Tuesday, August 30, 2005

C'mon, garden! You can do it!

My last attempt at replanting the garden having been largely washed away, I took advantage of today's beautiful weather* to do a little more fall planting.

I wasn't starting from zero. There's still a monstrous amount of basil in the garden, plus a tiny (and I do mean tiny) smattering of eggplant, peppers, lima beans, carrots, tomatillos, and cilantro. A couple of watermelons are still lumbering onward. Also, there were a few survivors from the washout: four seedlings of garden huckleberry, three little stringbean plants, a few sweet potato seedlings, and that one baby tomato plant.

Here's what I planted today:
• a patch of lettuce
• 1 row of beets
• 1 row of cabbage
• 1 row of carrots
• 1 row of mustard greens
• 1 row of spinach
• 2 rows of radishes

I worked in the garden for an hour before dinner and then was suddenly famished. The s.o. was hungry too, and we nearly decided to go out for dinner. But then I improvised some pasta sauce, using a half-pound of Georgia sausage and a jar of my own canned tomatoes. I walked out to the garden to grab a handful of basil, and suddenly I spotted a little gift from the land: a perfect cueball-sized puffball mushroom. Into the sauce it went.

That kind of thing gives me so much pleasure. I hope the garden gets back on its feet soon.

* I feel a little guilty saying that. Some tornadoes spun off of Katrina and whipped through Georgia last night, but they didn't quite reach us. I could see and hear them to our west--lots of eerie thudding and crackling. And today when I woke up, the strangest thing: I could smell the ocean. I'm not kidding.

Monday, August 29, 2005

An Eat Local wrap-up

As August comes to an end, Jen at Life Begins at 30 has asked us participants in the Eat Local Challenge to sum up our experiences. I’m more than glad to do so, especially since my four-pound September Vogue hasn’t arrived yet. (When that happens, I’ll be going into hiding to gawk at BCBG and Chloe ads until further notice.)

First of all, I think we all know I made it easy on myself by declaring the entire South “local.” But one thing I learned this month was that if I hadn’t done that, I’d have had a terribly rough month. As I said at the outset, August is not a particularly great time for vegetables in Georgia. And this year in particular we had a strange duality in the weather, which veered sharply between torrential rains and searing heat. I read an article this weekend in the Atlanta paper about an urban community farm and food shelf program that had missed its production goals by about 60 percent because of the severe weather. So I didn’t feel so bad about the fact that my garden had up and quit. On the other hand, empathy doesn’t fill up the shopping cart.

At the beginning of the month, there were still tomatoes and arugula and beans. Now, at the end of the month, the pickings are very slim indeed.

Mid-month, my whole Eat Local effort was knocked out of whack by my unplanned trip to Ohio. But that turned out to be the most instructive thing that could have happened to me. The contrast between the two states couldn’t have been greater. Admittedly, Ohio’s gardens were at their best this month, so the comparison isn’t 100 percent fair. But in Ohio I found farm markets full of gorgeous local foods at practically every intersection. Here, so-called farm markets are rare and, when they exist at all, tend to be stocked with fruit and vegetables that are trucked in from somewhere else.

Has the Deep South lost its small farming tradition completely? Definitely not. But I do think that most of the small farmers here are very small and very poor, growing little more than what they need for their own subsistence. Make no mistake, Georgia still has a plantation economy. Look around and you’ll see endless acres of white pine, cotton, corn, beef cattle, and (south of here) peanuts. But good luck finding someone who can sell you a cabbage or a sweet potato.

Of course, the story is completely different in the big cities, where transplanted idealistic Yankees (and a few intrepid locals) sell a great diversity of fancy produce to the well-off.

So here are a few things I started to think about during my Eat Local experience:

• I ended up eating a lot of regular old mass-produced food that just happened to be from Florida or Tennessee or North Carolina. Eventually it occurred to me that this wasn’t much to brag about. I used Dixie Crystals sugar--so what? On the other hand, I am very pleased to have supported some of Georgia’s small honey producers. I should have tried more often to replace the former with the latter.

• Some of the very best sausages, hams, and bacon come from the South. Thank goodness. But see below.

• A lot of the meat in the grocery store was probably local, especially the chicken and pork. But it wasn’t labeled, and I started getting angrier and angrier about that. Don’t I have a right to know where my food comes from? And on top of that, even if I did ascertain that a particular chicken came from Athens, I’d have to contend with the knowledge that the unlucky animal was a miserable debeaked White Leghorn that was processed in the Gold Kist chicken plant on the north side of town. That was when it occurred to me: The big food corporations don’t want to tell you where your meal is from because that might make you think too hard about it. My commitment to humanely produced meat has been considerably strengthened this month.

• On the other hand, the only humanely produced meat in the stores around here comes all the way from Colorado. Pointless! So I’m going to have to try harder to find a local source.

• And, of course, the absolute best way to know where your food comes from and how it’s been treated is to grow it, pick it, fish it, or hunt it yourself. I plan to do a lot more of all of these. And I plan to keep canning, too; my home-canned tomatoes, salsa, pickled peppers, and chutney saved me from many a woe!

But wait! August is almost over, right? What’s with this “I plan to” business? Well, here’s the thing. The s.o. and I have really enjoyed the Eat Local Challenge, so much so that we have made a commitment to use it as a guiding principle for our eating habits from here on out. There’ll be no hard and fast rules. But wherever possible, we plan to find fresh, local, knowable sources for our groceries.

Why? This sums it up nicely.

I have been especially impressed by how vibrant the flavors are in locally produced foods. And I’ve discovered fantastic new purveyors, products, and produce I might otherwise never have tried:

• Mennonite- and Amish-made cheeses, noodles, and elderberry jam from Ohio
• Shiro plums
• fresh lima beans and crowder peas (neither of which I’d ever seen in the pod before!)
• Red Mule grains
• Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses
• Pittman’s bulk sausage
• Italian honey figs

My favorite experience of all was probably the pick-your-own blueberry farm. It still resides in my mind like a treasured vacation memory.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that the Eat Local Challenge has led me to discover several blogs that I enjoy and identify with. That in itself was worth the price of admission (which was, er, free, because you've got to eat something, after all, and it's really not any more expensive to do it locally).

One of the questions Jen asked us to think about in our Eat Local wrap-ups was this: What did you deny yourself during August that you are dying to have on September 1? Well, I have to admit I cheated and had some Toblerone this month, so I’m not ready to kill someone for a chocolate bar. Oddly, the answer to the question is LETTUCE! LETTUCE LETTUCE LETTUCE! Late summer in Georgia is a lettuceless place. I am on my knees, desperate for spring greens and ready to worship at the unholy altar of Tanimura & Antle.

I thought I’d want bananas and mangos and other nonlocal fruit, but I don’t really. Fruit is the one thing that’s come easily to me this month, and it’s been extraordinary. Unsurprisingly, the temptation to buy pallid grocery store strawberries is approximately zero when you have a big bowl of juicy peaches in your kitchen.

The Eat Local Challenge has been life-changing for me (yes, really--I don’t think that’s overstating the case), and I plan to do it again next year as a “refresher.” I trust that I will have sold my house in Georgia long before that, and therefore the s.o. and I will be eating locally in an entirely new place. It’ll be a voyage of discovery all over again. I highly recommend that you all join me.

On a brighter note

The prospective house buyers have not evaporated after all; they are simply having trouble with financing (which I already knew was an issue). They are still "enthusiastic." They know we are planning on listing with a new agent, and they are urging us to do whatever we have to do. Nevertheless, they say they are still very much in the game.

This means that I don't dare book an airline ticket to go to the latest London Blogmeet. I had been making noises about attending, because I would very much have liked to raise a glass with the likes of Ian and Anx and many other lovely folks. But now is not a good time to leave town.

It's just as well. We'll save the money for our planned jaunt to our favorite part of Florida. Our thinking is: Once more while we still can!

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Keep the city of New Orleans in your thoughts, everyone. This could be devastating on a massive scale--a real humanitarian crisis.

*thinks sadly of the Napoleon House and so many other favorite places*

*worries even more about the people who are unable or unwilling to leave*

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Boo who?

The phone rang at 8:20 AM. I was already awake, much against my will, because the cat had been clawing furniture since about 6:45 in order to get my attention*. But I desperately needed more sleep because the s.o. and I had been up late at Julie's place, catching largemouth bass in her pond.

I picked up the receiver. "Hello?" I said.

"Hi, this is Boo from the market," the voice said back to me.

I had no success whatsoever processing that piece of information. I didn't know a Boo. What market was this person talking about?

"I picked some figs and wondered if you wanted me to set them aside for you," he continued.

Aha! It was the fig guy from the farmer's market! And he remembered me. I brightened. "I'll be there within the hour," I said, and thanked him profusely.

I threw on some clothes and hopped in the car. I hadn't even remembered that there was a farmer's market this morning--that's how tired I was. But those figs, in all their knee-buckling, finger-sucking goodness! That was not an opportunity to be missed.

When I arrived, I saw why Boo had called me. He had a surplus of Italian honey figs, almost all collapsingly ripe. They were starting to dissolve into pulp right before our eyes. Boo was what they call a "motivated seller." We initially agreed on two pounds at $3 per pound, but it wasn't long before he talked me into taking four pounds for $10. I complained that I've been eating too many sweets lately. He dismissed my complaint and suggested I make jam.

"You'll thank me this winter," he promised.

And of course he is right.

While I was at the farmer's market, I also picked up a pound of mixed red and green okra pods, as well as a large baggie of local muscadines. As I walked, I ate a couple of figs that looked as though they were about to turn to jam on their own.

Then I walked over to The Grit, the venerable vegetarian restaurant best known for being a favorite of Michael Stipe's**. I find most of their food a little bland and predictable, but I'm a big fan of their weekend brunches. I asked about the pancake special (peach--nah, I could do that at home) and then settled on my usual: two vegetarian "sausage" patties, two whole wheat biscuits, and a little bowl of "sausage" milk gravy. A heart attack on a plate, meatless style. Totally freaking delicious. It's probably sourced non-locally (just where is Morningstar Farms, I wonder?), but then again, it's possible that I won't be able to visit The Grit for too much longer, so it seemed like an imperative.

Fish tonight. And painting, and writing, and probably an early bedtime.


* Boy, does that tactic work. I clip the cat's toenails, but it only kind of helps. The scratching sound still snaps me awake like no other sound on earth. I need to put another set of Soft Paws on that animal ASAP.

** He wasn't there. Stipe sightings are quite rare. You're much more likely to see Mike Mills around town.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What I've been doing with my time

(1) Working. Somehow I committed myself to a lot of writing projects this month.

(2) Eating too much pie (see previous post). I've gained a couple of pounds, which is not a crisis of global proportions or anything, but nevertheless I'm not happy about it because I know it's my own silly fault. Luckily, this morning I got up and just couldn't look at pie anymore. I chucked the rest of it in the deep freeze. Then I made a bowl of Red Mule English Porridge and sliced a fresh peach onto it. It's time for Remedial Nutrition 101.

(3) Remodeling one of the rooms that was already finished. Obviously I am insane, right? Well, last year's post-hurricane storms had caused a leak that damaged the wallpaper in the living room. The s.o. fixed the leak, but there was a whole portion of the wallpaper that went curly. And since this most recent batch of prospective buyers appears to be all prospect and no buy, we finally came to the conclusion that perhaps red wallpaper is too challenging for the general populace after all. So beige it is! I have finished stripping the walls, making a few repairs, and caulking the corners. Now I just have to paint.

(4) Reading. Rozanne sent me this book, which I gather many of the other Eat Local people have already read. And rightly so! I just finished the book last night and was truly inspired by it.
The book does have flaws. For one thing, it's a bit self-conscious and grandiose, as though for an entire year Nabhan was thinking, "Okay, this is for the book...what big important thing can I do and what deep philosophical meaning can I wring out of it?"
For another, Nabhan's philosophy seems skewed to me. As Rozanne noted, he's all too willing to drive for hours to find, say, a special kind of squash. And there's a whole chapter where he's on a river-rafting trip and rightfully bemoans the fact that so many invasive plants have taken root. But he's a purist and he declines to eat them, favoring native plants instead. My feeling is, if there's an invasive plant around, pull the sucker up and eat it! You're doing the environment a favor.
But despite these flaws, I got a lot out of the book. It was so vivid and alive that I could almost smell and taste all the beautiful indigenous foods it described. And Nabhan's conclusions are the same ones I have come to: that after this Eat Local Challenge is done, I will carry its goals and lessons with me for years to come.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Could it be as easy as this?

Did you ever have a lightbulb go on over your head, just like in a cartoon?

I've always been a clean-your-plater. I can't stand to see good food go to waste. So it's been a problem for me, in this two-person household, to get a handle on my pie consumption. The s.o. doesn't like sweets much, so when I make a pie, I have to contend with almost the entire thing. And I do. Oh, sadly, I do.

I can freeze half a pie, but what fun is that? The next time I want pie, chances are I will have some new kind of beautiful ripe fruit at my disposal, and I'll want to make a whole new pie out of it. I enjoy the process, not just the product. Evidence: I've had half a pineapple pie in the deep freeze for a couple months now. I haven't felt the urge to defrost it yet, which is really something considering how much I like pineapple pie.

I was pondering this problem today, over my nth piece of delicious muscadine-apple pie. I started thinking, "Boy, it can't be healthy to replace so many of my meals with pie. I think I'm supposed to be eating vegetables, or maybe whole grains. If only I could make half a pie at a time."

What do you do when you have a problem? Consult the internet, of course! And truly its wonders never cease. I have just ordered this pretty little 7 1/2-inch pie plate (rutile blue, no stripe). It holds half the amount a regular deep-dish pie plate holds.

This is exactly what I have needed for ages. Now I will be able to save my full-sized pies for potluck dinners and holidays, which is where they belong.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cheesy potential blog post titles

It came! It came! My box of cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy was dropped off at 3:30 pm, just when I had begun to lose hope and had started to dream up posts with titles like "Waiting for Goudot" and "Who didn't move my cheese?"*

I realize I have been all food and no life on this blog lately, but you have to admit this is an event of epic proportions.

The ice packs were goners. Absolute goners. The Green Hill, when I opened it, was actually the temperature and consistency one would let a Brie-type cheese come to before eating it. So I took a sliver and then stuck the rest in the fridge. Ooh! Beautiful.

I immediately sliced a little gouda and stuck it into a half-sandwich of the classic hippie variety: cheese, sprouts and avocado on whole wheat. The Georgia Gouda was even better than the Green Hill.

Spaghetti tonight. I am planning on grating plenty of the Lucille goat parm on it. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it could last forever, so that I would never have to type the words "You picked a fine time to leave me..."


* This title courtesy of my redoubtable career as a business writer.

Pie time

Is it a coincidence that grapes and apples ripen at roughly the same time? I think not.

This muscadine-apple pie is one of the best things I've ever tasted. I'm in love!

I would explain how to do it, but the process for dealing with seeded grapes is kind of complicated if you haven't done it before...and, let's face it, I'm lazy and I don't want to type it out. You can make a pie just like this by following a Concord grape pie recipe and substituting half muscadines and half apples.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Strange groceries

I didn't realize what a strange assortment of foods I'd bought at the Publix tonight until there was some confusion about the ownership of a pound of ground beef.

"Did you buy meat?" the cashier asked.

I was caught off guard. "I...I just bought trout and rabbit," I stammered.*

Yes, more of that gorgeous pecan-smoked trout from Atlanta. And a new discovery: rabbit farmed in Florida! I found it, as one finds many odd local meats, in the freezer section.

I won't pretend I've eaten perfect all-local meals for 23 days straight. But at the very least I am paying much more attention to where produce comes from. California rules the roost produce-wise, of course. But I am startled to find how many of our fruits and vegetables come from Honduras, Mexico, Chile, Guatemala.

It definitely makes me think twice about the Australian lamb I have been (until now) buying on a weekly basis.

I've been trying to get hold of a farmer in Washington, Ga., whose motto is "No Mystery Meat Here!" He raises cattle, pigs, goats, and chickens free-range and free of hormones and antibiotics. But so far he hasn't called me back. If it weren't for my lucky finds at the Publix--and for the ever-resourceful s.o., who has caught us two more lovely catfish tonight, we would be hard up for meat of any kind.

That would be fine, of course, especially since we both used to be vegetarians. In fact, tonight's dinner was all-veg. But I'm just saying: It's harder than it looks.

Top row, from left to right: Corn chips from the Golden Flake factory in Alabama; Duke's Peanut Oil from Virginia; Syfo sparkling water from Florida; Red Brick Ale from the Atlanta Brewing Co.
Middle row: Vidalia onions from Georgia; peaches from South Carolina; yogurt, potatoes, and bean sprouts from Florida.
Front row: Rabbit from Florida; pecan-smoked trout from Georgia.


* The beef belonged to the guy who'd been in front of me in line. The bagger had to chase him down and give it to him.

Monday, August 22, 2005

We're famous!

Recently the s.o. turned me on to the glorious collaborative food blog that is Slashfood. And now Slashfood has noticed the Eat Local Challenge! I'm tickled pink.

It ain't over 'til it's over

Sure, most everything has been either washed out or sun-dried by now. (Can't it just be one weather issue or the other? Why both?!) But there are still some traces of my ambitious spring planting. As evidence, I proudly present this colander of jalapeƱos, bell peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and a cute li'l gourd.

The s.o. brought home three catfish last night. I'm thinking fish tacos.

The basil is still going crazy out there, and my new fall planting of cilantro is starting to thrive. And although the squash bugs and the storms have rotted several of the watermelons, there's one out there that looks as though it might be nearly ready to pick.

I'm so excited...and I just can't hide it

I just got off the phone with Jessica at Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia. I ordered a mountain of cheese, glorious local cheese, which is due to arrive on my doorstep, ice-packed, on Wednesday's UPS truck.

I selected a half pound of Georgia Gouda, a half pound of a cheese called Lucille (not on the Web site--supposed to be a very nutty, mushroomy sort of goat Parmesan), and one wheel of Green Hill (which looks appealingly Brie-like). My only disappointment is that I couldn't get chevre because in the August heat, she would have had to send it overnight. The cost was exorbitant and I couldn't justify it--although I was tempted.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Fruits and nuts

The Ohio foods I brought home are pretty much gone, and it's time to revel in the South all over again.

The Georgia growing season is winding down, slowly but surely. There was no arugula at the farmer's market this week, and the tomatoes were a mere shadow of their former selves. There were no figs, either--but luckily, the farmer who brought them last time overheard Julie and me talking about them and quickly joined the conversation. He said he might be picking a few more figs this week, and took my phone number in case he does. Fingers crossed!

I was very pleased to find one of these amusingly named fruits at a local Kroger store. I don't care much about the supposed ultra-healthiness of this particular avocado. I do care that it's grown in Homestead, Florida. It is freakish in size; one of them is big enough for a whole batch of guacamole.

I was even more pleased to find a quart of muscadine grapes (grown in south Georgia by these slightly whacked-out folks) in the produce department. I think the season for muscadines and scuppernongs is just starting, so I should be able to partake of them multiple times. If anyone has any beloved family recipes that use giant weird Southern grapes, please share them! I'm a novice with these. I'm used to cooking with Concords.

The title of this post promised nuts. And indeed: PEANUTS. They are everywhere, both raw and roasted. I am tempted to make a frozen peanut butter custard pie (which would taste really good at this time of year, when the weather--and especially the interior of the car--is hot enough to smelt iron), but I have been awfully snacky and decadent-minded lately and don't want to give myself that much of an opportunity to screw up.

Speaking of my health, the s.o. and I bought a pair of cheap pedometers. His doesn't seem to be working right ("I walk like a ninja," he jokes), but mine has logged 843 steps this afternoon. What I'm really curious about is how many steps I take when I'm cooking. A friend told me that a bartender he knows wore a pedometer during an evening shift and logged 6 miles. So tip your bartenders, folks.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Home again

So I'm back--back to Georgia's uncanny combination of sweltering heat and booming thunderstorms. I feel sluggish, and I can't decide if it's because of the weather, or because I drove a really long way during the last couple of days, or because of all the thoughts swimming around in my head.

The trip was wonderful in some ways. I got to spend a lot of time with my mom and stepdad. I got to see my brother and sister-in-law twice, which is especially excellent considering that they live in Columbus and are doctors, which means they are neither nearby nor blessed with a lot of free time. And my grandmother, the visiting of whom was the main purpose of my trip, has improved a little (although in the end she is still 94 and has a weak heart, and seems to be ready to let go). We had some good talks.

Unfortunately, while I was there--between my first visit and my second--her husband, my grandfather, had a stroke. His long-term prognosis is unknown.

It's been a weird week. I think it has helped me come to terms with the changes that will inevitably come. But I feel very, very tired.

The Eat Local Challenge somehow thrived in the midst of all this. Part of it was the awesome 100 percent enthusiastic buy-in from my mom and stepdad. How can a person fail with support like that? And of course, there was Ohio itself. I've said it before and I'll say it again--Ohio in August is the place to be. There is an embarrassment of riches. I brought some of the food on the car trip home: plums, peaches, apples, "Buckeye" chocolate candies (urp!), a second jar of elderberry jelly. I brought a whole nother quart of lima beans, too, even though I knew I'd end up cooking them here (where they're not local).

Speaking of which, here is tonight's menu:

Leftover BBQ pork shoulder (brought in the cooler from Cantrell's in East Nashville*)

And then I really, really wanted a particular something, so I threw localism to the wind** and made a recipe of my mother's. The only thing I can say in my defense is that there are Ohio apples in it:


Cream together until fluffy:
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup water

Sift together:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 T cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice

Add to creamed mixture and mix well.

Fold in:
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate bits
2 cups grated apple
1 T vanilla

Mix well till distributed evenly.
Spoon into a greased & floured 10" loose-bottom tube pan or 9" x 13" cake pan.
Bake in 325-degree oven for about an hour. Serves 12.


So now it's time to go whole-hog (bacon! sausage! ham!) into Southern food again. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm off to the farmer's market tomorrow! I'm very excited and I will post about what I find. Cross your fingers that there are still figs left, but I doubt it. When I bought them before, the farmer told me that torrential rains tend to make the figs burst their skins, cutting short the harvest season. I suspect that's happened several times over by now.


* Cantrell's is simply the best BBQ place on earth, and I'll stand on the coffee table in my Nashville thrift store cowboy boots and say so.

** I'm sorry. Very penitent. But it had to be done. I'm going to be working a yard sale with my friend Julie tomorrow and I really wanted something delicious to take along. Cocoa apple cake popped into my mind and wouldn't go away.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My legs hurt

Do you sense a theme with my titles?

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but my mom and stepdad are athletic, outdoorsy types. I think of myself that way, but the fact is that I don't exercise much--not unless you count gardening, remodeling, cooking, and housekeeping. Sometimes I walk. Occasionally I do yoga (although the last three times I did it, it was because my mother wanted to). I always enjoy it, but I am rarely the instigator.

So, yeah. I am all for exercise, especially when nature is involved, but I don't do it much.

Today started out rainy, but the weather report said it was about to become completely beautiful--sunny, but not hot. So Mom asked if I had time to get away from my writing for a while and go for a bike ride.

A 23-mile round trip.

Hoo boy. I started counting how many years it had been since I'd straddled a bike. It was at least four. And even then, I never went further than the neighborhood coffee shop.

Then she told me there was a possibility of a malted milkshake at the Steel Trolley Diner if I did the ride. The diner was in a town at the far end of the trail--eleven and a half miles away.

She had my number. She is my mother, after all. She knows me!

This is the trail we rode. I didn't have my camera with me, but you can see some photos here. It's spectacular. Mile 1 is a wetland with wooden bridges. At Mile 3 there's a farm with gorgeous Belgian draught horses. (Confidential to s.o.: I want a horse.) Mile 5 gives you the best views of the very beautiful Little Beaver Creek. And as you wind down the hill into Lisbon, Mile 8 cuts through a limestone gorge with a quarry.

The weather was just as good as the weather report promised. We rode from sun to shade to dappled light. It was idyllic, even with the pain. And yes, there was plenty of that.

I won't pretend that I was a super athlete. I held my own. My quads were on fire, and that fire has now changed into a very assertive crampy ache from my hips all the way to my ankles. I think I am going to have a very rough morning tomorrow and might have to crawl or slide down the stairs to get my first cup of coffee.

But that chocolate malted milkshake was awfully good! Worth every mile.

P.S. Heading home, starting tomorrow. Will take two days to drive it. See you on the flip side...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Food photo du jour

I got the idea for this salad from a 1940s cookbook that belonged to my grandmother. Today's version was a little different from usual, because we had no celery (which is usually chopped into the salad--we garnished with red onion instead) and no white wine vinegar (we used red instead). But otherwise, it's pretty close to the original.

I make this salad fairly often, but today's is extra special because Mom and I shelled these lima beans ourselves. They came from a farm just up the road.

Lay a bed of greens on each serving plate.
Steam lima beans until tender, then rinse in a couple of changes of cool water until they are just a little warm. Pile them on the greens. Drizzle with a simple vinaigrette (olive oil, wine vinegar, sea salt, pepper, plus fresh tarragon, parsley, marjoram, etc., if you have them).
Top with a dollop of dressing made from equal parts prepared horseradish, mayonnaise, and Dijon mustard. Sprinkle with minced red onion.

My shoulder hurts

"Um, okay. Um. Pull."

BLAM! The clay target shattered and fell out of the sky.

I gaped in wonderment. It was the first shot I'd ever fired. Mom and her husband had taken me to the shooting range for my inaugural attempt at using a shotgun. I had naturally assumed I wouldn't hit a thing, not even an easy one.

I hit four other targets. I won't tell you what percent of my shots fired that was, because it wasn't good. I got worse as the morning went on, partly because of over-thinking and partly because of fatigue. That happens a lot, I'm told.

I managed to keep my face against the gun so I didn't get kicked in the jaw. But a couple of times I closed my eyes when I fired. (It turns out you can't hit anything that way.) And my ribcage and shoulders are the boniest parts of my body, so the spot where the gun is supposed to nestle is nothing more than a hard crevice. I had a light padded vest on, which kind of cushioned me, but not really. I suspect I need something pillowier if I'm to continue doing this.

But still! Pretty satisfying stuff.

We started the morning by wandering the range and picking up targets that other people had thrown but not hit. (We are economical people. Why spend the money?) I noticed something that I think will be of value, both to me and to the other gardeners who read this. There were slugs--the slimy kind, not the kind you fire out of a gun--hiding under a lot of the targets. It would probably be a really good idea for organic-minded folks to set clay pigeons out in the garden and then check them in the morning!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

And the answer is...

Shiro plums. We saw them again today, labeled this time. So I was wrong--not European; Japanese. They made a mighty fine clafoutis, I tell you what.

We went on another little excursion today, to Peace Valley Orchards, and bought a peck of early Macintosh-type apples. They are tart and a little winey in flavor, and somewhere between crisp and mealy in texture. In other words, a cooking apple that is also wonderful to eat. Along with some blackberries* from the back yard, a few of them will be going into a cobbler for dessert.

I should have remembered to bring the camera, but no such luck. The orchard was uncommonly beautiful, with its acres and acres of rolling hills striped with rows of apple and peach trees. Yes, peaches too--Red Havens, which as far as I know are not grown much in the South. They taste different from what I'm used to, but I'd be hard pressed to describe how. All I can say is that they're really good and intense and juicy.

Other activities are progressing nicely. We have arranged to see my grandparents tomorrow afternoon at the nursing home (it's a bit of a drive to the southwest, toward Columbus) and then to meet my brother and his wife in Columbus for dinner. I've collected my new** car (with much help from my stepdad, who deserves major kudos for fluid-checking, terminal cleaning, new battery installation, etc.) and stopped in at what used to be my dad's winery to taste a few samples and buy a case of wine*** to take home. I've also, at my relatives' request, started the rather painful process of picking through the family homestead to see what I might want. Not fun, but definitely meaningful. I'm glad I'm here.

Nana will be glad to know I took her chinois sieve, a really nice one with a stand and a sturdy wooden pestle. She doesn't cook anymore, but at least I can carry on the tradition.

I called the people who might want to buy our house, and they are being very understanding about the poor timing of my trip. It speaks well of them.

I had better attend to dinner, which is chicken with roasted eggplant sauce. (Jo, you've seen the recipe. It's from that wonderful Greek cookbook you recommended to me. Everyone thanks you again.)


* Blackberries! Again! Hurrah! The miracle of going north, eh?

** Okay, not new, but actually previously owned by the aforementioned grandparents, who don't drive anymore. It was really nice of them to offer it to me. Even with 100K on it and more than a decade of usage, it's officially the nicest car we own.

*** Local Ohio wine, I might add.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Local Ohio produce

August is a good time to be a northeast Ohioan. Today Mom and I went to a really wonderful Mennonite farm just down the street called Catalpa Grove Farm. Then we dropped in at a bulk-foods and cheese shop, and finally stopped at the Sparkle market. Everything we bought was from Ohio, and almost all of it was from Northeastern Ohio.

My favorite thing I bought is the plums. They'll go in a clafoutis tomorrow morning. Anyone know what variety the plums might be?

I succumbed to my deepest Ohioan impulses when I got into town last night, inaugurating my stay with a REAL takeout pizza (as opposed to what passes for a pizza down south).

But lunch today was more virtuous--bread and cheese, cantaloupe and blueberries. Really vibrant flavors. Probably dinner will involve sweet corn and BLTs (with the tomatoes coming from Mom's back yard).

Back row, L to R: Milk, chicken breasts, noodles, sweet corn, cantaloupe.
Middle row: Eggs, cucumber, elderberry jelly, butter, sausage, maple syrup, potatoes, green beans.
Front row: Wheat bread, plums, blueberries, eggplant, Italian frying pepper, Swiss cheese, bacon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

How to make your house smell good for a prospective buyer

Is it a good sign that they ate one and asked for the recipe?

Makes about 15 muffins

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. yellow cornmeal
2/3 c. sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 egg
1 c. skim milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil muffin tins (or line tins with papers).
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, milk, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir together with a fork. Don’t overmix.
Fold in the blueberries.
Fill muffin tins 2/3 full with batter and bake 15 to 18 minutes, until golden.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Inspiration for the Eat Local Challenge

Here's a perfect example of people putting their money where their mouths are. I hope there are restaurants like this everywhere someday.

The butterfly garden

What a gorgeously insane riot of moving, fluttering color. The s.o. is truly gifted in flower gardening. Okay, credit where credit is due: I planted the Buddleia, but he grew almost everything else from seed, including all those zinnias and marigolds.

I never saw as many butterflies as I see here on a daily basis. And so many kinds! Tiny sulfur butterflies. Giant cream-and-black butterflies and big ones splashed with cobalt blue.

Quick comments hurled over the wall

• More torrential rain. All but one of my teeny tomato seedlings killed off.

• Currently grossed out by anything tasting remotely like kefir. It was fine at first, but now I can't even look at it. Even today's kefir-based sourdough seemed creepy to me. Fate of kefir grains uncertain.

• Unable to motivate self to do anything besides watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall DVDs for the nth time. Wept over Christmas episode.

• Washed dogs because they kind of smelled and were wet anyway. Cairo gave me an inadvertent wet-tail-to-face lashing and apparently the noise I made was quite comical.

• Trouble sleeping. Got out of bed at 1 AM last night and regrouted a cracked place in the bathroom tile.

• Head over heels for fresh local Italian honey figs. Pretty sure they are not even the same phylum as grocery store figs. There had better still be figs at the farmer's market when I get back home...

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The wages of smugness

I was all set to blog about my great timing: how I'd managed to plant so many of my fall crops just before a couple of days of gentle, warm rain. But then the deluge came. Water pelted down in giant drops, inch after inch, running off in great cataracts. Now I'm afraid I'll see a repeat of my first spring planting, when so many of my new seeds washed down the hill, never to be seen again.

Well, if the storm hasn't gotten them and the insects don't devour them, I'll have:


(and although I know in my heart they'll never germinate, because I always have to buy the plants, I did put in a second round of...)


Much to my surprise, the best part of the Eat Local Challenge so far has been the gardening inspiration. Learning about that bolt-resistant arugula, for instance--I needed to know that! And last night I found myself dreaming of next year's seed selections, dreamily mapping out the Future Oregon Backyard Garden on a scrap of notebook paper. I don't merely want to buy more produce from local organic farmers; I want to be one of those people. I want a beehive and a chicken coop and fruit trees and more square footage of vegetables than ever before.

But I'm here still, so with my feet firmly on the ground, I should mention that this fall's pear crop is looking heavy and healthy. The s.o. is scribbling plans for a cider press.

Eating-wise, the Eat Local Challenge has brought with it far more joys than tribulations. This morning I had some porridge with honey and a chopped peach, and it was transcendent. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed cereal so much.

I am, as I write this, baking a gratin of butternut squash. The s.o. and I tasted it partway through the cooking process--when it was nakedly steamed, with no seasoning--and we are pretty sure it's the freshest, best-tasting winter squash we've had. When I was peeling the raw squash, it gave off a delicious melon-like odor.

I am about to have a wrench thrown in my Eat Local plans. My grandmother, 94 years old and until recently quite healthy, is having more and more serious bouts with congestive heart failure. I've been warned that now would be a good time to come see her, because the opportunity might slip away. So Thursday I'm flying to Ohio to see Nana, and I don't know how long I'll be there. It all depends on a lot of things.

Just so you can think fondly of her, too, and wish her the best: Nana is not only a smart, funny, vibrant lady, but she's also the person who passed down the pie crust recipe. She taught it to my mother, and my mom taught it to me.

My mother has been following along on this blog and is excited about the Eat Local Challenge, so while I'm in Ohio I suspect I'll be eating local Ohio foods, ranging from animals my mom and stepdad have hunted to produce from nearby roadside stands and fruit farms. I will keep reporting from there.

And then I'll be back here and I promise I'll take you to a couple of the most fabulous Georgia producers you can imagine.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Shopping day

"You have arugula!" I exclaimed.

The girl behind the table grinned. "Yes, we do--isn't it beautiful?"

"Mine bolted a million years ago."

"This is a new heat-resistant variety called Astro. It loves the hot weather. Just loves it."

It was 7:45 AM. I was standing in the Athens Green Market, a small assemblage of five organic vendors in the courtyard of Big City Bread. I hadn't shown up at this market much in the last three years, since it's kind of a tall order for me to get into town in time now that I live 40 minutes away. I was glad the Eat Local Challenge had inspired me to come back. I used to live a few blocks from here and would walk over as soon as I woke up.

Despite the market's minuscule size, the bounty was impressive. There were especially a lot of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants (which, Murphy's Law being what it is, were things I already had at home).

Tim Mills, the miller who grinds Red Mule cereals (with the help of his trusty mule, Luke), chatted with me a while and sold me three of his products: grits, cornmeal, and a mixed-grain cereal called English Porridge. I asked him if the oats in the porridge were local and he shook his head woefully. But then it transpired that by "local" he meant Athens. Much to my surprise and delight, oats are grown on a small scale as close as South Georgia! Apparently I won't have to go through oat withdrawal after all.

Half an hour earlier, I had visited the even tinier Athens Farmer's Market, an ad hoc collection of pickup trucks and vans parked outside City Hall. There were four vendors there this morning. Most of them were hawking pallid hybrid tomatoes. But I was delighted to find a skinny crewcutted boy selling okra and crowder peas. I had never seen crowder peas fresh before and had to ask what they were (my first guess was blackeyed peas).

My lovely local purchases, clockwise from the top: Red Mule grits, English porridge, and cornmeal (all milled in Athens, Ga.); crowder peas; arugula; Italian honey figs; butternut squash; Big City honey wheat bread; okra; and yellow crookneck squash.

Friday, August 05, 2005


Here are two of today's kitchen denizens. On the left is a batch of watermelon agua fresca, made with Florida watermelon, sugar, and Key lime.

The origin of the substance on the right originally had nothing to do with the Eat Local challenge. A woman on the Athens Freecycle list had offered some kefir grains last week, and I took her up on it. The yogurty, beery milk stuff in the pitcher is the result so far. But I did use Tennessee-sourced milk when I made it.*

I don't foresee actually drinking much kefir. I will probably make a smoothie (peach, no doubt) with some of it. But mostly I'm interested in its cooking properties. Apparently it makes a spectacular sourdough starter. It's also going to stand in--successfully, I hope!--for buttermilk in tonight's blueberry pancakes.** Eventually I may even try some of the kefir cheese recipes I've seen online.

* I'm looking for local organic milk, but I haven't had time to put much effort into it yet. The farmer's market tomorrow may shed some light. I would go all-out and try for raw milk, but I don't think it's really in the spirit of Eat Local to waste a bunch of gas driving to South Carolina, the closest place where raw milk is legal.

** Breakfast-as-dinner. It's really enjoyable to do that every once in a while, don't you think?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Peach-blueberry cake and blueberry jam

These are some of the fruits (geddit?) of my labors. The so-called cake has a crust that its inventors at Gourmet call "a cross between a biscuit and a cake." Hey, folks, around here we call that a COOKIE. It is a tart with a cookie crust. And it's delicious, by the way.

This was my first batch of jam ever, and I was having trouble with my candy thermometer. But somehow it came out exactly the way I wanted it. In addition to these half-pints, we have most of a pint jar in the fridge for current use. For a while I was just spooning warm jam straight into my mouth. Then I got ahold of myself.

Alo-balo polo

It looks like southern-style glorified rice, but it's not. It's a Persian dish of chicken layered with tart-cherry rice. The recipe is from the Middle Eastern volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, and as we've learned, those folks didn't write any bad recipes!

Some of the rice is allowed to form a brown, buttery, caramelized crust (see that at the front edge?) and some of it is stirred with a saffron-butter mixture to make a color and flavor accent on top.

This recipe has lots of parts (and, I might add, it requires practically every dish in the kitchen) but it's really easy to make. The rich, sweet taste reminds us of something, but we are too busy shoveling it into our mouths to think about it for too long. Two thumbs up.

Rozanne was right

In a recent comments box, Rozanne suggested that Sunkist produce might be...gasp...foreign in origin, and that's why it wasn't labeled. Well, I just confirmed those suspicions at the local Publix. I knew summer wasn't a good time for Florida citrus, but I never expected:

Limes - Mexico
Lemons - Chile
Oranges - South Africa


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Field Trip #1

Tuesday afternoon, in my quest for local foods, I visited Miller's Blueberries, a pick-your-own farm in Watkinsville, Ga. The photo you see here doesn't capture the sheer volume of blueberries I picked. That's a large wash basin in the picture. Two gallons is a lot!

It was work, but it felt like a vacation. The blueberries are a southern highbush variety, which means the fruits are mostly at waist- to chest-height. They are co-planted with pine trees (for the soil acidity, I assume) so they are in dappled shade and everything smells piney. The sun was shining and people picked berries in contented silence.

(Pie and jam are imminent. I may also try their recipe for blueberry ice cream.)

Afterward I stopped at my favorite farm stand in a town called Bishop. I had gotten excellent peaches there before. This time, I asked about where they came from.

"We get them from a fella in Spartanburg, South Carolina," the old man replied. "They're a lot better than the peaches they got around here."

I had to agree. I'd tried to buy peaches from Thomas Orchard, just up the road, and had come to the conclusion that they were trying to pass off their "seconds"--or maybe their outright rejects--on the local shoppers. Green, spotty, gnarly, hard. Nothing like these fuzzy beauties.

I bought a dozen of the South Carolina peaches. One had a soft spot, so the man's wife threw in an extra.

I also got a paper sack of small garnet sweet potatoes ("We get them from Mississippi...the ones from Georgia were all stringy, but people say these are the best they ever had") and a sack of gorgeous little red and yellow tomatoes that the couple grew in their back yard.

A note for those of you following along at home: I will be posting my Eat Local menus this month on my old Manor Menu blog. The link is in the sidebar. I'm doing this to avoid boring people with incessant tiny details.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The others

Check out some of the other Eat Local participants. I have already discovered a slew of fascinating blogs thanks to my participation in this challenge.

I can't wait to see how we all do!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Harder than it sounds

Boy, I'll tell you--the Saturday farmer's market can't come soon enough. We may have to take a field trip ASAP!

Today I drove to our two closest grocery stores in search of southern foods for my Eat Local project.* I tried to keep my expectations low, but I was still disappointed. What I found, even with my incredibly broad definition of "local," could just about be the rations for a Civil War soldier:

watermelon (Florida)
bulk pork sausage (Georgia)
frozen ground turkey (North Carolina--a pleasant surprise, since I had figured Hormel and Butterball would have a monopoly on turkey products)
bacon (South Carolina)
cabbage (North Carolina--many thanks to the store for the "North Carolina Grown!" sticker)
collard greens (South Carolina)
brown rice (Texas)
Community Coffee (an exotic, but roasted with chicory in Louisiana)
milk (Tennessee)

and the luxury item...

"Sweet Heat" flavor Golden Flake potato chips (Alabama, and yes, I know they probably get their potatoes up north, but how can I not support this venerable Birmingham business?)

I already had onions, cornmeal, and grits at home. I could have bought ham, but figured it would have been a little excessive since I already had bacon and sausage in my cart.

There were a few other fresh foods that I suspected were southern (squash, eggs, etc.), but since I couldn't prove it, I left them alone. Same for the citrus fruit. Apparently Sunkist has a new labeling policy where they don't tell you if a fruit comes from Florida, California, or Texas.

The peaches should have been a standout, but they were a travesty. The first store had South Carolina peaches for 48 cents a pound, but they were so small and green and rock-like that they weren't even worth that. The second store had a sign up that said "Southern Peaches," but on closer inspection they turned out to be from California. I will definitely be going to a farm stand for my peaches.

Tonight's dinner will be bucatini with pesto made from our home-grown basil. I already had Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and pasta in the pantry, so the meal feels like we're cheating! But once these items have run out, we will be replacing them with local artisan cheese (I discovered some that I'll tell you about later), pecans, and polenta.

* See previous post for details.