Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This Is My Life Now

You know those moments in your life when you suddenly pause and think, "This is my life now. This is what I've become"? Sometimes they happen at peak moments, when you're flying high and feeling good because you confronted a fear, or learned a new skill, or had a great meal with friends. Others happen when you've had better days, and you find yourself yelling at the cat for meowing too loudly in her need for affection or swearing at the dog for moving in for a cuddle against your legs (I'm speaking completely personally here; this very mortal lady isn't up for any sort of sainthood).

I had one of those "So, here I am" moments this past weekend. I've mentioned here before my interest in learning, with a group of amazing local ladies, to hunt. We met a few weeks ago and shared our motivation in acquiring this skill. For everyone, it came down to a desire to provide for our families, and our domestic pets, what we feel is the most choice, abundant, renewable, and sustainable animal protein we can procure.

To that end, we discussed the three components towards achieving this goal that we would all need to pursue (except for Jess; she grew up in northern Pennsylvania in a hunting family and will serve as our amazing, respectful, seasoned, knowledgeable mentor huntress. Plus, she's just an all-around righteous lady whose company I benefit from every time I'm with her). These arenas, in order of acquisition, are: marksmanship, learning to hunt, and field dressing/butchering/storing our kill.

In order to determine what sort of weapon we'll ultimately decide is the best "fit" for us individually, we had to try them on for size, as it were. Before Saturday, I'd never fired a weapon. In fact, I'd never even so much as held a firearm before. Actually, before Saturday, aside from the occasional kitchen knife or meat cleaver, I'd never so much as even touched a lethal weapon of any sort.

I'm sure a good number of you readers have, yourselves, disarmed a firearm before. With the interest growing in hunting, as well as their continued use in home and personal protection, many people are familiar with using firearms these days. For me, though, the decision to even consider giving hunting a go was a huge, profound, utterly transformative one. Until not that long ago, I didn't even eat animal protein. And I certainly wanted nothing to do with guns.

I discussed here my return to meat-eating, and the impact it has had on me physically. Choosing to explore the use of firearms has profoundly affected me mentally. I've long lived in fear of guns, given the way they are depicted in films and their mention in the news and print media. As my friend Walter recently wrote, though, at the end of the day, a gun is simply a tool. What we do with it is up to us.

When I first fired on Saturday, at the private hunting range of a friend-of-a-friend, my reaction felt strange, detached. I told my companions that it felt incredibly unnatural, in the same sort of way learning to drive a car feels unnatural. Admittedly, that first firing happened with a .243 that had its barrel propped up with a bipod and its butt resting against a sandbag. I fixed the scope on the target, switched off the safety, took a deep breath, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. I walked away with the feeling of having dialed it in, like it hadn't been as tactile as I'd imagined it would be.

Later, however, when I held a .30-06 and felt its full heft in my arms as I stood there, in high winds, with frigid fingers and toes, the magnitude of what I was doing fully engulfed me. "If I sneeze, and move this thing the wrong way, and it goes off, people could die" was my first thought. My second thought was, "I'm holding a loaded gun. I'm holding a loaded gun. I'm holding a loaded gun." I found the target in the scope, fired, and felt the impact from the weapon immediately, in my shoulder (lightly) and my left wrist (intensely), with which I was holding the barrel up.

This is my life now. A former vegan, who used to go to non-violent rallies and demonstrations is now learning the ancient pursuit of hunting for food, with a gun. This was simply the first step. Once I'm there, in the woods, with a living, sentient creature in my line of sight, I'll see how it goes. At this point, I can certainly say, though, without any hesitation that killing my own food will make me more appreciative of all of the life and blood and soil and grime and dung and absolute, sheer unparalleled beauty that pulses through every creature on this planet.

Any of you out there hunters yourselves? If so, got any pearls of wisdom you care to share? I'd be ever so grateful to hear them.

*To see more images from our firing range foray, go here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dirt Doesn't Hurt

Those of you know that know me personally are aware of the sort of house I try to keep (when the fastidious folks at Martha Stewart Living recently published a special "Best Of" organizing magazine, I was all over it). However, those of you that have known me for a long time (Mom, Dad, brothers & sisters-I'm looking at you) know that, well, let's just say, the old brown mare, she ain't what she used to me.

Sure, I still leave the kitchen spotless before going to bed every night (I mean, really, who wants to start the day staring down a messy kitchen?), and I have maintained a very close relationship with my broom for eons (so much so, in fact, that "broom" was one of Huxley's first words). That said, with Huxley and Hubs in my life, let alone a menagerie of dogs, cats, friends and forest grime, dust bunnies move along like tumbleweed considerably more than they used to and my pantry and drawers aren't quite up to the rigorous organizational standards I've held myself to since I was, oh, 7 years old.

But enough of all that. Life is messy, and glorious, all at once. And that's exactly what I'm chatting about in my column this month in Verve. There might be a bit more dirt on the floors. The basement might exist in a perpetual state of undoing. There might be dust on the ceiling fan blades. But there's laughter coming from the baby, kisses from the big guy, belly rubs with the furry beasts, and so. much. happiness.

*Image by Lynne Harty.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! We've had an interesting week, to say the least. Tuesday witnessed my first knitting class. I must admit, it's not a skill I intuitively picked up straightaway. Quite the contrary. I figured out making a slip knot and casting on, but actually making a knit stitch? What? How? Where? I was totally lost. That's alright. I'm a tenacious sort of gal, so I'll figure it out, one way or another (big, heartfelt thanks to all of you that set me suggestions on Twitter for books, websites, blogs and videos on gettin' 'er done).

On Wednesday, a book idea I'm pretty passionate about was turned down by a literary agent I've been chatting with. That's alright, too. I'm not done with the idea yet, so I'm squirreling it away and letting it simmer for now. Wednesday also presented the death of our two hot water heaters. The average lifespan of hot water heaters, according to our plumber, is 8-12 years. Ours were 8, and totally bit the dust. Hello huge unexpected replacement expense! Yesterday we had a new, single water heater installed. My mom came over and offered me a bit of a mental and physical reprieve by playing outside with Huxley in the garden (or, as he calls it, the "gar-dy"), reading him countless books inside, and otherwise smothering him with the love and affection he so very much enjoys.

Tonight, my friend Jenny is coming over for dinner. The nice twist is that she's bringing the meal with her. She's been on a Middle Eastern food kick lately and will be festooning us with meat pies (MEAT! PIES!), some sort of yogurt sauce, and an arugula salad, while I provide the dessert (I'm planning on making Diana Henry's "Middle Eastern Orange Cake with Marmalade and Orange-Flower Cream"). Tomorrow, I'm headed with some lady friends to Double G Farm to test out some of Lance's firearms. I'm still trying to "find my weapon" for my hunting pursuits. That excursion will be followed up by dinner at the home of some beloved friends (who, by the way, are building a chocolate factory!).

The weather is amazing right now. So much so, in fact, that I'm writing this from my covered porch, where we recently relocated the breakfast table to in order to create a larger play space for Huxley in the kitchen. The wind is blowing, the temperature is just right, I've got a hot mug of cardamom coffee beside me, and Huxley is busying himself by moving things around on the porch (he watches Hubs and I constantly moving things around and about the kitchen and gets all "business" when he starts moving things himself-right now, it's candleholders and little bits of soil from some dormant houseplants).

Here's my round-up of this's and that's that drew me in this week:
*The Jam Labelizer (via Marisa).
*Beautiful beets!
*The stories of Gilt Taste are incredibly well crafted.
*Chocolate Earl Grey Cake? I'm in.
*Locals, come meet your farmers!
*Coconut muffins.
*The Edible Balcony looks like a great read for urban growers.
*Learn how to cure your own lox.
*Having just taken on knitting, now I'm ready to quilt, too!
*It's the season of citrus and these preserved lemons (and salty lemonade recipe) look great.

Wherever you go this weekend, whomever you spend it with, whatever you do, may it be grand!

*Our tiny Englishman is pictured above in the goat pen from last week's visit to Red Wing Farm. I've got goats on the brain, friends! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sweet, Sticky & Delicious

Growing up, I was just about as opposed to the consumption of Brussels sprouts as possibly imaginable. If there were a superlative to "loathe," than it could have been applied to my youthful opinion of what I then referred to as "Barbie cabbages." In short, I detested them.

Not to slight my mom's cooking, but I think a good part of what informed my stance on Brussels sprouts could be chalked up to how she prepared them. To truly be delicious, these babies need a bit of coaxing. They need a bit of flavoring tucked in. And they need a nice amount of fat to smooth out their sulfurous bite. The sprouts of my youth left much to be desired because they weren't provided with the right conditions for them to truly shine. Mom typically boiled them, often overdoing it. Any time in the pot over 7-8 minutes releases the glucosinolate sinigrin, which, in turn, unleashes an intensely sulphurous odor. A nasty odor. An "I hope to never have to eat those"-inducing sort of odor.

Well, no more of that. The Brussels sprouts we eat chez English are the stuff of hungry dreams, friends. Imbued with a bit of sorghum syrup, grain mustard, and hard cider and pan-braised, these babies are sweet, sticky, earthy and delicious. Continuing on our sorghum syrup-cooking adventures, we made these sprouts last week and partnered them up with some sorghum & bourbon-glazed salmon. The combination was perfection. Groan-worthy, even. If you're not the fish-eating type, then skip that part and give these sprouts a go. I'll make a Brussels sprouts lover out of you yet!

Brussels Sprouts Braised In Sorghum & Hard Cider
The Goods:
-2 tablespoons butter or cooking oil
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 pound brussels sprouts, halved
-2 tablespoons sorghum syrup
-2 tablespoons grain mustard
-1 teaspoon sea salt
-A few grinds black pepper
-12 ounces hard cider

The Deal:
1) Melt the butter in a medium-size pan over medium heat.
2) Place the minced garlic in the pan, stirring to incorporate fully into the butter.
3) Add the Brussels sprouts. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4) Add the sorghum syrup, grain mustard, salt and pepper. Stir well.
5) Add the hard cider. Cook down, stirring occasionally, for about 25-30 minutes, until all but a couple tablespoons of the liquid is gone.
6) Serve and enjoy.

Sorghum & Bourbon Salmon 
The Goods:
-1 pound salmon
-2 tablespoons butter
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1/4 cup bourbon
-3 tablespoons sorghum syrup
-2 tablespoons soy sauce
-A few grinds of black pepper

The Deal:
1) Over medium heat, place the salmon skin-side down onto a dry pan for about 20-30 seconds.
2) Transfer the salmon to a plate, and gently remove the skin, which should peel right off.
3) Scrape any leftover skin off the pan and discard (or feed to any cats and dogs that will have inevitably gathered on account of the heavenly aroma!).
4) Melt the butter in the same pan used to sear off the salmon skin; add the minced garlic.
5) After about 30 seconds, add the bourbon, sorghum syrup, and soy sauce. Gently whisk to combine.
6) Return the fish to the pan with the liquid mixture.
7) Spoon some of the sauce over the fish. Grind a little black pepper over the fish. Cook over medium heat 4-5 minutes.
8) Lift the fish up, giving the sauce a chance to cover the bottom of the pan again, then flip the fish. Spoon some more of the sauce over the top of the fish. Cook 3-4 minutes, then remove the salmon from the pan and plate individual portions.
9) Drizzle the remaining sauce over the fish.
10) Serve and enjoy. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eco Craft (Humpday Giveaway!!!)

If you've spent almost any time around here, you've heard me make mention of my campaign against waste. From crafting an attractive, utilitarian recycling station to using biodegradable trash bags, from posting items on Freecycle to reusing plastic bags, if there's a way to keep things out of the landfill, I'm all over it.

Which is why today's giveaway is so near and dear to me. Not only is it published by my beloved publisher, Lark Crafts, its subject matter is completely in step with my interests. Eco Craft, by Susan Wasinger, is full of clever, creative ideas for breathing new life into objects that might otherwise get tossed. Divided into sections offering suggestions to "Decorate," "Create," "Illuminate," and "Celebrate," Eco Crafts contains 30 inspired eco-friendly projects for turning trash into treasures.

Lark has generously offered a copy of Eco Crafts to one small measure reader. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below. If you'd like to share something you've eco-crafted yourself, feel free, but if you just want to leave a comment, that's fine, too.

I'll share something I repurposed, and kept out of the landfill in the process. I took an interior panel from a large metal dog crate that was used as a divider and turned it into a holder for my earrings. It's large and industrial-looking, but completely utilitarian and, with its matte black finish, blends seamlessly into the large built-in cabinet unit in our bedroom. There's also the cold frame we made last year out of old windows, that is currently housing a large pot of arugula and will soon host a whole mess of vegetable starts. What about you?

I'll run the giveaway through next Wednesday, ending at midnight EST. Please leave a way of contacting you, should you be the winner, either via a link back to your blog or website, or with your email address in your comment.

I wish you all a world of winning success and may the odds be ever in your favor!

UPDATE: The winner of Eco Craft, as chosen by the Random Widget, is Kristy Lynn, lucky #60. Thank you so much to all that entered! I loved reading your ideas for repurposing! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recent Acquisitions

My knitting education begins tomorrow afternoon! I'm SO very excited for this new endeavor. I've got unstoppable visions of scarfs and mittens and hats and sweaters and so. much. more fluttering about my mind's eye.

At this point in the journey, all I can tell you is that those are size 8 bamboo needles and the ball is 4-ply worsted weight Peruvian highland wool. And that concludes the scope of my knitting knowledge. Bring it, yarn! I've been ready for you for a long, long time!!!

*Candlerites-I picked up these knitting supplies at the well-stocked, super hospitable Yarn Nook on Smokey Park Hwy. Linda, the proprietress, is a dear soul, helping me get my needles and yarn, spinning the skein into a ball for me, letting Huxley curl up with a stuffed animal life-size cat in the window and sun himself (themselves?) while I shopped, and informing me that the Yarn Nook holds beginning knitting classes, also, every Wednesday and Saturday from 10:30-12:30 on an ongoing basis for $8/class. I've driven by this little building for the past 5 years and never stopped in before. That's the end of that! I know I'll be back, and you should give it a peek, too!

Friday, February 17, 2012

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! I hope that a little love shined into your life this week, whether you were the one doing the shining or someone else brought the light.

I had a very inspiring lunch yesterday (at new Asheville eatery WALK-sweet potato tots! So! Good!) with a friend planning to open a homesteading supply store in the area. I can't begin to tell you how happy that makes me, as it can be challenging when I'm hoping to make cheese or needing to add supers to my beehives only to discover I'm short on cultures or that I can't make the hour trip out to the nearest apiary supplier's place. As she gets closer to opening her store, I'll provide plenty of pertinent information.

 Here's a round-up of informative, inspirational, and intriguing this's and that's I stumbled upon this week:
*Miranda's blog if full of great projects for both the Bigs and Littles in your life.
*Two sisters, one in the country, the other in the city.
*This show looks right up my alley.
*Look at these canyon photos!
*The purples of winter.
*Marisa details why adjusting for altitude matters.
*I need this magazine.
*Red brussels sprouts! Who knew? (via Camille).
*Essential oils, everywhere!

It looks like it's going to be a gorgeous day here. Huxley and I are headed out in an hour to play with a friend and her 14 month-old daughter in town. Friends and babies-YES!

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Digging Deep

Have you ever read an interview with someone you didn't know, or seen them on a t.v. show like, I don't know, Ellen, and thought to yourself "If we ever met in person, we'd definitely be friends"? I know it's kind of far-fetched, but we've all done it, if we're being honest. My little sister, Theo, says that, should she ever encounter Adele one day in a coffee shop in London, they'd be instant buddies. I think Tina Fey and I would get along swimmingly. Or Carrie Brownstein. We'd be tight.

The first time I ever came across Amanda Soule's immensely popular blog Soulemama, I felt the same way. "Oh, now's HERE'S my kind of lady!", I thought to myself. The more I kept up with her writings, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. We love the same sort of things, similarly place deep value on moving slowly through life, are the same age, and both have husbands 9 years older than ourselves (hell, our husbands even look like bearded brothers!). When I reached out to her about sending review copies of my books, and then began a one-on-one correspondence with her, I knew we were some sort of distant kin. She's a good one, this mama to 5. She's a keeper. She's true blue. No doubt about it.

I can barely contain my enthusiasm, then, in sharing with you today Amanda's newest endeavor. Taproot has officially launched. A quarterly, independent, ad-free magazine, this publication is a collection of curated stories, projects, recipes, and ideas dedicated to "living fully and digging deeper." Amanda contacted me months ago about the possibility of contributing to Taproot. "ABSOLUTELY" was my immediate thought. I've got a column in the magazine dedicated to exploring some seasonal edible and then rendering it into something delectable. The recipes are intended to both please the palates of adults while being easy enough to be created by children (with supervision, for some of them).

I've seen the pages of the inaugural issue. Let me tell you, you are in for a very, very big treat. Hop on over to Amanda's blog to read more about Taproot. And check out the website here. She and her fellow contributors have done an amazing job with a much needed, visibly missing magazine. Kudos to you, Soule sister.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sweet, Sticky & Lovely

Even if you don't celebrate Valentine's Day, I hope today is going well for you. Over here, we love today, mostly because of this guy (from last year-what a little chubs!). I swear, ever since he came along, we're positively overflowing with love chez English, all the time. It's true. If I was friendly before, watch out now. If I would have just given a stranger a compliment before having Huxley, now I'll hug them, too. Babies have a way of bringing out the love in us all.

To honor this festive occasion, we headed out to local barbeque powerhouse (and Obama haunt) 12 Bones Smokehouse. I'd been there several times previously, but never for any pork since, until not that long ago, I didn't dine on swine. Oh. Boy. I had the Blueberry Chipotle ribs (the customer favorite), with a side of buttery mashed sweet potatoes and some transcendent collard greens served alongside their spot-on cornbread. Hubs went for the brown sugar dry rub (the staff favorite), with a side of smoked potato salad and some corn pudding.

Huxley, a true southerner, was an instant fan of all of it. He smiled at strangers (he's my son, after all!!!), gobbled up his food with abandon and was so ecstatic, in fact, that he started head-banging in his high chair and promply mashed his left temple into the corner of the table. I scooped him up, went outside to kiss the injury, let his sobs bounce off the river outdoors, and then returned to nibble some more. 12 Bones knows what they're doing, that's for sure. I highly recommend stopping by if you're ever in the area. Be aware, they're incredibly popular and a line begins to form, running out the door, shortly after they open each day.

I've gotten into ribs at home, too. The other night, Hubs whipped up the Sorghum Roasted Pork Ribs and Fennel & Citrus Slaw pictured above. We've recently discovered a local sorghum supplier, Doubletree Farm (they're a draft horse operation!), and have been experimenting with it in a number of dishes. Sorghum, a grass species, used to be the primary sweetener used in this area before the sugarcane industry pushed farmers out of business. I'll share the recipes we've created with you in the next few weeks.

Today, though, is all about ribs. Because, really, what says "love" better than messy, unctuous meals best eaten with your hands (and a mound of cloth napkins at the ready)? If you're not into swine, though, give the slaw a go. A cold weather crop, fennel is crunchy and sweet, and, paired with citrus and ponzu, provides a bright, zippy counterpoint to these dreary winter days.

Sorghum Roasted Pork Ribs
The Goods:
-1 rack of pork ribs
-A couple pinches of salt for the ribs
-Two 12-ounce bottles of beer (any brand and variety)
-1 cup ketchup
-1/4 cup sorghum
-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
-2 tablespoons prepared brown mustard
-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
-2 tablespoons soy sauce
-A few shakes of hot sauce, to taste
-2 teaspoons granulated garlic
-1 teaspoons smoked paprika
-1 teaspoons salt (for the sauce)
-1 teaspoons ground allspice
-1 teaspoons ground coriander
-1 teaspoons ground cumin
-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
-A few grinds of black pepper

The Deal:
1) Preheat the oven to 330 degrees F.
2) Sprinkle a pinch of salt on both sides of the ribs.
3) Mix all of the ingredients except the ribs and the beer in a large mixing bowl.
4) Put the ribs on a rack in a roasting pan, and brush both sides with the sauce (you'll have sauce left over; this will be used to both baste the ribs several times and for dipping once cooked).
5) Pour one bottle of beer into the bottom of the roasting pan.
6) Roast for one hour, adding a little beer to the pan every 20 minutes or so.
7) Remove from the oven, turn the ribs over and baste the top side with the sauce again.
8) Return the ribs to the oven, and cook for another hour, adding beer every 20 minutes or so.
9) Remove from the oven again, turn over, and baste the top again.
10) Return to the oven, add some more beer to the pan, and cook for another half hour.
11) Remove from the oven, plate, and let them rest for several minutes.
12) Serve with any remaining sauce on the side.

Ponzu Citrus Fennel Slaw
The Goods:
-1 fennel bulb (with fronds)
-1 carrot
-1/4 cup ponzu sauce
-Zest of one orange
-3 tablespoons orange juice
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-2 tablespoons oil (olive or sesame)
-1-2 teaspoons sea salt, to taste
-A few grinds of pepper

The Deal:
1) Shave the bulb and stalks of the fennel plant into small, thin pieces.
2) Chop the fennel fronds into little bits.
3) Cut the carrot into very thin strips, then cut those strips about an inch long.
4) Toss with the rest of the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
5) Let  the slaw sit for at least an hour, tossing occasionally.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flower Power

I adore a long soak in a hot bath. Add a page-turning novel or an inspiring magazine and I could easily soak for just shy of an hour, topping up on hot water as needed. Since becoming a mom, though, the reality is that my soaks are both fewer and shorter than ever. Accordingly, I treasure those "take me away" moments like nobody's business.

Which is why I whipped up a container of bath salts the other day. I tweaked my original recipe, substituting sandalwood oil for geranium and adding in dried flowers. Having a jar of herbal salts always at the ready, placed bath-side, means that, once Huxley is out for a long nap or down for the night, Mama can get her soak on. Oh. yes.

These are ridiculously easy to make. Aside from the initial cost of purchasing the essential oils, they're also incredibly thrifty to craft. They make a great anytime (or Valentine's Day!) gift for friends, family, colleagues and anyone needing a little TLC. Such as yourself, or myself! I added in dried lavender buds and rose petals sourced and dried from our property. Most natural foods stores will have both items available in their bulk herbs and spices sections.

Flower Power Bath Salts
The Goods:
-2 1/2 c. epsom salt
-2 c. baking soda
-1 c. sea salt
-20 drops lavender essential oil
-20 drops rosewood essential oil
-20 drops sandalwood essential oil
-2 Tablespoons dried lavender buds
-2-3 Tablespoons dried rose petals

The Deal:
-Place everything except for lavender buds and rose petals into a food processor or blender.
-Process until mixture is uniform in size and texture.
-Transfer mixture to a medium sized mixing bowl. Add flowers and stir with a metal spoon until everything is fully combined.
-Store in covered jar until ready for use.
-When ready to use (or for gifting purposes), place about 1/4 cup into a small muslin bag (you can find these at natural food stores, often in either the body care or bulk tea sections). Secure the top of the bag and place into bath while it is filling. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! I just wrapped up teaching my "Backyard Chickens" class at the local community college. I can't begin to tell you how much I've come to love doing that class (I think this was the 8th time I've taught it there!!!). The life of a mile-down-a-dirt-road-stay-at-home-writer/mama can sometimes be a lonesome one, in terms of socializing. Rubbing elbows with the locals is therefore rewarding, on so very many levels. 

Here's a round-up of some things that inspired and intrigued me this week: 
*Maria's 38th birthday was all about others. What a cool lady.
*Honey heals everything!
*And so does happiness!
*The perfect way to render lard (via Amanda).
*A candid discussion about chicken ethics from my friend Beth.
*Georgia-grown olive oil!
*Jessie and Melanie's cellar is a beauty.
*These natural pigments are so, so lovely.
*Nettle pasta!
*Locals, these tree seedlings are SO affordable!
*A cake with both rosewater AND cardamom? I'm in (via Persephone).
*Red & pink cocktails, for the approaching jour l'amour (The Volstead is calling to me). 

We're off to a bonfire/potluck tonight! The temperature is plunging this weekend, so gathering around a warming fire sounds just right. 

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Recent Acquisitions

Hubs shares the same passion for food that I do. Alongside cooking and growing it, he also loves reading and chatting about it. Which is how he met Anthony. Readers and commenters on many of the same food & farming discussions, the two kept rubbing digital elbows with one another, eventually forming a friendship.

For the most part, the bulk of packages that show up in our mailbox have my name on them, to Hubs' chagrin. Imagine then his profound delight when a parcel came in this weekend's mail for him. Anthony had generously sent us a bottle of his farm's fresh-pressed olive oil, Olio Nuovo.

A third generation family farm in the San Joaquin Valley, Anthony's Casa Rosa Farms grows and produces olive oil using (from their website) "sustainable water wise methods." Additionally, the farm raises pastured lamb and beef, grows almonds, and produces organic alfalfa hay for Organic Valley dairy co-op members.

The oil is otherworldly. Transcendent. Rhapsodic. You get the idea. Here's Anthony's description, from an email to Hubs: It's the healthiest, but also the most perishable. It's cloudy and still has solids floating around in it so give it a shake now & then before use. Use it within 3 months, for very low heat cooking, salads, and dipping oil (it turns regular old store bought french bread into a real treat). Store in a cool dark place. The way I describe it is, it has a mild peppery burn that you feel spread across your chest after tasting, kind of like taking a sip of a good brandy, and a mild bitterness from the polyphenol content.

Thank you so very much, Anthony. Here's to delicious oils, healthy farms, and friendships that are forged through shared passions for fields and forks alike! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

These Boots

Huxley shares my love of muddy boots.

I can't even begin to tell you how happy it makes me that he finally fits into these. I picked them up months ago from a local children's consignment shop and have been eagerly waiting for his tiny toes to fit inside. That day is here, and it's a blissfully muddy thing to behold.

*For those that were wondering, I actually have no clue who the maker of the boots is! There is absolutely no identifying label anywhere on them, and, since I bought them used, I don't have the box they came in to refer to. So sorry! They're ankle boots with a green tractor on the side, and that's about all I can offer, in terms of figuring out who made them!

Friday, February 3, 2012

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! Just finished up a photo shoot with the talented (and fun!) Naomi Johnson out here. She was getting my mug for the March/April cover (!!!) of Breathe magazine. The weather accommodated perfectly, with loads of sun and a near 60 degree temperature. Crazy to think that it's early February and I can comfortably be outdoors in a light cotton dress, but, hey, I'll take it!

Oh, and the bees are happy creatures, too! We shot some images around the hives and the foraging bees were coming in for landing laden with pollen. Yay! They're finding food somewhere out there!

Here's a round-up of things that made me smile, made me hungry, and made me think this week:
*Tim's orange walnut cake makes perfect use of winter citrus.
*Genevieve nails it (I'm guilty of saying a few of these things myself!).
*Diana Henry's newest book looks incredible.
*Make your own maple syrup!
*Shower caps as waste reducers-who knew?
*The annual Organic Grower's School is so much fun.
*Sloth love at its peak.
*Marisa's Blood Orange Shrub sounds divine.
*Been sipping on this tasty brew.

I'm headed out tomorrow to look at hunting weapons and gear with some of my fellow huntresses. I'll tell you more about that unfolding aspect of my life as it develops further. Then it's off to some hang time with my mom and grandmother.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, and whomever you do it with this weekend, may it be grand!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Essential Urban Farmer (Humpday Giveaway!!!)

When I was in my early teens, I started to imagine the type of woman I wanted to be when I grew up. At the time, I was equal parts smitten with fashion, skateboarding (my brother and I had a half-pipe in our backyard and I had posters of Tony Hawk adorning my bedroom walls alongside those of Joey McIntyre), and creative self-expression. I was on the journalism staff, acted in school plays, and pursued my French homework with a studied conviction. Though I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to be when older, I knew, more or less, who I wanted to be. I wanted to be bold. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to be innovative. I couldn't possibly have known it then, but, essentially, I wanted to be Novella Carpenter.

Novella is the sort of person you want to know. She's resourceful. She's smart (not just everyone can say they studied under Michael Pollan at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism). She's funny. She's tenaciously devoted to her convictions. And she engages in all of this resourcefulness and intelligence and humor and conviction from an urban farm in Oakland, California, where she's been toiling the soil (and fighting the law to do so) for the past decade. Her memoir, Farm City, details her epic journey as the steward of Ghost Town Farm. This excerpt, from the book's opening chapter, gives you a taste of the concise yet evocative prose that Novella is known for. She's a great writer, in my opinion. She's a seriously righteous lady, also in my opinion.

To that end, I'd like to share a bit of Novella's newest venture with you today. Well, firstly, let me state that she actually has two new ventures going on. The first, and most paramount, is in her new role of mom to a baby girl born in late December. Secondly, and more directly relevant to this blog (and, thereby, you!) is her new book The Essential Urban Farmer, co-authored with fellow urban farmer Willow Rosenthal. A beast of a book at over 500 pages, this hefty tome details all it takes to make things live and grow in an urban setting. As the book's press release details it:
    Carpenter and Rosenthal share their experiences as successful urban farmers and provide practical blueprints-complete with rich visual material-for novice and experienced growers looking to bring the principles of ethical food to the city streets. The Essential Urban Farmer guides readers from day one to market day, advising on how to find the perfect site, design a landscape, and cultivate crops.

Novella ran into, and continues to run into, a number of challenges as an urban farmer. From growing a renegade garden on an abandoned plot to butchering animals in an urban setting, it's not always sunshine and happiness in the 'hood. And that's part of what I love about her writing, and her spirit, so very much. She doesn't sugarcoat things. She gives it to you straight. And she's not afraid of controversy, or of carrying the torch a long, long time for something she feels strongly about.

Penguin Books, Novella's publisher, has graciously given me two copies, one for review and one to give away to a small measure reader. To be entered in the giveaway for a copy of The Essential Urban Farmer, simply leave a comment below. Please leave a means of reaching you, should you be the winner. I'll run the giveaway through next Wednesday, February 8th, midnight EST. Canadians, let's hear from you, too!

Winner or not, do check out Novella's blog and publications. She's a gifted, colorful, inspiring writer. She's full of gumption. She goes for the jugular. She's all I hope to be, and then some. My teenage self would have loved her, and my grown up self does, too.

UPDATE: The winner of the "The Essential Urban Farmer" is lucky #99, Valerie. Thank you so very much to everyone that entered! This book is a sure-fire winner, that much I know!