Hannah McLeod

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North Carolina is regularly ranked as one of the 10 hungriest states in the nation. According to Feeding America data from 2018, North Carolina had a child food insecurity rate of 19.3 percent, with Haywood County at a rate of 21 percent. During the pandemic, Feeding America found that a majority of food banks report seeing a record increase in the number of people needing help, with an average increase of 60 percent across the country. 

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As the holiday season progresses, Western North Carolina has seen a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases. This rising spread has made its way into long-term care and assisted living facilities, where the elderly are at a higher risk for contraction and death. 

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Haywood County Schools Central Office began the process of relocating to Central Elementary last week. 

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It’s cookie season. And with all that 2020 has thrown at us, I am so glad we have finally arrived here. 

If you’re like me, and have inherited a culture of decadent eating from the women in your family, you may not be too keen on waiting for Christmas to roll around before you start making plates of holiday cookies. 

My mother, aunts and grandmother are nothing if not experts in the art of celebration. There really doesn’t even need to be an occasion. Or rather, they will make an occasion out of the seemingly mundane. Me and all my cousins have benefitted from growing up surrounded by this gusto for life.

Every year, as soon as the weather gets cold or the first day of fall comes around, whichever happens first, mom (Loretta) makes pounds of pumpkin cookie dough and stores it in the fridge for fresh, warm pumpkin cookies throughout the season. 

As late November approaches we switch back to the familiar world of chocolate chip cookies. After all, there will be pumpkin or sweet potato pie with the Thanksgiving meal. This year Loretta blew us all out of the water with the simple addition of espresso chocolate chips to her chocolate chip cookies. My favorite breakfast is a chocolate chip cookie and black coffee, but throw in some espresso chocolate chips? Wow. 

As December opens its doors, so do the floodgates of holiday goodies. Just this weekend, celebrating Thanksgiving with our family, Loretta was already prepared with jars of homemade  Irish Cream for everyone. 

Soon too there will be the famed sugar cookies. A recipe from Loretta’s great aunt Ginny. Ginny was the sister of my grandfather’s brother in-law. So she came to us through marriage and I’m ever so grateful she did. Her sugar cookies are crisp yet chewy, thin and not overly sweet. I’m not sure if a sugar cookie can be refined, but if one exists, it is Great Aunt Ginny’s. Every year we spend time cutting them out into different shapes and adding decorative sprinkles, a task that hasn’t lost its appeal as we grow older. 

My sister’s favorite holiday cookie has always been walnut balls. These are saved for closer to actual Christmas Eve. More decadent than sweet, the dough is filled with chopped walnuts and butter, and once rolled in powdered sugar they are simply irresistible. 

But if I know anything as a cook and a member of a big family, I know that those recipes should be reserved for Loretta — for all of us to make when the family is together. Hers will always turn out better, and there is no need to add my sub-par offering to an already abundant mix. 

So this year I have been playing around with my own cookie recipes. Not pumpkin, sugar, walnut or chocolate chip — but mint and dark chocolate. I am guilty of craving a piece of chocolate every night, and I almost always give in to that craving without a fight. Hence, I decided to make these small, rich, dark chocolate, thin mint cookies. They are not as heavy and filling as other holiday cookies, so they serve as the perfect slice of holiday goodness for otherwise “average” December days. Each of which can, and should, be celebrated in little ways.

There is no  need to wait for specific days or events to start your holiday celebration, especially not this year. My mother, grandmother and aunts have all shown me that celebration is important. Even the small instances. It is this attitude that brings zeal, energy, excitement and compassion to everyday life. 

 

Ingredients:

For the cookies:

2 C. flour

½ C. cocoa powder

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 C. butter

1 large egg

¾ C. sugar

1tsp. vanilla extract 

1 tsp. peppermint extract

 

For the coating:

2 x 4 oz. package baking chocolate (I use one 56% cacao and one sweet german’s 48% cacao)

1 tsp. vegetable oil

1tsp. peppermint extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

 

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until creamy. Add in egg, vanilla extract and peppermint extract until well combined
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, bits at a time until well combined. The dough should be thick
  5. Chill the dough until hard
  6. Roll dough out to ½ or ¼ inch sheets and cut into desired shape
  7. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. *Don’t walk away from the kitchen during this step! The cookies may take less time depending on cookie thickness and oven temp. These cook very fast!
  8. Let cookies cool completely before coating

For the coating, melt baking chocolate, extracts and oil in a saucepan, over low heat, until well combined. Dip cooled cookies into chocolate mixture with a fork.

The name of Leah Hampton’s new book will likely grab your attention. If it does, let it pull you in. This is one book you will be glad to have judged by its cover. 

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When the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading in North Carolina in March of 2020, public schools were forced to close their doors. First for two weeks, then for the rest of the school year. During that time teachers and administration worked hard to develop best practices on the spot for virtual learning. 

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Jane Pickett is originally from Atlanta, Georgia. She has lived the last 15 years of her life in Los Angeles, California, but when things began to shut down as the Coronavirus Pandemic spread across the United States, she headed east. 

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The Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department recently earned national accreditation through the Commission for Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies. 

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We all know that what we eat is directly linked to our health. Filling our bodies with a plant based, whole food diet is one of the easiest ways to guard against all sorts of ailments, diseases and the strains of time. Seed cycling is no exception. 

Seed cycling is the practice of eating certain types of seeds during certain phases of the menstrual cycle. The seeds for each phase are packed with nutrients that assist the female body in hormone regualtion. But the benefits of seed cycling do end with the onset of menopause. Continuing to incorporate this into a post-menopausal diet can help alleviate symptoms associated with lower levels of estrogen and progesterone that are common during and after menopause. 

Eating nuts and seeds has always been an important part of a healthy diet. This trendy, relatively new idea of seed cycling isn’t actually new at all. The system does, however, target the specific needs of the female body as it cycles through hormone production. 

The menstrual cycle is split into two main phases, the Follicular phase and the Luteal phase. For a 28 day cycle (cycle durations vary, and each person should adjust seed cycling to fit their own cycle), each phase lasts about 14 days. During the first 14 days, it is recommended to consume a tablespoon each of pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. During the 14 days, a tablespoon each of sesame and sunflower seeds. 

 

Follicular Phase: this is the time between the first day of the period and ovulation. It is called the Follicular phase because the pituitary gland releases a hormone that stimulates the follicle, and each follicle holds an immature egg. The follicles are also responsible for thickening the uterus lining in preparation for pregnancy.

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flax seeds 

 

Luteal Phase: time between ovulation and the start of the next period. This phase is considered the second half of a cycle. Progesterone levels are going through fluctuations, and there may also be unwanted PMS symptoms like bloating, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping. If you tend to experience these symptoms during this phase, consider using both sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.

  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds

 

Flax seeds are incredibly rich in lignans which can help alleviate period related breast pain and detoxify the body of excess hormone production. They are also a great source of Magnesium, Zinc and Vitamin B1. 

Pumpkin seeds are providers of Magnesium and Zinc. 

Supplementation of Magnesium is linked to a statistically significant decrease in the severity and duration of PMS symptoms. Zinc, in addition to helping alleviate symptoms of PMS, also supports progesterone production in the body and helps with cell growth and turnover, which is essential for women’s bodies while moving through their cycles.

Sesame seeds, like flax, are also high in lignans which, in addition to their other benefits, help maintain regular, healthy bleeding. They also contain Magnesium, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6 and Zinc. 

Sunflower seeds provide us with Magnesium, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E and Zinc. 

Zinc levels drop significantly during the Luteal Phase in women suffering from PMS, making replenishing Zinc an important step in managing PMS symptoms. Vitamin B6 has been shown to help reduce breast pain associated with menstruation, as well as the severity of psychiatric PMS symptoms such as depression, tiredness and irritability. Vitamin E serves as an anti-inflammatory agent and fights the painful effects of prostaglandin lipid compounds. Vitamin B1(Thiamine) has been shown to help reduce cramping during the menstrual cycle. 

 

There are a ton of easy ways to include flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds into your diet. Here are a few of our favorites: 

 

  • Salads are one of the easiest ways to include nuts, seeds and herbs into your diet. You can quickly sprinkle your daily tablespoon onto a salad as a yummy garnish, or get creative and blend them into a salad dressing. The possibilities don’t end with leafy green salads either. Pumpkin, flax, sesame and sunflower seeds are a great addition to pasta salad, potato salad, tuna salad, or chicken/chickpea salad. 
  • Breads. There are few things better than a nutty, seedy whole grain loaf. If you are making your own breads, don’t skimp on nuts and seeds, they add big flavor and texture to each loaf. One easy way to incorporate them is to knead them into the dough after it has risen, just before you shape it to go in the oven. You can also add flaxseed meal to your flour mixture. Don’t forget to sprinkle some seeds on top for an aesthetically pleasing final product. 
  • Roasted Veggies are an easy, healthy side dish that goes with just about any meal. Adding seeds will not only give more texture, it will also build heartiness. If you are making a stir fry with veggies, try adding in fresh or toasted seeds to figure out what you like best.  
  • Smoothies. Everyone loves a good smoothie. Whether you’re making a fruit smoothie or packing in your greens, adding your seeds to the mix is an easy way to get them in without much effort. If you’re making a smoothie bowl, just sprinkle them on top. 
  • Butters. Nut and seed butters are incredibly easy to make. It’s as simple as putting them in the food processor and blending until you have your desired consistency. Making your own seed butter from sunflower, pumpkin or sesame is an easy way to have quick, snackable access to your seeds. Remember, after you’ve made a puree of your seeds you can add a scoop into sauces, soups, or bases for sautees. 

We hope you enjoy your seed cycling journey, and reep the benefits mother nature has to offer. Check out this recipe for seed cycling energy bites!

Canton native Eric Hill was 18 when he decided to join the military. It was a quick decision. He wanted to get married and needed a way to provide support. What sprang forth from that decision was more than he could have envisioned.

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Five seats were up for grabs on the Haywood County Board of Education this election — two in the Waynesville district, two in the Beaverdam district and one for school board chairman. Of the five available seats, incumbents won four.

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Two women presented a petition to the Jackson County School Board during an Oct. 27 meeting asking the board to consider retiring the Rebel mascot at Cullowhee Valley School. 

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Banana cake with chocolate icing was a staple during childhood. Banana bread is a staple of the comfort food genre. 

Cheri Beasley has served as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court since she was appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper in February 2019. 

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The drive to The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center in Highlands sets the stage for its seclusion from the outside world.

Tourists crowd the winding two lanes that thread through the red, yellow and orange hues of fall. All of this makes the trip slow going, giving a person ample time to take in the beauty of the season.

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The drive to The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center in Highlands sets the stage for its seclusion from the outside world. 

Project Closet Door was started out of necessity. It is an organization focused on bringing the LGBTQ+ community closer together, raising awareness and understanding. That’s something that few people had previously found a space for in Western North Carolina. 

Haywood County Schools Administration announced the creation of the COVID-19 dashboard, intended to keep the public up to date on COVID cases within the Haywood County School system. 

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This year’s race for the Haywood County School Board has had a lot of interest with 12 candidates running for five open seats, including the seat for chairman. Current Chairman Chuck Francis originally had a competitor, but he later dropped out of the race.

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Last Tuesday was a cold and rainy early autumn day in the mountains. The kind that made you want to round out September wrapped in a blanket, reading a good book, listening to the rain fall. 

On Aug. 21 the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation announced it would fund a weekly COVID-19 testing program for Highlands School, Summit Charter School and Blue Ridge School. 

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A dozen candidates are running to fill five open seats on the Haywood County School Board. Among them, four are current members of the board, including Chairman Chuck Francis. His opponent for chairman, Daran McAdams, recently decided to drop out of the race, though his name will still appear on the ballot.

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Elementary school students in Jackson County will go back to in-person learning four days per week beginning Monday, Oct. 5. 

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Literature abounds with references to stone fruits. They signal something luscious and, if not romantic, intensely pleasurable. But there is also something dark about them. 

“Dr. Border was a neighbor of mine. He called me one day in 1983 and asked me to come to his house for a meeting but didn’t tell me what it was all about.”

That is the very first memory Rolf Kaufman, a member of the founding board of Folkmoot, had of what would become Folkmoot USA, the International Festival of North Carolina. 

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Elementary school students in Haywood County will return to school full-time beginning Oct. 5. 

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Fall decorations in Maggie Valley are a tradition that involves the entire town. 

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My sister was married last month in a small ceremony in Waynesville. 

Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday, Sept. 8, to join the Southwestern NC Home Consortium after previously opting not to join the regional effort. 

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Welcome to the table, where I will contribute a semi-regular column about cooking and food and my insatiable addiction to both. Bound up in cooking is my creative outlet, my love language, an endless terrain to explore and connections to make the world over.  

Updated 9/11/20, 12:30 p.m.

While N.C. Congressional District 11 candidates Moe Davis and Madison Cawthorn got into a heated debate inside during the “Best in the West” online events Sept. 4-5, the excitement overflowed outside of the venue as well. 

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RUMBLE: You are the first female to be lead principal at Tuscola High School. Is this meaningful to you? 

Lillian Exum Clement was a native of Black Mountain and the first female legislator in the Southeast. She was the fourth woman in North Carolina to pass the state bar exam and the first practicing female attorney without male partners. 

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At a special called Jackson County School Board meeting on Aug. 11, the board approved the purchase — upon final legal review — of the School Pass app for $29,000 in order to keep schools safe and streamline the pick-up, drop-off process. 

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At a special called Jackson County School Board meeting on Aug. 11, the board approved the purchase — upon final legal review — of the School Pass app for $29,000 in order to keep schools safe and streamline the pick-up, drop-off process. 

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At the Aug. 10 Haywood County Schools Board of Education meeting the school board heard the last round of introductions from new members of HCS administrative staff, and those staff members moving to new positions. 

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As of Tuesday, Aug. 4, Jackson County schools entered phase two for school athletics. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association laid out phase two guidelines for summer conditioning and workout activities in late July. The guidelines for phase two went into effect Aug. 3. 

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The Equal Pay Act, which mandates equal pay for equal work and forbids employers from paying men and women different wages or different benefits for doing jobs that require the same skills and responsibilities, was signed into law in 1963. 

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Haywood County Schools Title IX Coordinator Jason Heinz recently discussed policy changes that must go into effect by Aug. 14 in order to adhere to new Title IX regulation set forth by the U.S. Department of Education.

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At a July 30 special called meeting, Dr. Trevor Putnam presented the Haywood County School Board with a contract in conjunction with Green County Schools and the North Carolina Rural Center to provide 243 hotspots for students and staff without internet access. The service will be provided free for 12 months. 

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The start of this school year has been a topic fraught with debate about student needs, logistical hurdles and funding shortfalls. But, the voices and opinions of teachers seem to have been left out of the conversation when communities and schools need them most. 

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Innocent people murdered in their own homes, police departments equipped with military-grade weapons, students with school resource officers but not a counselor to be found, district attorneys unwilling or unable to prosecute police who have broken the law — these stories heard across the nation have birthed the movement to “Defund the Police.”

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When Asheville Fireman Mark Jameson returned to the fire station after responding to a particularly difficult call, the only thing that lifted his spirits was seeing Denali wagging her tail with excitement upon his return. 

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Local governments and residents of Western North Carolina have been working for years to improve and construct greenways. Now, there is a plan to connect local trails, greenways, multi-use paths and other bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into one long trail — the 150-mile Hellbender Trail. 

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This week the debate has raged over whether — and how — to reopen schools next month. President Donald Trump has demanded that schools reopen, and yet some of the largest districts in the country, including Los Angeles and San Diego, have announced they will remain fully remote this fall, following a surge of cases and a reversal of reopening efforts in California. 

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The Coronavirus Pandemic and ensuing shutdown means folks have been spending most of their time at home for the last several months. With travel and leisure opportunities diminished, it may be fair to assume the tourist industry in our region will struggle this summer. But with warmer weather, locals and tourists alike are turning to the outdoors to fill their time and stretch their legs after quarantine. For outdoor recreation and rafting companies in Western North Carolina, this urge to get outside is keeping them afloat. 

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When tourists visit this region, many of them come seeking the beauty and awe of the waterfalls that decorate the slopes of these mountains. One of those natural beauties is a long, cascading waterfall located off of Old Still Road in Maggie Valley. 

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Following a June 23 public hearing, Jackson County Commissioners voted to pass the proposed 2020-21 budget without any of the cuts suggested by Commissioner Ron Mau. 

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As schools shut down during the pandemic, students were sent home and instructed to tune in online. Chromebooks were loaned out, and teachers began the process of getting material for the rest of the school year online. But for many students, there was still the problem of reliable internet. 

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Seven counties in Western North Carolina have the opportunity to band together and receive money for affordable housing through the Southwestern Commission. As of June 15, several counties have signed on to make up the Southwestern NC HOME Consortium. 

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