Sunday, July 31, 2005

Go local

This August, our household will be participating in the Eat Local Challenge.

The initiator of the Challenge, Locavores, is defining "local" as within a 100-mile radius of San Francisco. Not a bad area to draw from, the lucky dogs! But participants elsewhere are invited to set their own rules, so I will.

1. Definition of "local."

We will attempt to consume only foods grown in the American South, i.e., from Texas eastward and from Maryland southward.

2. Exemptions

(a) Pistachios. Self-explanatory.

(b) Coffee - Obviously not grown here, but we can at least use a brand that is roasted, blended, and packed at a small plant in Louisiana.

(c) Alcoholic beverages. Aside from bourbon and a couple of microbrews that are not really to our tastes, these aren't the South's strong suit.

(d) We reserve the right to eat anything that is already in our kitchen so that we don't waste it.

3. Personal goal

To eat only local foods for every meal, whenever possible. This scheme is not timed at all well for southerners, since a lot of our garden vegetables are burned out already. It's August! That's a harsh time here. But we'll try. I reserve the right to blow this off anytime it becomes too difficult or cumbersome. Luckily, I have a high threshhold for that kind of thing.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Photographic evidence



We went fishing near an archeological site called Scull Shoals this afternoon. I caught an adorable tiny catfish, and I'm so proud of it that I decided to show you this photo of me holding it.* We threw it back, of course. I then proceeded to catch some really nice-sized bream. Click here for the full photo album.

The fishing stream was such a pristine place.** Turtles popped up out of the water and eyed us. Great blue herons flapped overhead, croaking to each other. The herons were so giant and awe-inspiring that at those moments, the marshland seemed like Jurassic Park. We just stood there with our mouths hanging open.

-----
* I was out fishing in a light rain in grungy clothes...not my most photogenic moment. Still, I've looked far worse when I was trying to look far better. So, um, that's me.


** Aside from a rather surreal Athens Banner-Herald newspaper box by the water's edge. We really couldn't figure that one out.

Friday, July 29, 2005

It's meme-thirty

Got this from Diana, whose answers to the questions were really interesting and gave me meme envy.

Ten years ago: I was 25 and fresh out of graduate school. I was recently married, and my then-husband and I had moved from Iowa City (where I got my master’s) back up to St. Paul (where we’d gone to college) and were renting a tiny 1940s apartment in Highland Park. With little hope of a career in paleontology, I got a job at a tiny software firm, tweaking code and writing product documentation in a basement in the suburbs.

Five years ago: I was renting a beautiful little 1920s house in East Nashville, having moved there after my divorce in May. I was dating some guys in town, but I kept brushing them off and making myself unavailable because I was really taken with a particular guy I’d been introduced to via phone/e-mail by some mutual friends. I don’t suppose I need to tell you who that was.

One year ago: Having bought our fixer-upper in the country two years previous, the s.o. and I had remodeled around the clock until we were shells of our former selves, then had taken a several-month DIY break. Finally in July 2004 we got re-energized and started repairing and painting the dining room. We voted in the primaries and we still had faith that the Democratic party stood a chance in the upcoming election. *sigh*

Yesterday: I had a crazy number of interviews to do for some articles I’m writing, and my day was made even crazier by a couple who claimed they were coming to look at the house but then “had trouble getting [their] act together” and put it off till another time. I successfully freecycled my wedding dress after (for no known reason) hanging onto it for 11 years. We had posole for dinner and we watched Supersize Me.

Five snacks I enjoy: good chocolate, peanut butter and jam on homemade bread, pie, real Sicilian pizza, and Vietnamese salad (okay, that’s more of a lunch).

Five songs I know all the words to: “Driver 8” by REM, “Twice the Lovin’ in Half the Time” by Jean Shepard, “The Rainbow Connection” from the Muppet Movie, “Still Be Around” by Uncle Tupelo, and “I Push Right Over” by Robbie Fulks.

Five things I would do with $100 million: Pay off this place and buy a new farm near Portland, Oregon (with plenty of room for livestock and fruit trees), endow a no-kill animal shelter, start my own bakery/coffeeshop, buy a boat and a place to keep it, and travel travel travel!

Five places I would escape to: England, Greece, South Africa, the American southwest, and Appalachicola, Fla. (but not when there’s been a hurricane).

Five bad habits: Not being able to keep my mouth shut when I really should, unintentional thoughtlessness or selfishness, lax housekeeping, procrastination, and not calling my friends and family as often as I ought to.

Five things I like doing: Cooking, eating, reading (fiction or nonfiction, including, yes, cookbooks), gardening, thrift shopping.

Five things I'd never wear: Hard to say, because I experiment a lot. But I think it’s safe to say I would never wear shapeless smock dresses, white tights, baggy sweatshirts, t-shirts that come down below the butt, or Ugg boots.

Five TV shows I like: House, all the franchises of Law & Order, various cooking shows on PBS and TurnerSouth, What Not to Wear, and The Daily Show. As many of you are aware, I also watch American Idol when it’s in season.

Five biggest joys of the moment: The fact that the heat finally broke! Oh, and also: fishing with the s.o., the cool humidity of summer nights, seeing the seasons in Georgia go by one more time, and Netflix (to which I have subscribed again until we “catch up” on all the stuff we’ve been wanting to see).  

Five favorite toys: my ice cream maker, my KitchenAid mixer, my iPod, my River Cottage DVDs, and my eMac.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Heavenly

CANTALOUPE SORBET
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
3 heaping cups ripe cantaloupe chunks
2 Tbs. fresh-squeezed orange juice

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Simmer until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, cool, and chill in refrigerator 1 hour.
Combine sugar syrup with cantaloupe chunks and orange juice in a blender. Puree. Pour into ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Coda



How is it that time rushes by so fast
'Tween the first blackberries and the last?

[Insert breast joke here]



Wow! The kitchen is perfumey with muskmelon goodness. But all the cantaloupes are all ripening at once, so even the s.o.--a bigtime melon fan armed with a deli pack of prosciutto--can't eat them all. I will make melon sorbet sometime this week and post the recipe.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I caught my first fish!

It was the world's smallest bass. It was adorable. The s.o. threw it back for me. We wished we had a camera.

It wasn't all success and glamour. I also made some hilarious and sometimes borderline dangerous casts, and I hooked my own fingers six or seven times. Steep learning curve ahead!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fish tales

There's nothing like free food, especially when it is fresh, tasty, local food. If you, like us, are lucky enough to catch freshwater fish (or to have a significant other who does), here are a couple of easy recipes to use up the bounty.

BAKED CATFISH
Someone has been lying to us, or at the very least overgeneralizing. I've always been told (even by so-called experts such as Alton Brown, who I personally think is a hack and a clown but a lot of people respect) that farmed catfish are superior to wild catfish because wild catfish taste "muddy" and "strong." Well, that's just wrong. I suppose it's true if you're fishing wild cats out of the lower reaches of the mighty Mississippi (yuck!), but when you pull them out of an isolated stream that runs through National Forest and is filtered through untold miles of country swampland, it's completely different. The catfish the s.o. has been catching are white-fleshed and tender and pure. They still taste like catfish, but they don't taste like what we've been told is catfish.
Anyhow, this recipe assumes two skinned, cleaned and gutted catfish, about 8 inches long without their heads. If your catfish are much larger or smaller, or if you are multiplying the recipe, you will need to alter the baking time and the amounts.

oil for the baking dish
2 catfish
juice of 1 lemon
approximately 1 Tbs. Old Bay Seasoning per fish
1 to 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Oil a baking dish that fits the fish fairly snugly (I use a small 6x9 glass baking dish). Wash the fish and pat them dry, then put them in the dish and pour the lemon juice over them. Sprinkle them fairly heavily with Old Bay, then flip them over and sprinkle the other sides. Dot with butter and cover with foil. Bake about 30 minutes, until cooked through.


FISH CHOWDER
Often the s.o. hooks small panfish such as sunfish and bluegill. Usually he throws back the small ones, but occasionally they are hooked too deep and are doomed anyway, so he brings them home. The result is that I end up with lots of small fish that would be a royal pain to try to eat in fillet form. But the thing is, these fish are some of the tastiest there are. It's important to do something really special to celebrate them.
In this recipe, I poach or steam the fish separately so I can flake the flesh off the bones. This way, there's a lot less waste than if I tried to fillet them while they're raw. If you have incredible knife skills, feel free to fillet them instead.

1 1/2 lbs. small panfish, cleaned and gutted
2 strips bacon, diced
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
a handful of green or wax beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
milk and cream, as needed
salt and pepper to taste
fresh oregano and thyme, minced
pinch of paprika

To pre-cook the fish, you have two choices: Either arrange them, upright as though they were swimming, in a steamer basket and steam for a few minutes until just barely flaky, or tie them up in cheesecloth and poach them briefly (you can do this with the potatoes if you like--see below). Don't overcook them! Run cold water over them and let them cool. Then carefully flake the meat off, avoiding pin bones, and put it in a bowl. Set aside.
Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Remove from the heat, drain, and mash. Set aside.
In a medium soup pot, fry the minced bacon in the butter and then add the onion and beans. Saute until the onions and beans are soft. You may want to put the lid on for a little while to steam the beans, because otherwise they may remain a little crisp-tender.
Add the garlic and cook, stirring for a minute or so. Then add the mashed potatoes and stir. Add enough milk (and, if you like, a little cream) to make a soup. Add the fish, season with salt, pepper, herbs, and paprika, and cook on low heat until it is piping hot but NOT boiling.
This is excellent served with crusty homemade bread--especially wheat.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Friday, July 22, 2005

The power of procrastination

I just finished clearing out all the spent, unproductive, burned-out portions of my garden and replanting them with fresh crops, painstakingly rotated to new areas. How have I accomplished this, you ask? What inspired me to get off my butt and put the seeds in the ground?

I have a work deadline, of course!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Whew

Today I canned:

• 5 pints crushed tomatoes
• 5 more pints kosher dill pickles

There were almost enough tomatoes for a sixth jar, but not quite. I think I'm going to make them into fresh tomato soup for tomorrow's lunch. This rules.

P.S. The weather has done a 180-degree turn. Now it's 95 and sunny. I will actually have to water the garden tonight. I keep meaning to put in my fall crops, but the soil is too dry and cloddy.

What the...?

This morning I was charmed to find a paper sign on my computer that said "Gone Fishing" with a smiley face on it. The s.o. has really been enjoying his time in the Secret Fishing Spot, and what with the full moon, he's been down there about twice a day. He even cleans what he catches! Best guy ever!

But I must admit I was puzzled when I walked into the kitchen* and found dead worms all over the floor. I'm guessing maybe the cat got into the worm container...

-----

* To bake David's goodies, of course. I tried to do it last night, but I was testing out a new recipe and it failed in a rather spectacular way. This morning's effort, however, turned out just about perfect.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Guestblogging

I'm being a little bit of a slacker at Chez 10Signs because I am helping hold down the fort here this week. Check it out! When she's not vacationing, Babs writes one of the most interesting and deeply involving blogs you'll ever read.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

We should have named her Lucky

Depending on who you ask, the saying is either "God protects fools and children" or "God protects fools and drunks." But either way, apparently He protects fools. That's a good thing for Gracie the Foster Dog, because yesterday the s.o. discovered her bounding around in circles furiously, barking her head off and worrying a timber rattlesnake.

I never got to see the snake. I was in the shower at the time. Apparently it was lying linearly, with its head raised slightly, as Gracie ran laps and fussed around it. My mother got to see it, though. She and the s.o. were a few yards away from it and it raised up and rattled at them. What a great advertisement for the state of Georgia: She and my stepdad show up just in time for a week of humid 90-plus-degree weather, unusually rampant mosquitoes, and timber rattler.

I never even really got to dry off before the s.o. called me to look at Gracie. The snake had disappeared somewhere (oh, great), and Gracie appeared unharmed. I searched her entire body for puncture marks and then called the vet's office for advice. They said if she'd been bitten, she'd be in a lot of pain and would swell up quickly. We let her into the house and watched her for a while. Pretty soon it was apparent she was absolutely at the top of her doggie game and was feeling quite well, thank you.

I was surprised there had been a rattlesnake in the yard, since the only one we'd ever seen was deep in the woods. Timber rattlesnakes are usually very reclusive and hard to find. Plus, last time I checked we had a kingsnake living under the house. Kingsnakes eat mice, rats, and pesty poisonous snakes.

My mother found a web site that said timber rattlers are very timid and, in times of trouble, tend to freeze and hope to go unnoticed. They'll only attack under extreme duress. I don't know why "two humans standing nearby" is more duress than "crazy barking pogoing dog," but there you go.

She also read that timber rattlesnakes often share hibernation sites with other species of snakes, including rat snakes. So now I'm jittery, supposing that the rattler beds down with the rat snakes I see in the vegetable garden all the time.

Great. Just great. But at least Gracie is okay.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

We have a wiener, er, I mean...



Congratulations to David, who, although he did go for the cheap laff, did it with aplomb. David, please e-mail me your street address, as well as any food preferences, allergies, etc.

All of the entries were fantastic. David also submitted another great jpeg that was tamer, yet significantly weirder. And the rest of you slayed us with:

“Get out of my way, dicknose.”

“Tomatillo Envy”

"Son, just because you're different doesn't mean we
don't love you."

Tomato in Foghorn Leghorn voice: “Go..I say..go away boy. Ya botha me.”

"Who invited that tacky tomatillo?"

Tomatillo in a Mae West voice: "So, is that a cucumber in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"

"Ketchup Fodder"

"What on earth have you done to your hair?"

"Goofus and Gallant"

“If the missus comes back and finds it gone...Ooooh, what she'll do to me.”

"So are those your seeds, or are you just happy to see me?"


and

"Seasoning's Greetings"

My mother, who is naturally disqualified from the competition because, well, she's my mother, submitted two of my absolute favorites:

"You mean you are small and green AND you don't have a nose?"

and, even better:

"I know it is tight quarters for a duck, but I am only hiding out here until the end of hunting season."

I love all of you. This was hilarious and we'll do it again soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Get salsa-fied

I'm not 100 percent sold on this "one thundershower every day" weather we keep having. On one hand, I haven't had to water the garden constantly the way I did last year, so my chores are lessened and our produce is practically free. On the other hand, though, the tomatoes are rotting left and right, and the bugs are thick. Ugh, soggy.

I'm still getting a decent number of tomatoes despite it all. Here's what I've been doing with some of them. As you can see, it's really quick and easy (aside from, perhaps, the optional canning part, but even that is easy if you have the equipment and you're accustomed to it).

HOT CHILE SALSA
Makes about 6 pints.

about 15 jalapeño peppers
5 lbs. tomatoes
1 lb. onions, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 c. white vinegar
3 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

If you will be canning the salsa, start heating the water in your boiling-water canner now, because large volumes of water take forever to come to the boil. Put the pint jars you'll be using in the water, and they'll be sterilized by the time you're ready for them.

Put the jalapeños under the broiler for a few minutes on each side, until blistered and lightly charred. Remove and place in a paper bag until cool.
Meanwhile, score an "x" on the bottom of each tomato. Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the tomatoes in, a few at a time, until the skin starts to peel away at the "x". Fish them out, let them cool, and peel the skins off with your fingers. Core them and chop them coarsely.
With your fingers, rub the skins off the peppers. (Warning: Don't touch your eyes or put in your contact lenses after doing this!) Remove the stems, then mince them, seeds and all.
Put the peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer 10 minutes. If you're canning the salsa, you're ready to do so now. If not, you may want to simmer the salsa a little longer to soften the onions, and then you can just cool it and put it in the fridge.

If you're canning:
Pour boiling water over the lids, then drain them.
Ladle the salsa into sterilized pint jars. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth or paper towel, apply lids, and screw the rings on. Process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Caption contest



Everyone loves a deformed tomato...right?

Show your love by thinking up a caption for this photo. E-mail your entry to me at ten_signs at hotmail dot com anytime before 10 pm EST on Wednesday, July 13. All entries will be anonymized and presented to the s.o. for judging. Winner receives goodies of my choosing.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I'm like a broken record, I know

The Time-Life Foods of the World series has blown my mind yet again. This time it's the Middle Eastern volume. I was already impressed with the fabulous Iranian braised lamb and eggplant I made for dinner, and then the dessert of Turkish poached apples immediately made all baked apples redundant forever. So simple, yet so special.

If you see it, buy it!!!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Doe, a deer, a female deer

I was standing on the back porch in the fresh morning air, shuffling my feet into my garden clogs, when I saw it: a lanky doe, standing calmly just beyond my vegetable garden, looking at me.

"Dangit," I muttered. I bolted out the screen door, letting it slam behind me.

"GET GOING!" I yelled, flailing my arms and running at the deer. It stared impassively. I charged toward it. "SHOO! SHOO! GO ON!"

The deer loped calmly to the edge of the woods and stood there, watching the spectacle of the crazy human.

I ran after it. "SHOO! SHOO!" I galloped and flailed. It loped a little farther in.

"GET OUTTA HERE!"

Finally the deer skipped far enough into the woods that I didn't see any more point in following. I trudged back toward the house, the cool dew inside my clogs squeaking and honking with each step.

I kicked off the clogs on the back porch and walked into the kitchen, leaving wet footprints. There I saw the s.o., dumping freshly ground coffee into the coffee maker.

"You were watching that whole scene, weren't you?"

"Yep," he said, smiling.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London terrorist attack

To all my British friends: I don't even know what to say. I love London and its people. I am so sorry to hear what's happened, and it doesn't escape me that my country has probably been instrumental in getting you involved. May it never happen again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

It's the PMS talking

"Grr...I hate paying bills."

...

"When we move, let's get a place with a short address. My old street address only had nine characters in it. Come to think of it, let's buy a place on a numbered street. Preferably ones because they're easiest to write. Like 1 1st St."

...

"THAT GODLESS BITCH. When I'm waiting for the mail, she's late. When I'm trying to get something in the mail, she randomly shows up an hour early."

...

"I'm driving into town. But hopefully you don't need anything, because I'm just going to pull up next to the mailbox and I don't even think I'll be getting out of the car."

...

*stomp, stomp, stomp*
*SLAM*

Monday, July 04, 2005

A flashback to the Manor Menu days

Our Fourth of July menu...classic, with a southern flair:

Brunswick stew
Corn on the cob
Coleslaw
Squash-Parmesan bread
Key lime pie


Also, I happened upon this uninentionally cute and funny BBC Food feature on Independence Day. If you can find me one American family who are having "spicy lamb burgers with coriander, tomato and yoghurt relish" today, I'll give you a hundred bucks. A lot of people in the U.S. have never even tried lamb. But I really appreciate the effort anyway, and I'm sure it's no less authentic than our attempts to fabricate British menus. It's nice to have a culinary hat tipped in our direction on our big holiday.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The best gazpacho you've ever tasted

The tomatoes have started to kick in for real now, despite the rain. If anything, I think the stormy weather may end up staggering the harvest a little--a welcome favor.

I beg you to try this. I'm really proud of it. Don't be surprised when it turns out dusky-pink instead of bright red; that's how it's supposed to be.

GAZPACHO

2 medium cucumbers, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 medium tomatoes, peeled* and coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds and pith removed, coarsely chopped
1 large or 2 medium green onions, both white and green parts, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 to 4 c. (depending on density) good rustic white bread, crusts removed, crumbled
3 c. cold water
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
3 tsp. good sea salt
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. tomato paste

In a large, deep bowl, combine cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, green onion, and bread. Toss well.

Add water, vinegar, and salt. Mix thoroughly and, in two batches, transfer to a blender and puree for about 1 minute or until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the olive oil and tomato paste.

Cover and chill at least two hours. Stir or whisk again to recombine before serving.

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* Do this by cutting a cross in the flower end of each tomato and dropping it in boiling water for a minute or so until you can peel the skin back with your fingers. It is surprisingly easy, and important too, so please don't skip this step.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

If I tell you where they are, I will have to kill you

Today the s.o. showed me his Top Secret Blackberry Patch. We picked berries until it got dark. (He plans to make blackberry cordial; I have my sights set on jam and scones.)

Then he took me to his Top Secret Fishing Spot. The fish weren't biting tonight, but I think I will remember forever the fantastic sounds of the swampy creekbed--the belches, bracks, and chirps of the frogs; the burr of the dragonflies; the splosh of the fish; and the airy flapping of the bats.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The aftereffects of rain

Rain, rain, rain...finally ending. It's supposed to be 97 and sunny today. Yes, I said 97. I had to look twice at the cable TV weather thingie to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Guess I'll leave the A/C on.

The rain has been good for some things and bad for others. Most of the tomatoes haven't ripened because the sun has refused to shine. I also lost a few garden plants to mold and insects. But everything certainly is green!

I got caught in a horrific rainstorm last night in Athens. In Greene County, the rain had ceased a whole day before, so I could have avoided it. But I had to choose that exact time to drive into Athens to deposit some checks and buy a few provisions. First I saw the lightning on the horizon, then I heard a severe thunderstorm warning on the radio. Suddenly, just as I entered the city limits, visibility dropped to near-zero and traffic slowed to a crawl. The ditches and gutters filled up and overflowed. A good six inches of water swirled over the ground, and more poured from the sky as though a heavenly bathtub had been overturned. By the time I got to the bank, I couldn't even get out of the car to run to the ATM--I just had to sit there for a few minutes and wait it out. Finally it slowed down some and I made a dash for it, but I ended up getting good and soaked anyhow.

In the liquor store, the kid behind the counter wasn't actually behind the counter; he was in the wine section, Shop-Vaccing a puddle and setting a bucket under a weak spot in the roof.

My car steamed up horribly--all Geos do that, dunno why--so I was forced to stop at Wal-Mart for a bottle of anti-fogging window treatment. I learned of the existence of this product from an episode of King of the Hill. (And they say TV is a waste of time!) It works. But then, everything Rain-X makes works. I never go on a roadtrip without some original yellow-bottle Rain-X rubbed into the windshield, because it makes the wipers superfluous even in the heaviest downpour.

All the Wal-Mart employees were jittery because, what with the holiday coming up, there was a big fireworks tent in the parking lot. The police had been hovering nearby (but not too nearby) during the storm, fearing that lightning would strike the tent and blow everyone to smithereens. Not a bad ending for a Wal-Mart, if you think about it...if only there were some way to get the people out first!

Of course I got home to find that nary a drop had fallen. There was a little fog. The lawn sat peacefully, un-squishy and freshly mowed, dotted with marshmallowlike puffball mushrooms from the recent rain.

UPDATE
They changed the forecast. Now it's supposed to be 93 with a chance of thunderstorms...for the foreseeable future. *sigh*