Thursday, October 26, 2006

Brief absence

I apologize for the low number of posts this week. I've been scrambling to get 1001 things done before driving to St. Louis for a wedding (yes, it's 11 hours, but wouldn't you rather drive than fly these days? and plus, I can bring back cases of Two-Buck Chuck and other whatnot that would be inadmissible on the airlines). I'll be leaving this afternoon, back Monday.

This week we have managed to:

• Get the plastic on the hoophouse (this was mostly the s.o.'s doing, but I helped hold the plastic to keep it from flapping in the gale that decided to blow that day)
• Dig a ton of bulbs (completely the s.o.)
• Transplant 13 healthy little radicchios into the garden
• Dig the sweet potatoes--and there were more than I expected, considering what a hopelessly clayey, unimproved section of the garden I had put them in
• Dry quite a lot of Principe Borghese tomatoes--and there are plenty more ripening in the hoophouse
• Put up 5 jars of radish relish and 20 of pear-citrus marmalade (most of the previous batch was sold at the farmer's market, and we can't have that, can we? we needs it)
• Pick almost all the rest of the pears; there are not as many as last year, but they are better quality.

Whew! Now to finish a little work before I hit the road...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Theme meme

Ally has asked me to find the theme music from the children's TV show I am most nostalgic about. Being me, of course, I am unable to settle on just one show.

As a very young child, I was particularly attracted to programs about canine superheroes.

When I got a little older, this was all-consuming.

Anyone else want to share?

A perfect day for a wedding

This weekend two of our local farmer friends got married. All season, the bride had been growing spectacular flowers throughout the vegetable garden. For months, as the couple picked tomatoes, leeks, and long red beans for the farmer's market, they did so among blossoms intended for their wedding.

And then last week there was a hard frost.*

So there was no profusion of flowers for the wedding. They were terribly disappointed, of course. But as you can see, they took it in stride.

The wedding day started out pouring rain, which was ironic in a way Alanis Morrissette could never have dreamed of, since the couple have often spoken of a "forcefield" that seems to prevent atmospheric moisture from reaching their crops. But by lunchtime, the clouds had cleared. When we arrived around 1 pm, the day was already in the process of changing from "sweater weather" to "balmy." It was hard to stop remarking about the perfect weather.

We immediately went to visit Rose the llama and Bud the alpaca, who had been adorned with a knitted rose and bowtie, respectively, by the bride. Soon we noticed that every creature on the farm--dog, cat, whatever--was similarly decorated.

The wedding was Kabbalistic, involving the services of the rabbi from Athens (note the use of the definite article rather than the indefinite one) and the groom's L.A.-based Kabbala teacher. The rabbi noted that he was pretty sure we were all bearing witness to a truly historic event: the first chuppah ever erected in that rural county. It was a really interesting and beautiful service, although quite long.

Then came the potluck dinner. Some of you may be picturing an average potluck, with a table full of casseroles and cookies. This was nothing like that. It was an entire houseful of food, literally. The buffet tables began in the foyer (dips and appetizers), progressed through the kitchen (pasta), continued into the living room (main dishes and salads), and proceeded through the dining room (desserts) before parading right out the back door (beverages). Every single item was vegetarian, and dishes were labeled with little tent cards that indicated what they were, who had brought them, and whether they were vegan or contained wheat. Only a tiny minority fell under the category of "bland hippie food". Almost all of them were absolutely delicious. I was especially enamored of the moussaka, the homemade three-bean salad, the beyond-decadent carrot cake, and one of the three (three!) hummuses.

In case you were wondering, our contribution was homemade fig ice cream, made with figs that the bridal couple had supplied to us in August. It was especially good with the vegan chocolate cake.

Good luck and happiness to two of our favorite people!

* We haven't had a hard frost at 10 Signs yet. These two live about 30 minutes northeast of us on high, sandy land, and apparently that made all the difference. In fact, because most of our grower friends live a little bit north of us, we are actually the only people we know who haven't had our tomatoes wiped out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

We diurnal creatures miss out on all the fun

This morning when I went out to feed the birds, I encountered a "situation." The portable electric fence was down in two different places, and stakes had been flung every which way. Upon closer inspection, I found a couple of tears in the netting. It took me a good half hour to return the fence to some semblance of its former glory--and all of it had to be done before the ducks (who were noisily quacking in the background) could be let out to play.

Our best guess is that a deer got itself tangled in the fence. The s.o. had changed the configuration the previous day, so probably the animal just blundered into it, got caught, and was shocked repeatedly before it managed to rip itself free. I'll speculate that the deer had no antlers, because if it had, the destruction probably would have been total!

I am part annoyed, part amused. Luckily for the deer, the fence is low-voltage and the pulse is intermittent. So it's not as though the poor animal was getting tasered; more like it was having involuntary electrolysis. Nevertheless, it didn't like it one bit.

I wonder if we will have fewer hooved visitors for a while. Do deer talk amongst themselves?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex

Check out this new Michael Pollan article to find out why the only thing scarier than contamination at factory farms may be the federal government's approach to dealing with it.


I was in the middle of feeding the poultry Monday morning when I noticed the extra-beautiful sunrise. I absentmindedly set down the tub of feed (much to the turkeys' dismay, because they were next in line) and ran in to get the camera. I probably stood there, staring at the eastern sky, for about 10 or 15 minutes.

Soon afterward, the clouds rolled in and the rain began. It hasn't rained hard--it's mostly misting and sprinkling--but the garden is loving it. I hope the weather stays like this for a while, then turns sunny in time to ripen some more tomatoes for Saturday. (As if I could dictate the weather!)

J and I made another quick trip to the mountains for apples and pumpkins yesterday. The cool, moist weather was invigorating, and we didn't mind it at all. What a difference a month makes: Burt's Pumpkin Farm was a hellaceous mess of parents and elementary-schoolers (why weren't they in school?!) with lines stretching out the door from the cash register. Never mind--we got our pumpkins! I brought home one big carving pumpkin, three good-sized Long Island Cheeses, one Rouge Vif d'Etampes, and two butternut squashes. I wanted a giant banana squash, but theirs were looking a bit worse for wear. Eventually I found a better one at a roadside stand.

That roadside stand also came in handy apple-wise. Most of the apple houses didn't have their tiny, tart Yates apples in yet; apparently they like to wait for the first couple of good frosts before harvesting them, and that had only just happened. But I found half a bushel there. I also found a few of the last remaining Empires, which in my opinion are some of the best cooking apples on earth.

At Mack Aaron's Apple House, the Arkansas Black apples were in (J refers to them as "blapples," which amuses me). I got some of those, plus a gallon of apple cider. Last time we were there the cider was insipid, but now it was tangy and delicious. I guess the different varieties of ripe apples are the reason.

We went back to the Cantaberry Café, whose banana cake with cream cheese frosting had sorely tempted us last time. We were eternally grateful to find that there was banana cake on the menu again. It was everything we had hoped for, and even the two of us together could not finish the massive slice the owner cut for us.

Now my week looks busy, to say the least. There is "work work," and plenty of it. And on top of that, I have a grueling amount of stuff to make for this weekend's farmer's market, which coincides with the Watkinsville Fall Festival. I have been told to expect a Big Day. Our pear tree is starting to drop pears in earnest, so one of the first orders of business will be a big batch of our house special: pear-citrus marmalade. Also apple butter, of course. And pies, pies, pies.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Here it is--my farmer's market table at the beginning of the morning, before I had a chance to disorganize it (which I do very skillfully). Note the chalkboards, made lovingly by the s.o. Your eyes aren't going bad; I have blurred out our town and phone number on the sign.

I did pretty well again, this time selling a nice even mix of baked goods and preserves (as well as almost all my produce). Mainly I just love the people.

I tried to take a pic of the rest of the market, too, but when I got home and brought it up on the computer, it became apparent that all I had done was take a picture of a few people's backs, and none of the actual tables or booths. Cut me some slack, please--the market happens early in the morning, and all the coffee in the world doesn't make me sentient at that hour!

Friday, October 13, 2006

I hereby present...

...the only presentable Victoria sponge cake I have ever made. It doesn't look sat-upon! I am so proud.

(Props once again go to The River Cottage Family Cookbook. I guess I need a children's recipe to pull this one off. Fair enough!)

Thursday, October 12, 2006


You know how sometimes a friend does something so kind and generous that it literally takes your breath away?

Today my friend Diane gave me a Squeezo strainer. Just gave it to me. Because, she said, she wasn't using it and I would.

I almost cried. Actually, the s.o. says I did cry a little.

I am going to hug it and pet it and name it George.

Dragging my feet

Advisory: Somewhat traumatic topic.

Here it is, a really beautiful day, and I have to mar it by killing a rooster.

It is for the greater good. We have too many boys in the flock, and this particular Partridge Rock has been terrorizing the other birds, even bloodying the comb of a poor benighted Barred Rock rooster. It is heartbreaking to see a chicken hiding its head because it is being injured by someone higher in the pecking order.

But all the same, I am dreading this task. I do not enjoy it, not one bit, and I find myself inventing anything, anything, anything else to do. On the bright side, the house is now vacuumed.

Okay. Steeling myself. Repeating to myself, "Tandoori Chicken. Tandoori Chicken." Which should make me more eager, but it doesn't, really.

Off I go.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Which fair shall we go to this week?

Yes, we went to another one! (October is really a wonderful time to be in Georgia, let me tell you.)

This time it was the Morgan County Fair, which was comparable in size and offerings to last week's Madison County Fair. The difference: This one had 4-H sheep and goat judging! We arrived near the end of the goat contests, but got a chance to see all the sheep. The numbers were quite meager--sheep aren't big around here, and in fact most of the animals were shown by the same few youngsters, who'd leave the ring after one round only to enter it at the beginning of the next. But there was a judge from the University of Georgia who was really interesting to listen to, and it was cool to see how the kids handled the animals. I learned a few things.

The girl in the background of this photo (sorry it's so dark and blurry--I obviously didn't want to spook the sheep with the flash) raked in the ribbons, big time. Having your sheep come in third or fourth in its weight class at the Morgan County Fair must be kind of discouraging, because that means you really didn't cut it.

Immediately after the sheep show, the s.o. and I headed for the food vendors, and I ate an assortment of food so godawful that I tremble at typing it: a corn dog and part of an order of chili cheese fries. I figure "When in Rome," etc. The corn dog, despite being at heart a nasty amalgamation of animal pieces-parts that I normally wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole, was actually extraordinarily good--really crispily fried and flavorful. But the s.o. was squeamish at the very sight of it, having had a memorable corn-dog-sick experience as a youth. (He finished my chili cheese fries, though.)

Finally, unrelatedly, here is the photo I probably ought to have posted with yesterday's entry. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I'm just putting up this picture because I think purple-top turnips are so beautiful.

What I'm really here to say is:

We have had all kinds of egg-cellent occurrences lately. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.) Two days ago we accumulated enough small homegrown eggs to have scrambled eggs--with homemade sausage and bacon, of course--for dinner. The scrambled eggs were absolutely technicolor yellow. Obviously the hens' varied diet agrees with them.

Yesterday's landmark was TWO EGGS IN ONE DAY. Sweet! And they were completely different shades of tan, which makes me pretty sure we've got multiple breeds laying now. The only hen I've caught in the act was a Barred Rock; beyond that, it's all conjecture.

Today I went into the henhouse to find the biggest egg yet, which was under the fierce protection of our teeny little Black Japanese Bantam hen. She was not pleased when I took it.

"C'mon, pretty girl, it's not even yours," I wheedled.

"Craaaaaaa!" she screeched.

"It's half your size," I reasoned.


So I guess the guidebooks are correct when they say bantams are good broody hens. Nice job, little gal--you are doing what you do best. But you will have to wait.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Another fine fall weekend

On my way into town, I often drive on a back road that goes through a large dairy farm. There are signs--I'll confess they've long been favorites of mine, since how many people get to see these kinds of signs on their commute?--that say CATTLE XING 35 MPH. But until yesterday, I never actually saw any cattle crossing, just lots and lots of them in the pastures and pens on both sides of the road.

But yesterday as I was driving home from the farmer's market, I rounded a curve and was suddenly forced to brake for about 200 Holsteins. As I idled and watched, I began to sort out what was going on. The milk-heavy cows were being herded from a pasture to the milking barn by two men on ATVs, one with a bouncy cattle dog at his side. All three herders were really good at their jobs, expertly zipping around the edges of the herd and hurrying the cows that lagged.

One of the men pulled up at a gate and opened it. As he did so, we caught each other's eye, so I waved and smiled. He turned off his ATV to hear what I had to say, and instantly I felt bad; I had just meant to greet him, not to get in the way of his work. I hastily called out, "Just saying hi!"

"No English. Muy poquito," he yelled back.

I was caught off guard for a moment, not having noticed that the men were Mexican. Then I managed to shout "¡Hola!"

"¡Hola!" he yelled, smiling.

Real cowboys. Cool.

I had had a good morning at the market. Everyone snapped up my Sungold tomatoes, and one woman even called the night before to reserve some vegetables. I had to harvest more so the table wouldn't look bare! I continued my streak of selling all the sorrel I brought. It is my personal goal to convert every resident of the Oconee County area to sorrel-eating...and then, in the spring, to purple-sprouting-broccoli-eating.

In some ways, as I've been told to expect, this week was completely different than last. Where previously I had sold lots of preserves but no baked goods, this time I sold few preserves and almost all my baked goods. The flapjacks sold out and will, I suspect, become a regular offering. People also bought slices of muscadine-apple pie, which is impressive to me because I charge rather a lot more than some of the other pie-makers. (I make deeper, wider pies with more expensive ingredients. I figure I've gotta get paid.)

Pie-makers proliferated this time. My newest colleagues in the trade are the preteen daughters of a well-known local African-American artist. The two girls grow their own sweet potatoes and make them into pie. They sold out by 11 a.m.! They make good pie, but what really makes me love having them around is that their table is festooned with a gigantic banner that says YOUNG FEMALE FARMERS. I like that a lot.

I also met two longtime vendors who hadn't been around the previous few weeks. One man sells chemical-free greens and eggs and gave me a ton of useful advice and encouragement. (This winter I aim to take the Georgia Department of Agriculture's egg grading and candling class so I can sell eggs. He made it sound pretty easy.) Another is a really witty Asian guy who sells stunning cut flowers and naturally grown vegetables. His shiny stack of bitter melons (I wonder if he sold any?) made me nostalgic for St. Paul, where the market is full of Hmong vendors with exotic backyard-grown wares.

I'm really enjoying the farmer's market. I've noticed--and the woman who runs it corroborates this--a sense of "ownership" among the patrons. They all seem to feel that it's their own little market, and they're proud of it. They like to get to know the vendors and are not shy about asking for what they want.

I plan on making an order-form-type thingie so that people can order holiday pies and fruitcakes from me. Until Saturday, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would want fruitcake; after all, it has such an evil reputation. But fruitcake is a strong Southern tradition all the same, so I may have been off the mark. At any rate, when I described the homemade brandy-soaked fruit bombs (sans weird geleéd stuff) that I call fruitcake, the market manager told me to put her down for two. Who knew?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

While I'm handing out recipe accolades

Hats off to the current issue of Bust*, which contains a very easy and delicious recipe for homemade chai. It's basically a half-cup of good black tea and a lot of nice whole spices, simmered in 12 cups of water for half an hour. (This makes a concentrate, which you combine with milk and sugar as you need it.) I made it last night and drank a couple of cups while watching a movie.

The s.o. walked into the kitchen while the spiced tea was simmering. "It smells like Pier 1 in here," he remarked.

Yeah, but it's good stuff. What's left has been stored in an ex-vodka bottle in the fridge for future occasions. I am very pleased to have learned this new trick!

* By the way, I bought the magazine because it contained an article featuring several 30-something female veggie farmers in Providence. They're all kind of punk-rock and vintage-clothesy, but they are dead serious. They are raising awareness and working their tails off. The article makes the point that the average Rhode Island farmer is 58 years old and male. We need to grow more farmers!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The house smells wonderful because I'm making a batch of Nicola's Zesty Flapjacks from the River Cottage Family Cookbook. I thought twice about buying this book, because I don't have any children, don't plan to have any, and indeed, don't see children very often (although I do enjoy their company pretty well when they are around). But I was wise to ante up. For one thing, the book includes the clearest, most sensible recipe for a Victoria spongecake I've ever seen. And for another, it has these flapjacks.

Several British blogfriends of mine have extolled the virtues of flapjacks, initially confusing me because Americans use the word to refer to a type of fluffy pancake. I couldn't picture people tucking into a short stack with maple syrup at the local coffee shop in mid-afternoon (although, come to think of it, I've heard worse ideas). But it turns out British flapjacks are a kind of oatmeal bar cookie.

These particular flapjacks are full of orange and lemon juice and zest. The recipe calls for pine nuts, but I have taken the liberty of substituting our own backyard pecans. I've also switched out the golden syrup (expensive and hard to find here) in favor of tupelo honey. I may sell some of these at the farmer's market this weekend, but that'll mean making a second batch; I couldn't possibly part with so many of these.

In her indispensable book Fine Preserving, Catherine Plagemann writes, "Whenever I get a new cookbook, I consider myself lucky if even one or two new recipes happen to add something permanently to the routine of our lives." This is definitely my way of measuring a cookbook: Has it improved our quality of life?

I think it's safe to say that the new River Cottage book is earning its keep. Mmmmmm.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

News flash

Hooray--our first teeny li'l egg! We suspect a Partridge Rock is the "artist." This is very exciting!

What a weekend

Some days, the clear sunny sky and the cool breeze are just irresistible. And if those days happen to coincide with a weekend...well, then!

As you may infer from the photo, we went to a nearby county fair on Saturday. Not our own county, mind you--longtime 10 Signs aficionados will recall that the Greene County Fair is beyond pathetic. This was the Madison County Fair, a few minutes' drive to our north.

There was livestock: only beef cattle, but still extremely interesting and fun. We watched the 4-Hers preparing their cows for the show ring. They used blowers to fluff the animals' fur, then hairsprayed and backcombed the fur around the bovines' ankles to make them look pleasingly stout and fuzzy. At one point I saw a young lady walking a cow on a halter with a sort of chokechain. "Mooooooooooo!" complained the cow. "Hush!" the girl stage-whispered, giving the collar a little jerk. The cow hushed. It behaved exactly like a one-ton dog in obedience class.

In the exhibits building, I eyeballed all the contest winners and weighed my chances of earning a ribbon next year. Where could I make the best impression...knitting? Canned goods? There were no pies in evidence, but then again, one doesn't leave pies sitting out in an exhibit building. I made a mental note to ask the Lion's Club people before September 2007.

On our way to the midway, we passed a petting zoo where a gorgeous little pony was being raffled off. I entered not once, but three times. No, I didn't win. *sigh*

There was a booth where the World's Sketchiest Carnie was standing in a pile of wood shavings among scores of tiny adorable bunnies. In the center, wooden ducks bobbed in a kiddie pool. If you threw a ring and it landed around a duck's neck, you won a cage. And if you won a cage, you could--get this--purchase a bunny for a dollar. We watched several hapless parents burn through $15, even $20, buying rings for their children to throw. It was a lot harder than it looked, because the rings barely fit over the ducks' heads, and then only in one direction. I stifled my urge to demand that the s.o. win me a bunny cage.

I had a lemonade. We looked at all the fair food, but opted out. The s.o. and I made one more circuit of the midway, then left in favor of Carmine's in Comer, sharing a stromboli and a predictable case of heartburn.

Overall, the fair was fabulous. My whole weekend has been great, come to think of it.

Early Saturday I started my day at the Oconee Farmers Market, where I sold a whole lot of produce and preserves--although hardly any baked goods (there were too many people selling too much sweet stuff). Everyone there is so welcoming, and the customers are friendly and interested in where their food comes from. I am already planning for next weekend!

Today I have spent mostly in the garden, weeding, moving seedlings, and adding nutrients. I find myself stopping every once in a while to admire the sunny landscape and bask in the sun. I give damaged Sungold tomatoes to the chickens, and usually Our Little Penguin Friend (AKA the Light Brahma Bantam) darts in and runs off with them. The s.o. has turned last year's compost heap--finding gorgeous soil at the bottom, plus an adorable little brown snake.

I smell like a giant salmon because I've been fertilizing my vegetables with fish emulsion. There's no point complaining about the stink--it's unavoidable, and anyway, it makes the dogs all the more affectionate.

If only this weekend could go on forever...