Thursday, March 30, 2006

Blathering political Jamie

I am on Charlie Norwood's e-mail list. Not because I have anything in common with him whatsoever, as near as I can tell, but merely because I've written him letters about NAIS and other issues. His database has me tagged as a concerned citizen, I guess.

The other day I received an e-mail from Mr. Norwood. It cast a few aspersions on people from the country immediately to our south, attempted to inflame my patriotic spirit, and then directed me to a web page where I could take a poll on immigration legislation. Instead of taking the poll, I wrote him another letter (the cycle continues!), telling him that while I did not have an opinion on amnesty for illegal immigrants--at least not one that could be boiled down to filling in "yes" or "no" bubbles on his web site--I did have an opinion about legislators who use immigration as a hot-button issue, spreading xenophobia and hatred.

The aide who reads his mail must just love me.

But if I didn't want to talk about immigrants, what did I want to talk about instead?

Well, lemme tell ya. And then I'll tell Norwood next time he tries to involve me a polarizing push-poll.

Yesterday on the evening news I saw a report that said that by the end of this year, Brazil's automobiles will be completely independent of Middle Eastern oil. For a decade, they've been developing a sugarcane ethanol program. They started out with ethanol-gasoline blend at the pumps and began selling flex-fuel cars. Now almost all the cars in the country are ethanol-compatible. They're ready.

Meanwhile, we are sitting on our hands, doing nothing. In Minnesota there was 90-10 ethanol blend available at the gas pumps, but we can't even get that here in Georgia. We have a lot of corn and all the scientific capabilities, yet we are 10 years behind on this. Why? Because while the oil lasts, it's making money for certain people. Therefore, energy independence is not a priority. Now that's a hot-button issue.

In more encouraging news, there's a guy in a nearby county who is opening a plant that burns a mix of wood chips and chicken manure--basically what you scrape off the floor of a chicken house. Since Georgia is one of the biggest producers of chickens in this country, he does not envision running out of fuel. A local electric company is buying his energy output and will be selling it as "green" electricity for only slightly more than the cost of petrochemical-generated energy. What a great idea!

I think we need to convince our representatives that this is what we'd like done with our money.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A welcome sight

The first pea blossom! I hope the others follow soon.

It might as well be an R.E.M. album cover

But it's actually vines and half-downed trees in our woods. The twisty, mythic quality of the woods here was one of the first things that attracted us to the property.

Remember this tree?

I posted a photo of this oak, bare but for its mistletoe, on sunny January 15.

Today we are shrouded in fog and the tree is feathered with tiny chartreuse blossoms and leaves. Moody, eh?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Status report

This post is mostly for my own reference. I find that several times a year I look back to the previous year's blog entries to "compare notes" on the earliness or lateness of the season, where my head was at cooking-wise, what I've accomplished in the intervening year, and so on. So in the spirit of Farmgirl's wonderful new blog, In My Kitchen Garden, I want to make a record of what we're up to.

The beehives are almost done. The s.o. has assembled the hive bodies and is now hammering away at the frames. Meanwhile, I have primed and put a first coat of paint on the bottoms, hive bodies, and covers. The color is Behr's "Coastal Mist" in exterior satin finish--basically a very pale robin's-egg blue. There's no rule that beehives have to be white, only that they be pale. In fact, it helps to have your layers of supers be different colors so you can keep track of what's what.

As a side note, I should mention that the beeswax-covered foundations in the frames smell heavenly. It's very sweet and candle-y around here.

Yesterday I planted six Heritage red raspberries and two Montmorency cherry trees. Today I put in three seedless Concord grapes. There are cages on the grapes until we can get the deer fence up. We think one or two of our old, deer-eaten grapes might still be kicking, so we've cleared the areas around them and are watching them closely.

The muscadine grapes aren't planted yet, but they're potted instead of bare-root, so they can live on the back porch for a couple more days.

Elsewhere, the very first tiny asparagus tips are starting to show, but it'll be quite a while before the stalks start coming up in earnest. My second row of greenhouse beans has germinated. Peas are starting to climb their trellises.

I am digging one garden row per day--all my back can stand. I am one row away from being able to plant our sweet corn. The plan (which we read somewhere...I forget where) is to plant the corn, wait for it to get six or eight inches tall, and then co-plant purple-hull peas with it. The idea is that the corn provides a trellis for the peas, and the peas fix nitrogen for the corn.

We are eating from the garden full-time, harvesting:

• purple sprouting broccoli
• green cabbage
• Brussels sprouts
• lacinato kale (starting to flower now; probably won't last much longer)
• collards (truly immense)
• mustard greens
• arugula
• cilantro
• chard (incredibly gorgeous...mental note to always grow it as a winter crop)
• small beets
• radishes
• lettuce

So right now my major challenge is to find 1,001 things to do with greens. I have quite a few tricks up my sleeve. My favorite way to eat greens is with some kind of starchy thing mixed in. Deborah Madison has a great recipe for greens mixed together in a sort of hash with tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, and hot pepper sauce. It's fantastic, and it gets a lot of play around here. I also like Tuscan white beans with greens, and I love greens mixed in with Parmesan and bulgur, orzo, or risotto. Obviously certain greens also go well with olive oil-y, garlicky spaghetti.

We have been using up our bacon faster than the rest of our half pig, so I thawed out the hock and have spent the last week "baconizing" it. As of this morning, it's drying out a bit. Then it'll go in the freezer. Tada! More bacon.

In dessert-related news, I have just stowed the ice cream maker's freezing cylinder in the deep freeze. I can feel ice cream season coming on. Tamasin Day-Lewis has a recipe for marmalade ice cream that I'm dying to try.

I haven't been to town much at all lately because there's just no time. Those of you in shorter-growing-season areas: This may be you in one or two months!

Monday, March 27, 2006

CNE is out of sorts

We've noticed an unusual amount of activity over at Crazy Neighbor Ed's place the last couple of days. It's probably attributable to the fact that the s.o. has acquired:

(1) a snazzy steel cart that can be pulled by our riding lawnmower, and

(2) a chainsaw.

As many of you know, CNE is the king of lawn-related one-upmanship. It drives him absolutely crazy when we do something to our yard; he can't stop himself from immediately doing something that requires more horsepower. We have occasionally taken unfair advantage of this trait for our own amusement, e.g., mowing our lawn five minutes after he has finished his.

Yesterday the s.o. was chainsawing apart a giant pine log that's been lying forever in the area we intend to make our vineyard. It was far too huge to move, and only now do we have a way to do something about it. I saw CNE walk past, near the property line, and stop to take a long look at the s.o. Then he walked purposefully into his garage.

One minute and thirty seconds later, we heard CNE firing up his tiller.

Today CNE mowed his entire lawn and then proceeded to set three burn piles alight. I have been quietly, non-horsepoweredly planting cherry trees. I am not the sort of person to engage in CNE-baiting.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Here's hoping...

...that it will be an excellent year for blueberries.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Because we didn't have enough stuff to do this spring already

We went to Ison's!

Yeah, I know. We are up to our bootays in projects. But ever since I heard Greg Ison speak at the Botanical Garden this winter, I've been dying to visit his nursery and buy a few things. The s.o. felt the same way, so we took a little field trip.

What you see here is a bathtub full of bronze muscadines. (Most people refer to all bronze muscadines as scuppernongs, but strictly speaking, scuppernong is only one variety of bronze grape--one, in fact, that we did not purchase.) We have:

• 2 Triumph (pollinators)
• 2 Early Fry
• 1 Pam
• 2 Janet

These will, Mr. Ison says, span the season from mid-August until the end of September so we are not inundated with grapes all at once. Because muscadines are much, much more productive than regular bunch grapes.

We also bought:

• 3 seedless Concord grapes
• 2 Montmorency cherry trees
• 6 Heritage red raspberries

...because I am a glutton for punishment and intend to keep trying to grow Yankee stuff until we have proven beyond all doubt that it is impossible to do so. Heh. No, not really. We failed in the past, but that was mostly because of deer, I think, which we are better prepared to repel this time. And this time we have really good advice to help us along.

I am so excited. Now if only this cold snap would get overwith so we can get planting!

P.S. Major thrifting score: Two Elizabeth David cookbooks--her Mediterranean and Summer Cooking volumes. 50 cents each. Duuuuuude.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The sweet smell of...


I don't want to say "success" because that might jinx me. As far as I'm concerned, I've pulled off quite a caper here, getting lilacs to bloom in the South. Sure, these are a special breed designed to cope with the sultry climate, but they're still persnickety.

*happy dance*

Sunday, March 19, 2006

My continuing obsession with purple sprouting broccoli

It just keeps a-comin'.

What a wonderful vegetable, this purple sprouting broccoli. Planted in the early fall, it takes all winter to grow...slowly, oh so slowly. It looks like a big nothing. And then suddenly there are florets everywhere, demanding to be cut!

Yes, the turnips and collards and chard have lingered all winter. But this is the first new spring crop, outpacing even sorrel and asparagus and peas.

Sophie Grigson suggests steaming PSB until it is just cooked (not merely al dente, as with Calabrese broccoli, but a little softer), then tossing it with olive oil, lemon juice, and crushed garlic. Perfect.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Beeing there

Ah! Thank you all for your comments on my previous post. There will be no photo of me in full beekeeping regalia at this time. Suffice to say it is even more gloriously geeky than the photo Ian linked to. For now, rent the excellent film Ulee's Gold if you are curious. Maybe I'll pose in my veil for you later on.

We had our first bee class today. (The other two are on Saturdays in April and May, respectively.) It started out a grey, unpromising morning, but by the time we met our group and hiked up a woodsy hill at the Botanical Garden, the sun began to warm our faces. Everything was in bloom, from the camellias to the squill.

When we were about 50 feet away from the hives, we all paused to suit up. Then the teacher lit some pine straw and stuffed it in his smoker, and away we went. He pried the top off a hive and started removing frame after frame full of waxy cells, covered with crawling, fuzzy, buzzing bees.

The first hive was mellow and didn't seem to mind our intrusion. Another hive seemed much more annoyed with us. But I found that inside the veil, I felt calm. Bees lit on me, inches from my face, and we looked into each other's eyes. The bees were wonders of nature--the endlessly complex curiosities of a Victorian hobby, like butterflies or fossils.

By the third hive, the bees were beginning to buzz around in earnest, yet I somehow got up the gumption to volunteer. I squeezed a few puffs of fragrant smoke into the hive entrance, then popped the top off. It seemed natural to address the bees as "ladies." "Don't mind me, ladies--oh, watch out, ladies." Yes, there were big, bumbling drones here and there, but they couldn't sting the way the workers could--so who do you think I was going to be the most polite to?

Gently and slowly, I used a hive tool to pry the wood frames out of the gluey propolis the bees had cemented them with. Then I carefully placed my gloved hands in the most beeless places I could find in order to lift them out. Before my eyes I saw the queen laying an egg. The smell was heady and sweet, and somehow the activity, though exhausting because of the steadiness and concentration it required, was meditative.

I think I have fallen in love with beekeeping...which is good, because our bees arrive the first or second week of April.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Our foyer is full of boxes of bee equipment!

I never realized how very, very much I have always wanted an excuse to wear a pith helmet.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Get the word out

On this chilly morning, I think it's a perfect time to mention--for only the first of many times, I'm sure--that the Eat Local Challenge will be in May this year.

I have told Jen at Life Begins at 30, who is the bloggy steward of the Eat Local effort, that I will make it my personal mission to try to recruit as many of you as possible for this year's effort. So get hoppin', all of you. Start some herbs on a sunny windowsill. Break the soil as soon as it's workable and throw in some radish and bok choy seeds (both of which mature with lightning speed). Plot and scheme so that when May arrives, you'll know where to go and who to talk to to get the best your area has to offer. It's early, yes, but someone has a greenhouse!

You don't have to do anything heroic. You can claim exemptions, and you don't have to limit yourself to Locavores' 100-mile radius. And no one will take you out back and shoot you if you fall off the wagon. The important thing is to raise awareness...and to pass it on. Why should we use our precious, shrinking petroleum resources to ship foods thousands of miles? Why shouldn't we know the farmer who grows what we eat?

More pleas and encouragements will follow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Two views of the farmlet

At this time of year, Georgia feels like the Garden of Eden. It's infinitely full of possibilities, with no sign of squash bugs and Japanese beetles to come.

Today has been beautiful but strange. It rained fairly hard in the early morning hours, then subsequently got so windy and arid that I actually had to water the garden after I shot these photos.


Glad we were back from our vacation in time to see the old pear tree bloom!

Our new orchard is showing signs of life, too: The crabapple and the quince are leafing out just a little.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I've been busy

I realize I am seriously overdue for knitting pics, so I decided to kill three proverbial birds with one stone.

On the upper left is the roll-brim hat I knitted with homespun yarn and handwritten instructions from Liz. It came out significantly larger than I expected, even the second time around, so I felted it slightly. Now it fits the s.o. pretty well, although *pout* it is still a bit too large for me. The s.o. loves it--the picture doesn't do the lovely coppery heathered color a bit of justice.

On the upper right is my first sock ever, almost completed. The final Socks By Magic Loop class is tomorrow evening. We'll be doing the toe, of course. Can I just say how stunned and amazed I am at how well this sock fits me? It is a thing of beauty. I only hope I can make another one that comes close to matching it.

The bottom piece was my vacation project: the Cherry Garcia cabled neck tube from Hello Yarn. I picked the project because it looked like an easy, self-contained way to learn how to knit cables, and indeed it was! I knitted it mostly on the beach, using Ironstone Yarns bulky yarn in "Harmony." I still have another skein of it, so I may ask my instructor to help me figure out how to make a cabled hat to match it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spring has sprung

It seems like our spring vacation is a sort of dividing point every year. We leave while it's still winter, and we come home to find it 83 and sunny with blossoms exploding everywhere.

I spent the entire day outdoors, fertilizing and digging. I planted a ginormous rhubarb root that Maggie sent me (I can't thank you enough, my friend, and I'm glad you're feeling better), and I made major improvements to the garden, filling in new seeds where old ones hadn't germinated or had been done in by slugs and bugs. I started entire new rows of lettuces, arugula, and tendergreen mustard. I moved some indoor starts to the greenhouse.

I picked a cabbage for slaw, and tomorrow we'll be having pasta with some of the winter arugula crop.

The s.o. fired up the mower and did his first lawn-cutting of the year. He grumbles good-naturedly about the early spring mowings because he has to circumscribe all the clumps of naturalized daffodils that have lived here longer than we have.

Never a dull moment around here. The good news is that you can garden all year 'round. The bad news is that you can garden all year 'round.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The best things about our Florida vacation

• The weather was breezy and idyllic the entire week.

• We discovered the best beach ever and spent a lot of time there. And no, I'm not going to say which one, because then everyone else will go there and it will be ruined.

• We found the coveted Africa volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series in a thrift store. Several other volumes, too.

• At the Cleveland Indians' spring training stadium in Winter Haven, we paid all of $5 to sit in the shade, and we could smell the orange groves nearby as we watched the game. Have I mentioned before that orange blossoms are the best-smelling flowers in the entire world? I have? Well, I just mentioned it again.

• Ybor City was super touristy and seemed kind of down-on-its-heels, but we found a restaurant with unexpectedly good oysters, shrimp, Cuban sandwiches, and conversation.

• We took a great "Sea-fari" boat trip from the Tarpon Springs sponge docks. They provided auto-focus binoculars and had a knowledgeable naturalist onboard. We saw dolphins, bald eagles, herons, ospreys--all kinds of animals, all in their natural habitats. There was a fully restored 1880s iron lighthouse. The water was jade green. Amazing.

• I visited the Fournos bakery (across the street from the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon) every morning at breakfast time. We also went back to the Mykonos restaurant. And yes, we had the tasty fried smelt!

• I experienced massive equipment failure--my contact lens ripped in half, my purse fell apart, my shoe broke--and totally didn't care because I was having a great time.

Look what we came home to

Wasn't it only a week or two ago that our purple sprouting broccoli were mere nubbins? This morning, after we got home from Florida, I walked out to the garden to find a crazy number of full-grown florets. Don't turn your back on these things, kids...they'll sneak in your windows at night and take over your house.

We steamed them (they turn dark green when you cook 'em) and served them with rarebit sauce. Delicious!

Saturday, March 04, 2006


By nightfall we hope to be here.
By tomorrow we will be attempting to pronounce these fellows' names.

See you in a week!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Check it out

More info shortly, but I thought I'd at least show you the pic while I'm eating my dinner! First impression is that the flavor is amazing and the texture is a little odd. I'm eating a slice of it over lentils and celery in a mustard vinaigrette. Mmm.

A half pig head makes a lot of this stuff.


Okay, I'm back. So here's the deal.

As you recall, yesterday I started soaking the pig head quarters in a brine. The brine, in this case, was an all-purpose one: Two kilos of plain salt dissolved over heat in 7 or 8 liters of water, then chilled with ice packs. Additional ice packs kept the mixture cold while the meat soaked for 24 hours.

Today I drained the brine off, sprayed down the meat with cold clear water, then drained it again. Then I covered it with fresh water and chucked in a quartered peeled onion, a halved trotter, a teaspoon each of whole cloves, coriander, and peppercorns, and some herbs--bay leaf, parsley, marjoram, thyme, and oregano. I brought it to a tremulous simmer and left it for 4 hours, moving the pieces every so often and making sure the water level was sufficient.

At the end of this time, the meat was falling-off-the-bone tender. The half of the brain that was in the skull cavity (which I hadn't even noticed before the cooking started, because there was, er, too much else going on visually) was neatly poached. I screwed up my courage and tried some, and so did the s.o. Pork brain tastes like ever-so-slightly fishy scrambled eggs, which maybe doesn't sound very appealing, but it actually was quite nice. The texture is very unctuous and smooth. It's considered a delicacy, I guess, but there wasn't much of it and it had soaked up a disproportionate amount of salt, so it ended up in the brawn with everything else.

I lifted out the head quarters and let them cool for a few minutes, then started picking the meat off. Technically, anything that's not bone or bristle can go into a brawn, but I left out quite a bit of the fat because our pig was a very chubby gal. I did, however, make sure to include some skin because I had read that that's what gives the brawn a lot of its texture.

There was a lot of meat. The very best meat--stuff that reminded me of the very savory dark-meat part of a rack of ribs--was inside the skull cavity, under the eye and in the area of the palate. Some of it might have been tongue. I very consciously tried not to think too much about this while I was doing it, because, well, urgh! Also, there was some very nice white meat around the neck, trickily sandwiched between hefty layers of fat. Everything got chopped fairly finely and thrown into a large bowl.

Once the meat, fat, skin, and whatnot was all in the bowl, I mixed in the juice of half a lemon and a handful of fresh chopped parsley. I then drizzled it with a couple of small ladles of the liquid the meat was cooked in. The recipe explained that the bones in the head, with the help of the halved trotter, had released a lot of gelatin into the water. This would set the brawn into a solid terrine.

I pressed everything down firmly into the bowl, laid a small plate on top, and weighted it with a large can of tomatoes. Into the fridge it went, and...


... set!

It is delicious, but it's a bit on the heavy side. A small slab'll do ya. We plan on quartering what's left and freezing it, because it is said to freeze well. It's yet another way in which our very bountiful half pig will support us through the coming months.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Warning: Pork-related posts today and tomorrow

This morning I made a brine. It is currently cooling, with the aid of some ice packs, and in a few minutes two pieces of quartered pig's head* will be soaking in it.

Tomorrow evening's blog entry will feature brawn (American name: head cheese), which may be the pinnacle of nose-to-tail eating. No waste. No disrespecting of the "lesser" parts of the animal. I have never had brawn** before, but the ingredients look good, so I suspect its scary reputation comes from its origin rather than its taste.

I can tell I'm slowly but surely acclimating to the where-food-comes-from concept, because when I thawed the pig's head and took it out of the plastic, my first thought wasn't "Gross!" but rather, "There's some gorgeous meat on this thing." Also, part of the credit goes to our meat processor, because he cleaned the head up really well and made it much less of a traumatic, visceral experience for me.

To be continued...

* Remember, we only got half a pig. So we got half a head.

** I'm going to use the British term because it's less off-putting.