Monday, October 3, 2011

An experiment in student engagement

I presented an extra credit opportunity to my class today to try to entice their interest in the analysis of poetry. The assignment runs like this: they select from a list of songs that I provide them to prepare a presentation for the class in which they get to play the song and then give an analysis of one verse and chorus using the various poetic elements that we've been discussing in class. This isn't so out of the ordinary, I've heard of other instructors using this method in class, particularly for lower-level courses (mine is a freshman writing course with an emphasis on literature). To make this interesting for myself as well as my students, I've selected songs that I like and I want to hear in class. Here are the songs I've chosen:

"A New England," and "To Have and Have Not" by Billy Bragg,
"Career Opportunities" by the Clash,
"99 Problems" by Jay-Z,
"There is a Light that Never Goes Out" by the Smiths,
"I Hung My Head" by Johnny Cash,
"Don't Worry about the Government" by Talking Heads,
"A Fond Farewell" by Elliott Smith,
"Hang Down Your Head" by Tom Waits,
"She's Lost Control" by Joy Division, and
"Wave of Mutilation" by Pixies.

My criteria for choosing these was that they must have a distinct verse and chorus (to provide structural variation), could not be too repetitive (this alone ruled out much of Joy Division's catalogue and all of the Ramones), could not be too esoteric that the song could not be found free somewhere online, and, if possible, I went for better known songs by the band if it met other requirements. I wanted to include more hip hop, but was a little embarrassed by how dated my collection is, which is odd considering I have no problem at all including Bragg, the Clash, Joy Division, and the Smiths. I've already made a playlist of these songs and find that they hang together quite well.

My goal is that my students will gain an appreciation for the broader applicability of the analytic methods we've been practicing in class and be able to recognize the poetry that surrounds them. Maybe they'll find some new music they like as a bonus.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Transplanting brassicas.
This year, I've devoted quite a bit of time and effort cultivating my online presence (although not lately). I've posted to this blog frequently, made connections with like-minded people, and kept up some great conversations. And for the most part, I've been missing lately.

Part of the reason for my absence is the (physically and emotionally demanding) full-time job at Beardsley Farm. I like what Beardsley does for the Knoxville community and I'm glad to be there.

This summer, I started visiting and working (volunteering time) at the farm where we've been getting our CSA for the last three years. Most recently, I've also put in a couple of days of work at another farm, working with Jim and his hot peppers. My time at the first farm started a change in me, and I'm not sure what to call it yet. It's a different awareness of farmers and their work, but that's not all. Being at both farms makes me exuberant and incredibly sad. I am so glad to have the chance to spend time with such hard-working and earnest people, but I hate to see them almost constantly so behind in their work. Jim, especially (because he tends his farm alone), tends to get discouraged. And all this has started affecting me personally--I want them to succeed, to be appreciated. More than anything, I want to help them. And for now, this means going to lend them my hands, my younger and less-tired body.

I hope you understand. I may not be around online as much. I may not offer canning classes for a little while. Please understand that I'm trying to put in effort where I think it'll count most.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sudden, red.

Karina, Jim with his fermented Tennessee Cherry peppers, and Sarah
This past Monday a group of AmeriCorps volunteers and I visited Jim Smith; because it was continuously rainy, we ended up helping Jim take care of things inside the house, rather than helping him on the farm. We readied peppers for the dehydrator and learned about their various flavors and uses.  Jim has had a difficult few years, as he is operating the farm alone. Nevertheless, he keeps going.

What I love about this picture is that while the women are working, Jim has opened a large jar of fermenting Tennessee Cherry peppers, and is smelling a spoonful of the spicy brine. It makes me think of a Robert Hass poem from Time and Materials.

The Problem Of Describing Color

If I said--remembering in summer,
The cardinal's sudden smudge of red
In the bare gray winter woods--

If I said, red ribbon on the cocked straw hat
Of the girl with pooched-out lips
Dangling a wiry lapdog
In the painting by Renoir--

If I said fire, if I said blood welling form a cut--

Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass scented summer air
On a wind-struck hillside outside Fano--

If I said, her one red earring tugging at her silky lobe,

If she tells fortunes with a deck of fallen leaves
Until it comes out right--

Rouged nipple, mouth--

(How could you not love a woman
Who cheats at the Tarot?)

Red, I said. Sudden, red.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Saving Seeds

Daniel, saving seeds from an over-ripe zucchini.

I've posted about saving seeds a few times already--herehere, and again in my most recent post. The thing is, all of those posts are fairly general, or focus on a specific event, rather than the specific action of saving seeds. I feel very strongly about saving seeds, even though I'm fairly new to it. There's something autonomous about the action--yes, there are great seed companies out there, and I have written in praise of a couple Etsy seed sellers; nonetheless, saving seeds is a logical step in the cycle of growing. When I save seeds, it allows me to get to know the plant better. I learn to look at the fruit/plant health not just in terms of what will be useful for eating, but also in terms of quality of seed. Sometimes we forget that plants are not only food producers, but also self-perpetuators. Also, saving the seeds from something usually yields a lot more seeds than are usually in a seed packet.

Before beginning to save seeds, it is important to know whether the plant you wish to save from is an heirloom (or open-pollinated) or hybrid. Heirloom and open-pollinated plants produce seeds that will re-create the plant variety true to type. So if you have a Cherokee Purple tomato and save seeds from it, the seeds will grow into a Cherokee Purple when planted. Hybrid plants, although often seemingly strong and perfect, will produce seeds that will not have the complete genetic information from the plant; when planted, seeds from hybrid plants will often make a plant that reverts to the characteristics of one of the parent plants. For example, if you save seeds from a SunGold tomato and plant them, you may have a couple plants that are scrawny, a few plants that produce tomatoes quite unlike the SunGold (too small, and probably not very sweet), etc. When I was saving seeds last year, I didn't know about this, and saved a lot of SunGold seeds. Most of the plants from those seeds weren't strong enough to survive hardening off, and once I realized that I'd planted a hybrid, I got rid of the remaining 2 plants, not wanting to nurture a plant that would later disappoint me. 

Once you know that the plant is open-pollinated or heirloom, you can proceed to saving seeds. Last year, I saved the seeds of sweet peppers and squash, seeds that I'd usually discard. (I later learned that squash cross-pollinates very easily, but not until I grew some strange--but edible--mystery squash.) So far, at Beardsley Farm we have saved the seeds of okra, zucchini, cucumber, and sunflowers. All of these have very evident seeds that are easy to save. All that it took to save the seeds was cutting or splitting the vegetable and taking out the seeds. We had to dry the seeds of the cucurbits, but the okra and sunflower seeds were already dry, so all we had to do was collect them.  Also, you should select the seeds from the most ripe and most perfect fruit. If you have seen the seeds of a plant (during planting time), you know what they should look like as you collect them. For example, okra seeds are dark greenish-black, whereas in edible young okra, the seeds are white; as the okra pods mature and become too tough to eat, the seeds mature, too. Finally, when the okra pods dry out, the seeds are ready for saving. This process is similar with cucurbits--wait until they are ripe (for cucumbers and summer squash, they should be ripe beyond what is acceptable for eating), and then collect seeds, drying them out as necessary. Saving tomato seeds is a little more involved, but there are resources out there to help you with that, too. 

Once you have saved the seeds, make sure they are dry and ready for storage. I've been storing my seeds in small jars or paper envelopes. The very things a seed needs to germinate--light, water, soil--are the opposite of what a seed needs to remain dormant. Saved seeds need dark, cool, and dry storage areas. 

I wish I could write more about saving seeds; I have become quite passionate about it. I try to save many different kinds of seeds--just earlier in the week, I plucked a dried out marigold flower, and saved the seeds from it. There's something wonderful about noticing the cycle of plants and helping them continue it. Keep an eye open for a local seed swap near you, and start collecting seeds to trade with others.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Beginnings

Saving seeds.
Today was my second day at CAC Beardsley Farm, and as completely exhausted as I am I wanted to express how excited I am to be working there. I've been a volunteer there for over a year, and very shortly after I began visiting the urban demonstration farm I became interested in working there full-time.
Today, we watered all the vegetables; harvested tomatoes and okra; cleaned up around the farm; cleared an unused community garden plot; and wound down the day by saving seeds from okra and an over-ripe zucchini. Every day, I plan to learn more about the community, gardening, and my own strengths. I am also glad to be sharing my experiences with you. Thank you for your (implicit and explicit) support.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Time's Viscid Pawprint

Jars of beans from John Coykendall's visit.
This past week I began the orientation for my new job at Beardlsey Farm. It has been some time since so much was asked from me, in terms of time; not having a steady job this summer has had its drawbacks, but I have been happy to have the time to do anything that I wanted--canning, spending time with farmers, gardening. At this point of transition, I feel uncertain, stretched a little thin. As a result, I've been uneasy, agitated. In this time of change, I want to remind myself to pay attention to the things at hand, the everyday objects, which can be good anchors. In this, I couldn't not be reminded of Robert Pinsky's chapbook First Things to Hand. I'll share this poem with you.

3. Glass

Waterlike, with a little water
Still visible swirled in the bottom:

Earth changed by fire,
Shaped by breath or pressure.

Seemingly solid, a liquid
Sagging over centuries
As in the rippled panes
Of old buildings, Time's
Viscid pawprint.

Nearly invisible.
Tumbler. Distorting,
Breakable--the splinters
Can draw blood.

Craft of the glazier.
Ancestral totem substance:
My one grandfather
Washing store windows
With squeegee and bucket,
The other serving amber
Whiskey and clear gin over the counter,
His son my father
An optician, beveling lenses
On a stone wheel. The water
Dripping to cool the wheel
Fell milky in a pale
Sludge underneath the bench
Into a galvanized bucket
It was my job to empty,
Sloshing the ponderous
Blank mud into the toilet.

Obsidian, uncrystallized silicate.

Unstainable or stained.
Mirror glass, hour glass, dust:
Delicate, durable measure.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why I can't read The Pale King right now

This story goes back a month and a half and it also goes back six years. The different time-spans will become apparent in just a moment. This story is about David Foster Wallace and his posthumously published but incomplete novel The Pale King. Kat bought me a copy of this last novel for my birthday when we were in Louisville and it has sat on my shelf since then. Had this been a completed novel, I would have begun reading it almost immediately, but there is something about attempting to read this incomplete novel that has been bothering me.
This part goes back six years when a friend of mine suggested that I read Wallace. Not knowing where to begin, I picked up a copy of Oblivion, his most recent collection of short stories at the time. The first story, "Mr. Squishy," put me off completely and I couldn't even get through the whole thing. The story includes, in part, an intensely detailed description of a focus group and the products under review. The density of detail threw me because I had not read anything like it before. I didn't realize until much later when I reread the story that the alienation I felt was purposeful -- the obsessive attention to detail in the story parallels the narrator's unhealthy obsession with retail snack-cakes and presages his eventual hostile actions. It was more than a year before I picked up Infinite Jest and I found more of the same in that novel. I found it dense beyond belief and a little knowing -- precious, in a word.
The thing rubbed me the wrong way from start to finish from its incredible depth of irony to the extensive use of end notes, but I stuck it out and read the whole thing. I was alternately bored and frustrated by it, but I kept thinking about it. In fact, I kept thinking about it for more than a year, much longer than I would expect to think about a book I thought I didn't like. Then I reread it and changed my thinking completely about it. The characters I had found so annoying the first time around became vivid and struck me as true representations of flawed individuals this time around. The timeline, built so heavily upon what I thought were dull, scatological jokes struck me as trenchant social criticisms. In short, I fell in love with the work. To this day -- after rereading the novel another half-dozen times -- Infinite Jest has become one of my favorite novels of all time.
This contributes to the trepidation I feel about reading The Pale King. Even DFW's other works, which I hadn't particularly liked, have resonated with me more since reading Infinite Jest. It is because that novel means so much that I can't read The Pale King right now. My fear is that, because it is a partial novel, it will be mediocre -- it won't live up to the other works. This, of course, would be disappointing. The greater fear I have is that it will be brilliant, even in its incomplete state. I fear reading this fragment and recognizing in it the greatness of his previous work, knowing that it will never be complete.
The last novel by David Foster Wallace will have to sit on my shelf a while longer, until I'm ready to see it. Or at least until my curiosity outweighs my trepidation. It has more value for me as a metaphor for the cut-off life of its author -- I'm content to leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Simple Summer Dinner

Summer produce continues to roll in--from the markets, from friends, from my own small garden. It occupies the refrigerator, counters, stockpots... And as much frenzy as there is to preserve the vegetables so abundant now, I like to remember to eat well in the present moment, too. 

A couple days ago, when I was canning tomatoes, I briefly reached a point where I thought it was impossible for me to fill another jar--ever. I was suddenly (and momentarily) tired of canning. I couldn't bear another moment of the canner humidifying the whole kitchen. Luckily, the moment passed once I started thinking about the (delayed) gratification of eating the things I was canning, and I was content once again. But that little frantic moment also reminded me that it's not all about the later--the putting away into jars; it's also about the now. Even a simple dinner of whole-wheat spaghetti topped with squash, tomatoes, greens, broccoli; and a side of tender green beans should have its place of respect. I remember that when I was eating this particular dinner (a couple weeks ago), I told myself that if I ever complain about the heat of summer, or any such thing, I should remember dinners such as this: fresh and vibrant with the produce so recently obtained from market. I took a picture of it to remind myself of the pleasures of the present moments, and thought I'd remind you, too. Even if you're not canning this season, take a minute to notice the great food available now--and savor it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tennessee Cherry Pepper

I've been taking the Tennessee Cherry pepper for granted. What I mean is--even though I dedicated a post to the hot sauce that we've been making with these fermented peppers, there was little discussion about the peppers themselves. I just thought everyone could visit their respective farmers markets, and get a handful or two of Tennessee Cherries. Or, surely, this was a pepper variety that was common in Tennessee, right? The more I talked with the farmer who was selling these tiny, intense peppers, the more I began to understand that he had created the peppers. One day, he explained that the bright red peppers I was purchasing that particular day weren't quite the Tennessee Cherry peppers, yet; they were what he called the "Tennessee Cherry, Jr.," or a plant that had reverted to the characteristics of the true Cherry pepper's predecessors. The Jr. pepper is a little bigger and not quite as smooth as the Tennessee Cherries I'd bought last October. Jim, the farmer, assured me that by next year, he'd have a true, open-pollinated Tennessee Cherry Pepper.
It's a little difficult to tell, but most of these peppers are smaller than a dime, and some are as small as a single elder-berry. They are very fleshy and seedy when cut, and pungent. The true Tennessee Cherry is more regularly ovoid, and the size of a pinto bean, or even a little smaller. I've never tried to eat the peppers raw, but they are quite spicy--spicier, I'd say, than a habanero; it may be even spicier than a Scotch bonnet, although I can't be sure. Jim actually grows all of those peppers, as well as the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper. 

I have used the Tennessee cherries in a salsa, and it's just about the spiciest salsa that I've ever made. As I mentioned earlier, I've also fermented the peppers to make hot sauce; the sauce is similar to the one that Jim sells at Market. He recommended that I ferment the peppers in brine made with salt and a sweet white wine (for 2 months), and blend with rice vinegar to make the final sauce. Once fermented, I blend only about a quarter cup of the peppers with 3 to 4 cups of vinegar and a pinch of salt; the resulting sauce is relatively thin, but tolerably spicy to us, and quite flavorful (we use a bottle with a pipette to apply it to our food). The flavor that comes through is a little peachy, and a little dusty, but not unpleasantly so. The fermentation and the mild vinegar give the hot sauce a nicely sour complexion without overwhelming the flavors of the peppers. 

I'm sighing a little as I write this--I think I'm a little bit in love with these fierce, tiny peppers. The flavor and intensity is one thing, but over the course of purchasing these peppers, I have developed a great respect for the farmer who grows them. I am so glad to know him, talk to him, and to be able to support his efforts in whatever small way that I can. 
A bottle of hot sauce and more peppers fermenting for the next batch.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cucumber-Jalapeño Tequila and the Margarita Made with It

The cucumber-jalapeño tequila idea is not original to me. There's a relatively new (and wonderful) bar in town--the Public House--that serves chilled shots of the very same (except with tequila blanco). And of course, I got hooked on this wonderfully-infused liquor. I order it even on the hottest days, just to feel the smooth, cool cucumber flavor, almost immediately followed by a not-unbearable heat of the jalapeño. It is a refreshing and brazen drink, albeit expensive. Ever since first tasting this tequila, I swore to make it myself--once I'd grown my own cucumbers and jalapeños. I have only had this particular tequila straight up, and have been wondering what it would be like to experiment with mixed drinks (but lacked the money to ask the Public House bartenders to make me some). And now, months after first trying the spicy tequila, I'm happy to say that my two lonely cucumber vines have produced a few cucumbers, and my two lonely jalapeño plants have produced a couple peppers. Here is what you should do right now if you have a cucumber, a jalapeño, and a bottle of tequila: infuse the tequila!

-1 liter of mid-range tequila (I used 30-30 Tequila Reposado, but you can use anything you like)
-1 medium (5-6 inch) cucumber, quartered longways
-1 small/medium jalapeño, also quartered longways

1. Pour tequila into a half-gallon jar, or split up between two quart jars. (Save the bottle.)
2. Add the cucumber and jalapeño (or split up evenly between whatever jars you're using)
3. Put in a cool, dark place for 4-6 days. I'd recommend that you taste the tequila as it's infusing--I like a spicier infusion, so I let it sit for 6 days. If you'd like it more mild, you could probably let it sit for as few as 3 days.
4. Strain the tequila into the original bottle (or just fish out the cucumber and jalapeño pieces) or a vessel of your choice; discard (or compost) the cucumber and pepper.
5. Serve thoroughly chilled, or make margaritas (see suggested recipe below).
Using shot glasses to measure; one is orange liqueur, the other is half lime juice/half agave syrup.
Cucumber Margaritas (with cucumber-jalapeño tequila)--serves 2

-2 small/medium cucumbers, peeled and rough-chopped
-4 ounces of tequila (cucumber-jalapeño infused tequila, in this case)
-1 ounce orange liqueur/triple sec
-1/2 ounce lime juice (or juice of half a lime, approximately)
-1/2 ounce agave syrup
-pinch of salt
-a few ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender, blend until the cucumbers and ice are fully-incorporated, and serve.

I did not salt the rims of the glasses because I thought that salt would overwhelm the delicate flavors, rather than contrast with them (as is the case with sweeter margaritas). You can do as you wish. The margarita is a little frothy, but I don't mind; if you do, you could use fresh cucumber juice to substitute for the whole cucumbers. If you're wary of using cucumbers, you could substitute with the flesh of watermelon or cantaloupe (if you're using those, consider omitting the agave syrup). I'm definitely not through playing around with this infused tequila; please let me know what drinks you come up with, if you decide to infuse your own.

I have to say that in addition to being inspired by the ingenious cucumber-jalapeño infused tequila of the Public House, I was also prompted by Kaela Porter's spicy jams in making this drink. I'd been drooling over the recipes on her blog for a long time, then started trying them out a few weeks ago, and have not been able to stop. She introduced me to the idea that a moderate level of spicy does wonders for a not-too-sweet jam. So, this margarita is a little of both--not too sweet, but deliciously spicy. Thanks, Kaela; if I could share this drink with you, I would.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

This is the season of peaches

This morning, Matt finished reading Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, and mentioned something about the poems interspersed throughout the novel. This reminded me that I hadn't looked at Atwood's poetry in a long time; however, when I picked up a book of her selected poems from the shelf, I had a hard time finding a poem that resonated with me (which tells me--maybe now is not the time to return to Atwood, but maybe in a couple more years). Instead, I found a poem that was evocative of the season. I may post something by a different poet later, but thought I'd share this poem for now.

Late August

This is the plum season, the nights
blue and distended, the moon
hazed, this is the season of peaches

with their lush lobed bulbs
that glow in the dusk, apples
that drop and rot
sweetly, their brown skins veined as glands

No more the shrill voices
that cried  Need  Need
from the cold pond, bladed
and urgent as new grass

Now it is the crickets
that say  Ripe  Ripe
slurred in the darkness, while the plums

dripping on the lawn outside
our window, burst
with a sound like thick syrup
muffled and slow

The air is still
warm, flesh moves over
flesh, there is no


On my first read-through, my immediate thought was: "Of course there is need to hurry! Who's going to preserve all those plums and peaches!" This is just indicative of my shift in thinking--I want to preserve everything. But of course, the last line, set apart as it is, indicates the very opposite of what the literal words say. Reading this poem two or three times, I start to notice how insidious the ripeness is, how briefly it lasts. But I'll stop commenting now, and let you read the poem again on your own.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Tomatoes have been around farmers markets for a few weeks already, but it seems it's just been in the last few days that they have started appearing in great quantities. I've been eyeing them, trying to figure out how we would be able to afford to purchase enough tomatoes--even at their cheapest, they are about a dollar a pound. I have absolutely no problem with paying farmers fairly, but since I've only had two weeks of employment this summer, money is getting tight. In order to really put up enough salsa, soup, marinara, and just plain tomatoes to last us a full year, I need over a hundred pounds. I couldn't bear the thought of a tomato-less winter, so I kept looking around for slightly damaged or over-ripe tomatoes in bulk. As luck would have it, I found out that the University of Tennessee Organic Crop Production has just this--plenty of tomato "seconds." This is what I hope to be only the beginning of the tomatoes for the season; I'm using the very last of the tomatoes from these boxes this morning, and will be getting a couple more boxes on Friday.

As I've been making my way through the tomatoes, I've also been thinking about my purpose in putting up. Although I love preserving fruit, even in its most utilitarian form--in extra-light syrup--fruit still doesn't seem quite as necessary as putting up tomatoes, soups, stock, and other savory items. And because putting up tomatoes--and other vegetables--creates something which will sustain us in the winter months, there is more urgency in the process. The relative fleetingness of the tomato season makes the tomatoes precious, and I almost have a reverence for the jars of tomatoes in my pantry. I'm trying to say something that I can't quite vocalize, or perhaps something that I understand so well, that there are no longer words for it. Why do I preserve? Why do I make the effort to obtain such a heavy load of fruit and then spend several full days in the kitchen monitoring the simmering, and the processing? Because this is what there is here and now. Even though I did not have a hand in growing these tomatoes, they are of this land, and with my efforts, they will last a year, until the next tomato season. Preserving emphasizes the value of what is in season; there is an aspect of making do with what one has here and now, rather than seeking the same food on an as-needed basis. Anyone can go to the store and purchase almost anything--salsa, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes--on a whim. Preserving is deliberate. I have to plan for the full year when I put up; prior to canning, I'd never really thought about how many jars of marinara we go through in a year, but now, I could tell you an exact number. Last year, I only canned a dozen jars of plain tomatoes, and by early April, we'd run out; we ended up buying a couple cans of tomatoes throughout the spring, but it was not the same. The flavor was flat, and there was no satisfaction in opening them. This year, I know better. I know that to many, these kinds of efforts sound a little crazy; but just you put up a few jars of roasted tomatoes, open one in the middle of January (to eat on toast, pizza, or in soup), and you'll know where I'm coming from.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Urban Land Scout Camp

Katie teaches young Urban Land Scouts how to use a compass to earn the mapping badge.
Today was the final day of the first ever Urban Land Scout camp. I have been supporting the Urban Land Scout program in small, personal ways for over a year, and was definitely glad to have the opportunity to be a counselor and propagate Urban Land Scouting to our group of young people. Over the course of the week, Katie, I, and eight young scouts spent time at Beardsley Farm; in addition to working on earning the first five ULS badges, we learned about the workings of the farm and helped with farm chores. I was glad to see the campers' enthusiasm for learning about native edible plants, collecting seeds, and taking cuttings of herbs. Go forth, young scouts!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Garden Returns

Clockwise from beets: Holy basil, mustard greens, dinosaur kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, basil.
It's been a little while since I've mentioned our little backyard garden, and I thought I'd write about it briefly. The garden itself looks quite different than it did a month ago--the tomatoes are towering over their stakes, the squash is spilling out of the delineated beds, and the three lone cucumber plants are threatening to take over not just the trellis, but that whole side of the fence. Almost every other day, I can walk into the back yard and harvest something. Just earlier in the week, we got our first ripe tomato; we've gotten about eight cucumbers, and a couple of squash, too. What you see here is the last of the beets that I planted in the non-amended clay (the bed that I built almost on a whim). The beets have been small, but they have beautiful and delicious greens, and so have been well-worth the effort. The kale is a little eaten, but still quite good; it's getting ready to bolt, and so I'll be replanting it soon, for fall.

Every time that I walk outside, I am amazed--we had so few things growing last year, and now, what a variety we have!


Old and scratched jar; the liquor already dark.
It has been approximately six months (give or take a few weeks) since I'd started the multiple batches of limoncello, meyer lemon limoncello, lime-oncello, orange liqueur, and blood orange liqueur. I'm so glad that I started several different liqueurs at the peak of citrus season, as now we have the various flavors to incorporate into our favorite drinks. The slightly floral and milder meyer lemon limoncello has been my favorite (chilled, with a splash of sparkling water); I also love the fact that we now have orange liqueur that is good enough to drink on its own, if we wanted to. All the liqueurs will continue to improve with time, and will last us a good, long while.

I've been thinking about making nocino ever since I discovered limoncello. I was curious about what it would taste like, and had been gearing up to pick walnuts on the customary day (Solstice), and completely forgot about it (we were out of town for so much of June, it was easy to forget). Fortunately, I remembered about it about a week ago, and hurried to pick the walnuts before their shells had hardened any further. The walnuts I found were quite large, and it took only 16 of them (quartered) to fill a half-gallon jar. I used this recipe, for the most part; if there's anything that my experiments with liqueurs have taught me is that I prefer a less sweet liqueur. Thus, I only put a couple tablespoons of sugar in with the walnuts, and actually combined all the ingredients (including the Everclear) in the jars all at once. Now, I wait for two months, shaking the jars (two half-gallons) every now and then; in two months, I'll strain the liquor and add simple syrup. The Nocino will be ready by January, just in time for the colder months.

I know that this cycle of making liqueur takes a long time, but now that I am imbibing the earlier infusions, I'm growing to appreciate the process. It's secondary to my main food preservation, but I like it--there's something quite irresistible about home-made liqueurs, and it impresses people without a lot of hands-on effort on my part.

If you can get your hands on some green walnuts, why not start a batch of nocino of your very own?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Peachy Coffee Cake

The early peaches started coming in here in Tennessee at the end of June, and although there was a lull in varieties ripening last week, by mid-July (in just a few days) peaches should be in full-swing. Before I started canning, I only purchased a few peaches a year--beyond eating them fresh and baking with them, I didn't quite know what to do with them. I especially didn't know about the versatility of peaches--I never thought that they could be made into a salsa, or a barbeque sauce, or peach butter. I made all three (slightly different versions) last year, and kept being surprised by the ways in which peaches could be transformed by the different flavors and textures. So far (already this year), I've made a batch of barbeque sauce and taught a canning class on the peach salsa; both came out exceptionally well, and I've gotten a few incredibly enthusiastic reviews of the barbeque sauce (what can I say, I took it to a party where there was a hot grill and some corn, asparagus, and zucchini--of course they got slathered in the sauce and grilled!). But what I'm trying to say is--if it's just minutes away from being peach season again, the peaches that were canned last year need to be consumed as soon as possible.
Last year, I also canned peaches in light syrup, and we'd been enjoying them in our cereal and in fancy rum drinks; when I checked in the pantry, there was a lone jar of these very peaches still left, right next to a jar of peach butter. I took out the jars and carried them around with me for a little while before I remembered a fall-inspired coffee cake from Celine Steen's The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions. The original recipe uses ginger syrup, roasted apples, and apple sauce to add moisture and sweetness to the cake--and I have to say, the original recipe makes one of the most wonderful coffee cakes I've ever had. However, the peaches also work wonderfully well, and provided me with a good opportunity to use up those last few jars before I put up this year's harvest. 


For the cake:                                                                            For the Streusel:
1 cup peach syrup (from canned peaches)                       1/2 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup peach butter                                                               1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil                                            1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup whole wheat flour                                                    2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 cup all purpose flour                                                                                
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup canned peach halves, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9" round cake pan or an 8" square pan.

In a medium bowl, combine peach syrup, peach butter, and oil. In a large bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. In a separate small bowl, combine the streusel ingredients and set aside.

Fold wet cake ingredients into dry, being careful not to overmix. Fold in the diced peaches.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and spread so the batter covers the pan evenly. Sprinkle streusel evenly on top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and firm in the center. Transfer to a wire rack and cool before removing from the pan.
The cake isn't overly sweet, and isn't overly peachy--it's everything I want in a coffee cake: slightly crumbly, moist, and flavorful. If you don't have the peachy ingredients available, now you have a good reason to put up peaches so you can make this coffee cake later in the year.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Using the CSA Basket: Making Stock

This week has gone by very quickly--tomorrow, we pick up our CSA share again, and we still have carrots, celery, parsley, and chard left over. With the exception of the chard, everything will keep in the fridge quite well for a few weeks (and I happen to know that we're planning to have wilted chard on our pizza tonight).

The last time that I wrote about canning vegetable stock, I focused on the pressure-canning process, as it was my first time using the canner. Today, I want to talk about the stock itself. I have to admit that prior to the batch of stock I made in April, I didn't hold stock in high enough a regard--I nearly took it for granted. We'd made stock before, and usually froze the leftovers; what I didn't realize was that the stock was losing some of its flavor in the process. Canning stock captures all the fullness of flavor of a vegetable stock that has been cooking for several hours; it's fragrant and savory, and I fell in love with it every time that I opened a jar. It was dark and rich, and did wonders for polenta, soup, risotto, etc.; and we ran out of it in less than three months.

I've been waiting to receive celery in our CSA share to make stock again, as Adrienne and her farm team grow the most flavorful, deep green celery I have ever seen. (If you'd like a comparison, the stock pot above has a few pieces of organic store-bought celery at the six o'clock position, and a CSA celery leaf at the 4 o'clock position--it's that green throughout.) We've been saving scraps for stock all week, too (rather than composting them)--carrot tops, outer layers of onions, bottom portions of mushrooms, etc. In addition to those, I added (to each of the large stock pots) half an onion, half a head of garlic, a few stalks of celery (and celery leaves), carrots, dill, parsley, basil, oregano, summer savory, peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander, fennel seed, and a dried pepper or two. Keep in mind that the stock cooks for a long time, and that thus dried herbs and sturdy vegetables/greens are most suitable. I kept wanting to add fresh basil to the mix, but Matt reminded me that it would disintegrate too fast, making the stock more bitter.

Making stock is relatively easy: combine vegetables and herbs in a large stock pot (or two), cover with water (allowing for room to boil), bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for a couple hours. Then, strain out the vegetables, and simmer the stock for 1-2 hours before canning.

I hope to make at least a couple more batches before the winter, as I know that stock this good won't happen again until next year's celery and carrots start coming in.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Using the CSA Basket: Roma Beans

I'm not ever sure if these beans warrant a post all of their own, but I figured that if I'd started documenting some of the things that we've been making with our CSA share this week, I'd better continue. I love how excellent vegetables lend themselves so easily to being prepared simply. These beans were just parboiled, and then sautéed with some garlic and fresh basil in olive oil. I'm sure there was also a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. These are some of the first green beans that we've gotten so far, and they made an excellent light lunch, along with the last of the purple coleslaw.

I've had a lot on my mind lately, and it seems things won't quite slow down enough for me to think about everything properly; already, it is almost the middle of blueberry and blackberry season here, and peaches will start ripening in earnest very soon. I'll have a peach coffee cake recipe for you all soon. Until then!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Using the CSA Basket: Borscht

As I've mentioned before, we've been subscribing to a CSA share from the same farm for two and a half years. We fell into the share almost by accident--I'd never heard of CSA, and actually thought that shopping at the farmers market was too expensive. Then, it came about that someone from the English department where I was studying wanted to pass off their CSA for the summer; we took it over, and by the end of the season made up our minds to not give up our share. That first year, it was a little challenging to make good use of everything in our weekly basket--we were figuring out what to do with the bounty of fresh vegetables, especially in early spring. Now, however, nothing goes to waste. As I mentioned earlier, I'm particularly happy with the contents of this week's basket, as I can almost see how I will use all the vegetables. Once I saw the beets, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage, I knew that they would be destined for borscht.

I grew up on borscht; it's the quintessential soup for people of Russian and Ukrainian heritage. The versions that I remember always contained meat, and were cooked for a good long while (to cook the meat), so the vegetables would be all dyed a vibrant magenta. I've only made the soup a few times on my own, and actually haven't made it since my mother criticized my preparation of it ("no meat? no sour cream? you put vinegar into it?!"). With this recipe, I decided to make a soup that had the spirit of borscht, but retained the integrity and distinctive flavors of the vegetables. I think it turned out quite well--a filling, but light soup that is translucently pink and very tasty. The vinegar (or kraut) is not absolutely necessary, but it provides a nice contrast to the root vegetables.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 small/medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 3 small/medium beets, diced
  • 3 small/medium potatoes, diced
  • 2 sprigs of parsley
  • 1/2 head of a small cabbage
  • 1.5 teaspoons vegetable bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 quarts of water
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1.5 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or 1/3 cup sauerkraut with brine)
  • 2-3 sprigs of dill, minced
  1. Warm the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium soup pot while preparing the onion and garlic. Once the oil is hot, turn the heat to medium and add onion.
  2. Sauté the onion for a few minutes, until translucent, and add the garlic. While the onion and garlic are cooking, slice carrots and dice celery. Proceed to add the carrots and celery to the soup pot. Continue by dicing the beets and potatoes, and adding them to the pot, and so on with parsley and cabbage.
  3. Once all the vegetables are in the pot, stir and sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add water, salt and bouillon. Place lid on pot and bring soup to a boil; once the soup comes to a boil, lower heat and simmer soup for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, the potatoes should be cooked; add pepper, vinegar, dill, and stir to combine. Taste and adjust spices. Serve with extra dill and a dollop of sour supreme.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Using the CSA Basket: Purple Slaw

Although I'm always excited to receive our CSA basket, there is something especially thrilling about the produce that starts to become available in mid-summer; once the garlic, onions, and potatoes start coming in, I know that we can make more and more of our meals from the vegetables in our weekly share. Yesterday, these were the contents of our basket: parsley, celery, red cabbage, green cone cabbage, garlic, chard, roma beans, onions, beets, basil, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and potatoes. We bought two additional heads of garlic and the chicken of the woods mushrooms. We were so very excited about all the produce (not that we're not normally so excited, but this was after we'd missed a couple of weeks of the CSA, too), that we thought we should write about some of the things that we make throughout the week.

Because we got two heads of cabbage and had another two in the fridge from a previous basket, using them was a high priority. Matt and I don't really eat cabbage often, and we were discussing ways of using it, when suddenly it struck me: I should make cole slaw! It must have been a least a year since I've made cole slaw--it's one of those things that is simple, and good, but also something that I forget about. Maybe I forget about cole slaw because in my memory, it's something that is overly-dressed with mayonnaise, made with dry cabbage and carrots, and not very flavorful; no wonder that so often slaw is an unwanted side item. However, the spectacularly fresh cabbage and carrots, and fresh spices really make for a fine slaw. I like, too, that it's almost all raw and almost all local; it makes for a very nice side when the tender salad greens of early summer are fading away with the heat. I'm rather pleased with the way that this purple cole slaw came out, and I'm glad to share at least the recipe--if not the salad--with you.


-small head of cabbage, red or green, shredded
-3 medium or 2 large carrots, grated
-1 teaspoon caraway seeds
-1/2 teaspoon salt, or more--to taste
-2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
-1.5 tablespoon Vegenaise 
-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or spicy chile powder
-freshly ground pepper, to taste
-1/2 cup sauerkraut, with brine (optional)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl; allow the slaw to sit for a few hours before consuming--the flavors will meld better this way. The kraut is absolutely optional; I've been looking for ways to use up the beautiful purple kraut that I made last winter, and I think it added an extra level of complexity to the slaw.

If you've recently gotten a cabbage and carrots--or have access to some--I say that coleslaw deserves another chance. It's tangy and spicy, and practically anchors a meal; if you have less than favorable memories of slaw, I definitely commend you to try this zesty version of it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I laugh as if my pots were clean.

Every few months--ever since I discovered Lyn Hejinian's book My Life--I come back to the (prose) poems; and every time, something different catches my eye. Although upon first reading the book, I thought the poems too oblique and impersonal, over time I've learned to follow the associative leaps Hejinian makes. And beneath the veneer of opacity, the poems are personal and sincere, and yet not undemanding of the reader. It's a longer poem, but I thought I'd share it with you nonetheless. I encourage you to read it more than once--and I hope that you can enjoy it. (Oh, and the "line breaks" are in actuality how the lines fit on the book's small pages--I thought I'd replicate the experience for you.)

One begins as a               Back and backward, why,
student but                       wide and wider. Such that
becomes a friend             art is inseparable from the
of clouds                            search for reality. The con-
                                             tinent is greater than the
                                             content. A river nets the
                                             peninsula. The garden
                                             rooster goes through the
goldenrod. I watched a robin worming its way on
the ridge, time on the uneven light ledge. There as
in that's their truck there. Where it rested in the
weather there it rusted. As one would say, my
friends, meaning no possession, and don't harm
my trees. Marigolds, nasturtiums, snapdragons,
sweet William, forget-me-nots, replaced by chard,
tomatoes, lettuce, garlic, peas, beans, carrots, rad-
ishes--but marigolds. The hum hurts. Still, I felt
intuitively that this which was incomprehensible
was expectant, increasing, was good. The greatest
thrill was to be the one to "tell." All rivers' left banks
remind me of Paris, not to see or sit upon but to
hear spoken of. Cheese makes one thirsty but on-
ions make a worse thirst. The Spanish make a little
question frame. In the case, propped on a stand so
as to beckon, was the hairy finger of St. Cecilia, cov-
ered with rings. The old dress is worn out, torn up,
dumped. Erasures could not serve better authen-
ticity. The years pass, years in which, I take it, events
were not lacking. There are more colors in the great
rose window of Chartres than in the rose. Beside a
body, not a piece, of water. Serpentine is fool's jade.
It is on a dressed stone. The previousness of plants
in prior color--no dream can come up to the origi-
nal, which in the common daylight is voluminous.
Yet he insisted that his life had been full of happy
chance, that he was luck's child. As a matter of fact,
quite the obverse. After a 9-to-5 job he got to just go
home. Do you have a compulsion to work and then
did you have a good time. Now it is one o'clock on
the dot, but that is only coincidence and it has a
bad name. Patriots drive larger cars. At the time
the perpetual Latin of love kept things hidden. We
might be late to the movies but always early for the
kids. The women at the parents' meeting must wear
rings, for continuity. More sheep than sleep. Paull
was telling me a plot which involved time travel, I
asked, "How do they go into the future?" and he
answered, "What do you mean?--they wait and the
future comes to them--of course!" so the problem
was going into the past. I think my interests are
much broader than those of people who have been
saying the same thing for eight years, or so he said.
Has the baby enough teeth for an apple. Juggle,
jungle, chuckle. The hummingbird, for all we know,
may be singing all day long. We had been in France
where every word really was a bird, a thing singing.
I laugh as if my pots were clean. The apple in the
pie is the pie. An extremely pleasant and often comic
satisfaction comes from conjunction, the fit, say, of
comprehension in a reader's mind to content in a
writer's work. But not bitter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Purple Basil and Blackberry Ice Cream

Last year, I found a recipe for Thai basil ice cream somewhere on the Conscious Kitchen blog (which has since closed down)--we were getting a lot of Thai basil in our CSA basket, and I could never use enough of it, until I found the ice cream recipe. I made Thai basil ice cream a good few times last summer; I liked its subtle floral and spicy flavor, and it was incredibly refreshing during the hot Tennessee summer. Because I was foolish enough not to copy the recipe, I've had to try to re-create it on my own; I'm happy to say that this latest ice cream attempt has been a great success--the addition of the blackberries gives the ice cream a little textural interest and complements the basil quite well. Without any more ado:

-2/3 cup blackberries
-2 tablespoons orange liqueur
-1 tablespoon sugar

-1 1/2 cups coconut creamer (or soy/almond creamer)
-1 1/2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
-2/3 cup basil, packed (purple is best; I used a mix of purple and Genovese)
-2/3 cup sugar
-2 tablespoons tapioca flour
-pinch of salt

1. Combine blackberries, orange liqueur, and the tablespoon of sugar in a bowl and set aside to macerate.
2. Combine the creamer and soy milk in a medium saucepan, and bring to just near a boil over medium heat; once the mixture is hot and lightly steaming, take off heat and stir in the basil. Allow the mixture to infuse for at least an hour; if you would like a more intense flavor, let it sit overnight (refrigerated). (If you choose to infuse for longer than a few hours, also refrigerate the blackberry mixture.)
3. Once the ice cream base is infused to your liking, strain out the basil, squeezing the leaves to extract flavor.
4. Combine the ice cream base, sugar, and salt in the medium saucepan, and bring to a near-boil over medium-high heat, whisking regularly. When the mixture is hot, sprinkle in the tapioca flour, whisking steadily; continue to whisk for 5-7 minutes, or until the mix thickens noticeably.
5. Pour the ice cream base into a wide bowl and allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating. When the base has cooled sufficiently, mash the blackberries with a fork until no whole berries remain. Fold the blackberries into the ice cream base.
6. Follow the ice cream maker's instructions, and wait patiently while the ice cream freezes.
The ice cream in my pictures looks a little icy because our ice cream maker decided to die on us right in the middle of making this; nonetheless, the ice cream is wonderful. If you doubt the combination of basil and blackberries, I wish that I could let you taste some of this (I happen to be eating some right now), as the flavor would make you rescind any doubt. The basil makes the wild blackberry flavor more intense, and itself tastes almost a little like mint. If you had to guess the flavor of the ice cream, I bet it would take you a few tries to get to basil. I love this ice cream because it is both a little unusual, but yet somehow familiar; and I also like to be reminded that basil is more than just a savory herb--that it shines, but differently, when combined with sweetness.

I'm so glad that blackberries are starting to come in again, and I'm particularly lucky to have a large bramble within walking distance. Most of the berries are out of reach (and shielded by thorns), but last year, I picked at least a couple of quarts (and used some in a cake!). I think this year I'll freeze them as I pick them and try to make a jam with whatever is left over after making the ice cream.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Spring Tonic: Ode to Greens and Root Vegetables

There were three things that I was eager to do immediately upon our return to town: pick up Lucy from the kennel, go to the farmer's market to get our CSA basket, and visit our community garden plot. Although Louisville has great vegan food, I missed the fresh vegetables from the market and our garden. There's nothing quite like planning meals around what's in season--it's this very thing that's made us so attached to the CSA (we're in our third year with A Place of the Heart Farm). When I visited our community garden plot, there were over half a dozen cosmic purple carrots ready to pick; I was surprised by how big they were--some as long as eight inches. It was my first time to try to grow carrots, and I only put in a couple short rows of them, but I have really been enjoying the results: the carrots are spicier and tastier than even the organic ones from the store. And they're just so beautiful, not only on the outside, too--I always look forward to seeing the contrasts of orange flesh, greenish-yellow core, and the purple skin when I slice them.

The soup I'm about to introduce isn't just about the carrots, although they are an integral part of it; the soup is more of a convergence of a few different greens and vegetables that have flourished in our garden. In fact, the only ingredients that are not local are the onion, olive oil, and the salt/pepper--everything else came either from our CSA (garlic, parsley, mustard greens) or was grown by us (beet, turnip, carrot, arugula, sorrel, thyme). It is a wonderfully quick soup that has a good depth of flavor without relying on stock; it also allowed me to use up a good amount of the greens that have proliferated in the week of our absence.

I've had Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups for at least four years, and have only used recipes from it a couple times because when I first bought the book, I had a very primitive understanding of soup, and a good few of her recipes call for stock, or patience, or both. Lately, though--and especially with this soup adaptation, my interest has been piqued--it's such a simple soup, and yet so good that I can only imagine how wonderful some of the more complex recipes will be. Also, now that we have a garden, some of these more elusive ingredients are readily available.
I picked the soup recipe specifically for the greens that have been missing from my diet in the last week and a half--it's called "A Spring Tonic," and although we're almost out of spring and into summer, it was definitely nourishing and restorative. The original recipe calls for nettles and watercress, but I didn't have any on hand; it also calls for two small potatoes--but alas, we finished off the rest of our potatoes before leaving town, so I substituted a good-sized turnip. I think that the soup I made yesterday was every bit as good as the original recipe, as I stayed true to the concept: lots of greens with some starch for consistency.

-2 T olive oil
-1 medium turnip, cubed
-1 medium onion, diced
-2 carrots, diced
-5 garlic cloves, chopped
-sprig of fresh thyme
-handful of parsley
-2 cups sorrel, chopped
-1 cup arugula, chopped
-2 cups beet greens, chopped
-1 cup mustard greens, chopped
(feel free to include radish tops, carrot tops, or other odd greens
-sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Warm olive oil in a wide soup pot. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion starts becoming translucent; add turnip, carrots, parsley, and thyme. Give a good stir and cook over medium heat for several minutes, and then add the greens. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat until the greens have collapsed, about 5 minutes, turning them every so often.

2. Once the greens have wilted, add 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the root vegetables are soft, 20 minutes or so. Puree the soup and adjust the spices; serve with a swirl of olive oil or chive blossoms.

As you can see, I chose to not puree the soup (at first), and just had it as is; the soup is just as Madison describes, "the sum of the flavor [of the ingredients] is always larger than the parts." I pureed the leftovers, and am looking forward to eating it again. I can see continuing to make this as "A Summer Tonic" on those days when I need rejuvenation or an extra dose of iron. I'm so glad that I've returned to this book of soups, and I'm sure I'll be using it soon to make cool soups for the hot heart of summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back again, before departure.

View from our hotel room.
As I mentioned a few days ago, we have been in Louisville, Kentucky for the last week; we are now back home for a few days before we travel north again--for Matt's sister's wedding. I like Louisville a whole lot: I visited it first when I accompanied Matt to the AP reading three years ago (I was not actually working, but he was), and we seem to be coming back to it with some regularity--at least twice a year. It's a nice city, and conveniently half-way between Knoxville and north-east Ohio, where Matt's parents live. The food is good in Louisville, and the bourbon plentiful.

I have spent the last week in a ware-house-like room with a few hundred people, reading hundreds of student essays and sitting in an uncomfortable chair. The work wasn't too bad, but I hope that I can get a good deal of time outside in the next few days before we travel again. July should be more exciting, too, as the canning workshops resume, and the tomatoes start coming in. This month is full of transience and home-sickness--but the end is in sight.
View from my seat at the AP reading.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

So marvelous and dangerous...

Today, I feel untethered; imminence is everywhere. Here is a poem by Lisel Mueller from her collection Alive Together.

Sometimes, When the Light

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pickled Radishes

Pickled watermelon radish.
Last year, the nice folks over at Beardsley gave me a couple giant black radishes because they thought I'd like to experiment with them (and probably because they had no idea what to do with it themselves). They were beautiful and unusual, and after a little poking around, I found out that it was a Black Spanish Radish. To be honest, I didn't really know what to do with it, either--and the radishes were big, bigger than even a good-sized turnip; so I pickled them, just as an experiment. When we opened a jar of the pickled radishes a few months later, we could hardly tear ourselves away from it: the radishes were softer, but still crunchy; briny and spicy; savory in a way that is hard to describe, too. This past weekend, we had some friends over to the house, and we finished off a 24 ounce jar of those same radishes--all in one evening.

After eating that first jar of pickled radishes, I decided that I would not only try to grow the Black Spanish Radish (I'll be trying my hand at this in the fall--ordering seeds from the Sand Hill Preservation Center), but that I would also try pickling other radishes.

When I saw the watermelon radishes at market a few weeks ago, I knew that they would make a beautiful pickle. I got a couple bunches, one of which included a radish that was the size of both of my fists put together (and trust me, I do not have small hands). I tasted them as I was preparing to can, and they were quite spicy and crunchy--perfect for pickling. Once I peeled and cut up the radishes, I stuffed them into three pint jars with garlic, ginger, whole coriander seeds, yellow mustard seeds, and black peppercorns. I used a brine solution that had slightly more vinegar than water (as radishes are in no way acidic), and about a teaspoon and a half of salt per pint. Once I processed the jars in a boiling water bath, the radishes gave off some of their brilliant pink color and tinted the brine--although not so much that I can't discern a little of the white and green on the outside of the slices. They're easily some of the most beautiful pickles I've ever made, and I think they'll be every bit as good as the Black Spanish Radish pickles I made last fall.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Crooked Little Garden in a Rented Space

Matt and I started renting our present home shortly before we got married two years ago. We didn't know then--and still don't know now--how long we'll be living in Knoxville, and so renting makes a certain kind of sense for us. However, any time that we're walking around the neighborhood, we look at people's houses and talk about what our house will be like when we move; I would like as little lawn as possible, and a sizable garden with a few beds of established perennials--rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries... Until then, we've decided to make the best of things at this present place, and got permission from our landlord to put in a small garden.
Cinder-block cilantro

I actually started planting things in our back yard before I even got permission. I thought that if I put in just a few plants here and there, the landlord wouldn't mind. Last spring, I put a couple salvaged drawers into the ground, along with some cinder blocks, and grew a couple pepper plants, basil, oregano, and one sad Mortgage Lifter tomato. It was an experimental kind of garden--I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn't want to dig up too much of our yard (or ask the landlord for permission), but I wanted to grow something. Somehow, as the summer progressed into fall, the
number of drawers filled with dirt kept multiplying. My parents brought me a horseradish root, and I had to put it somewhere; then, I started volunteering at Beardsley, and decided that I wanted to plant collards--and they, too, had to be planted somewhere. Before knew it, I was preparing beds for next year's squash and tomatoes. Then, a friend gave us some seed garlic, and we built a small raised bed to plant it in; then, another small raised bed for the Egyptian walking onions. At the end of this past winter, I put in a small bed for peppers and a larger bed for kale and root vegetables (for which the neighbors donated unused masonry stones).
Just a couple months ago, I put in a small bed for beans after John Coykendall got me so excited about planting them. I'm also growing potatoes in a couple buckets, just to see if I can. We bought a small blueberry bush, and I'm growing cucumbers, dill, and loofahs along the fence. The patch of dirt in our front yard that had previously been overtaken by ivy now has sorrel, chamomile, cilantro, mint, and dill.
Clockwise from bottom left: horseradish, squash and onions, garlic, potato bucket, mystery tomato, oregano.
As I list everything, I realize just how much I've expanded our garden since last year--all in little increments. It's all a little crooked: the beds are not even, the stones (and even cinder blocks) are not level, and most of the drawers are starting to warp after a year of holding soil and water. I've had to put chicken wire on top of the bigger beds because the neighborhood cats like to use the loose soil as a litter box--thus, the beds look even more strange. But I love it nonetheless. It has taught me a few important lessons--that a garden does not have to be aesthetically pleasing to produce food; that even clay soil is fertile; that compost is indispensable; that I can make a garden with mostly found materials; and that it takes about a year to put in beds, amend the soil, and start an active compost pile. This all gives me hope that wherever we go next, whenever that happens, I will be able to grow something.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peach Salsa Canning Workshop

Summer is upon us, and the arrival of heat signals the advent of fresh fruit. However, the fruit won't be around for long, and what better way to extend the flavors of the summer than through canning? During the July canning workshop we will be making peach salsa. This salsa has it all--it's sweet, tangy, spicy, and flavorful; it will also be made with local peaches.

The class costs $20 (payable in advance of the class date) and includes a print-out of basic canning instructions and the recipe, and a jar of the peach salsa. The class is appropriate for any level of canning enthusiast.
The class will take place on Saturday, July 2nd from 1:30-4:30 PM. Although the original location of the class was EarthFare's community room, due to their event on the same day, the class will be held at my house. Please email me for more information.

The class will be capped at 12 people; you must reserve your space in the workshop through purchasing a "ticket" through the PayPal link (you do not need a PayPal account to buy). Also, RSVP to me, the instructor, to let me know you're coming. Space in the workshop is not guaranteed if you have not reserved your spot. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.