Sunday, May 31, 2009

If You Like It Then You Shoulda Put A Lid On It

Sometimes, the simplest ideas are often the most revolutionary. Yes We Can, a community canning project in San Francisco, offers a win-win scenario for farmers and consumers alike. Apricots (in June), cucumbers (in July), and tomatoes (in September) are bought from area farmers. Those items are then transformed into canned delicacies. Yes We Can members opt to either purchase a box of completed apricot jam, pickles, or whole & chunked tomatoes, or join in the prep and production at La Cocina, a shared use, incubator kitchen. 

While we're on the subject of community canning, here's a way, way early head's up that yours truly will be demonstrating the pleasures of all things water-bath-canned on July 11th and 13th. Any of you Ashevillians who've always had a hankering to learn about the alchemy of transforming fruit into jam and veggies into pickles, come check me out at Earth Fare in the Westgate shopping center. More details forthcoming....

Oh, and be on the lookout for behind-the-scenes photos in the "Canning & Preserving with Ashley English" book, part of the "Homemade Living" series. We're shooting on Tuesday and Thursday this coming week. Food-tweaking, clock-watching, and cat-lounging are all but guaranteed.

P.S. Small Measure is getting a new look...Let me know what you think once you see it, later this week....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Even Dogs Get the Blues

There's rain, and then there's RAIN. We've been experiencing the latter, along with much of the country. This fact, coupled with
Fly's injury, has reduced Dexter to a moping, bored, chewing mess. Right on the heels of my mentioning to Glenn, "Hey, have you noticed it seems Dexter has finally outgrown his chewing phase?", the Black Mass of Terror chewed up 2 blankets, a tribal rug, a top sheet, and, this morning, a corner of our duvet and its down comforter inside. Good thing I love him so much. And good thing I'm not attached to my things.
To add insult to material injury, Cleo, one of our "sister cats" (not because they are Mormon wives, but because they are, in fact, sisters), decided Dexter was hogging the attention and projectile vomited all over my open laptop yesterday, inducing in me EXTREME HEART POUNDING. Mind you, this is the very same laptop I'm using to pen my book series. Her timing couldn't have been better, though, as I'm between books. Well played, Cleo. 

Chewed up textiles, regurgitated-upon laptops (it's in the shop for who knows how long-borrowing Glenn's laptop in the meantime-thanks G!!!), grandmothers in hospitals (she's home now), mothers needing double knee replacement surgery, and then a flooded-out chicken run this morning make for many a heavy sigh around the 'ole English estate. There must be a statute of limitations on bad things that can happen to one household, right? 

The good news, however, is that books number 3 & 4 have been approved, as of yesterday! Comin' atcha Spring 2011 will be "Home Dairy with Ashley English" and "Beekeeping with Ashley English" in the Homemade Living series. Tell your friends! Tell your readers! Tell your grannies and grandpops and aunts and uncles and second cousins! And tell me some good things happening on your end in the meantime. I could use some tales of bliss and joy and revelry!

*Please pardon the "Hounds of the Baskervilles" glow in my pooches' eyes. The aforementioned rain has made our already darkened hamlet in the forest even more dim, inducing the need for a flash. Although, Dexter does now look like the Devil Dog he actually is......

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chicks and the City

Did you happen to catch the story on NPR's "All Things Considered" the other day about the rise in urban chicken-keeping? If not, I highly recommend it. Research for my own book can attest to the steady march forward of backyard poultry enthusiasm. "Chicken tenders," as I like to lovingly refer to them, cover a wide range of ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographic areas. 
As the ATC story shows, chickens aren't just for overall-sporting-multi-acre-owning- farmers anymore. They're simply another component of increasing interest in re-directing food pathways, creating sustainable food networks, and exercising a bit more control over where our food comes from. 
Are you keeping chickens, or do you have plans to do so? Do you have any friends with a hankering for two-legged, winged, and feathered friends? 

*Image from here. The "Chicken Whisperer" mentioned in the ATC story, keeps a regular column on Grit. Atlanta peeps, the whisperer is the man to seek out if you're looking for some chicken love. Ur, you know what I mean...

Monday, May 18, 2009

I Just Can't Get Enough

I really love this. By the end, without even realizing it, tears were rolling off my cheeks. Happiness tears. Unexpected tears. The best kind!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What's Going On

A bench for contemplation and resting weary bones. 
The decorative items festooning my neck are dog leashes because, that's how I roll. 
We're thinking this is a pear tree. The jury is still out, though. 
Super Dexta will hopefully bring us some super $$$. 

Plowman's Progress

Jonathan, our friendly farmer with whom we've entered into a land share agreement, has been tricking out the fields and hoop house like nobody's business. The before and after pictures are truly stunning. Not only is he putting in a variety of crops to sell at market, but he's also been using the land to teach other interested aspiring farmers about organic growing practices. Now if only the rain will let up and I can get busy tending to my own spot 'o green......

Friday, May 15, 2009

This Is How We Do It

Jam Session

Whew. What a whirlwind the last two weeks have been! For starters, it's been raining like blueprints for an ark should be drawn up. Also, I hosted two incredibly kind friends of Glenn's for 4 days. They caught us trout-in a real mountain stream!-which was transformed into fish tacos, plus, gave us a generous gift certificate to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, so, Joel, T.J., my door is open to you, anytime. 
Then my fantastic and vivacious cousin Kristy, who lives in Philadelphia (home to most of my tribe, aside from the Carolina and Florida contingent), came to check out Asheville, and stayed with us for a few nights. Last Saturday, we hosted a Indian Supper Club potluck so she could meet some of my crew. Friends came with homemade naan, chicken tikka, curries, rosewater-drenched gulab jamun, and more! Glenn and I made saag paneer (I made the paneer!), tandoori shrimp, daal, raita, apricot chutney, mango lassies, coconut rum & rosé & mango & pineapple sangria, cardamom carrot cake, and indian rice pudding. Of course I forgot to take pictures, but with all the guests and Bollywood films and music and bindi-affixing and bonfire-lighting and injured dog-attending, you might come to understand how that could have happened.  
Right on the heels of the Indian blowout came two photo shoots for the "Canning & Preserving" book. Lynne Harty again worked her photographic magic, Chris Bryant crafted exquisite vignettes, and Nicole McConville kept us all in line (right, Freddy?). 
We munched on pickles, tweaked toast with jam, and prayed that the pressure canner would behave (which it did, with some man-handling from Chris). 
The books in this series are going to be truly gorgeous, folks. I can't wait to share them with you! More photos to come. 
*Regrets on the grainy quality of the photos. The battery died in the camera I'd hoped to use and I still haven't mastered use of the one I keep always in my purse, "just in case." Clearly, I'm no pro, which is why I'm the author, and not the photographer. I provide "glimpses," not "clarity." 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fruit For All

For those living in regions where fruit blossoms continually, or at least rather abundantly in season, I'd argue that nothing can sadden the heart more intensely than a pile of rotting, or branch-ripened but unharvested, edibles. The folks at Fallen Fruit have found the cure. This art collective, based in L.A., develops neighborhood maps of fruit available for public picking. They sponsor public fruit walks along with public jam-making workshops, using the bounty scored during their urban fruit hunts. 
This is such a fabulous idea, and one that couldn't be more timely, given the rising interest in local foods and food security. Do you know of any public fruit caches where you live? Around Asheville, swells of wild blueberries are available for the picking up on the Blue Ridge Parkway come late Summer. When August rolls around, I'll happily be the one with the violet stained fingers. 

*Small Measure: Wild forage! It's entirely possible to eat for free more often than you might think. Fruits that have fallen off the vine, berries growing determinedly in wild bramble, dandelion greens peeking through parking lot cracks, chickweed spreading itself along sidewalks-it's all there for the taking! 

*Image from

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

Back in March, when I was busy Freecycling odd bits of the old hoop houses, I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful couple who run a nature-based preschool here in Asheville. Natureplay Preschool  believes, in their own words: 

"Play-based learning for the whole child is the key to Natureplay's approach to child development. We recognize our task is to support the development of the minds and spirits of the children. We are mindful of our actions in guiding the children taking care that these actions are best practices in the field and supported by published scientific research into child development." 

Although I don't yet have children, this is exactly the sort of environment I would want them to learn in. With Summer quickly approaching, Asheville moms and dads might want to consider Natureplay Preschool when making plans for keeping wee ones happily occupied. I might be biased here, and I do have some fond memories of the place, but I'd be willing to wager that Natureplay would beat out Chuckie Cheese's every time. 

*Image from here

Friday, May 1, 2009

New Friends

Our efforts at the new garden space, previously occupied by the two hoop houses I sold back in February, are starting to pay off. Here are some emerging pea shoots. 
The spinach is coming in beautifully, although the ground beneath it could definitely benefit from a hard rain, or a heavy dusting of mulch. 
The beets have got it goin' on. 
Carrot tops. 
Radishes, which I plan to eat with butter and sea salt, à la Orangette. By the way, her book will make you laugh and cry. Buy it. Read it. Cook from it. Love it. 

As they were only recently planted, I don't yet have photos for the 5 varieties of lettuce, 2 varieties of fennel, cilantro, and chives I've also planted. We're in the process of building eight 4'x8' raised beds (made of heavy plank pine, at both 10" and 12" high) in which to plant all of the heat-loving plants I have growing inside. More photos to come as the saga continues. Come canning time, my pantry will be PACKED! 

*Small Measure: Plant organic seeds. I opted for Johnny's and Territorial, as well as High Mowing. Heirloom company Bakers Creek is a perennial favorite as well (be forewarned-their catalogue is straight-up produce porn; you will want everything you see!). Purchasing organically provides you with a foundation of clean, healthy plants, ensures financial viability for organic producers, and promotes genetic diversity.