Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chicken Chat

About a week and a half ago, I sat down with Mackensey Lunsford, food and wine writer for local weekly publication Mountain Xpress. We chatted about chickens, canning, death, butter, and more (not necessarily in that order...). You can read the full article here.

*For what it's worth, the reason why, as the article mentions, my social life is dictated by when my chickens go into their henhouse for the night is a bit unique. Our ladies live a life of luxury, in a very large run, which is open overhead except for the awesome aerial rope course/predator deterrent Glenn installed in January. We live on 12 acres, in a forest, way down a dirt road. In short, we're rather isolated. We have neighbors, but they have active lives and are often away from their home on the weekends (when most of our summertime socializing occurs). Based on the fact that chickens go in to roost according to the wax and wane of sunlight hours, in the summer, they go to bed late. In the winter, however, when they're in bed at 4:30-5 in the afternoon, or even in autumn or spring, it's not an issue. We can go out to dinner, see movies, what-have-you. For most backyard chicken owners, however, whose chickens are fully enclosed or for whom getting the next-door-neighbor to lock up their flock is not an issue, then my situation would almost never apply.
**Photo by Lynn Harty, courtesy of Lark Books.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twice As Nice

After hitting the local tailgate market today in West Asheville (I was on a pie mission and Pies In Disguise did not disappoint), hubs and I swung by neighboring baby and child store The Littlest Birds. The loot above is what we scored. I'm telling you, kids consignment is where it's AT! Each garment above was only between $3-4 and in great condition. I sure hope Nugget likes the dark color palette his Papa and I are inclined towards, though...

As part of my mission to raise our child in as ecologically conscionable of a manner as possible, I've been drawn more and more to consignment lately (in addition to seeking out clothing made both in a sustainable manner-fair-trade, living-wage, etc.-and using all-natural materials, organics, especially). Asheville, fortunately, has both the above mentioned Littlest Birds, as well as The Children's Trading Post (two outposts, actually, which I've yet to visit). Not only can you find used clothing there, but also gently used equipment (strollers, high chairs, cribs, etc.), cloth diaper covers, books, maternity clothes (I'm totally busting out of my garments these days and my thread-a-hairband-through-the-button-and-enclosure-opening gig isn't really cutting the mustard anymore) and more. It's considerably less costly than buying new, which, when you're changing the little squirmers into new outfits all the time, sounds like an ideal arrangement to me!

Additionally, we're signed up for a newbie parenting class on July 17th at our favorite downtown eco home outpost, Nest. There we'll learn about cloth diapering, slings, and more. We're super excited. As complete novices to this whole parenting song and dance, we need all of the help with the learning curve we can get! We also picked up "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" this past weekend, which I've been pouring over. The birth stories have me completely enraptured and are working to assuage any concerns over home birth I might have (although, admittedly, labor is the part that causes me the least bit of anxiety with the whole having-a-baby jam; I just want him, and me, to remain healthy and happy for the duration and beyond-pain I can handle, as evidenced by my recent dental debacle).

Any tidbits and advice you might feel inclined to share are entirely welcome. As of today, I'm at 22 weeks, with 18 to go (due date is November 3d). We're in the final four months!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Blueberry-Raspberry Jam with Allspice & Rum

Here I am, on a hot, sticky Friday night, the gentle rumble of a mountain thunderstorm calling outside, stirring jam and lifting jars in and out of a boiling cauldron. Down to the wire (all entries are due by midnight tonight!), I was determined to get my entry in this month for the June edition of Tigress's Can Jam.

As the item called for in the challenge was "berries", I took the liberty of mixing two options, blueberry and raspberry. Doesn't get much more summertime than berries! And with a hint of allspice and a kiss of dark rum, these beauties will be a timely, and undoubtedly well-received, gift come the holidays!

Blueberry-Raspberry Jam with Allspice & Rum
Yield: Eighteen 4-ounce jars, or 4-5 pint jars.

You will need:
-2 pints (4 c.) blueberries, fresh or frozen
-1 pint (2 c.) raspberries, fresh or frozen
-6 c. granulated sugar
-1/4 c. dark rum
-2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
-1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
-2 packets liquid pectin

To prepare:
1. Sterilize mason jars, lids, and screw rings in size of your choice. Fill a canner or large stockpot with water and set over medium-high heat. Bring just to the boiling point. Place the lids in a small saucepan, fill with water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and set the pan aside.
2. Rinse berries gently with cold water. Using either a potato masher or quick pulses in a food processor, mash the berries coarsely (be sure to leave chunky bits; your objective is to mash, not to blend to uniformity).
3. Place mashed berries, sugar, rum, lemon juice, and allspice in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring continually.
4. Once mixture achieves a full, rolling boil, add liquid pectin. Stir constantly for one minute. Remove from heat and, using a skimmer or slotted metal spoon, skim off any foam.
4. Remove the hot jars from the canner and place them on top of a kitchen cloth on the counter. With the help of a canning funnel, ladle the jam into the jars, reserving 1/4-inch headspace. Use a nonmetallic spatula to remove any trapped air bubbles and wipe the rims clean with a damp cloth. Place on the lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.
5. Using a jar lifter, place the filled jars into the canner. Process for 10 minutes, beginning processing time only once water is at a full, rolling boil. Remember to adjust for altitude.

*Hot jars 'a cooling. Please pardon the poor light and dreaded flash witnessed in the photo above. Like I said, I'm down to the wire and, come nighttime, my customarily darkened house gets positively tomb-like.

"First" Bees

I'm totally digging this video on the bees at the White House!

Eco Camping

Hi folks! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up today on Design Sponge. This week I look into tips and gear for eco camping. Sadly, I find I don't camp out as much as I used to. Perhaps it's on account of living in the mountains already, in a wooded forest. Or maybe it's because our location makes it a bit difficult to head off at a moments notice for an overnight excursion, on account of the need to feed the cats and dogs and lock the chickens up safely for the night (the Ladies aren't going to bed until around 9 p.m. these days!).

In any event, we need to figure out a way to make it happen. I adore camping and this area is positively loaded with exquisite camping destinations (and I'm sure Fly and Dexter would have no complaints over a camping adventure, especially if there were a creek, river, or lake nearby where they could cool their fur in, poor, hot pups!).

This week has been a bit of a doozy, so please pardon my absence. Aside from working at the Cake Shop, I was prepping for some oral surgery I underwent yesterday. Suffice to say, it was one of the worst experiences of my life to date (I think, after all of my dental debacles lately, that I've totally got labor pain in the bag!) and one which I hope to never repeat (the periodontist and her assistant were fantastic, it's the experience itself that was wretched). But, it's over! It's done! And now I can move forward, safe in the knowledge that I stared ungodly pain the face and came out the other side just fine (the fact that Cher was signing "And I know that I'll get through this, 'cuz I know that I am strong" from "Believe" in the overhead speakers through one of the worst parts of the procedure was all the proof I needed that everything was going to end up just fine).

I intend to spend the next few days doing a whole bunch of nothing-resting, cooling my face with ice packs, eating my hubs delicious meals, and attempting to stretch out the last bit of Julia Child's "My Life In France" so that I can vicariously stroll down the Seine in Paris, watch the fishmongers and sniff the bouillabaisse in Marseille, down some stiff beer in Bonn, gaze at the fiords in Oslo, and watch the leaves fall in Cambridge. Bon Appetit!

Have a marvelous weekend, everyone!

*Image from here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Purple Mountain Majesties

The Lavender Festival did not disappoint. We enjoyed fair weather, delicious food (now that I'm eating poultry, I sampled the lavender & citrus chicken salad sandwich. Holy wow!), and the company of fine friends. Only 364 more days until purple, fragrant bliss can be ours again (this time, with Nugget in tow!).

*To view more images from the farm, check this out.

Top Of the Pops

To the good looking feller on the far right, here's to you. A true bar setter amongst Dads. If you lived closer, I'd bake you some rice pudding and we'd camp out and watch "Goonies" and "The Birdcage" ("Come on, Gloria!"). 'Til then, know that I love you and am eternally grateful to have scored such an awesome Pop.

*My dashing Pop, shown with his seven siblings (he's the second oldest; Lynn, the oldest of the bunch, is seated on the far right. On the back row, from the left, are Lloyd-one of "the twins"-, John, Pete-the other twin- and Bobby-aka "Rooter." Meg is seated on the far left, next to Kay. What a great bunch of aunts and uncles! And looking so fly!).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bug Off!

Happy weekend, everyone! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. This week's topic discusses all-natural, homemade insect repellents. Don't be a schmuck like me and wait until after you've been assaulted all over the lower half of your body to make my "Mosquito Mist." Do. It. Now. In fact, make some for Pop to show him you really love him, while you're at it.

We're off in less than an hour (with this guy and this gal) to one of my favorite annual events, the Mountain Farm Lavender Festival. There will be goats and chickens and lavender fields and blueberry bushes and labyrinths and mountaintop views and ponds and farm buildings packed with lavender foods (lemonade! cupcakes! ice cream!) and body care items. It's my fourth year attending and I'm totally pumped.

After that, I'll dash back into town for the last of the organic gardening classes I've been taking with Beth and Christopher out at their farm. The topic is on integrated pest management, which I'm always hankering to learn more about. This awesome buddy will be meeting me there. The day promises to be grand, on all accounts!

Have a magical weekend, and don't forget to give a shout out to Pop tomorrow. If yours is anything like mine, than you are a very blessed individual!

*Image from here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

One Door Closes...

This week marked the end of an era. We wrapped up photography for the fourth book in my "Homemade Living" series, "Keeping Bees." That means that I've officially toiled (lovingly, of course) through four books in just under two years. Researched, assimilated, experimented with, propped, photographed, edited, copyedited, proofread, and fretted over four books. And now, it's done. Hear that, eye twitch? You can stop your jumpiness now-or, at least, you can take a breather until Nugget arrives in early November.

It's wild to think that, from concept to completion, my team at Lark Books and I have pulled this off. It's been an extraordinary gift, not just in terms of finding work doing something that I love, but one that has allowed me to discover and flourish in something that excites, inspires, and compels me to keep learning, keep growing, keep reaching out to the wider community to find solutions for living a more sustainable, homemade life.

I've got ideas galore for more titles in the series. We're waiting to see how the first two do, though, before signing on for more. In the meantime, I'll flip through the completed books, smile and marvel at what a committed collective of individuals can achieve, and feel grateful for all that is and all that's coming. Oh, and get ready for the other door, into motherhood, that's opening wide in a mere 4 1/2 months!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You Never Know

You never know who, or what, you'll find creeping, crawling, slithering, sliding, pouncing, prancing (mostly just Dexter), hopping, buzzing, or otherwise maneuvering around the English grounds.

We found this prehistoric looking fella Monday evening. We're quite certain it's a snapping turtle, but it sure does look like an alligator-dinosaur hybrid to me!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge

My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up today on Design Sponge. This week's topic discusses the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge winner. I highly invite you to check it out. I've found not only the winner's ideas enormously inspiring, but the creative thinking and action going on globally (and entered for consideration in the challenge) to be the perfect antidote to the despair that I often feel when confronted with the enormity of the problems facing our planet and its people.

I'll admit to having personal ties to the challenge, as well. Not only is the director of the BFI the husband of my editor, he's a very dear friend. David McConville is a regular fixture on the English landscape (so much so, in fact, that it was he who officiated at our wedding, looking very much the Amish minister as he helped Glenn and I exchange our vows in our all-of-five-minutes ceremony-just the way I like it!). He's a close friend and colleague of Glenn's, with a wild, inventive, looking-out-for-everyone-and-every-creature mindset. David was involved in deciding this year's BFI Challenge winner, Operation Hope. He's got his finger on the pulse of sustainability initiatives world wide. It's folks like him that would make Bucky proud.

Additionally, Buckminster Fuller spent the summers of 1948 and 1949 in neighboring Black Mountain, teaching at the now defunct Black Mountain College. It was this university and it's storied history that first drew my husband to the area years ago. Had it not been for Bucky (and Merce Cunningham and John Cage and Josef and Annie Albers and many, many others), I might have never met my sweet man.

I hope your weekend is splendid. I'm off for a "Nugget" check-up soon, followed by several hours at the cake shop baking wedding cakes this afternoon. Tomorrow morning hubs and I will be offering a kid's cooking demonstration at the City Market. After that, it's all about prepping for Monday night's talk.

Be well, everyone!
*Image from here.

The Perfect Remedy

I've been a devoted fan of Kelly Carambula's eatmakeread for well over a year now. Her blog is full of delicious, creative recipes, all beautifully photographed and attentively styled (I especially like her playful use of polka dots). When she mentioned several months ago that she, along with her husband and two close friends, were launching a food-based quarterly periodical, I immediately knew that whatever they produced would be top tier.

Remedy Quarterly ("Stories of Food, Recipes For Feeling Good") is their combined literary effort and boy, is it ever golden. Each issue is based around a specific theme-issue #1 was "Home" while issue #2 focuses on "Cravings." Over the winter, Kelly wrote and asked if I might be interested in contributing an article and recipe for the second issue. I opted to write about my love of fleeting things, especially foods, and specifically kumquats. Shining orbs of hope and promise come winter, I adore kumquats. In the article, I provide the recipe for my "Kumquat Marmalade", excerpted from my book "Canning & Preserving."

I highly recommend Remedy Quarterly for those looking for stories behind food, for the person behind the whisk, the farmer behind the broccoli rabe. They're always there, of course, lurking in the pantry or in the utensil drawer. This periodical brings them to life, with a rotating roster of writers chomping at the bit to share their culinary wit, wisdom, and deliciousness with you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

For the Love of the Jar

This song from musician Greg Brown is an homage to all things canned, preserved, root-cellared, or otherwise "put up" for later use. It's serene and heart-felt and was brought to my attention by a staff member at my publisher. Thanks, Beth, for the link love!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Live, and In Person!

Ashevillians and other Western N.C. fans of small measure-let's meet up real time! I'll be presenting a talk this coming Monday evening, June 14th, at the long-lived, much-loved, community-supported/community-minded downtown bookstore Malaprops. Beginning at 7 p.m., I'll discuss my book series, "Homemade Living", including the two titles currently in print, "Keeping Chickens" and "Canning & Preserving", as well as those on the way next spring, "Home Dairy" and "Keeping Bees." You can read more about the event here.

I'd love to shake your hand, sign your book, give you a friendly hug, or just chat chickens or canning or small-scale homesteading at large (or whatever else we discover we both enjoy!). As I've yet to achieve David Sedaris-style fame, the event is free and open to the public.

See you there!
*Image from here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bee-ing Inspired

Some women experience wholly blissful pregnancies, relatively free from nausea, with goddess-like looks, supple skin, lustrous hair, and contented growth. I have no idea what that might possibly be like. Me and Nugget have had a, well-let's just say it hasn't been the easiest mountain to climb so far. I've been more tired, nauseous, heartburn-y, and otherwise then I ever thought possible. The self I've always known myself to be no longer exists. This new woman, this new body, is still quite new to me, physically and psychologically.

In short, much of my usual, seemingly unstoppable fount of energy has been wholly absent. As in, totally gone. Resultantly, some things I've been intending to get to have fallen to the wayside. I can't begin to tell you, then, how glorious it felt to begin to feel better yesterday. Hubs and I attended the bee club field day, went and brought props for the photo shoots we're doing out here next Tuesday and Thursday for "Keeping Bees", the fourth book in the "Homemade Living" series, came home, took a nap (that activity belonged to me), and then assaulted the garden, long, long overdue for some weeding and planting and general attention.

It. felt. so. good. It was such a relief to get things done. This morning, before work, I'm going to fire up the smoker and say howdy to the bees, giving both hives an additional super. I'm finding my inspiration, and my stamina, again. I can't tell you how happy I am to welcome it back!

Have a lovely Sunday everyone!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

DIY Popsicles & Newsworthy Bits

Happy weekend, all! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over on Design Sponge. This week I chat about making your own popsicles and provide three scrumptious recipe variations for cooling down in flavorful bliss.

In other news, you can now view two videos I made at home with my editor in early spring. These were made exclusively for Barnes & Noble. The video for making "Herbed Pickled Asparagus" (aka "Can It") can be viewed here (scroll about midway down-the video is on the right), while the video discussing some housing issues for chickens can be viewed here (similarly located mid-way down the page, on the right-hand side).

Finally, I was contacted several months ago from, of all publications, Diabetes Forecast Magazine. They wanted to run a late spring/early summer piece on home canning and presented a series of questions to me. You can now read the completed article here, where I troubleshoot and illuminate (along with Marisa of Food In Jars) some of the foundational issues surrounding canning at home.

I'll be heading out soon for a field day sponsored by the truly fantastic and always educational Buncombe County Beekeepers Chapter. I'll be meeting up with a photographer sent by my publisher. He and I will try to capture some images for my upcoming book on "Keeping Bees" (Lark Books, Spring 2011) for those activities you can't really photograph on demand, such as making splits, re-queening, hiving a swarm, and more. Then it's into my own hives and garden I'll go later this afternoon, followed by back-to-back days at the Cake Shop Sunday and Monday.

Have a great weekend! Following an emergency (and really, really painful) tooth extraction this week (when you're preggers, the only pain medication you can take to manage the throbbing and aching caused by an extraction is wimpy 'ole Tylenol-boo!), I'm ready for some fun!

*On a side note, my publisher has recently set up a visually impressive and highly creative blog. I invite you to take a gander at it here.

*Image from here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lost Friend, Found

The internet is a magical thing. Not only can you immediately view the menu of a restaurant you're considering patronizing for dinner, you can also do things like determine who's voice it is that you're recognizing coming from that weird lizard alien in "Land of the Lost" (for the record, Leonard Nimoy). The best part, though, for me, is the people you meet. I met my husband online. Highly auspicious and well-timed, meeting him has been, by far, my greatest use of the world wide web to date (and, having just celebrated our 3-year anniversary on Tuesday, continues to be).

I also met Sara Jensen online. After reading a witty tweet she wrote to Grace Bonney of Design Sponge, my interest was piqued. Like any good voyeur, I went to her Twitter page, wherein I discovered her location detailed as "a tiny island on a big ocean." I knew I needed to know more about her, and so, in my typical quizzical fashion, I wrote her, inquiring the whereabouts of said tiny island.

And that was that. We became fast friends. Turns out that island is Friday Harbor, one of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, an area that I've become increasingly interested in over the past year. We've kicked up a regular correspondence, IM'ing each other, twittering back and forth, and writing good old fashioned e-mails (the fact that she's shared my enthusiasm for a certain sparkly contingent of Pacific Northwest-situated bloodsuckers has only endeared her to me more). She's also mom to 2 year-old Henry (and wife to husband Thor-THOR, friends, THOR!) and has been an indispensable fount of wisdom, advice, and laughs on the topic of pregnancy and motherhood.

You can only imagine my profound delight, then, when I received the above canvas tote in this weeks' mail. Sara had written last week, asking for my mailing address, so I knew something was forthcoming, but I had no clue as to what. Her business, Lost Bird Found, produces some gorgeous goods, from textiles to book plates. I invite you to check it out. While you're out it, take a gander at her blog, a veritable visual feast of artistic inspirations and musings. I plan to fill that bag with any and all manner of groceries, purse-like items, and "Nugget" essentials. I love a big bag.

I hope to meet Sara one day, real time. In the meantime, I'll settle for the wonders of the internet. Like her business, she's one "lost" friend, now found.