Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hey I've moved!!



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heading out on our Southern Spring Adventure

On a stop over in Chattanooga, birth place of Bessie Smith, my   friend Kelly and I took a long walk around the River Walk section of the downtown.  The Tennessee River meanders through the city center and the public areas were full of families enjoying the spring weather.  Of course I had to spot an interesting looking book store and headed right to it.  What to my surprise the owner, Polly Henry, is not only a book seller but a weaver, spinner and dyer.  She confessed to being 78 - seems to be a force of nature, and loves sharing her knowledge of fiber craft. The place was a hodge-podge of books, piles of wool roving, stacks of bales of rug weaving strips, fantastically dyed and felted fabrics in wild disarray, with looms and and carders filling in what small room there was for anything else!  I never made it to the books.  The bag you see at my feet is full of peachy/melon/plum/apricot dyed mohair rovings ready to spin.  I just could not resist.  Miss Polly propped the bag on the scale, pronounced a price that had me gasping for joy and bingo it was mine.  Along with all the fibers and yarns she also sells hats knitted and crocheted in silk, mohair, in fabulous textures and colors.  I had a ball.  (Crazy Daisy in All Books, 410 Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN 
The road south to Louisiana was sunny and bright with flat pine barren land under that immensity of sky I miss there in Virginia where the mountains act as topographic borders.   

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cows, Milk, and Agri-biz

Heads up, folks. You can buy and consume foods with all the high fructose corn syrup and chemical additives you want but you don’t dare buy unpasteurized milk from a friend!  My thoughts on this topic were sparked by the most recent Virginia Farm Bureau newsletter that has an article on the vanishing Virginia dairy farm.  The tone is one of sad resignation and the causes named are – boo hoo - the reduction in milk drinking and those troublesome environmental restrictions on pastures and manure relating to the impact on the Chesapeake Bay.  Oh yeah, and the current prices paid to farmers for milk. 
There’s not a hint of the way processed milk has lost its flavor as more and more it has been routinely pasteurized to ultra high levels; this omission may possibly be because the author has never tasted real milk.  There’s no mention of the way the true ‘small’ dairies have been pushed out of business.  By small I mean families that milked 8, 20, 50 cows not the big boys milking 250, 500, or 1000 cows.  It has become the smug assumtion that the small guys just needed to get the hell out if they couldn’t compete with the big boys.  The idea that the small operator might be best situated to sell to their local market never seems to have occurred to anyone (but the small guys themselves, I suppose).  And certainly there was nothing even hinting at people who milk one or two cows, sharing the milk with family and friends.  From the agri-biz perspective no one (sane) milks their own family cow, no one can make any useful income from making cheese or selling milk from an 8-to-50-cow herd. 
For eight years in South Dakota I hand milked two Jersey and one magnificent Guernsey cow.  The way the rules work in South Dakota is that anyone can sell anything from their farm if the customer comes to them.  Over the years I sold pigs, lambs, chickens, eggs, butter, yogurt, and milk to friends, neighbors, and customers as far away as Sioux Falls 47 miles to the south.  And of course my family also ate all those homegrown foods we raised. 
Did I feel ‘safe’ eating and selling those items; yes.  For a relatively small cost my cows were tested for brucellosis annually.  With only four dairy cows I was not concerned with staphiccosis or any of the bacteria issues often mentioned when large operations and vast collections of manure are discussed; I felt the same comfort with our 50 laying hens and the annual 500 free-range fryers.  We raised 10 sows, four stock cows, and twelve sheep for meat and wool.  There was grass pasture, room for the animals to roam, and easy composting of all the manure for application to garden and field.  At any given time I knew no fewer than ten families who milked anywhere from two to 30 cows, sold milk in the neighborhood or to the cheese company.  No harm, no foul. 
When we moved to Virginia one of the first things I did was to buy another milk cow, a sweet small Jersey.  I made friends with a local man who was milking four cows and had been selling milk to his friends for years.  I was made welcome into a community of milkers, gardeners, and family food producers.  But when I told them of my South Dakota experience they were astounded.  Almost as astounded as I was to discover that without acres of stainless steel and regiments of inspectors I could not sell any thing except eggs or honey here in Virginia! 
How did all these good old boy, proud Virginia ‘small farmers’ let the oligarchs in the General Assembly ram that down their throats?  The big boys have red herringed the issue by convincing the politicians that somehow it is the small guys who are the threat.  Oh, no we don’t pollute the Bay with our multi-1000 cows in hip-deep mud loafing pens!  Representative Blah, why don’t you spend your time legislating the beady-eyed policing of farmer’s markets.  What?  Joel Saladin butchers chickens in front of the actual customer?  OH MY GOD!  Git ‘em’!  Don’t worry about Tyson’s or Perdue or the Hispanic workers working those nauseating assembly lines in the chicken slaughterhouses.  That’s the part that pisses me off – all the smug economic agendas by the big boys and the equally smug capitulation by the agri-biz media. 
So my response to the Virginia Farm Bureau point of view is that if you are not wiling to support the real small guys you can’t complain when the larger guys are under the gun.  You can’t falsely accuse home milkers of potentially spreading milk-borne diseases while ignoring or downplaying the bacterial results of huge muddy feedlots, or hundreds of cows who have never seen a green pasture being milked in multi shifts a day. 
The result; I use as little ‘store’ milk as I can, and probably lots of people make that same choice.  Or we are willing to pay a premium for milk from dairies we feel are more humane, or smaller, or Mom and Pop, or organic or whatever values make us feel good.  My decision is that I fully intend to raise another milk cow so I can taste the incredible flavor of real milk once again and to share it with my grandchildren.
While most people are not ever going to milk their own cow everybody should have the choice to buy whatever milk they want from whom ever they want.  Damn, you can buy and feed to your children every kind of soda pop, or candy; you can buy mass-ground, crappy, cheap (possibly contaminated) hamburger, or Pop Tarts, or hotdogs I wouldn’t feed to my cat, or greasy mass produced cheese, and boxes of salt filled Hamburger Helper, and don’t forget drive-through fast food garbage, crap, crap, crap.  BUT you can’t go to a friend’s barn and buy a quart of fresh real milk!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Garden Fantasy for Spring 2010

I took advantage of a beautiful day to spend time outdoors in the winter garden with pruners in hand.  With the soil bare and the leaves gone I was checking where the new plants will go come spring and the layout of this year's vegetable garden.   I cruised the yard with my pencil and graph paper - such a nerd - but sketching it helps me visualize my plans.  My kitchen island is strewn with seed catalogues, and lists of seeds I want - far too many to afford or even have room to plant!  It will be cold and wet again, winter is far from over, but I'll have this brief balmy hiatus to remember.

By the last weekend in January I'll have made my final decision about the seed order.  Some of the seed companies offer $25 coupons (!) so a $50 order only costs $25!  Way cool!  This year, along with all the vegetables, I also plan on planting a dwarf Stanley Prune plum and a dwarf Damson plum.  As with all fruit trees one has to have faith in the future - they take three year's to produce but us gardeners are nothing if not optimistic.  Berries come faster but I have yet to develop a place to plant them.  

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Winter Squash Soup

Leni's Squash, Yam and Roasted Sweet Pepper Soup


*Butternut or other Winter squash

*Red Jewel Yams

Curry Powder (optional - a very small amount – it's just an accent)

*Sweet Peppers – yellow and red



Half & Half




Peel, deseed and cube the Squash. 

Peel, and cube the Yam

In water just to cover, simmer both vegetables together till tender. Cool.


Roast the peppers over an open flame, rotating often, or sear in a very hot oven till the skin blackens and you can peel it away from the flesh.  Remove the stem, all seeds, the loose skin and any membranes.  Dice the flesh.


Chop onion medium and gently sauté in butter till transparent, add diced roasted pepper.  Cook on low till very tender.  Add the optional Curry Powder.  Cool


Puree the two mixtures together in a heavy bottomed pot. 


Add half and half to desired thickness.  Season with the curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste.  Keep at a very low heat till hot enough to serve.  Be careful not to boil the soup. 


You'll notice I didn't give any amounts – this is one of those dishes you can make for two or twenty. 





* Butternut squash is a member of a huge world-wide family of cucurbita.  Some squashes, such as Butternut and Hubbard (cucurbita maxima) originated in the Old World.  Arabic sources describe their use and cultivation by numerous West African cultures as early as 1342, and they had likely been in the food repertory for a thousand years before that date.  Others in this family, such as the Summer Squashes and Pumpkins (cucurbita pepo and cucurbita melopepo) were domesticated in the New World in both Mezzo-America and among the North American Indians.  These squashes were part of the food complex know as the Three Sisters – maize, beans, and squash – and all were grown simultaneously in the same field.  It is no wonder that the qualities of New World cucurbita were recognized and welcomed into African foodways when they began to be introduced on the African continent in the early 15th c.


'Red Jewel' Yams are actually Sweet Potatoes, not yams at all.  The yam that inspired festivals and ritual throughout many African societies is dioscorea cayenensis and d. rotundata, native to the Old World Tropics.  True yam tubers "contain a poisonous alkaloid, dioscorine, which in some species occurs in considerable quantity; in other, edible, species, it occurs only in small amounts which can quite easily be removed by repeated washing, and particularly by cooking." (Lewicki, 50) 

Within several New World cultures, especially those in the Caribbean, the sweet potato (imopaea batata) was an early and important vegetable.  It has been cultivated since at least 1000 BCE.  The varieties come in colors ranging from a white interior with a rough brown exterior (still commonly available in the Caribbean) to the long narrow tuber with bright yellow stringy flesh and pale tan skin (still commonly called sweet potatoes in American markets) to the very round, large, deep purple-orange skinned and deeply orange fleshed variety we, most often these days, call 'yams'. 

Imopaea batata was introduced into Africa beginning in the early 16th century, initially as a food to be cultivated as provisions for the Middle Passage of the slave trade.  Because of the ease of cultivation and preparation, yet having a similar taste to cooked 'yam,' the sweet potato was quickly adopted into West African foodways.  Equally quickly the two names began to be used indiscriminately for both of those vegetables.  By the early 19th century sweet potatoes (imopaea batata) were being grown in large areas of the American South.  Depending on your place of birth you might call them sweet potatoes or yams. 


Peppers are of the family Solanaceae and the genus capsicum annuum.  The hot varieties are commonly called chilies and both the hot and sweet types are native to Central and South America.  Beginning in the early 16th century peppers were introduced into various Old World cultures where they quickly became staples loved by both cooks and horticulturists; the Hungarian paprika pepper, the Chinese Szechwan, the Thailand Red Devil among many others.  The red and yellow varieties of sweet peppers have 4-times the Vitamin C as an orange!  The addition of such a valuable source of vitamin C in the Old World was one of the great nutritional benefits of food transference in the early modern period.


Lewicki, Tadeusz. West African Food in the Middle Ages: According to Arabic Sources.  Cambridge University Press, 1974


Sunday, December 6, 2009

A deboned turkey ready for the oven

Here is the bird trussed and ready for the roaster.  It weighed 23 lbs.  The thigh bones were removed.

A Lovely Way to Roast a Turkey

Here is our de-boned Thanksgiving turkey before putting it in the oven!  Having not de-boned a bird in awhile it took about 45 minutes . . . . but it’s worth it.  I didn’t stuff the bird – one can – but I like the way a de-boned bird carves.  No bones in the way.  Once the wings, and legs are removed you can slice clear across the whole carcass. 
There was a time years ago after having learned to de-bone from watching the Julia Child show in which she de-boned a duck that I regularly de-boned chickens and turkeys.  So with a bit of practice I can get back to getting it done in 15 minutes or so. 
One of the major advantages of de-boning is having all the fresh bones to use with the giblets to make a much richer stock for the gravy.  Yum!!!