Tuesday, March 27, 2007


During the three hours I worked in the garden today...

• Three Violet Podded bean plants poked up through the soil.

• Three Lemon cucumbers emerged.

• A couple of rows of Cherry Belle and Watermelon radishes went through a visible growth spurt.

Try it sometime: A week or so after your last-frost date, look closely at the garden when you arrive, then look again when you leave. Count your seedlings. You will be truly amazed.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A weekend in pictures

The weather has turned absolutely gorgeous--a little hot, even. It's like the Mediterranean. I am basking in it, even though somewhere inside the logical part of my brain, I know it needs to rain a LOT more than it has been.

Friday was L2's birthday, so while I was in the kitchen knocking out pies and cookies for the farmers' market, I made her this:

It's a plain spongecake roll (from the recipe in Fanny Farmer) filled with a mixture of whipped cream and Meyer lemon curd. I gather from the phone calls we got later that it tasted good!

Saturday morning was all about fun and friends and springiness. While I was at the opening day of the Oconee Farmers' Market, the s.o. went fishing with his friend B and B's son. The white bass are spawning, and apparently male fish are like all of us: when they are occupied by matters of the heart and loins, they lose their mental edge. There are now 18 fish in our fridge!

So we are going to B's house this evening to grill some fish. Excellent.

We then attended the Saturday night auction. Most of the recent auctions haven't proven very interesting, but last night was back on form. I got an honest-to-gosh Bedazzler (careful clicking that link; annoying celebrity testimonials will ensue) for $4 and a Bundt-shaped unglazed earthenware oven dish for $3 (any ideas what I should do with it, fellow foodies? my first thought is an Italian cheese bread ring). The s.o. got a couple of items, too. And unrelated to the actual auctioning that was going on, I bought this:

Stew, J, and my mom will recognize this as one of the many pieces of inexplicable folk art that decorates the walls of the auction hall. We've loved this one for months; it certainly poses an interesting question, but it is a question that I cannot for the life of me imagine anyone around here posing. So while I was talking to the cashier last night, I finally asked how much it was. The answer, my friends, was $5.75. How could I say no to that?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Well, that was unpleasant

Early this morning we bundled all three dogs into the car and took them to the vet for their yearly checkup. As some readers may recall, Cairo has historically had difficulties with carsickness. We thought he was over it.

Unfortunately, the road leading to the vet's office is a curvy one, and he began looking a little peaked. And then suddenly I looked in the back seat and saw that he had thrown up everywhere--mostly on Silver.

Silver was frozen in silent horror. There was vomit all down her chest, in the feathering on both of her elbows, and throughout her long, fluffy tail. It seeped down the seat and coated three of her feet.

I started giggling hysterically, the kind of laughing you do when you are absolutely helpless in the face of something really awful. We had to stop at a gas station to buy a liter of water and a roll of paper towels. When we got to the vet's office, I sent the s.o. in first with Gracie while I tried to wash poor Silver. She was trembling all over; whether it was from the coldness of the water or from the trauma of being covered in kibbley goo, I cannot tell. All was well eventually, but it was a pretty rough way to start out the morning.

I'm sure many of you who are parents have experienced the sibling-vomiting-on-sibling thing, but it was a new one on me.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sacre bleu

Every night one of us takes a flashlight outdoors in order to lock up the poultry and collect the eggs. Tonight, as I was doing this, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye.

It was a green reflection: a pair of eyes. A deer. I held up the flashlight and saw more pairs--three, maybe four. And then I started panning around the perimeter of our open acreage.

There was a 180-degree panorama of deer eyes.* They were everywhere!

I approached each cluster of animals, waving the flashlight and shouting. One group included two fawns. All were unafraid, and I had to get within 10 or 20 yards to chase them away. Once a group that I had chased away returned and had to be chased a second time. In all, I counted at least 14 deer. The number may have been as high as 20.

Welcome to the next generation of marauders...


* One pair of eyes appeared 20 feet in the air, on a tree branch. On further inspection, it turned out to be a raccoon--which is a good thing, because if deer start climbing trees, we are all screwed.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Roast beast

I am congratulating myself, because I have managed to get all the ham leftovers into the freezers. It took some rearranging. We ate quite a bit of roast ham at dinner tonight, but there were still three 1-quart bags of lunchmeat, a 2-gallon sack of random bits and pieces, and a meaty hambone.

The ham is absolutely freaking delicious. It was cured for 30 days, give or take, in a hard cider brine. Last time we used Woodchuck, I think, but didn't get quite enough and had to pad it out with apple juice; this time we used Hornsby's in great quantities. I think this year's ham is even better than last year's, but I can't prove it. At the very least there's more of it, which is a very good thing.

I cannot emphasize this enough: I don't think there is any kitchen activity you can do that's more satisfying than curing your own meat. It's absolutely magical. Please, please, please try it yourself. There are all sorts of reference materials that can help you; I'm partial to the River Cottage books and DVDs, but they're by no means the only ones.

This photo is apropos of nothing, except that I was entranced by the gorgeous impracticality of the plants that were sitting in the bathroom sink. They're outdoors now. We had had a couple of very chilly days, with lows in the mid-30s, but now we seem to be rebounding. The s.o. has been busy planning improvements to his flower bed. Every year it gets better. We are known for it.

I am working on a 4000-word writing assignment and am totally exhausted.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Signs of spring...

...are tumbling out like socks from a clothes basket. At times like this, I think the pagan concept of the "wheel of the year," while worthwhile, is not quite faithful to reality. The year has corners--and we are turning one.

The Bradford pears that line our main street are in riotous bloom. The verbena and rosemary have blossomed purple, and the older of our two quince trees is leafing out.

Yesterday we harvested all of our winter spinach (there wasn't much of it; it likes sand, and we offer it clay), our first two florets of purple sprouting broccoli, and our first asparagus stalk. I put them in a quiche with diced homemade bacon and eggs from our own hens. Many months ago Cookiecrumb wrote about the unexpected sweetness of fresh vegetables, and it was this that sprang to my mind as I ate my slice of quiche. It was the sweetest savory dish I can recall eating. Especially the broccoli was almost shocking in its sweetness.

The sun stands higher overhead, and it is coaxing sudden ripeness from brassica vegetables that have grown ever-so-slowly through the winter. If Yahoo! Weather is not toying with me again, we may have had our last frost. However, I am playing it safe with our tender tomato seedlings.

Now all that remains is for Cairo to blow his coat. Tumbleweeds of dog hair are the surest sign of spring.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Georgia Organics Conference 2007

Where to begin? My trip to the GO conference was like visiting the superheroes at the Hall of Justice. I saw good friends (Tucker Taylor and Celia Barss from Woodland Gardens, who I profiled for the issue of Edible Atlanta that's coming out next week; Suzanne Welander and Alice Rolls from the Georgia Organics office; and Jason Mann from Full Moon Farm). I had the privilege of meeting in person people I've gotten to know via phone and e-mail (Mary Dyal, who supplies us with our annual half-pig; Edible Atlanta editor Amanda Dew Manning and her husband Robert; and Will Harris, the extraordinary and witty cattleman behind White Oak Pastures). And I met many, many like-minded people who will be friends for years to come.

Friday we had classes. I chose the following:

• Making the Change to Organic Production
• Blueprint for Building a Community Farmers' Market (pertinent!)
• Pay-Ahead Systems: CSA and Subscription Sales
• Small Fruit Culture: Strawberries, Blackberries, Muscadines, and Figs

All of them were extremely worthwhile and fun, although I'll admit I was beginning to fade by the last one and couldn't give it the attention it was due.

At lunch, we winced and coughed our way through a lunchtime speech by agriculture commissioner Tommy Irvin, a disingenuous bureaucrat who gladhands the organic movement freely but just doesn't get it at all. I have a history with the guy; last year at a Democratic party meeting, he shouted and bullied me into silence when he realized my question was going to turn out to be about NAIS (which he's been promoting to the best of his ability). He's not only a friend of big ag; he is big ag. At any rate, it wasn't terribly important what we thought of him. What was important was that he was there and could see that there were fully 500 of us--many more, I think, than he had expected.

At dinner, keynote speaker Joel Salatin spoke to us about the state of the organic and sustainable foods movement. As I noted in a comment to the previous post, I don't agree with Salatin 100 percent about the details of running a farm. But I think he's enormously important, not only because of his innovations and accomplishments (which are many) but because he is a galvanizing force in natural food production. He's hilarious and engaging and brash and inspiring. If anyone would like a CD of his keynote address, GO is selling them for $7 a pop; let me know and I'll score one for you.

Saturday was the field day--one of the best experiences I've had in ages. It was hosted by C&M Earthworks, a beautiful pastured poultry, cattle, and pig farm in Broxton, Ga. Here's Jim Hudson of C&M Earthworks (left) with Joel Salatin (right) in the broiler pasture:

I got my first sunburn of the year, thanks to Yahoo! Weather. It had predicted clouds and possible rain. Instead, the weather was...well, you can see. It was idyllic. Eventually I mitigated the damage by buying a C&M baseball cap.

Joel Salatin gave a morning presentation about management-intensive grazing and symbiotic relationships between livestock species. Then we took a tour of the farm, including this pasture full of "chicken tractors":

After lunch, Lori Sergeant of the Weston Price Foundation gave a talk about the nutritional benefits of traditional foods, especially grass-fed meat, eggs, and milk. Then Salatin returned to talk about relationship marketing. This final talk, to me, was the best and most useful of the bunch.

I think I want some Tamworth Pigs. Aren't they beauts? And I can testify that they're tasty, too.

I think the conference helped me solidify my ideas about where to concentrate my energies. Because our property is small and has close neighbors, we can obviously never pasture enough animals to make an economically sound business out of it. We need to focus on market gardening, including both fruit and vegetables. But the eggs from our layers will complement the market gardening extremely well. And as for the other animals, there's nothing wrong with homesteading a few of them for our own table, as long as we don't spread ourselves too thin by doing so.

This was the best conference I've ever gone to! Even the drive down was edifying. I had never been to Douglas and was pleasantly surprised by it. And on the way, I saw parts of the state I had never seen before. I was particularly surprised by all the beehives I saw along US 1.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Party lights

Starting at about 7:45 yesterday evening, I was occupied with the task of keeping our dogs calm. I fed them pieces of kibble, told them "Good Quiet," and basically tried to reassure them that, contrary to their belief, the world was not ending. Why were they so frantic? Because the town's entire volunteer fire department was on our lawn, pulling hoses, shouting, and whistling.

No, our house was not on fire (knock on wood). We were hosting a firefighting drill. The s.o. and I knew about it ahead of time, but it was a surprise for all the other firefighters--and definitely for the townsfolk.

The pump truck, with its lights flashing, parked in the southbound lane of the highway we live on. The other fire truck stationed itself across the street, lighting our neighbor's yard up like a Christmas tree. The sheriff's car and a few other department vehicles parked nearby. Several members of the force directed traffic back and forth through the one open lane of the highway. (My favorite part: Hearing our firefighting female neighbor-across-the-street bawling "SLOW DOWN!" at an overeager driver. We need someone out there 24/7 to do that!)

The firefighters unrolled hoses all over the yard, somehow hooked everything up to the fire hydrant and the pump truck (I have no idea how it all works), and started watering our lawn, er, putting out the imaginary fire. I had just gotten the dogs calmed down when they started baying like a pack of crazed wolves; a quick peek out the front door revealed that several of the firefighters had mounted the front porch and were aiming a hose directly at the door, spraying (luckily) imaginary water up our central staircase. I smiled and waved.

Every window I looked out revealed another pair or trio of firemen wielding a hose. I don't know how many hoses the truck has, but I can tell you it took twice as long to roll them all up and put them away properly as it did for them to fight the "fire." There are a lot of detail-oriented maintenance routines in firefighting--things like stowing suits and hoses that absolutely must be done properly or the items won't be easy to access the next time they are needed.

I had hoped to watch all our firefighting friends in action, but unsurprisingly, everyone looks pretty much exactly alike in a full fire suit. I had to try to guess people's identities by their voices. Even the s.o. was difficult to pick out.

Have I mentioned lately that I am really proud of the s.o. for being on the fire department? I am. And now I have the extra comfort of knowing that if, heaven forbid, anything should ever happen, the fire department knows exactly how to fight a fire on our property.

If they ever do a drill here again, though, the s.o. has suggested to the fire chief that the "fire" be in our garden. It's a shame for all that water to go to waste!

Monday, March 05, 2007

What a ham

This year's 23-pound ham (which now weighs significantly less than that, I think, now that the brine has driven out a lot of its moisture) is done curing and is hanging in a muslin bag on the front porch. It will air-dry for a day before it is ready to be stored or cooked. It smells divine.

I still haven't made the danged sausage. Is that pathetic, or what? I need to get busy. We have already copped out and decided not to stuff it in casings this year. We use more bulk sausage and patties than links anyway.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Fun with imported counterfeit goods

(image pops for easier reading)

Ever since last night's auction, the s.o. and I have been admonishing each other: "Not toast!"

The s.o. also acquired an elbow brace that was labeled "for vellification of eibow."

Saturday, March 03, 2007


The tomato seedlings are getting their first true leaves, and the first eggplants have germinated!

That is all.

Friday, March 02, 2007

She got sauce

For no good reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to compile a list of my top 10 most favorite foods. So I did.

It's meaningless. Tomorrow it will certainly change. Whole cuisines that I am passionate about (Mexican and Greek, for example) are omitted here--and now that I think of it, kataifi me crema or guacamole may deserve a place on the list.* But here it is, for better or for worse, in no particular order:

French bread with Brie - evidence, I think, that my palate still lives in the 1980s.

Grapefruit halves with granulated sugar - preferably white grapefruit, because the astringency contrasts so beautifully with the sweetness. Pink grapefruit I prefer to eat plain. Either one must be refrigerator-cold.

Vietnamese noodle salad with mock duck - with a ton of fish-sauce dressing poured on it.

Meyer lemon curd - alone, on toast, in a tiny tart shell, or swirled with Greek yogurt.

Rhubarb pie - or cherry, I can't decide. Must be made according to my family recipe.

Peanut butter and banana sandwich - either on good grainy whole-wheat bread, or (just as appealing) on thick slabs of French or Italian bread. Not fried. Not even toasted. Banana very slightly underripe.

Vegetable samosas - spicy, redolent of ajwain seeds, with a side of tamarind sauce.

BBQ pork shoulder sandwich - with pickles, slaw, and a good dribble of hot, vinegary sauce. Not just anybody's, of course; there's a wide gulf between the best and the rest. My favorite is from Cantrell's in Nashville.

Bratwurst - grilled, on a bun, with sauerkraut and relish and onions, washed down with the first, coldest sips of the s.o.'s beer at a baseball game.

Lightly sugared fresh strawberries - just enough so that their juice comes out. Excellent over warm buttermilk biscuits and/or with whipped cream, but equally perfect slurped up alone with a spoon.

I think we can conclude a few things from this list: (1) I like fruit, (2) I like bread, and (3) I have an iron stomach. All true. What's on your list?


* L2 recently called me and asked if I needed anything from the grocery store. "Avocados!" I replied. "I've been craving guacamole for days." She obliged--brought me corn chips, too--and I ate almost the entire batch in one sitting. I really, really love guacamole.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Leslie Hunt goes out in style


Now that is how you sing your way out on American Idol. Bravo, Leslie. Wish you could have been around for a little bit longer.

So what does everyone think? I really like Melinda Doolittle, Lakisha Jones, Blake Lewis, and Phil Stacey...and several others. I think the talent pool is especially rich this year.

I am ready to say goodbye to Antonella Barba and Sanjaya Malakar ASAP.