Saturday, July 31, 2010

Canbassadorship to the Nation

(The cache)
(Apricot & Nutmeg Preserves)
(Poached Apricots & Cherries with Cinnamon)
(Pickled Cherries with Chinese 5-Spice Blend)
(Poached Apricots & Cherries with Cloves)

Those of you that know me personally are all too well aware that I've been engaged in a love affair with the state of Washington for some time. From its snow-capped peaks to its rugged coastline, from its temperate rain forests to its profusion of islands, the state has long called to me with its siren song.

Imagine, then, my profound joy at receiving an e-mail from Annie, a representative for the Washington State Fruit Commission, asking if I'd be interested in serving as a "Can-basssador" for the state's soft fruits. Would I like to receive free, ripe, fresh, delicious, succulent fruits to render into jars of preserved bliss? Is the pope catholic? You bet I'd like to enjoy a bit of Washington's finest!

And so, within a week, I was the proud recipient of a box containing 30 apricots and 7 1/2 pounds of sweet Rainier cherries. With fresh fruit, in the summer, in an un-airconditioned house, you've got to shake a leg. No dilly-dallying, waiting around for a day when you "feel" like canning; you make that feeling happen. As such, I set about on several marathon early morning canning sessions this week. The above delicacies are the end result of my sweaty labor of love.

In the final analysis, the fine fruits of Washington state offered to me resulted in: 4 pints of pickled cherries with homemade Chinese 5-spice (I used Leena's recipe, but made my own Chinese 5-spice blend, the information for which can be found in the "Kumquat 5-Spice Marmalade" in my "Canning & Preserving" book), 4 pints of poached apricots & cherries with whole spices (including cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves), and 6 half-pints of apricot preserves with freshly ground nutmeg. I've got a large, pitted and stemmed bag of cherries waiting in the freezer at home (couldn't get to them before leaving for vacation on Friday and I'm still not yet certain if I'll turn them into homemade maraschino cherries, make them into cherry marmalade, or just dump them into a big cherry pie). I'm SO looking forward to pairing up these delicious delicacies during the approaching cooler months with the likes of baked brie, orange polenta cake, and hot buttered toast.

I invite you to take a peek at Sweet Preservation, the website developed by the organization. Not only is it rife with helpful canning tips, it's got a number of gorgeous downloadable canning labels. All of the labels were created by Etsy crafters, each designed with a fresh, modern feel for today's canning enthusiast (I especially love the yearly calender label-genius idea!).

So, if you love to can, and you love summer stone fruits, and you come upon a bounty of Washington's cherries, apricots, peaches, or plums, I highly encourage you to grab them up and put time in a bottle, made possible through the gentle alchemy of canning. I promise you, it's worth the hot-kitchen-in-the-summertime effort, offering up the sweetest reward.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Herbal Sun Teas & Simple Syrups

Happy Friday, everyone! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. This week I wax rhapsodic over the ease and incomparable flavor made possible through herbal sun teas and simple syrups. Pictured above on our porch railing are: (from left to right) thyme & lemon, rosemary, pineapple sage & fresh ginger, and peppermint & bee balm sun teas. See what's growing in your yard or available at your local farmer's market and set some tea of your own to sun-shining!

I'm so excited today! In just a few short hours, I'll be on a plane to Tampa to visit with my father, sisters, my father's wife, and a whole mess of other family members and friends. Pops has rented a gargantuan home in Palm Coast, just south of St Augustine, which we'll load into the car and drive to tomorrow.

We all camped out there last year, as well, and I'm hoping this year proves to be a repeat all of the lazy river floating, pool-side lounging, novel reading, ice cream-eating, delicious meal-cooking, frozen beverage-imbibing (sans hooch, this year!), ocean-gazing, nap-taking, silly film-watching, board game-playing, sister-chatting, porch-rocking, and other goodness that occurred then.

Sadly, G. won't be going with me, as our much loved friend, and long-time house-sitter, crossed coasts this week to set up house in California. With 5 geriatric cats, 2 young dogs, 4 hens, and 2 beehives to attend to, one of us had to stay. So, I'm heading out today, while G. will travel next Friday to Dallas for 5 days of cutthroat word-smithing at the National Scrabble competition.

Have a great weekend, all!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cucurbit Love

This month's Can Jam (selected by across-the-pond homesteader Gloria, of the imminently inspiring Laundry, etc.) celebrates all things cucurbit. Encompassing that much loved network of extended, yet similar, kin, cucurbits include melons, squashes (all of them-zucchini, winter, summer, pumpkins, etc.), cucumbers, and luffas. Although most cucurbits are inclined towards vining, some appear as shrubs or trees.

I've yet to meet a curcubit I don't love. From my recent prego-induced watermelon ravaging benders (and yes, it is entirely possible to have too much of a good thing) to pumpkin butter, zucchini bread and beyond, I'll gladly consume any cucurbit you put in my path with gusto. I even like saying the word. Cucurbit. Reminds me robust croaks emanating from the tiny throats of frogs and toads. But I digress...

If pressed to choose a favorite, if backed into a corner and threatened with permanent obstruction lest I select a preferred cucurbit, I'd have to go with cucumbers. During hot summers (this one certainly being no exception), I've been known to form a meal from sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, sprinkled over heavily with sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. The preferred method for cucumber consumption chez English, however, is pickles. Hands down. We eat pickles all year long, especially dill pickles. Nothing fancy. Nothing exotic. Just simple, straight-up, heavy on the fresh dill, dill seeds, garlic cloves, and black pepper, dill pickles. Crunchy and sour in all the right ways, in my house, dill pickles can cure whatever ails you.

From my book, I offer you classic dill pickles. They might just become your new favorite thing.


For many, a sandwich just isn’t a sandwich unless accompanied by a dill pickle. In my opinion, their pungent saltiness is the perfect lunchtime companion. Aside from an overnight soak, this canning classic is ready in no time. Yield: 8 pints.

You will need:

- 6 pounds pickling cucumbers

- ½ c. + ¼ c. pickling salt (divided)

- 4 c. white vinegar

- 3-½ c. water

- 8 garlic cloves, peeled

- 4 tsp. dill seed

- 8 fresh dill heads (if unavailable, use 4 tsp. dried dill)

- 3 tsp. black peppercorns

To make:

-Rinse cucumbers in cold water. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush to loosen any hidden soil. Remove a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber (if you can’t tell which end is the blossom end, just take a thin slice off of each end). Place cucumbers in a non-reactive bowl, add ½ c. pickling salt, cover with water, place a plate or towel over the top, and set in a cool place or the refrigerator overnight or for 8 hours.

-Drain off the brining solution. Rinse cucumbers thoroughly to remove salt residue. Set aside.

-Sterilize 8 mason jars, lids, and screw rings.

-In a medium-sized stainless-steel pan, combine vinegar, water, and ¼ c. pickling salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

-Into each sterilized jar, place 1 garlic clove, ½ tsp. dill seeds, 1 dill head or ½ tsp. dried dill, and 8 black peppercorns.

-Pack cucumbers into each jar and cover with vinegar solution. Leave ½-inch headspace. 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.

-Process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Host A Canning Party!

Hi folks! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. In recognition of this weekend's Can-A-Rama being sponsored by the good folks at Canning Across America, this week's topic discusses hosting a canning party. A great way to use up extra produce whilst chatting it up with your buddies, canning parties are THE social event of the harvest season.

In other news, Glenn and I are serving as hosts to Sara, Thor, and little Henry Jensen for the next few days. You might remember me mentioning Sara several months ago, with our auspicious internet meeting. Well, we've now met real-time and the Jensen clan is all that and a bag of chips.

Happy weekending, everyone!

*Image courtesy of Lark Books.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Auntie Love

As I mentioned yesterday, my sisters were absolute workhorses (along with G.) during their visit. They moved all of the furniture out of what will be Nugget's room (it was our guest room), moved all sorts of things around in the office/additional guest room, and painted the nursery.

The paint we chose was "Globe Artichoke" from Olympic Paint. A zero VOC paint, it was pretty amazing to become conspicuously aware of the complete lack of odor as my sisters painted. Having painted many a room in my life, and suffered through can after can of noxiously scented paint, I can't recommend this product enough.

The color could best be described as a sort of fresh, mossy green, perfect for the outdoorsy nature theme we're going with. We left the trim a deep cocoa and the ceiling a mushroomy-taupe. Now all it needs is a crib, a rocking chair, a chest of drawers, a changing table, a mobile, a play table and tiny chairs....

Thanks, aunties. Glenn and I appreciate all of your efforts more than you can possibly know (and thanks, G., for later painting the floor!). Nugget is one lucky little feller.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Our House, Part 2

A few more scenes from our place (here's the first round).

The last photo is of our back/front porch (you actually enter our house from the back door, which takes you directly into the kitchen; the "true" front of the house includes this porch, although it's not a "used" entrance, as we've fenced off the yard for the dogs-sounds confusing, but makes sense in context...).

I recently re-upholstered the seats of the wrought iron table set (while G. gave 'em a new coat of paint) and ran out of canvas staples, hence the bedraggled look of the closest seat.

It's always a work in progress out here. Good thing I'm a go-getter.

Off-the-Grid Homes

Hi friends! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. This week's topic discusses off-the-grid homes, those sensational dwellings that provide shelter, comfort, and refuge without the use of public and municipal utilities. It's something that Glenn and I aspire to, without question. The Simon Dale House in Wales, pictured above, is one of my all-time favorite off-grid homes.

This past week has been jam-packed with family interactions, visits, and festivities. My two sisters, ages 23 and 19, flew in from Florida on Wednesday. After lunch at the Early Girl Eatery, they went off for haircuts at Adorn, and then we all reconvenied for treats and thirst quenchers at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge (Glenn ordered a chocolate/vanilla/coffee milkshake that was, hands down, the best milkshake these lips have ever slurped). Thursday saw us up and out early, heading to Charlotte to visit my older brother and sister-in-law and their new son, born July 1st (we stopped at the West End Bakery en route for their stellar homemade egg biscuits!). James Waugh Adams IV, more commonly referred to as either "Little Man" or "Baby James" or "LJ" stole the show with his adorable chicken leg arms and froggie legs and general adorableness. After that we popped into IKEA to check out their crib selection and other baby accoutrements.

Friday Glenn and my sisters worked their arses off, moving furniture, re-organizing, and painting Nugget's room (more images on that to come). It's so exciting to see everything start to come together. We've got 3 1/2 months to go before the little dude's debut but, as a lifelong advance planner, I like to know that progress is being made and preparations are being undertaken. Finally, yesterday, after taking my sisters to the airport, Glenn and I attended a fantastic (and FREE!) class for beginning parents at Nest Organics home and child store in downtown Asheville. Topics discussed included: cloth diapering options, slings/carriers, sleeping arrangements, BPA-free teething toys and pacifiers, glass bottles, and much, much more. Sarah Easterling, co-owner and the class's instructor, is a veritable fount of information on all topics related to natural child rearing. She's also just a generally cool lady and one I'm immensely pleased to have in my circle of au natural mommas. We picked up a beautiful, gently used Moses baby basket and rocker (similar in appearance to this one), as well as a newborn sling, at Nest. Nugget will be comfortable and living in chic digs once he's on the scene, that's for sure!

Today I'm off to sling some cupcakes at Short Street in just a bit. May your week's end be all you want it to be!

*Image from here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Friendly Loot

I had a blast this past birthday weekend. The farm-to-table buffet brunch at the Grove Park Inn did not disappoint. In fact, if you live in Asheville, I highly encourage you to take advantage of this affordable, delicious endeavor the Grove Park is sponsoring. It's only $19.99, and you get to eat as much as you'd like. The presence of local foods on display was truly laudable. Go soon, though, as they're only offering the feast through July 31st.

Not only was the meal itself exquisite, but my mom, thoughtful woman that she is, had called ahead to inform the restaurant that it was my birthday. As Saturdays are their farm-to-table day, they informed her they'd be making me a cake with locally procured ingredients. She knew that would be just my thing, and boy, was it ever. A chef in a toque arrived from the kitchen at the conclusion of our meal to festoon me with a from-scratch cake, baked with local carrots, locally-made jam, local eggs, and even local butter. I was floored. I've got half of it left in my fridge and have gingerly nibbling away at it ever since.

Sunday, after putting in some time at the Cake Shop, I rushed home and helped Glenn get the food going for our build-your-own taco buffet extravaganza. At the risk of saturating my palette, I'd argue that every day should be build-your-own taco buffet day. In customary fashion, Glenn whipped up a multi-dish repast fit for royalty. Here's what we gorged on:
-Watermelon agua fresca
-Guacamole with blue corn chips
-Local catfish stewed in a tomatillo sauce (with a hint of chipotle)
-Lime-cumin marinated local grass-fed flank steak
-Lavender-bluberry red cabbage slaw
-Lemonony-herbed jicama slaw with lemon balm, mint, marjoram, and cilantro
-Eggplant braised in tomatillo sauce with toasted cumin seeds
-Roasted local 8-ball zucchini
-Salsa made from local mixed heirloom tomatoes
-Refried beans
-Fried plantain rounds, cooked in coconut oil and sprinkled with sea salt
-Shredded Jack cheese
-Hard blue corn taco shells
-Soft corn tortillas

Afterwards, there was cake. I had a vision of exactly what sort of cake I wanted, so I whipped it up myself. Dubbed "The Lime In the Coconut" by friends that night, the cake itself consisted of three layers of coconut cake (I used Johnnie Gabriel's recipe), one layer of coconut cream, and one layer of fresh lime curd. I swaddled the whole thing in freshly whipped heavy cream and doused it all over in toasted coconut. I'm putting in my vote that every day should also be "The Lime In the Coconut" Cake Day.

Then there were some gifts. Enormously thoughtful, loving gifts. In addition to the gifts of $$ from family (always a welcome gift, oui?) and cake from mom, there was:
-Originally designed and printed gift vouchers for babysitting and housework sessions from Meg and Alisa, along with the most slammin' cap for Nugget, fashioned from upcycled wool sweaters!
-Earrings from one of my favorite local designers, Sarah English, adorable canning fabric, and a subscription to Jamie Oliver's magazine (which I love, love, love!) from Nicole.
-Engaging reading from Rachel (who, sigh, is moving her loveliness far, far away, to another coast; best of times to you, sweet Rachey, in California!).
-Locust honey, extracted from the thriving hives of my sweet buddy Jenny.
-An awesome book on gardening with kids, from Mary Ellen (who has started an experiential school here in Asheville well worth looking into).
-A truly lovely, and very large, hand-thrown ceramic pot from my sweet Glenn, for planting some beautiful something in to adorn our patio.

Thank you everyone! You're such great people and I'm so very, very fortunate to have all of you in my life (as well as those of you who weren't able to make it out that night).

Our House, In the Middle of the Woods

*Entirely optional viewing and listening whilst reading above post.

Sometimes I find that I've been viewing my life with blinders on. You know, grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Pining for life in a new location, feeling restless with my current set-up. While that often strikes during the winter, when we're sequestered at home for long periods (and especially this past winter, which was particularly rough in the snowed-in department), it can happen at other times, too.

And then those moments come when everything is illuminated, to borrow from Jonathan Safran Foer. When you see things for what they really are, not what you imagine them to be. That happened to Glenn yesterday when I was busy slinging cupcakes at Short Street. A heavy rain had shadowed the property for several hours. As it began to clear out, he stepped outside and saw just how truly gorgeous this place we get to call home really is.

Pictured above are some highlights. The Mimosa tree at bottom graces our back porch. There's also one standing silent sentry beside the chicken coop, emitting the most transcendent fragrance imaginable. Above it is a winged friend found taking a load off beside our front entry steps. In the middle you see the path I take each morning, generally a few minutes after 7:00 a.m., to the chicken coop, passing the bee hives and fenced-in kitchen garden on my left and the wineberry thicket on my right as I go.

That big soaking tub is where we're hoping Nugget makes his debut. The forest outside (we live next to a 350 acre nature preserve; you can view it as you soak) should be cloaked in vibrant fall colors then, which takes this place from stellar viewing to downright swoon-worthy. Above that is, to the left, our two apple trees (one of which just shed its June fruit drop), down below is the grape vine, and beyond it, the bamboo grove and maple tree, one of the only flat areas on our property and a potential site for a future playground (it feels so weird to think that we'll soon be the type of people who own things like playgrounds-oh, and babies!).

So, when we get cantankerous and restless, it's good to look back on images like these and reflect on just how fortunate we are to live in this paradise (one of just a small, small handful of temperate rain forests in North America; the others are on the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest, the other place my heart sings for the most). Our house, in the middle of the woods, is a refuge, a place of solace, and an absolute gift.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hand Fans!

It's been hot as blazes here lately. Much warmer than usual for this mountain climate. Glenn and the dogs and I have been managing the heat as best as we can, at times better than others. As a nod to the general steaminess gripping the nation, I focused on using
hand fans to beat the heat on my "Small Measures with Ashley" post this week on Design Sponge.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend. My 34th birthday is on Sunday. I've decided this is an auspicious year for me. For one thing, there's a total solar eclipse that day (although it doesn't seem to be visible anywhere but in the deep Pacific). Secondly, my books debuted this year. There's also the additions to my family (both my own, with Nugget's November 3rd due date, and my brother and sister-in-law's, whose first child, James Waugh Adams IV, was born on July 1st!) that are happening in 2010. Plus, 3 plus 4 equals 7, and my mom has always found that number to be particularly indicative of good things.

I'll be ringing in the occasion early tomorrow, with my mother, grandmother, and hubs, as we feast our way through the Grove Park Inn's Farm-to-Table buffet. I just drooled on the keyboard. On the big day itself, I'll be at the Cake Shop, slinging sweet wares, before returning home to host a few friends for a build-your-own taco buffet.

Wherever you are, whatever you do this weekend, may it surpass your wildest expectations!

*Image from here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lost Art of Real Cooking

I'm a fan of the arcane, of the mildly anachronistic. I wear old eyeglasses. I live in an old house. I like weathered things. I'm wowed by ancient structures. If it's got a sense of history and has stood the test of time, count me in as a fan.

Small wonder then that I'd be so pleased with Ken Albabla and Rosanna Nafziger's new book The Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe At A Time. When an editor at Perigee Books (a division of Penguin) contacted me several weeks ago about the possibility of reviewing a copy, I heartily accepted her solicitation.

The Lost Art of Real Cooking discusses all of the aspects of antiquated cooking traditions that I find such passion for, just as the authors do. From fermented foods and beverages to jams, yogurt, breads and so much more (including chapters on meat, fish, and poultry), this book covers the slow food cooking terrain. The "slow" aspect is especially relevant, as The Lost Art is no "30 Minute Meals." Some of the recipes take hours, if not days, weeks, and even months. Which is a delight to food lovers like me. Food is a medium, to be lovingly crafted into artful sustenance. The fact that rendering something exquisite might take time is par for the course. Any solid relationship needs a bit of length to test its fortitude and present all parties with something more than a passing fling. This book gives you just the right bit of inspiration to find a lasting love.

Written in a conversational style, each recipe tells you what you need, exactly when you'll need it (as opposed to the more common-and modern-format of listing ingredients at the onset and then following them with instructions). Interspersed you'll find tidbits on everything from keeping cast iron pans in tip-top shape to using fancy butter molds. The book itself is hardcover without a jacket, sturdy enough to stand up to repeated use but lovely enough to showcase prominently on your cookbook stand.

Clearly, I'm smitten. Oh, and did I mention there's a recipe for doughnuts? DOUGHNUTS! My pregnant lady obsession, as of late. That sealed the deal for me.

*For a chance to win a free copy of The Lost Art of Real Cooking, check out Tigress's giveaway (she's running it through July 15th, so there's still time to try yer hand!).

Monday, July 5, 2010

Berry Bliss

Zoinks, kids! I only just now realized I'd forgotten to post my "Small Measures with Ashley" column this past weekend! You can check it out over on Design Sponge. This week I waxed rhapsodic about all things berry, culminating with the recipe for my Blueberry-Raspberry Allspice & Rum Jam (yup, it's the same jam I posted here about a week ago; thing is, it's just so good that I figured my Design Sponge readership deserved to hear about it as well).

I do know how I forgot about posting it, though. I got a massive burst of energy on Thursday and Friday. Now, for those of you who don't know me, I've always been a high-energy lady. I'm constantly busy, doing this's and that's, running thither and yon. When Nugget came along, though, mid-February, I was stopped squarely in my tracks. My little feller put the kibosh on said energy, lulling me instead into the land of multiple naps, chronic digestive distress, and just-barely-managing-to-keep-the-show-going levels of functioning.

When I woke up Thursday morning and realized I felt so good, I decided to capitalize on it. Over the weekend, I did yard work, completely cleaned out our basement (corroded over as it was with the funk of forty-thousand years), and re-organized our large walk-in pantry. It felt amazing. Of course, Saturday came and Nugget kicked in and said "Pump your brakes, Mom. Let's take it down a few notches," resulting in the need for not just one, but two naps that day. No matter. I was feeling good again yesterday and, even though it's not yet 8 a.m. and the day hasn't fully become realized, so far, I feel fine, so it's all sorts of yard work on the agenda today.

You can see, then, how I might have neglected to post on this little blog. My husband has an axiom he often uses when referring to seizing an opportunity: "Make hay while the sun shines." The hay in this scenario being my energy level, we were cutting, bailing, and stacking hay all weekend long!

Hope your fourth was grand and your week ahead full of wonder!

*Just to start your week out on a high note, I'm supplying you with these two random acts of kindness, one in video form and one posted as a blog entry. Enjoy, and be moved!
1) Video (be sure to read the little caption under the video for an explanation of what this flash mob is up to-bear in mind, the passengers are all strangers to the driver, and the song being sung is the Danish very of "Happy Birthday to You").
2) Blog (from the land of Oz!).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Local Link Love

Just thought I'd mention that I added a new blog list today to my blogroll categories. "Asheville Love" highlights both businesses I love and patronize, as well as those owned by my friends, whose work I wholeheartedly endorse.

I invite you to check it out. Should you ever be in the Asheville area, a number of these are links to incredible dining destinations that you don't want to miss out on!