Friday, August 31, 2007

Eat Local Challenge begins tomorrow!

Holy cow...as I was looking at seed planting dates, it occurred to me that September starts tomorrow. That means it's time for the 2007 Eat Local Challenge. The focus this time around is on food preservation, so keep an eye out on the aforelinked site to see what participants learn and accomplish.

This year, there are a zillion different ways to participate, ranging from simple and minimal to big and life-changing. You don't have to be ascetic or hardcore; you could choose, for example, to merely add one local item per week to your repertoire. You could photograph your farmers' market and talk about what you buy there. Anything goes, so there's no reason everyone can't join in.

If you do post something localish, let me know and I'll link to it on the ELC site. I would especially like to see certain bloggers who make homemade wines and liqueurs talk a little bit about the process!

Nice.

Today I managed to clear and fertilize small portions of the garden. Then I planted one row of purple sprouting broccoli and half a row each of red kale and yellow radishes.

Then it began to rain. Gently, yet amply.

Another first

Two quail eggs this morning--our first. I'm amazed that such tiny birds can lay such...well, the eggs are tiny, too, but if you compare them to the birds, they're sort of the equivalent of a chicken laying a goose egg.

I tried to take a picture, but our camera can't handle the smallness. They look just about like the eggs on this page.

I have to take issue with the usual assertion that Coturnix quail thrive in cages. They stay alive in cages, sure. But we noticed a marked difference in the happiness of our birds when the s.o. created Quail World, their outdoor daytime enclosure. They dustbathe and hide in the tall grass and do helicopter imitations. They obviously enjoy it. And it's worth noting that, given the opportunity, they picked a protected area under some branches to nest.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

August is...well, just August

August in Georgia has only one mitigating virtue: that from within it, one can just see autumn on the horizon.

The record-setting three-week heat wave seems to have broken, if you are prepared to accept the idea that a drop from the 105 range into the mid-90s represents the end of a heat wave. The one thing that makes it feel real is that we are getting a few refreshing, life-giving thunderstorms.

I think the heat wave may have killed our tiny nascent farmers' market. For three weeks, because the National Weather Service was rightfully telegraphing DEATH DEATH DEATH about the idea of spending any time outdoors, we were forced to cancel. This week, after enthusiastic e-mails to our customer base, we started up again. But we had only one visitor, and she was one of our vendors. That's what you call a small turnout. People are creatures of habit, and the hiatus undid whatever shopping habits we had managed to inspire.

But believe it or not, we are okay with this turn of events. We've slowly been coming to the realization that (a) our town may not be quite ready for a farmers' market, and (b) there are a lot of new farmers' markets in the area, each with not very many vendors. So we spent our idle hours last night hatching some plans for a tiny, just-us-neighbors gardening collective. One entity; a few back yards. Instead of adding another marginal farmers' market to the fray, we'll team up to take our wares to some of the existing outlets. More on that next year, I think.

Meanwhile, it is still the dog days of summer. L2 and I sat, flushed with plans for World Domination via backyard market gardening (or was it the humidity?), and picked out our seeds for fall planting. I ordered them all last night.

Time to start pulling out spent plants and dreaming of cool leafy things. We'll plant as soon as we can get the beds prepared.

Monday, August 27, 2007

One Local Summer, week 9


I never did finish this year's half-pig charcuterie. Many months have passed since January, yet there are still bags labeled "future sausage" in our freezer. (Oops!) So on Friday when we wanted spaghetti with Italian sausage, I had to actually grind meat in order to get it done.

Overall, we're trying to dispatch some of the things lurking in our freezer. We're currently thawing the last of last year's turkeys, which may appear as OLS 10. Part of the reason is that we need freezer space for current endeavors. We're making a lot of changes in the farmyard. Slowly but surely, extra roosters are being yanked from the flock and processed. (Anyone want some standard Light Brahma roosters? They're magnificent, but they're total jerks. And we have four of them, thanks to the fact that they're only available straight-run from McMurray. We've put them in the Market Bulletin in hopes of repatriating them.)

Some boy animals are luckier than others. Instead of killing one of our two gorgeous, sweet Royal Palm tom turkeys, we opted to trade one of them for four little Japanese bantam hens. Making the swap meant a several-county trip, but it was worth it. The woman we traded with was overjoyed with Puff Daddy the turkey; she hopes to breed him. And we're pleased as punch with our new tenants. Now we have six bantam hens total, so we're hoping to get lots of teeny eggs.

Anyway, back to the dinner:

SPAGHETTI WITH MEAT SAUCE:

Tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and red bell peppers - our own
Candy onions - Sundance Farm, Danielsville, Ga. (50 miles)
Pork - Dyal Farm, Cobbtown, Ga. (150 miles)
Bread - Luna Baking Co., Athens, Ga. (35 miles)
Pasta, olive oil, and spices - elsewhere

Monday, August 20, 2007

A stunning discovery

The s.o. just found a native persimmon tree at the edge of our woods. It is starting to drop fruit.

This calls for a search party! Where there's one, there may be more...

Perfect, perfect, perfect!

Remember my "eh" muscadine cobbler from last week? The cloying, goopy one? And how I said I thought the grapes might do better in a clafouti?

I made one, and I was right. It's one of the best things I've ever eaten. WOW. If you have access to muscadines (this means you, my fellow residents of the south), grab your copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Vol. 1 and follow the basic clafouti recipe, substituting halved, seeded muscadines for the cherries. Use brandy (which is, after all, made of grapes) instead of vanilla.

I could eat this whole thing. Mmm.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another week goes roaring past

Still a heat wave.

Still too much to do and no energy to do it with.

Still a dog in need of extra hugs: Cairo's rear has been healing very nicely, but his first batch of antibiotics made him awfully sick, and we had to take him back into the vet's office to get different ones. He is doing better now--fuzzy and happy and loyal as ever--and thanks you for your kind wishes.

I spent about an hour today floating in L2's pool, which went a long way toward making me enjoy the weather for a change. I should do that more often.

I canned tomato sauce AND salsa on Monday and Tuesday. I made the salsa with Green Zebra tomatoes, so it has an unusual appearance. But if you close your eyes, it's regular hot salsa.

I cooked a lot of local food this week. Unfortunately, none of it was grouped together in a single meal. Local eggplant, squash, and onion shared a plate with exotic tofu. Our own chicken was served, taco-seasoned, with homegrown tomato in storebought tortillas.

So I got to Sunday and hadn't made a single OLS meal. What's more, I couldn't bring myself to make the gumbo I knew would bring it all together: okra! tomatoes! seafood! Carolina Gold rice! So instead, I just boiled some peel-and-eat shrimp. That was it.

I must say these shrimp are pretty special. They're sort of a test run for an agreement that our food-buying club is working out with a Savannah-based fisherman. They're bringing in five-pound bags of freshly caught shrimp--mixed sizes, heads on, straight off the boat. They are really good and fantastically fresh. It's almost like being on vacation, especially if you wear coconut-scented sunblock and mash some Old Bay seasoning into your cuticles.

Here's proof that I grew up landlocked: I had never seen shrimp with their heads on before! It takes some getting used to. For one thing, it's hard to cram all the antennae into the freezer bags; they keep wanting to work their way back out, which is not so good if you're hoping to get a good, tight seal when you "zip" them shut.

A small price to pay, though. I wonder if these people can get us blue crab, too.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A proud moment

I don't know whether to yell "WOOO HOOOOO!" or "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Tucker Taylor, one of our most talented local farmers, has been hired away by Thomas Keller.

I met Tucker and his business partner Celia Barss this spring when I profiled their farm for Edible Atlanta magazine. They're supercool people, very dedicated and talented. I hope Celia takes the helm now--otherwise, who'll supply our local restaurants with salsify and sweet turnips? Who'll be the first ones to the market with tomatoes in April?

Sigh.

But what a wonderful opportunity for Tucker!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Make it stop

Well.

We did manage to have a wonderful visit this week with my mother and stepdad, but only despite rather sobering obstacles.

On Monday, their arrival day, I was just starting to work up my One Local Summer post when I noticed Cairo licking his under-tail area. Remembering that the s.o. had complained of not being able to sleep because of "Cairo licking himself," I took a look. It turned out he was oozing and bleeding from a vicious wound that looked like someone had stabbed him with an ice pick. As soon as we stopped him from licking it, it started to get everywhere. We tried stopping the flow, but it worsened. We called the vet and they told us to get his butt (so to speak) into the office pronto.

Four or five hours later, the s.o. brought an unhappy e-collar-wearing Cairo home with a bag full of antibiotics and painkillers. Cairo had an abscessed gland. He was still bleeding and oozing like crazy and, for the first 24 hours until it dried up a bit, had to be locked in the bathroom. This caused him to cry all night, and Gracie to whimper constantly because (obviously) something was wrong among the pack.

Mom and John slept. We didn't. Two out of four ain't bad.

Pretty much at the same time as they arrived, the temperature rose to 105 degrees (yes, that's a record, even for Georgia) and has stayed there every day since. This was almost tolerable while we were in the house or in their car; however, once John left for Atlanta and took his car, we had to run errands in mine, which has a broken A/C unit. I don't know when I've sweated so much.

We lost a young hen to the heat. She was a favorite of mine, unfortunately. Also, blister beetles came and ate an entire row of chard in one day. Apparently they like 100-plus weather just fine.

We canceled the Wednesday farmers' market because nobody wanted to sit outdoors from 4 to 7 p.m. It would have been dangerous, frankly.

On Thursday afternoon the upstairs air conditioner in our house broke. The upstairs is the guest room, so Mom was the one to discover it. ("It's 96 degrees up there!") We shuffled accommodations for the night. I took the floor. The repair guy came on Friday afternoon and informed us that ants had gotten into our heat pump and shorted it out by scorching themselves to death on the wire contacts. A cheap fix, thank goodness.

Friday I drove Mom to Atlanta to reunite her with John at my stepsister's house. The s.o. had the bright idea that I should make the drive in my bikini top. It was absolute genius--I was able to wear a dry, unsticky shirt to dinner because of his quick thinking. Only a couple of truckers honked at me along the way.

We had a great Indian meal here, which made up for a lot of the ickiness.

After the horror of this heat wave, I think our family will still get up the courage to come to visit us. But maybe not in summer!

One Local Summer, week 7

For OLS week 7, it's Greek food again. I can't help myself--Greek food lends itself so well to the type of meat and produce we can get here. It's not typical Greek, though, because these little omelet-roll things look and taste suspiciously like crepes.



Dessert was a cobbler made of Muscadine grapes grown by our friend Mary Lynn. It didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped, though. Too liquid-y, and for some reason really a jackhammer sugar rush. I think I may have to admit to myself that Muscadines aren't a one-to-one substitution for Concords, no matter how similar their flavor. I recently saw a recipe for a Muscadine clafouti, which is maybe a better idea: isolating them in a matrix of less-intensity.



CHIOS AVGOKALAMARA:

Ground beef - White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, Ga. (240 miles--but I'm friends with 'em!)
Vidalia onions - Vidalia, Ga. (130 miles)
Tomatoes - our own
Eggs - our own
Flour, spices - elsewhere

STEAMED SQUASH:

Yellow crookneck squash - our own
Salt and pepper - elsewhere

MUSCADINE COBBLER:

Muscadine grapes - our friend's (5 miles)
Buttermilk - Diamond Hill Dairy, Antreville, S.C. (70 miles)
Soft wheat flour - Mills Farm, Athens, Ga. (35 miles)
Southern Biscuit flour - see Jenny's OLS Week 6 post!
Butter, sugar, baking powder, baking soda - elsewhere

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Horrible

I can't even begin to process that the 35W Bridge in Minneapolis has collapsed. I lived in the Twin Cities for about a decade, and used to hang out in the neighborhood that's the vantage point for many of the photos and videos. It's so surreal and unbelievable.

When the s.o. told me it had happened, I literally felt every hair on my body stand on end--as though I'd had an electric shock.

I hope my Twin Cities friends are all right, and my condolences go out to anyone who's lost someone.

Tomatoes, Southern style

Do you think this is a problem at all?



Would you think it was a problem if I told you this was only half of what's currently been picked?

Yeah. I know. To our credit, we have been selling quite a lot of them, but it's still a little daunting. And I still haven't canned any of them because I keep using up all the ripest ones in our dinners. There was a gorgeous shrimp fra diavolo the other day. And last night there was this:



Let's call it One Local Summer meal #6. Despite its simplicity, it was actually one of the best meals I've made in ages. For one thing, I make a damn fine biscuit; I use Deborah Madison's recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but I substitute half of the white flour with soft whole-wheat flour. Knead exactly twice. Use a sharp cutter. They come out fluffy and layery every time.

And the country ham was possibly the best I've ever had. Let's face it: there is a lot of really nasty, dry, oversalted, rancid-tasting country ham out there. But this stuff was outstanding. The package recommended frying it with a little bit of diluted Coca-cola in the pan. Since I didn't have that on hand, I added a dash of unbleached organic sugar to the water. Excellent. And very quickly devoured.

The okra was our first of the season and, as such, even more appreciated than usual!

STEWED OKRA:
Okra and tomatoes - our own
Vidalia onions - Vidalia, Ga. (130 miles)
Louisiana pepper sauce, salt, and pepper - elsewhere

COUNTRY HAM:
Center-sliced country ham - Clifty Farm, Paris, Tenn. (450 miles, but don't I get some credit for an indigenous southern specialty?)
Sugar - elsewhere

BISCUITS:
Red Mule soft wheat flour - Athens, Ga. (35 miles)
Southern Biscuit flour - Newton, N.C. (240 miles)
Buttermilk - Peeler Farm, Starr, S.C. (68 miles)
Baking powder, baking soda, butter, salt - elsewhere

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Really, really unfair

Jacques P├ępin was making omelets in my dream. And then my wretched alarm woke me before I had a chance to eat one.

*sob*