Monday, November 28, 2011

Love Letters

Hi, friends! I don't know about where you are, but it's raining something fierce here. Intense, driving, just-watch-as-it-washes-out-the-driveway-again rain. Coupled with the bursts of wind sending leaves, wind chimes, and small birds aloft, today is definitely one for staying indoors.

You might recall the post I made a few weeks back about Huxley's "H". Several of our friends recently had babies (including my friend Bailey, a 4th-year medical student, who had twins!!!) and we thought that letters for their nurseries would make fine, unique gifts. Using the methods outlined in that first post, Hubs whipped up the letters above for "Sophia," "Ben", and "Jack" respectively.

With the holidays quickly approaching, these letters would make great gifts for those with wee ones in your lives. You can get all kinds of creative with the design, evidenced by the handmade artwork on S, the slats in B, and the holes in J.

My grandmother liked them so much that, upon viewing Huxley's letter, she put in a request for a letter of her own. Here's hoping she loves her letter just as much as the others have been smitten with theirs.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope your holiday was wonderful. Ours was the definition of the word feast! Oh my!

Here's a round-up of a few things that tickled my fancy, piqued my curiosity, and made my stomach rumble this week:
*Totally smitten with Designerica, especially the honeycomb ring.
*Garden Betty's brand new chicken coop is gorgeous!
*Interested in this food blogger conference out in Seattle in June (never been to that city, but many of you readers know how very much I heart the PNW).
*Completely captivated by everything Hank Shaw does.
*Been nibbing on this stollen for breakfast all week with hot coffee.
*These brussels sprouts are seriously calling my name.
*The Anthology Winter Gift Guide is full of sublime eye candy.
*Thinking of making these soon.
*Garden & Gun is really growing on me.
*Picked up a live, root ball-bound Christmas tree here today (at wholesale pricing it cost only $30!!!).

I'm also totally digging just how much Huxley loves playgrounds these days. He's crazy about slides and swings and log-like things he can crawl through. We took advantage of the fresh air today and played at a local playground before heading out to pick up our tree. He's seriously addicted to playing outdoors. We might very well end up building him a tiny version of these more grandiose playgrounds out here.

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, may it be grand.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Apple Bourbon Pan Meatloaf

Oh, man. I don't know about you, but we're busy as squirrels chez English, gathering up items from the market, prepping dishes to try to get a leg up on things, sprucing up the house, and getting ready for a big day of feasting tomorrow.

We'll be hosting 8 adults and 2 children (well, 3, technically, if you consider the few bites that Huxley will munch on), including Lynne Harty (the photographer behind all of my books with Lark), her husband Steve Cohen, and the Rattigans, proprietors of the legendary French Broad Chocolate Lounge, including Dan's mom and sister. My mom and grandmother ("Gigi" and "Nanny" respectively) will be in attendance as well. Everyone is pitching in with a dish or two, while Hubs takes care of the big bird. It should be a grand time.

I don't know if it's because last holiday season was such a blur, as I recovered from the birth and got used to being a new mama, or if I'm just feeling really festive lately, but I've been yielding to the holiday lure in a big way. I've already had eggnog (several times! with fresh nutmeg! and bourbon!), have been burning this heavenly candle, and have even enjoyed some classic holiday tunes. I'm planning to make my own snow globes, have foraged pine cones from my yard and mother's to put on handmade wreaths, will be back in the saddle with my annual cookie exchange out here on December 4th, and have picked up some snowball-shaped candles I plan to do a "frosty" decorative treatment on. The thrill is in the air, folks, I tell ya!

But, before I plow ahead with Yuletide festivities and Thanksgiving tomorrow, I thought I'd share with you a recent dish Hubs and I cooked up for dinner. Using local grass-fed pastured beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farm, we created an apple and bourbon pan meatloaf. Many a meatloaf is rendered dry, bland, and tough on account of overcooking, under-seasoning, and inadequate moisture. Here, eggs, milk and fresh apples provide ample moisture, while fresh herbs and a sweet & savory glaze take this loaf to the meatloaf hall of fame.

We used some of the apple butter I recently made in the glaze, and a touch of bourbon throughout to inject it with an added layer of flavor. Suffice to say, it's good. Stick-to-your-ribs-warm-your-toes-tickle-your-fancy good. While turkey is getting all the attention this week, consider this meatloaf once you've had your poultry fill. We spread it out in a baking pan, as opposed to shaping it into a loaf, as we discovered that, in keeping it wider (versus higher), the loaf cooks more uniformly throughout.

Apple Bourbon Pan Meatloaf

The Goods
For the loaf:
-2 1/2 pounds ground grass-fed sirloin
-2-3 medium sized apples, peeled, cored and cubed
-1 tablespoon butter
-2 ounces bourbon
-3 cups fresh breadcrumbs (or 1 cup dried)
-4 eggs
-1/3 cup milk
-2 tablespoons soy sauce
-1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped fine (or 1 teaspoon dried)
-1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine
-2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried garlic granules
-2 teaspoons sea salt
-Several grinds black pepper
-Olive oil, for baking sheet

For the crust:
-1/2 cup catsup
-1/2 cup apple butter
-A splash of bourbon
-1/2 tsp garlic granules
-A pinch of salt
-Several grinds of black pepper
-A few drops of hot sauce, if desired

The Deal:
1)  Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a baking sheet (the size of the baking sheet isn't important; we used a 9"x12" sheet pan, but what matters is the thickness that you shape the loaf into).
2) Saute the apples in the butter and bourbon over medium heat for about 10 minutes until they start to break down.
3) Remove from heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the meat and stir to fully combine.
4) Add the breadcrumbs to the meat and apple mixture.
5) In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, and salt together. Add to the meat mixture and stir to combine.
6) Add the soy sauce, herbs, pepper, and garlic.
7) Mix well (clean hands are best for this task!).
8) Form a flat loaf on the greased baking sheet, about 1 1/2-inches thick.
8) Mix all of the ingredients for the crust in a small bowl. Smooth the mixture evenly across the top of the loaf.
9) Cook at 375 degrees for one hour (we put some sweet potatoes into the oven at the same time to bake while the meatloaf cooked). 
10) Place under the broiler for 2-4 minutes, until the crust starts to brown a little.
11) Let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

I've been hugely inspired by the livestock grazing practices of Allan Savory of the Savory Institute. Winner of the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge, Savory is literally changing the landscape of our planet for the better with his holistic land management. The video below shares his philosophy and practices. Hickory Nut Gap has been inspired by Savory and we're immensely fortunate to have access to such sustainably raised beef in our area.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shelf Life

When you live in a house with two adults that love to cook, kitchen space is always at a premium. We entertain a lot, so our pantry is stocked not only with edibles, but with all manner of platters, serving bowls, cake stands, coffee makers, ice cream makers, pie pans, ramekins, pastry bags & tips, fancy beverage glasses, portable hot plates (great for both canning demos out and about and in-home soirees to keep soups or drinks warm) mandolines, immersion blenders, rolling pins and so. much. more.

Couple that with a penchant for canning and a spouse found of picking up sets of dinner plates whenever he sees some that he likes and our pantry is packed to the gills. Ever resourceful, Hubs created this canning shelf to make use of the unused vertical space in the pantry. The shelves are in a variety of heights to accommodate the height of half-pint, pint, and quart jars respectively.

Our pantry (and entire home, for that matter) runs a bit on the dark side, so apologies on the last photos in the group. You get the jist of it, though, I think. If you're fond of canning but have found yourself similarly short on space, you might want to consider such a shelving system. With it now in place, our pantry is definitely 'moving on up'!

Friday, November 18, 2011

What I'm Digging

Hi friends! Happy Friday!

I'm experimenting with a new weekly feature here on small measure. All week long, a good chunk of my work time is spent online, reading blogs, discovering new websites, and getting inspired by images found there. I thought it might be fun to gather up some of my findings and corral them into a weekly round-up here, entitled "What I'm Digging."

Here's what left me hungry, contemplative, motivated and excited this week!:
*Peanut Butter & homemade muesli cookies on Elaine's blog
*This solstice book
*Photos of her train trip to the Scottish Highlands on Hannah's blog  (I did this exact same ride in August '06; proof can be found here)
*Enjoying this New Belgium Snow Day Winter Ale
*Fresh figs & caramelized onions! Garden Betty's pizza
*This should go in my crock! Homemade sauerkraut
*These mushroom ornaments need to be on our holiday tree
*A great piece on some of the challenges facing young farmers
*Sorghum caramels!!!
*These children's booties (thanks to Amanda for the link!) would keep our little dude warm

Also, as of 11-11-11 (thanks ever-so-easy-to-remember date, buddy!), Huxley is now walking. And, although he looks like a zombie while doing so (with his tiny arms outstretched for balance), and although there are many spills and falls en route, he's doing a great job. And he's keeping me busier than ever!

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For the Love of Soup

The seed for my lifelong love affair with soup was planted at age 5. I was a kindergartner at Kempsville Elementary in Virginia Beach, VA. Along with reading the beloved children's classic Stone Soup (which is a wonderful lesson in cooperation), my teacher decided it would be fun to have the class actually cook the eponymous soup as well.

Every student was instructed to bring an ingredient. I was assigned a rutabaga. This threw my mother into a bit of a tailspin, you see, as rutabagas were not a staple item in the Adams kitchen. We did finally wrangle one up, though. I can still recall with absolute clarity, 30 years later, each student putting our ingredients into the pot (although, in my mind's eye, it was more of a cauldron than a pot; no clue as to why, seeing as that I really like that teacher and she wasn't the least bit "witchy"...), watching it boil away.

And so it was that I came to love soup. Pine for soup. Long for soup. Just ask Hubs; all autumn and winter-long, I could eat soup morning, noon and night. The other night I was worried I might be coming down with something, feeling incredibly fatigued and a bit achy. And so, Hubs pulled out the well-worn stock pot and put on a pot of chicken soup. But not just any chicken soup, no. Hubs never does just any old thing; he imbues everything with his signature double-punch of creativity and whimsy.

The soup pictured above is the outcome of his time at the stove. It's his spin on Greek chicken soup, with fennel, spinach and dill included along with the more pedestrian carrots, celery and chicken. It's. So. Good. You want to make this soup, you really do. The recipe makes a big pot, enough for a large family or multiple meals for a hungry bachelor or bachelorette.
Glenn's Greek Chicken Soup
The Goods: 
-3 tablespoons olive oil
-1 onion, diced
-2 carrots, diced
-3 stalks of celery, diced
-1 bulb of fennel, diced (reserve the fronds)
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons fennel seeds
-2 pounds chicken breast, cubed
-1 teaspoon sea salt
-Several grinds black pepper
-14-ounces diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
-1 cup wine (your choice)
-Juice of 1 to 2 lemons (depending on how lemony you like it)
-3-4 quarts chicken stock (depending on how brothy you like it)
-2 teaspoons dill
-2 teaspoons thyme
-1 teaspoons marjoram
-10-ounces box of frozen chopped spinach, or 1 lb fresh greens of your choice
-5 ounces soup rings, or other small noodles
-1 bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped (half for cooking in the soup, half for garnishing the soup)
-Additional sea salt to taste
-Feta for crumbling on top of the soup

The Deal:
1) In a stock pot or dutch oven, cook the onions, carrots, celery, and fennel in the olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
2) Add the garlic and fennel seeds; cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
3) Add the chicken, salt, and pepper; cook 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the chicken looks cooked on the outside.
4) Add the tomatoes, wine, lemon juice, stock, and herbs; cook about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.
5) Add the spinach or greens, the fennel fronds, and the soup rings, and cook for about 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
6) Stir in half of the chopped cilantro leaves.
7) Taste to adjust salt and pepper.
8) Ladle into individual bowls, and garnish with crumbled feta and chopped cilantro leaves to serve.
Reserve some feta and cilantro leaves to enjoy on the soup all week long!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Better With Butter (+Giveaway!!!)

I used to be an incredibly frugal butter-spreader. In other words, sure, I'd put butter on my toast or my baked potato, but only in the tiniest, slightest, skimpiest amount imaginable. Once I discovered, though, that whole, full, nutritious, all-natural animal fats made me feel and look better, I started slathering it on, thickly.

Now I use butter in almost everything I bake, spread it liberally on biscuits, and put a nice amount into a bowl of hot peas. I also often make my own butter. It's creamy, whipped goodness is amazing, and incredibly easy to "whip up." Here's how: 

Shake, Rattle, & Roll
(Reprinted with permission from my book Homemade Living: Home Dairy © 2011 by Ashley English, Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.) :
Yield: Approximately 1 cup. 

You will need:
-1 quart-sized jar with lid
-1 pint heavy cream
-1 glass marble
-Cutting board
- ¼ tsp. salt, optional

To Prepare:
1. Allow cream to come to room temperature, or right around 72-74° F. To do this, simply take the cream out of the refrigerator, set it on the counter, put a dairy thermometer into it, and check on it every 30 minutes or so until the temperature rises. This allows the cream to ripen slightly, raising its acidity, and thereby becoming easier to whip and full of flavor.
2. Place cream and marble inside of your jar, secure the lid, and begin shaking vigorously.
3. Continue shaking, about once per second, until the cream begins to thicken. You’ll hear it, as it changes from a constant sloshing sound to a heavier thud. This process will take anywhere between 5-30 minutes, depending on the intensity and frequency of the shaking.
4. Using a spatula, remove the butter from the jar, draining off the buttermilk (save that for biscuits or cornbread-making!).
5. Take the marble out, place the butter in a medium-sized bowl, and run cold water over it. Empty the water out, and repeat several times until the water is clear in the bowl. Strain off any remaining water.
6. If using salt, stir it in with a metal spoon. Otherwise, place the butter on a cutting board.
7. Using either clean hands or a wooden spoon, begin pressing the butter repeatedly, allowing any liquid inside of it to drain off. Continue pressing until you no longer see liquid coming from your butter.
8. Depending on whether you intend to use your butter now or in the future, you can store at room temperature in a butter crock, or chilled or frozen in wax or parchment paper, or a covered container in the refrigerator or the freezer. 

In recognition of this most delicious of condiments, I'm doing a giveaway today of a butter bell, also known as a butter crock. Pictured above, butter bells have been in use for ages, keeping butter fresh without refrigeration. Butter is placed in the recessed vessel on top, the bottom basin is filled about 2/3rds of the way with cold water, and then the butter-holding vessel is placed butter-side down. You'll need to refresh the water daily to keep the butter from spoiling.    

With the American Thanksgiving holiday on its way next week, I thought a butter bell would be a nifty addition to the bountiful spreads that will be appearing on tables coast to coast. If you've never made butter before, give it a go. I think you'll be amazed at just how easy and delicious it is. And all of your friends and family will be beyond thankful, come Thanksgiving, for your butter-making chops.     

To enter, simply leave a comment saying what you think is made better with butter. Corn on the cob? Heavens, yes. Cream cheese frosting? Need you ask? Mashed potatoes? Is the Pope Catholic? You get the picture. Because I'd like to get this out to the winner's table by Thanksgiving day, I'll only be running the giveaway through this Thursday, the 17th, midnight EST. I'll announce the winner on Friday morning, get their mailing info., and high-tail it to the post office to get it out with that day's mail.     

And although my neighbors to the north have already had their own Thanksgiving, I've decided to open this small measure giveaway to Canadians. Let's hear your butter love, too!    

Please do leave a means of contacting you in your comment, via either a link back to your own blog or website, or with your email information. Otherwise, I won't have any means of reaching you, should you be the winner. 

UPDATE: Congratulations to Tina J, lucky #83! Thank you so much to all who entered! Clearly, there's some big butter lovin' going on up in here!!! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gettin' Stitched

Local yokels, my friend Sarabeth Lattimore (the fashion designer and seamstress extraordinaire I profiled back here) will be hosting a discussion on all things sewing related tomorrow at Waechter's Fine Fabrics.

Here's the information she forwarded to me:

10am-1pm Meet and Greet with Sarahbeth Larrimore of Unabashed apparel - Meet our designer-in-residence and learn about her up and coming Sewing Studio Saturdays, a sewing class geared towards the next generation of younger folks learning to sew (ages 18-40ish.) This "class" is for folks just starting out, or folks that sew but want to learn more & have the support of a young, hip sewist community!

Events going on throughout the day taught by the Waechterettes:
10:30-11 Fabric + Pattern Selections that wow.
11:30-12 Best Top Patterns for beginners to advanced sewers.   
12:30-1: Pressing Matters: Pressing tools and how to use them.
1:30-2: Best Jackets for beginners to advanced sewers.
2:30-3: Trims trims trims! Personalize and inspire!
3:30-4 Featured Techniques: Hong Kong finish, French Seams, Handpicked zippers etc.  

If you're free and looking to learn more about sewing, go visit Sarahbeth, and do be sure to tell her I sent you!!!  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cradle of Love

The simplest things make me so happy these days. A mug of hot coffee. Baby giggles. A maple tree clad in golden leaves. And firewood. Well-seasoned, cut-to-length, tightly stacked firewood.

Hubs has tried out a variety of firewood cradles since purchasing the property back in 2004. While they've all worked, each had a number of design issues. Until now.

He built this hefty cradle in an ideal location near the house (creating a shorter schlepping distance, YES!), with strong lumber and metal support braces to keep it from toppling over. Ever the artist, he gave it a dark wood stain and an eye-catching green roof so that we can actually enjoy looking out the kitchen window all winter long at our wood pile. The concrete blocks underneath provide an additional level of fortification. The wooden dowel running the length of the cradle will be used to hold up a tarp, for keeping out the moisture that accompanies winter snowstorms and spring rains.

This project, like any learn-as-you-go one, wasn't without it's fair share of snafus. Halfway through, Hubs realized he hadn't put down enough pressure-treated 4'x4's to provide a flat bottom for stacking the wood (apparently, he told me that, upon this discovery, he laid down in the driveway for a minute and almost cried). Never one to walk away from a challenge, he re-jiggered and tweaked the design until it achieved his ideal, both structurally and aesthetically.

There was a time when new nightclubs, fancy cocktails imbibed at said nightclubs, and dancing the night away with my fancy cocktail at the nightclub were the things that got me excited. Now, it's firewood, cradled with care in a lovingly built wood shed. I still dance, and sip, only now I do so in my flannel p.j.'s, surrounded by my fellas, enjoying the warmth offered by a glowing hearth and a content heart.

*If any of you locals need a great firewood supplier, let me know. I've got a guy....For those of you that have asked, here's the information:
-Fred Nelson.
-He's in Waynesville.
-$125 will get you a true, seasoned cord, delivered & stacked.
-828/456-4365 (H) or 828/400-3872 (C).
And, please, tell him I sent ya!!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Two Guys

Oh, how I love them so. Crazy to think they looked like this just over a year ago!

Sorry for the radio silence, friends. Hubs' folks have been staying with us since Thursday and we've been busy with all sorts of grandparently activities the past few days.

I'll be back tomorrow with a fresh, new, exciting, riveting (one can hope, right???) post!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wild Child

The "Wild Things" party was an absolute joy. Huxley and I dressed as wild pollinators, he as a bumble bee and myself as a lady bug. Other wild things in attendance included several frogs, a dinosaur, a bat, a spider, some cats, a monkey, several wild rock & rollers, a banana slug (!!!), several lions, and a grandmother in a python skirt and a great-grandmother in a giraffe/zebra/lion ensemble (have mercy!).

I made a tablescape with some wild-gathered items, including tree branches, Rose of Sharon pods, Mimosa tree pods, and berries from our property, and acorns and tiny pine cones from the walk Devan and I took at Biltmore Lake. I added in some apples from Skytop Orchard and a few pears and tomatillos for a bit of green to temper all of that red.

The garland attached to the dining room light is from Retroprint. It was upcycled from pages of a vintage book entitled The Natural World. It'll go up in Huxley's room, now that the party is over, to complement the "exploratorium" theme we've got going in there. The little animal envelopes (also upcycled from the pages of an endangered animal card set) were take-away favors (along with the Endangered Species chocolates), containing wild bird seed for our "wild feathered friends."

We decided to really milk the "wild theme," clearly, (since it's Huxley's middle name and his general demeanor, along with a very important concept in Hubs' and my life-wild spaces, open-mindedness, etc.), and created a "wild" meal. We noshed on the following:

-Wild-caught fish stew with Farm & Sparrow bread
-Wild rice & spinach cakes with lemon ricotta topping
-"Wild" popcorn (I tossed freshly popped corn with a homemade curry blend)
-Wild Things In A Blanket (croissant dough wrapped around Hickory Nut Gap breakfast sausage that Hubs cooked with maple syrup and onion)
-A "Build Your Own Wild Mushroom" cupcake bar

For the cupcakes, I baked carrot cake cupcakes that we then cut the tops off of and inverted onto the bottom "stems" (this was Hubs' genius idea). I used India Tree natural decorating colors to tint cream cheese frosting light green and orange. Toppings for the "mushroom" cupcakes included: dark chocolate raisins, yogurt raisins, toffee chocolate peanuts, chocolate-covered pineapple, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, dried blueberries, dried pineapple, and natural-dyed milk chocolate "Sundrops" from Sunspire.

We sipped on mulled apple cider (I studded an apple with cloves, sliced up an orange into rings, and tossed several star anise and cinnamon sticks along with the fruit into a pot with fresh cider), hard cider, pumpkin ale, hard pumpkin cider, and several other local beers.

It was a blast. Huxley was so amped from the revelry that he could barely contain his enthusiasm. I can't begin to express my gratitude for the community of friends and family in which Hubs and I have found ourselves. Huxley is one loved little fella, that's for sure.

I'd really enjoy hosting "wild" parties for him every year, based on whatever wild area he'd like to choose (and, of course, if that's what he'd like his Papa and I to focus on). I love planning parties and have done so my entire life. Now that I'm a parent, and have a brand new arena of not-yet-explored merriment (i.e. entertaining for kiddos!) to examine, I'm overjoyed!

I'll end this post with a nod to Duran Duran. I was a HUGE DD fan in my youth and their hit is pretty much Huxley's anthem for life.

*If you'd like more wild shots, here's a whole heap of them!