Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Living Room News

Hey out there. Folks, it’s raining outside. Anybody in our general neck of the woods can tell you how extremely newsworthy this is. It has been so dry here; the river that runs through Asheville is at its lowest point in 100 years and even the weeds are parched. B and I hiked up on the Blue Ridge Parkway last weekend checking on the wild blueberries, and man, the berries this year are tiny little pips. Sad. Anyway, Fay blew some water our way and we are drinking it up. I emptied the rain barrels onto our own blueberries and fruit trees yesterday, and they are full up again. The chickens are cozy in the coop with just a few brave birds out in the rain now and then. I had planned to clean out the garden beds this morning and get them ready for the fall seeds, but working wet soil is a no-no so I just enjoyed our cozy house and the sound of the rain falling.

And speaking of enjoying our cozy house, I am not through showing off our wedding presents. I can’t believe what amazing gifts and cards and poems and handmade things B and I were given. As if all the amazing people in your life all arranging to be in the very same place at the very same time wasn’t enough, you know??

So. Remember when I told you about Dietlind and Kelly, my gorgeous girls from San Francisco who were our kitchen mavens? Oh my, how I love these two. Dietlind and I met over five years ago, at a Zuni CafĂ© employee party that we had both been dragged to by our respective partners at the time. Dietlind was sick, and I was just sick of Zuni parties, so we both arrived at the party fairly convinced that we’d rather be anywhere but there. But our significant others plunked us down in a corner together with glasses of wine, and we’ve been friends from that very moment on. We even had a sweet period of time when Dietlind lived above me and it was just like the movies where people holler up at the window about cookies coming out of the oven or people knock on your back door and tell you that they can’t possibly eat all the (fantastic) soup they just made so c’mon up while it’s hot. I still miss it. Anyway, that’s Dietlind. And then there’s Kelly, who is married to Dietlind and could not be a more perfect partner for her and she reminds me of all my uncles at once which coming from me is a really big compliment. She has talents coming out of her ears. Oh, you know all about trees? Classical guitar? Caring for bonsai? You paint? Umm, yes to all of the above. But it’s that last one that I am here to show you. Because Kelly painted us a wedding painting that will knock your socks off. Kelly paints in all kinds of different styles but I guess she heard me squeaking about enough of her mosaic style paintings to make the tough decision. My camera does not do this piece of art justice; when you sit in front of it you can see and feel how much work she put into it and the motion of the painting is hard to capture with my point and shoot. But, whatever, just look at this thing! Dietlind packed the sucker up (this is a BIG painting here people) and it arrived about a month ago and we are still in the stage where we sit together on the couch and marvel at all the different parts and colors and then we talk about how we really are going to have to paint the living room next because we are surely offending this amazing painting with our walls covered in test patches of paint. Soon, very soon. At which point our living room will officially be too amazing to handle.

Love you Diets, love you Kelly. Thanks for our painting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Peach Cobbler

Hey ho, it's dessert time. Lately B and I have been going to the farmer's markets around here. Which can seem a little crazy when your front yard is full of all kinds of vegetables threatening to revolt if you don't eat them soon, but there are all kinds of things that we don't grow that are really great to get from someone local. Corn, onions, squash, weird beans, eggplant, potatoes... I am going to try to buy a bunch of fresh corn and do some freezing of it, because I love corn in winter soups but I am making a serious effort to not purchase things in a can and everyone knows that the frozen corn at the store tastes like cardboard. Anyway, the markets have been so fun for us - we always see people we know and it is such an amazingly inspiring place to be on an early Saturday morning. So much lovingly grown food! There are three (3) local farmer's markets here on the weekends, how crazy is that? There is also a HUGE year-round farmer's market that is way less local but still far more local than the grocery store. This is where you go if you want a bushel of apples for applesauce or a case of tomatoes for canning or: an enormous basket of South Carolina peaches. This is not an overly organic place, but B and I feel like getting non-organic peaches from 60 miles away is better than buying organic peaches from 3000 miles away. And plus we can afford them. For a ten dollar bill we took home a basket of peaches so big and heavy that I needed both hands and a fierce face to lift it.

And so we ate peaches like it was going out of style. We ate them all sorts of ways, but the very best way was just skinned and sliced and covered in the heavy cream that comes in a thick layer over our raw milk we've been buying (from a lady south of Asheville with nine (9) kids no less, woah). Peaches and cream got its own ice cream flavor for a reason, but you won't figure it out unless you have the real deal. Damn. Anyway, we froze a bunch for smoothies because we are big summer smoothie fans (put a handful of raw almonds in and you won't know what hit you) but the handful of fresh peaches left after we had frozen some and eaten most of them got earmarked for fresh peach cobbler. Oh my it was good. This is not a biscuit topping, which is not my favorite with peaches, but rather more of a cake topping, which is.

Fresh Peach Cobbler

For the insides:
10 fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced into thin wedges
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup brown booze (I used burbon, but I think rum would be good too)

For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water

For sprinkling atop the topping:
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all the inside ingredients, toss to coat evenly, and pour into baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pulse in water until just combined.

Remove peaches from oven, and drop spoonfuls of topping over them. Sprinkle entire cobbler with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake until topping is golden, about 30 minutes.

Eat this with fresh whipped cream and you will smile just to remember it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Girls Grow

Hello, is this Wednesday? Time is wrinkling all around us these days, something that happens to me a lot in that sweet spot of summer flirting with fall. For some reason I find it hard to focus when the seasons change; it’s like I can’t quite always put my finger on when we are. I love fall though, especially fall here in Western North Carolina – it will take your breath away, these mountains shining in gold and red and orange, and I love the smell and I love the food: the squashes, the soups, the curries, the baking of things that warm the kitchen.

Anyway. This is week three in the new job, and things have gotten markedly better each week. It is so interesting how different libraries can be from one another. The campus is lovely here, with an arboretum and sweet spots to walk and read, and so far I have been able to go to some good lectures and meet some smart people and have some lunches with an old friend who works here too.

On the home front: we are down to cleanup time in the garden. There are beans, basil, leeks, peppers, tomatoes, and a few greens left, but everything else is basically chicken food. We are slowly cleaning out the beds, and pretty soon we will do a big soil amendment with our compost and some potash and some humic acid; due to not mulching enough this summer I feel like the soil got pretty baked and it really needs some organic matter. We will have a winter bed for all our greens and beets and broccoli that we will cover like last year, a bed of lettuces and arugula that we will row cover until the cold does it in, and then the third bed will have the leeks for as long as they last and all the garlic that we will soon plant. Speaking of leeks, we pulled the first two out last night and oh my goodness, they were beautiful. I will try to get a picture of them before they go in tonight’s dinner. They were LONG and so tender and crispy unlike any store bought leek I have ever had. Pretty exciting for a leek loving girl like myself. Note to readers who remember why I ended up with 9000 leeks: the ones I started from seed are still just the size of pencils. Unless we set up some lights and start things indoors, I will order starts again next year.

So. Speaking of chickens. Here are the girls practically all grown up. They are beautiful and insane and they have finally figured out who runs the show. Not surprisingly, our two little Rhode Island Reds make up the bottom of the pecking order. Fortunately they have each other. They are sweet, sweet girls and by far the most friendly.

Here’s the middle of the pack: Reepicheep, Rhodie, Big Dot, and Gonzo. Something definitely got decided amongst the girls over the weekend that B and I spent in Savannah; when we came home it was totally clear that Rhodie was in no way going to pull off the top dog spot. She is still kind of a nut but she has really chilled out on always instigating mini face off chest puffing skirmishes. Now she has kind of receded into the middle of the pack because of these girls Big Dot and Gonzo kind of run the show. I am happy about this because I have always fretted about the effects of Gonzo losing her sister to the cat beheading situation but I think we are in the clear there.

And then: Little Dot. She is our beautiful bossy boss. Although she has been seen giving a little nip here and there and doing a lot of chasing around (I shrug at this, surely it’s good for them to have a little excitement), she’s a pretty benign ruler – especially when compared to some roosters I have known. She takes her roll very seriously, and sometimes when I am in the run or reaching into the coop she will come over all business like while her ladies huddle somewhere so she and I can talk all man to man. I usually let her save face and just finish what I’m doing and move out of her way, but sometimes I try to pick her up and all hell breaks loose. May my life always be full of such theatre.

P.S. Thanks for all those lovely comments about the wedding, it was fun to remember it here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spicy Delicious Chickpeas

So. I haven’t told you very much about our wedding, have I? Like that we all walked through a lovely hayfield to get to a beautiful spot of shade under a stand of maples and that from there you could see only trees and field and sky and that is where we married. Or that on the way to that field there was a drift of pigs and piglets who met us delightedly for scratches under the chin and general porcine good will. Or that our favorite couple to play music with stood in the middle of field and sky and played the sweetest twin fiddles you’ve ever heard. Or that just after the ceremony my family surprised us by springing up from their chairs and showering us with hundreds of maple seeds that rained down around us like a million tiny birds in flight. Or that we had a huge square dance and sweet cajun waltzing right in the bright summer afternoon. Or that it rained like hell in the days before the wedding and it rained like hell in the days after the wedding, but that on the day of our wedding the sky yawned open with bright blue sky and pure sunshine and our families and friends walked the farm where we were married picking strawberries and visiting the baby turkeys and picking yarrow (there were but a few rain sprinkles over dinner, just enough for everyone to pop out an umbrella from nowhere and for B and I to sit delightedly looking down the long twin tables at all of the shining faces smiling under their makeshift shelter). Or that after the wedding we all went back to the sweet cottages where we had taken over the place and there was a bonfire, and B played the fiddle and I played the banjo and instruments came out of trunks and there was singing and general post-wedding making of friends and visiting of long lost and near found loved ones. Or that on the morning of the wedding the farm was in quite a state of disarray and that practically my entire family and many of our closest friends (and all my favorite Rachels of course) piled out of cars that morning and grabbed pitchforks and wheelbarrows and tables and chairs and turned the place into the very vision that B and I had been harboring in our minds for months. Or that my dearest lovely friends Dietlind and Kelly saved my sanity by offering to be our kitchen mavens and who along with Hannah ran with winged feet between the farm kitchen and the food table making everything piping hot and just so and neat as a pin and that everyone and their brother wanted to know who the babes with the food were. Or that we had pie instead of cake: blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, and cherry, all made by a woman who grows her own fruit right out the back door and the cherry was as good as anything I’d ever tasted, maybe even better. Or what was for dinner. Which is what I started out to tell you because I know that we’re all here out of a general insatiable appreciation for eating things.

Originally B and I wanted to make our own wedding food. Because we fell in love over many a delicious full plate, because we love to cook, and because getting a decent meal at a wedding is a tall order. So we put together a menu. And then we realized that we were insane. We got married in Maine, meaning about 1000 miles from our own kitchen. Neither of us had ever cooked a meal anywhere even close to the scale of our wedding, and as the logistics of planning the day took shape it was more and more evident that spending the days leading up to it in the kitchen was going to make for two very tired people. So we panicked. And we talked to caterers. And they suggested the very foods we had eaten at every other wedding we had ever been to. And they wanted a lot of money and had a hard time understanding that we didn’t need 100 starched white napkins because Rae and I have enough vintage napkins between the two of us to wipe the mouths of wedding parties twice the number of ours. And then. Then there was Mary. Mary owns The Pepperclub in Portland, where we had our fantastic family gathering the evening before our wedding. And Mary offered to make our wedding food. Just like we would have made it ourselves, from the very recipes we would have used. I tell you, I wept when I realized what she was offering to do for us. So we gathered together our recipes and sent them her way, and when we walked back from the field that afternoon there was a long table covered in bubbling dishes of Spicy Delicious Chickpeas, Lemongrass Chicken Curry, and Gingered Garlic Pork. We heaped them over piles of white rice and balanced the plate with piles of fresh greens with a cool dill dressing. It was delicious. When our friend Raivo turned to me with his mouth full and said, “I feel like I’m eating dinner at your house,” I beamed, and I tell you: I will never forget Mary and her incredible sweet calm unflappable gift to us. During and after the eating we were flooded with requests for the recipes, and while in Savannah I was pointedly reminded by my most favorite father-in-law that I had still not been good on my word, for shame. So. The Lemongrass Curry can be found here. It is amazing, although I would caution you to cube the potatoes into *small* cubes, and likewise we think it tastes great with a bunch of kale thrown in for good measure. Up today: Spicy Delicious Chickpeas. This was the first thing that B ever cooked for me, in my tiny kitchen in my first flat here.

Spicy Delicious Chickpeas

5 tablespoons vegetable
2 medium onions, peeled and minced
8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you wish)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
6 tablespoons diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
40 ounces canned chickpeas OR 4 ½ cups home-cooked chickpeas
2 teaspoons ground roasted cumin seeds
1 tablespoon ground amchoor if you can find it, juice and pulp of 1 small lime if not
2 teaspoons Kashmiri red pepper (Hungarian will do instead)
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 fresh hot green chili, deseeded and minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced or finely grated

Heat the oil in a wide pot over a medium flame. When hot, put in the minced onions and garlic. Sautee until the mixture is a rich medium brown shade. Turn heat to medium low and add the coriander, cumin, (NOT the roasted cumin), cayenne, and turmeric. Stir for a few seconds. Now put in the finely chopped tomatoes. Stir and fry until the tomatoes are well amalgamated with the spice mixture and brown lightly. Add the drained chickpeas and 1 cup water (use cooking juice if you have cooked them yourself). Stir. Add the ground roasted cumin, amchoor (lime), red pepper, garam masala, salt, and lemon juice. Stir again. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Plot your proposal of marriage to the girl laughing in the kitchen. Remove cover and add the minced green chili and grated ginger. Stir and cook, uncovered, for another 30 seconds. This dish is even better the next day.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Weekend Stop

Hello out there you. How were the weekends? We spent it puttering and just trying not to do much of anything, which is kind of a challenge after so much go and do. Plus the first week at the new job left me feeling like my head got chewed off; sometimes university libraries take themselves so seriously, and I am very bad at playing along. I am hopeful that this week it will reduce to a gentle gnawing feeling. So. We played tunes with a dear friend who is possibly our favorite guitar player to play tunes with but you’d never guess because he usually has a fiddle in his hands, we watched an old film, we made loads of fabulous eats, we put up some peaches, and B painted the bathroom. Which is very, very exciting because it was the ugliest room in the house. I will allow that our current color scheme reminds both of us of a YMCA locker room, but it’s cheerful which is saying something since all the tiles are kind of a pasty putty pink. I think he is heartbreakingly handsome when he paints because he wears these special pants that are totally covered with paint from his years as a house painter and he is very Official and Businesslike about it all. See above for photographic evidence.

Anyway. Am I writing about beans too often? Too bad. They are really, really good, and I am just getting the hang of cooking them into silky but intact perfection. Here’s this weekend’s prize:

Scarlett Runner Bean Salad

1 ½ cups dried Scarlet Runner beans
1 carrot
1 small onion
1 bay leaf

Soak beans for at least four hours, more if you have the time. Sautee the carrot, onion, and bay leaf in olive oil until tender, add beans and cover with at least two inches of water. Bring to a hard boil for five minutes and then cook (or pressure cook) the beans slow and low if you have time or higher and faster if you don’t. Drain beans when finished cooking, saving two tablespoons of cooking liquid for the dressing.

1 pepper (ours was from our garden, and golden and sweet)
½ of a small red onion
handful of greens from the garden
fresh herbs as you like, we used some cilantro
any other veggie you think you'd like
feta cheese

Finely chop all of the veggies above.

Make a tasty mustardy dressing using good olive oil, good vinegar (I like to use ume vinegar, but note that it is very salty), lots of pepper, mustard, a dash of sugar, lemon, and reserved cooking liquid (pot liquor, to you bean heads out there). Pour over veggies, mix, add beans, mix. Then crumble and add as much feta cheese as you think suits; we added about ¾ of a cup. Enjoy – I think these kinds of salads are best at room temperature; be sure that the beans are not hot as they will do funky things to your feta. This might be my favorite bean dish so far - the Runner beans are huge and so flavorful and the sharp mustard in the dressing is perfect against the sweet of the peppers.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Guess what's in that envelope above? A brand new social security card bearing my shiny new married up name. How crazy is that??? I think it's pretty crazy. Honestly, I never thought I'd change my name. I love my last name and I love my family and we can be rather rah-rah about being us, which when you are as loner as we all are is very comforting. But then I met B and we fell in love and all of a sudden I really wanted to share a family name with this person and now I do. Crazy. For those in the know, I ditched my spicy middle name (old friends have long joked to me that trying to google me brought up a combination of things about a very famous underwear model and cinnamon laden recipes by a certain very wealthy homemaking guru named Martha) and my old last name is now my middle name. So far I am just being very pushy about saying all three names, which I am doing a lot because I have met 4000 new people at my new job and now I must go meet 3000 more so I'm off.

Garden Eats

Oh goodness. I have not been very good about documenting it, but we have been eating like royalty around our house these days and keeping fresh bouquets in the house at all times. Huge, luscious Cherokee Purples & Black Krim tomatoes, still with the cucumbers, fresh dill, basil, our own red peppers, sunflowers, bachelor buttons, gladiolas, cosmos, black eyed sues. Green beans, summer squash, fresh corn from the farmer's market and friends. As I observed a few weeks ago, summer gardening is just so different from winter gardening, and right now if I had to throw my lot in with one or the other I would say that I'm a winter gardening gal. Contrary to perception, I think it is way easier. The soil is warm when you plant your seeds, the temperatures are cooler so watering is not as much of an issue, and most pests are naturally hibernating in an egg somewhere. This summer gardening, whew! With the heat and the watering and the bugs (overnight we suddenly got a party crew of Harlequin Bugs, lovely to look at and satisfying to smoosh), goodness be. I will confess that I definitely planted too many "winter" veggies - I really thought that my love affair with kale was an all year thing, but it turns out that this is not really the case. When it's hot as hell outside, I want dinner that doesn't require much effort or much stove time, just like everybody else. So a lot of our kale and chard and beet greens did not get eaten, which I have the capacity to kick myself in the shins about BUT: now we have chickens and I just pat myself on the back for growing lovely organic chicken food. I bet those Harlequin Bugs make for tasty eggs! Anyway, next year's summer garden will feature fewer deep leafy greens and even more peppers and summer goodies.

Anyhoo, in the meantime: more beans. At Rachel's enthusiasm for them, we cracked open the Eye of the Goat beans, and oh goodness, aren't they something to look at? We cooked them up with a strip or two of bacon and a carrot and an onion and some thyme and a bay leaf and they were just divine. Simple, sturdy, plump, they kept their shape and their skin. The first night we ate them all alone with slices of fresh tomato and cucumbers in vinegar and dill, but the second night we smashed a goodly few of them and warmed them up for Huevos Rancheros with homemade salsa. Ooph, the life.

May you all be eating well out there.

Southerly Fun

Oh my, we are one busy duo. B and I headed south to Savannah last week to visit B's dad and B's Gale and it was mighty, mighty fun. We ate a platter of seafood that was bigger than you'll ever believe, wandered old cemeteries, lounged in the pool, took high tea, and best of all: they handed over two perfect old cruiser bikes for us to coast through downtown on. It's the only way to go when it's 9 bazillion degrees out and the humidity is practically clouding your eyes. Just a lazy peddle or two to get you a breeze, and really, I could meander between those green square parks for an afternoon and then some. Thanks for the visit and the bikes T & G!

P.S. Rachy, I need a new sunhat! Help!