Friday, April 27, 2012

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! What a week it's been, chez English. While I've been battling my way through the most severe seasonal allergy attack of my life, I've also been reveling in a number of exciting new prospects.

To begin, we introduced Huxley to his training potty on Tuesday. He's already used it a few times!  Of course, he's also definitely, decidedly, without question NOT used it, too. And so begins that journey.

Secondly, in the past few weeks, I've amassed a mini orchard, comprised of: one apple tree, two pear trees, two cherry trees (Bing! YUM!), two peach trees, and one plum tree. Now, to plant them, and to plant them well. Any suggestions or tips for planting fruit trees as deftly and successfully as imaginable?

Lastly, and not to be outdone by toddler potties or mini orchards, my offer for a new book proposal was accepted! I'll tell you more about it as the process unfolds, but, suffice to say, the topic is very, very dear to my heart, and involves something I've been doing and planning and dreaming about since I was, oh, 7 or 8 years old. And you, dear readers, you will love, love, love it!

In the mean time, here's a smattering of this's and that's that caught my attention this week:
*Roasted strawberry muffins, oh yes! 
*The idea of single udder butter has me captivated.
*DIY backyard beekeeping.
*Homemade coconut rochers, people!!!
*A store for the honeybees.
*The world is full of goodness when we are grateful.
*Handy round-up of online shops with the Earth in mind.
*Loving my garden clogs (bought gently used, for $5!).
*Pistachio citrus cake-it's not just for pregnant ladies.

That image above is from the deck floor of a yome my friends are buying. My buddy Jess's husband, Drew, and his brother built it. Isn't it just lovely? The yome will be my friend's "yome away from home", as they live in Decatur, Georgia but plan to house the yome here in the mountains. We went on a reconnaissance mission for them this past Tuesday, to check on the yome's condition. Turned out we were already connected to the current owner, via a root system network of friends. Ah, don't you just love serendipitous occurrences?! 'Twas mean to be, it would seem!

This weekend, so long as I feel up to it, we're hoping to see some friends tomorrow evening (for a surprise birthday party! I ADORE surprises!!!) and then go to this incredible old timey Cake Walk, sponsored by Slow Foods Asheville. Happy sinuses permitted, it should be a glorious weekend.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hubs Considers: A Walk In the Rain

I'm still down for the count, folks. Working on getting this crud out of my nasal passages (and my eyes! It's moved into my eyes, oy vey!). In the mean time, I am honored to bring you another lovely, thoughtful guest post from my dear, sweet Hubs, who continues to nurture me back to health with warm meals, gentle words, and hot toddies. Oh, yes. I think it's the hot toddies that might be healing me the most. 

It's another rainy day here in Western North Carolina. We have lots of them, and I am very grateful for it. Not as grateful as Huxley though. As I type this, Huxley is outside with Ashley, partaking in one of his very favorite things: running through puddles while he joyfully exclaims, "go fast, go fast!" 

For Huxley, puddles are a source of play and wonder. Like most anyone that can't count their age on their fingers, I tend to do my best to walk around them. Watching Huxley squeal with delight, I can't help but wonder if I have been missing out all these years. Some say that if you pay close attention, and allow yourself a bit of humility, you have a lot to learn from your children. I find they're right.

There are lots of practical reasons to avoid the rain. Soaking wet clothes aren't always conducive to a productive day. Today I wanted to do a little reinforcing on the chicken coop, but my power tools and rain don't mix well, so I decided to wait rather than follow Huxley's embrace-the-rain ethos. I have no doubt that he would love to be out in the rain right now, with my power tools, commanding them to go faster. Obviously, power tools and toddlers aren't an ideal combination. We are still trying to convince him of that, despite the occasional protest. Drilling can wait.

The thing is, when it comes to rain, a lot of us adults have thrown the baby out with the rainwater. Sure, there are lots of times when it makes good sense to avoid getting wet, but the truth is, there are also times that it's actually a bit silly to let a few drops of water hold us prisoner indoors, because  there are plenty of fun and wonderful experiences to be had in the rain. 

There is so much dynamism that we are missing out on. Rain is always moving. Every drop catches the light and fills the empty air with substance, reflection, and motion. When we embrace that, it moves us too, and it's pretty darned invigorating.  When the drops explode on the first surface that they contact, they create a melodic orchestra of percussive rhythms that stirs the soul, if you let it. As those drops morph into puddles and streams, the liquid connects everything that it touches, including us.

I took a walk in the woods by the house today, as it rained, and I can assure you that I didn't melt, freeze, or float away. In fact, it was pretty fantastic. I didn't plow through the puddles Huxley style, but I didn't take great care to avoid them either. The sun came in and out during my walk, which is always a fun touch. I have seen the rain coming down on a sunny day. The rain makes the woods louder, and quieter at the same time. The leaves crunch less, the birds are less chatty, and the white noise of the pitter-patter muffles many of the usual sounds. 

With so many different surfaces, from an infinite variety of leaves, rocks, downed trees, and streams, the orchestra is particularly marvelous. The brooks all babble at full throttle, and on this day, the rumble of thunder made for some heavy-duty bass riffs. When wet, every surface in the forest becomes a reflective surface, catching the light, and bending it. It's nothing short of miraculous.

I know it's a simple thing; a walk through the woods in the rain, but simple pleasures appeal to me more and more these days, and when I give them careful attention, I find the wonder that's always all around us, but all too easy to overlook. I suppose I have Huxley to thank for that. 

You can see more images from Hubs' walk in the rain here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From Bolt to Vase

One of my most abiding pleasures in life is finding beauty in unexpected places. Whether that's in the gentle sway of laundry drying on the line, the cascade of leaves from a ginkgo tree, or the camouflage print on a toad's back (Huxley and I found an incredible specimen hiding out in the mint patch by the front door!), discovering the innate exquisiteness in nature is so very fulfilling.

Which is why I was so happy to realize just how gorgeous collard bolts are in a vase. Who knew, right?

Hubs is the party truly responsible for this revelation. I'd been trying as much as possible to pull off the flowers from the collards in the garden (planted last September and still going strong owing to our incredibly mild winter!) all spring, so as to prolong their life span. Then I got busy with writing-projects and baby-watching and, well, life, then it rained, and the flowers went bananas.

We began noticing just how much the pollinators of every persuasion out here in the cove seemed to love the flowers, so we opted to let them be, for now, at least. Hubs got curious about what one could do with the flowers (aside from sharing them with those buzzing beauties), and brought a handful inside. I put the blooms in water until we decided what we might do with them and realized, suddenly, that they were perfect just like that.

For Jen's potluck dinner, we placed a vase of the blooms on the feasting table. They served as a perfect compliment, and nod to, the southern bounty of foods it adorned. I'd have never have imagined I'd be tricking out my dining room table with collard blooms. And now, well now I can't imagine not doing it!

For those who've mentioned it, you can see many more images of our old window cold frame, and read about how we made it, here

Monday, April 23, 2012

Soup & Snuggles

So, that seasonal allergy thing I mentioned? It's still here. It's much better than yesterday, but it's still lingering. Swallowing last night felt like daggers were being jabbed down my throat. Not good.

Fortunately, Hubs came to the rescue. Instead of heading to his usual Sunday ritual of 4 hours (!!!) of competitive Scrabble in town, he stuck around, and after whipping up that amazing bit of French toast, he pulled out the stock pot and brewed a savory batch of his stellar chicken soup. Although different every time he makes it, the pot he made yesterday mirrored this recipe in many ways.

Additional sick day components were shiitake and cremini mushrooms (good for immune system bolstering) and lots of fresh herbs (full of chlorophyll and infection-fighting properties). All soup is better with bread, and Hubs served his alongside thick, hearty slices of our much beloved local bakery Farm & Sparrow's Market Bread. And then he served it to me in bed. I've got a good one, folks.

Along with my typical sick-fighting arsenal of grapefruit seed extract and nettle tincture, I'm downing hefty mug upon mug of my go-to Ginger Tea. Hot, spicy and soothing, this stuff is an absolute balm to my scorched throat. I've also taken a few hot baths with eucalyptus essential oil added in. Never one to get sick sitting down, I'm giving it my all. Consider yourself warned, cold. You're going down.

Fortunately, Huxley seems just fine. Though he's had a cough each morning since Friday, he's suffered none of my other afflictions. He even wanted to play outside today, in 40 degree weather. He knows, though, that, alongside his Papa's chicken soup, his snuggles ("Huggies!" are what he calls them) will get me well as fast as anything.

What about you? What do you do when you're down for the count? I'm always up for learning of time-honored natural remedies!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happiness Is A Plate of French Toast

Happiness is a spouse who cooks up a batch of his inter-galactically renown french toast (and that's not at all hyperbolic, it's just that good)without solicitation. Super happiness is then achieved when he covers it in freshly made blueberry maple syrup. Over-the-top happiness is experienced when he makes it the morning that you are feeling haggard, and run-down, and congested after tending to a teething baby overnight and sharing his seasonal allergy-related (I think) cough.

Thanks, Hubs. Huxley and I much approve.
*Hubs would like me to share his "secret" tip for making French toast with ease: Forget about soaking the bread slices in a large Pyrex or similar rectangular dish. Use a cookie sheet (with edges) instead, which makes it easier to fit all of the slices in one batch and provides more space for turning them as they soak. There you go!

Friday, April 20, 2012

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! We hit the motherlode, rain-wise, this week. Oh yes. Most of Tuesday and all day Wednesday, it poured like there was no stopping. And it really couldn't have come at a better time, as the flora and fauna out here were parched and thirsty. Huxley was a huge fan of the rain's output, too (my favorite part is when he says "Hot!" clearly meaning "Cold!"). 

I'm so excited to announce a brand-spanking new collaboration with my gal-pal Jen Altman. She and I are working together on my Small Measures with Ashley column on Design Sponge. I'm penning and coming up with the topic, while she styles and photographs the images. Our first project together is on making Infused Vinegars. It's so lovely. Jen is an epically talented photographer and just a great lady, all around. We'll be posting two Small Measures over there each month on Fridays. I'll be sure to post a link here each time there's something new. 

Here's a sampling of this's and that's that grabbed my attention this week:
*Morels! Everywhere!
*DIY deodorant.
*A homemade rain barrel.
*Turn your 2011 applesauce into cake!
*French children really do eat everything (this is how we've done foods with Huxley, too).
*Love this easy outdoor umbrella stand idea.
*Gorgeous teardrop terrarium.
*Pickled radishes? Yes, please!
*A treasure trove of foraging recipe ideas.
*Feeling the life force of food.

I'm determined to find organically grown local strawberries at the farmer's market tomorrow. I've heard word that they're out there, so it's just a matter of getting to them before everyone else in town does! Otherwise, I plan to leave the laptop and toil the soil, working in the garden weeding, planting, sowing seeds and otherwise gettin' in it (that said, I did just learn this week that our wifi signal reaches the garden, so I actually could work out there, not that I will, just that I could...).

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Strike It Rich

We use a lot of matches, chez English. There's the usual suspects, like starting the wood stove, that require us to strike a match. There's the gas range, which we light with matches, too. There's also the fire pit outside, and the grill on the porch. There are an abundance of candles and incense, as well, which I'm particularly fond of firing up. Finally, we employ them regularly in the bathroom, where they make a fabulous, inexpensive, low-fi odor eliminator, when the "need" arises (you know what I'm saying here, right?). 

Several years ago, I came across some gorgeous, artfully designed match boxes at a store selling lovely bath salts, candles, soaps, incense, fluffy robes, and an array of in-store spa therapies. They had seed pods and unusual flowers on them and long matches inside. I was taken by the packaging and purchased a few boxes. 

Those pretty little parcels ran out not too long ago. A stickler for nice-looking items, whether utilitarian or purely ornamental, I longed for those boxes again, but hesitated over their price. Enter the incredibly easy, ridiculously affordable solution. A few images, a box cutter, and some adhesive later, and I'm back in the decorative match box business, for considerably less money. 

This is an ideal opportunity for using magazine pages. After you've read it, and decided you're ready to pass it on or recycle it, look it over for any graphic images. We used pictures of quilts in the match boxes above. It could be an artful image, a vivid color, a graphic pattern used in an ad-anything, really, that speaks to you. Carefully cut the image to fit the top of your match box. We like to use the large size Diamond brand "Greenlight" matches, which are sourced from responsibly managed forests. Each box holds 300 large kitchen matches, crafted "extra thick for longer burn time." Perfection! 

This project couldn't be any easier, or any more simultaneously useful. Just because an object serves a super utilitarian function doesn't mean it shouldn't also be pleasing to look at. In fact, I'd argue that it should then definitely be easy on the eyes, by virtue of the fact that you'll be looking at it so often. Next time you find yourself using matches, consider dolling them up similarly. Save yourself some cash while making your life a little more atractive.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Homemade Pantry (Humpday Giveaway!!!)

I love serendipity. It reinforces my belief in an invisible, physical interconnectedness permeating all things, made manifest only if you're still and quiet enough to notice it. It makes life seem a bit less scary, a bit more meaningful.

Such was the case recently with Alana Chernila. I belong to several book buying clubs. Her book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making, just published April 3rd. My book club began promoting it a few weeks ago and it instantly caught my eye. I checked into Alana, pre-ordered the book, and began following her on Twitter. Later that day, she followed me back, with a sweet message saying I seemed like someone she'd love to cook with. And so, an alliance was formed and we've been chatting each other up since. 

This book. THIS. BOOK. Friends, you're going to love it. Literally running the pantry gamut from soup to nuts, Alana expertly shows you how to craft in your kitchen many items you're currently buying. Most of the projects don't involve a great deal of time or a long list of ingredients, either, so you really are saving in so many ways. The book is packed with recipes she feeds her own family, so you can trust each one to deliver.

Not only is the book comprehensive in range, it's kitchen-friendly, too. The cover is meant to withstand repeated splatters and the pages (full of beautiful photography!) are meant to be dog-eared and turned to, again and again.

I purchased my own copy and was so deeply smitten with it that I didn't want to give it away! I wrote Alana, detailing my plight to her. Her publisher, Potter, then generously offered to give a copy to one lucky small measure reader. To be entered in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below, listing one pantry staple you've long wished to conquer. For me, it's several (it's so hard to choose!): sauerkraut, bread, and mayonnaise.

In your reply, please leave a means of contacting you, should you be the winner, via either a link to your blog or website, or by listing your email address in your comment. I'll run the giveaway through next Wednesday, April 25th, midnight EST. Canadians, feel free to enter, too!

In the meantime, check out Alana's blog, Eating From the Ground Up, as well as her food tutorial videos. She's a lovely lady, a creative cook, a nurturing mama, and a sweet soul. Thanks, serendipity, for hitching my wagon to hers!

UPDATE: The winner of The Homemade Pantry is lucky #208, Amy! Thank you so very much to everyone who commented. I'm inspired by what everyone wants to learn to do!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Recent Acquisitions

We picked up a few new eating implements for Huxley recently, as his robust appetite had been resulting in a shortage of clean bowls and plates at the ready. Green Toys recently launched a new line called Green Eats. Our local natural home supply store, Nest, had a 4-pack of their plates for sale, all made from 100% recycled BPA-free plastic.

Green Toys makes some seriously fantastic products, including the race car and dump truck pictured alongside the plates, Nugget-warming and 1-year birthday gifts respectively for Huxley from some loving friends. They're incredibly durable (perfect for an active toddler with tiny fists and biceps of steel-I tell ya, the little guy is STRONG!), come in a variety of eye-pleasing colors, and support a small business doing a good thing. I'm a fan, all around.

Also at Nest, we found a Bambu toddler plate and spork. Bambu makes a line of beautiful, contemporary products for the home from an imminently renewable resource, bamboo. We use a number of their other items around the house, and always keep a travel spork with us, should a to-go meal requiring utensils suddenly occur.

I'm always interested in learning about great, sustainable kid's companies. If you know of one that you're particularly smitten with, I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Southern Comfort

I love entertaining. I really do. Hubs often jokes that I'm always planning my next party, and he's pretty accurate in that observation. To me, nothing beats a house overflowing with guests, delicious food and abundant laughter.

That said, pulling off a big shindig oneself can often be prohibitive, for a number of reasons. The largest concern for many lies in the cost of feeding a multitude of your nearest and dearest. In short, it gets pricey-fast. Enter the potluck. Long a favorite means of entertaining chez English, the potluck is the working persons solutions to entertaining. You do some work, your friends do some work, and everyone walks away happy (and stuffed!).

This past Wednesday, I had the exquisite pleasure of hosting a southern foods "Ribs & Sides" potluck for the lovely and imminently talented Jen Altman (she professed ribs her favorite food). Along with a group of friends, we festooned Jen and her gorgeous girls with a feast fit for a queen and her court.

Here's the haul:
*The Genevieve (in honor of the birthday lady): a mixture of St. Germaine & cava, topped with wild violets from our property
*A Southern crudite platter featuring: Pickled Asparagus & Thyme, Chinese  5-Spice pickles, Chipotle Okra, Curried Okra, and Pickled Lemon Cucumbers, served alongside aged English cheddar, my Cardamom Apple Butter and woven wheat crackers
*Deviled Eggs adorned with pickled mustard seeds
*Ribs, two ways: baby-back and shoulder, both in a sorghum barbeque sauce (the shoulder ribs were from the incredible Asheville butcher The Chop Shop-if you haven't gone yet, do.).
*Fried Okra
*Jalapeno Corn Pudding
*Slow-cooked Collards with Bacon (served with vinegar table-side, naturally)
*Dilly Coleslaw
*Sauteed Green Beans
*And for dessert, Katie Quinn Davies' Guinness Cake

Have mercy. It was truly an epic feast. And made possible entirely on account of the love, generosity, and elbow grease of a community of gifted friends. Jen, we are SO happy to have you in our lives, in our hearts, and, most of all, in Asheville!!!

Friday, April 13, 2012

What I'm Digging

Hubs, Huxley and I dashed out this morning for a rollicking, romping good time at Mighty Mites, which is essentially just baby gymnastics. Like I said on here before, it's just about the best $5 I've ever spent. Forty-five minutes of running, crawling, bouncing, and giggling makes for a tuckered-out baby and two happy parents! 

Here's a smattering of this's and that's that caught my attention this week:
*Upcycling tin cans!
*Joel Salatin's take on local food being called elitist.
*Sibella Court's work space is so beautifully curated.
*Made this cake for my buddy Jen's birthday on Wednesday. Crazy delicious!
*May I have the grace and poise of Maia when I am her age (via Erin).
*I've told Hubs I'll take one of these out here for my writer's cabin.  
*Great pantry staple gift ideas.
*Hannah's jewelry just keeps getting better!
*So. Amazingly. Beautiful.
*I'm in love with this fragrance (also, I was wearing a flannel shirt when I read this).

My mom turns a young 65 this weekend (on tax day!), so we've got family coming up to celebrate. Looking forward to eating lunch here tomorrow and then noshing on this cake out here afterwards (Mom LOVES coconut!). Sunday will find me in the bee yard, making splits with fellow beekeepers. Should be a wonderful weekend, all around.

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Keeping Chickens & Ceramic Eggs (Giveaway!!!)

I'm gearing up to teach another of my "Backyard Chickens" classes at our local community college, AB-Tech, tonight (there's still a few spaces left, if any of you want to come!). Accordingly, I've got chickens on the brain.

This time of year is such a great time in the wide world of our fine feathered friends. Their plumage is nice and glossy, their combs and wattles are red and plump, they're thrilled to be finding bugs available for the picking (pecking?), and some hens are going broody, ready to sit on a clutch of eggs. In short, the birds are living the good life!

When my flock is happy, I'm happy. As such, I'd like to offer one small measure reader a copy of my book, Keeping Chickens. I'm also including with the book a couple of brown ceramic eggs. More than simply decorative objects (if you're into the whole poultry decor thing, that is), these eggs are incredibly handy to have around, for a variety of reasons.

Should you have a hen go broody, but don't have a rooster in your flock (and therefore lack any fertile eggs), you can tuck these eggs under her. She can then continue to sit without doing so on eggs you'd rather be consuming yourself (that is, unless you want to discourage her broodiness, in which case you'll need to block entry to the nesting box she's been using).

These ceramic eggs can also be used should you ever have a problem with a member of your flock eating their own eggs. An attempted peck or two at the fake eggs is pretty much all it takes to discourage the nibbling interloper from continued action.

To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below. Be sure to leave a means of contacting you in your reply, either via your email address or through a link back to your own blog or website. I'll run the giveaway through next Wednesday, April 18th, midnight EST. The giveaway is open to all residents of North America.

Whether you're already a chicken tender(er), or hoping to get a wing up on the venture this year, here's wishing you and your flock a world of food and fun!

UPDATE:The winner of my "Keeping Chickens" book and ceramic eggs giveaway is lucky #62, Sarah, of Frugal By Choice. Thank you so very much to everyone that entered, and props to you, Sarah!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hubs Considers: A Walk In the Woods

Today I'm beyond excited to introduce to you a new twist here on small measure. You've all heard me talk about this thing Hubs built, or that dish he cooked, but you've never heard him bring it to you himself. Well, no more. Debuting today is the first of, hopefully, many more musings from the man himself. He's been so taken with morel hunting, and general forest explorations, he wanted to share a bit of what he's gleaned on his walks with you.

His most recent cache is pictured above. Last night he served Huxley and I an exquisite dinner of grass-fed beef topped with lemon balm compound butter (using leaves gathered from our plants), grilled asparagus (from nearby Hickory Nut Gap Farm) and Yukon potato slices, and morels served in the traditional style-dredged in flour and fried to perfection in butter. We all groaned and moaned in delight; Huxley even offered up his highest compliment-"'Licious!"-completely unprompted.


Ashley, Huxley, and I are very fortunate to live in a quiet, majestic clearing in the woods, nestled in the verdant mountains of Western North Carolina, part of the oldest mountain range in the world. This area is the only temperate rain forest in North America, outside of the Pacific North West, and because of all that moisture, along with the varying elevations and proximity between north and south, one study found it to be the most biodiverse region in North America. I don't know if that's true or not, but there is certainly no shortage of beauty and wonder in these woods.

A walk in the woods always makes me feel particularly alive, and it seems that every time I venture out into the woods, I feel a little more connected to nature. It takes some patience to walk in the woods with me, because every few steps, another natural wonder, be it a stone with an unusual shape or patina, or a plant with leaves of curious geometries, or a color creature slinking across the path diverts my attention. It awakens my senses like nothing else, and the experience is both wondrous and dreamlike.

I'm not a religious man, but I suppose in a sense, the woods are my church. That's why I was particularly amazed to find that hunting for morels brought the experience to a whole new level. Not that there is anything wrong with a glorious, aimless walk through the woods, but I found that something truly remarkable, and profoundly connecting, happens when my attention is focused on the goal of finding those gastronomical gems that nature has cleverly hidden in the subtlest of nooks and crannies of the forest.

I would have guessed that a walk through the woods with such keen intention would come at the expense of stopping to smell the flowers, and noticing the magical details that usually catch my attention, but as it turns out, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, it focused my attention on details that normally would have been glossed over by the vastness of information all around, like the subtle difference in the patterns of bark between a big old oak and a tulip poplar, or the shock absorbing crunch of decaying organic matter that has built up in one area, verses the springy bounce of moss on another.

I would also have guessed that I'd be so focused on the forest floor, I would barely notice what was in front of me, or what was above me, but quite the opposite has proven true. Morels grow best under certain conditions, like dead elm trees, or large old grandfather poplars, or trees that are slowly dying. In the early spring, when the leaves aren't all the way out yet, telling one from another often means a lot of careful attention directed up to the tops of trees, which leads to all sorts of other wonderful sightings, like reticulated woodpeckers and curious dendritic patterns where lightening or storm changed the angle of a tree that responded by growing back in an unexpected, determined direction.

One of the most interesting things is that it forces you to start noticing which plants grow next to each other The more you start picking up on those patterns, the more you start to develop an eye for where to find them. When you stop and really notice those patterns, of trees, of ground cover, of soil, of light, you start to have a much better sense of where to look, and your success rate increases exponentially.

I won't lie, it's frustrating at times, when despite your best efforts, you just can't seem to locate any of those sneaky morsels. But when you do find one, that makes it all the more exciting. It's like winning the mushroom lottery every time. For me at least, it's impossible not to feel thrilled every single time I spot one. But in truth, even those times when I come back empty-handed are rewarding in unexpected ways. Forcing myself to pay attention like never before always leads to new discoveries, like ferns pushing up through an old stone chimney that was all that was left of a house in the woods reclaimed by nature more than a century ago, fort-like little worlds under the rhododendron canopy, or a spring dripping down onto rose quartz from the moss covered roots of an old tree in the side of the ridge, looking like it came straight out of a faerie tale.

No doubt, this is going to be something that I look forward to every year. I suspect that over time, as I learn to be more in touch with nature's patterns, I'll get better and better at returning home with a treasure of spoils. I already know that, find them or not, I've learned so much I'll be taking with me whenever I venture into the woods, no matter what time of year.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Come Join Me!

I'm so excited to be working on a redesign of small measure with my buddy, Alisa of Lucky Design 7 (she's the genius behind the blog banner above). It's slated to launch sometime in early summer, in advance of my new book (which publishes August 7th). Alisa has been sending me images and mock-ups of the new site and, FRIENDS! You're going to love it. I guarantee it.

Part of the new look will involve a selection of sponsorship spots. If you've got a business you think would be a good fit for small measure readers, I'd love to chat with you. My rates are really reasonable and will be available in several sizes.

So, if you've got an idea, hit me up at: ashleyadamsenglish(at)gmail(dot)com. Let's hook our wagons together and shoot for the stars!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

This Easter

Today chez English we feasted on Asparagus & Feta Quiche (the recipe's in here!), my "cleaned up" version of the southern fruit salad known as Ambrosia, and Ree Drummond's Hot Cross Buns (with homemade candied orange peel and currants tucked inside). Huxley plundered brightly colored eggs, courtesy of his great-grandmother, after which we gorged on seasonal peppermint creme, coconut creme and peanut butter-filled chocolate chicks from my most beloved chocolatiers.

Bellies and hearts are full, another Easter enjoyed in the company of those I hold so very dear. May your day be equally filled with love, laughter and abundance.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! This has been a good week around here. Lots of new, fun, exciting writing and other projects are in the works. We've also had (as it's said around here) a "mess" of rain, which I always gladly welcome (as will Huxley-he's mad about mud puddles, yelling both "fast" and "run" as he gallops through them!).

Here's a smattering of this's and that's that caught my attention this week:
*Wheat grass monograms-such an easy, fun, all-natural crafting idea.
*Adorable, sturdy kitchenware for the littles (thanks to Amanda for the tip).
*Kim's "Locally Known" farm photo series is stunning!
*Here's what you can do with any leftover 2011 fruit preserves.
*Eggs, eggs, and mo' eggs.
*Been enjoying Alana's blog (and just ordered her upcoming book, too!)
*Homemade citrus liqueurs! And limoncello, too!
*If Camille can make challah in an outdoor grill, so can you.
*I'm making hot cross buns this weekend. Still deciding between these and these.
*Great tutorial on how to break down a whole chicken.

Two books in my Homemade Living series received some love this week. Kitchen retailer Williams-Sonoma debuted their Agrarian line, and included my book Keeping Chickens in the mix. Also, Epicurious contributing writer Megan Steintrager included tips from me (and my Home Dairy book) in her post on making homemade yogurt.

I'm excited to meet up with my editor and buddy Nicole for a cocktail later today (we're going to The Junction-have you been? Nicole loves it). Jenny is coming over tomorrow to chat about bees (we're making splits from my abundant hives!) and otherwise catch up. Sunday will have us spending time with family and seeing if Huxley gets the whole "hide eggs in the yard and go find them" scenario.

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Morel To Love

I love gardening. I really do. Something about putting those seeds into the soil, watering them, weeding them, and just generally cheering them on is rewarding in more ways than I can possibly hope to articulate.

That said, it's wild foraging that really gets me pumped. It feels so primitive and exploratory. As Hubs put it the other day, when he was out in our forest hunting for morels, it's also so, so sensory. You really start looking at everything, slowly, lingeringly. You get quieter, step more lightly. You're not just on a walk in the woods, you're on the hunt, for food. The dynamic changes. You don't just see the forest-you see the trees, the moss, the dried leaves, the ferns, the woodpeckers, the snakes, everything!

As I mentioned last week, our friends recently shared some of their foraged morels with us. Such. Good. Friends. We combined some of their bounty with a bit we discovered ourselves in our forest (Hubs is turning into quite the forager, and he so looks the part, with his suspenders and his walking stick and his ginger-streaked beard, like a Scottish huntsman!). A frittata seemed like an ideal vessel for showcasing the mushrooms earthy, umami qualities. Paired with sweet/unctuous caramelized onions and topped with fresh mozzarella, this dish did the morels right.  

Morel, Caramelized Onion & Mozzarella Frittata
Serves: 2-4.

The Goods:
-2 pieces of bacon
-1/2 large onion, diced
-1 cup beef stock
-1/2 teaspoon sugar
-1 Tablespoon butter
-A handful of chopped morels
-5 eggs
-1/4 cup milk
-Several grinds black pepper
-Pinch of salt
-2-3 ounces fresh mozzarella

 The Deal:
1) Cook the bacon over medium heat in an oven-safe 12-inch skillet until lightly crispy. Remove the bacon, and set aside.
2) Add the diced onions to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes.
3) Add the stock and the sugar. Cook for about 25-30 minutes, until the onions are caramelized and there is no more liquid in the pan. Remove the onions from the pan, and set aside.
4) Add the butter to the pan, and when melted, add the morels. Cook for about 5 minutes, then remove the morels from the pan and set aside.
5) Turn the pan's heat down to low.
6) Whisk the eggs with the milk, salt, and pepper. Add the egg mixture to the pan, and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
7) Meanwhile, cut or tear the bacon into bite-sized pieces.
8) Distribute the bacon, morels, onion, and mozzarella across the top of the eggs.
9) Remove the pan from the stovetop, and place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the eggs are set and the cheese begins to melt.
10) Remove from the oven, and let it sit for a few minutes.
11) Invert the frittata from the pan onto a platter, then invert it onto another platter so that it is right-side up again.
12) Cut with a pizza wheel, and serve.

Have you cooked with morels, or other foraged mushrooms? What did you make? The way I see it, the more recipes for foraged mushrooms I can find, the better! I should mention here that mushrooms found in the wild can be tasty and/or toxic. ONLY eat those mushrooms you have definitely identified to be safe. When in doubt, don't eat it. Take a seasoned forager with you until you know exactly what you're looking for. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pie & Community

I mentioned last week that I've been busy doing a good deal of freelance writing lately. One of those new gigs is for Mrs. Wages, a purveyor of canning products. The way I came to write for Mrs. Wages is, to me, an example of the best part about blogging, and the community that doing so engenders.

A few weeks ago Marisa of Food In Jars sent me an email, giving me a head's up that Mrs. Wages was looking for a new columnist for their monthly newsletter. Marisa pens her own column for the company, where she blogs recipes and tips for canning seasonal foods. When they mentioned they were on the hunt for someone to blog about seasonal pie-making, she sent them my way, knowing I've been all kinds of busy with pie this's and that's for the past year.

And so, it's my pleasure to share with you today my first post for Mrs. Wages. Each month, I'll offer recipes for rendering pies out of the freshest seasonal offerings. For my first post, I made a scrumptious, oh-so-spring Lamb, Pea & Herb Pot Pie, as well as a creamy, dreamy, delectable Rhubarb Custard Pie. You can find the recipes for both here and see photos of each pie above. Thank you, Marisa, for thinking of me. And huge thanks also to Liz, my connection at Mrs. Wages, for bringing me into the fold!

Oh, one last thing. While I'm bursting with gratitude and gushing over blogging and connections and community, I should mention that my monthly "English Lessons" post for Verve discusses this very thing!

Pie and community. It doesn't get much better than that!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dig In

Oh, friends. The days of soil and sun and time spent outdoors are seriously upon us. We've been spending increasingly greater quantities of time "gettin' out in it" every day, and it is just delicious (or, as Huxley calls it, "Licious!").

I wanted to share with you several images of a finish Hubs put on some of our raised beds (we have 14 beds). He used a paint roller for the undercoat and then used a sponge to apply a variety of colors atop it. Doing so better mimics the color palette of the natural world, where monochromatic surfaces are almost never encountered (aside from, oh, maybe snow and sand).

Before Hubs tricked out the raised beds, they were fairly conspicuous. When you live in a cove in the middle of a forest, many human-placed things become incredibly visible, incredibly quickly. We love the use of colors that blend into the surrounding environment to look a bit more like we belong in the setting. These raised beds definitely achieve that goal. The paint also reinforces the wood, making it break down slower than an unfinished bed would. The paint, of course, is only on the exterior of the boxes, and doesn't extend down into where the soil is.

What about you? Do you use raised beds in your garden? If so, how do you bolster them? I'm so excited to have something that's both functional and subtly attractive in the garden. Time to dig in!