Friday, September 30, 2005

Back soon

Have a great weekend, everyone...I'm off to visit friends in Tuscaloosa for a couple of days. Use coasters and don't eat anything you can't identify out of the fridge!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ever vigilant

Cairo and Silver enjoy the weather in the screened porch.*

* In dog language, this phrase translates to "guard tower." After all, you never know when a marauding crow might come along.

Tales from a fall garden

Yesterday we made a trip to the fantasyland that is Athens Seed. What a great place. The prices are so reasonable, and they have everything you need, whether you're growing fruit or vegetables or chickens or goats (or aspiring to all four). I swear they had at least 10 varieties of cowpea seeds alone.

Right now my garden is at its all-time best, healthwise. Everything is lush and happy. I won't bore you with a second photo of my mustard greens, but let's just say they've tripled in size and I'm going to have to thin them again. The same is true of the turnips. Hmm...turnip and mustard greens with dinner tonight?

So anyway, I put up these photos because it's a beautiful day here and I wanted to share it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An atypical morning

The first unusual thing about this morning was the way I woke up: at 7 am, to the sound of dripping water. I smiled in my groggy state. The unexpected rain that had delayed last night's Atlanta Braves game had visited our parched little corner of the world. Excellent.

It wasn't much--between 1/4 and 1/2 inch, I think. But at least it was something.

The second unusual thing was that the dogs didn't get their usual kibble for breakfast. We had run out. So I doled out portions of last night's mashed rutabagas into three dog bowls, and then I set out to make them some pancakes. Our dogs almost never get people food (other than the dregs of yogurt containers and the occasional pistachio), but for some reason it gave me great pleasure to cook for a four- (or in one case, three-) legged audience this morning.

Funnily enough, in my attempt to make more-than-usually-nutritious pancakes for the canines, I ended up creating pancakes that I found more-than-usually-tasty. They are fluffy and cakey and don't taste "health-foody" at all--just, y'know, good. I had mine with a light drizzle of a local product called "Biscuit Lasses," which is an extremely tasty mix of dark corn syrup and molasses. The dogs had theirs plain and didn't complain a bit, although if I had really been trying to spoil them I suppose bacon crumbles would have been in order.

And so I present to you:


1/2 c. soft all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
1 Tbs. sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the wet ingredients and whisk until just combined. For each pancake, drop 1/4 c. batter on a hot buttered or oiled cast-iron skillet. Cook until bubbles appear all over the top, then flip and cook one more minute.

Monday, September 26, 2005

I found it

That orange spaghetti squash I ate in Ohio is apparently called Hasta La Pasta (scroll down). The description is correct when it says it is a "major improvement" on the old yellow spaghetti squash.

Now I can sleep at night. Ahhhh.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bueller? Bueller?

I have two freshly dug peony roots up for grabs. They're three years old, but you'd never know it. They're not thriving here. In fact, they're barely hanging on. They are the result of my early attempts to grow something in Georgia that really doesn't want to grow here.

I figure they can't do any worse in the mail than they've been doing in the parched ground. I will send them--no guarantees of health, you understand, but at least they're worth a try--to the first northerner who claims them.

Opportunity knocks, and I answer

Sometimes it truly amazes me, how what you see is determined by what you're looking for. When the s.o. brought home the Greensboro paper this week, there were two--two!--horticultural seminars advertised in it. Have they always been there, and we just haven't noticed?

One of them is on landscape design basics. It's at UGA, costs $20, and is in mid-October. I am seriously considering it. But the free seminar on deer-resistant plants that was this Saturday...well, that was a no-brainer.

The seminar was given by (and located at) Piccadilly Farm, a nursery that specializes in shade plants, hellebores, and conifers. Normally it would be a little bit out of my way. Picture it like this: If Athens is the center of the clock face, we live at the number 5 and the seminar was at the number 8. But it just so happened that my friend Julie (often seen commenting around these parts) was having a party Friday night. Julie lives between 8 and 9. Also, a friend in Athens was having a housewarming party Saturday afternoon, a few hours after the seminar. Obviously the smart thing to do was to stay overnight and make a weekend of it.

So that's what I did. And miraculously, with the aid of some excellent coffee, I managed to get out of bed early enough on Saturday to hit two yard sales on the way to Piccadilly Farm. At the first one I found a fishing net for the s.o. At the second, I bought two bags of okra, grown right there and picked Saturday morning. I think I might pickle it.

The seminar was a revelation. Any idiot can look up deer-resistant plants on the internet and get a bunch of genus and species names. But we got to see them and touch them and smell them. The proprietor of the farm told us about their growth habits and what kind of environment they preferred. I scribbled annotations on my handout as he talked.

But the most useful piece of information was this: The Georgia DNR buys truckloads and truckloads of a particular organic fertilizer called Milorganite Greens Grade (6-2-0 plus 4% iron), not because it's a great non-burning fertilizer (which it is), but because it drives deer away, apparently with fairly good reliability. The fertilizer is made from composted sludge from the Milwaukee, Wis., sewer system. The deer hate the smell, but humans don't notice it after the initial application. It should be applied as a top dressing, just a handful scattered here and there, every two or three weeks. It costs $9.50 per 50-lb. bag.

Wow, huh? I mean, I don't know how things are where you live, but this is potentially very big information for us. It's one more weapon (besides the fences we're planning and the little bars of deodorant soap hanging everywhere) in our deer-repelling arsenal. It could even mean that the s.o.'s dream of growing hostas in the front shade bed may live once more. It could mean life itself for my fruit trees and grapes, which will nevertheless spend their young years in big wire-fence cylinders.

Oh, and get this: At the end of the FREE seminar, they gave us FREE deer-resistant plants. How cool is that? I gave my flowering quince--not the fruiting kind, but the decorative kind--as a housewarming gift later that afternoon (I was kind of stressing out about where to put it, since I'm going to be planting so many fruit trees on our property). But the other, a smallish cylindrical cypress, has already found a home in the front yard. We'd been thinking about buying a conifer for that spot anyway.

Sometimes it really is true that the most important thing in life is showing up.

Between the seminar and the party, I went back to Julie's. We drank coffee on the deck and fed the turtles that live in the pond, and I almost teared up because they were so beautiful and funny and prehistoric-looking. There must have been at least eight or 10 of them clamoring for our stale pita bread and overripe banana. I am jealous that Julie and her fiancé get to start their day that way every day.

Then went junking before the afternoon party. Julie acquainted me with a small, out-of-the-way store I hadn't known existed. It's run by a few really friendly, smart, funny ladies who have an eye for cool old stuff. I came away with an antique potato ricer (fully as nice as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Victorian one), an old aluminum grease jar with a filter, and a Mason-jar chicken waterer (for the same price as the chicken catalog charges for it, sans shipping). The store is having a community yard sale on the third weekend in October, and I'm thinking maybe I should participate.

After the housewarming party (which was a blast) I stopped in at Café Cuba, my new favorite hangout in Athens. They have a super-authentic chef who cooks brilliant Cuban, Columbian, and Peruvian food. On weekends they have a special expanded menu that includes some of the more obscure and tripey dishes. I ordered a Peruvian dish called (I think--please correct me if you know better) Seco de Cabrito. It was an herby stew of fatty lamb breast, yuca, and brown beans, served with white rice and pickled red onions. It was stunning. The s.o. felt the same way about the leftovers when I brought them home.

Is it any wonder I'm so tired today? But what a fantastic weekend it has been already.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Garden notes

It's Fertilization Friday in the garden, which means it's the day that, instead of watering via hose sprayer, I make a series of five-gallon bucketfuls of murky kelp soup (see item H312 here) and pour them slowly over my growing vegetables. This, in addition to the composted manure I've been working in wherever new seeds are planted, seems to be helping the plants along quite nicely.

On days like today, I also take the time to look more closely at the plants--noticing, for example, if weird beetle larvae can be found snacking on my waning eggplants. And yes, it turns out they can. Die, foul vermin, die!

The front flowerbed where I've planted my red cabbage seedlings is much more organic-y and leaf-strewn than the main vegetable garden area, so it is rife with slugs. Our slugs here are small (aside from very occasional imported giant banana slugs), but they can still make pretty large holes when they're hungry. In fact, the littlest cabbage was cut down altogether two days ago. So last night, before retiring, I took two teeny Asian condiment bowls and filled them with beer, then embedded them in the leaf mold outside. This morning I was gratified to find that five slugs and one beetle had died drunken deaths. Excellent--I need to remember to do that every night.

Most exciting discovery du jour: My purple sprouting broccoli has germinated!

Additional non-garden-related information: Nutella is really good on dense, custardy cornbread. I'm sure it's good on dry-ish fluffy cornbread, too, but there's something about the moist, almost polenta-like texture that is particularly dreamy. Craig Claiborne has a recipe for this kind of cornbread, if you happen to have his southern cookbook. But I like this recipe (which I've adapted from Sheila Ferguson's Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South) much better:


2 Tbs. butter
1 1/2 c. cornmeal
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbs. sugar
2 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. skim milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 Tbs. melted butter

Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet with 2 Tbs. butter in it in the oven while it preheats to 400 degrees F.
Meanwhile, whisk together cornmeal, flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar.
Add buttermilk, milk, eggs, and melted butter and blend together until smooth. Pour into warmed, buttery skillet. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The opposite of Texas

Having survived three weeks without rain, I just looked at our 10-day forecast and was appalled to see that it's more of the same: 90 degrees and no rain.

For at least 10 more days. Okay, the temperature does start to taper off a little after a week. But no rain.

Something is definitely screwed up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I can't stop taking pictures of radishes

Note to self: French breakfast radishes are the prettiest thing I've ever grown--even more gorgeous and Easter-egg-like than cherry belle radishes (a couple of which you can see tucked underneath their showier brethren).

They are spicy, though! Hot weather'll do that.

Lush mustard greens

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Uncharacteristic levels of community involvement

I voted this morning at 8:15 AM. I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, and my jeans were still damp from the knees down because I'm not very good at watering the garden when I'm semi-comatose. But there were a couple of tax and bond issues up that I was quite interested in.

"That was quick," said one of the voting officers when I gave my key card back to them. Which begs the question of how long it takes most people to answer three questions on a touch-screen computer voting machine.

I was up early because I had registered for an all-day tree pruning workshop offered by the Greensboro Better Hometown program. Apparently the city councilpeople have figured out that their tree husbandry has historically been a little shoddy--okay, really shockingly bad--and that they ought to do something about it instead of continuing to flush the tree budget down the drain. As far as I could tell, the workshop was organized primarily for the benefit of the three city employees to whom the bulk of the tree care duties falls. I'm guessing the general public was invited in order to help pay the ag extension arborist's speaking fee.

I have a geeky love of science seminars, plus I just bought a bunch of seedlings that will arrive in January and demand care that I don't know how to give, so I gladly shelled out 20 bucks to attend. It was well worth it. The arborist taught us how to shape trees when they're young so that they grow up to be healthy and less likely to rot or split. He taught how and where to cut so infection won't enter. He gave us hints on how to deal with mature trees that are already too large and screwed up to fully remediate. And finally, he took us on a walking tour of downtown, where we looked upon the city's trees with new eyes. The trees were a mess, I must say. We could only find one--a smallish willow oak--that we thought was acceptable. The rest all had "issues." Most had codominant stems (a weak structure that's basically a lawsuit waiting to happen--think large falling branch meets Mercedes-Benz). Several had been gouged by chainsaws and were probably rotting from the inside out. In many cases, otherwise acceptable young red maples had been planted near power lines. Their future was bleak: Before they could even begin to approach their full height of 90 feet, they'd be summarily topped by the power company. After a few examples of this, I could see despair in the eyes of the lady from the Better Hometown committee.

But on the bright side, I think the knowledge I gained will help us avoid comical and/or expensive and/or tragic mistakes on our own property. And the city should do better in the future, too.

Lest anyone think that $20 buys nothing more than a stack of PowerPoint photocopies and a slight sunburn, I should add that lunch was catered by a downtown meat-and-three. It was fried chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and banana pudding. It's not my favorite local restaurant, but any soul food beats the heck out of a sack lunch (or the usual Rubber Conference Chicken).

The Better Hometown lady says there might be more of these seminars, depending on demand. I suggested that a tree planting workshop might be in order...sometime before mid-January!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Putting down roots

This is a pretty big announcement, or at least it feels that way to us: We have taken our house off the market. We are not selling our 12-acres-with-farmhouse, and we are not moving to Oregon. The reasons are many and complex, but basically they boil down to this: We couldn't sell our place here for nearly as much money as we'd need to set ourselves up out west. We would have taken a massive quality-of-life hit.

The other thing that happened is this: When we first put our house up for sale last November, we were malcontent here. Maybe it was the election; we felt surrounded by unlike minds and isolated from culture. But during the intervening time, we started to love this place all over again.

Was it Mary Engelbreit who first said "Bloom where you're planted," or was she quoting someone more authoritative? I hope it's the latter. Because 13 years ago, after I made an agonizing decision about where to go to grad school (possibly by flipping a coin--I can't remember now), my stepmother sent me this print, which actually went a long way toward putting my mind at ease. I'd hate to think that all my issues can be addressed by folksy platitudinous illustrations. And I don't want to know what sort of decision I might make that could be summed up with "Life is just a chair of bowlies."

Anyhow, having made the decision, we feel...I don't know, free. We've been living in limbo for a year now, waiting for something to happen and unwilling (for obvious reasons) to invest too much in our lives here. Now we are building shelving units, ordering fruit trees, planning for chickens and goats*. I am a little sad that we won't get to realize all our grand plans in the Pacific Northwest. But I am a lot happy that we have such a great place in rural Georgia.


* The s.o. has just about had it with mowing all our open acreage. So we're recruiting some help!

Irresistible food porn claims another victim

Just made a batch of these, and I definitely give them the thumbs-up. They taste like cakey sugar cookies, only with Nutella.

By the way, I followed Nic's advice and reduced the amount of butter in the recipe. Since there are eight tablespoons in a stick of butter, I just threw in a stick and called it good. No need for more, I think.

I dig my garden

Well, the s.o. talked me into it. I wasn't going to buy any seedlings this fall; I was going to rely on plants started from seed. After all, I'm already starting to harvest mature radishes. And the mustard greens are huge, with the turnips coming up fast in their wake.

I have received one order apiece from Pinetree Garden Seeds and Victory Seed Co. this fall (see sidebar for links). I haven't put in my garlic and walking onions yet, but I have planted the purple sprouting broccoli seeds I got. And I have soaked my baby plants with a red-brown murky broth of kelp powder. They look happy. So I thought I was done, more or less.

But that was before the s.o. and I stopped in at Lowe's yesterday--he to buy the last two 99-cent azaleas, and me to purchase a couple sacks of composted manure. He spotted the vegetable seedlings and encouraged me to buy them. I hemmed and hawed because I didn't need them, but in the end I walked away with a 9-pack of brussels sprouts and a 9-pack of red cabbage. (Note to non-Southerners: Most brassicas, aside from collards, are primarily fall crops here. They can't stand our summer, but they like our winter just fine.)

Because I know they'll be gorgeous as well as useful, I planted the red cabbage seedlings along the edge of the gravel walk that leads to our front door. They're replacing some pinks and pansies that have slowly given out over the course of the last year. Then I planted the brussels sprouts in the garden proper, in the place where the okra plants used to be before the deer pruned them into short little non-flowering shrubs that I eventually dug up and composted. I did the math: This should mean brussels sprouts by Christmas, which is perfect timing.

Isn't it weird to be thinking of Christmas when it's (suddenly, again) 90 degrees out? But there is an unmistakable coolness to the early-morning air. I know fall is under there somewhere.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The yogurt wars: Vol. 1

This post is the first in an irregularly occurring series in which I compare yogurt brands and flavors I've never tried before. The goal is to find out if there's any yogurt within my reach that can compare with my Holy of Holies: the Publix lowfat fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt with tart cherries--which, in itself, is not perfect, being slightly soupier than a 2% yogurt has any right to be. But still, I love it best.

I was raised on a Dannon a day, and I've been to Greece and sampled their incredible whole-milk yogurt with a drizzle of honey. I make yogurt curries and I make yogurt slaws. So I figure I'm as good a reviewer as anyone...

Brown Cow Cream Top
maple flavor

First let me say this is a delicious yogurt with a strong dark maple syrup flavor. It’s not overly sweet, which I appreciate; it has a lovely tart yogurty tang.
But there are textural problems. I was expecting smooth unctuousness from this, since it’s a whole milk yogurt. But the main body of the yogurt has a slightly granular texture. And the much-touted “cream top” has a mouthfeel more reminiscent of cold chicken fat than of cream. It leaves an unpleasant greasy residue on my lips and on the spoon.
Cairo the three-legged dog, who always cleans out my yogurt containers for me when I’m done eating, liked this especially well--but then again, he’s also very fond of chicken fat.

Redwood Hill Farm Goat Milk Yogurt
blueberry flavor

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. I love goat cheese, but I have a lingering mistrust of goat milk in sweet foods because my dad kept dairy goats for a while when I was young and I am still getting over the trauma of having goat milk on my Life cereal.
But holy cow! I mean, holy goat! This is great yogurt. Like Brown Cow, it purports to have a cream layer. However, in this case I didn’t even notice it. It is creamy throughout, with a delicate goat-cheese undertone, and the fruit is sweetened with honey so it’s not cloying.
I wouldn’t want to switch altogether to goat’s-milk yogurt; I’m too attached to the taste of the cow’s-milk variety. But this is really divine stuff, and it makes for a refreshing change from the everyday.
Cairo dutifully licked out the container, but he didn’t go crazy for it.

Nancy’s Nonfat Yogurt
raspberry flavor

Let’s deal with the 1000-pound gorilla in the room first: the packaging. On one hand, I like being able to dole out the fruit bit by bit. On the other hand, all that extra plastic strikes me as a wildly irresponsible use of resources.
The yogurt itself is damned near perfect (at least for a fat-free variety, which I have no problem with in general, despite the existence of some truly spectacular whole-milk yogurts in the world). Excellent texture and tartness. I would have loved it plain! But the raspberries have some “off” flavors that I can’t put my finger on--like maybe the berries weren’t the freshest, or maybe the honey they used to sweeten them wasn’t particularly nice. I expect better from a product that comes from Oregon, the berry capital of the universe.
Cairo liked the fact that he could get his tongue into the bottom of the shallow cup.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

And now for something completely different

I'm reading the fashion supplement that came with the new Vanity Fair. Can I just say that if I were one of the people Gwen Stefani named as a style mentor, I'd sue for defamation?

On the other hand, some people have always gotten it. Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran looks sharper and more handsome than he did 20 years ago--and people who know how much of a fan I was back then will understand that that's a very high compliment. And his bandmate Andy Taylor looks really put-together despite his mullet hairstyle. He says he's taken to wearing suits every day as a tribute to a friend:

I knew Robert [Palmer] for 20 years before he died, and I never saw him go a day without a suit.

For some reason, I thought that was a really lovely sentiment. It choked me up.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gracie goes to school

Well, it's all settled. Gracie is a permanent resident of Chez 10Signs, and Taxi the cat (whom Gracie chases) is going to live at the s.o.'s dad's house. Taxi, funny kitty that she is, is much loved there. It's hard to let her go, but I think she will get more attention in that household anyway.

Gracie is still living outside 90 percent of the time. We plan to bring her inside more and more as time goes on, but she needs to be better trained so she doesn't drive us up the wall. So I enrolled her in an obedience class here, which is the same place Silver studied.

(You may ask, "What about Cairo? Doesn't he get to go to school too?" And the answer is no, sadly, because he is so prone to carsickness that it would be a major undertaking involving two people--one to drive and one to hold the bucket. But at any rate, he's such a perfect, sweet boy that he doesn't really need any formal training. I practice "sit," "down," and "come" with him often, and he's fairly good at them.)

The first obedience class was last night. As is usual with these things, we were asked to come without the dogs for the first session. One girl didn't get the memo, so I had the privilege of sitting next to a shrilly barking Boston terrier that mauled my hands whenever he could get within biting range. Cute, though.

There was a woman named Dixie in the class. Note that I said a woman, not a dog. (How long does a person have to live in the South before that name stops being a surprise?)

The class is taught by a portly older gentleman with 30 years of experience in dog training and competition judging. He's hilarious, which helps, but it was also evident even in this first session that he's a fantastic trainer. At one point, he wanted to show us that all creatures--dogs, people, whatever--give away clues to what they're about to do. You can use this fact to catch a dog before they do something bad, while they're still just thinking about doing something bad. So he had a girl sit in a chair and he asked her repeatedly to stand up and sit down again. He pointed out that she always shifted her weight just before she stood. And the next time he asked her to stand up and she started to shift her weight, he shouted "NO!" at her. She was startled to say the least, and remained seated without even thinking about it. Awesome.

Near the end of the class, he took the gnarly little Boston terrier and within five minutes taught it not to pull on the lead. It was borderline miraculous. The guy just exudes authority to dogs, with zero meanness.

There's an assistant helping out with the class, a tall pretty girl who acts as the straight man for the trainer's jokes. She has a very sweet dog who's a cross between a great dane and a basset hound--imagine, if you will, what he looks like.

So anyway, we have homework. I'm spending 10 minutes twice a day working on-leash with Gracie, and hopefully by next week she won't make a fool of me. She's actually developed a really cool habit: If she doesn't know what I want from her, she sits. The tough part is, she's like a ping-pong ball when I try to walk her, and she has a tendency to cross in front of my feet and prevent any attempts at left turns. Also, sometimes she gets so confused that she becomes super-submissive and just writhes on the floor with her feet in the air.

This is good for me. Gracie is a complete happy-go-lucky fruit loop, pretty much the opposite of Silver's staid watchfulness, personality-wise. If I can train both kinds of dogs, that's really saying something.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Salad of baby radishes and mustard greens

Dressed simply with olive oil, red wine vinegar, sea salt, and pepper.

This is the first food I've gotten from my fall garden!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


We've just noticed that a friend of ours from Nashville appears in the new series of Milwaukee's Best Light beer commercials. He's in all the commercials in the series, but he's easiest to pick out in the one where he makes goo-goo noises at a small fluffy dog and then gets squashed by a giant beer can. In the other ones he mostly stands around with a blank look on his face. He's a good guy--raise a can of beer to him.

In other news, growing a garden really puts you in touch with the weather. Like, for example, I've noticed that it HASN'T RAINED ONCE since the day Katrina passed to the west of us. Not once. And there's no rain in the 10-day forecast, either. I guess I'll keep on watering those baby plants every morning. It's weird to think that my new crop of radishes could actually reach maturity without ever once experiencing natural rainfall.

Football season has begun, and with it it brings a mixture of emotions. Part of me knows football means autumn, no matter what the weather is doing, and anticipates the bittersweet change of seasons. The other part of me is really glad I don't work at a bar downtown anymore, because right now Athens bartenders are dealing with three home game weekends in a row, and you couldn't pay me enough to serve beers to all those jerky frat boys. Anyhow, fall is in the air, and I've even started cooking fall foods. Yesterday it was aloo gobhi, parathas, and roasted sweet potatoes with cashews. Today it was braised pork chops and baked beans, with a dessert of muscadine-apple cobbler. It feels right somehow.

This evening I noticed my heels were dry and cracked, so I put some Hawaiian Tropic oil on them. Now the coconut smell has us both jonesing for a trip to the beach.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

You know you live in the country when...'re in the drive-thru line at Zaxby's and there's a dead deer strapped to the vehicle in front of you.

P.S. Its tongue was sticking out.

P.P.S. Bon appetit.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Fun with the Flump

I think what I like best about the new toy is that it's the only thing all three dogs are interested in. Silver usually won't play-fight with Gracie, preferring to maintain a superior, queenly posture away from the fray. But as you can see here, that is absolutely not the case where the Flump is concerned. Let the rumpus begin!

(Key to dog identification: Tan shorthaired lab-pit mix = Gracie; coppery chow-golden mix = Cairo; multicolored border collie = Silver.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Dog, star

Best dog toy ever. I bought one for the "kids" and they are extremely enthusiastic about it. I think it has the perfect combination of mouthfeel and fetchability.

Also, on the way home from Athens tonight, I was in a very dark and deserted area and I suddenly saw the brightest meteor I've ever seen. I almost missed my turn. Tonight is one of those nights when you can lose yourself in the starry sky.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I invented this

Peeled and sliced butternut squash, tossed with garam masala and brown sugar, dabbed with butter and cooked in a foil packet on the charcoal grill. Oh, my!

Have I mentioned what amazing weather we've been having? 75 degrees, sunny, and breezy; cool, clear nights. Such a stark contrast to all the bad news elsewhere. We should really count our blessings, because there are a whole lot of them.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Happiness is...

...a new half-sized pie dish, which arrived today via UPS from the very talented potter. I filled it with buttery crust and sweet bronze scuppernong grapes.

This photo doesn't quite capture the ethereal color of the pie dish, which is lighter and more violet in real life. I'm really delighted with it.

The pie itself is not as photogenic as usual because I used my butter crust recipe rather than my trusty shortening one. I think the soft Southern flour I bought during the Eat Local Challenge made the dough harder to manipulate, too. And I'm not certain about the proportions I used in the filling. Will it set? Or will it stay runny?

But I'm not complaining--oh, no! It will taste delicious, if the heavenly smell is any indication.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Who let that chicken in here?

Yes, I know. Soupe au pistou is one of the world's great vegetarian dishes. I feel a little bit of ex-vegetarian guilt as I write this.

But after making last night's dinner, I had a chicken carcass with lots of beautiful meat left on it, so the only thing to do was make a stock. Add that to a couple of handfuls of fresh basil and a lot of vegetables, and you get something just like this. It is very good indeed, and (as the commercials used to say) it eats like a meal.

6 c. homemade chicken stock with pieces of chicken in it
1 c. fresh or frozen crowder peas (or creamy shell beans of your choice)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 small boiling potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 or 2 yellow crookneck squash, chopped into 1-inch pieces
white and pale green parts of 2 green onions, chopped
a couple handfuls of broken spaghetti
small pinch of saffron
salt and pepper to taste
2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
2 to 3 cloves garlic
2 Tbs. olive oil
good sea salt and freshly ground pepper
shredded Parmesan or hard goat cheese

In a stockpot, bring the stock to a simmer and add the crowder peas. Simmer until the peas are tender but still firm.
In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it takes on a little color. Then add the tomatoes and cook over medium heat until they collapse. Add the onion-tomato mixture to the stockpot.
Add the potatoes, squash, and green onions. Cook until the potatoes are tender.
Add the spaghetti and seasonings. Cook until the spaghetti is al dente.
While the soup is cooking, make the pistou. Whirl the basil and garlic in a food processor a few times. Add 2 Tbs. olive oil and sea salt to taste, and process until it forms a chunky paste.
Serve the soup with a sprinkle of cheese and a dollop of pistou. Crusty bread is an excellent accompaniment.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Is it normal... go out into the garden and stare at your teeny seedlings seven or eight times a day?

Little garden: A new beginning

The place I was standing when I took this photo is where the cucumbers used to be. The left foreground was tomatoes; now it's turnip seeds.

I love a clean slate. I am in love with my garden all over again.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Eating local is addictive

Yes, August is over and I'm still doing it. Not religiously, of course; I did buy that lettuce the first chance I got! And Swiss bittersweet chocolate featured prominently in my diet yesterday.

But when I went into town today, I found myself still scrutinizing labels to find out where the foods were grown and produced. The answer to that question is important to me now, so I tried to find it whenever possible.

The farmer's market was on its last legs. I think it's pretty much over for the season. But I also visited an upscale natural-foods type grocery and made a couple of great discoveries there. And while I was waiting for my car to be worked on, I had plenty of time to loiter in the aisles of the Kroger across the street. I found things I wouldn't have found otherwise, so I guess it's a blessing in disguise that the parts runner took forever to bring my new spark plugs.

Clockwise from upper left: Appalachian Harvest organic tomatoes, Sunergia marinated tofu*, green pepper and garlic from the farmer's market, Georgia mountain honey, Pollo de Claxton**, Roddenberry boiled peanuts, roasted peanuts, bronze scuppernong grapes.

On the home front, my fall garden is getting a great start. I have been watering the garden twice a day because we're going through a hot, dry spell and I have seedlings trying to germinate. Some have succeeded already! There are little rows of mustard greens, lettuce, and radishes starting to appear. I am extremely pleased.

Still no sign of the four-pound Vogue. It's been late before, but sheesh.

* Made in Charlottesville, Virginia. Where there are hippies, there is tofu! Most excellent.

** Why is the all-natural family-farmed chicken from Claxton, Ga., marketed solely to the Hispanic market?

Friday, September 02, 2005

More prescient writing from Nature Magazine

From an article in the March 1944 issue, called "Coyote Cunning":

The immortal Reynard of our childhood literature never got by with a trick as clever as one pulled by Tippy, a pet coyote reared by a family in Texas. Tippy's liking for fresh poultry stuck with him in captivity, and he began catching chickens. The family chained Tippy to a corner of the house and fed him scraps. Tippy promptly scattered the scraps within the length of his chain and retired around the corner. The gullible chickens ventured forth to pick up the scraps; Tippy picked up fresh poultry.

Now look at this.

My question is, if the coyote belonged to a pack, would he also have taught his fellow members how to bait chickens? The transmission of culture is obviously not a solely human trait...

Thursday, September 01, 2005


• I have a fig tree next to the house that keeps getting killed back to the ground every winter. As a result, it is about two feet tall despite being three years old. I am proud to announce that there is a single tiny fig growing on it.

• I harvested a watermelon. While it isn't transcendent, it is at least average and will make excellent agua fresca. With all the bizarre weather we've had, I consider "average" a personal victory. (Let's not mention the fact that the watermelon was an unexpected volunteer and has basically reared itself without my intervention.)

• Would the smart aleck who, back in the spring, suggested we'd end up keeping Gracie the Foster Dog please leave a comment to claim your prize.

Soapbox alert

One of my gifts to the s.o. for his recent birthday was three copies of Nature Magazine from January, February, and March 1944. I found them at a local flea market mall. They're a little bit like a proto-Ranger Rick, only aimed at adults. There are lots of articles on astronomy, photographing animals at night, victory gardens, etc.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, these magazines have got me thinking about the national character of the United States. Our culture has changed drastically. We say we're patriotic, but we've completely lost our ability to sacrifice for the greater good. All we are is jingoistic, I'm afraid. All talk and no walk.

"Why shouldn't I buy it? I've got the money!" asks a woman in an ad in the front of the January 1944 issue. The ad explains that because of war shortages, it was important for people to avoid spending money on anything that wasn't an absolute necessity. If they bought everything on the market, prices would skyrocket. "Save it! Put it in the bank! Put it in life insurance! Pay off old debts and don't make new ones. Buy and hold war bonds," advises the advertisement. And then it lets loose with the slogan:

Use it up...
Wear it out...
Make it do...
Or do without...

In the March issue, there's an ad from the Minnesota Tourist Bureau, suggesting that the best kind of patriotic vacation is "staying put" at a cabin in Minnesota. It doesn't ask anyone not to take a week or two off--they need to be well rested for the war effort, after all--just to avoid using up more resources than necessary.

Sounds rather foreign, doesn't it?

This brings me to a piece of information I gleaned this morning from the August 29 Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Metro Atlanta drivers are facing the possibility of paying considerably more than $3 a gallon for gas by Labor Day — if they can get it at all. The two pipelines that bring gasoline and jet fuel to the region are down — powerless to pump as Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on electrical infrastructure.

The metro Atlanta region generally has about a 10-day supply of gasoline in inventory, said BP spokesman Michael Kumpf. The pipelines have been down for two days.

Okay, fine. What that says to me is that we should conserve gas and avoid creating a panic at the pumps.

Not happening.

Last night, still blissfully unaware that there was a major issue with gasoline, we drove into Atlanta to meet friends and family at an Atlanta Braves game. On the way, we started to see ill omens. In Union Point (our closest town with any gas stations) Unleaded Regular was $2.69.9, except that one station had already run out of Unleaded Regular.

By the time we got to Covington (halfway to Atlanta) and stopped to pick up some bottled water for the game, the lowest Regular price was $2.99.9, and there were lines of cars, trucks, and SUVs queued into the streets. One station had a lower price for Regular, but the only gas remaining was Super Premium at $3.09.9. People were pacing around in the parking lot, shouting on their cell phones. "You better get down here!"

The s.o.'s dad and brother revealed that in their town in west Georgia, the price of gas had risen a dollar inside of one hour.

Here's where I did my part to make a bad situation worse. On the way home I realized I didn't have as much gas in the car as I'd hoped, and I popped into a station to add a little to the tank. All that was left was Super Premium at $3.19.9. I bought three gallons.

I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with the prices themselves. For too long, Americans have paid far too little for gasoline. In the long run, this situation may help correct our prices so that they better reflect the true costs of fossil fuels. But right now prices are caroming out of control because of the panic at the pumps. People are acting irrationally and selfishly.

I should add that I'm not terribly impressed with the gas stations for taking this opportunity to price-gouge.

I guess the major cultural difference that's come about in the last 60 years is that our country's financial plan (such as it is) is based on ever-increasing consumption. If we're not spending, we're not doing our duty to keep the economy afloat. The problem is, it's unsustainable and it depends on the availability of infinite resources.

As a country, we are a giant shrieking Baby-Huey type spoiled brat. We don't believe that the rules apply to us or that we should be asked to make sacrifices. Everyone lives by the motto "Me First." One of my fears as the Gulf Coast tries to rescue the survivors, count the dead, and rebuild crucial infrastructure, is that the relief efforts will be hampered by gawkers--people who believe that they are more important than any of their fellow citizens and that therefore they have the right to enter the disaster area and get in the way.

Meanwhile, looting in New Orleans continues unabated. I would have hoped that people would share the meager resources that remain, but perhaps the citizens of the hardest-hit areas are beginning to realize that the Federal government--which, by the way, has repeatedly cut crucial funding for levee repair despite the city's pleas for more infrastructure money--cannot be counted on to do the right thing. In a situation like that, all I can think to do is PANIC.

As for us, now that we know what's going on, I think we'll be staying at home for a while.