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HANDMADE GATHERINGS

 

A YEAR OF PIES!

 

HOMEMADE LIVING: HOME DAIRY

 

HOMEMADE LIVING: KEEPING BEES

 

HOMEMADE LIVING: CANNING & PRESERVING

 

HOMEMADE LIVING: KEEPING CHICKENS


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Pitching A Fit, or Pitching A Tent

Tent Image from here.

You can get a pretty good sense about a person by finding out where they fall on the camping spectrum. There are those that keep a tent and sleeping bag in their car trunks, ever ready to pitch camp for the night, and those that abhor even the thought of making a temporary fort in the backyard with a sheet tied to tree limbs. A childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood peppered with camping experiences has left me pretty much dead center when it comes to the school of sleeping outside. Tales of ecstasy and agony alike informed my opinion, and when summer falls, I recall those experiences with both dismay and delight.

My childhood was a humble one. Summers weren’t spent at riding camp or on tennis courts, but in the woods, at the beach, or otherwise outdoors at whatever public, free locale we happened to be living near. Camping, therefore, was an inexpensive, accessible activity that my mother’s modest budget could accommodate. When I was around age 6-7, she, my brother, myself, and a church group headed to Crabtree Falls, Virginia to take in the falls, set up camp, and enjoy the scenery. Or that was the plan, at least. Instead, I got the stomach flu (as did a good number of our fellow sporting life parishioners) and my brother got a fishing lure caught in his hand. Good times.

Years later, over summer break in hot, hot eastern North Carolina, mom decided camping was just what we needed to find our collective solace. Our tent pitched at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Seven Springs, NC, my brother and I tried to unwind. Instead, mom thought it would be a good idea for us to dig a small swimming hole. With a shovel, he and I took turns digging a hole then lined it with a plastic shower curtain liner we’d brought along for rain cover, and schlepped bucket after bucket of water up from the Neuse River itself. Our bodies weary, we retreated to our tents that evening seeking a rejuvenating sleep but were instead kept up all night by marauding raccoons.

What turned the tide for me, though, and brought camping into the like (and not loathe) arena, was an epic road trip with my friend Bonner in 2003. She was leaving Asheville, headed to graduate school in the San Francisco Bay area. In exchange for driving cross-country with her, she’d offered to purchase my return flight home (she didn’t tell me we’d be in a stick shift older model Honda, with no AC, in August, until I’d already agreed). Driving thru scorching sun in the middle of a nationwide heat wave offered its fare share of challenges, greatest among them being the car’s transmission dying just as we were about to traverse Idaho’s southern desert-like climate.

Our saving grace, however, were the camping grounds we patronized. We’d drive all day, as far as we desired. Calling it a day, we’d see where we were, open up the hefty copy of “Woodall’s Camping Grounds Guide to North America” we’d brought along, find a spot, and pitch our tent. From Sioux City, Iowa to the beaches of Northern California, we covered the country’s campgrounds. Along the way, we took in the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Columbia River Gorge, northern California’s coastal Hwy. 101, and the Golden Gate Bridge itself. It was epic, to be sure.

Our adventure was packed with crisis and confusion and laughter and sweat and tears of abundant happiness. My father is convinced there’s an epic, award-winning novel and film in there. I’m convinced the reason I continue to take pleasure in putting down the stakes, raising the roof, rolling out the sleeping bag, and delighting in the pleasures of sleeping under the stars is embedded in that trip. Camping season is in full swing. Whether you decide tents to be friend or foe is up to both circumstance and perspective. Either way, you’re destined to have memories to consider and tales to tell for years to come.

*This piece was originally penned for my July column in Verve. Sadly, I learned over the weekend that Verve ended publication with last month’s issue. I truly loved writing essays and memoir style pieces during my 2 1/2 year tenure with the magazine, and am hoping to keep that spirit alive here with similar posts. 

Blissful Belly Coloring Journal (+ Giveaway!!!)

Blissful Belly 2Blissful Belly
When I was pregnant with Huxley, like any woman carrying their first child, I felt an intense array of emotions. Ecstatic, anxious, blissful, scared, sometimes all of them within the course of an hour (or, on particularly rough days, less). I questioned my mom and my father’s wife about their birth experiences, asked my mom friends about theirs, and turned to quite a few books (Birthing From Within was just what I needed to hear, the way I needed to hear it).

Now that I’ve had a baby, I know what to expect. Not that each birth isn’t different, should I have another child. It’s just that, well, I’ve been down that path, I know where it goes, and I know where it eventually ends up, even if there are some unforeseen branches or boulders encountered en route. I’ve felt kicking in my stomach for the first time. I’ve experienced what it is like to have your unborn child hiccup inside of you (it’s freaky; that’s just honest). I know now the sensation of my water breaking, what a contraction feels like, and when your body gives you the head’s up that it’s time to push (full disclosure for those not in the know: you feel like you’ve got to “go”, now).

What would’ve been wonderful during the pregnancy, though, was a space that was just for me. A place to chronicle my experiences and chart my journey and convey my fears and hopes without worry about  judgement, admonishment, or correction. A pregnancy diary, of sorts, with images of round mamas-to-be, mamas in labor, and mamas with their new ones, reveling in and recovering from the birth process. Drea of These Little Joys has created exactly what I’m talking about.

Her Blissful Belly Coloring Journal is a wonderful means of positively directing the avalanche of emotions and questioning pregnant women often experience. As she details it, the journal will aid in allowing you to:

*Take time to relax and enjoy being pregnant.
*Put yourself in the same state of mind you will be in during birth (right brain mode).
*Give yourself the gift of presence and peace.
*Coloring is relaxing and fun, let your inner artist out.
*Connect with your baby and let yourself envision a peaceful birth.
*Take the words of encouragement contained on these pages with you into labor.
*Recall the calm you felt while coloring as you are birthing your baby.
*Calm your nerves, allow yourself to focus your intention.
*Decorate your birth alter or nursery with your finished images.

Drea sent me the PDF of the coloring journal and it’s truly lovely. Each image she has rendered is full of love and compassion and, well, just kind of a sense of “understanding.” As a mother of three, she’s definitely travelled down this road before. Lucky for us all, she’s offered to give away a copy of the journal to one small measure reader. Yay! Whether you’re pregnant or have a sister/friend/daughter/niece/aunt/loved one who is, Drea’s journal will be most welcome.

The journal comes in an electronic file format, a PDF, that is then printed out by you. That’s why having an email address attached to your entry is very important. Drea will use the winning email to send you the file. To be entered in the giveaway, simply leave a comment here. It can be about anything related to pregnancy, or just “pick me!” I’ll run the giveaway for one week, concluding next Thursday, July 3rd, midnight EST. Since the giveaway comes in an electric format, international entries are most welcome!

I wish you all the best, and thank you Drea for both your small measure sponsorship and for your generosity with the giveaway!

What I’m Digging

Huxley Arboretum 2
Happy Friday, friends! How’s it going in your neck of the woods. Ours is sultry, sizzling, and otherwise indicative of SUMMER! Starts tomorrow, officially, though when you live in a house without a.c., it’s felt like it for weeks now. I really can’t complain, though. At night, the temperature drops enough that between the attic fan we have constantly going to suck out hot air on the second floor and fans blasting in the bedrooms, it’s cool enough to still necessitate pulling the comforter up. So, no complaining permitted.

Historically speaking, however, I’ve never been much of a summer fan. The heat and humidity kind of make me cranky and crabby and, well, loose my mojo. I’m working hard to prevent that this year, though. I’m trying, really, really trying, to embrace the heat and be wise about working with it. A symbiosis is so much preferable to a battle, right? So, in with the ice cream, twilight cocktails, watermelon, creekside forays, kiddie pools, cold baths, and fans of every permutation and out with the griping. Can I get an amen?

To that extent, instead of my regular link-love round-up here, I’m going to share what I’m digging that’s helping me keep my cool when the mercury soars, both locally and otherwise. Here we go:

*Corn on the cob (extra butter, please!) and cold salads for dinner (both veg and meat).

*Ice cream sandwiches. We recently discovered the Three Twins and are big fans. Locally, hit up the Sunshine Sammies solar-powered ice cream truck for epic eats.

*Picnics! Yes, I’m working on a picnic book, but we also regularly picnic for pleasure. Whether a full meal or a snack of jerky, apples, chips, and iced herb tea, taking your food outside can really help change your perspective on those long, hot days.

*Huxley’s kiddie pool is pretty fantastic these days.

*The bugs have big plans come summertime, too. Here’s a great DIY for naturally repelling them.

*We hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday for a quick jaunt. We were thinking of a hike at Graveyard Fields, but it’s closed for construction (I think they’re putting in restrooms!), Mile Marker 417‘s parking lot was crazy full (likely due to G.F. being closed), and by the time we reached Black Balsam (my most beloved post on the Parkway), it was pouring rain. No matter-the drive alone was worth getting out of the house for. The fact that the temperature at that elevation was 10 degrees cooler than that at our house made the trip exactly what we needed.

*The N.C. Arboretum was where we ultimately ended up after getting rained out on the Parkway. Such a majestic place, and a wonderful resource for learning firsthand about what grows well in our area. There’s also the permanent bonsai exhibit; I have yet to meet a bonsai I didn’t love. It’s $12/car, but only $45 for an annual pass. That’s a very reasonable rate for such an inspiring, ever changing, thriving, vibrant, learning environment.

*While not directly related to summer, I couldn’t not direct you towards my friend Melissa’s new website. I love pretty much everything this talented ceramicist makes, and think you will, too! Jen helped with the spruce up and I think it looks wonderful. Kudos to you both, friends!

*Lastly, summer calls for Ice Cream Socials! The San Jose Mercury News shared recipes from the social I included in Handmade Gatherings. If you want to make some of my Blackberry Mint Ice Cream, Boozy Maraschino Cherries, and Orange Caramel Sauce (and I assure you, you most definitely do), go check out the article (also, I want to mention that the photos used in the article are not those from the book-I think they made their own versions and took some quick photos).

Got any fun things planned for the weekend? We’re prepping all day tomorrow for a new picnic shoot on Sunday, then will be heading to our friend’s house for a cookout. After Sunday’s picnic, we’re headed to Rhubarb for the Sunday Supper I mentioned in the last blog post. If any of you end up there, please do come say “hi!” I love meeting small measure readers, and just folks that appreciate good food and the labor that goes into growing, harvesting, preparing, and serving it in general.

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

*I post a photo of Huxley in my “What I’m Digging” round-ups because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most. He was totally into the Arboretum yesterday. When a storm rolled in, cutting short our time there, he started really sorrowfully saying “I’ll miss this place, in the whole wide world, when we leave.” Our boy loves natural spaces just as much as we do! 

Rhubarb

Rhubarb 22Rhubarb 3Rhubarb 20Rhubarb 1Rhubarb 24Rhubarb 26Rhubarb 27Rhubarb 21Rhubarb 2Rhubarb 18Rhubarb 13Rhubarb 19Rhubarb 15Rhubarb 23Rhubarb 25Rhubarb 28Rhubarb 16
You remember the t.v. show Cheers? Where Sam and Dianne and Woody and Norm and the rest of the crew would regularly convene, imbibe, gripe, revel, and otherwise enjoy the small and large stuff of life in each other’s company? Well, I’ve kind of wanted something similar in a restaurant for some time. The kind of place where the staff knows you, the food is consistently delicious, the menu seasonal and creative, and the atmosphere comfortable enough to bring a young child to. Rhubarb, friends, is that place.

After opening this past October, Chef John Fleer and his staff have consistently been hitting it out of the part time after time. I first became acquainted with the restaurant rather serendipitously. Sara Bercholz, the force behind Roost Books, was visiting this past November. She, her partner Dave, Glenn, and I were downtown in Asheville, looking for somewhere to eat. We turned a corner, saw this new place right off Pack Square, looked at the menu, and figured we’d give it a try. That fateful lunch on Black Friday sealed the deal for us. We quickly knew we’d discovered a place that could quite possibly become “ours.”

Since then, we’ve celebrated occasions both humble and grand at Rhubarb. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day meals were all had there. We also partook in a number of their Family Meals, which have since been transformed into Sunday Suppers. Every Sunday at 6:30, diners can gather at either a communal table, to pass shared bowls of food and meet (hopefully) new friends, or order a la carte, from a three-course fixed price meal ($26 adults/$13 children). Patrons will also meet one of the farmers the restaurant works with, making it a “food to farmer” experience. We were generously invited to attend  a “dry run” of the Sunday Supper two weeks ago. The menu, as is the case with most food at Rhubarb but especially at Sunday Supper, reflects what is fresh and seasonally available at area farms and farmer’s markets.

What I loved at the meal, and of all meals I’ve had at Rhubarb, is that it’s elegant without being stuffy. It’s never overly wrought, and always loaded with flavors that are delivered with an even, knowledgeable hand. Chef Fleer knows what he’s doing, that’s for sure-he was named one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st Century” by the James Beard Foundation and is a three-time finalist for the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southeast” award. His 15 year stint as executive chef at luxury hotel and resort Blackberry Farm (which boasts one of the top 20 restaurants in the country) in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, honing his craft at what he calls “foothills cuisine,” resulted in a chef today that knows how to make food taste the best it can possibly taste, all at a very affordable price point. The fact that he’s also the party single-handedly responsible for bringing Allen Benton’s “Benton’s Bacon” and hams to the forefront of the culinary world, making it now one of the most coveted, lauded pork today, further cements my feelings of admiration. Benton himself credits Fleer with bringing his bacon to the attention of celebrity chefs David Chang, Tom Colicchio, Thomas Keller, and John Besh. As Glenn put it “I feel like I met the guy that discovered Elvis!”

From clever cocktails to imaginative, exquisitely presented desserts, Rhubarb has it all. They’re offering their first Sunday Supper to the general public this coming Sunday. You can view the menu here. Though you might be tempted to sequester yourself at a table of your own (as is our culture’s dining custom), I invite you to step outside the familiar and rub elbows with new folks. Even if all you end up chatting about and connecting over is how sensational the food is, you’ll come away with a full, satisfied belly and a nourished soul, just as Chef hopes you do.

What I’m Digging

Thomas Train

Happy Friday, friends! Since my last round-up, a good deal of things have happened: Glenn had a birthday, we celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary, we photographed the 8th picnic for the book (which we actually happened to piggyback on top of Glenn’s birthday party-double duty, yo!), our friends Jen & Jon and their daughter Awynn came and stayed in their yome for 9 days, and Huxley completed Starseed for the school year. So much goodness!

Our little guy has been obsessed with all things ninja for months. Prior to that, he had a bit of a superhero phase, and prior to that, he was all about lawnmowers and trains and other things that go. Seemingly out of nowhere, about 3 weeks ago, he returned to his train love. Right around the same time, Jen gifted him with a massive collection of Thomas the Train tracks, trains, and characters that her daughters have since outgrown. Every day, for quite literally hours, he plays with those trains, sings songs from the show, and has entire conversations with the perennially cheeky Thomas and his cohorts.

I remembered hearing a long time ago about a Thomas the Train ride along one of the two local train routes. Thinking that perhaps that’d make a nice birthday gift for him in October, I checked online Wednesday afternoon. As fate would have it, Day Out With Thomas is currently happening up at Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock. So, we three Englishes hit the road yesterday, headed two hours north, and had an amazingly great time. I never thought I’d embrace character toys to the extent I have. But here’s the thing-Huxley really resonates with certain toys, and we’ve discovered, and quite quickly at that, that the more we resist his interests, or push against them, or try to re-route them or otherwise make them taboo, the more they turn into the thing that he must have! So, instead, we make sure there’s nothing completely out of line with our beliefs and the general paradigm to reality we’re cultivating with him. Once those criteria are met, we just sort of go with it.

In other news, Handmade Gatherings received a bit of love this week in the Huffington Post, courtesy of my friend Sharon Kitchens. Yay!

Otherwise, here’s a smattering of this and that’s that caught my attention recently:

*Frozen treats to be enjoyed at home without an ice cream maker. It’s that time, y’all.

*Don’t mow that weed, eat/make medicine/drink it!

*Drink the Harvest=my idea of a perfect book.

*Imagine Childhood’s summer catalogue is out and it’s packed with wonderful items. To harken the season of heat, sun, and fun, they’re offering a $150 giveaway!

*Strawberry Crumble with Oats, Hazelnuts, and Elderflower.

*Excellent idea for a DIY vintage classroom posters.

*Glenn loves both hot sauce and fermented foods, so I’m doubly excited to make him some Fermented Hot Chili Sauce once our peppers start coming in.

*I first saw this hemp tunic on my friend Jenny. It’s pretty much everything I want in a shirt-natural fibers, durable construction, comfortable fit, and most importantly, pockets!

*Got a head of cauliflower? Here are 10 great ideas for what to do with it.

*No indoor air conditioning (like me)? No problem. Try out these ideas for keeping your cool.

Got anything fun planned for Father’s Day? We’re going out for brunch to celebrate. I wish my dad were closer. He’s in Florida, and will be here for a quick overnight visit at the end of July. Although we chat every morning at 9:30 sharp (and have since I was 5 years old, if you can believe it!), it’s never long enough. I’d love it if he could pop over for regular weeknight dinners and family jaunts. I’ll take whatever I can get, though. Now that I’m a parent myself, I value the work my own parents did raising my older brother and I beyond description. Parenting is no joke, friends. Happy day to the fathers in your lives!

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

*I post a photo of Huxley in my round-ups because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most. I was so overwhelmed with happiness for him when we arrived at the railroad yesterday that I nearly started crying. I’m such a serious sap. I get the same way at parades. When others have excitement and fervor, I vibe on it, big time!