A Year of Picnics


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Monthly Archives: March 2012

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

The Blue Wheaten Ameraucanas are laying!

They’re little things, both the pullets and their eggs, but, oh, look at that blue!!!

What I’m Digging

Happy Friday, friends! It’s a rainy day in the cove this morning, which is just fine by me. I planted peas, carrots, beets, mustard greens, two types of lettuce, spinach and arugula this week and they could all benefit from a good soaking. Those new crops, coupled with the already growing red and green cabbages, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, kale, and collards that made it through the winter intact should make for a pretty banging spring garden.

I’m SO excited. Last year, I had a tiny guy that never wanted to leave my arms and a new book I was feverishly working on to keep me from getting as fully engaged with the garden as I would have liked. The year prior, I was pregnant and could barely manage to stay awake for more than 3 hours at a stretch during this time of year (man, did I ever sleep then!). It feels so invigorating to have the wherewithal to get out in the garden every day now. Huxley loves it out there, too. He tromps around and plays and digs and moves plastic plant pots and straw and fistfuls of dirt all over. It’s just the best.

Here’s a smattering of this’s and that’s that grabbed my attention this week:
*Garden Betty’s seed tape is easy, and genius.
*Speaking of seeds, this windowsill kit it lovely.
*First he gave us nettle pasta, now it’s nettle risotto.
*Plants that are just as “clean” as they are green.
*Who needs space to grow potatoes?
*The Lavender Lover’s Handbook? Yes please!
*Love this N.C. artisans endeavor.
*It’s the time of girl hunters.
*Chocolate chicks and eggs of bliss!!!
*That’s not green slime, that’s fuel.

We’re meeting up with friends in town this evening for beers and food truck eats. Sunday will have us tag-teaming birthday parties like we did two weekends ago, with a 38 year-old’s soiree early that day and a 2 year-old’s bash in the early evening. Should be a great time.

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

Where the Wild Things Are

To me, spring is definitely in effect when I see the wild violets. When these beauties start popping up all over the cove, I know it’s only a matter of time before rabbits will start hopping through the yard again, the ferns will unfold their fronds, and we’ll be cooking ramps into any and everything.

For now, though, the focus is on the violets. We carefully gather them up and then toss the delicate petals onto all kinds of dishes. So far this week, we’ve had them atop an Herbs de Provence (my most beloved culinary herb blend) & mozzerella frittata, scattered over blueberry pancakes drenched in just-made maple syrup from Amanda, and tossed into a garden fresh salad. I have a recipe for homemade mozzarella in my Home Dairy book and one for a frittata in Keeping Chickens, if you’d like to give a go at recreating this dish yourself. For the pancakes, we turned to our tried-and-true Pancakes of Perfection (to get them as fluffy as ours, take that extra step in the recipe to separate the yolks from the whites, and then beat the whites until soft peaks form).

From my research, all species of violets are edible. That said, if you find some in a heavily trafficked public park (where all manner of dogs do their “business”) or alongside a busy road, those might be best passed over. In a forest, your yard, a neighboring yard (with permission, of course!), cemetery or other quiet place, these babies are yours for the picking.

The Birds & The Bees (Humpday Giveaway, Part 1)

It’s official, spring has sprung! On this first day of the season, there is no doubt that the time of flowers and growth and abundance is upon us. I don’t know where you live, but here, the daffodils have already peaked, the tulips are emerging from their slumber party in the soil, and the apple trees are shamelessly showing off their pink finery. Spring. Is. Here.

This fecund green season is the time of projects for many of us. It’s also the time many newbie beekeepers and chicken-tenderers dip their toes into the age-old waters of animal husbandry. In recognition of that, and of all of this new life in the soil, on the ground, in the air and, well, pretty much everywhere, I’m giving away copies of two books in my Homemade Living series to one small measure reader, Keeping Bees today and, in a few weeks, Keeping Chickens.

In addition to the book itself, I want to sweeten the pot (literally) and include a jar of lavender infused honey for the winner of Keeping Bees. One of my most beloved herbs, the lavender used to infuse the honey I’ll be giving away was grown just steps outside our front door, and then harvested and dried at the end of this last growing season. Infused honeys are incredibly easy to create and are fantastic go-to gifts for birthdays, housewarmings, or anytime a little special sumpin’ sumpin’ is in order. If you’d like to make an infusion of your own, here’s how:
Infused Honey (from Keeping Bees: All You Need to Know to Tend Hives, Harvest Honey & More, Ashley English, Lark Books, 2011)
Yield: 8 ounces (1 cup).

You will need:
-1 cup honey
-Herb or spice infusing agent of choice
*Herbal infusing options include: basil, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, peppermint, rosemary, rose petals, sage, spearmint, tarragon, and thyme.
Spice infusing options include: allspice berries, anise seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, citrus peel, whole cloves, gingerroot slices, star anise, and vanilla bean pod.

To prepare:
1. Sterilize either two 4-ounce or one 8-ounce jar(s) by submerging into boiling water for about 30-40 seconds. Using a cloth, dry completely, leaving no traces of water whatsoever.
2. Place infusing agent of choice into the jar(s). If using fresh herbs, use 1-2 sprigs; if using spices, use 1-2 teaspoons, depending on intensity of flavor desired.
3. Put honey into a stainless-steel pot. Warm over medium-low heat until it moves easily in the pot, appearing completely “runny.” Don’t allow the honey to boil, only to be fully warmed.
4. With the aid of a funnel, pour honey into each jar, completely covering the infusing agent.
5. Allow jar(s) to cool at room temperature. Once fully cooled, place a lid or cork (depending on bottle being used) over the jar’s opening.
6. Store in a cool, dark area, such as a pantry or basement. Allow to infuse for at least one week before use, two weeks if at all possible.
7. Use within one year.
*If you’d prefer, you may also strain off the jar’s contents, composting the solids, after the one-two week infusing period. 

To enter the contest, simply leave a comment below, stating why you’d like to keep bees. Canadians, feel free to enter, but know that, should a Canuck be the winner, we’ll have to (sadly) forgo the honey, as international shipping of food items gets dicey. I’ll run the giveaway until next Wednesday, March 28th, ending at midnight EST. 

The birds and the bees are doing their thing! Now, do yours!  

UPDATE: The winner of my “Keeping Bees” book and infused honey is Heather of Whatcha Buildin?”! Thank you so much to everyone that entered!!!

A Slow Kinship

The longer Hubs and I are together, the more we find ourselves gravitating towards, and enjoying immensely, the slow life. That’s to say, these days we like to cook the oats that take 30 minutes over the 1 minute variety. We find satisfaction in the time it takes to light the wood stove and keep it going. We love waiting for the French press to steep the coffee. We like the long, rambly conversations where time gets lost and the days drift languidly by. It turns out, after our visit this weekend in Maine, that we’re not the only ones enjoying what I think I’ll call the “molasses” lifestyle.

Based on her writings, and our correspondences and phone conversations, I knew that Amanda Soule and I had an affinity towards one another. I also suspected that our spouses and children would dig each other, too. Little did I know just how much, though. The Soules and Englishes are living parallel lives, it would appear. Our friends to the north also love to gather around the long dining table for home-cooked meals, take ambling walks in the woods, and savor all of the richness life has to offer best witnessed when you slow down.

They are uncommonly kind, and generous, these sweet Soules. From homecooked meals to bedside bars of chocolate placed atop our bath towels, from jars of home-boiled maple syrup sent home with us to children willing to share their every last possession (not to mention their bedrooms-thanks again, Calvin!), these folk are what we in the South call “good people.”

Amanda and Steve’s homestead in the foothills of western Maine is a living, breathing testament to the  Handmade Home of her writings. Here’s a listing of some of the handmade elements at the Soule-stead we enjoyed this past weekend:

*Saturday: The Soules were boiling maple sap in their woodshed when we arrived and Amanda offered us homemade chocolate chip muffins and cups of warm sap to sip as we gathered to watch the sap boil. We then headed indoors for exceptionally delicious bowls of turkey, carrot and kale soup (made with the family’s own turkeys meat and stock), served alongside chunks of Irish soda bread we picked up at Scratch bakery in Portland and Urban Fermentory hard cider (another fantastic local offering). We returned back to the outdoor wood stove, where Amanda served us amazing hot toddies before taking a tour of the parcel on their land they plan to turn into pasture for a future flock of sheep and a dairy cow. That night we enjoyed a soul-satisfying dinner of pulled pork (again, from their own animals) with homemade barbeque sauce, salad with scrumptious dressing, roasted beets and, my favorite, roasted brussels sprouts. SO good.

*Sunday: The family all gathered around the kitchen table that Steve built (so very beautiful to view it up close!) for a hot breakfast of their chicken’s eggs, the family’s bacon, local yogurt, apple butter and bread. We headed into town and while Amanda had an editorial meeting for Taproot, Steve, the kids and we three Englishes savored the beach at Kettle Cove. That was followed by the Taproot event at Longfellow Books, such a lovely, well-supported community bookstore. Josh, the owner of 158 Pickett St. (and, in a stranger-than-fiction sort of way, the brother of my close friend Jess here in Asheville) then opened up his cafe for Amanda for an after-hours private party for the magazine’s contributors and their families. The chicken salad, pimento cheese, hummus with feta and olives, and cucumber sandwiches they served were divine, as was the bottle of Knob Creek the beautiful Stacy Brenner contributed. We’d also savored 158’s much-lauded bagel sandwiches Saturday morning before heading out to the Soule’s place and can attest for just how transcedent they truly are.

*Monday: We awoke to the otherworldly aroma of granola baking. That was munched on with chopped apples and pears and topped up with creamy local yogurt and enjoyed alongside mugs of hot coffee (French pressed, naturally!).

It’s always great to meet anyone new. Like I wrote a while back, I’m down for connecting and chatting with all kinds of folks, whether we share the same habits, routines, preferences and predilections or not. That said, there is something so comforting about the seamless kinship that is cultivated with others that share your way of viewing and doing. The Soules are “our people” and we can’t wait to return the hospitality chez English.

You can view more photos from our Soule-stice here.