Monday, July 31, 2006

Okay, that's it

Predictably, a minor thunderstorm on Saturday evening knocked out our power for 30 seconds. And almost as predictably, the outage tripped a switch somewhere, and our cable internet was out until 9:45 this morning. Yes, I called on Sunday to complain. No, nobody did anything about it. I could tell by the tone of the help desk guy's voice that the "dispatchers" he was calling really weren't going to do any dispatching.

This has happened before--many times, in fact. If the internet access goes down anytime after 5 p.m. on Friday, good luck getting it back before Monday morning. It's almost as if there's nobody in the office all weekend. Actually, it's exactly like that.

So this morning I called the local DSL provider (which only recently began serving our area) and signed up. It's ten bucks per month cheaper. And it can't be any worse, can it?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Somewhere in the universe... old journalism professor is howling into the void* because I have chosen to use the internet, an instrument of almost unimaginable power and potential, to blog about my hair.

See? It's dark. There are still shiny golden bits in it where the lowlights aren't, but overall, it's dark.

I kind of like it and kind of don't. But on the other hand, it really doesn't matter one way or the other, because in three months' time, it may be completely different. So move along, nothing to see here.


* Dr. Ross, maybe you ought to ask Dr. Thompson, who I assume is in the same place you are, to pour you a shot of Johnny Walker Red. I assume that's still your favorite? Good.

Friday, July 28, 2006


I spent part of the summer of 1994 in Costa Rica, and it haunted my dreams for years afterward--not because of anything I saw there, but because of something I felt.

It was the only place I've ever been where I experienced frequent earthquakes. I noticed the first one while I was standing on some exposed rocks at the edge of the ocean. The water suddenly lapped back and forth in the tiny tidepool between my feet. I stared at it, uncomprehending. Later I found out that there had been a quake in the interior, and that a restaurant I'd eaten at the night before had been partially destroyed.

Another time I was using a Brunton compass to measure the strike and dip of a rockbed in a housing development. I couldn't seem to get a good read, and I chided myself for being so unsteady. Then it occurred to me, suddenly, that I was staying in one place and the earth was moving.

Let me repeat that: The earth was moving.

For the rest of my time there, I couldn't sleep. At night I would wonder, groggily, if my dormitory bunkbed felt rickety because it was falling apart or because the ground was pitching beneath it. I was uneasy--and still am--with the idea that something I hold so basic could be so undependable.

That's the same strange feeling I've gotten in the last couple of days. Part of it is due to something completely pointless and stupid: my hair color. After having dyed my hair progressively lighter and redder shades over the last couple of years, on Tuesday I let my hairdresser lowlight it in a shade that is more or less the color of my roots. It looked great. I paid, drove home, and went about my life.

Then I woke up the next morning and looked in the mirror, and it was all I could do to keep from yelling in alarm. It wasn't me! Since when did I have such dark hair?

Since I was about eight, apparently. Old photos corroborate it. But I look so, so strange to myself. How is it that a person can forget what she looks like?

Now either the color is mellowing out a little, or I'm getting used to my real hair color again. Maybe a little of both.

The second disorienting issue this week has been a series of power outages. They started during a couple of violent rainstorms on Saturday and Monday. But then, long after the rains had subsided, they continued at random intervals. It was as though we'd been hooked up to a third-world country's power grid.

None of the interruptions lasted long; the average was about 30 seconds. But I quickly got tired of rebooting my computer and recovering my word-processing files every 15 minutes. The s.o. and I became irritable and prone to yelling "What the f-ck!" And even now, some of our clocks continue to blink:


I have been lax in resetting them, because even though the outages seem to have stopped, I can't quite believe that they won't happen again at any minute.

What will it be next? Will cats and dogs lie down together? Will I eat an olive?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

One Local Summer: Aquatic edition

It's the fifth week of One Local Summer, and certain Southerners' thoughts have turned to catfish.

We haven't had time to fish as much as we did last year, unfortunately. We've been too crazy-busy to while away sultry evenings at the creekside. But even when you buy it at the grocery, catfish is pretty dependably local around here. Most of it is farmed in northern Georgia and western North Carolina. (Note that all bets are off if you go to Wal-Mart, where all fish, regardless of type, seems to be imported from China.)

Here's the tally:

Catfish - about 150-175 miles
Red Mule cornmeal from Athens, Ga. - 35 miles

Red Mule grits from Athens, Ga. - 35 miles
Cheddar cheese from Sweetwater Valley Farms, Philadelphia, Tenn. - 268 miles

0 miles

Oh, wait! I almost forgot to claim partial credit for a blueberry cobbler I made earlier in the day. The flour, butter, and other baking ingredients weren't especially local, but I picked the berries last weekend in Watkinsville, Ga., 35 miles away. Mmmmmmm...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


My pal Marcia (who now constitutes the single best reason to visit Salt Lake City, much as she used to be the single best reason to visit Tuscaloosa) has just returned from a trip to Portland, Oregon. She wrote me the following note:

I just picked up [Tamasin Day-Lewis's] Simply the Best for $15.98 at Powell's in Portland this weekend. I checked, and the sale price
is good on their website too. Thought I'd let you know in case you'd like to inform your loyal readers and/or pick up gift copies for anyone.

So I'm passing it on, because the book is one of the most interesting and appetizing reads on the shelf.

Now, I must admit that I have just had a rather catastrophic failure with Day-Lewis's Steamed Blueberry Pudding. It, um, failed to cohere. (It made a nice trifle, though. Ah, trifle! The repository of many a malformed cake.) And Liz and I recently had a discussion about the recipe for Blueberry Clafoutis. Like some other British recipes for clafoutis that I've seen, it overcomplicated what should be a very simple list of ingredients, and it called for what appeared to be much too short a cooking time. To my taste buds, anything less than 45 minutes results in something gelatinous and raw-tasting.

But there are so many other wonderful recipes and essays in the book that I still think you should buy it. Especially at $15.98! I think Day-Lewis is a genius at salads, for one thing: I love the Asparagus, Fennel, and Red Pepper Salad, and the Cos Lettuce with Cashel Blue and a Cream Dressing too. And I know I posted a pic of her Tuscan White Salad once upon a time.

I should add that the author makes a mean daube. And I have my eye on a lot of other goodies, too.

Anyway, do what you will with this information. I trust we will be hearing from Marcia about koftas or kebabs or seafood soups...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I don't have much to say; I just thought you might like to see the ducks in all their fat, shiny glory.

Note the three white Pekin (AKA "Aflac") ducks. They are loud and kind of annoying, so therefore they will be the first to go in the freezer. The buff ducks will probably follow once they've gained a bit more weight. The brown ones with the iridescent wing stripes are the Rouens--they're the ones we've decided to keep and breed. They have very nice personalities, will supposedly lay light-blue eggs*, and are a gorgeous addition to the barnyard.

We have a couple of friends who seem to want to buy ducks from us. The darn birds eat so much food, even when they're free-ranging, that we'd have to charge a zillion dollars to make any kind of profit. (No wonder they sell ducklings rather than full-grown ducks in the freezer section of the grocery!) But I guess I'm not awfully concerned about that.

* Some of you may remember me saying that almost all of our ducks are drakes. Well, it now appears that I was wrong. It's just that the Pekins were so much louder than the others that we couldn't tell who was quacking and who wasn't. I think I hear some faint female quacks from a couple of Rouens, and possibly from that weird tufted Buff. Who knew?

Friday, July 21, 2006

OLS 4: Curiouser and curiouser

This week I had absolutely no idea what to cook for our One Local Summer meal. We'd had tofu in eggplant and tomatillo sauce the previous night, so my usual eggplanty tricks were out of the question. The s.o. vetoed my tentative zucchini soufflé idea. And I hadn't had a chance to drive into Athens for local quail or beef.

So I picked up my trusty copy of A Midwest Gardener's Cookbook, a tome that has saved me from despair many, many times. As usual, it immediately yielded solutions.

The main dish was a sausage and zucchini hash that I found in the summer section of the book. The s.o. described it as being "like zucchini sloppy joes" and said it would be welcome on his plate anytime--maybe even on a bun.

For a side dish, I steamed some of our homegrown wax beans. Tender and delicious.

Then there was the dessert. What was it? Well, brace yourself. When I was paging through the cookbook, I stumbled upon something called "Dessert Fried Eggplant": strips of well-drained eggplant dredged in flour and deep-fried, then served with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. Normally I would snort at such a bizarre concept and move on, but you'll have to remember that we are up to our earlobes in eggplant right now. I decided that it was worth a try.

The proof was in the s.o.'s response. He picked up a crispy eggplant strip, dusted it with sugar, and took a bite. "Well, I'll be damned," he said.

I have to agree. Dessert Fried Eggplant is not only good; it's positively addictive.

Either that, or we have finally gone off the deep end.


English-style breakfast sausage (our own, made from a pig raised in Cobbtown, Ga.) - 132 miles
Vidalia onion - approximately the same distance
Tomatoes (from my stepsister) - 80 miles
Zucchini - 0 miles
Olive oil - not local

0 miles

Eggplant - 0 miles
Southern Biscuit flour (Newton, N.C.) - 245 miles
Duke's peanut oil (Greenville, S.C.) - 137 miles
Sugar - somewhere in Florida
Salt - not local

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What I've been up to

I'm home now, completely drained and exhausted in that way that means "I have had a perfect vacation." I got to see my brother in Columbus, then spent several days with the family in northeastern Ohio (including a parade, a baptism, and a visit from some lovely Northern Irish relatives that I hadn't even suspected would be in attendance), and then took a wildly impractical but immensely satisfying two-day trip to Toronto!

Yes, I made a run for the border. And they not only let me into Canada, but they let me back into the States again afterward. That in itself is a mark of success.

But what's even better is that I got to spend time with three of my dearest music-geek friends (including this guy, who was the best host imaginable) and then ... are you ready for this? ... got to meet Alda over lunch at the Queen Mother Café! What are the odds that Alda's trip to Toronto would coincide with mine? I don't know, but I do know that she is just as wonderful as her writing suggests.

The trip was a blur. My friends and I mostly drank and talked and made silly inside jokes. We went shopping at Romni Wools, Soma Chocolatemaker, and about eight sari shops. We hung out at a couple of really pleasing bars with horrible names but gorgeous, breezy patios. We had delicious and atmospheric dinners at restaurants both Vietnamese and Indian.

As much fun as I had, it's wonderful to be back home with the s.o. and the dogs and the poultry. My desk is totally on fire with urgent work, but that's to be expected. The only problem is, when am I supposed to catch up on my sleep?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Service interruption

Did I mention that I'm traveling right now? I am!

Greetings from northeastern Ohio. I'm sorry I haven't blogged, but I've been very busy. Mom and I picked up two buckets of pie cherries at Peace Valley Orchards today. We freezer-packed them, and I'll be bringing most of them home in a soft-sided cooler when I fly back to Georgia.

I've also just gotten to meet my niece Liadan, who shares my birthday (give or take a few decades). Good stuff.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006


For the third week of One Local Summer, I decided to feature our homegrown potatoes. As I mentioned in the previous post, the potatoes' very existence came as a surprise to me. After last year's dispiriting gopher invasion, I was sure that any potato-growing efforts at Chez 10 Signs would be thwarted in one way or another. Well, I was wrong.

They are gorgeous, if I do say so myself. Pink on the outside, crisp white on the inside. Immaculate and full of flavor. I forget what breed they are; they're something that Shumway sells. We have white ones, too, which also look very impressive, but which we haven't tried yet.

Without thinking about it much, I found myself dicing up several of the pink beauties, plus half a Vidalia onion and a smidgen of jalapeño pepper. I cooked them in a little olive oil and butter in a cast-iron skillet--sometimes covered, to steam the potatoes through, and sometimes uncovered to get a crispy edge. I seasoned them very simply with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley.

Meanwhile, a peek into the freezer revealed a tiny end-piece of the ham we had made in January. It was cured in a tub on our back porch in a hard cider brine. I heated it up with a glaze of our homemade green tomato and apple chutney.

The finishing touch was a fluffy omelette filled with cheddar cheese and a chiffonade of sorrel leaves. Sorrel is magic. I know we've converted one person to its charms already, but the rest of the world also needs to get on board. Everyone who tries it likes it. Its lemony tang is perfect with eggs, potatoes, and fish. And if you chop it finely enough, it collapses gently into whatever warm food you add it to--which is basically what you want an omelette filling to do, yes?

Here's the tally:

Red potatoes - 0 miles
Jalapeño pepper and parsley - 0 miles
Vidalia onion - 132 miles*
Butter - probably localish since it's from Ingles, but unknown
Olive oil, salt, and pepper - not local

Half pig from Dyal Farms, Cobbtown, Ga. - 132 miles
Green tomato and apple chutney - homemade from our own green tomatoes (0 miles), Ellijay apples (167 miles), and some exotic ingredients

Eggs from Chestnut Mountain, Ga. (a big producer, unfortunately; I can't wait for our hens to start laying!) - 73 miles
Cheddar cheese from Sweetwater Valley Farms, Philadelphia, Tenn. - 268 miles (but a lot less as the crow flies...darn mountains!)
Butter, salt, and pepper - see above
Sorrel - 0 miles

* The s.o. has informed me that not only does the name "Vidalia" signify Georgian-ness, but it refers to a very specific few counties in south-central Georgia. So knowing that our pig producer, Dyal Farms, is also a Vidalia onion producer, I've used the mileage to their farm as a reference.

Monday, July 10, 2006

For the record

This is what I've done in the garden during the last couple of days:

(1) Removed 8-foot-tall collards. They should have been removed long ago, but the bees seemed to love the flowers and the foliage was shading my lettuces, so I kept them. Finally they outlived their usefulness.

(2) Removed 5-foot-tall chard. Was startled to find that, because the plants had gone to seed such a long time ago, there was an understory of younger, unbolted chard underneath, which now looks very healthy and happy. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried, folks.

(3) Planted second round of tomatoes: one row each of Sungold and Shumway Early Big Red in the garden proper, and one row each of Sungella and Principe Borghese in the greenhouse. The greenhouse isn't covered right now, but it will be later in the year, when those longer-maturing tomato varieties may need a bit of protection from early frosts.

(4) Admired hummingbirds flitting around in the Scarlet Runner Beans.

(5) Planted fourth round of green and wax beans. Harvested a few beans from the third round.

(6) Cleared away last slug-eaten cabbages, dug in some organic fertilizer, and planted a second round of cucumbers (Cross Country this time, because I ran out of Picklebush seeds) in their place.

(7) Because squashes overall are doing so poorly -- probably due in part to their unfortunate placement in the newest section of the garden, which is still rather clayey -- I planted one hill each of zucchini, yellow crookneck, and Delicata squashes in loamier parts of the garden.

(8) Discovered, much to my surprise, that even though the potato plants were attacked by grasshoppers and have never bothered to flower (which I thought was supposed to be one's signal to dig up new potatoes), there are baseball-sized potatoes underground!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hello, kitty

Here's an in-freezer action shot of my adorable new Hello Kitty* popsicle maker. It was $4-something at Junkman's. I'd been looking for a popsicle maker anyway, and to me (and you know how rarely I say this), it's not the kind of thing you want to buy used. So I got a little crazy and snapped it up.

What's inside is a blackberry real-fruit popsicle mix: a simple syrup stirred with pureed blackberries (I don't sieve out the seeds, since that's where all the fiber is) and fresh lemon juice.

I have been very busy finding creative things to do with our produce. I made a tasty zucchini spice cake (from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts) that has so far served as the s.o.'s late-night snack and my breakfast (hey! it has vegetables, fruits, and nuts in it!).

Today there's a lot of work to be done. The second plantings of cucumbers and tomatoes have to be done before I leave on a brief vacation to Ohio and Toronto next week...

* I know it smacks of infantilism, but I also have a Hello Kitty toaster that toasts little kitty faces onto your toast. The s.o. is not really very fond of it. When I use it, he turns the kitty face down so he doesn't have to see it while he's eating.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Well, the garden has officially exploded. Today alone I bagged three quarts of halved Sungold tomatoes for the freezer; the other tomatoes are still just limping along, so I figured I had better make the best of it.

I've harvested the first crop of tomatillos, and now I'm thinking I had better go to the grocery store to get some tortillas and such. I think it'll be catfish tacos tonight.

I pulled four ears of sweet corn. We'll see how they are; we are definitely sharing them with a very overzealous pack of Japanese beetles. Frankly, though, after my dismal failure last year, I am thrilled to have any corn at all. Maybe it's the big, easy-to-cross-pollinate block of corn I planted; maybe it's the weather; or maybe it's the interplanting of purple-hull peas that has helped this time. Whatever it is, we have corn where previously we had none. So hurrah!

A friend has photocopied a couple of pages for me from this aptly named cookbook because we needed the excellent recipe for cold cucumber soup. She made it for us once, and it's genius. You cook most of the soup ahead of time and freeze it. Then another day, perhaps when you are not quite so inundated with produce, you thaw it out, stir in some sour cream and a grated cuke, and you have something totally delicious to eat.

Lastly, I've dusted off the food dehydrator. It's currently humming away, sucking the moisture out of a few handfuls of cayenne peppers. The whole house smells spicy!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

One Local Summer: Week 2

For this week's One Local Summer meal, I drew my inspiration from college.

I went to school at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in the late '80s and early '90s. At the time, there was a kosher vegetarian Israeli restaurant across the street called the Old City Cafe. Occasionally my friends and I would go there and indulge in garlicky New York-style pizza. And many a time, I'd go there to pick up an order of fluffy pita bread and chatzilim to take with me to Physics for Poets.

Yesterday I was standing in the garden, contemplating the army of eggplants, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes, when I suddenly realized an Israeli dinner was within my grasp. Here's what we ate:

Roasted eggplant (0 miles)
Garlic (0 miles)
Duke's mayonnaise - from Greenville, S.C. (137 miles)
Vidalia onion - not sure of mileage, but by definition all Vidalias are from Georgia
Lemon juice - not local
Salt and pepper - not local

Sungold tomatoes (0 miles)
Cucumbers (0 miles)
Parsley and mint (0 miles)
Vidalia onion - see above
Olive oil and lemon juice - not local
Salt and pepper - not local

Farmhouse boule from Big City Bread, Athens, Ga. (35 miles)

Now I have Death Breath, as my college roommate and I used to call it. Nothing like several cloves of raw garlic to add that extra special something to your personal interactions. But oh! It is so worth it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Asleep on the couch

Snoring -- that's how I spent most of my Independence Day. I had planned to go to a cookout at Main Street Yarns & Fibers, but I was simply too exhausted after Jenny's visit. Jenny, it turns out, is a woman of taste, beauty, brains, and hilarity. We loved her from the moment she rang the doorbell.

Jenny not only tolerated repeated friendly assaults by our dogs; she actually doted on her furry attackers. She was brave enough to go into the chicken house and be crowed at by the Mille Fleurs. She drove me around Athens in her car because I don't own a car with air conditioning. The weather was so hot and oppressive that we couldn't stay outdoors for long, but I did manage to show her such Athens landmarks as the Tree That Owns Itself and the Double-Barrelled Cannon. We went thrifting (fruitlessly, but, you know, that's how things go) and ate yummy pastries at Big City Bread. Later on, Jenny survived an Athens bar crawl in the company of me and my dear pal J.

So, wow. I am still reeling from the coolness of my first mini blogmeet. We are so glad Jenny came to visit!

One thing we didn't manage to do while she was here was check our beehives. We meant to, but we just ran out of time. So the s.o. and I pried open the lid this evening and took a look. Holy cow, are those little gals healthy. They have expanded into Level 2 of the hive. There are tons of fuzzy young bees, and the hive is crazy with brood and honey. We tasted a bit of it -- it's dark and nutty and delicious.

I also went blackberry picking this evening. That rain we had last week saved the day; the berries that were dry and inedible before are gigantic and juicy now. I plan on making a batch of blackberry barbecue sauce for the rack of ribs in our freezer.

But right now, I think I might lie down again...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Some vegetables...

...are doing very well indeed. For some reason (knock on wood), the eggplants are a roaring success and are not having the pest problems I've had in the past. Right now it's all Ichibans, but the Rosa Biancas aren't far behind.

And my mixed pattypan squashes are doing great--so much so that this white one got way bigger than I intended.

Other vegetables, such as my Marmande and San Marzano tomatoes, are not doing well at all. The Marmandes are growing in funky, difficult-to-use shapes (i.e., they are gnarled up and almost impossible to peel for salsa, plus they have green shoulders); the San Marzanos are tiny and pathetic and are succumbing to blossom-end rot. Good thing I have all those Sungolds..although that doesn't help me where canning is concerned.

The Japanese beetles have eaten the top ends of a lot of our ears of sweet corn, but I think they have left us plenty. Which is a miracle, really, because I consider sweet corn very difficult to grow here.

Most of the squash is doing very poorly, because it is having to play catch-up after a nasty battle with squash vine borers. And yes, the squash bugs are doing their best to kill them while they're trying to rebound.

The various kinds of peppers are doing great. Because I can't make salsa (see above, plus my tomatillos aren't quite ready yet), I am inundated with jalapeños. I'd pickle some, but I still have three jars of pickled jalapeños from last year.