Sunday, January 31, 2010

Frenemies, Round Two

A temporary truce settles among my animals when the mercury drops. You might remember Dexter's similar behavior last winter. It's just one big house of equal opportunity warmth seizers around here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Little House on the Knob

From last night. I think we're up to around 9" right now, with the possibility for more before sundown. Power's on, though, the wood stove is roasting, sipping a latte, working on the sixth chapter in "Keeping Bees." So far, so good.

*It's hard to capture a still photo of dogs who enjoy snow as much as mine. Dexter practically squealed with delight when we let him out (there's a reason one of his many, many nicknames is "Pig"). At least some members of our household appreciate the white fluff for just what it is.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Here Comes the Snow, Again

Falling on my head like a memory...

That bent birch branch (say that 10 times fast!) in the top photo is a vestige of last month's snowpocalypse, as is the dismembered top of the magnolia. Here's hoping for no repeats!

Time For Tea

Happy Friday, everyone! We're on the verge of yet another wintery blast, slated to make it's frigid appearance later this afternoon. While I wish we had a bit more firewood on hand (the gentleman we hired to bring us wood has only delivered half of the cord and won't return my calls inquiring about the other half; if any of you Ashevillians know a reliable source of properly seasoned hardwood firewood, I'd love to hear about them), I think we'll be good for up to 3-4 days, should we loose power again. Otherwise, we're set!

My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. Today's topic, "Time for Tea", explores the multi-sensory benefits of imbibing tea. I'm drinking a cup of my homemade chai as I type! Nothing like a hearty dose of ginger, honey, spices, and black tea to warm up the belly and fortify the immune system!

Stay warm and dry this weekend!
*Image from here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wisdom of the Ancients

The description on my "Wisdom of the Trees "calender for this month indicates that "Trees set a relaxed pace."

It goes on to say, "Studies suggest that trees have the ability to curb road rage when they're planted in urban environments. Being enveloped by lush green lanes as opposed to stark surroundings that consist only of asphalt and concrete not only reduces drivers' blood pressure-it also reduces the perceived time it takes to get from one destination to the next."

How incredibly wise of them.

Much like the cuteness of babies makes you want to stick around and care for all of their many needs, the calming, placating effect of trees makes us want to have them around. The stewardship goes both ways. They purify our air and relax us, while we provide space for them to continue to grow and thrive.

They've got us wrapped around their sturdy limbs, haven't they?

The tree above is the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland. It's estimated age is between 2,000-5,000 years. I'm sure it has some stories to tell. No doubt its charm, and calm, are a testament to its longevity. Perhaps that's the secret-the more we work towards helping others around us achieve a calm, relaxed state, the more charming we become, and the more lengthy lives we'll then lead, as they'll want to keep us around....

For a list of other wise, long-lived trees, look here.

*Image from here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bohemien Rhapsody

I love a good story. I also love a good cocktail. When the good story and the good cocktail interact, well, then I'm pretty much smitten.

Such was the case recently with a beverage encountered whilst dining with my lovely editor, and best gal pal, Nicole. She was graciously treating me to dinner at The Admiral, a little gem of a restaurant/bar in West Asheville that set up shop just over a year ago and has since experienced wild success (I just firmed up a Valentine's Day reservation there today, which will undoubtedly be sublime in every imaginable way). We'd both opted to have one of their signature cocktails, "The Admiralflower." It was love at first sip. A mixture of St. Germain, champagne, and lemons, I would gladly, and liberally, drink the Admiralflower to the exclusion of all other beverages (while I might regret it the next morning, I would accept my forthcoming hair-of-the-dog fate willingly).

Here's the bit about the good story/good cocktail intersection. For those of you unfamiliar with St. Germain, it is an artisanal French liquor made from hand-picked elderflower blossoms. You can read the story in detail here, but the gist of it goes something like this: Every year, for but a few ephemeral Spring days, a handful of Frenchmen, known as "un bohemien" (there are only 40-50 in the world), handpick wild elderflower blossoms in the French Alps, and then bicycle those blossoms (BICYCLE THEM!!!) in large sacks down the mountainside, where they sell the blossoms at market. Can't you just see it: mustachioed, craggy-faced, cigarette-lipped "Bohemiens", delicately cradling fragrant elderflower blossoms, undoubtedly wearing berets and frayed blazers with suede elbow patches all the while?

I can't imagine anything so decidedly slow-paced and anachronistic, where beverages are concerned. This appeals to me on so many levels-the loving attention to something fragile and delicate, the fleeting nature of the blossoms and the powerhouse of fragrance they exude, the emphasis on region and season and preservation. The fact that St. Germain possesses one of the most exquisitely palate-pleasing flavors I have ever encountered (you know how honeysuckle smells? that's how St. Germain tastes) just seals the deal. I know what I'll be drinking on Valentine's Day.

*Image from here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Winter Citrus Can Jam

I don't know if it's the recent prolonged cold spell, or simply the usual drab, dullness of winter, but I can't seem to get enough citrus in my life these days. I'm not alone here, either. Studio Choo's recent Citrus & Rosemary post, along with Grace's nod (both on Design Sponge) to the puckery fruits bear witness to just how enamored many of us seem to be lately with all things citrus. Even the New York Times' own Mark Bittman recently posted this recipe extolling the unparalleled flavor of the brightly colored orbs (with a hint of tarragon, no less-genius!).

And for good reason. Winter is peak time for a number of citrus fruits. From clementines to honeybells (I hate to pick favorites, but, if backed into a corner and forced to choose camps, I'd choose honeybells), grocery stores and produce stands are currently offering a veritable orchard of citrus delights. I'm just as large an advocate of eating seasonally as I am eating locally, and the season for citrus is right now. The nutritional profile and flavor of offerings from Temple oranges to Honey tangerines are top tier. And so, today's small measure is all about enjoying, and whenever possible, extending (via home canning) the deliciousness of winter citrus.

My husband and I both have family in Florida. Mine recently festooned us in person with a smattering of everything from meyer lemons to grapefruits and kumquats, while his just shipped us our annual allotment from a neighboring orchard. Suffice to say, we're awash in a world of citrus. To use up our glorious orbs, I made this Roasted Orange Tart. I've squeezed fresh juice for breakfast. I'm considering a citrus trifle from this lady. I also padded around in my p.j.'s earlier this week and created a Triple Citrus & Star Anise Marmalade.

As a participant in the ongoing year-long "Can Jam" challenge hosted by blogger Tigress in a Jam (as well as Tigress In a Pickle), I knew I needed to concoct something citrusy anyways. Each month, Tigress (or her participants) choose one seasonally available ingredient to render into a canned item. This month's selection was the general category of "citrus." Lucky me. I've got everything I need on hand, and then some. The sweet and sour blend is perfect for hot buttered toast, the anise giving it just the perfect hint of licorice-y sweetness and intrigue. You could also plop a dollop into thumbprint cookies or even spoon some over roasted chicken.

In the meantime, I've still got that mountain of citrus to contend with. Any suggestions you might have would be immensely appreciated!

Triple Citrus & Star Anise Marmalade

Yield: Approximately 7 pint jars.

The Goods:

-4 tangerines

-4 oranges

-4 lemons

-6 c. water

-6 star anise

-6 c. granulated sugar

The Deal:

-Place two small plates in the freezer (these will be used later to test for gelling).

-Quarter all of the fruits. Once quartered, separate the peel from the flesh. Chop the flesh up into small pieces, removing seeds as you see them. Place seeds in a muslin tea bag. The seeds contain a good deal of pectin and will aid in thickening the marmalade. Thinly slice the peel into long strips, then cut the strips into smaller, 1/2-inch pieces.

-Put seed bag, fruit flesh, sliced peel, and water in a heavy, large stainless steel soup or stock pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 5 minutes, cover, and remove from heat. Allow to cool at room temperature overnight or for at least 8 hours.

-Remove lid from pot, and place over medium heat. Add star anise. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer; cook for 15 minutes. Add sugar, stir, and continue cooking over low heat for 45 minutes or until mixture reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer.

-About 30 minutes into the cooking time, you'll want to begin prepping the canner, jars, and lids. Sterilize 7 pint-sized mason jars, lids, and screw. Fill a canner or large stockpot with water and set over medium-high heat. Bring just to boiling point. Place lids in a small saucepan, fill with water, bring to a boil, turn off heat, remove from stovetop, and set aside.

-Test for gelling. Remove one plate from the freezer and spoon about 1 tsp. of the marmalade onto it. Place back in the freezer and wait two minutes. Remove the plate from the freezer and push the edge of the marmalade with your fingertip. If it is gelled properly, the surface will wrinkle a bit. If it fails to wrinkle, or is obviously still runny, continue cooking the marmalade for 5 minutes longer and then repeat the test.

- Place hot jars on top of a kitchen cloth on the counter. Remove seed bag from marmalade, squeezing to remove any juices. With the help of a canning funnel, pack marmalade into jars, reserving ¼ -inch headspace. I added one star anise to each jar for aesthetic purposes, but feel free to just remove and compost them if you'd prefer. Use a non-metallic spatula to remove any trapped air bubbles and wipe rims clean with a damp cloth. Place on lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.

- Using a jar lifter, place jars in canner. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude. Check to se that the jars have sealed properly, label, and store in a cool, dark area.

*This article is cross-posted today on Design Sponge.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sowing the Seeds

There's a chill in the air, we had a new delivery of firewood for the wood stove earlier in the week, we're cooking wintery things like pureed celeriac, beets, turnips, blue potatoes, and rutabaga (Glenn) and creme carmel bread pudding (me) and yet lately all I can think about is getting back into the garden and growing things. While we don't typically have truly harsh winters here (the protracted recent cold snap notwithstanding), they're just long enough that I start getting antsy right about now for warm soil, budding green shoots, and dirt-stained knees on my pants.

Fortunately, I have seed catalogues to curl up with and savor. For the crops that I want to get a jump start on, like tomatoes, I'll collect a variety of seeds, tuck them into some potting soil, and then gently coax them into being underneath fluorescent lighting. This month's Hobby Farm Home has an easy tutorial on building your own indoor seed starting "condo,"as they call it.

Asheville has a great, local seed source I've mentioned on here before called Sow True Seeds. I just put in an order for a catalogue today. In addition to Sow True, other seed companies I routinely order from include:
Also, my blogging buddy Kristen, over in the Bay Area, turned me on to Kitazawa Seed Co., a California supplier specializing in Asian vegetables.

Do you have suppliers that you especially enjoy? Anyone specializing in unusual or heirloom varieties? For fruit and nut trees and bushes, I particularly like Stark Brothers.

The rush to get a flavorful, fragrant, and visually appealing garden is on!

*Image from here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

And the Kumquat 5-Spice Marmalade Goes To...

Kate, who blogs over at Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking. Congratulations! And thank you so very much to all of you who commented. Sounds like there's a lot of kumquat novices out there. Now's the ideal time of year, though, to seize the golden orbs and experience their heady rush of sweet and sour!

I'll be back again the first Monday of February for another giveaway. Hard to believe we're getting so close to the publication of the first two books in the Homemade Living series! Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving will be available for purchase in mere months!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Being & Nothingness

We've had a miniature warm-up here the past few days, just enough to begin coaxing some of the remaining snow and ice to start slacking off a little. Hopefully, the frozen springs in our driveway (rendering it into a flowing sheet of ice more at home in Siberia than western N.C.) will begin to ease up. Makes it hard to get deliveries of chimney parts or throw dinner parties when the drivers are worrying about slipping off of the icy, climbing stretch and plunging headfirst into the creek running adjacent to it. 

My Design Sponge "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up. This week: "The Art of Loafing." My tendency to over-plan and then over-stress about not fulfilling all of my plans has been over-ridden lately by enjoying just being. The frigid weather forcing me indoors has definitely helped in that department. When it's dark and freezing outside at 6 p.m., who wouldn't want to take an extra-long bath, slowly sip a glass of wine while staring into the wood stove, or curl up in bed with a good read? 

May your weekends all be filled with open spaces, day-planner-free days, and pointless contentment! Oh, and don't forget to enter this month's "Small Measure Can-Do Giveaway" to try and win my Kumquat 5-Spice Marmalade. Deadline for entry is midnight on Monday. 
*Image from here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ice Age

The frozen precipitation from the snowpaclypse that occurred 4 weeks ago tomorrow is still on the ground out here. FOUR WEEKS! I find it pretty and poetic and light-reflecting and all of that, but, well, I'm pretty ready for it to move on. My winter garden is still blanketed under, the chickens want their yard back, and I'd like to not worry about breaking my neck on the icy path to the coop each morning. 
Not whining, just sayin'...

Homeland Security

My husband has never been much of one for doing things halfway. If I want eggs for breakfast, I get a potato/tortilla/peperjack cheese frittata of transcendent flavor and texture. If I need him to hang a picture, he busts out the leveler, changes the hook in the back, and squares it off expertly. Birthday and holiday gifts involve a great deal of thought and attention, for myself and those around him. It's no surprise then that when we decided to shore up the coop after losing Uno, he would rock it like no other. 
Over the course of several days, he has erected a laser-like kaleidoscope of colored rope over the top of the run. The idea is that a predator bird would have to be some sort of aviary gymnast to deftly maneuver through such an obstacle course (a la 'The Night Fox' in Ocean's 12-I really, really love that song). It's not completely finished, as I've yet to fulfill my part, hanging up lots of cd's from the colored ropes to even further confuse our aerial friends (Yes, "friends," not foes. I've decided not to harbor any ill will towards the hawk/owl/what-have-you; it was cold and hungry and my chickens were out past sunset and it went for it, as is it's nature). However, preliminary reports from the remaining flock (we're 4 strong now) are good, with lots of confident pecking, striding, preening, and clucking observed. 

Our own Fort Knox, done up poultry-style. Thanks for bringing it, G. You're a keeper. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Close Encounters

The dogs have decided to wrestle right beside me, so I'm writing this post from a rather precarious location...and, much better. Move along, buddies, move along. 

We've set up a wintertime feeding hub for the birds, located just outside the kitchen windows. Glenn grabbed this shot of a Red Bellied Woodpecker (who I've dubbed "Thor" because, you know, he brings the hammer and all that) while we were noshing on buttermilk & currant bread french toast (seasoned with cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg-Glenn knows how to bring the flavor) and sipping fresh squeezed o.j.. 

It's been bird central ever since we installed and filled the feeders. I can't get enough of it. We live in this forest packed full of life and end up so estranged from it. With the addition of the bird feeders, the hummingbird feeders later in the year, the scented plants and bushes I've added around the property, the vegetable garden, the bees and the chickens, we've finally begun experiencing more direct encounters with our winged/feathered/furry/slithering/multi-cellular neighbors. I plan to continue to get to know them all much, much better. 

My post on "Winter Preparedness" (or "In Your Face, Jack Frost!") is up over on my "Small Measures with Ashley" column on Design Sponge. Here's hoping we all move out of this frigid foray soon. Have a lovely weekend. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Catching Up

Yesterday was all about catching up. Since the family visit, and then with Uno's passing (Glenn is working like a predator ninja fortifying the aerial part of the run-photos forthcoming), I've been a bit behind the 8-ball. I'm getting back on track, though, with plenty of writing, editing, and copyediting to attend to, not to mention a host of baking projects. 
I spent the better part of yesterday in my sweet new L.L. Bean flannel jammies (thanks, Devan!), stirring, churning, boiling, and otherwise making a mess of the kitchen. Output included the above spiced pear bundt cake (the recipe for which can be found in this book and fluffy, ethereal marshmallows (totally worth the mess-look here for instructions). Still trying to figure out what I'll render all the fruit brought by my father's wife, Gail, into. She, along with my sister Theo, gathered up boatloads of citrus in Florida before their visit last week, festooning me with a medley of kumquats, meyer lemons, grapefruit, tangerines, and navel oranges. It's impossible to have too much citrus. Fresh juice, marmalade, orangettes, and other pluckery delights will soon be ours! 
Cleo and Kali took my kitchen alchemy in stride, never veering too far from their strategic position adjacent to the wood stove. Stay warm, all. It's wicked cold. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

Small Measure Can-Do Contest, Round 7

It's the beginning of a new month, not to mention a new year, which means that it's already time again for another Small Measure Giveaway! For those of you new to the contest, or to this blog, I'm staging a giveaway each month from now until the release of my book, Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English. Each month one lucky person will win an artfully crafted canned item featured in the book and made by yours truly. 

From my pantry to yours, this month I'll be giving away a jar of Kumquat 5-spice Marmalade. I know I keep saying that each item I giveaway is one of my favorites. I've mentioned my love of Cardamom Apple Butter and Spiced Pear Chutney. This item, though, truly takes the cake. Because I've run out of superlatives, we'll just say that it is "highly covetable." My editor, who also is one of my closest, dearest friends, gobbled up her jar in about one day. It's spoon-worthy. Great on toast, of course, but resplendent on cheesecake, ice cream, and cupcakes, too. I'm sure it would also compliment a sandwich of cold cuts just as well as it would snuggle in expertly with some blue cheese. Kumquats are available now in many grocery stores (in the northern hemisphere, that is), as they, like most citrus fruits, truly come into their own this time of year. 

To enter: Simply leave a comment to THIS specific post by telling me your favorite way of cooking or serving or simply eating kumquats. Your comment MUST link to your particular blog or web site (and therefore to your contact information) or include your e-mail address. Otherwise, I won't be able to get in touch with you if you win! Any entries that do not include some way of getting in touch will be disqualified. 

Deadline: Comments must be received by midnight EST January 18th, 2010. Odds of winning will depend on the number of eligible entries received. 

Other rules:
1. You must have a mailing address in the United States of America (sorry international folks!).
2. Only one entry comment per person. 

How it works: Each comment will be assigned a sequential number. The winning number will be selected from a random number generator, so there'll be no favorites, simply a game of chance. 

Keep coming back each month to see what new tasty item is up for grabs! 

Love & Loss

I've never been particularly good at curtailing my emotions. Certain commercials for brand name coffee and supermarket companies make my eyes tear and a lump swell up in my throat every time. When I meet a new friend I click with, I become positively jubilant. I hold the people that I love very close to my heart and profess that love to them effusively and often. There's a reason Glenn has dubbed me a "compulsive divulger." 

This tendency of mine generally works in my favor. People know exactly where they stand with me and I find an opportunity to clear out my tear ducts every few days.  On occasion, though, it backfires. When I am hurt, or disappointed, I feel it profoundly. Wearing one's heart on one's sleeve leaves one exposed to all manner of potential wounding. 

And so it was this past Saturday evening that the loss of a faithful companion hit me hard. My beloved hen Uno met an untimely demise. I'll spare you the gruesome details, but suffice to say, her death must have come swiftly as, quite literally, she lost her head. I was the first to find her, in the dark, as Glenn and I returned from a family outing around 7 p.m. to lock up the henhouse. She was on the snow, inside the chicken run, directly in front of the entrance gate. I felt like I'd been hit with a snow shovel in the gut. 

Honestly, I had no idea I would react so intensely to the death of one of my chickens. I'd braced myself since day one for the potential for death. These creatures live outside, straddling a wild/domesticated fence, and are at all times at risk from potential illnesses, cold, and predators. No amount of mental preparation readies you for a death, though. Especially when my flock is so small. Especially because I then began experiencing an enormous amount of guilt, that if I'd gotten home right at sundown (as is my usual course with my chickens), that I could have prevented her death. The truth, though, is that any of my flock of 5 could pass on at any time. Chickens, just like humans, are fragile, just like all beings, really. Everything is temporary, anyways, right? We're all just passing through.

Uno was a true gem. She was wildly affectionate, letting me pet and pick her up, even soliciting "hugs", if you can let yourself imagine that. She was a good layer and a fun friend and she will be missed. She provided love and laughter and nourishment and just the right amount of time together. Her passing reminds me of just how tenuous of a contract with life we all have. Forgiving grievances, keeping no record of wrongs, saying you're sorry, and telling those you love just how much you do, and telling them often, is Uno's enduring legacy to me. Rest in peace, sweet friend. 

*Image courtesy of Lark Books, provided by the enormously gifted Lynne Harty, taken at my coop November 2008. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hijinks & Shenanigans

It's been a wild and raucous barrel of laughs this week, which is why I've been so scarce around here. My father, his wife, my two sisters, and both of my brothers and their wives descended to Asheville from Tampa, Florida, South Bend, Indiana, Charlotte, NC, and Norfolk, VA respectively earlier in the week. We've been painting the town red ever since. 

There has been some hearty chuckling, some ravenous eating, some glass clinking, and lots and lots of back rubbing (for which my family is infamous; get to know us and eventually you'll get your back rubbed, too-it's an initiation right). There has been some tepid hot tub soaking (Hot Springs Spa might want to consider a name change). There has been some big house viewing. There has been some youtube watching. Today, there will be some brunch feasting, followed by some neighborhood gazing (I'm trying to convince the parentals that Asheville is where it's at). 

I wish you all a year filled with the best of everything. My big learning curve this past year, and what I carry with me into the new one, is that, cliche as it might sound, you really can do anything you want. You have to start small, of course (this blog is named "small measures" because I'm a huge proponent of their accrued value). You have to start sensibly (if you want to win the lottery, stop praying that you one day might without doing anything about it and go ahead and pick up a Powerball ticket from the gas station). And, of course, you have to start. My girl Jenna said it perfectly over at Cold Antler Farm (check out "One Hour Better" from this past Monday): "If everyone could just see the day as 24 chances to make their life a little better, imagine the resolutions that could be met? I try to be an hour better, every hour, and hope those choices add up into something I can grasp with both hands." 

I've learned that, if I want to be a full-time, stay-at-home writer, I've got to start writing from home, full-time. If I want a voice in the design world that rubs shoulders with the homesteading and environmental lifestyle worlds, I've got to get in touch with people already pursuing those paths. If I want to dabble in a fiction book series (I'm SERIOUSLY stirring the pot of creative ideas these days, folks), I've got to start writing it, developing and naming characters, and researching my plot line. If you want something, anything, really, start chinking away at achieving it. Chances are, it won't happen instantly. It might not even happen quickly. But, over time, with small measures everyday, it'll happen.