Monday, December 31, 2007

I'm overwhelmed by seed catalogs

Really. There are just too many choices. I've gone through the last several years of garden journals and have the basics listed, but we have to think about the tailgate market and our own consumption. One thing I do know, we need more potatoes and onions. It was hard to keep up with demand at the market.

I have room for at least one new red slicing tomato. I'm still in search of the perfect paste type. Amish Paste succumbed to about every blight and fungus as soon as it was in the ground. The old stand-by Roma is pretty resisitant, but just so-so in flavor. Any suggestions? I will be ordering Spear's Tennessee Green, Flame, Kentucky Beefsteak, Principe Borghese, and Stupice.

What are your favorite varieties of bell pepper, pumpkin and squash? Lettuces? I have my favorites, but am always willing to experiment. Any other additions you've tried and loved? And you southern gardeners, any luck in a good keeper onion?

Back to looking and dreaming. It supposed to be rather warm today, so I may get out and finish preparing the new no-till beds before the snow flies tomorrow (and I'll believe that when I see it).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Random thoughts of the holidays

We decided when we moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina to take it easy during the holidays. Charlie, the child of divorce, wanted the Monkey to wake up in her own house on Christmas morning and not be shuffled from relative to relative. I just really hate driving this time of year and also dislike jumping from place to place. It is really much nicer to visit relatives without the odd stress of the holidays with all it's ill-placed expectations. It's nicer to visit the midwest in the summer anyway. Also, it is difficult to find someone to watch 3 dogs, a cat, 2 goats, 2 turkeys, 3 geese (a laying, mind you), 4 ducks, 6 guineas, and 20-some chickens.

So, we stayed home and enjoyed a quiet, yet festive family dinner on Christmas Eve. We woke up at our leisure (o.k., Monkey's leisure) and lazily drank coffee by the tree while opening up our presents. While things stayed pretty low key in the gift department, there were a few stand outs. If you happen to look at my flickr page, you will notice a different camera listed under the photo stats. It was totally unexpected, and somehow tied to the company, but I just hug myself and giggle when I use it (which means some shaky pictures. I've got to stop that). I received skeins of local handspun yarn to play with. Our family has come a long way on the sustainability front in the last couple of years.

That leads me to mention other changes as well. I think we are wearing off on some family members. While Monkey did get the Barbie doll she craved, she also found a peg loom, wooden hand-crafted games, books and art supplies under the tree. I had said no to plastic toys this year. Grandma bought the Barbie, although we had asked her to. And Monkey was happy. It was the year of the shopping bag. Not only were presents wrapped in reusable cloth bags, but one aunt sent us a set of these. What hip patterns and colors! And they roll up so small that there's no excuse not to have them with you on any shopping expedition. We also received gifts from women's co-ops and organizations that help others. It was nice to feel good about what was under the tree. I do have to mention though, that it took more searching than usual to find stocking stuffers that were not plastic and not made in China (I have concerns...). Luckily, there's a Ten Thousand Villages in downtown Asheville - it was almost one-stop shopping during lunch one day.

And one more thought - you know you are surrounded by great people when you here someone pipe up at a holiday party, "Wow, it's raining and the Burpee seed catalog arrived on the same day - it's a sign!" And with more seed catalogs arriving every day, I need to sit down and make the list and start ordering.

Friday, December 28, 2007

28 December, 2007

28 December, 2007, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

Rain. Rain all day long. I'm happy. The ducks are happy. The chicken and goats are not so elated.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A little holiday spirit

While a certain english type has been waxing poetic about mulled wine and mince meat, I've been thinking of a different sort of Christmas cheer. It was in Gourmet a few years ago and now happens to be Santa's favorite. He would have enjoyed it with delicious little gingerbread men, but the dogs managed to eat all of those off the kitchen counter yesterday (I'm blaming the beagle, because a border collie would never do something so heinous and Biscuit is still recuperating from surgery).

Aztec Sluggers
makes two drinks
(the name does not denote Christmas at all, I know, but the flavor!)

1 cup fresh strong coffee
1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 oz. Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
2 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar

Heat coffee, bourbon, Kahlua, chocolate, and 2 tablespoons cream in a heavy saucepan over low heat, whisking away, untlit the chocolate melts (Do not let boil - as that would be a waste of bourbon!)

Whisk remaining cream with sugar until it holds soft peaks.

Divide coffee mixture between two large mugs, then top with whipped cream.

Repeat as necessary.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Back from a break

I figure I needed a little break. This time of year always sends me into a spiral of too many commitments and not enough time. For the last couple of years, Christmas has been a dreaded season. Last year I spent most of the month of December working on school budgets, contracts and other drudgery. This year I've been taking it much easier and have managed to accomplish much more. I even sent out Christmas cards this year. And I've been scouring seed catalogs, contemplating flock additions and traipsing through every square inch of our new tract of woods.

I've also been busy with several projects...

scarf trio
There were the scarves for Monkey's teachers (a mohair/wool blend knitted in a moss stitch, a mohair pocket scarf, and an extra long stretchy hand-dyed wool),

little dancer
Monkey's dance recital (her first - and she's a total ham),

monkey hat and throw
a cheery red hat with little ear flaps for the Monkey (in a chunky hand-dyed wool) and a mohair throw (which was originally meant for my mother...but has turned into Monkey's favorite - it matches her eyes),

local hat
and now I'm busy knitting up a chunky ribbed hat with yarn spun by a neighbor from another neighbor's flock of shetland sheep. How's that for local living? My ears will be warm whenever winter finally decides to arrive. It's 50 degrees today and raining. I won't complain about the rain - we need it, but I would like a little chillier weather.

Here's to the days getting longer!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Poor Biscuit

Poor Biscuit, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

Biscuit the Wonder Dog had to have a tumor removed from her leg. Luckily, the tests came back benign. The cone torture ends on Saturday and life should return to normal.

She's milking the sympathy for all she can.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

To lawn or not to lawn...

grass, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

Driving to my hometown took us across the vast wasteland of monoculture that I'll refer to simply as Illinois. I could add Missouri and Kentucky to this as well, but in my experience, Illinois seems to take the cake in the world of vast swaths of single crops. Just take a drive on Interstates 70 or 64 and see what I mean. This made me think again of a topic I thought to write about, the lawn - America's favorite monocrop.

The concept of lawn didn't really exist for most Americans until the industrial age. Before then very few could afford the upkeep of a lawn cut by hand. The mowed lawn has it's origin in France and England. Before the invention of the lawnmower, it was mowed by hand or kept short by grazing sheep, cattle and even rabbits. In our time, 58 million Americans spend over $30 billion every year to maintain 23 million acres of lawn. 30 to 60 percent of urban water is used for lawn care. 67 million pounds of synthetic fertilizer are used to keep that turf happy. You see, our modern turf grasses come from other climates. They are basically exotics in the wrong environment, so we spend lots of energy and water trying to keep them green and happy.

As many of us have faced drought this year and most likely next year as well, it would be a good thing to reconsider the lawn (if you haven't already done so). It would be a good thing to consider it even if there wasn't a drought. In full disclosure, we have a rather large lawn. We didn't plant it. We don't water it. What we basically do is mow it. With the drought this year, we mowed rarely and it went dormant for a long period of time. Grass will do that, you don't need to water so much. I promise.

The lawn is slowly shrinking as we increase garden space and beds and fence it in for pasture. It is used as pasture - the geese and ducks are out on it almost every day one of us is home. How much lawn space do you need? Turf grass does make an excellent surface for play. However, beds for flowers and ornamental shrubs are much more interesting than grass. They conserve water, create attractive space for wildlife (especially our little feathered friends), and can easily require less care than turf grass.

Lawns don't have to be grass! Depending on your climate, a lawn can be composed of various ground covers (some are invasive, so check before you plant), moss, and a mixture of plants. Ours is a mixture of pasture grasses, clover, and various other things that pop up. I can't say enough about clover. Bees love it. We love bees. After the horrible late freeze and storms that wiped out our apples, blueberries and greenhouse this spring, beekeepers were asking people not to mow their lawns so that the honey bees could find sustenance in clover. We were more than happy to oblige.

So that's the introduction. Next up - Water Conservation.

I need to get back to the work I get paid for. And, the first of the seed catalogs has arrived - Pinetree Garden Seeds. I've got to start perusing.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Home again

26 November, 2007, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

Let's see. Being away from home for almost an entire week is just too long. Going home for the first time after the death of my mother was not easy. It was downright devastating. However, we survivied. We all managed to catch a stomach bug that had ravaged my brother's family earlier in the week. Lukily, or unluckily, as you see it, it hit me and Monkey overnight on our way home. Charlie held out until last night when we got home. We lost one guinea hen last night to a predator (she was out and we were to ravaged by illness to notice).

On the upside, we've had rain! The new dog was renamed Moon Pie at a Tennessee rest stop somewhere along Interstate 40. It's great to be home again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Unexpected views

20 November, 2007, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

We woke up early and saw the sunrise, along with the morning star.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A new dog at Little Creek Farm

new dog, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

As if 2 new acres weren't enough to our lives, Charlie had to go and adopt a dog. He's been wanting another dog for some time (ever since Chelsea passed away almost a year ago). After months of talking to breeders and being placed on waiting lists for various breeds, he wised up and went and got a dog that needs us and has lots of love to give. That's how we arrived at becoming the new family for an "almost" Beagle. She's actually Beagle/Jack Russell Terrier (who would allow that to happen??? really.).

We adopted her this weekend from the Animal Compassion Network and she came home today. Speaking of the Animal Compassion Network, if you feel so inclined to check out the link, look for a dog named "Rounder". I was in love with him. He is a gorgeous dog (older now than the photo - big and uniquely handsome, and oh, so wonderful. However, this dog was not going to be mine, but Charlie's.

Ha! He's already lost her. She and the Monkey were instant soulmates (the pink collar covered in butterflies helped, I'm sure). In fact, they are currently sleeping together in the Monkey's bed, curled up like, well two little puppies. Biscuit the Wonder Dog is not so enamoured and is rather put out. Gigi is just clueless ( the new dog is not human, nor does she produce wool, so she is just under the Border Collie radar).

We are off to my father's house for Thanksgiving with New Dog in tow. She was given the name "Sadie Blue Girl" by her foster home. We are thinking of "Daisy McBoing Boing". Well, that's Monkey's suggestion. We'll most likely just go with "Daisy". It was either "Daisy McBoing Boing" or "Angel Cakes". Look for young Daisy's journey across the country for the next couple days.

Friday, November 16, 2007

riding tigers

riding tigers, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

In case you need help reading kindergarten English, it reads:
I like to walk in the woods. I like to ride tigers. I took a walk with my mommy.

We are planning another girl hike tomorrow. Let's hope we don't see any tigers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Change in the weather

November 15, 2007, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

I spent the morning in a meeting and decided to come on home at lunch time. All the work I need to do today I can do from home. It's getting awfully windy and cold outside. It's the kind of weather that makes me want to hunker down and cook. I'm planning something warming for dinner.

We had some rain overnight. I don't think it really made a great difference, but I'll take any preciptation I can get. Our "exceptional" drought has me worried about a lot of things. How long will it go on? While our well is fine now, will our self-imposed water conservation help (we do after all share the aquifer...)? How will the drought affect our gardening next year? It seems many people are thinking about water these days. Let's hope they realize that it's going to take a lot more than prayer to get out of this situation...

There's discussion in other parts of this state to raise the water fees. If I paid for municipal water I'd be a little cranky to pay more because someone else wanted a green lawn in a time of drought. And on that point - why have a lawn? I have seen idiotic waste of space to have a tiny strip of lawn when other plantings would be more appropriate. Perhaps the answer could be a higher fee for those who use a lot of water... Or a tax on lawns! That said, I do have quite a lot of "lawn". We could call it pasture. It is made up of more than grass and it's never watered. It spent a lot of the summer in a very dormant state.

I think I need to eat some lunch, and maybe work on some suggestions for lawn replacements.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11 November, 2007

11 November, 2007, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

I once did daily photos of the "view". I think I'll try again, but store them on the flickr site.

It's a big happy birthday to Charlie today. He spent the day playing with his new techno toy. Thank God it didn't come from that particular website... wheh! Well, there will only be socks and underwear for Christmas.

Gigi and I went for a long walk in the woods. We almost literally ran into a barred owl (or rather, it almost flew into us). Things that large should not fly silently. Gigi is now completely exhausted and passed out on the kitchen floor. She is one of those dogs who picks up sticks the entire time you are walking through the woods. Sometimes they are more like logs. No matter what they tell you, border collies are not always that smart, particularly when the branch is wider than the opening between two trees. I chuckle heartily at my pet's ineptitudes...

Biscuit didn't go with us, as she as been rather mopey and under the weather. She would not eat yesterday, and only ate a miniscule amount of food today. I had to coax her with a duck egg cracked on top of her kibble. I'm calling the vet first thing in the morning to get her in and see what is wrong. It's not like her to be this way and I'm a little worried.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

10 November, 2007

10 November, 2007, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

This morning is the first time in a week when I've felt I've been able to sit down and catch my breath. I spent an hour or so gazing out the window with a cup of coffee in my hand watching the sun rise.

This week I managed to finally get the garlic in the ground. It's now sleeping peacefully under a bed of goat bedding (that's my root crop secret...). The garden is all neat and tidy, if you ignore the dead plants finally wiped out by a couple of hard frosts. I'm contemplating getting out and laying down more mulch on the aisles because it's my least favorite spring chore.

I spent a morning raking leaves, grinding them up and setting them aside for leaf mulch. It's been so windy that we don't have many leaves in the yard. Most just seem to fall and blow into the woods before we get a chance to rake them.

Oh, and speaking of woods... We are signing a contract for several acres of woods to our north. I'm so excited. I haven't wanted to talk about it because I didn't want to jinx it. I've been coveting the woods to our north since we moved in. We'll be preserving it as woodland. It gives us a great plot to test our forest restoration and test products. We have talked about putting a small rather primitive cabin on the property for vacation rentals and personal retreats (mine). I'm planning some mushroom growing. The land does include the Morel Patch and an incredible spring. Future pasture purchases are in the scheming stages. And they'll have to be in the future. I'm feeling slightly stressed with rapid growth of both business and home.

In case you've been wondering, the discussion of local food last Sunday went extremely well and I don't think is was just due to my incredible PowerPoint creation skills. There was a great audience. I've been asked to come talk to other groups because of it. One woman told a story of a friend of hers who always asked the Hostess or Maitre d' of a restaurant if they know who the owner is. If they can't answer, she won't eat there. Interesting. I think I like that approach.

And one last story from the week - Charlie took his car in for a tune up and tire change. The mechanic came out to him and asked if a chicken had been nesting in the car. Odd. There were five eggs in a small cubby spot in the back. Charlie was a little dumbfounded and then he remembered that after he had unloaded feed this week, Miss Monkey had been climbing around in the back of the car. He had the eggs from the chicken coop in the back and she must have stashed some in the side panel. I like the idea that the mechanic thought we would have let chickens nest in the car.

Friday, November 02, 2007

What to do when you should be doing something else

I'm supposed to be preparing for a talk on Sunday about the importance of sustainability and making wise food choices (and somehow how it relates to my being an Episcopalian... I think).* Anyway, I've been doing anything but that. Monkey is home today due to parent-teacher conferences and we took a walk this morning... for an hour and a half.

a girl and her dogs

We then came home and went outside to plant garlic and enjoy the incredible weather. I can now check the garlic off my list and move on to finishing the cold frame around the cabbage. I'm also in the middle of processing these.

tomatoes in november!

I never would have guessed I would still be picking tomatoes in November. There's around five pounds and more to pick from the plants on the south side of my studio. These are destined to be dried and ground into tomato powder. I'm finished with canning, really.

*Actually, I just talked to the Dean and the discussion I'm leading is really focusing on sustainability as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals as viewed by the Episcopal Church, at least that's where the discussion started last week... ...but we're going to talk about it from an individual's experience (that is how I view "sustainability"). Because really, have you seen those goals? Overwhelming, to the individual I mean. Tell me, how do I get roped in to these things.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

jack o' lantern, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

Hope your's has been full of treats and short on tricks.


frost, originally uploaded by maggiesfarm.

Fall has arrived. There has even been ice on the water troughs for the last three mornings. I guess I can finally safely plant the garlic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


We've had rain the last couple of days - most of it has been light and sporadic, but it's rain. There's a little over an inch in the rain gauge and perhaps more to come. The good news is that it seemed to rain heavier a little to the south of us - which could be good news for the Georgia lakes, which are so low.

If you haven't heard, Atlanta (a rather large city) has only 90 days of water left. There has finally been lots of discussion about water management processes. My only hope is that water management and city planners and citizens will take a good long look at long standing practices and change. My fear is that those planners and citizens will get over this crisis and go back to living like they always have. On a recent trip down to Georgia, I heard one person complain that they hadn't been able to go boating this summer. That was their biggest concern. How about drinking? Hmm.

rain barrel

But on to the topic I planned to start with - rain barrels. I love our rain barrel and we are adding more (the plan is one to every corner, for all the beds surrounding the house). We don't have a huge problem with water runoff waste out here in the middle of nowhere. Generally it all comes from the roof, but there is a lot off the roof that we could use on our plants. The best way to gather that water is with rain barrels. If I had the budget to retrofit our house right now, I'd add a large cistern under the porch to gather all the rain water off of our roof. For now the barrel is doing well. We bought ours through a local non-profit and paid a little less than retail. Looking at the barrel, it would be easy to make your own - I've seen many versions. Here's one with directions for a rain garden as well! Rain gardens are a whole other topic. I'll just say I love them and they are a great spot to grow incredible plants.

Our rain barrel will fill with about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch of rain - that's 65 gallons of water off of one small side of our roof. We've used ours to water the vegetable garden in the past, but this year I concentrated on using it to keep a bunch of young hydrangeas alive. And it worked. I placed a soaker hose on the spigot and let gravity force the water to slowly and conservatively water them. All are doing well. I don't think they would have survived without it. I put a pretty tight restriction on watering ornamentals over the summer, prefering to limit watering to the things we eat.

If you don't have a rain barrel or two, I encourage you to build or buy your own. Make it a project for the winter. You'll be able to use it in the spring to water all those seedlings.

Monday, October 15, 2007

No water

The well pump died yesterday. No water, not a trickle to be had. We've been waiting all day for the well men to squeeze us in and hooray! the cavalry has arrived! There's a lot of pipe running down our driveway and some rewiring going on. Hopefully soon we will have water again. The good news is that there is water in the well*. I was a little worried as Little Creek is just a faint trickle and the three springs on the property are mere mud pits at the moment. But the water is there and the machinery that brings it to us will be repaired (keeping fingers firmly crossed) and we'll be bathing, watering the animals and making ice soon.

*The well men say there are a lot of wells going dry. I couldn't imagine. What would we do with all the animals? I mean I can drink bottled water and shower at the YMCA, but I think they would frown on a gaggle of geese and a couple of feisty goats. Keep rainy thoughts in your hearts for us, please.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jesus ate local...

I mean that in a very tongue in cheek way, so don't get offended (but, it's true). As part of another program at the Cathedral, we organized a 'meal of conscience' for our monthly family dinner. Out with the spaghetti, in with the brats and a little local beer. It's time for Octoberfest! Almost all the food served last Wednesday came from local sources. The bratwurst came from Spring House Meats at Hickory Nut Gap Farm . A big thank you to Jamie Ager of said farm for helping us with the vast quantity of sausage. Everyone thought they were the best bratwurst ever eaten. And there are quite a few Northerners in the mix, so that is a complement. Charlie and I made roasted potatoes and peppers, coleslaw (both with produc grown in the area) and baked beans (not quite local, but baked to perfection). Beer came from several local breweries, depending on personal taste. We have lots of local breweries in Asheville, so if you can't find a beer you like, well you must not like beer...

The crowd for this particular dinner was double the normal spaghetti supper crowd - around 150 people. We fed them all and had a few leftovers. The amazing thing was that it cost less per person to feed locally grown, organic, and humanely-raised food than it normally does to feed everyone spaghetti made with processed products bought at Sam's. It was a simple lesson to all present.

The most gratifying thing is that from this simple meal a whole discussion began. We Episcopalians are good at discussing. It's a particular talent of ours. It was decided that there should be a whole series of lessons on what it means to live in a conscience way - how as Christians, can we respect and protect the world around us. So, now there will be Sunday formation classes devoted to a whole range of topics (even food and farming!).
And wonder of wonder, a promise came to me, through Charlie, that the flowers will be fair trade, organic, and maybe even local. It's been my pet peeve for a while. I'm sure there will be some resistance, there always is, but hopefully things will change up there at the altar. Don't get me started on the floral industry and the amount of pollutants, chemicals, fuels and unfair labor used to create the perfect cut flower.. Or perhaps you should get me started. Look at what one local meal of sausage can do.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The new girls

We've inherited three new hens from our friend, Starr. He asked if I wanted three of his older hens who were being bullied by his younger hens and rooster. We have a lot more room than he does, and who could say no to these three lovelies?

the new girls

I fell in love with the Light Brahma (the big girl in front) this afternoon. The Buff Orpington and the molting Rhode Island Red are a little shy, but the Brahma is quite friendly and her size may just intimidate any would-be-bullies in my flock. I don't think I have any bullies, unless you count the young guineas (and most of them will be holiday dinners...). The girls should be alright here.

They are three years old just like my oldest hens. They may be slowing down a little in the laying department, but should be o.k. for another year or two. I haven't had to yet cull the hens, but that is something we will have to face in the future. Right now though everyone is laying fine (even these girls, according to Starr) so we won't think about that at this moment.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A little rain

rain on dogwood

It has rained about a half an inch of rain since yesterday. That's good news for us. We seeded the pasture before the last rain and then there has been nothing for a couple of weeks. Hopefully, this should help.. It's been enough to fill the rain barrels and there is a little more water in the creek. And the ducks are happy, if no one else in the barnyard is. I've posted more photos on my flickr page.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Some of the natives

With all these walks in the woods, I'm back to identifying plants. Some are easy...

Smooth Sumac

Some are hard. This one in particular is giving me a headache. I'm thinking a Helianthus, but it could be an aster. It's in an open field on top of a mountain at around 3800 feet. The top is an abandoned Christmas tree farm. Perhaps if the flowers were in full bloom it would be easier...

Any guesses?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Where exactly does the time go?

I haven't been a very good blogger over the last month. I've actually had several incredible entries about local food and dining, but they've all stayed in my head. So while I took part whole heartedly in the Eat Local Challenge, I didn't write very much about it. I can use the general excuse of work. I have been rather busy as my role gets more defined in our new business (which is growing faster than we ever expected). And that has been the exciting part of my day to day existence. Meeting more and more like-minded people and educating the not-so-like-minded has made me feel somewhat better about some of the development that is happening here in Western North Carolina.

I can't, however, blame my interest in work for my total lack of writing this past month. I had grand ideas for the Eat Local Challenge, but I realized I was rather tired of writing about food; having done so all summer. And frankly, when for the second time in two months Gourmet has arrived in my mailbox full of articles about locally and ethically produced food, I think there's not a lot of need for my continued prattle on how good it is to eat with a conscience. Hmm...

So this week involved a lot of this:

Jackson Co., NC

and seeing one of these for the first time, quite a bit of planting and weeding, a couple of hours of dog training, cleaning out the fish pond, and sleeping. Oh and I promise to write more, it just probably won't be about food.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Work is hard

I realized over the weekend, when I had no access to a signal, much less my laptop, that I had not posted in over two weeks. I've been so busy with work, that I had little time to form complete thoughts for a blog. There still aren't many complete thoughts, but I'm trying...

I've been off inspecting trails and consulting. "Consulting", I believe, means "to make up a bunch of stuff for other people to do". Yep, that's it. Anyway, here's the basic view of the world I've been having for the last two weeks.

grassy creek above the tuckaseegee

Then I go home and pick vegetables, clean the chicken house, feed the animals and dry, can, or freeze vegetables. When I'm not doing that I'm busy learning all the new software I need to use for work. As you can see, not much time or inclination for writing. Sorry.

I can, however, answer a few questions that have come up! Bezzie, as far as drying okra - I believe it does cut down on the slime. I also know that the more you chop up okra, the slimier it gets. Mmmm.

Tasterspoon, I didn't do much research before I bought my dehydrator. Doing lots of research tends to overwhelm and then depress me when I can't afford the 'best' thing... Ha! Like a crazy food saver I dove in and bought the first dehydrator I saw at our local kitchen store. It's the Nesco American Harvest Food Dehydrator and Jerky Maker. I haven't made any jerky yet.

Kitchen Witch - the thought of dried mushrooms was a key factor in buying the dehydrator! Mmmm. (I really mean the 'mmmm' this time.) If you haven't had morels, you haven't lived.

More later, I'm off to finish a couple hand renderings of designs for a client then tackle every imaginable program Adobe has to offer. I mean really, I'm the girl who knows how to make rabbit skin glue and grind my own oil paints... Technology be damned! I guess that is really not the right attitude to have, I'll improve, I promise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The dehydrator

I've had an aversion to the food dehydrator. I'm not sure why. I had a friend growing up. Her mother used to dry and can everything. I think I associated it with the stay at home mom thing (or perhaps the fact that their house seemed to always smell of stewed tomatoes...). My mother was a professional working woman, and the thought of canning probably never entered her head except to remind her of her own hard childhood. All that preserving of food just seemed a little too much work and a little old-fashioned to us, especially the basement room off the rather stylish 70's rec room filled floor to ceiling with shelves of canned peaches, apples, tomatoes, beans, and pickles. Truth be told, that room kind of fascinated me. Our pantry was filled with modern things in bright boxes and wrappers, not ball jars.

So let's skip over all those years of being art student, grad student, starving artist, traveler,development worker, teacher, stay at home mom, administrator, environmentalist, and gentlewoman farmer. I'm raising a lot of my own food and preserving it. My friend's mom doesn't seem so backward, in fact, she seems down right progressive.

This year as I stared at the sprawling, loaded tomato plants, I realized I couldn't possibly can all of them. The cost of buying new jars, not to mention the time involved was intimidating. I really wanted some sun-dried tomatoes, but our mountain climate is not the best for sun-drying. I bought a food dehydrator. I figure I've already made back the cost in the drying of tomatoes alone. And how easy is it to slice up tomatoes in the evening, put them in the dehydrator and have dried tomatoes in the morning? Simple. There were several bags of strawberries in the freezer that needed to be used. So, in a dehydrator frenzy, I threw them in the blender, added a touch of local honey, poured them on to special little sheets and viola!, I had fruit leather for the Monkey. The Monkey eats a lot of fruit roll-ups. At almost a dollar a pop for organic fruit leather bars, I figure the economic benefits could be quite great. Right now there are fresh and local apple slices drying. Next, I'll be drying okra. I'll have plenty of 'gombo sec' for my favorite african recipes, gumbo and soups over the winter. I think I may even try a few peppers, although I generally freeze them. There are bumper crops of all varieties and dried peppers might offer a nice change of pace in cooking.

I think what I like best about drying food is that I can start it and leave it. I'm quite busy right now with work and life in general. I'm seeing more drying in the future.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Saving the harvest

Food preservation has kicked into high gear around Little Creek Farm. I had thought that selling produce at the local tailgate market would cut down on our saved produce, but it doesn't seem to have affected it all that much. We are still up to our armpits in beans and tomatoes.

jacobs cattle

The dry beans are done - I experimented again this year with a small row of Jacob's Cattle Beans. Last year Charlie picked them all, thinking they were overgrown green beans... They didn't produce as much as I had hoped (but more than last year!). A third of a row - about 10-12 feet, produced just a pound of beans. The artist in me loves these beans and the flavor is good. I might try them again in a larger row, perhaps under something taller, but I can probably use the space for something else. Drying beans is relatively easy. I just leave them on the plant until the pod (in this case the 'green bean') dries and then I pick and shell. As it can be quite damp here, I like to pick them a little early and finish the drying off the plant. Spreading the beans out in the sun on a big sheet layed on the driveway that I can easily pick up at night, or if it rains (like that ever happens...), is the simplest way to dry them. It's a trick I picked up in the Peace Corps. There's less rotting that way. Shelling can be a little time consuming, but it's a nice way to relax on a shady porch on a hot afternoon. Or, if your child is in a Montessori school, you just take in a big bag of beans and those little preschoolers will spend hours picking them out of pods, all the while developing fine motor skills the good ol' fashioned way. We don't consider it child labor, it's character development. Monkey's teachers loved it.

Canning has been an almost nightly occurence for Charlie. He loves to can. There's tomato sauce (I make it, he cans it), green beans, pickles and salsa. Canning is not so difficult (I just get bored easily, and Charlie likes it so much). I would suggest the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. Your local Cooperative Extension is also a good source for information. Tomatoes and pickles are so easy, it's almost a sin not to do it. Green beans and other low acid foods require a pressure canner that may seem intimidating, but truly isn't.

beans and sauce

Tomorrow, I think I'll talk about my new food dehydrator. Now there's a fun garden/kitchen toy!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 10

ols 9.2.07

I can't believe Liz's One Local Summer has come to an end. This summer has been fantastic as we've searched out new sources for locally produced food. To remind you, I've set my limits on the Carolinas - both of them, and any other place we travel to. What has amazed me is that it has taken little effort to find produce, meat and dairy all within a short distance from home. Having one local meal a week has not been a challenge, choosing which meal to post about has. Summer, of course, is a much easier time to search out local produce, but with a little ingenuity and food preserving skills, I think we'll make it through fall, winter and early spring. Having land and a large garden makes it all easier, but I think anyone can garden on a postage stamp-size piece of land, and do it year long. All it takes is a little persistence.

Tonight's meal came all from the Asheville area. Our own community tailgate market ended last weekend, so we headed to the North Asheville Tailgate Market on the campus of UNCA to find a few special items. Produce-wise, there wasn't much that we weren't growing ourselves, but meat and dairy-wise, we hit a jackpot!

Dinner centered around fresh lamb ribs from Springhouse Meats/Hickory Nut Gap Farm - Mustard and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb. The mustard was not local, but the herbs were from the garden and the bread crumbs were from a loaf of red wheat bread baked by our neighbor.

To accompany the lamb we had steamed Russian Banana Fingerling potatoes from the garden (a gardening disappointment, but tasty non-the-less) and Roma green beans. We also served kamut rolls made by our neighbor (our plan after the end of our market is to exchange eggs for bread). Nothing except the salt, pepper, olive oil, mustard and the wine came from farther than 17 miles away. Local can be so good!

Now we are faced with the start of the Eat Local Challenge. I've participated each year and this year there are plenty of suggestions to help participants approach the challenge. We generally have local food everyday - almost something at every meal. I'm going to think about the challenge and approach it a little differently -looking for new local sources, writing about restaurants supporting local growers and farmers, and continuing to write about the garden. I'll also share a little bit of what we are doing to preserve our food and how we are continuing to grow as one season winds down and another begins.

I guess it's a little bit like my post yesterday. Just because one season is ending, you don't have to stop the momentum gained over the summer. This time of year harvest is in full swing. I guess this is the month to party!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Gardening Friday on Saturday

I spent most of my week tied to the computer cataloguing plants and their characteristics for a new database. Interesting, but draining. I felt I would never get out of the maples (acer, to be more exact). The Japanese Maples took damn near forever. Who knew such variety could be had? Well, I knew, I just never had to sit down and type out the details of so many before. Thanks to the lovely and diverse acers, it took me two days to get out of the letter 'a'. I'm now on the letter 'd'. Life is that exciting...

So as I was writing about so many ornamental plants and their care, I'd glance out my window and notice how neglected my own gardens were. August is a draining month. It ranks second behind February in my vote for worst month ever. The heat tends to leave everything in the garden a little worse for wear. And as crops begin to ripen, it's easy to spend all your time out in the sun picking tomatoes, greenbeans, and way too many squash and cucumbers. With all the processing and saving of produce, there's little time to take care of the plants. My garden turns into a wild thing. The ornamental gardens tend to suffer the same fate and everything looks like it needs a makeover (much like me, who had to cancel my hair appointment TWICE this summer and am anxiously waiting Wednesday when I finally get to have my hair cut...).

Needless to say, I've spent all free time yesterday and today in the gardens weeding, pruning and tidying. Charlie joined in this morning and we tore through one perennial bed and half the vegetable garden. The Fuji apple tree was staked. Roses were pruned. Daylilies were divided. One peony was moved and another marked for moving tomorrow. Tomatoes were picked and diseased leaves removed. The compost bins were filled with cuttings and weed pullings. The last of the potatoes were dug and rows were weeded and prepped for planting. Planting?, you ask. Why, yes! Just because summer is almost at an end doesn't mean the gardening season has to be. There are plenty of cool weather crops to plant and a few warm season crops that can go a second round before frost.

We've begun fall planting. We started about two weeks ago. Already, there are new crops of kale, lettuce, beets and radishes popping up in the garden. I'm even experimenting with a row of leeks. Here, in the somewhat south, there is still time for another row of greenbeans. If they don't produce much, they will make an excellent cover crop until the first hard freeze. Tomorrow we will be planting peas, kohlrabi, more lettuce, and whatever else looks good in the leftover seed stash. Several rows will be getting a green manure cover crop of oats. I'm trying them this year for the first time. They won't survive the first hard freeze, but should make a nice layer of plant material to hold the soil over the winter.

If you've never tried fall gardening, I highly recommend it. The season can be extended even longer with row covers and some things, especially cole crops taste sweeter after a nip of cold weather. We'll be setting a few things in a cold frame made from leftover pieces of the old greenhouse (I'm thinking the new one won't be up until late fall/early winter).

And tomorrow after all that planting we will be sitting down to our last One Local Summer meal.
We found the centerpiece today at the tailgate market and it's so fresh and so delicious looking that I almost made it tonight. I stopped myself when I realized there was about 30 pounds of tomatoes in the kitchen sink that needed turning into tomato sauce and another ten or so that need to be dried. So the meal will just have to wait until tomorrow. Now go use your Labor Day Weekend for gardening good and plant a cool weather crop or two.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beware of what you say to a four year old...

...because when she's five it will come back to bite you in the, eh hum, rear.

About three weeks ago Monkey and I walked through PetsMart to buy frisbees for Gigi (they're a dollar and she loves her frisbees...), we made our normal detour (yes, we buy frisbees and balls on a rope quite frequently...) to the kittens and cats up for adoption. Monkey understands that we will not be adopting a kitten, but we still like to window shop (the same goes for the hamsters, gerbils, parakeets and lizards). The pet adoption area is adjacent to the tropical fish area.

As we passed the rows of fish tanks, Monkey said to me, "Momma, remember when we bought Rainbow Prince (A lovely, little, deep blue Betta, who swims in a small tank on her desk)?" "Uh, uh, " I replied cautiously because something in the tone of her voice suggested she had just let one shoe drop. "Momma (the repetive use of 'Momma' normally means something is going to be requested...), you said if I took care of Rainbow Prince for a year, I could have an aquarium." I waited. "Momma, it's been one year." Bam! The the other shoe dropped. It had indeed been almost one year to the day since we brought Rainbow Prince home and placed him in one of the most lavish set ups for a Betta ever devised - filtration, live plants, color coordinated gravel...

"Momma, you said," she added to emphasis the fact that she had held up her end of the bargain and now it was my time to pay up. And pay up, I did. We now have a 40 gallon aquarium in the house, with fish and all. I won't go into the cost of setting up an aquarium. I did promise, and I have this thing about sticking to my end of the bargain. And I'm sticking to my end of the bargain with a vengeance. Because, when you buy fish from PetsMart, they of course are going to have something - like a fungus, that shows up right after the warranty ends and you have to go out and buy lots of things to treat them with and then a few die and you'll have to replace them (or not) when the tank is all clean of any illness. My pocket book is aching. I hope Monkey's elephantine memory is working at Christmas when she only receives new socks and underwear.

And each fish has a name, although the neon tetras are just Rainbow Stripe #1 - #5. Here's Speckle Bucket (the kid has a flare for names, what can I say) the self-proclaimed king of the tank. He and his wife, Lola George, are expecting. One of the Wag Tail Platys has already given birth and one of her offspring is hiding in the foliage and growing daily. Please take my advice and beware of what you say to a four year old.

speckle bucket

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 9

Week nine of One Local Summer has been extremely hectic, what with the start of school, work deadlines and a two-day dog training clinic in the opressive heat of South Carolina. We did manage to squeeze in at least two meals that were almost local. In both instances it was the grains that threw us. Unfortunately, I was too busy eating to take pictures. This pleased Monkey, who thinks that taking photographs of one's food is terribly rude. eh hmm.

Monday night we had a shitake mushroom and wild rice soup. The mushrooms came from a fellow tailgate vendor who lives in Black Mountain - 10 miles. The beef broth came from our freezer. I do believe that the beef which originally contributed to said broth was local from our Virginia source. The wild rice was not local, but it was good... The soup was incredible. As an accompaniment we had kamut rolls made by our neighbor - source of production 1 mile (the grain came from Montana...).

The second meal was spaghetti and marinara sauce. We seem to be eating a lot of tomato-based sauces right now, but we might as well eat while the tomato picking is good! The spaghetti was not local (but was organic). The sauce was made completely from our garden - tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil and oregano.

Now that the food posting is done, I'm going to turn off the computer for a while. The sky is dark, the wind is picking up and I hear thunder. We supposibly are awaiting a huge storm, which around here means loss of power. At least I think that's what normally happens. It's been so long since we've had a thunderstorm or precipitation in any form, that I've forgotten what actually happens.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gardening Friday

a gardener's best friend

One of the great things about organic gardening is that residents move into your garden. Lots of residents. Granted some of them are uninvited and require a little deligence to remove - like slugs. But what I've found is that now after three years of gardening here, good houseguests are arriving to help keep the freeloaders at bay.

A garden should be a microcosm of the larger environment. A healthy environment has a variety of inhabitants. Some, like potato beetles, flea beatles, hornworms, and crows want to eat what you want to eat. Others want to eat the beetles, hornworms and at least chase the crows. The predators in my garden make my job as gardener much easier. The key to attracting and keeping the predators is creating an attractive environment for them.

There are several ways to make your garden enticing to the "good" residents. In the simplest terms, provide them shelter (and food) and they will come. (Isn't that why the "bad" bugs come as well?) I plant plenty of annual flowers and herbs - marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, basil, parsley, and borage scattered throughout the garden. These attract bees and other polinators. They provide shelter to spiders, lady bugs, praying mantids and a host of predators. There are also several spots dedicated to perennial herbs. I leave a grass border around the garden within the fence to offer protection as well. Clematis and annual vines are allowed to climb on sections of the fence where they won't block sun. Outside the fence and near the garden are wood piles, rock piles and more flowers, many native that again provide protection for my little helpers.

It's comforting while picking potato beetle larvae off of the leaves to see a predatory wasp hunting for the nasty little critters as well. I don't feel so alone in my little battle to bring in a harvest. The lovely garden spider has taken up residence in the leaves of a tomato plant. Tiny spiders and some larger, more intimidating Wolf Spiders crawl about in the mulch. There is a toad living under a broken flower pot surrounded by cucumber vines. In the morning while I'm picking tomatoes, the garden is filled with the chattering of goldfinches hanging from giant sunflower seed heads (I plant them just for those birds...). I even think the crows have taken care of most of the hornworms while they help themselves to my tomatoes (good, or bad, you decide). Bill, the Cat likes to hide under the black-eyed peas and leap out at the crows.

So look for the "good" in the creatures that enter your garden. While the garden spider that shows up in August may be a surprise when you reach for a tomato, know that she's helping you keep pest free. And she won't bite, I promise (this is coming from an avowed arachniphobe). Toads love slugs and I love toads! Even the chickens and guineas help by eating bugs outside the fence and feasting on those I pick from plants. Why not do a little nature hunt in your garden and see who's set up home in the environment you've created? You might be surprised.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stopping the energy hogs

Our switch to clothesline over electric dryer has saved us a bundle this summer in electrical bills. Changing many of our bulbs to florescent has helped as well (although I'm tentative about the whole mercury thing and there is the color of the light thing that bugs the artist in me...) Here's something for those in this area - I found on a shelf at Greenlife on Merrimon free bulbs! You have to look a little. I think they were in the cosmetic/supplement section maybe near the fish oil, if memory serves. Imagine. There are so many ways to cut back a little, save some cash and reduce energy consumption. e4 has given some really helpful hints on cutting our computers' energy gobbling habits. Soon, I will be brave and tackle that "octopus" behind my desk, I promise.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chickens as nature intended

Nature has a plan and I've decided that this is the way to raise chickens. It's much easier than picking them up at the post office, checking on them hourly, cleaning up after them and fearing the brooder lamp will go out sometime during a cold snap on an early spring night. There are drawbacks - predators, disease, uncertaintity, but the chickens seem especially happy being, well, chickens. And Broody #1 and Broody #2 are showing some good mothering genes. Today as I was trying to pick up the surprise chicks I was attacked by Broody #1 (that's a drawback, for sure). She's left a rather hefty mark on my hand for trying to make contact with her babies. I have no idea if she is the biological mother of any of the four chicks, but they belong to her.

Here are three of the four chicks. The other was being naughty and hanging out in the other pen. Another few days and they won't be able to fit through the 2 inch wire. The shy one in the middle is my favorite. I think it is another Speckled Sussex. My money is on the yellow-legged one on the right being a boy. The one on the left is a funny looking kid. There are partridge patterns, laced patterns and speckling. Number Two (who I inherited from Jaime) is most likely the father of these three. Although Lefty could be a Speckled Sussex hen and Rufus, the Golden Laced Wyandotte. The AWOL Chick is black, like its mother.

3 of 4

There are only 3 more days until hatch. Broody #2 has been at it through all this heat. We are keeping fingers crossed for more chicks and maybe another Speckled Sussex or two. I know there is one Ameracuana egg (I've only one hen left), so maybe a green egg layer will hatch.


While I do like this method, I am still planning on a big order this coming spring. I skipped it this year. With an eye on the egg market, I'm thinking more Ameracaunas, a few more Black Australorps and some Barnevelders for variety in egg color. The Australorps just lay like crazy and both of the broody hens are offspring of my two Australorp hens and Rufus. Come to think of it, maybe I'll add a few more Wyandottes to the flock. Stop me now, please.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another reason to eat local vegetables

At the Monkey's annual checkup I got into an interesting discussion with her pediatrician. She asked me what I knew of hepatitis A. I said I thought I had been vaccinated for it (like a gazillion other things) while in the Peace Corps and that it was generally transmitted through feces and (ew!) therefore through food and water. Close personal contact, food and water... There are a few high risk groups, people traveling to certain areas of the globe included. hmm. So where was this conversation going?

Well it seems that it is now recommended children receive immunization for hepatitis A and the State of North Carolina pays for it. The pediatrician explained that with the increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables from Central and South America there has been an increase in incidents of hepatitis A. She's not an alarmist type. And she suggested that Monkey get vaccinated (even though we rarely eat imported fruits and vegetables at our home). Perhaps eating local is even better for our health than we thought.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gardening Friday

Fridays are generally my day to stay home and garden, then write about it. Lately though, I've had very little time to write. I've been spending most of my time in the garden trying to stay ahead of the weeds, disease, and pests (not to mention the overabundance the garden produces even in a drought). This afternoon with the heat climbing into the 90's and the humidity hovering around the same, I decided to pour myself an iced tea, kick back, and write about what I've been doing.

We always experiment in the garden, and this year has been no exception. A couple new (to us, that is) tomato varieties are wowing us. One, Stupice (which is new to us, but a favorite of many), has proven that big is not always better. It's sweet, zesty, red - everything "tomatoey" in a 2 ounce nugget of goodness. Principe Borghese is another favorite. It's small fruits are great in sauce and candied, as in a previous post. It's meant for sun-drying, but the humidity is way too high and we don't have a dehydrator. I'm not so happy with Black Prince, a favorite from last year. The fruits are much different than the plant we grew before and instead of being incredibly blight resisitant, this year's plants succumbed well before the start of August. I think it may be the down-side of heirlooms - plants with the same name can vary by location and supplier. In this case, we ordered from a different supplier this year. Next year, I'll look for the old variety and give it one more try on a limited scale. I'm going to try to save seeds from Kentucky Beefsteak and Spear's Tennessee Green and see how they do in comparison to ordered seeds.

Crows have been a problem this year. I think it has to do with the drought as much as anything else. Last Friday I hung old cds throughout the garden, especially around the tomatoes and from the scarecrow's arms. They flash in the sunlight. The ones on the scarecrow bang into his trashcan lid body, especially on windy days like today. It seems to be working. And best of all, I'm giving old, ruined cds new life. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

I've also been fighting powdery mildew with milk. Yes, milk. Mix 1/2 cup milk to 2 cups water and spray the leaves of cucumbers, squash, or whatever else seems to be succumbing (powdery mildew thrives in dry weather, oddly enough). So far, it's working. I had always been a little doubtful of this particular home remedy. Apparently for a brief time after application the milk, in combination with sunlight, turns into a natural fungicide. I've been applying it about every three days, always when it's sunny. Just remember to wash out the spray container when you're done - please don't forget and leave it in the sun. Trust me, doing it just once will keep you from doing it again!

Next I plan to attack the slugs, testing a variety of home remedies. This year has been worse than any other year. I think because the heavily mulched garden is the only place they find hospitable at the moment. Not for long slugs! You're going down...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 8

We came home today from a day of work down on the Tuckasegee River. I realized with a slight sense of panic that we had not yet had and "official" local meal and with the way the weekend is planned, I needed to make it tonight. So, I quickly scoured the freezer, pantry, fridge and countertop and came up with this:

Monkey's Favorite Spaghetti and Meatballs

The meatballs are ground beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farm/Springhouse Meats, Fairview, NC - 17 miles; bread crumbs from City Bakery whole wheat bread, Asheville, NC - 8 miles; duck egg - 0 miles (that's right - duck egg, they're laying!); and herbs - 0 miles.

The sauce is made with tomatoes, garlic, onion, zucchini (ground up fine, so the Monkey will never know), and herbs from the garden - 0 miles.

The pasta is not local, but I think the topping more than makes up for the fact.

Now I'm off to turn more tomatoes into sauce. I need the counter space.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tomatoes a-go-go

The tomatoes are coming in here at Little Creek Farm. I have been battling our local murder of crows (I love that collective name, by the way) for the rights to the fruits of my labor. This particular family had been marauding all over the cove. They hit one neighbor's garden everytime he planted corn or beans. Another has been losing tomatoes left and right. They finally hit our garden about 10 days ago. They wait until the tomato is perfect to strike. Then they take a bite or two and move on to the next red nugget. Bastards. Anyway, I've set up a little system to see if I can annoy them enough to keep them at bay (Lord knows the scarecrow's not doing his job...). It, along with a few other experimental things will be going into this week's garden post. Let's just say that I'm experimenting so you don't have to!

In spite of the crows, I'm hauling in quite a few tomatoes. I'm making the sauce up in batches and sticking it in the freezer until I have enough for one big canning operation. I love my new food mill. Tomato paste has never been easier. I can't wait until apple season, as slim as it will be here, to make apple sauce. We've also been getting loads of Principe Borghese tomatoes. I now see while everyone raves about them. I want to make sun-dried tomatoes, but the humidity is just too high here (and after buying the food mill, it will be a while before I can purchase a food dehydrater). So, I thought they just might be perfect for one of our favorite things to do tomatoes - here's the recipe taken from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (I highly recommend the book, if just for this recipe and her very simple, lovely pizza dough!). I enjoy the stories of the farmers and artisans who raise and create the ingredients as much as the recipes.


Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Take around 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of medium-sized tomatoes. In this case, I used the smaller Principe Borgheses. Core and cut them in half. Larger tomatoes can be cut into smaller sizes. In a half-sheet pan, or shallow metal baking pan (must be metal), arrange the slices cut side up about 1/2 inch apart. Coat with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Bake 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 F. Bake another 30 minutes and lower the temperature to 300 F. Bake another 30 minutes (you see where this is going) or a little longer until the edges of the tomatoes start to darken. If they haven't yet colored you can lower the temperature to 250 F and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and cool 20 minutes. Transfer them to a shallow glass or china dish and pour their oil over them. Let them mellow, uncovered, at room temperature for 4-6 hours.

You can layer them in a covered container with the oil and store in the refrigerator up to 6 days, or freeze (as we do). They are a great taste of summer in the middle of winter.

Cooking them this way intensifies the natural sugars and mimic what Sicilian farm women did with the tomatoes by placing them in the cooling bread ovens after the loaves came out. Just think you can heat up the oven to make a nice crusty loaf or two and make these tomatoes to go along! Enjoy.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 7

Mmm - Sunday night dinner.
In the middle of all the chaos that is our household; we slowed down, sat down, and had ourselves a slow, pleasant dinner. We managed to clear tomatoes out of the way and cook ourselves another fantastic meal.

Roast Chicken, cooked on the grill - from Foothill Family Farms, Old Fort, NC - 20 miles. It was butchered Friday, and we picked it up at the tailgate market on Saturday.

Roasted Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes, dug minutes before - the Garden - 0 miles.

Roma II and Golden Wax beans - the Garden - 0 miles.

And cornbread made with corn meal from about 25 miles away; milk from Harmony Dairy, Westminster, SC - 100 miles; eggs from our hens, and flour from NC as well.

After my walk with Gigi, we are now sitting in front of the television watching Iron Chef America where the "secret ingredient" is FARMER'S MARKET. Go figure.

Oh, and for all of you hanging on for the Garden entry (I know you're dying out there without it), I'll have it up tomorrow. I promise.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Just when we thought things were getting back to normal around here, one of the black hens shows up with four little chicks. Mother and brood are quite happy in one of the little coops - scratching and pecking, scratching and pecking with a whole lot of clucking going on.

One Local Summer - Week 6

After almost 2 weeks of eating take-out and chain restaurant and midwestern comfort food, it was nice to get home to fresh home-cooked meals. We nourished ourselves daily with food from the garden. Our lunches (and at least one dinner) consisted of baked potatoes and green beans, with a few tomatoes thrown in. It was hard to choose a meal this week to label our OLS meal. Last night's meal won out.

We grilled hamburgers made with beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farm/Spring House Meats, Fairview, NC - 17 miles. The buns are from Annie's Naturally Bakery, Sylva, NC - 48 miles.

We served it with corn from Old Fort, NC - 20 miles; slaw made with cabbage and onions from the garden - 0 miles; and tomatoes from the garden - 0 miles.

Oh, and dessert - french vanilla ice cream made with whole raw milk from Harmony Dairy, Westminster, SC - 100 miles and eggs from our hens - 0 miles.

Seasonings and condiments, except for the Duke's Mayonnaise, where all non-local.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Gardening 101

Any gardener that has left her garden alone for a period of time returns to face work. Weeds don't refuse to germinate just because of a vacation (or in my case, a funeral). Pests don't seem to be sympathetic to grief. However, working in the garden until my back aches and sticks in a bent position, my hands cramp in unnatural claws and my shoulders are sunburned does help assauge some of the aching in my heart. A gardener knows the healing properties of the earth.

Good things happened in the garden during my unplanned two week absence. The beans flourished; even surviving an attack of rampaging goats (the grape was not so lucky, but will recover). I picked close to five pounds of Roma II, Maxibel Haricot Verts, and Golden Wax beans yesterday. There were enough Roma and Principe Borghese tomatoes to make a delicious pasta sauce last night. I dug out weeds and prepared beds for a second round of planting. I slept throughout the night for the first time in a long while.

But like I said, pests don't care that I'm grieving. They thrive in my absence. I saw signs of insect damage throughout the garden yesterday and picked many a slug and a tomato hornworm or two to toss to the chickens as I weeded yesterday.

This morning I tackled this week's gardening topic - Squash Vine Borers (or as they are known around here - gross little bastards...). They end up in even the best gardens and I'm sure they have their purpose, but I want my squash. They had to go. Armed only with a sharp paring knife and garden trowel, I was able to remove them and save my plants.

The Squash Vine Borer (Melittia curcurbitae, for those of you who like to know these things) is a moth larva that feeds on the stems of members of the squash family (squash, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers) for up to 6 weeks. It then pupates in the soil. This is what the damage looks like. You can avoid it by keeping young plants covered with row covers or treating the base with a nice organic insect repellent - both I skipped...). If your plant gets to this state, you can do a little operation to remove the larva and hopefully keep the plant.

Make a slit in the stem of the plant. Generally I find the larva above the damaged portion - so cut higher up than the mushy part. In this particular zucchini I found four borers. Remove the larva and gently scrape away any mushy parts. Cut off damaged leaves and stems.

Here's the litte bastard, er, borer. Everyone say "Ewickk!" I get great satisfaction in feeding these to the hens. The hens enjoy it too. I don't think the borers feel quite the same about the arrangement.

Finally, mound dirt up around the squash vine. It should root in the soil and continue to lead a happy life. I like to spread a little diatomaceous earth around the base to discourage insect pests and slugs. Members of the curcurbit family are kind of resilient, so hopefully they will continue to produce way too much zucchini for a long time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I miss my mom...

May 31, 1938 - July 25, 2007

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Must take a hiatus

I need to take a short hiatus to deal with some family issues. Don't worry, I hope to be back by the end of the week. I've got a great topic for Gardening 101. I'm not so sure I'll have an OLS meal this week, but never say never.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Local Summer - Week Four

My time at home this week is very short. I had to hop down to Georgia for a board meeting on Sunday. Tomorrow I leave for Missouri to visit my mother, who is ill. I spent yesterday running around and doing everything that needed to be done in the week in one day.

I fretted over what I could make in a short time and what I could find local at the grocery store. We generally do our local meal on the weekend - when there's time to prepare and savor it all. We are all scattered this week. Charlie had a meeting last night. Monkey wasn't finished with camp until 5:00. I was settling on hamburgers when out of the corner of my eye I saw, on the the refrigerated shelf next to the smoked trout (local), pasta! I've been wanting to make pasta, but let's face it, it takes time to prepare. I found it fresh and made in Charlotte. While I can't verify that the ingredients are all from the Carolinas, I can say that it's made here. So here was our meal. And it was fast to prepare - about 45 minutes from the first chop of garlic to the plate. Active time was closer to 15 minutes. Monkey and I dined like queens.

Linguine Bolognese

Linguine - from Pasta & Provisions, Charlotte, NC - 131 miles

Ground Beef - Spring House Meats, Fairview, NC - 17 miles

Tomatoes - the garden - o miles

Garlic - the garden - 0 miles

Carrots - the garden - 0 miles

Basil, Bay, Oregano - the garden - 0 miles

not local - salt, pepper, milk

Let's not forget dessert!

We don't generally do dessert around here, but it was Monkey's first day of Art Camp and I'm going to be gone for awhile, so we stopped at our favorite local ice cream shop, Ultimate Ice Cream (5 miles from our front door), and picked up a pint of Lemon-Lime Sorbet and Black Mocha Stout Ice Cream. I'm glad that we've instilled in the Monkey an appreciation for small local businesses, where things are crafted with care and are better for it. She even requests the sorbet over Oreo or Bubble Gum. The Black Mocha Stout Ice Cream is made with Black Mocha Stout (duh...) from Highland Brewery. I have to say, that it is one of the best mocha ice creams I have ever tasted.

Dinner was fresh and local and fast.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Weekly Gardening 101

There are many ways to prepare a bed for planting vegetables. Some, like double digging, are incredibly labor intensive. I've spent many a spring soaking a sore lower back and repairing my winter-tender hands after a day in the garden. I've discovered that preparing a garden doesn't have to cause back problems or aggravate my arthritic hands.

Usually preparing a new garden involves three things - removing whatever is already growing there (usually grass or weeds), loosening the soil underneath, and improving the soil. In the past, I've used a shovel, hoe, pick, a rototiller, and my own bare hands to accomplish the first two steps. In the past year I've been using a much easier method. Starting now (or preferably, later in the cooler weather of autumn), you can prepare a bed for planting next spring with minimal physical exertion.

Once you've determined where you want your garden (I'll leave the size and shape up to you, just think that wide beds with narrow aisles allow more planting and less weeding), you can start to get it ready for spring planting. What you will do is leave most of the green stuff growing there to help add organic material (food for your veggies) to the soil. Nature's little helpers - worms and other organisms in the soil, will help loosen the soil. Mulch that you add will also help improve the soil. You'll be able to plant in the spring with minimal effort. I promise. Starting in the fall means that your soil will be improved over the winter with the help of worms and other critters in the soil. Worms are your friends. They will help break down organic material, and aerate and loosen the soil with their little tunnels all through the cooler months.

Here are the steps:
  1. Cut down any tall vegetation and woody weeds in your new garden location. Remove any woody material or things that have gone to seed. Lay a base layer of cardboard or newspapers at full thickness over the area. Make sure to overlap the edges. This is biodegradable and keeps the light from reaching the stuff underneath.

  2. Next add a layer up to 4 inches deep of soil improvers - compost, grass clippings, leaf mold or fallen leaves, composted manure, mushroom compost, or animal bedding (old straw or hay). A mixture of these materials is good. You can buy many of these at a garden center, if you don't have them laying around, but leaves and grass clippings are free (so is animal bedding and manure, if you a lucky enough to have animals! No dog or cat poo though, these can contain icky things that can infect us as well).

  3. Then add a top layer of straw or hay. This will retain moisture and look good. Wood mulch looks good, but a caveat - wood actually takes nitrogen out of the soil as it breaks down. Shredded bark mulch is a better choice, but expensive. I'd stick to straw.

  4. Water this all to settle the layers and keep it all from blowing away.
In the first year, it's best to grow transplants. Small seeds and root crops are suitable for the first year. If time has done the work for you, the light blocking layer will start to break down and the organic materials layer will start to mix with the soil. If you have a problem with bigger perennial weeds, just dig down through the layers of mulch and dig out. You can always add a second layer to help block these out.

I've found that a crop of potatoes is excellent at helping to break up the soil. These can easily grown using thick layers of straw as mulch. But a warning! Once you have homegrown potatoes, like their cousin tomatoes, store-bought will never do. I promise.

This method can also be used with existing beds to cut down the weeds and improve the soil. I did it over the winter with several rows in our garden (I need to see things to believe them, you know) and the difference is amazing. I'm finally winning the battle with mustard garlic and creeping buttercup. This fall all rows get this method.

That's it for this week. Send any questions, and I'll try to answer them. It may help me come up with a topic for next week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I want to be in pictures

I'm a Simpsons character. My life is now complete. And I've just taken part in a shameless advertising ploy for a movie. Oh well.