Monday, February 27, 2006

Qualita'e Abbondanza Pizza

The title of this post is the slogan of a pizza shop chain I grew up with, and it must have worked, because even now the phrase sticks in my mind.

It popped directly into my head when I made tonight's dinner, which isn't really a pizza, but is actually a focaccia with toppings. The difference? I dimple the top of the risen disk of dough with my fingers, press in some rosemary, and drizzle it with olive oil--just as though it was going to be served on its own. Then I part-bake it before adding the remaining ingredients.

The recipe I used for the focaccia is Marcella Hazan's; what's on top is (in this order, from bottom to top) ricotta cheese, pesto, diced sopressata, and fresh mozzarella.

It tastes like summer--a nice trick made possible by the fact that if you whirl fresh basil leaves with olive oil in a food processor and then freeze the resulting mess in a baggie, it can be thawed and made into a very fresh-tasting pesto months later.

Because the focaccia is so much thicker than a Neapolitan pizza, it feeds an army! I'll be freezing some of it for future lunches.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Can I get a 'Hell yeah'?

The motels are booked for our Florida vacation next week! Half the time in Kissimmee, half in Tarpon Springs. Lots of baseball, jai alai, thrifting, and seafood are on the horizon.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Comfort food for a rainy day

I really thought I'd be able to get something done in the garden today. I guess it would have helped if I'd looked at the weather forecast; then I would have known I'd be stuck inside, watching through the window as everything disappears under several inches of water.

Luckily, the vegetable garden is designed with raised beds and low paths. The paths, which are perpendicular to the slope, take up all the extra water and divert it to a central drainage ditch. I dug the ditch last year after thousands of newly planted seeds were flushed downslope by a storm. It seems to work pretty well.

No idea, of course, how all my new trees and bushes are faring.

So here I was, indoors, and I opened the fridge to find a nearly-too-old quart of organic milk staring me in the face. I thought about it for a moment, then preheated the oven.

This recipe is Nana's. In the recipe book she made for us grandkids before she died, it's called "Little Boy's Pudding." But she always just called it rice pudding. It's so simple, you'd think it couldn't possibly work. But it does!

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Mix 4 Tbs. dry rice with 6 Tbs. sugar and 1 quart of milk in an oven dish. Bake 3 hours, or until creamy inside and dark golden brown on top.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Best buds

Can you see it? Amid the blur, I mean? It's one of the first tiny heads of purple sprouting broccoli!

This represents the very first broccoli I have ever successfully grown. And it's a victory over conventional wisdom, too. Seed packets tell you to start PSB in the spring for harvest the following spring; this was planted only last fall! Maybe the Georgia climate is just different enough from the English one to give me a little edge.

There's other exciting floral news around the farm, too: One of my lilacs--which we had noticed seems to have come out of shock and really started to thrive--has set a bunch of flower heads. Maybe I can have lilacs here after all!

I'm not sure which of the two plants to be more excited about. All I know is, I'm excited.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Chicks are ordered!

Day-old chicks, to be delivered the week of May 8 (the soonest they are all available):

1 Black Japanese bantam
1 Buff Japanese bantam
2 Mille Fleur bantams
4 Black Langshans
4 Partridge Rocks
4 Buff Orpingtons
5 Barred Rocks
4 Speckled Sussex
1 Barnyard Combination #2 (9 ducklings and 6 turkeys of Murray McMurray's choosing)

And they were pretty cheep, too. Ugh. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

"So, why all the different breeds of chickens?" you ask. The reasons are that (a) I'm indecisive, (b) we want to find out which breeds we like best, and (c) why not? And the bantams are purely for "wow, cool" value.

"Why so many birds?" you ask. Well, because there's a minimum order to prevent the chicks from bouncing around and/or getting chilled in transit. Also, we have all this land, and we do eat a lot of chicken and eggs, so again, why not?

There was a different Barnyard Combination that had ducks, turkeys, and a couple of geese, but as much as I like roast goose, it seemed like too much. I had a moment of clarity where I pictured myself and/or the dogs being chased by an angry, honking goose and decided that I had my whole life ahead of me and there was no reason I needed to raise my own geese right now!

k2, p2, k2, p2

Look! The beginning of a sock! The yarn is Bearfoot "Garnet," sport weight because the instructor--a funny, lovely person who reacted with good humor to my declaration that I'd been web-stalking her--said it would produce socks faster. She's right, of course. At the glacial pace I knit at, it'd take me eons in sock weight at this point.

The top edge is a little loose and loopy--I'm a total beginner who still has trouble handling the needles smoothly, and it took me a few rows to get ahold of myself--but otherwise things are going pretty well.

The Magic Loop technique is weird and counterintuitive for about 10 minutes, and then it starts to make a ton of sense. All you have to remember is what the work looks like at the beginning of a round vs. at the middle, so that you make sure you don't knit back and forth on the same half forever.

Monday, February 20, 2006

We tried something new this weekend

On the topic of sunchokes, AKA Jerusalem artichokes, Marcella Hazan has this to say:

When sautéed or gratinéed, their texture is a blend of cream and silk, and their taste vaguely recalls that of artichoke hearts, but is sweeter, with none of the artichoke's underlying bitterness.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall adds:

This is one of the best of all [dishes], but there's no getting away from the fact that it will make you fart.

They are both correct. Oh, well--nothing's perfect!

If you haven't got any fancy public occasions to attend, I strongly recommend you try Marcella's cooking suggestion: Peel and thinly slice sunchokes, then toss them in butter with an equal amount of halved green onions over a medium-high flame until well coated. Add a little water, season with salt and pepper, and braise until the chokes are tender, adding more water if you need it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chugging along

Two articles done, and one more in progress for Monday. *whew* This is seriously cutting into my Olympics and American Idol viewing time!


(1) We likey Paris Bennett for AI. We also suspect Ace will be in the top two.

(2) I heart Shaun White. Not in that way, of course--he's barely old enough to vote!--but in every other possible way.

(3) Snowboard X is cooooool. It's like Olympic NASCAR.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Chore day

Little stuff, lots of it:

1. Pruned the gigantic old pear tree next to the kitchen window, then hauled away a mountain of sticks.

2. Planted some daffodil bulbs we bought in October. Yes, October. Yes, they are already half sprouted.

3. Watered everything--orchard, blueberries, lilacs, garden, greenhouse--because it's not supposed to rain again for several more days. Dragged hoses hither and yon.

4. Fertilized the garden.

In the midst of all this, my day job is unusually crazy, and I'm on and off the phone constantly. Please forgive me if I am relatively quiet for a few days; I have assignments stacked on assignments right now, and in the back of my head, there is a little voice that says but wait, I still have to order the chicks and the beehives...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Sunday's yummy crab pasta made us impatient for our yearly Florida vacation (we leave in less than a month! woooo!).

Then I started thinking about Tarpon Springs and absolutely had to make a batch of kataifi me crema. I can't eat it until tonight (we are having a friend over for dinner, and it wouldn't look good to serve a dessert with a giant chunk carved out of it), but if the many fingerfuls and crispy shreds I stole during the baking process are any indication, it came out beautifully. It's way easier than the length of the recipe might lead you to believe.* If you've ever worked with phyllo dough and found it a little fiddly, be assured that kataifi is much quicker and more indestructable.

As wonderful as the Greek bakeries in Tarpon Springs are, they have a tendency to cover everything in sickly-sweet fake whipped cream, which I then have to scrape off...leaving me with half the pastry I thought I had. This is the pure stuff! If only it came with all the charming atmosphere and the smell of the ocean!

* I used the second method, where you bake both layers of shredded dough separately and then assemble everything at the end. It sounded like a much better idea than letting everything percolate together in the oven.

Even better than expected. Mmmmff...drool...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dinner fights back

I am not a person who does things "without incident."

I don't seek out drama. I like to be left alone to go about my business. But drama tends to seek me out. The s.o. has mentioned this to me on a number of occasions, and he's right.

So I should know to avoid doing unusual, attention-getting things, because , well, you know.

Yesterday the DeKalb Farmers Market didn't happen to have the fish I wanted, so I was looking around for something new and interesting. I spotted a tub labeled "LIVE BLUE CRABS." I walked over to it and ogled. Several dozen small crabs were slowly waving their claws around. There were a couple pairs of tongs available to grab them with, and there were sturdy clear plastic bags with breathing holes pre-cut in them. The price was $2.29 a pound.

And they were from Savannah! Can't get much more local than that.

I gingerly picked up a pair of tongs and tried to grab a crab, but I soon found that all the crabs were hanging onto each other and it would be extraordinarily difficult to pick up one at a time.

It was about this time that a crowd began to gather. A woman was the first to speak. "They've banded together," she said. "They're saying, 'If you want one of us, you have to take all of us!'"

Another woman piped up, "I hope they don't get loose in the car!"

I laughed a little and returned to concentrating on the task at hand. I managed to find a lively unattached crab and drop it into the sack. This whole procedure reminded me of those games where you try to pick up a stuffed animal with a robotic arm. I reached in with the tongs and tried to get another.

A boy about 10 years old approached me, and out of the corner of my eye I saw him place a small hot pepper on my shopping cart. I'm a little awkward around children sometimes, plus I'm not crazy about people I don't know touching my stuff, but I ignored the hot pepper and kept trying to extract crabs from the tub. The boy leaned over and watched me for several minutes, then took up his own pair of tongs and started poking at the crabs.

I looked to see if there was an adult in charge of the boy, but no one seemed to claim him. I tried to be friendly and light-hearted as I whispered, "You probably shouldn't bother the crabs unless you are going to buy some."

The boy put down the tongs and watched me at extremely close range as I fished out three more crabs. When I was done, I merrily picked up the hot pepper and placed it next to the boy on the edge of the crab tank. Away I went.

Except I soon noticed that the boy was following me, right at my elbow. He followed me through the entire meat section, apparently hoping that something else exciting would happen--maybe that I would kill a duck with my bare hands or buy some unimaginable type of offal. I had no idea what to do. I tried to appear pleasant but noncommital. He hovered next to me as I ordered and received three large lamb shoulder chops.

When we got to the cheeses, the boy suddenly demanded to know where his chili pepper was. (I was a little startled, because I was pretty sure he'd seen me move it. Apparently not! Now I felt like a really mean lady, but there was no help for it.) I told him I had put it on the edge of the crab tank. He disappeared to go find it, and I was able to shake him at last.

I stopped at the in-store café to get a cup of coffee and a raspberry bar, and then I headed for the checkout. I munched on my snack and sipped my coffee as I waited in line. Unfortunately, a store employee spotted my bag of crabs and approached me to ask whether they were really alive (yes), and what I was going to do with them. It took my full concentration to explain my culinary ideas to him because his first language was (according to his nametag) Gujarati. I am not one hundred percent sure that I managed to convey "boil" and "pasta," but I tried valiantly.

Finally I was at the front of the line. And there I hit a bit of a snag, because one of the crabs had reached through a breathing hole in the bag and grabbed onto my shopping cart. I struggled to liberate the bag of crabs and in the process spilled quite a bit of my coffee on my shoes. Everyone in line behind me watched the drama unfold. In the end I managed to use my fingernails to pry the claw off, and the checkout girl was able to weigh the crabs and complete my transaction.

Total cost? $3.00 (and several years of my life, thanks to the stress). But they made one hell of a batch of crab linguine.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Here goes

Having been tagged by Mrs. D, I'm the last person on earth to do...

The 4x8 Meme

Four Jobs I've Had in My Life:

1. Subway "Sandwich Artist"
2. Pizza box assembler / occasional pizza-maker
3. Fragrance counter manager at a department store
4. Trade magazine editor

Four Movies I Could (and I do) Watch Over and Over:

1. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (yes, really)
2. Dazed and Confused
3. The Accountant
4. Almost Famous

Four Places I've Lived:

1. Hartville, OH
2. St. Paul, MN
3. Iowa City, IA
4. Nashville, TN

Four TV Shows I Love to Watch:

1. CSI (only the one in Las Vegas)
2. House
3. Law & Order (any)
4. American Idol

Four Places I Have Been on Vacation:

1. Greece
2. Capetown, South Africa
3. London, UK
4. all over Florida

Four Websites I Visit Daily:

1. Fark (embarrassingly)
2. Yahoo mail
3. Kinja
4. lots and lots of blogs

Four of My Favorite Foods:

1. Pie (especially rhubarb or cherry)
2. Pizza (especially if it's homemade or if it's from somewhere in the northeast)
3. Greek yogurt
4. Celeriac

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:

1. London
2. Florida (almost time for Spring Training!)
3. nowhere up north during this snowstorm, that's for damn sure
4. Australia (it's summer there, yes?)

Four Tags: People I'm Tagging to Continue this Meme:

Nah. :-)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Eating local all the year 'round

I am so proud of tonight's dinner that I have to share:

The main course was this, made with a package of weird-shaped end ribs and back pieces from our half pig. It was delectably tender, with that deep porky flavor that we are coming to expect. (We are so spoiled. So much for buying what passes for pork at the supermarket ever again!)

The sauce was already made; it was the last of a batch I froze last July when blackberries were plentiful. It freezes beautifully, I must say! I think I'll put up a bunch of it this year, because it is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite barbecue sauces.

The side dish was a coleslaw made completely from our own fresh vegetables: the little cabbagey tops of our brussels sprout plants (we lopped off the tops to try to encourage the little sprouts to grow bigger, because they have been awfully slow), a carrot, and a big handful of Sparkler radishes. It turned out really nicely.

So there you have it: Georgia pork, blackberries, brassicas, carrots, and radishes.

I'm stuffed.

Oh please, oh please

Against my better judgment, I planted more rhubarb, just because I want it so very badly. Please let it not die. I gave it a whole bag of composted manure. It has to be growable here, or they wouldn't sell it at the Feed & Seed, right? Right?

Has anyone else here ever bought a Sophie Grigson cookbook? I recently ordered this one, and although I have yet to cook a single recipe, I think I am in love with it. She's all about heirloom fruit, seasonal produce, free-range organic meat, etc. She comes up with unusual combinations, but somehow they seem natural and appealing, not fusion-y in that weird way that many chefs are guilty of. I can't wait to cook the dishes she describes!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Very happy news

Silver had an appointment with the veterinary orthopedic surgeon yesterday. We'd been given a referral because our regular vet was pretty sure Silver was going to need surgery--possibly on both knees. We chose to be referred to Dr. S., the same surgeon who worked with Cairo and did such a good job on his leg amputation.

We love Dr. S. She is an extremely tall, beautiful black woman with a LOUD, ENCOURAGING voice. You get the sense that she is fully engaged with your problem and is spending a lot of her considerable mental energy on it. The s.o. commented yesterday that he kind of wishes she was a "people doctor."

Dr. S. reviewed the x-rays we'd been sent with (which aren't very good, actually, because apparently a certain dog was trying to climb off the table when they were taken). Then she asked me a lot of questions about Silver's history, the injury, and how things have changed over the past month and a half. She and her assistant led us outside, and the assistant took Silv for a trot around the parking lot while Dr. S. watched her gait. Then the assistant ran Silver up and down the front steps a couple of times. Finally, back indoors, Dr. S. felt Silver's knees, bending them back and forth and feeling around to see whether the kneecaps popped out of line.

The left knee still pops out under some circumstances. The right one seems better. Dr. S. said she was pretty sure the problem had originated with some kind of injury last year, and hadn't been a hereditary conformational problem. Probably Silv tweaked her knees somehow and was walking with stiff and swollen legs. Then that day when she jumped off the sofa, she had the bad luck to blow the left knee out altogether. Ever since then, with the help of the drugs, things have been improving.

In the end, Dr. S. respectfully disagreed with our regular vet. She felt that Silver is getting around very well right now. She's not opting out of running and playing, nor is she favoring one leg over the other. Surgery, therefore, is too extreme a measure right now; it wouldn't be an improvement, because Silver is actually doing quite well! We are to keep an eye on her and bring her in immediately if anything changes. We can use Rimadyl on her "bad days," and keep up with the Cosequin full-time.

The left knee is still a little problematic, and it's likely that she'll need surgery on it someday. But the groove is fine, and her cruciate ligament isn't in any immediate danger--so we watch and wait. The right is better than expected and is unlikely to ever be a problem.

This is the best news we could have realistically hoped for, and we're so happy our beautiful princess is doing well!

Monday, February 06, 2006

In progress

I would have modeled this hat for the photo, but as soon as I perched it atop my head, Gracie leapt to her feet and started following me around with a horrified, transfixed expression on her little doggie face: "Mom! Something's attacking your head!"

Note to Liz: It doesn't look that much further along than last time, does it? That's because I did end up ripping it all out and starting over. It was the World's Largest Hat, and I was actually beginning to worry that I might not have enough yarn to finish it. This iteration is a lot better.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Way to go, Steelers!

Those of you who watched the Superbowl: What did you eat?

We had homemade pierogi (both sauerkraut and potato); a stew made of chorizo, greens, and potatoes; mincemeat cake; ham and cheese with crackers; and a double order of our favorite braised chicken wings from the local Chinese restaurant.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Friday, February 03, 2006


My trees came!

I have just received, from Trees of Antiquity:

1 Whitney crabapple
1 Bramley Seedling apple
1 Arkansas Black apple
1 White Pearmain apple
1 Bavay's Green Gage plum
1 Blue Damson plum
1 Smyrna quince
1 Izu persimmon

Guess I know what we'll be doing with our weekend...after we finish putting in those blueberries. (Whew!)

Global warming? pt. 2

This is how mild the weather has been:

We heat our house with natural gas, which has (of course) gone up precipitously in price this year.

I just received a gas bill, opened it, looked at the amount, and thought, "Oh, that's totally reasonable."


By the way, today is the regularly-scheduled, has-nothing-to-do-with-the-mild-winter day of starting seeds in the greenhouse. Our last frost date is somewhere in mid-March, usually, so now's the time to get the warm-weather crops into their little peat pots. Meanwhile, the bok choy and cabbages I started in the greenhouse several weeks ago are now ready to be released into the garden proper.

Also, there is a festival of kohlrabi sproutage happening in the garden. I planted kohlrabi as an experimental crop, not even knowing if I like it. But if they keep growing at their present rate, I certainly hope I do!

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Some of you may recall that one of my New Year's resolutions was to become a real knitter, one who could make more than stockinette-stitch scarves. Liz gave me a major, major boost in this department by sending me some gorgeous homespun yarn and a pattern for a simple hat. I've been intermittently knitting away at that (when my work hasn't intruded--holy cow, has it been a busy couple of weeks!), and so far it looks amazingly hatlike.

But now I expect to finish the hat with a little more alacrity, because there's something else knitty looming on the horizon: I have signed up for a class taught by Anita DeRouen at Main Street Yarns & Fibers. Provided it isn't too advanced for me (which is a distinct possibility, although I was assured otherwise by the proprietor of the store), the class will kill two birds with one stone. First, it will teach me the Magic Loop technique, a very cool and helpful-looking bit of witchcraft which a friend recently demonstrated to me. And second, it will teach me how to make socks.

The class will start mid-month, which means I MUST and WILL finish the hat by then! There is nothing that gets a journalist moving better than a hard deadline...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

We get by with a little help from our friends

We were thinking of planting some kind of hedge by the guest house anyway. And then, amazingly, someone on Athens Freecycle announced that she was giving away a bunch of blueberry plants for free. We got 20. (Astute readers will note that this brings our grand total up to 35 blueberry bushes!)

When we got home from picking up the blueberries, we found that my friend Lucille had stopped by to drop off a bunch of seed-starting materials she didn't need.

Big smiles around these parts.

P.S. Ham with spiced figs for dinner tonight.