A Year of Picnics


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Monthly Archives: April 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!

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.

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!

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!

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!!!