeched and chirruped away in the trees. A pair of bats swooped and darted in the cooling night air, eating an army of mosquitos—and for that I was grateful.

The night darkened, and a whippoorwill on caffeine whistled manically in the woods. How would I ever be able to sleep? This was anything but a silent night!

High above the din, a lozenge of moon radiantly crept across the horizon. In gratitude, I felt like the moon and all the creatures of the dark were watching me.

On the horizon were flashes of distant lightning; a shroud of clouds passed in front of the moon, and the reflected moon-glow created an eerie, reddish halo.

Not much later, it occurred to me that I’d better get to bed. My visit five years before had taught me that the avian chorus would crescendo at a pre-dawn hour.

A Day on the Farm

After fresh coffee and homemade waffles with berries for breakfast, I visited Barbara’s kitchen garden. She pointed out that some of the organically grown veggies were doing poorly this year because she had planted them just a couple of days before the farm got three inches of rain in one hour. Even so, she had raised a bounty of salad greens—with tomatoes on the way—and an assortment of other veggies.

Bee on flowers in the Kentucky meadow ©Laurel Kallenbach

Next I took a walk in the woods, following the trail markers. It was a nostalgic stroll, because my family used to camp in rural Kentucky almost every year during what we used to call “Easter Break” back then. I passed the pond and into the flowery meadows. The forest, shady and relatively cool, though humid, smelled like mushrooms, clay-rich dirt, and decaying leaves from last fall. Dewdrops evaporated off sassafras leaves shaped like mittens. I breathed in the green scents of this year’s foliage—the scent of moss and bramble.

Back at the cabin there was time and solitude to read book and work on a chapter of my novel set in Kentucky. I even took a nap, because I was free to do whatever I felt like on a lazy summer afternoon in a pastoral setting.

Evenings of Community: Dinner and Games

Strawberries and cream for dessert! ©Laurel Kallenbach

Barbara spoiled us that evening with cheese pie served with a stack of sautéed veggies—red cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers and onions—and accompanied by homemade vegetarian baked beans and cornbread. And no one could say “no” to fresh strawberries and whipped cream for dessert.

Several locals had come over for dinner—friends of Barbara’s who have known her since she worked at Berea College. The evening’s talk was about critters who live on their land. Donna (who was getting her MFA at Bellarmine) had a bobcat in her old barn. The conversation turned to occasional, mysterious sightings of a black panther in these parts, even though wildlife experts claim there aren’t any big cats around any more. I remembered that the school mascot of Louisville’s Pleasure Ridge Park Junior High/High was the panthers, and I wondered if one would be prowling around my cabin after dark.

After dinner, our group of six gathered around the living room table for “Fast Scrabble” played with three sets of Scrabble tiles. Nowadays it’s a prepackaged game called Bananagrams.

(I hope that sometime in the post-COVID future, guests will once again be able to mingle and share a communal table and after-dinner chats.)

When I returned to my cabin after dark, I basked once again in the light of the Kentucky moon. I remembered a song I’d learned as a kid at camp:

“When the moon shines so bright on little Red Wing / The breeze is sighing, the night bird’s crying…”

I fell asleep humming that song, and I will always dream of those days at Snug Hollow farm bursting with life in the lush woods of a place that lives in my blood.

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

Read more about my visits to Snug Hollow organic farm B&B.

Farm boots on the porch at Snug Hollow ©Laurel Kallenbach

Meditate with Monterey Bay Aquarium

It’s no secret that meditating reduces anxiety and depression and improves immunity—and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to bolster our physical and emotional health. Research has also shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, according to Harvard Health.

A southern sea otter named Abby in the Sea Otter Exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

So I was thrilled when I opened an e-newsletter from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California informing me that during the time that the aquarium is closed to the public for the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re hosting video meditations (they call them “medit-oceans”) featuring a soothing, 10-minute guided meditation you can do while gazing at some relaxing ocean imagery. (You can join the medit-ocean live at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time, Monday–Friday. You can also find the meditations on YouTube or the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Facebook page at any time that you need some nature-based relaxation.)

“This is a stressful time, but connecting with one another digitally and sharing our love of the ocean centers us when so much feels uncertain. We hope you, too, will find some relief and community online with us.”  

                                               —Monterey Bay Aquarium

Glorious “Relax-ocean”

Two young visitors admire the aquarium’s Kelp Forest exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

This morning, my husband and I participated in the first of a series of live, online “medit-ocean”: a 10-minute video treat gazing at Pacific sea nettles, a type of jellyfish that stings. (You can see a photo of the Pacific sea nettles at the bottom of this post.)

A very calm woman’s voice instructed us in deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualizations. I especially liked the part where she instructed us that every time a thought—or a worry or a fear—pops up, just to visualize attaching that thought to one of the undulating sea nettles and then watch it float away.

After 10 minutes I felt refreshed—plus I had an appreciation for and fascination with the Pacific sea nettles after having watched the animals’ graceful tentacles—some long and thin, others flutey and lacy. There will be different animals featured for different meditations, so I’m eager to get to get better acquainted with the sea life!

Be There Now with Live Webcams

If medit-ocean isn’t your thing, there are other great online ways to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium, whether you’re in a Manhattan skyscraper, on the Arizona desert, or in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Via webcams and videos found on the Aquarium website  and their Facebook page, you can literally experience the wonders of the ocean no matter where you are.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has ten live web cameras to choose from, including:

Penguin Cam: Resting, preening, or swimming, these inquisitive African penguins are hoot! They’re fed to make sure they get their daily vitamin, and sometimes by tossing food into the water to stimulate foraging behavior. Watch for underwater acrobatics as the penguins dart and dive to catch their fish.

African penguins on exhibit in the Splash Zone. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sea Otter Cam: Be delighted by the antics of our sea otters or mellow out to the hypnotic drifting of our jellies. including playful sea otters (humor is good for your health)

Kelp Forest Cam: Watch fish and small sharks glide through the swaying kelp forest

Sea Jelly Cams: There’s one live camera for the underwater dances of the reddish sea nettles and another for the hypnotic moon jellies that drift like slow-motion dancers.

A flamboyant cuttlefish in the Tentacles exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Shark Cam: You’ll spot sharks, rays, and other fishes as they cruise through the rocky reef. Among the types you’ll see are Sevengill sharks, leopard sharks, spiny dogfish and the elusive Pacific angel shark. The Aquarium’s 90-foot-long hourglass shape gives big sharks plenty of room to glide and turn. Watch carefully and you might see big skates and bat rays pass by the window!

Coral Reef Cam: This Baja coral-reef community teems with colorful tropical fish, including the Cortez wrasse, scrawled filefish, and Cortez angelfish. In the wild, coral reefs are among the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth.

A cluster of strawberry anemones. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

This is how I’m getting my infusion of the miraculous animals and sea plants in the oceanic ecosystems until I can travel again. When it’s safe after the pandemic, Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the first places I hope to head.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels to California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium: Monterey Bay Aquarium: Saving Oceans One Fish at a Time 

Though sea nettles are jellyfish with a sting, their flowy motions are perfect for a tranquil meditation. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Bath Thermae Spa in England: Better Health through Water

When the traveling gets tough, the tough take a bath. After a long day of sightseeing or hiking through the countryside, one of the best things to do is soak your achy feet in the hotel hot tub or spa.

The Rooftop Pool at Thermae Bath Spa overlooks a glorious view of the city of Bath, including Bath Cathedral. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

It turns out this watery antidote for stress has a long tradition: The ancient Romans had a saying for it: “sanitas per aquam,” which translates as “health through water.” And not coincidentally, the word “spa” is an acronym taken from that Latin phrase.

Geothermally warmed mineral springs were the first spas—used for healing. These waters naturally bubble up from the ground, bringing minerals from the earth’s core—minerals that can help improve certain skin conditions, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments.

In Bath, England, warm mineral waters have welcomed visitors for millennia. The Celts worshipped the water goddess Sulis there, and the ancient Romans (who ruled Britannia from the 1st through 5th centuries A.D.) built stone-enclosed pools and steam rooms for their health and restoration.

During the 1700s and 1800s, the British aristocracy flocked to the town of Bath for social parties and to “take the waters,” encouraged by the tale of how Queen Mary’s fertility troubles ended after she bathed in the waters and ultimately gave birth to a son.

Modern Spa, Ancient History

Today, Thermae Bath Spa is located in a chic modern building not far from the ruins of the ancient Roman baths. Although no one’s claiming anymore that the water cures infertility or any other major health problem, this is still the perfect place to shed your street clothes and spend a half- or full-day in a robe and swimsuit soaking like a Roman.

The indoor Minerva Pool has jets and moving water currents. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

My husband and I visited Thermae Bath Spa on a chilly, drizzly English afternoon, when a hot soak was most inviting. We started with a dip in the Minerva Bath, a large, indoor thermal pool equipped with massage jets, a whirlpool, and a “lazy river” with a current strong enough that it carried us around the pool. We hung onto flotation “noodles” and cruised the perimeter without moving a muscle. Between the water’s temperature (92°F) and the mineral-rich water (the slight sulfur smell is the giveaway), we felt like limp noodles.

After a long drink of water (it’s important to rehydrate while you soak), we checked out the über-cool co-ed steam rooms where we sweated in glass-enclosed circular steam areas. Each had a different aromatherapy scent: lavender, eucalyptus, rose and frankincense. A central waterfall shower was the spot where everyone gathered to cool off before trying a new scent.

At the center of the Thermae Bath Spa Steam Room is a ceiling shower for cooling off after a hot steam. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

A note about facilities: pools, steam rooms, and the locker rooms are all co-ed. This is Europe, after all! It was a little odd for us Americans who are used to gender segregation in public restrooms, gyms and pools, but we went with the flow. The locker rooms do have private cubicles where you can dress. Bathing suits (what the Brits call “swimming costumes”) are required.

Although Thermae Bath Spa offers a number of water-centric therapies—including watsu (massage done while you float in a warm pool), Vichy showers, body wraps and more—we opted for pool soaking, which we could enjoy as a couple. If you’re visiting Bath for several days, I’d highly recommend taking a separate day for a massage or special treatment.

For the grand finale, my husband and I deepened our relaxation in the steamy Rooftop Pool. The water was perfect, and the views of Bath’s skyline were spectacular. A high-pressure cascade gave us a deep-shoulder massage and sent a wave of tingles over my scalp. The added bonus: A huge rainbow appeared in the sky, arching over Bath’s cathedral. The entire pool population ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the sight. Unforgettable.

Feasting in the Natural Foods Restaurant

The spa’s Springs Café serves wonderful local cuisine. Photo courtesy Thermae Bath Spa

Afterwards, we realized we were hungry, but weren’t quite ready to leave. No problem, the spa’s Springs Café Restaurant serves everything from light snacks, appetizers, paninis, and hot gourmet meals. The atmosphere is casually elegant, and almost everyone comes in their robe. So, in our white, toga-like wraps, we dined quite well on slow-cooked Wiltshire beef and wild mushroom and Bath Blue cheese risotto with glasses of wine. The menu emphasizes nutritionally balanced foods made from locally produced fare.

Soaking, steaming, feasting—what more could we ask for? My husband and I came away from Bath Thermae Spa feeling relaxed, radiant, well-fed, and squeaky clean. The ancient Romans definitely had the right idea—and the city of Bath has created a first-class modern version of the historic baths. Add it to your itinerary—it’s a highlight of the city.

Clean Water Policy

The thermal water at Thermae Bath Spa bubbles naturally to the earth’s surface, and is estimated to be 10,000 years old. It contains more than 42 different minerals, the most concentrated being sulphate, calcium, and chloride, which are reported to be good for sore joints and some skin conditions.

The spa filters the water to remove iron and bacteria. A tiny bit of chlorine is added for sanitary reasons.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted May 2013

For more information on visiting Bath, England, see Visit Bath.

Read more about my travels in England:

The Georgian exterior of Thermae Bath Spa shows the honey-colored Bath stone that appears in buildings throughout the historic city. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

Jedi Knights Arrive in Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Do you watch the end titles of a movie just to see the locations where it was filmed? If so, there’s a news flash: the final three Star Wars films (The Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) treat movie-goers to eye-popping views of a remote, uninhabited island off the coast of southwest Ireland.

Luke Skywalker’s refuge and Rey’s training location in all three movies was filmed on Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Director JJ Abrams—along with cast and crew—jetted into a little village called Portmagee, County Kerry, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. From there, they traveled eight miles by sea to the starkly beautiful Skellig Michael.

To keep the location a secret when The Force Awakens was first shooting in 2014, locals were told a documentary was being filmed in the area, so they were amazed when it was quietly revealed that it was really Star Wars being filmed in their community.

A press release from Tourism Ireland quoted Gerard Kennedy of The Bridge Bar and Moorings Guesthouse in Portmagee, as saying: “It was such a weird and wonderful experience for our small village to be part of the Star Wars story. We enjoyed evenings of music and dance in our bar with the cast and crew. Mark Hamill even learned how to pull a pint with our barman, Ciaran Kelly!”

The monastic Island, Skellig Michael founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan

Starting in the 7th century, Skellig Michael was a center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks for 600 years. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-meter-high rock, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe’s better known, but least accessible, monasteries.    Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan

 

In the Footsteps of the Jedi Knights

Ireland’s County Kerry is one of the island nation’s best-loved destinations—and the first place I ever visited in Ireland. Thirty years ago I was wowed while driving around the Ring of Kerry, a road along the cliff-lined coast with dramatic views over the Atlantic.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars—or of stargazing—this might be just the destination for you. Kerry is one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky reserves in the world. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas are just some of the wonders you can see with the naked eye in the region.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even spot Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon as it drops out of hyperspace!

The island of Skellig Michael is accessible only by boat. Today it’s inhabited solely by birds, but monks settled there more than a millennium ago. The stacked-stone beehive huts that the monks lived in are restored and can be visited from May to September each year. (Advance booking required.)

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo by  Valerie O’Sullivan

Traveling with Star Wars

A growing number of travelers choose to visit TV and shooting locations. (See my post about visiting Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. ),

Locations for The Force Awakens include Scotland, Iceland’s volcanoes, the Abu Dhabi desert, England, and New Mexico. Past Star Wars movies have featured Tunisia, Spain, Lake Como (Italy), Guatemala, Norway, and Switzerland.

Watch a video of scenery on Skellig Michael are available at Tourism Ireland.

May the traveling force be with you!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read about my travels in Ireland: