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.