Friday, August 27, 2010

Collecting Cookbooksrs

My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up today over at Design Sponge. This week's topic is all about my obsession with collecting cookbooks.

I'm off in a few hours to Burnsville, about an hour's drive north of here. Both my mother and my grandmother live there (though, oddly enough, neither of them grew up anywhere near the town). We're having dinner together and then stopping in for a theatrical showing of "Pride & Prejudice", put on at the gorgeous historic Parkway Playhouse.

I'm planning to stay the night at mom's incredible farm house, built in the late 1800's, with a big front porch that offers sweeping views of cows and barns and a pond and Bolens Creek and the Appalachian mountains. It's so gorgeous there. Then I'll dash back tomorrow to get ready for my "In A Pickle" beginning canning class at Farm Girl Garden Design. Should be a great weekend!

Be well, all!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Apple A Day

One of my favorite things to do all year is once again upon us! I don't care how big and pregnant I may be, I'm going to go pick apples at Sky Top Orchard. There are goats there! And row upon row of apples! And outdoor play areas for the kiddos! And fresh cider! And hay rides! And hot apple cider donuts!

I'm on the mailing list, so I got this handy flyer in the mail the other day. It's creased because I'd already tucked into into my purse, ready to redeem that $1 off per bushel! Local folks, get on over there. It's paradise!

*Highlights from last year's pilgrimage with Nicole.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Stroke of Genius

I make mention about my husband on here from time to time. Today I thought I'd highlight a little known side of him. Truly a renaissance man, hubs does it all. He cooks, he writes, he builds and repairs things, he's well versed in art and literature and philosophy and religion and so very much. He's exceptionally kind and exceedingly generous. Plus, he's an artist. The images above he carefully, painstakingly, patiently rendered by hand.

Glenn picked up his MFA from UPenn in '94, which, incidentally, was the same year I graduated high school (we're 9 years apart). He's influenced by, in his own words, psychology, eastern philosophy, and non-objective art. He spent a good deal of his studies researching and learning about color theory and has a fine grasp of the best means of applying particular colors to evoke moods and responses.

I adore his work. I adore all he does, really.

Baby Talk

The stack of books before you has made up the bulk of my momma-to-be reading. There were several others, as well, borrowed from my midwife's offices and since dutifully returned.

Aside from "Birthing From Within", I've read all that I expressly wanted to in advance of Nugget's arrival. That said, I'm totally open to further suggestion. Got a go-to book that provided it's own pearls of wisdom in your birth experience? I'd love to hear about it.

We've got 10 weeks to go and I've already read all the "ancillary" reading I was planning to read this summer (including "My Life In France" and the first two Stieg Larrson books). I've got time to spare and eyes primed for further reading!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stating the Obvious

First there's the egg. Then there's the free-range chicken. Then there's the happy lady, eating said eggs from the above free-range chicken (that's my gal Georgette, looking so fine!). It's public knowledge to those of us living in the United States that yet another massive salmonella outbreak has occurred, this time with factory-farmed eggs as the offending party. Over 550 million eggs have been recalled so far, with nearly 2,000 folks in 17 states falling victim to the illness.

For most of us, the virus inflicts gastric distress, but for others, such as those who are pregnant, elderly, young, or with otherwise compromised immune systems, Salmonella can be downright deadly. Research has indicated that the responsible party, Jack DeCoster of Wright County Egg in Iowa, has a far-reaching history of animal safety and welfare violations. To say that all of this sickness and pain and heartache could have been avoided by basic coop hygiene and animal consideration is truly stating the obvious.

The reasons many of us go into keeping a flock of backyard birds are highly variable. Maybe it's just for the food source. Maybe it's for engendering a more direct connection between livestock and their food products. Maybe it's to collect droppings for compost enrichment or have a ready army of bug "dispatchers" on hand for your garden. Whatever your reason, I know, without question, that an overarching concern is for animal welfare. Chickens that are lovingly tended to, in humane living conditions, fed quality food, allowed to preen and groom in dust baths and run around their coops getting sunlight and exercise, monitored for signs of distress, and treated like the glorious, productive, prolific, unique sentient creatures that they are produce more nutritious eggs, generally stay free of illness, and live better lives.

While Mr. DeCoster has a lot to learn about treating living creatures with respect, the rest of us have a mission of another sort. If you're already on board with keeping a flock of chickens, then you're no doubt reaping daily the results of your mindful decision. Our mutual goal is to tout the value of humanely, ethically raised chickens far and wide. Our families, our communities, our farms, our planet, and our health will be all the better for it.

*Last image by Lynne Harty courtesy of Lark Crafts.
*If you're looking for some chicken-tendering advice, check out my book, "Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need To Know To Care For A Happy, Healthy Flock."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Buddies, For Now

Beth and Dexter and their tenuous peace accord.

Watermelon Fever

Hi all! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. This week I share my fetish for all things watermelon. With the insane heat this summer, the fruit was my go-to pregnancy hydrater of choice.

The 10 day forecast for my area indicates nary a day with temps over 83 degrees. Should that prove true, I'll be one happy lady. I mean, I've learned to live with cooling mint tea and copious watermelon and cold showers and minimally cooked dinners like Glenn's gazpacho, but what I really want, what I really crave, is to wrap myself in a cardigan, eat hot steel-cut oats for breakfast, sip on hot tea, and watch the autumn leaves turn a riot of color and fall.

Have a glorious weekend, wherever the wind takes you!

*Image from here.

That Time Again

I was up bright and early yesterday morning, out on the road at 6:30 on my way to some fasting blood tests for Nugget (We passed with flying colors! Woo Hoo!). On my way, I drove by a young boy, maybe 12 years old, sitting on a boulder with his backpack on the side of the road. It dawned on me then that he was waiting for the school bus. I certainly don't remember going to school that early, do you? But then, I've moved so far past going to school that many things are undoubtedly tucked into the far recesses of my memory. Well, aside from the dream where I can't remember my locker combination. Or the one where I miss the bus. Or the one where it's the first day of school and I can't find my classes. Hmmm.....

Seeing that young boy reminded me of this White Stripes ditty, so appropriate for this time of year. For all of you returning to school or with loved ones venturing back (my Pop and younger sister Theo are, as I write, en route to Notre Dame, where she'll be returning for her sophomore year), this goes out to you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Freeze Frame

I've mentioned on here before my love of baking (in fact, I'm baking right now, making this
agave-sweetened banana bread; I tweaked the recipe with the addition of allspice, ground ginger, and dried unsweetened coconut, as well as used coconut oil for both the oil called for in the recipe and for greasing the baking pan). It must run in the family, as my younger sisters both can't seem to get enough of mixing, stirring, beating, whipping, and pouring either. I possess all manner of baking accoutrement, from a host of pie pans to fancy cupcake liners, from a brulee torch to miniature tart tins. I've also got a growing colossus of baking cookbooks. In short, it's my jam, my gig, my abiding passion.

So, when I come across a baking book that makes me really stop what I'm doing and give it a lengthy gander, I take notice. Such was the case with yesterday's find, "Frame by Frame Baking", dubbed a "visual step-by-step cookbook" from Love Food publishers (a division of Parragon). In short, it's perfect. I often find, even though I'm a well-experienced baker, that I pine for some visuals when attempting a new recipe, especially when baking (with cooking I can often just "taste in my head", but with baking, I want to see it brought to life on a page that I can gauge my results against). For recipes with multiple steps that involved rising or shaping or otherwise alchemical interactions and reactions, I love a bit of hand-holding, a bit of "you've got it, you're doing it right." Frame by Frame gives all that and then some. It's simply photographed, employing a minimal aesthetic of wood and simple vessels, a look I'm terribly fond of.

If you're in the market for a new baking cookbook, or even if you're not but you love to be inspired, I invite you to check out Frame by Frame. I auspiciously found it in my local grocery store's book department (in between searching for a box of recycled paper face tissue and and the aisle containing pet food) and couldn't be more smitten.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In A Pickle

This goes out to all the local yokels. If you've been hankering to learn how to can, now's your chance! I'm teaching a beginning canning workshop August 28th at Farm Girl 227 Haywood Rd. from 2-4. The cost of the class is $15, which includes materials, instruction, and a take-away jar of whatever we pickle.

Space is limited, so give Lauri a call at 828/505-4115 to confirm your spot. And then come watch the water boil, learn about safe canning, give Nugget a belly rub, and know, as Lauri puts it, that you eat local because you can!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Homemade Housewarming Baskets

Hi friends. My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up today on Design Sponge. This week I'm talking about making homemade housewarming gift baskets for those loved ones on the move this summer.

I picked up unbound copies (referred to as "lasers" in publishing world-ease) of the fourth book in my "Homemade Living" series, "Keeping Bees" (Lark Crafts, March 2011), on Tuesday. I've been steadily looking it over since, inserting additions, making corrections, and just generally ogling it. It's truly lovely. All of the books are. I've been so satisfied with the creative team at Lark. All I did was supply the words and they actualized everything else. Great talent in this publishing house, that's for certain! Closer to pre-sale time, I'll be offering up a sneak peek of the book. I guarantee you'll love it!

In a few hours, I'll be hopping out to pick up a bag of chicken feed and then stop by the midwives' office for a visit. I'm 28 1/2 weeks, so, after this visit, I'll go from monthly check-ups to seeing the ladies of New Dawn every two weeks. Closer to Nugget's arrival, that will change to every week. On September 14th, Hubs and I begin home birth classes. While I've been reading and researching and learning as much as I can, it will be so reassuring as a novice parent to get a first-hand tutorial on what lies ahead.

Have a wonderful weekend, whatever you end up doing! We're having Hubs' exquisite fried chicken for dinner, which is bathing in a buttermilk & smoked paprika brine as I type this. Ever since Nugget made me crave poultry for the first time in 14 years, I can't get enough of it, and this fried chicken is part of what fires the flames of my devotion!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nugget Notions

With only 12 weeks to go until my pregnancy is considered "full term," I've started to think about getting Nugget's nursery ready in earnest. My mom and a close friend of hers are throwing us a baby shower on September 11th, which will be more of a ladies only, dainty affair, while Glenn and I will be hosting what I'm dubbing a "Nugget Warming" out here on the 25th. I like the idea of a big fire in the fire pit, lots of delicious food, and friends and family popping in to rub my belly and help us get ready to welcome our little squirmer (DOOD-he is SO squirmy!).

I've already been gathering up clothes and booties and cloth diapers (I think we're going to give G Diapers a whirl). My younger sister, Theo, also gifted me at the beach with a dark chocolate brown swaddling blanket that she'd crocheted (IN ONE DAY!) with organic cotton. I've picked up a moses basket and already know what crib we'll be getting. Now I'm starting to think about nursery decor. Clearly there's no rush, as "The Nug" (what my Pop would call him at the beach when I'd announce that Nugget had roused me out of bed in the morning with ravenous hunger) will be in our room for the first 3-4 months of his life. Still, I'm a planner and I'll be leaving the cake shop the beginning of next month to begin to hunker down, get some serious writing done on emerging projects, and just nest away until early November. What else am I going to do with all of that free time?

I've long been a fan of Olympia, Washington-based artist Nikki McClure. Her exacting paper prints have a Japanese woodblock feel to them, soothing and spartan and hauntingly beautiful all at once. I love the print above, entitled "Mother." As we've been considering a sort of "woodsy/nature" theme for the nursery anyway, I'm thinking some of her prints might be a nice addition. We've already got some mushroom statues and a mushroom wooden toy for him, so I could see her print working in seamlessly. While we live surrounded by a huge forest, I love the idea of the nursery feeling like a natural extension of the wild world outside the front door.

*Image from here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cool Off With Mint

Almost forgot! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up on Design Sponge. This week focuses on using mint to cool off during these final (one can hope, right???) scorching days of summer. On a side note, whilst reading the most current issue of Jamie Oliver's outstanding magazine "Jamie" today (you might remember me telling you of the gracious subscription my editor and buddy Nicole gifted me with back for my birthday last month), I found a nod to none other than Design Sponge in the magazine's "Site Seeing" section. How cool is that? The August/September issue is available now on newsstands. Check it.

I can fully attest to the cooling effects of mint sun tea, as I've been imbibing it all afternoon while engaging in a cleaning assault on the house*. A mint foot bath later tonight definitely seems in order, as well.

Stay cool, friends!

*For what it's worth, I thought I'd share my DIY solution for a gentle, eco-friendly, low-cost floor cleaner. I simply fill up my kitchen sink with hot water and, to it, add approximately 1 c. of white vinegar (I never measure it, opting instead of the tried and true "eyeballing" it method) and about 4-6 Tbsp. (again with the eyeballing) of baking soda. Next comes about 3-4 drops of essential oil.
I try to make the scent correspond to the general "mood," if you will, of the season at hand. Accordingly, in the winter, I use juniper or balsam fir needle, in spring lavender, lemongrass (what I used today) or grapefruit in summer, and cinnamon in autumn. Aside from the essential oils (of which so little is used each time that a bottle lasts for quite a while), the other ingredients are super cheap to purchase and imminently easy to come by. There you have it-your own "Handy Household Hints from Ashley."

Friday, August 6, 2010


Hubs is away at the 2010 National Scrabble Championship outside of Dallas until Wednesday. So I decided to do the one-handed self-portrait, for those who've been asking for belly shots.

28 weeks on Tuesday. Team Nugget is a go!

Eating Their Words

While I had a wonderful, relaxing, laughter-filled time at the beach, I did bring back a rather unwelcome souvenir-the summertime head cold. Add in being almost 28 weeks prego, in an house without a.c., and, well, let's just say I had a bit of a "moment" yesterday, which my poor and ever-loving spouse was privy to. Not one of my finer "moments", but it diffused the tension and then went along its cranky way.

In any event, I'm still snotty and sneezy and bleary-eyed, but I'm downing ginger root tea with fresh lemon, honey, and cayenne (my go-to cold remedy for years), putting up my feet, and giving myself permission to move at a tortoise's pace. And to read whatever my heart pleases. While that's mainly been baby books lately, I've been thinking a good deal about my favorite literary genre-food fiction. I love a good memoir, and am a voracious non-fiction reader, but food fiction is, for me, where it's at.

I've put together a short list of my favorite reads in the category to date. If you've got others, I'd love to hear about them. And if you love a little drama with your delicious delicacies, I highly encourage you to pick up one of these reads as we all forge ahead through the dogs days of August.

-5 Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris
-Blackberry Wine, Joanne Harris
-Chocolat, Joanne Harris
-Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen
-The Sugar Queen, Sarah Addison Allen
-Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel

*Image from here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Beach House

Farewell salty air and pounding surf. Farewell 4-couched living room and lazy river. Farewell homemade dinner at 6:00 for 11-13. Farewell morning Pilon with Pop and Gail. Farewell foot rubs and hair-playing from sisters. Farewell geriatric dogs and low-riding puppies. Farewell evening films, both genius and total flops. Farewell exposed bikini-clad belly and head-to-toe sunscreen. Farewell fiery sunrises and lightening bolts over the sea.

You were just the respite I needed.