Saturday, December 31, 2005

Resolutions?

So is anyone else resolving anything for the new year? My top two resolutions are these:

1. Learn to knit really. Like, more than just scarves. I may ask some of you for help. You know who you are.

2. Get to know more about Atlanta, which, despite its proximity (1:20) is mostly a big black box to me. (It's not really the greatest city. Overall, it's extremely "eh." But the DeKalb Farmer's Market has improved our lives so much; surely it can't be the only thing. Stepsister just informed me that there is an Australian bakery I didn't know about. We will maybe meet there for tea sometime. It's a good start.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

So-called buche de noel

Hmm.

Well, Maggie made a buche de noel (see her Dec. 22 post), and it looked like a lovely little cake that you would want to eat. Mine, not so much.

Here is my attempt. This is its best angle. From other angles, it looks somewhat less convincing.

Is it a Yule log, or a dog turd? Only the "artist" knows for sure!

I record it here only because I am fairly certain it will fall to pieces on its way to my stepsister's place tomorrow. Also, someone needs to know what to tell the paramedics if I go into sugar shock from sampling so much buttercream...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Date pudding



Recipe coming soon...Merry Christmas!


Update 12/29

Whew...time keeps getting away from me! But here's that recipe I promised. It's adapted from The Joy of Cooking, and it's a very manageable size; it fits a 4-cup pudding mold. If you don't have a metal mold with a tight-fitting lid, I'm told you can use a bowl with a towel tightly tied over it. However, I can't vouch for that method, since I haven't tried it.

This is especially nice served with hard sauce (the version I like is basically a butter-and-powdered-sugar frosting with a tablespoon each of brandy and coffee whipped into it). The sauce is solid until it makes contact with the warm pudding, and then it melts. Mmmm!

DATE PUDDING

1 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
2 2/3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 c. lowfat milk
3/4 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Before you start combining ingredients, set up your steaming pot. In the bottom of a stockpot, place a metal trivet and/or some other device that will hold your pudding mold an inch or more off the bottom of the pot and allow complete circulation of steam. I use three English muffin rings with a shallow trivet on top. Anything will work, as long as it's heat- and water-resistant, is high enough off the bottom, and allows the steam to circulate. An inverted flat-bottomed metal colander might be good. They probably make something explicitly for this purpose, but whatever it is, I don't own one.
Add an inch of water to the bottom of the pot, put the lid on, and bring it to a simmer while you assemble the batter.
Heavily, thoroughly butter your pudding mold.
Cream together the brown sugar and butter. Add the egg and vanilla and keep beating until the mixture is creamy.
Sift the flour together with the baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture in three stages, alternating with the milk. After every addition, beat the batter until it is smooth.
Fold in the dates and nuts, then pour the batter into the mold. Clamp the lid on and place in the simmering stockpot.
Steam for 2 hours (first bringing the water to a boil, then reducing to a simmer for the remainder of the time). Try to avoid peeking, or you'll let all the steam out.
When the time is up, remove the mold from the pot and pop the top off. The pudding should be spongy and moist. Let it cool partway before unmolding it, or it will crack.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Vastly amusing

Slogans on dog bandanas received for Christmas:

Silver - "It's not easy being a princess"
Cairo - "Don't just stand there, pet me"
Gracie - "Wild thing"

Heh.

Friday, December 23, 2005

News flash x2

Silver seems to be feeling quite a bit sprightlier. A million thanks to all of you who have wished her well. I love all our dogs equally and with all my heart, but Silver's the one who could be described (in terms most often associated with witches and their black cats) as my familiar. She's my mini-me in herding dog form, and it gives me so much joy to see her act a little more like herself again.

Much less importantly, but still joyfully, the radishes and spinach I planted in the greenhouse are beginning to sprout...unless the thing I saw in the spinach row was just a weed, which, considering my past (lack of) success with spinach, is as likely as not. No sign of the lettuce yet, but I await. It's niiiiiiiice in that greenhouse. On a chilly, sunny day like today, walking in there is like entering a room that houses an indoor pool. Humidity drips off the roof. Wow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A scary day

Yesterday morning, Silver was reclining on the papasan when she made one of those tentative washing-machine noises that might or might not mean a dog is about to vomit. I immediately jumped up from my chair and ordered her off the furniture as a precautionary measure.

Silver obediently leapt off the papasan, but when she hit the floor, her legs crumpled under her. And suddenly my beautiful girl was flailing uncontrollably, almost convulsing, on the floor, and there was not a thing I could do to help her.

I think I screamed, because within moments the s.o. was out of bed.

By then Silver was lying nearby, wild-eyed and stress-panting. I asked her if she wanted to get up, and she did, but her back legs were stiff and uncompliant. She settled back into a sphinx position and stayed there.

In a few minutes she hobbled across the room, then lay down again. Every few minutes she got better, but what chilled me to the bone was that she wasn't right.

I cancelled my afternoon appointments and took her to the vet. And once we were in the tiny examination room with the doctor, the words spilled out of me. Not only was this morning's incident terrifying, but it confirmed my worst fears. For weeks, Silver hadn't looked right. She seemed a little sluggish and stiff, and she'd put on a few pounds. Two weeks ago, I had playfully goosed her on the hindquarters and she had screamed. The s.o. had tried to quiet my fears, saying I had just startled her, but I knew she had seen me coming. Something was very wrong.

The vet talked with me a little (she really was comforting and helpful--must remember to request her in the future) and then took Silver into the back for blood tests and x-rays. I tried, without much success, to interest myself in a copy of Dog Fancy. But it took less time than I expected, and soon the vet brought Silver back and gave me the news.

The good news was that Silver's blood panel is perfect, and that her hips look great. There is also nothing wrong with her spine.

The problem is her knees. Silver has a condition called medial patella luxation, meaning that her kneecaps don't stay within the grooves they're supposed to slide in, but tend to displace toward the middle of her body. Her left is worse than the right. It was the one that had popped completely out that morning, leaving her flailing in pain and fear.

She may have to have surgery on one or both knees in the future, but there's also a chance the problem can be managed with drugs and neutraceuticals. It turns out that both NSAIDs and glucosamine/chondroitin supplements are available as meat-flavored chewables.

And she has to lose some weight, inactivity or no. That should help take the stress off her knees, and maybe they'll be able to work smoothly.

I don't mind taking a little extra care of my girl, and I don't mind paying for drugs and/or surgery. What bothers me is the knowledge that she has been in so much pain, and that there might be more to come. Imagine your kneecaps going out! -- okay, don't, because when I imagine that, my stomach churns from the mere thought. She's been walking around with her back legs stiff because on some level she has figured out that her kneecaps stay in place better when her knees are extended. God, I just feel so bad for her. I love her so much, I just want to scream "STOP! This can't happen!"

But we can hope for the best. And I don't know how fast NSAIDs work, but she does seem a little happier this morning.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Blast from the past

Welcome to our town.

This is a Jack Delano photo of our town's crossroads in 1941, when it was considerably busier than it is now. That smokestack in the background? Gone. The two buildings in the back left? Replaced by a hay field.

The store on the right is still there, although it no longer has a gas pump. It is run by two really great Pakistani guys (who I've mentioned before, I think), and it's the de facto center of town.

The brick building on the left is the Town Hall.

There is no longer a path on the right; somewhere along the line, it was replaced with a proper sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. So the people in the picture are walking in what is now our neighbor Cookie's yard. It would have looked different then; the house was a grand old antebellum mansion with pillars. But it burned to the ground in 1996, and Cookie and her husband built a somewhat smaller house on the old foundation.

What's strange is that this photo is instantly recognizable by anyone who's been here, despite all the changes.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tunage

Liz at Pocket Farm has tagged me with a quick and easy little meme that I'm all too glad to do: List seven songs you are into right now. Well, sure. The thing is, a while ago I completely stopped buying music, so the songs you see below are just things I've happened upon online and enjoyed.

Warning: Sometimes I have flawless, unimpeachable taste. But other times I might as well be 15 years old. So wince if you must, but don't mock.

1. "You Only Live Once" - The Strokes
2. "Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
3. "Use It" - The New Pornographers
4. "Service and Repair" - Calexico
5. "Dirty Little Secret" - The All-American Rejects
6. "Blow it Out" - The Features
7. "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" - Robbie Fulks

Anyone else want to try? I'm supposed to nominate seven more people. How 'bout you, Cookiecrumb? Ilva? Maggie? m.d.? Szarka? Jo? Doc Rob? It can be any kind of music, with words or without.

No obligation, of course. It is a busy time of year.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Oh, no

E-mail from my mother this evening:

[Stepfather] had bad news from [stepsister] today about their chickens. A dog got into the yard and killed all but one
rooster (badly bitten) and one hen that was saved by the fact she was inside laying an egg. So they are depressed.


What a rotten turn of events. I feel so bad for them. I guess they are investigating some better fencing now. *sigh*

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I had forgotten how much fun this was

Making Yorkshire pudding, I mean. Look how cool it looks as it rises! But I am almost certain that my British readers will be a little disturbed at my breach of tradition.

You see, there was no roast beef on the menu. It was braised lamb. But I needed something to sop up the juices, and it was way too late to make yeast bread. Beer bread was out, too, because there was no beer. So I hit upon the idea of Yorkshire pudding.

I saved some lamb fat from the meat pan before I added the braising liquid, and I used that fat in the pudding in place of beef drippings. It worked like a charm.

Now, for my non-British readers: Here is how to make a Yorkshire pudding. I grew up thinking everyone was familiar with this dish, because my mom (and of course my British grandmother) made it when I was young. But when I served this last night, it was the first time the s.o. had ever seen, let alone eaten, one. I figure a lot of people are in the same boat.

It's good stuff--the perfect accompaniment for roast beef (or, ahem, whatever). And it is way too much fun to miss out on.

YORKSHIRE PUDDING

2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. milk (whole is best, but 2% will do)
2 Tbs. roast beef drippings

In a blender, combine the eggs, salt, flour, and milk. Blend for a few seconds, then scrape the sides down and blend again for 30 seconds. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large, fairly deep rectangular or oval pan (mine is about 10x12), heat the drippings over a moderate flame until they start to spit. Give the batter one last stir, then quickly pour it into the hot pan and put it in the oven.
Bake 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake 15 minutes more. Cut and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Comfort zone

"This is soooooo nice," murmurs the s.o., eyes half shut, from his reclined position on the new sofa.

"Yes, it is," I say, cradling a cup of long-awaited Horizon Organic Eggnog.

Holiday cheer

Last night was the annual town Christmas party. When you only have 415 residents, you can invite everyone for mini pigs-in-blankets and chicken wings and get away with it.

Last time we were able to attend was three years ago. I remember curling my hair by generator power, in the glow of a flashlight beam. We hadn't finished the wiring or had the heating system installed yet. What a difference three years makes!

Until now, we have unfortunately failed to cultivate a social life around here--I don't know why, but that's how it has happened. We have been kind of reclusive, to put it bluntly. So I went to this party with two important goals in mind: to be friendly with the few people I had met in the past, and to meet new people.

I accomplished both. I gave a big kiss to Cookie, the well-dressed elderly lady from two doors down (recently widowed twice in quick succession, poor thing, and the second one was news to me--now that I know she is alone again, I need to make extra sure to go visit her). And I took a leap of faith and promised to call the mayor's daughter (whom I like a lot) for a cup of coffee.

I met a fiesty, funny 60-something gardening buff named Lucille, who says she will come visit me after the holidays. If she doesn't come to me, I'll go to her! And I was introduced to...wait for it...THE COUPLE WHO OWN THE HORSES ACROSS THE STREET. I don't know how, but I spotted them the moment they walked in the door and told the s.o. I intended to meet them. They just radiated "my kind of people-ness."

Our new hoophouse was literally the talk of the town. The s.o. was constantly having to answer questions about it. "Whatcha gonna put in that greenhouse?" "I noticed you had a greenhouse--did you build that?" etc.

Everyone who attended got raffle tickets. The under-16s got one kind of ticket and the adults got another. Some of the adults came away with door prizes--I won a poinsettia, and I think I may actually have said "Woo hoo!" when my number was called--and four lucky folks won cash prizes to help them through the holidays. But what was really excellent was that every single child in the room won either a football, a basketball, or a soccer ball. The room came alive with bouncing, passing, and tackling.

"What a wonderful thing to do," I stage-whispered to the mayor's daughter.

"For some of them, it's the only present they'll get this Christmas," she stage-whispered back.

And that's why, even though we live in such a desperately poor county, the town council votes every year to throw a party for any of its citizens who want to come.

I really do love it here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

5 weird habits

Jo has tagged me with the "5 Weird Habits" meme, and boy, do I have 'em. Maybe more than other people, or maybe not. Or maybe they're not weird habits at all. (I can hope, can't I?)

Does anyone else suspect that maybe our weirdest habits are those we have no idea about?

But anyway:

1. I eat food in such a way that I finish it "evenly." For example, when I am eating a sandwich or a slice of pizza or pie, I pick away at it--crust, center, crust, center--in such a way that I end up with the last two bites being crust and then center. If I am eating a plate of food with three different dishes on it, I try to make sure that my last three bites constitute one of each, with my favorite being the last. When I eat cereal or yogurt with fruit, there has to be exactly enough fruit so that there's one piece per bite. If there isn't, I nibble away at whatever is in excess until everything comes out even.

2. I joggle my knees constantly. The s.o. calls me "Thumper." Fondly, of course.

3. I also constantly tap my teeth together in synch with whatever music is running through my head. It's sort of like my own little piano: Certain teeth correspond to certain notes. Once in a while I get stressed out about it, worrying that I am causing enamel wear, but so far the dentist hasn't called me on it.

4. Every night I fall asleep with one dog at my head (Silver) and one at my feet (Cairo), because the s.o. usually retires later than I do. I tell both of them goodnight repeatedly, trying to make sure I dote on them equally. (For those who are counting and coming up one dog short, Gracie still has to sleep in a kennel because she has a tendency to wander off and get in trouble. But she is snuggled as much as possible before she goes in.)

5. I wear my hair down, always, every day, even if I am doing something athletic, even if it is 105 degrees outside. If my hair is in a ponytail, you can pretty much figure I am washing my face at that moment. I don't know why I'm like this. My ears are kind of big, but not enough to make me neurotic about them. I think it might be because I'm too perfectionist. It's really hard for me to create a ponytail without some hair sticking up weirdly somewhere on top.

I am supposed to nominate others to do this, too, but I'm going to leave it up to you because we are all so busy at this time of year. Take it and run with it!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Two days until the new sofa is delivered



...although happy scenes like this, hideous falling-apart papasan and all, will always be part of our living room experience.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

So what became of those crabapples?

Well, I'll tell you. I got out my half-size pie plate again and made a demi batch of Rosy Crabapple Pie, a recipe adapted from my 1960s Farm Journal Freezing & Canning Cookbook. The recipe had been staring me in the face ever since I found the book. Could there really be another kind of classic fruit pie that I'd never tried?

Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. Oddly, it's nothing like apple pie. In fact, it has an almost berryish or plummy flavor, maybe due to some weird synergy with the vanilla (!) in the filling. I guarantee you haven't had anything like it before--unless, of course, you or someone you know owns the same cookbook.

ROSY CRABAPPLE PIE
(makes one 9-inch deep-dish pie)

Pastry for a two-crust pie
6 c. finely chopped red crabapples, peels left on
1 c. sugar
1 Tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Toss crabapples with sugar, flour, and salt. Transfer this mixture to a pastry-lined 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with vanilla, lemon juice, and water. Cover with top pastry; flute edges and cut vents.
(At this point I like to brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle it with sugar.)
Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and bake another 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Woo hoo!

We have ordered a sofa! A real, actual new piece of furniture that is not crippling to sit on for long periods of time!

This afternoon we stopped at every store along Athens's "furniture row" and sat on many, many sofas. The one we chose was one of the very few that we liked. It was cushy and perfect for napping or watching TV. It was free of weird doohickeys such as lumpy arms or giant decorative nails or rumpled skirts. I was surprised at how many sofas I found offensive, either because of their stiffness or because of their dowdy appearance.

There was a red sectional I loved too, but it would have taken over our living room completely. The sofa we chose (in mocha, if you care to know) is perfect.

They claim it will be delivered Wednesday. Can't wait!

P.S. We anticipate defying the laws of mathematics because our sofa is already built and sitting in a nearby warehouse.

Unable to let sleeping dogs lie


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm home

And I stopped at the DeKalb Farmer's Market on the way home from the airport!

I had further food adventures after the lobster. My stepdad had shot two pheasants, so I made a pheasant coq au vin (from Hugh F.-W.'s recipe in The River Cottage Year) that turned out really well.

It was great to see everyone, to celebrate Nana's life, and especially to make Christmas cookies with my mom, but I am tired and cold-chapped and glad to be home.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Live from LobsterFest!

Yes, I know, I'm visiting Ohio, not Maine. But somebody must have gotten a big air shipment from the coast, because when my stepfather and I met my mother at a local pub last night, the place was crawling with crustaceans. The special menu offerings were practically awash in drawn butter!

This was quite fortuitous for me. As I mentioned once in a comment over at Cookiecrumb's place, I've never tried lobster.* As a kid, I wouldn't touch seafood with a ten-foot pole. And then, just when my tastebuds probably started to mature, I became a vegetarian at 16. Ever since I un-vegged again, I've been meaning to check it out, but lobster isn't the sort of thing you happen upon by chance.

Except that I just did. And I loved it. We split two entrees among the three of us: one plate of Maine lobster tails, and one of South African lobster tails for comparison. The South African ones were sweeter and had more texture, but I think overall I preferred the smaller Maine tails for their richness. Both kinds were more shrimpy than crabby, which surprised me. I was a fan from the first bite (as I knew I would be, because I like almost everything that is generally recognized as a whole, natural food).

The lobster tasted quite fresh and had excellent texture. As I said, they must have gotten them live via air, because there was none of that Red Lobster restaurant fishiness in the air.

I also had an opportunity to try Great Lakes Brewing Company's Christmas Ale, and I loved it, too. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but ever since I lived in St. Paul and developed a taste for Summit Winter Ale, this particular type of seasonal ale has been a favorite of mine. Kudos to Great Lakes for doing an excellent job with theirs.

So far the weather here is just as I remember for this time of year: Grey and chilly. My fingers are a little stiff, but I'm holding steady. Glad to be here nevertheless.

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* Mom and John think I may have had some as part of a seafood platter in South Africa a few years ago, but my memory is of bizarrely oversized prawns and other weird and wonderful delicacies. It was all excellent, but I can't recall anything specifically lobsterish. Maybe it was the wine and the time change!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Think warm thoughts



I'm going to Ohio until Monday. The weather report says it's going to hover in the 20s and 30s the whole time, which would have sounded fine to me before I moved to the south and got soft.

I will probably post, but I can't promise much.

In the meantime, here's a pic of our brand new greenhouse. Yesterday it was 74 inside with the window and door open!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Highly recommended

This pomegranate gelato. It is dark lavender in color and absolutely decadent.

Please note that I needed three fruits to make enough juice. There are so many poms in the stores at this time of year, why not use them?

Savory

I got to use my half-size pie plate again! This time, predictably, it was a turkey pot pie.

There's no recipe for this, really. You just take leftover turkey vegetable soup, separate the broth from the meat and vegetables, and (using a roux and additional flour as needed) thicken the broth into a gravy. Combine meat, vegetables, and gravy in a pie shell and bake at 425 F for 10 minutes, then 375 F until brown and bubbling.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fruitcakes people will actually want to eat

How do I know? Because the s.o. and I snarfed one of them last night. They are delicious, and there's none of that creepy glacé fruit to be found.

These are made sans nuts because we have a couple of people in the family with allergies. You could, of course, add as many nuts as you like. I think pecans would be the best.

REAL FRUITCAKES
Makes 10 mini loaves (mine were about 5 1/2 x 3 1/2, but slightly smaller ones would work, too)

1 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. dried cherries
1/2 lb. dried figs, quartered
1/2 lb. dried apricots, quartered
brandy as needed
butter, shortening, or oil for greasing pans
1/2 lb. candied citrus peel, chopped fine
1/4 lb. candied ginger, chopped fine
1 lb. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. ground Ceylon cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. brown sugar
2 Tbs. molasses
1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind
8 eggs
brandy for brushing the cakes

Soak the raisins, cherries, figs, and apricots overnight in brandy to cover.
When you're ready to start baking, grease 10 mini loaf pans and line them with waxed paper. You may want to group them on jelly roll pans to make it easier to move them around.
Place a pan of water on the bottom oven rack and preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Drain the fruit that has been soaking. Combine it in a very large bowl with the candied citrus and ginger, flour, spices, and salt. Mix well to coat everything with flour.
Cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the molasses and lemon rind, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
Oh-so-carefully fold the butter mixture into the giant bowl of floured fruit. Divide the batter among the 10 pans and gently smooth the tops.
Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until edges are a little crispy and a skewer inserted in the middle of a cake comes out clean. If you use larger pan(s), you may need to bake them for as long as 3 hours.
Immediately tip cakes out of pans and peel away the waxed paper. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Brush on all sides with brandy (or wrap in brandy-soaked cheesecloth), then wrap tightly and store. Will keep for several weeks if you continue to replenish the brandy.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Looking forward



We didn't go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. (You couldn't pay me enough to fight those crowds!) Instead, we stayed home and started decorating the house for Christmas.

Some of you remember that in August, when my grandmother started to become seriously ill, I went to Ohio to visit her and started to bring home some of the family heirlooms that meant a lot to me. One of them was her and my grandfather's 1960s tinfoil Christmas tree, which I've always loved.

The s.o. and I put the tree up yesterday. For me it was a little tough, because Nana died on October 26 and I will be traveling to Ohio again next week for the memorial service. It was her time to go, but that doesn't change the fact that Christmas won't be the same without her around.

But it's hard to be melancholy for long in the presence of a tree that's straight out of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The tree brings back so many happy memories, as do the ornaments (many of them homemade--several by Nana--and all of them treasured). One of my favorites is a foil-backed Shrinky-Dink of a partridge in a pear tree, which was part of a set my mom and I made when I was little. I have no idea what happened to the rest of them, but the partridge was always my favorite and I'm glad I have it.*

The s.o. and I have decided that we need to find or make a new ornament to commemorate 2005, but we're still trying to figure out what exactly it should be. It will probably just "happen," as these things do.

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* The ornament in the picture is a little bit of an oddball--it owes its existence to the fact that one of my stepmothers used to work in sports marketing. But for some reason the s.o. and I especially like it.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The answers to several turkey-related questions

To my vegetarian friends: I promise you that this is the last post about The Turkey That Shall Did Remain Nameless...except for the photo, which is coming soon.

Q: What cooking method did you choose?

A: A fast, hot roast. I brought the bird very nearly to room temperature, then loosened its skin and rubbed it throughout with softened butter, herbs, and garlic. I seasoned it thoroughly and stuck a quartered apple and a quartered onion in the cavity. Then I tied oiled paper over the breast (for the first 3/4 of the roasting time only) and stuck little foil shoes on the tips of the legs. I put it in a 425-degree oven and it almost immediately started spitting juices.

Q: How long did it take to roast?

A: Believe it or not, only 1 hour and 15 minutes. I've never, ever heard of such a short cooking time for such a substantial bird. It pretty much defied the laws of physics, as far as I can tell. I must have stuck the meat thermometer in it 20 times--I thought I was going crazy! It came as quite a shock to me and resulted in a hectic scramble to finish all the side dishes. The s.o. gets major props for helping me in a pinch.

Q: Was it hard to keep it moist?

A: Um, a big no on that one. All the butter-rubbing was completely superfluous (except for the added flavor, of course), because that turkey was chubby as hell. Apparently I spoiled it. There wasn't as much fat as there is on a goose, but it was damn close.

Q: Get to the point! What did it taste like?

A: The white meat tasted like turkey. Turkey times two. The dark meat tasted like duck! All of it had more texture than you'd expect from a Butterball, but none of it was chewy or tough. It was absolutely the best turkey we've ever tasted. (And still is...we have a lot of leftovers to enjoy!)

Q: Will there be future turkeys at 10 Signs Farm?

A: Almost certainly yes. I am really grateful for this entire experience. Raising my own meat might seem pretty far removed from my 16 years of vegetarianism, but for me, it's consistent. I object to factory farming--I just think it's wrong. I've been a troubled carnivore these last few years, but this is something I can support.

-----------
P.S.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope your holiday was as wonderful as ours. I am so thankful for my family...my smart, funny, awesome s.o....my beloved doggies...my friends here and everywhere...and the stars spinning in the sky over our little 12 acres of heaven.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

14.5 pounds

That's the official weight of our turkey (minus its innards and extremities). That's perfect, actually, but now I feel like a little bit of a wimp. It seemed heavier at the time.

Mental note: Don't ever feel tempted to raise ostriches.

Meanwhile, I'm up and at 'em because it's time for the preparation to begin! Today's tasks:

• clean house
• bake bread
• bake pumpkin and sweet potatoes
• cook cranberries
• singe pinfeathers off turkey
• clean and cook giblets
• chop vegetables for stuffing and side dishes

Gotta get to it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

nb II

When you're walking a dog past a giant bag of feathers, don't let your guard down, not even for a minute.

Monday, November 21, 2005

It's done

And the slaughter and plucking weren't that hard. After the bird goes into the cone, it ceases to be "Mr. Turkey" and is just "turkey." I don't know why, but I am grateful for it.

The evisceration I could have done without.

nb

A turkey won't take a second nip of Calvados.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wednesday Monday is D-Day

Today, with rain in the forecast, we pulled a tarp over the top of the turkey pen. The turkey has refused (for reasons known best to itself) to use the shelter in the pen. It has also refused to use the roost that the s.o. so generously built for it, using turkey-specific plans he got on the internet.

Although I suspect the turkey will enjoy staying dry, it did not like the look of the tarp. It puffed itself all up and started gobbling at the s.o. The s.o., of course, gobbled back at it.

Just a couple more days of cracked corn, oats, and garden scraps, and then it's time for a one-day fast before...IT...happens.

Friday, November 18, 2005

For once, I don't mind the onset of winter

Gingerbread with pears (recipe here), a dollop of whipped cream, and a teeny little glass of ruby port.

Cold weather brings out the home-and-hearth-seeking Hobbit in all of us, doesn't it?

Brrr



Hard frost last night. The tomatoes were already frost-killed and destined for green tomato salsa, but now everything is looking a little rough--even the stuff that's supposed to be hardy.

I had to break a half-inch of ice off the water tank this morning.

It's really pretty out, though. It's bright and sunny. That's the thing about the South; if it's below freezing, you can almost guarantee it's happening because there are no clouds to hold the heat in.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Adorable



What does this colander full of jalapeños and The World's Tiniest and Cutest Yams signify?

That finally, last night, our weather dipped to 32 degrees. So at dinnertime yesterday, I was out there constructing elaborate straw-and-garbage-bag houses over the tomatoes and eggplant (which is still putting out fruit...can you believe it?) and harvesting the vegetables whose time had come.

The yam plants weren't started until August, which was way too late for them to reach their potential. It was a whim: I had yams in the pantry that were sprouting like crazy, so I cut out the eyes and stuck them in a couple of dirt hills that happened to be empty.* It turns out they are phenomenally easy to grow, and fascinating, too. They send out a nest of yam-colored tendrils underground which, given enough time, thicken into tubers.

The plants were already beginning to curl from previous cold snaps. They are extremely sensitive to frost. I knew I wasn't giving them enough time, but there was no help for it. Still, I must say I was impressed with the small collection of mini-yams I managed to get, even after the season was mostly over! I can't wait to grow them again next year.

The s.o. thinks we should parboil these mini-yams whole and then deep-fry them in a tempura batter. I do love the way that man thinks.

As of this morning, I am not even sure we had a hard frost last night. But I don't regret the precautions I took, because the forecast calls for three more nights in the lower 30s and even (brr!) upper 20s. It really is time for the big change in the garden. To ignore that would be folly.

So now we turn our attention to plasticking the windows and stuffing insulation in our inoperable fireplace flues. It's time to be snug!

P.S. Our 12x14 hoophouse (polytunnel, for my U.K. readers) is almost done. I will post pictures when it is ready. One day soon there will be year-round salads at 10 Signs Farm.

----------
* Thanks to the work of my diligent enemies, the squash bugs. Watch out this year, you little bastards; I am armed with diatomaceous earth! You have been warned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Paging Chris Martin

Maybe it's because the weather has finally turned cloudy, bringing much-needed rain, but for the last two days I've been cooking bright-colored, cheery food. Specifically yellow.

Yesterday I tried a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for a salad made of equal parts shredded apple, pear, and raw beet. It is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and it's a fantastic, fresh-tasting salad. I'll definitely make it again.

You won't hear me say this often, but I think I did ol' Hugh one better: I used a golden beet instead of a red beet in my version. It looked so vibrant and happy! (Or, depending on your outlook, a little like an oddly crunchy egg salad.)

Fast-forward to today...

The cake in the picture is a half-recipe of what The Fannie Farmer Cookbook calls Daffodil Cake. It's a true spongecake with no butter or shortening; all the leavening comes from the eggs. Most of the cake is white, like an angel food cake, but it is interspersed with splashes of orange-scented egg-yolky yellow cake.

It is normally made in a tube pan, but I made my half-sized cake in an eight-inch round. I glazed it with a simple sugar glaze made with orange juice and orange zest. And yes, those are a couple of my candied tangerine peels on top.

The yellow parts of my cake were a little paler than I liked, and I wondered why. But then I remembered the free-range vs. commercial egg demonstration and figured that when the recipe was originally written, more people were using darker-colored eggs. I can't wait to try this recipe again when I have my own chickens!

Does anyone else ever go through a period of making food of a certain color? It's odd, but right now it's working for me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Memes: For those days when you have nothing to say

20 Random Things About Me

1. I was born in the same hospital my mother was born in, and delivered by the same doctor.
2. I love dogs and can't imagine being without one. Which is good, because they seem to find me.
3. I once had a falling-out with a roommate for my unwillingness to do the dishes.
4. I'm a lot better about doing the dishes now; in fact, I almost always do all of them before I go to bed.
5. I was a vegetarian for 16 years, from age 16 to 32.
6. The last meat I ate before becoming a vegetarian was a bucket of KFC.
7. The first meat I ate afterward was barbecued pork shoulder.
8. I have drunk from the Castalian Spring at Delphi. It didn't seem to do anything for me, at least not at the time.
9. I am 35 and I don't have children. My biological clock hasn't said anything to me about it, so I figure I'm on the right track.
10. I have a master's degree in paleontology.
11. My undergraduate degree was in English.
12. I was the news editor of my college paper.
13. I am afraid of heights. I will work on ladders out of necessity, but I hate every minute of it.
14. Even though I am afraid of heights, I am unfazed by amusement-park rides.
15. I have an iron stomach. In fact, I am not even sure I know what heartburn feels like.
16. I have a hard time picking favorites of anything: food, colors, music. I like a lot of things.
17. I am divorced, and I still feel bad about the way it all went down.
18. Video games stress me out, and because of that I have never really enjoyed them.
19. Overall, I am hard-wired to be happy.
20. I would rather have time than money.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fooditude

It has occurred to me that I've been a little negative lately, here and elsewhere, using the "Ew" button on my keyboard with too great frequency. So I thought I'd share what I have been enjoying lately.

First there is a gorgeous discovery that I swear I remember from a cookbook somewhere, but perhaps I just dreamed it. You cook some chopped greens (mixed collards and mustard, for example) so that they are soft but not as collapsed as Southerners usually like them; then you drain the water away, add a little peanut oil, minced ginger, minced garlic, and soy sauce, and sizzle for a few minutes over a moderate flame. That's all, and they are spectacular.

Then there is the Passion Du Jour around here: mini pear mincemeat pies. The filling is adapted from a 1960s-vintage Farm Journal Freezing & Canning Cookbook I got at a flea market. So far I have canned seven pints of it, but there is always a quarter to a third of a pint left over, which is an uncannable amount (at least with the jars I own!). So the next afternoon there are mini mince pies, made with the freshly cooked filling.

PEAR MINCEMEAT
3 1/2 to 4 lbs. pears, peeled and cored (go for the larger amount if your pears are small, because you will lose a higher percentage of the weight as waste)
1 small apple, peeled and cored
1/2 lemon, seeded but left with its peel on
1 lb. raisins
3 3/8 c. sugar
1/2 c. vinegar
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground Ceylon cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

In two batches, run the pears, apple, lemon, and raisins through a food processor so they are chunky/pasty. Combine this mixture with the remaining ingredients in a large, heavy pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes.
Pack into hot pint jars (and a half-pint jar, if you need it) and process in a boiling water canner for 25 minutes. Makes about 3 1/2 pints with a bit left over.

Now for the crust:

YOGURT PASTRY
1 c. all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
5 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut up
2 Tbs. plain yogurt (nonfat will work fine)

Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. With your fingers, rub in the butter until the largest pieces are about 1/4 inch or smaller. Add yogurt and stir with a fork until dough comes together.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll dough out between two sheets of waxed paper. Cut circles with a biscuit cutter and press into a mini muffin pan. You should get about 9 circles the first time and you'll be able to get the remaining 3 by gently re-rolling the scraps.

Fill these mini shells with mincemeat and bake until golden brown and bubbling.

Wait as long as you can to eat them, because if you devour one immediately you might burn the roof of your mouth. Not that I would know anything about that.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

They're going to revoke my foodie license for this

As many of you already know, I hate olives. Yes, I know it is a character flaw. I like almost everything generally recognized as edible, and will often eat things that turn other people's stomachs, yet for some unknown reason olives taste putrid and rotten to me. Kalamata, Niçoise, green-with-a-pimiento-in-it, whatever--I despise them.

Somehow I even love olive oil, but not olives. In my world, olives might as well be cockroaches.

Yesterday I stopped for lunch at Big City Bread in Athens. I ordered spinach quiche and a house salad. The food there, in general, is lovely, and yesterday was no exception.

But.

There were about eight high-quality (I assume) black olives in a little heap on the plate. They were right in the middle, piled up against the hunk of focaccia bread that comes with the quiche and salad. Some of them were touching the quiche and the salad.

And so it was that I discovered that there is one thing in the wide world of food that is more disgusting than olives: Olives marinated in orange zest. I have heard this combination spoken of with reverence. Some people supposedly love it and seek it out. Make no mistake, it is horrific.

The hideous olive-and-orange flavor permeated and destroyed whatever it touched. I had to leave half of my lunch on the plate. I wanted to swap it out for a new, oliveless dish, but there wasn't actually anything wrong with it, it just had these repellent orange cockroaches on it.

I need to remember to ask servers to leave the olives off. Even in situations where the olive taste doesn't mar my food, I feel guilty leaving a pile of olives on the plate, because I know they are seen as a delicacy. They are intended as a special favor, a lagniappe. I feel like a cad for rejecting them.

Also, I hate to waste things. But eurrrrghhh! I am damned if I am going to eat them.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Go ahead, tamper with tradition

Serve this bright-red sauce instead of the usual jellied can-shaped stuff.

CRANBERRY APPLESAUCE

12 medium to large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (a mixture of tart and sweet is best)
2 c. fresh cranberries
1 c. water
1 to 1 1/4 c. sugar (to taste)
1 tsp. ground Ceylon cinnamon
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Combine apples, cranberries, and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer slowly, partly covered, until the apples dissolve into sauce. If you have some particularly crispy apples in there, you can help them out a little bit with a masher.
Add sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Serve warm.
Cranberry applesauce can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The peel sessions

I love a complicated, multi-stage recipe. For example, I adore making Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Three Dishes from One Goose." Or, as I like to call it, "Goosapalooza."

I've embarked on another big, complex project. In a couple of weeks I'm going to make fruitcake. Not the kind everybody jokes about and uses as a doorstop, but the real kind, soaked in good liquor and brimming with real, honest fruit. Possibly chocolate. It will need a month to soak in liquor so it will be ready for Christmas.

I will not be buying any of that weird technicolor candied fruit they sell at the grocery store at this time of year. My fruitcake will include dried cherries, raisins, and the homemade candied fruit peel you see here. I made it especially for the occasion.

On the left is grapefruit peel; on the right is tangerine. Against the advice of the recipe, I cooked them together. They still came out wonderful. If you're planning on using them as straight-up candy, though, you may want to keep them separate so the flavors don't blend even the slightest bit.

Here's how it's done:

CANDIED FRUIT PEEL

Cut the peels off 3 large grapefruits or 5 oranges or tangerines (or a combination). Leave the white pith on. Julienne the peels.

Place the peels in a large pot and pour boiling water over them. Simmer 5 minutes. Drain well. Repeat this sequence 4 more times (yes, really). This removes the bitterness.

Set the peels aside for a moment and combine 1 cup of water, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 tsp. powdered ginger in the pot. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the peels and simmer, partially covered, 1 hour or until the peels are translucent and soft. Stir occasionally.

Lay the peels out, not touching each other, on wax paper until they are cool. Dust well with additional sugar. After an hour or two, scrape them off the wax paper and roll them in sugar on all sides. Spread the peels out again.

Continue to air-dry them for several hours, then pack in an airtight container. Keeps almost indefinitely.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Playing with fire

This recipe is very, very good. Simple, but good. (How much skirt steak is there per steer, anyhow? Like, if we bought half a steer from a local organic farmer, how much delectable skirt steak would we get? A lot, I hope.)

We made dinner completely outside on the grill today. The s.o. even cooked the tortillas on a cast-iron pan on the grill. The firewood came from our woods. The cilantro came from our garden.

We ate on the screened porch. The sunset was pink.

Afterward I suddenly remembered something.

"The coals have gone out, and I forgot to make s'mores," I pouted.

"Oh, you're right."

"Wait! We have a gas stove."

I speared two marshmallows on a fork and laid out graham crackers with a couple of cubes of Swiss milk chocolate. I sparked a flame and started toasting my marshmallows.

"WHOA!" I shouted, blowing furiously. It had taken me approximately three seconds to catch the marshmallows on fire. I repeated the catching-on-fire-and-blowing-it-out action six or seven times and then judged that if I waited any longer the marshmallows would fall into the burner. I rushed the molten sugar to the waiting chocolate and graham cracker and squished it all together.

"How is it?" asked the s.o., who was abstaining because he isn't very fond of sweets.

"Great, but it's missing something," I said.

"Smoke?"

"Kind of. But mainly pieces of charred stick."

Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby...but it's still really good.

Indian summer continues

Now the daytime temps have risen into the low 80s. I'm really enjoying the beautiful weather, and finally we've got some red and orange leaves, too.

My arugula and Shogoin turnips are up!

I would post something longer, but I am furiously canning my way through bushels and bushels of apples and pears, and I'm really tired...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The birds

I went out in Athens last night and returned home an hour and a half after bar close. As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed that some considerate soul had pancaked a skunk on the road right in front of our house.

So of course when I walked the dogs this morning, the first dog in line (Gracie) jetted out the door after the inevitable flock of vultures. After the initial leash-choking (oops! you're not supposed to pull, remember?), she calmed down and we watched...and listened.

Has anyone else noticed the sinister sound vultures make when they fly? There's a loud FLAPFLAPFLAP component--graceful they are not--but also a creaking sound, as though their wings need to be oiled.

The vultures gathered in a tulip poplar tree to wait while the dogs busily sniffed around the yard, marking all the spots where deer had pooped during the night. I was not previously aware that the dogs were in a dominance war with creatures not even of their own species, but apparently that is the case.

The turkey didn't like any of it. He spent a lot of time puffed into the classic "kindergartener's hand" turkey shape. Every so often the moist morning air was punctuated by hysterical gobbling.

Moist morning air--yes! Finally. But will it bring rain?

I should mention that daytime temperatures are in the 70s this weekend, with nighttime lows in the 50s. Hello, Indian summer! Nice to see ya.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Kitty's gone

The s.o. put Taxi into the travel crate today and then off they went on a road trip. But she's not coming back. She's going to go live with the s.o.'s dad in northwestern Georgia. It's not far, and I'll get to see her pretty often, but I am devastated.

I know it's for a good cause--so that cat-chasing Gracie can come inside more of the time--and that kitty will get more attention lavished on her at her grandpa's house. But it's still really hard.

All I can do is concentrate on the fact that I won't have to clean the cat box.

It's not working.

*sniffle*

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Daily ritual

I've gotten so every morning, while walking the dogs, I gather a big handful of wild onions for the turkey. Those of you who suggested "pre-marinating" our feathered tenant were absolutely spot-on. There is nothing the turkey likes better. You should see it eat them! Keep your fingers out of the way or you'll draw back a nub.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Slack gardener mends her ways

Nature is persistent, I have decided, because gardeners rarely are.

I showed my garden to a friend yesterday, and while I am certainly proud of the bounty it is producing, I also must admit to being a little appalled at the weeds that had sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere. Also, things were looking a little dry. Is it possible I had been feeding the turkey and playing fetch with Gracie at times when I had previously been puttering in the garden? Nothing wrong with that, certainly. But the garden needed help.

This morning I knelt next to a row and found that, yes, my new crop of cilantro had germinated (taking its sweet time, I might add! Isn't it a little late in the year?! I might have to repot some of it as a houseplant), but it had been completely obscured by weeds. I pulled everything that wasn't cilantro and suddenly it was a model of garden elegance.

I filled in gaps in the carrot and purple sprouting broccoli rows. I hate uneven germination. I don't know if the new seeds will do anything, but why not give it a shot?

I also planted entire rows of the following:

• Shogoin turnips (a Japanese snow-white variety that comes highly recommended for this area; am looking forward to this way more than is probably appropriate)
• Batavian endive (cheap seeds from the dollar store--why not try?)
• arugula (ditto--I will plant the "good stuff", AKA the Astro arugula, in the spring when I know it will succeed for sure)

And now the progress report:

Last week I had moved the slug-plagued red cabbage from the front flowerbed into the garden proper, where there is no slug problem to speak of. It looks as though it is getting its footing now. The green cabbage is beginning to form heads. I am watching the Brussels sprouts to see if I can spot any teeny sprouts along the stems, but no luck yet.

The tomatoes from my August planting are finally approaching ripeness. All I need is another week or two for the biggest ones to redden. I've been watching the weather predictions like a hawk, and if I see a hard frost on the horizon, I'm pulling all the tomato plants so they can finish ripening indoors. I think I'm gonna make it!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween from 10 Signs Farm



And remember: If the kids don't come, you get to eat all the candy yourself. No fair turning off the porch light and hiding in the back room.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Perfect cup of hot cocoa

1 heaping Tbs. unsweetened dutch-process cocoa powder
1 Tbs. sugar
a teeny pinch of salt
2 Tbs. water
1 c. milk (anything from 1% to whole will do)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
a little shake of Ceylon cinnamon

Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, and water. Bring to a gentle boil and boil for a minute, then add milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Stir. Bring almost, but not quite, to the boiling point. Pour into a mug and enjoy.

Serves one; can be multiplied to serve many.

A few things I have learned about turkeys

Yes, already. The turkey learning curve is kind of steep if you've never had one before.

First of all, never assume a turkey can find water on its own. Our turkey paced anxiously back and forth and pecked in frustration at the plastic reservoir of its gravity waterer, ignoring the shiny wet stuff in the tray below. It was well on its way to dehydration by the time I figured out the problem and showed it what to do by splooshing my finger in the water. Man. I mean, I knew you had to show baby chicks how to drink, but a grown-up turkey?

Once we had the water thing sorted out, the turkey was suddenly a lot hungrier (no more "dry beak"). Its favorite foods so far appear to be:

• Cabbage
• Honeydew melon rinds
• Cracked corn
• Rolled oats
• Green bean ends

Turkeys, like certain cats I know, appear to like it when you stand there and watch them eat.

Turkeys gobble the way that dogs sometimes bark, in response to noises. The most gobbling we have heard from our turkey came when an ambulance sped by with sirens blaring. The turkey has also gobbled at these sounds:

• Screen door shutting
• Table saw
• Hammer
• Clothes dryer
• Car pulling into driveway
• Car horn

The "turkey alarm" goes off a little while after the sun rises. Sometimes it is extremely long and loud, and sometimes (like today--did it know there was a time change?!) there's hardly anything to it at all.

I'm sure there will be a lot more fun turkey facts as the month goes on.

Friday, October 28, 2005

By popular demand

This is Brutus, the half-Basset Hound, half-Great Dane in our obedience class. This picture doesn't really capture the rivers of drool he produces, but it does show off his beautiful smile. He's a good boy, if a little stubborn.

This class--or rather, the instructor--has completely turned Gracie around. And I have bonded with her. I'm so glad we kept her.

Next week is graduation! No test, just showing off what we can do.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

One-month special: All-U-Can-Eat cracked corn, greens, and wormy pears

No more factory-farmed turkey for us! I finally owned up to the plain fact that if you buy it, you condone it. So this turkey will be happy to the end.

The dogs are HYSTERICAL. They cannot believe this is happening.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Disconcerting dinner?

Apologies to those who would rather not have seen this, but I couldn't let it go undocumented. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recommendation is to roast a cod's head as you would a leg of lamb: slathered in olive oil, coarse salt, and pepper, with little bits of rosemary, thyme, and garlic stuck into the fleshy parts. Oh, and (not that this applies to a leg of lamb) a bay leaf in its mouth.

It looks and smells wonderful, despite its, er, unusual appearance. We will be serving it with mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.

NEWS FLASH: As of tomorrow morning, our homestead will welcome its first livestock animal. The newcomer will reside here on a temporary basis--for approximately one month. Any guesses?

Two women, the open road, and a metric ton of groceries

I promised a field trip report, and here it is! This morning Julie and I hit the road for Ellijay, the apple capital of Georgia. The famed apple festival was over, and that was the way we planned it--neither of us is keen on fighting crowds of tourists.

The weather was unseasonably cold and, in the mountains at least, misty. There was a lot of Thinsulate being worn today, especially among the proprietors of the open-air apple markets! But the weather did little to detract from the striking beauty of the area. The Georgia mountains are rustic in an almost New Englandy way, only more rough around the edges.

There are several apple markets along GA 52 east of Ellijay, and we visited almost all of them. Our favorite was Mack Aaron's Apple House. Not only were their prices the best--$14 per bushel instead of the usual $18--but they offered free samples so you could educate yourself and figure out what you really wanted. Also, the fried pies advertised on the sign were pure flaky bliss.

I bought a lot of apples. I mean a LOT of apples. First I bought an entire bushel of Granny Smiths for a friend. Then, for myself I purchased half a bushel of Yates (my hands-down favorite--a tiny rosy-cheeked apple with a tart-sweet tang and a crisp texture), a peck of Stayman Winesap, and a half-peck of Grannies. I also got a big freezer bag full of dried apples and a jar of sourwood honey.

Once we were "appled out," we continued along 52 toward Ellijay and happened upon a roadside farm market, where I purchased some of the last scuppernong grapes of the season, as well as five small pie pumpkins, a bag of okra, and some large North Carolina tomatoes ("The soil is better for them there," said the proprietress).

We ate lunch in a Mexican restaurant in Ellijay, then went through some kind of strange time warp in which several hours disappeared and we suddenly found ourselves exhausted, standing on the sidewalk and holding receipts from a bunch of antique malls.

Atlanta was not on the way home, but we decided to pretend it was because we wanted to go to the DeKalb Farmer's Market. Julie hadn't been there before. I overheard her talking on her cell phone to her husband as she stood in the spice department: "It's like Christmas here. It's a little overwhelming. Are you sure there's nothing else you want?"

My favorite purchases:

• Three pounds of shiny Italian chestnuts, for which I later discovered I was undercharged by two-thirds because the cashier rang them up as water chestnuts

• Five pineapple quinces that are currently exuding their sultry scent in our kitchen

• A one-pound top butt bison steak

• A cod head (yes, there's a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for that, and it looks delicious)

• Two Florida Ambersweet oranges, which are the best tasting oranges I've come across in quite some time.

We left at 9 AM and didn't get back until 9 PM. It's not most people's idea of grocery shopping, but it works for us.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What a weekend

The photo of collard greens is apropos of nothing, but I didn't want to post yet another photo of canned goods!

I was busy this weekend. I canned two jars of pickled jalapeños, putting two red peppers in each jar for aesthetic effect. I also found enough nearly-ripe pears on the ground to make the year's first batch of pear-citrus marmalade. Nature has her schedule; I looked back on my Manor Menu blog and found that each year I tend to start putting up batches of it around October 24.

Here's how it's done:

PEAR-CITRUS MARMALADE
5 lbs. pears
1 1/4 lemons
1 1/4 oranges
3 3/4 lbs. sugar
Wash the pears, peel them, then cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the ends off the lemons and oranges and quarter them.
Put the pears, lemons, and oranges through a food grinder (use the coarse blade).
Put ground fruit in a pot and stir in the sugar thoroughly while bringing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Continue cooking until shiny and almost transparent.
Ladle into sterilized jars and process. Makes about eight 8-oz. jelly jars.

This time, for reasons unknown to me, the recipe made 10 jelly jars. That wouldn't be so strange except that the marmalade also set better than it has in the past, which I assume means there was less water in it. How on earth? Oh well. Maybe I just measured badly in the past. All I know is that this batch is delicious and damn near perfect.

Other accomplishments over the weekend:

• I started knitting myself a new scarf (I am a terrible knitter; all I can do is stockinette stitch back and forth, and I'm not even 100 percent sure I'm doing that right, so I make lovely fluffy scarves and that's it)

• The s.o. and I built a raised bed for the perennial garlic and onions

• I organized my office files

• I baked two baguettes from a recipe I hadn't tried before (pretty basic except it includes a little bit of oat bran), and they turned out great

• I finished the first coat of drywall mud on the new closet extension, and barely escaped with my skull intact after knocking a heavy mud trough off the ladder and onto my head

I have big plans for tomorrow, but I don't want to say what they are until after it's all done. Two words: FIELD TRIP!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Time to make more pickled peppers

Jalapeño peppers are the Energizer Bunny of garden vegetables. I've been neglecting the plants for at least a month now, but they just keep producing!

Ssshhhhhh...nobody tell them it's mid-October.

Friday, October 21, 2005

My devotion to the sale table

Up in front of our local Ingles supermarket, next to the last register, there's a sale table where they clear out merchandise they're no longer going to carry (or that has been discontinued). As such, it's bittersweet. If something's on the sale table, the party's over; I'll have to buy it in Athens or Atlanta--or at least down at the lake where the rich people live--forevermore. But still, I'm a big fan of it. My tastes are different enough from most people's that I tend to like the selection very well indeed.

Examples of things I love that I've found there:

• La Croix sparkling water
• Sun & Earth environmentally friendly dish and laundry detergents
• Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (this is how I first started buying them)
• Lyle's Golden Syrup (which I am astounded that they carried in the first place, but boy did they ever...I've already bought one can of it and may buy another, because about 20 of them are still sitting there)
• Kashi brand organic Strawberry Fields cereal
• Gold Medal all-purpose flour packaged in the plastic resealable pack (I assume this aggravated them because it didn't fit on the shelf with the normal-shaped flour bags)
• the 96-oz. size of Pompeiian extra-virgin olive oil
• tins of smoked mussels, smoked oysters, and sardines

All very good things indeed, n'est-ce pas?

Sometimes it's not the end. This week I got a large carton of vanilla soymilk for 99 cents because it was approaching its expiration date. The same happened with three-packs of single-serving aseptically packaged "Li'l Milks" not too long ago.

The sale table is good to me. If it weren't for the caprices of the Ingles store manager, I wouldn't be sitting here drinking my coffee with vanilla soy milk this morning. That's something I never thought I'd do, being a dairy devotee, but you know what? It's actually really good.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Note for those who are following along at home

The pecans from our trees have just been incorporated into a batch of chocolate-chip cookies. That's really the ultimate thing to do with a small amount of pecans, isn't it?

Fresh pink-eye cowpeas

Last week Rozanne mentioned that she'd never encountered cowpeas, let alone pink-eye cowpeas, so I thought I'd share. This is what mine looked like after I shelled them. I think they're especially pretty legumes, not to mention especially tasty ones. Cooking darkened the pale white-green color of the peas, but only barely dimmed the delicate pink-brown color of the markings.

I had about two cups of shelled peas. I simmered them, covered, with water to cover by a half-inch, along with:
• a few shreds of leftover ham
• the end of a tomato, chopped
• a smashed clove of garlic
• salt and pepper
• a handful of green and wax beans from the garden, cut into one-inch pieces (which technically makes this dish into a Southern classic called "Field Peas with Snaps")

When the peas were completely tender, I took the lid off and kept simmering for a few minutes to let the sauce thicken a bit. Easy and delicious.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Industrious

Because we've had so much success already with our existing six Sunshine Blue dwarf blueberries, we ordered nine more. Last night we finished planting them all. You can see the older, more established plants in the background and the newbies in the front.

This is going to be really great.

'Tis the season

Aren't they gorgeous? I already have two plastic grocery bags full of windfalls. This will mean several batches of pear-citrus marmalade (yes, more marmalade!) in the near future. And some preserves, too.

I'm very pleased with myself

This is a very crappy, dark photo of a really wonderful batch of tangerine marmalade. As I write this, I am eating buttered toast spread with a generous amount of it, and please forgive me if I pat myself on the back, but it is delicious--a really decadent way to begin the day.

I made this marmalade with those Florida Fallglo tangerines I blogged about last week. It signifies a turning point in my canning abilities. The recipe (an old Southern Living Cookbook one) called for 3 1/2 cups of sugar and only 20 minutes of boiling time, and I have finally gained enough experience making marmalades, chutneys, and jams that I knew neither would be sufficient with my particular batch of fruit. And what do you know--my amended version turned out perfect.

Those of you who are on the fence about learning how to can: I beg you to try it. If you are detail-oriented and able to follow directions, you can hardly help but succeed. And you will make yourself so happy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Meow

There is a smallish calico cat living under our house!*

We put out a bowl of food for her, because what with Taxi leaving, it can't hurt to have some volunteer rodent control around here. An outdoor cat that is not really ours and more or less minds its own business would be just the ticket.

The animals just keep a-comin' around here, don't they?

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* Like many older Southern homes, our house sits on what is called an "open foundation": basically just a series of short brick pillars with (in some areas) decorative brick latticework in between. In our case, the crawl space underneath ranges from about two feet high to tall enough to park our riding lawnmower--which we do, under the bedroom.

Hmm

I think something is amiss with my Weather Pixie. It has read 86 degrees F for days on end. It is most definitely not 86 degrees.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

It's happening

Last night I went to the Caledonia, a club in Athens, to see The Drams. It was a very enjoyable show--not as stunning as their set at Twangfest this June, but very worthwhile nonetheless.

On my way to my car (and yes, if you attempt to park in Athens on a weekend night, you will end up walking quite a way to your car), I was suddenly aware that I was freezing cold. I had a sweater waiting for me in the car, but still I felt chilly the whole way home and had to run the heat. The temperature was in the mid-50s. Until now it has not strayed so low.

So the weather has changed at last. It could be argued that October is the nicest month of the year in Georgia. Daytime temps in the 70s, nighttime in the 50s, ample sunshine mixed with misty moistness. Only March and April (tender, green, gorgeous beyond reason, scented with flowers) can compete.

Today: Bright sun and crisp air. Tonight's forecast: Low of 52.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Seafood heaven

Ten gorgeous, oceany-smelling fresh clams, large enough to properly be called quahogs, rode home from Atlanta with me on Wednesday evening. They were nestled in a double plastic bag in a soft-sided coolerful of ice, but the plastic was left open and hanging out of the top of the cooler so they could breathe.

When I got home, I made up a potful of cold brine--1/3 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water--and placed the clams in it. Then I sprinkled 1/4 c. of fine cornmeal on top so the clams would eat it, thereby chasing the grit and impurities out of their systems. The clams remained like this overnight in the refrigerator.

Yesterday afternoon I flushed the clams well with fresh water, scrubbed them, dried them, and made this, which was truly excellent:

BACON STUFFED CLAMS
rock salt or coarse kosher salt
10 large hard-shelled clams, prepared as above
3 ping-pong-ball-sized mushrooms (I used puffballs, but button mushrooms would work), cleaned and chopped small
2 slices crispy cooked bacon, chopped small
1 tsp. fresh minced parsley
fresh bread crumbs as needed
freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 dots of butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Shake out a layer of salt in a jellyroll pan and nest the clams in it. This is to keep them stable so they don't spill their liquor. Bake them just until they open. Discard any clams that refuse to open (or that have been hanging half-open the whole time you've been preparing them).
Keep the oven turned on.
Open the clams all the way by cutting the muscles at the sides. Pour all the liquor into a small bowl and reserve. Cut out the meat of the clams, chop it, and put it into a large bowl. Reserve 10 half clamshells, nesting them once again in the salt-filled jellyroll pan.
To the large bowl containing the chopped clam meat, add the mushrooms, bacon, and parsley. Throw in a couple handfuls of bread crumbs, then add just enough clam liquor to make a mixture that will hold its shape. You can keep tweaking the amount of bread crumbs and clam liquor to get the consistency you like.
Taste for salt. The mixture should probably have retained some of its brininess. If not, adjust. Mound the mixture into the half clamshells, grind a little pepper on each, then top each filled clamshell with additional breadcrumbs and a dot of butter.
Bake until golden brown.

Note: We haven't tried this yet, but our experience in coastal seafood restaurants suggests that a layer of grated cheese between the clam mixture and the breadcrumb topping would not be a bad thing. It doesn't need it, but then again, why not go for the gusto?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

For anyone who hasn't seen this demonstration 1,000 times already



On the right is a commercial egg--a pretty nice one by those standards, vegetarian-fed, higher than average in Omega-3 fatty acids.

On the left is an egg laid by one of my stepsister and stepbrother-in-law's happy, free-ranging backyard chickens.

The country mouse goes to Atlanta

When did I turn into a country mouse? Nowadays I'm not in a city for more than five minutes before I start grumbling about the traffic. I guess that's why I used to be such a fan of public transportation when I lived in St. Paul! (I suppose I still am a big fan of public transportation. I know I believe in it; it's just that I have zero opportunity to use it.)

Yesterday afternoon found me waiting at a series of interminable red lights in order to visit the Midtown Whole Foods, one of several Atlanta retailers that carries Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses. As some of you might recall, I mail-ordered their Lucille, Georgia Gouda, and Green Hill during August's Eat Local Challenge. They were excellent; I wanted more. I was especially interested in their fresh chevre, which hadn't been available via mail order because of the hot weather.

Well, the chevre is good. Really good. But the Thomasville Tomme, which I have seen referred to as the best cheese made in Georgia, is definitely the one to seek out. After my trip to Whole Foods, I met up with my stepsister, her husband, and their two daughters, and we devoured some cheese together. We all agreed the tomme was All That.

Stepsister and co. introduced me to the Dekalb Farmer's Market, which isn't a farmer's market at all, but is rather a large, cavernous warehouse-style grocery store. You can find a lot of fantastic bulk foods there--especially a lot of organic nuts and grains--but it's not the kind of place where you spot, say, mahlab or black salt or fresh fenugreek. It's not that fancy. But it does have a spectacularly large selection of produce, meats, and seafood. And here's the real kicker: EVERYTHING IS LABELED WITH THE LOCATION WHERE IT WAS SOURCED.

It's like a happy dream for a local foods aficionado.

After some wheeling around with my cart, I came away with (among other things):

• Florida Fallglo tangerines
• Florida white grapefruits
• Georgia pink-eye cowpeas
• Georgia banana peppers
• Georgia green beans
• Georgia Red Rome apples
• Virginia hard-shell clams
• Alabama watercress

At the end of the day, I also returned home with eight pullet eggs from stepsister and co.'s young flock of Wyandotte chickens. We sat around and talked about chickens, bees (stepbrother-in-law is a skilled amateur beekeeper), and fruit and vegetables until it was time for me to head home.

Having experienced all this bounty, I think I might have to drive in to Atlanta every couple weeks or so to get provisions. There were all kinds of beautiful Florida fish and shrimp I didn't buy, simply because we couldn't have consumed them all while they were still fresh.

P.S. I drove home in the wake of a semi truck, not changing lanes except when it did, just to make sure no errant deer ended up in my path.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Disorienting, yet cool

A hundred or so years ago, when our house was built, people didn't have a lot of stuff. We, however, have quite a lot of stuff. As a result, we are forever questing for More Closet Space.

Specifically, we need a place to keep all the tools and DIY doodads that have gotten us to where we are today. So today the s.o. did something really clever: He expanded the under-stairs closet so that it is a little more than two feet deeper (and quite a lot taller) than it was before.

Isn't it strange when the layout of your house changes? Walls seem immutable, but they aren't at all. One afternoon's carpentry (and possibly weeks of subsequent foot-dragging on my part, because I am in charge of drywalling and finishing work) and we suddenly experience a new traffic pattern, a new way that light bounces around, and most notably a new place to store an unwieldy table saw.

Actually, the table saw will sit in exactly the same place it has sat for months. The difference is, now no one will be able to se it.

One additional benefit of the new construction is that it hides an old amateurish drywall seam of mine--done before I really started to figure things out--that I wasn't particularly proud of. It's like a clean slate. I can begin anew.

I like it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A morning's foraging



I found the contents of this bowl while I was walking the dogs this morning. Not bad, I say.

Now, I know four green beans isn't a lot, but (a) the deer ate all the other bean plants from my late-July planting, and (b) there are a few more coming. I'm surprised I have any at all. So I chalk it up as a victory.

The pecans are aggravating. This year our delinquent pecan trees finally set a lot of fruit, only to have most of it rot in the pod. These few are all the healthy nuts I could find. They are not a hundredth of what the trees produced. Is it weather? Nutrition (we did fertilize, for what it's worth)? Or is it that, as I read somewhere, some older pecan tree cultivars stop producing reliably when they get to a certain age? Well, at least we have a few gorgeous pecans.

At a time when so many of the vegetables in the garden are producing like crazy--mustard greens, turnips, chard, radishes, lettuce, cilantro, peppers, carrots, and even a last couple eggplants--it seems odd to be overjoyed at these measly finds. But I am extra-pleased with them because I didn't expect them.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Le menu

Here's a simple autumn soup that makes me very happy. You'll notice there's no basil in it. Nothing unusual about that--there's not supposed to be any basil in it.

I specifically chose a dinner recipe with no basil in it because I spent half the day processing all the basil in the garden into frozen proto-pesto (i.e., just food-processed basil and lots of olive oil to keep it preserved; other ingredients to be added at time of defrosting). As a result, right now the merest whiff of basil makes me positively ill. It won't take long for these effects to wear off, luckily. But you can be sure that the last soup on my mind tonight was Pistou.

So instead I went for a version of potato-leek soup that I specially designed to use up some particularly nice leftovers from a roasted chicken.

I served the soup with Bakerina's Rice Bread, which is every bit as great as you'd expect it to be, coming from Bakerina. Tender and crumb-y inside, with a crackly, crunchy crust.

POTATO-LEEK SOUP WITH CHICKEN
3 to 4 c. peeled, chopped floury potatoes
3 c. chopped leeks, white and pale-green parts only (make sure to rinse them well, inside and out)
chicken broth to cover by 2 inches
1 c. cooked, shredded chicken
a splash of milk and/or cream
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the potatoes, leeks, and broth in a large pot, bring to a boil, and keep at a high simmer until the vegetables are falling-apart tender. Puree in batches in a food processor. Return to the pot.
Add the chicken, milk, and seasonings. Heat through--do not boil.

Look what the rain brought

I knew as soon as we got some rain, we'd start to see tiny puffballs in the yard. They say the best possible mushroom weather is a dry September and a wet October. So far, perfect. Aren't they cute?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Yes, since you ask, it was love at first sight

The s.o. is simultaneously watching the playoffs on TV and reading a baseball web site. I am engrossed in a culinary article online and am only dimly aware that he is typing away at something. Then I realize he is asking me a question.

"Wha?" I ask.

He repeats himself. "Is 'popinjay' all one word?"

"Yes," I respond, and return to my reading.

A moment later, he gets my attention again. "And what about 'drink-soaked'? Does that need a hyphen?"

Sometimes I think I ought to pay more attention to sports.

The yogurt wars: Vol. 2



It is a good morning. After a shaky first week in obedience class*, in which Gracie half-strangled herself on the lead, towed me around in circles, scrabbled her feet like Fred Flintstone for an hour straight, and peed in the middle of the floor, last night she made me so proud you'd think she had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

We spent all day wearing her out so she'd be mellow. She fetched, wrestled, paced in circles, etc. Then I gave her a Happy Traveler (which doesn't seem to have any effect on her, FWIW) and took her to town a half-hour early so she could greet all the other dogs as they arrived. I got myself a coffee with cinnamon and cultivated an air of quiet benevolence. But what really helped was that the trainer had thoughtfully brought an Ace bandage and did a "hug wrap" on her. It's a tactic along the lines of swaddling clothes for a baby or a squeeze chute for a cow; it does something comforting on a deep neurological level. Apparently therapists do something similar with autistic children. At any rate, the difference in behavior was startling. The wrap seemed to drastically reduce Gracie's not-inconsiderable anxiety, and she was so well-behaved that the trainer used us as an example!

Gracie and I stopped at the liquor store on the way home so I could get a bottle of Calvados. It's apple season. I need it for cooking. "Sure you do," you say, winking ironically, but at this very moment I have a panful of butter-sauteed apple slices soaking in a quarter-cup of that Calvados. Apple clafoutis for brunch!

But before I forget, I need to deal with the business at hand: Four more yogurt taste tests, submitted for your consideration.


Stonyfield Farm
fat-free strawberry

(not pictured)

Very good yogurt as always, but really, really awful fruit. The strawberries are greyish-pink, bland, and canned-tasting. Bad aftertaste. I have a hard time imagining how this made it through product testing. Overall a regrettable purchase.
Cairo didn’t even like it. Not much, anyway.


Redwood Hill Farm Goat Milk Yogurt
vanilla flavor


This is good, but not nearly as good as the Redwood Hill blueberry flavor. It is sweetened with maple syrup rather than honey, so it has a pronounced maple-caramel flavor rather than a pure vanilla taste. That seems like an odd choice to me--why not just call it maple? Also, I noticed a greasy film on the spoon, similar to (although not as pronounced as) the fatty texture of the Brown Cow Cream Top maple flavor. Maybe maple syrup has some kind of de-emulsifying effect on yogurt.
I am now a confirmed fan of goat milk yogurt. But whereas I’d buy the blueberry flavor again in a heartbeat, I don’t think I’d seek this flavor out.
Cairo really seems to like maple, and he loves goat milk, too, so obviously this yogurt was a dream come true for him.


Stonyfield Farm
whole milk vanilla truffle


I tried this on Maggie’s recommendation. I wouldn’t have even been able to find it on the shelf if it weren’t for the picture on the cup, which depicts chunks of chocolate and a vanilla flower. Since when do you call a chocolate-flavored yogurt “vanilla truffle”?
Well. I must say this is a very impressive yogurt. It has a cream top with a minimum of greasiness and a maximum of creaminess. There is almost too much gooey chocolate on the bottom for the amount of yogurt in the cup (as if that were possible). It is glorious, glorious stuff, and I feel very guilty having eaten it for breakfast. It occurs to me that it would go well with sliced banana. I will definitely buy it again.
Only two negatives:
(1) It looked kind of gross when I opened it, due to watery “migration” of some of the chocolate from the bottom, and
(2) I couldn’t share it with Cairo because it is chocolate.


Wallaby Creamy Australian Style Organic
lowfat lemon


Apparently “Australian Style” means “soupy and mild.” I like it a lot for its fresh lemony flavor. In fact, the more I ate of it, the more I liked it. There are little teeny pieces of lemon zest in it, which are comforting in a natural-foods way but a little odd texture-wise, almost grainy.
Cairo loooooooved this. Three paws up.

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* Some of you may note that it has actually been several weeks since classes began. The first week we didn't bring our dogs, and then the third week the trainer had to be in New York for a dog show. So this was actually the de facto second class for the dogs.