Friday, August 31, 2007

Everyone's got tomato stories...

The turkey roasting pan gets a second use this year I thought I would post a tale too.

I read a lot, and am usually not terribly forgetful about what it is I read, but I am now realizing--a big smacks-forehead moment--that I need to credit someone's writing for many of my recent thoughts. You see, I read this book when it first came out: I got it at the library. I was a city girl at the time, and lived a very organic life in my own small city plot. But somehow, though I loved the book, it didn't stick, at least obviously, in my thinking about my new life here in the country.

But enough of you have either listed this book as a favorite or have simply mentioned it that I actually spent money (!) and bought it. I've been rereading it this week. So when I read things that she says like

" is difficult for me to take seriously the question of whether eating locally is worth the trouble. Clearly it is for me. Trying to understand why, I have realized that my own commitment is probably driven by three things. The first is the taste of live food; the second is my relation to frugality; the third is my deep concern about the state of the planet.

As is surely obvious in all I have written to date, the production and consumption of fresh local food is so rich an experience for me that I find it hard to imagine how I would live if I couldn't grow what I eat and eat what I grow."

I say, sing it, sister!

So. No tomato story. How about a tomato thought:

Joan's Tomato Glut Sauce
(adapted from the NYTimes)

Preheat oven to 400*.
Put into a large roasting pan:
6 pounds tomatoes (plum are best), cored and quartered
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped carrots (optional)*
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped celery (optional)*
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onions
9 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tablespoons each fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt...or less
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Roast 45 minutes, or until veggies are soft. Process briefly to leave slightly chunky, and freeze in 2-cup portions. Makes 2 quarts (4 pounds).

* Very optional. I used pepper, eggplant and yellow squash in mine (it's a color thing) and I used all the tomatoes that happened to be fresh TODAY. It's Glut Sauce, you know...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Enough is not enough

So those chairs are coming in handy.

Last night, I stopped my greening activities and sat for a spell and thought about world domination. And domain, dominion. Specifically, this domain.

What would it take to really produce all our food here?

You see, we are not wanting for land. Despite my somewhat adversarial relationship with its clay soil, I know that this is good land, mostly flat, sunny, open land. I have not been in land-grab mode; I mostly think the gardens I have built have been "enough," though interestingly I have increased their size by about a third each of the three years I've been gardening here.

So I was wistfully planting the last of the beans last night and I wondered if I should build more vegetable gardens this fall. How much is enough? How much do we need? There is a certainty to what we, a family of three, consume over a year. It's not really a year I am concerned with, either: it is those dead months of November-May. How many onions, how many potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips and beets. How much? And when does it become too much for just me to maintain?

Knowing me, I will go for it: I will make more of a landgrab, I will build more beds, it will get done, this experiment will continue. Ah! Carpe diem!

Postscript, the next day:
This is the kind of crazy thinking I do when I am not working. Today, I saw how much paid work had piled up during my 3 days off, and my land-grab plans seem like such happy talk. But the really crazy thing is? I will probably do it: expand the darned gardens by a third again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Come, have a seat

I'm taking as much time off from work this week that I can.

The last vacation I had was back when we went to New York for Tom's show. I've taken a few days off here and there, but it has been nowhere near the European 5-6 weeks or the stingy American two. So, what is it that I do to "vacate," you ask? I work in the gardens.

Yes, so far, I have had two days of unbothered bliss in the veg garden, pulling weeds, moving mulch, harvesting, making more know, puttering. (Or pottering, if you're English.) It has been such a tonic! All that sun, all that greenery.

The one significant thing I did was put two chairs in the garden. Since I fenced it in, there's been no place to sit...intentionally. This is no place for slacking, I thought. Then my friend Kristie emailed me and said she reads this blog and thinks how much fun it would be to walk around the gardens and shoot the breeze. Well, dang! Now you can pull up a chair and do so.

Tom and I opened a bottle of wine and sat in the chairs for a long time last night. (Most of the bottle got drunk, too.) I gave him a tour at one point, and asked him what he thought. He said that it was so beautiful he didn't know why people just grew flowers. And I agree. The mass that is a blooming bunch of bush beans and the vibrance that is swiss chard, the fronds of waving leek leaves, the ripening fruits of the tomatoes and the seductive darkness of the eggplants: this gorgeous stuff also FEEDS US!

Every visitor comes to the garden and invariably says "Wow this is a lot of work." To which I also invariably say, work? This, this is not work at all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

One Local Summer 2007: Week Nine

Shameless stealing of Becke's meal posting

Welcome to the Midwest roundup of One Local Summer. One week left to go!

"Eating in season" also means "eating what's available now." I mixed up a lot of what I had a lot of for this week's meal. (It tasted better than it looked, I swear.)

Matt did a Comfort Food meal for his family this week. And what is more comforting than Cottage (Shepherd's) Pie? (Even the name gives you a warm, toasty feeling, right?)

Lucette found the last of the last, she thinks, of her venison. Her photo of the burgers she made of them scared her, though, so she substituted instead pics of the corn and salad she made.

Ang has been busy using her stove for things other than meals. How can this be, you ask? Well, her kitchen is like a lot of ours lately: we're all putting away that harvest, one boiling pot of water at a time. She wanted to keep things simple, yet tasty, this week: sure looks like she succeeded!

Evie has had lots to contend with this summer. Hail, then a flood, has done away with much in her garden. She's a stalwart Scandinavian, though, so she's carrying on with a Swedish meal her grandmother made quite often.

Ever-diligent Kelly has discovered the secret of perfectly-grilled chicken breasts: it's diligence! She praises the flood of wonderful veggies that now show up on their plates, knowing well this late-summer eating is but a small slice in time.

Joanna missed this week. She knows why, and how. But here's the best thing: she knows that next year, they'll have a house, and a garden of their own, so this eating-local thing will be REALLY local.

Linda made a spookily autumnal meal this week. It looked GREAT! She confesses, though, that it tasted awful. (I blame it on rushing the seasons: fall will be here soon enough, girl!)

Lori and E4 posted last week's meal this week. Hey: at least they posted it! They both brought up how kooky this Midwestern world is, though, in terms of getting local goodies. You'd think in a breadbasket like Ohio you could get local wheat. I think the same of dairy in Michigan. Farmers out there, listen up! Sell local! We're HERE, and we want to buy!

Becke was chilling with some local soup this week, too. Dang, that looks good. And she, like me, can't believe One Local Summer is almost over!

Manerva missed the floods that hit her state. She got some much-needed rain, though. She happily shared some great grub with visiting relatives this week, though. That's the best kind of meal, I think.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One Local Summer 2007: Week Nine

One of the marching orders about local eating is you eat what's ready.

Perhaps this removes a lot of choice. Choice, though, is suspect. Frankly, I don't like the idea of eating asparagus in September or raw tomatoes in January. It does not feel right to me: those poor vegetables have been carted in to us from many thousands of miles. How many calories are expended, by diesel and jet fuel, for the few measly calories these things yield us on our plates?

Choice-wise, though, the late August garden is chock-full. This week for One Local Summer, I scanned the supplies and the recesses of my brain and I said: Eggs. Eggplant. Tomatoes. How about moussaka?

The menu was as follows:

Eggplant moussaka (eggplants, parsley, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and veg stock from the garden; eggs from the chickens; and local smoked gouda cheese; nonlocal EVOO and salt and pepper.)
Cucumber-yogurt soup with scallions (cukes, onions, garlic and veg stock from the garden; nonlocal milk that I made into yogurt)
Steamed Haricot vert (green beans) from the garden
Whole-wheat/oat bread (local flour and oats, our sourdough starter)
Peaches, nectarines from town
Classic Demi-Sec white wine from Tabor Hill

I will say this for this meal. When things are super fresh, I know that my cooking talents can't really compete with nature. It seems somewhat heretical to, say, really cover up a dish with tons of spices when a fresh green bean really just needs a quick steam to be its best. This meal went a bit more toward the alchemy that is winter cooking for me. Not that I minded the change that this extra work took: the moussaka was really good!

Comfort me with apples (and grapes)

It's a decent year for fruit here at Old Vines. We had a killing frost over Easter weekend, which locally did lots of damage to whatever was blossoming at the time. Apricots and plums were mainly affected, the latter here at the farm, too. Last year, frost got our grapes. (It's always something?) What it proves to me is we need to make sure we diversify.

We plan on expanding our orchard significantly this fall. Lots more different kinds of apples, with different bloom times. Other fruit trees, too, will join us: pears, peaches. And the Old Vines of the title of the farm? They'll stay, those 80 year old vines, but maybe I'll invest in some European varieties, too. You know, if I decide to make my own hooch.

Canning season, then, will extend into November! Yum. Grape jam, apple butter, apple sauce...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Let's go on a garden walk, part one

Today, the kid was at my mom's so I didn't feel the ultimate rush I usually do at dinnertime to make dinner. It has been raining here to an absurd degree: the usual August allotment came in two days, but that was eight days' worth of rain ago. SO! Let's see what we shall find, okay?

Step one: Don shoes. Roll up pants.

Step Two: Open a bottle of liquid courage (you see, I don't think I will like what I find out there, frankly) because, well, it's darned hot. And I like this beer.

Step Three: Pick up The Mother of All Colanders, and her sister, The Mother of All Dough-Rising Bowls. (Note beer bottle for scale.)

Step Four: Say hello to chickens. They assume, of course, that if I am bringing a bowl out AND setting it down, it must be for them. This is Phyllis II on the right, an Ameraucana, and Verloe on the left, a Rhode Island Red.

Step Five: Say hello to Penny, and throw her Flying Squirrel twice. She wishes you'd throw it more than twice. How about a half hour's worth? How about more than that? I will catch it every time, I will, I will! Promise her you will, but later.

Garden walk, part two

Now, well, there are no steps. You've arrived at the first garden: the greenhouse garden. It is the newest one, it's six raised beds and one big flat one against the back of the icehouse and my garden shed. What greenhouse, you ask? The one that's not assembled yet in the garage. It's actually a coldframe.

This picture depresses me. All my tomatoes have uprooted their supports and have flopped over. The root veggies (carrots, parsnips, scorzonera, skirret) in the lower right bed are all beginning to stress out and rot in the ground. Tomorrow I will have to pull them all. Sniff.

Move on a few steps to the garden proper. Note scary weeds growing outside garden! It's surrounded by very chicken- and other critter-proof fencing though that keeps most unwanted creatures out. I just have to be diligent with dispatching the green unwanted creatures.

The onions appear to be drying well. Luckily, I pulled them a few days ago.

Beautiful artichoke, right?

Yeah, well look again. Stress! Soggy feet! Sadness!

Garden walk, part three

Okay, at this point of my tour, I am rather depressed. It appears that many of the plants really do not appreciate wet clay soil for days on end. I am probably going to lose about half of the brassicas (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) and that saddens me. I have a second sowing of broccoli for a fall crop that's unaffected. The other things require the whole season. I hope it stops raining soon.

But hey, look! Other things seem unaffected. The tomatoes, for one. Other than slipping out of their traces (wet clay is the enemy of any post in the ground), they're plumping up rather too well. I need more time to cook them down when I can them, otherwise I have really runny sauce. And then take a gander at these sweet potatoes. They certainly look happy. I can't even find the path in front of their bed.

And then there's the edamame (soybeans)!

And then, there are friends.

So, I filled the colander AND the bowl with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, broccoli and soybeans. The tomatoes got stewed and bagged and frozen, the eggplant and peppers got placed in the refrigerator for a later meal, and the broccoli and beans got blanched and bagged and are now in the deep freeze. We ate the edamame for dinner with some potatoes and eggs. The kid came home asleep in her carseat, worn out from a day at the beach.

It's a good life here, even if it is too wet for the brassicas.

Garden panorama

As you can kind of see, I didn't really take you on a full tour. It would take a while! But thanks for virtually visiting!

Monday, August 20, 2007

One Local Summer 2007: Week Eight

Just hand me the salt: Hillbilly potato leaf or Flame heirloom tomato, 2.5 pounds of goodness


I made a lot of meals. It's easy with so much available, but I also wished to show that even busy people can make good food.

Matt agrees that it is easy cooking at this time of year; he's a cyclist so he calls it a "no chain day" to demonstrate how untaxing things can be. He didn't even need to cajole his kids to eat, they readily did!

Lucette thought ahead and froze the dough for this week's pizza. What she really delighted in, besides the good food? The way the house smelled! "Like someone Italian who was a brilliant cook." Brava!

Ang is also thinking Italian with her meal. She made an eggplant bolognese. I keep forgetting that Eden Organics is a Michigan company, so thanks, Farm Mom! I can now slurp pasta local-style too!

Stacie ate a meal that tasted just like chicken...because it was! The veggies were hers, the meat was local...and THEN just take a look at what she had for dessert. YUM.

Kelly sometimes wishes she had some help in the kitchen, and as the solo chef in my house, I hear her on that. But there's so much going on in the background of her meal preparation! Luckily, things are just jumping out in the garden to help her.

Linda, bless her, went foraging for her meal. Lamb's quarters are a...weed in most people's parlance, but in actuality they're a vitamin-rich spinach substitute; I've certainly served my share, especially since it's hot and lettuce isn't available. But she even went out and caught herself some bluegill! LOVE those pan fish!

Debbie made a really yummy-looking stew, complete with local quinoa. It looks both delicious AND healthy.

Poor Becke's air conditioning has been on the fritz! Considering she loves to heat up her kitchen, this is quite a predicament. She made a lovely cold dish this week, though; go wish her a happy birthday.

Manerva has had water woes (her well pump went out), but that hasn't stopped the tomatoes. Big fans of the red stuff, her household...but this week was pizza. Delicious. (And M: I'll clean a messy kitchen over folding laundry any day, won't you?)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

One Local Summer 2007: Week Eight

Who could resist a soybean variety called "Beer Friend"? Not me.

Feeling like I need some cosmic brownie points, I decided I would post a whole bunch of local meals this week. I am THE cook and gardener and kitchen cleaner in this house. I work 45 hours a week, typically. I also do commute to work on Mondays and Fridays, and my commute is 40 minutes long, one way. So if people say "I don't have your kind of time to cook the way you do," I say bully.
Monday's dinner
Monday: This is a commute day, so I found some local-ish Indiana Amish egg pasta in the pantry and whipped up my favorite pasta dish with potatoes, beans, basil and garlic from the garden.
Tuesday's dinner
Tuesday: Family came for dinner, so I cooked a bit more than usual. Edamame (green soybeans) are now edible, and the variety I grew this year is called "Beer Friend," so I paired them with local Bell's beer. Menu was broccoli souffle, roasted beets, the edamame, cucumbers, and a sourdough boule.

Wednesday was the Forgot to Photograph It Day. Just as well because I make the ugliest tortillas you have ever seen! My new source for cornmeal is also a source for masa, I am most grateful. I made bean burritos with refried cranberry beans from the garden, served with lots of onions and salsa.

Thursday was our fifth anniversary, so we went out to dinner at a fabulous restaurant that features local food. All the food and the wine was harvested within 50 miles of their door. I had the Fruits and Vegetables entree: Cauliflower and garlic soup with curry oil, Yellow watermelon salad with pickled red onion, basil gelee and watercress, and their house-made fettuccini with beets and fennel in a goat cheese broth. Tom had Providence Farms wood-roasted chicken over bok choy and chanterelles in a mushroom jus with a poached egg on top. We split an apple-raspberry cobbler with local vanilla gelatto, and our wines, from Fenn Valley, were Meritage red, Desert Sunset rose, and a lovely sparkling riesling with dessert.

Friday's dinner
Friday was another Commute Day, so I made a simple tomato sauce from the tomatoes I was stewing on the stove to can (three days of no canning = a huge amount of tomatoes to can; gotta double up my time on the stove). To more of that Amish pasta, I added the sauce, and some mozzarella I made. I also caramelized some onions and overgrown green beans.
Saturday's dinner
Saturday we had more relatives come to dinner, so I made another broccoli souffle. (We're going nuts with all these eggs, frankly.) I roasted some carrots in brown butter with thyme. I've got some lovely shell beans now, so I served them with collards, onions and garlic and the pot likker. The green beans were a hit from Friday night, so I made more. I made a yogurt-honey-wheat bread. We had a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers (not shown).

Sunday, we're going to grandma's to eat, otherwise there'd be another meal to post!

Everything was local or garden- or chicken-produced, excepting salt, EVOO, butter and the milk that I made into yogurt and mozzarella.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A manifesto of sorts

Manifesto: from the Latin manus (hand) + festus (struck, stuck)

So, I have done some thinking.

I am always doing "some thinking," frankly. My mind is like a hamster on its wheel: constantly churning, sometimes realizing I'm going nowhere, but liking the motion just the same.

This blog is as its by-line says: a garden journal of sorts. I'm a big picture person, though; the garden is but a wee slice of my life. Food is a bigger part, and the garden has been servicing that bigger part since I dug it up. "Eating local" is an exercise that I have enjoyed mainly because it is something I love (food) mixed with something else I love (avoiding both the car AND shopping). In other words, it's an exercise slanted very heavily toward reward in a risk/reward sense.

I realize that what I do, what we do here at this house, is not for everyone. We are both artists, although it's Tom who makes the money strictly with his ability: I only dabble now, getting paid instead to do architecture. As artists, though, we favor craft, we favor working by hand. And craft is exactly what we do: we craft our living. And craft, frankly, requires one thing above all others: it requires time. There are no shortcuts. We take the long view on most of our undertakings, be it cloth diapering our child or making our own bread or building our own buildings. Craft comes easily to us. The long way is the preferred one. The long way generally reaps the greatest rewards, too, longevity-wise, consumption-wise, and, best of all, it's rewarding in and of itself.

Knowing, then, that our long view and way is antithetical to the modern way of living, I am not out to seek converts. I am also not really out here to do anything but perhaps document how my gardens affect our small, plodding lives here on the farm. IF I am a nag, and I can be, it's only because I do not understand how people can honestly prefer HotPockets to a homemade pasty (half my family hails from Michigan's U.P.). Do people really worship at the altar of their microwave ovens? Or are their lives so stretched, time-wise, that they have to shortcut their lives, one bad microwaved meal at a time?
Food sustains us. I value my life, therefore I value the quality of food that sustains our lives. That it sometimes takes longer to prepare is not a sacrifice. I suppose I'm just doing the work that the HotPockets workers are doing, just without paying a middleman. Middlemen usually mean shortcuts and poor quality, but you're paying for quicker service. I prefer absurdly high quality, patient service, therefore...I do it myself. By hand.

It's not for everyone, all the time: but really, people. Try making a pasty sometime instead of reaching for a frozen box. Try kneading your own dough. Try growing your own garden. Just try.

Wait: maybe I am out to seek converts, after all...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Words of others

I'm still doing lots of thinking, so instead of going completely dry here on the blog, I thought I would give you an article to read about the Fruit Belt. We live a paltry eight miles to the north of Benton Harbor, and almost every small business around here of longstanding either goes by Blossomtime X or Fruit Belt Y. And yes, I can easily buy cheap produce's one of the reasons we moved!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Books on food

Meredith, bless her heart, asked for some of my favorite culinary reads. So I did a quick gleaning, and scooped up "something for everyone" in this pile. She wanted ten, but I'm giving you eleven.

Mary Frances Kennedy (M.F.K.) Fisher: any and all essays, but a good place to start would be The Art of Eating. She is able to limn the most attendant details: if you read her, you are seated across the table from her.

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison: Italian Days. This is another instance of food plus autobiography. BGH returns to Italy in her 50s. I did not want this to end.

Julia Child: My Life in France. Like the previous two books, this is personal history. This is a love story, though: love of food, love of France, love of her husband. Child is just as witty and charming as ever, willing to make mistakes and quick to laugh about them. Now, if I could only find out if her pot/pan shop is still open somewhere after Les Halles closed...

Eat = Memory, so I cannot in good conscience overlook Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu: Remembrance of Things Past. If you have a lot of time on your hand, you should try this.

Paul Bertolli: Cooking By Hand. Bertolli is a former chef of Chez Panisse, and now mostly makes sausage. I admire his passion, and the depth he takes with his subjects. This book handles balsamic vinegar, sausage, and pasta-making to a depth that will astound you.


Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel. What the hell am I thinking, including a book about the rise and fall of civilizations in a list of culinary books? The social history of food is directly tied to the success or failure of any civilization. The cultivation of grain, the domestication of animals, the migration of peoples: it is all here.

Michael Pollan: The Botany of Desire. Pollan, who's well-known thanks to his recent book, has actually been around for quite a while, writing his little heart out. This book's my favorite of his, covering the history of apples, potatoes, tulips and...pot.

The Oxford Companion to Food
. Everything, and I mean it, is in this book.

Studies, Polemics, or A Bunch Of Food Nags
These books will hopefully make you think about what you eat.

Peter Singer and Jim Mason: The Way We Eat (hardback) or The Ethics of What We Eat (paperback): Why our Food Choices Matter. Singer is the preeminent philosopher and ethicist best known for his work in applied ethics (i.e., weighing life choices) and animal liberation. That said, this book will give you a lot to think about regarding food choice: local versus organic, farmed fish versus's all here. And you won't turn vegan after reading it.

Want to figure out how to negotiate the fraught aisles of your grocery store? Marion Nestle's What To Eat will show you just how very devious stores and food companies really are.

Nina Planck throws bombs, too. Her book Real Food is one I turn to often, mainly because I cannot readily remember which oil I should grab for what purpose: this book is the best one I have found to decipher the mono- versus polysaturated fats. It is an interesting read.

Monday, August 13, 2007

One Local Summer 2007: Week Seven

'Tis the season

Summer is slipping away! We're up to Week Seven of OLS.

We had a custard for dinner this week, along with some corn chowder. No, it's not an instance of dessert before dinner, silly, it was a savory custard!

Phelan is having camera woes, but she made game hens and a mighty fine peach cobbler this week.

Matt has been consuming lots of local meals lately, but the one he documented used local pasta. The pasta takes some getting used to, as it tends to cook quickly! I've noticed this with homemade stuff, too: just gotta watch it.

Lucette was feeling under the weather, but some local chicken soup lovingly prepared to help see her through definitely made her believe food = medicine.

Farm Mom Ang didn't especially feel like cooking, but she didn't especially feel like wasting good food, either. Maybe many of us feel this way, in this time of extreme produce glut. Just remember this won't last forever, folks.

FrugalMom has missed a couple of weeks due to a longer than anticipated recovery from surgery. She's on the mend, though, thankfully, so go check out her grub.

Evie has had a rough summer, too. This week, though, she put her daughter to work to go out and scavenge a meal from the garden. The first little eggs from their hens helped things out, how exciting!

Stacey just had a birthday and her loving hubby got her a KitchenAid mixer, so she's stepping up and stepping out...this week with pizza. YUM.

Kelly also went in for pizza this week. Whoa: didn't she do this last week, too? Well why yes. But hey: don't you all remember college? Or the once-a-week that our school cafeterias offered pizza and we all wanted it? Yeah. You'd eat it once a week, too.

Joanna made some lovely pasta and some only so-so corn fritters. She'll be out camping next week: anyone have any help for her for her local meal in NW Pennsylvania?

Linda had a meatball quite literally roll off the top of her spaghetti and onto the floor and the next thing she rolled under a cabinet. Okay, it wasn't quite like that old song, but she does have some pointers about making sausage, so go check out her post!

E4 and Lori have been...busy. But! this week's meal was fast and satisfying for all.

Becke is the farmer's market shopper extraordinaire, so finding yummy dishes on her site is nothing new. She's getting help from her own garden with this week's meal.

Manerva says it's never too hot for soup if you're in the mood, and I quite agree with her, don't you? This soup featured some home-grown black beans, too.

And finally Kate agrees with Manerva: soup is just plain good eating, especially when it comes from the back yard! In fact, she calls it backyard soup, so go check it out.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Seven

We've been eating outside a lot this summer, out of the hot a/c-free house, mainly to take advantage of the lake breezes out on the west lawn. On Wednesday, the designated OLS meal day, we expected my carb-phobic mother and brother to dine with us, but they canceled at the last minute, sadly! Which was too bad as they missed a decent meal.

The menu:

Corn chowder (peaches and cream corn, my stock, salt/pepper/butter not local)
Chard custard (our eggs, ruby chard, onions, garlic, and herbs; local smoked gouda)
Shredded raw-beet salad (beets, tarragon vinegar, local blue cheese)
Nearly nekkid cucumbers (just a bit of salt and tarragon vinegar)
Yellow plums, red peaches
Round Barn wine (Red Demi-Sec)

Note the difference in pictures. The first was taken outside, with the "soup course," and then it started raining. Inside we ran, food in hand, and I forgot to reset the camera's focus. Actually, that is what I am telling myself; my husband says I just need glasses!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Call me a peasant

This monster made a lot of salsa yesterday. A LOT.

I have always loved food writing. Always. I remember learning about M.F.K. Fisher in college and was hooked, even though my preferred diet at the time was diet Coke and peanut M&Ms (oh the stupidity that is youth). Food plus culture? Even better. So writers like Barbara Grizzuti Harrison and other Europhiles became my escapist reading. But then I found Frances Moore Lappe and I changed my life.

Today, while rolling out tortillas over my lunchbreak, I thought again about my current reading jag: local foodism. It is true that what most attracts me to cucina povera is the fact that there is a local food culture that backs it up. Sure, it's immensely obvious that the Greeks' hilly, sunny clime was an excellent place to have goats, grapes and olives. Or that the arid climate of northern Mexico and the American Southwest enabled its people to cultivate the native corn, peppers and squash. Or the grassy beauty that is central Europe allowed those people to have the most wonderful dairy cattle, sheep and goats. I could go on: the leftovers that weren't good enough for slave owners became the fatback, collards and cornbread of its slaves. All these foods were amazingly whole, and amazingly healthful to those who ate them.

So I look at culturally loaded things like French food and I see through it to the farms that initially produced it: the mother sauces, after all, were simply ways to sex up the common, daily cuisine. Crepes, like tortillas, dosa, injera, pita and countless other flatbreads, are simply using what is at hand to both fill the tummy and extend what little protein is available.

With all this floating in my mind, I do wonder where I am going with all this research. I complained to my uncle a couple weeks back that I am kind of in a reading rut. He, like many of my family, is a voracious reader, and his advice was that this is no rut: you are simply working through something.

And I do know where I am going with it, at least tangentially: I am looking to produce my own food culture, whereby we can live, mostly, off what we produce here on the farm. And that there is a whole tide of generations who have done it before me is both daunting, and really, really inspiring.

And it'll be much better than M&Ms.

I'm going to take a few days off from blogging to do some thinking.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Hot chickens in a hot coop at dusk

"What's that noise?" our daughter asks us, eyes wide, about a week ago. "It's raining!" we say.

This summer will go down in memory as one marked by what it wasn't: it wasn't hot, it wasn't raining, it wasn't humid. The middle one, the rain, was certainly missed. August, though, has seen to it to make up for the deficits of May, June and July, wetness-wise. We are now swamped.

With this rain has come humidity. Like most "coastal" areas, we tend to be buffered from extremes in anything, except snow, here; it is usually cooler and less humid in the warm months and warmer and more moist in the cold ones. I am very curious about what global warming is doing to our area, though. Is all this rapid rain a part of that picture? And all that lack of rain earlier this summer?

For many reasons, our window air conditioners are still sitting on their shelves in the garage. One big reason is we installed a whole-house fan when we moved in: what a miraculous device. It exhausts the hot air completely out of the house when we turn it on. It doesn't, of course, "condition" the air by dropping its relative humidity. But it does certainly work, especially in this temperate summer. And its meager consumption of electricity, compared to the a/c units, helps ease our minds that we're at least not contributing, overmuch, to these wild swings in weather.

But this humidity! Makes me reconsider all that canning I'd planned to do this week!

Monday, August 06, 2007

One Local Summer 2007: Week Six

Can't you almost taste me?

I'm hoping the dog days of summer, and not the rigors of local eating, have affected people's schedules out there, as I am missing a lot of fine Midwesterners this week. Sigh. I *know* cooking + hot weather are not the funnest combination. But just think of the bounty of produce out there just WAITING for you to eat it!

I found it hot this last week, too, so we made pizzas on the grill. They were so filling that I forgot both the salad in the refrigerator and the peaches ripening on the counter! The family didn't seem to mind.

Phelan has been a busy bee, canning her little heart out. Though if you see this post, you may wonder if she's got a touch of heatstroke, poor thing.

Matt has been busy canning, too. Here is his meal, better late than never.

Lucette shares an omelet and a salad this week for her meal. But it wasn't just a salad; it was a metasalad, an ubersalad: a so-not-to-be-compared to iceberg and carrot shavings salad: check it out.

Ang the Farm Mom sang a little bit of Italian this week for her meal. And don't you agree that eggplant goes with everything??

Evie is putting her tortilla press to good use again, this time for the pita for gyros! Doesn't that look delicious?

Stacey has been busy, too, but you will simply love the photo she took of her late-night scramble of a meal.

Gina and her family are contemplating a move, AND she's doing a lot of food processing now. But she did get a chance to prepare a meal this week on the 100 Foot Diet.

Jennifer made a quick fridge-to-skillet-to-plate meal this week that looks like it tasted quite yummy.

I know Kelly had some company coming, and decided grilled pizza sounded like a perfect crowd-pleaser...but I am not sure if she posted the meal in time. Go see her site anyway!

Joanna had a couple of locally-produced meals this week. She posts her lovely pasta/cherry tomato dish, but she really loved corn in the husk on the grill, the good Hoosier that she is!

Linda made a meal her grandmother served almost every Sunday. How wonderful that she is able to keep these traditions going! The one thing Linda admits, though, is she didn't wring the chicken's neck that morning, as her Grams would've done; she did it earlier this year.

E4 and Lori produced a meal that included one of their extra goats...or chevon, as they say. (Tomayto tomahto?) It certainly looked quite good!

Debbie made a meal that really looked great. She made a slaw and a risotto, and is still eating local cantaloupe, though she's not particularly relishing the latter.

Norma Jean made burgers this week, and she was really excited for the leftovers she'd eat the next day. They also polished it off with some homemade beer. You should check her tip about what she plans on doing with her leftover burger, though!!

Becke made a lovely soup-and-a-sammie that probably made us all wish we lived closer to her! That corn chowder...mmm...

Manerva also made a sandwich for this week's meal, even grinding the buns' grain herself. I personally think arugula belongs with any sandwich in which mayo is used, don't you?

Looking for something to do with all that corn? Kate (no pic this week, her little boy is sick) has given us a link to her CSA's newsletter, where she got the recipe for corn risotto.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Mystery plant

I've begun to realize this blog must be very disappointing to lots of flower gardeners lately. Maybe people aren't "coming for the food."

SO! This beauty has mystified me. It's a perennial, it's about 4' tall, and...I haven't a clue what it is. It's blooming now (obviously), and I appreciate that, as many of the riotous July flowers have finished. Does anyone have a clue what it is?

Friday, August 03, 2007

One Local Summer 2007: Week Six

Pizza on the grate

I had planned a more elaborate meal here at Old Vines, but somehow it is Canning Season so my culinary energies have been diverted.

We grilled pizzas last night for this week's meal. Each of us has our own particular loves/hates as pizza toppings, so it is just as well that we made these individually. (Four things help the grilling process: 1. pizza dough is usually a sticky dough: either add more flour, OR coat the rounds with flour on both sides; 2. get a pizza grate; 3. liberally coat the grate with nonstick cooking spray, and 4. precook one side of the dough, then take it back inside and put the toppings on it.)

Dough made with local flour, nonlocal EVOO and salt

These were the potential toppings:

Tomato sauce from brand-spanking new tomatoes (Orange Banana, Black Russian, Riesentraube, Amish Paste)
Red or Sweet Onions
Minced garlic
Green or White peppers (sweet) or roasted Poblano pepper (zesty)
Roasted eggplant
Herbs (any combination of onion greens, basil, rosemary, marjoram, summer savory, oregano, arugula)
Homemade mozzarella (from organic Iowa milk, sigh, so not local but the sweat effort was local)
Sea salt and/or olive oil (obviously imports)

Other than the doughmaking and the chopping, this is a fairly unlaborious meal for the head chef; everything else is DIY...

Finished pizza. Note flour on crust.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hills of beans

"Maxibel" haricot vert and Roma

Hardcore food processing has begun. The picture shows--and I am such a geek I weighed them--about 5.25 pounds of the skinny beans and 1.75 pounds of the fat ones (after processing). Beans get tipped and tailed, cut (sometimes), blanched, cooled, bagged and sealed with a FoodSaver, then put into the deep-freeze. This should last us a while.

I'm pleased with the haricot vert variety this year. VERY productive plants, and the beans don't get fat and lumpy. My usual rule is "do not sit down" when doing anything in the garden: you tend to get planted yourself. Each bush plant, though, was so laden with these beans I had to break my cardinal rule. The Romas are my favorite, and are great, especially, in minestrone. (Coincidentally, I made and processed about two gallons of that soup yesterday. It's also in the deep freeze, though I suppose I could've canned it.)

Earlier, I had mentioned how I have to relearn how long things take: initially, it is a shock to the system. Now, though, it is meditative, this "work." But frankly, I was so overwhelmed by the bean-y bounty I enlisted my husband's help! (Thanks, man.)

Today, it's corn, and Saturday, it's peaches. Yum!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On trying new things

This is the first year I have grown calendula. It's quite pretty, don't you think?