Friday, May 28, 2010

Back to Basics

It's Friday night, and I feel like I'm re-emerging. From what? From a life-changer of a weekend, from an exhausting week, from blog coma. I don't know how long I will stay emerged, but it's time to take my blog back.

Obviously, dedicating my only blog post every week to the market report isn't working. When I can't even post my own report, how can I expect anyone else to join in? And it's kind of ruining my enjoyment of the market--I feel more like a journalist than alive.

So this week, I'm writing about this week. And I have to give a nod to a new blog I found today that inspired me to get back to more reflective writing--how could I resist checking out something titled Chicken Blog? Oh yeah! There aren't a whole lotta chickens, but there are gorgeous photos and really talented writing.

As for my own week, the reason I was off the grid last weekend was a sad one. Our extended family lost a dear member last Wednesday, and there was no question but that I had to be there for the funeral. In processing my loss, I expected some kind of eulogy to come pouring out into this space, but in the end I decided not to write about it. No lengthy discourse on the dynamic, independent, willful woman who both attracted and ruffled people. Who was both elegant and earthy, demanding and open. A lovely, difficult creature whom, I realize now, I always admired. She lived life on her terms, and a good life she created for herself.

Nope, not gonna write about her.

Instead, I choose to dwell on the wonderful opportunity I had to reconnect with family members. An uncle I haven't seen in over 20 years, and his son, now two years out of college, who was two years old last time I saw him. Of course, he now towers over me. Nice guy, though, really nice guy. Plus other cousins, aunts and uncles, cousins-once-removed, heck, even my parents. :)

I stayed with my brother's family, and we truly enjoyed each others' company. I babysat Saturday night, and got kudos from a nephew as a great babysitter. Probably because I let them watch tv and play Nintendo, and eat as little as they wanted for dinner.

I love these guys. It was a treat to see them so soon since our last trip there in January. There was none of that getting-reacquainted time lost at the start. And, considering they are moving to London this summer, the closer we get now, the better.

Yes, London.

*sigh* My reaction, when I heard the news, was one of losss and disappointment. Miss Chef's was more like "Cool! Now we have an excuse to go to London!" I do love having Miss Chef around for perspective.

Brothers. This was outside the church, after the funeral. Notice the little pavilions have crosses on top? Their sister was trying to get the eldest's attention during this whole wrestling match, shouting "Captain! Captain!" I do so love and envy their active imaginations.

Ooooo, my little Cuddles. He's already practicing his new accent: "Mummy, could you buy me some trousers?"

As much fun as I had with them, returning home was tiring. Poor sleep, snapped back into work--I flew back in Monday afternoon, then taught class that night. Back into my 10- and 12-hour days. Plus a lingering grief (the funeral wasn't the emotional release and re-visiting I'd been hoping for. She deserved more.)

But there are the comforts of home. Even before I taught, even as I stumbled from Office Job to Teaching Job, I took time to stop by the garden. It looks wonderful. We've started harvesting broccoli, and the peas are still coming in.

Some of the plants are dying, somewhat mysteriously, but I still have the joy of plucking the rounded pods, hoarding them in my shirt front, and triumphantly carrying them inside to shell.

These seem to be the highlight of my garden every year. I look forward to tomatoes, but I like peas better. Still, I had a nice time after work today, plucking suckers off the 'mater plants and putting the first ties on them to hold them to the stakes. Sleep well, little plants.

Miss Chef has been particularly attentive this week. She missed me enormously while I was gone. Thursday night I came home from another evening of overtime, to a house that smelled indescribably delicious. Our oversupply of eggs and other produce had stirred Miss Chef's imagination in the direction of quiches.

I was particularly delighted, because that very afternoon, I'd been sitting at my desk, thinking "We should use those eggs up and make quiche." But Miss Chef usually goes beyond my expectations. As you can see, she made four of them.

As best as I can recall, here are the various flavor combinations (What? You didn't expect her to make them all the same, did you??):

spinach and feta (both local, feta from her own hands)
ham and cheddar
bacon, potato and leek (local leek, not sure about the bacon)
broccoli, asparagus and fontina (broccoli from our garden, asparagus from the market)

The last one is what I chose to dig into; the others we wrapped and stashed in the freezer. Mother and Father Flartus will be visiting next month, and it's always nice to have some ready-made meals for them.

So, with the power of eggs, cream and camouflaged vegetables, I have made it through the week. Sort of. Tomorrow morning, up we get, to volunteer at the market again. Yes, I'll be going to the market, but don't expect a report. Because immediately afterwards, I'll be heading back into the office for the rest of the day. And there's always next week's lessons to plan.

But...Monday's a holiday. For both my jobs. Which means a full two days off. I already have some plans, most of which involve weeds. Some of which, however, involve sleeping, reading and possibly staring into space. And, if the weather cooperates, flying the flag. I'm in a mood to remember.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Saturday Market Report: Link Up!

As every weekend, here's your chance to show what you've found at your local farmers' market, be it cute kids, crazy condiments or crispy kale! Add your link below to share the bounty.

Who's been to market this week?

Charlotte Regional Farmers' Market

I'm going to be out of town this weekend, so won't be able to share my own market report. However, the Charlotte Observer recently had a section-front story about the big market I posted on last week. If you want to see much better pictures* than the ones I posted, check out their slideshow here. (*Except for picture #15, on which the caption is wrong: that sh..itake ain't local!)

Happy grazing, y'all!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Market Report: Link Up! plus a garden update

As usual, here's your opportunity to share your local farmers' market with the rest of us. Miss Chef and I are taking a break this morning--phew! (but I do have a garden update after the box!)

Who went to market this weekend?

Garden Update

I was just telling Miss Chef earlier today how proud I am of our little garden this year. Somehow, amidst all the craziness, we actually got things planted more-or-less on time, and have kept the worst of the weeds at bay. We even did a second planting of radishes, carrots, beets and beans. (We only second-planted the beans because most of the first bunch never sprouted.)

This is the last picture I posted, from April 23rd (whoo-whee, has it really been that long ago?):

And here it is today:
Look at those peas go! I've already started picking small handfuls, and there's a nice crop that should come ripe in the next day or so. I accidentally left the soaker hose on for about 4 hours Friday night, so they've got lots of pea-plumping moisture to work with!

Those big leafy things along the right edge are our broccoli plants. The two ends of that "row" are covered by the soaker hose, but the middle is not. Water makes a big, big difference! At any rate, that may be our next crop to come in:

Aw, isn't that cute! And that's another reason I'm proud of myself: I finally got around to spraying the broccoli with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), to kill the cabbage moths that have been eating large holes in the leaves. In fact, after reading the label, I found that Bt is good (or bad) for lots of garden pests, including tomato hornworms. And, since I'd seen the white moths flittering around the radishes, peas and herb garden, I just sprayed everything. I even went around front and sprayed our cedar bush that's been infested by bagworms.

Speaking of tomatoes, you can finally see them!

That's a pretty common 1 1/2-gallon watering can in the back, to give you some perspective. They're not huge, but considering we started them from seed, they do look pretty big to me!

Here's another crop we're pretty excited about this year. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to take pictures while these were in full bloom; they were covered by adorably striking white flowers. Can you tell what they're turning into?

Berries! I think this is a raspberry plant; Miss Chef put in several blackberry, raspberry and blueberry plants last year. The blueberries haven't been doing so well, but the raspberries have really taken off. Since they only fruit on old growth, this is the first time we run a chance of getting a big enough harvest to really play with. Last year we'd get two or three ripe at a time, and they were positively amazing.

Memory Lane: When I was growing up in the wooded countryside of northeastern Ohio, part of my learning was memorizing where all the good black raspberry patches were. I remember donning jeans in the heat of August, tying a bucket to a belt loop, and wading into chest-high thickets, stretching to snatch every last berry within arms' reach. The dog would accompany us, and she became very adept at nipping off all the ripe berries at nose-level. Only the ripe ones, mind you! She was even more thorough than we were.

Hopefully, this little briar patch will be a bit easier to pick out, at least this year. Though I doubt putting on a long pair of denims is going to be any more enjoyable in a Carolina June than it was in an Ohio August.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Miss Chef is Crazy

This has been a very tough week for the two of us. We both worked through the weekend, including a physically exhausting Mother's Day. Miss Chef has had it worse than me--she had to work from 8 am past 10 pm that Sunday, while I got to skip home at 4. Plus, she's on her feet all day and/or night long, while I get to sit on my butt most of the day.

Of course, as the week drags on, we get more tired from the accumulated fatigue. Each morning is a little harder, each post-lunch energy sag a little deeper. Last night I actually felt pretty good after class, since it was exam night and I wasn't on my feet trying to be entertaining and informative. But by the time I was in the closet changing, I was ready to just crawl in bed.

I was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner (peanut butter and jelly with a glass of milk--mmm, comfort food) when I heard Miss Chef's key in the door. Turning to look at the clock, I saw it was only 8:45, fifteen minutes before service even stops. I assumed Chef Adam had sent her home early, since she'd worked double shifts the last two days.

We said hello, and then Miss Chef quickly blurted out, "I'm not staying." Once again, my face probably went through a series of expressions, confusion most prominent among them.

Turns out, since Chef Adam's family is out of town, he wanted to check out the Charlotte version of BLT Steak, the eponymous chain of Laurent Tourendel. He and Miss Chef have done this before, going out after service to see a movie neither I nor Adam's wife were interested in. But never has Miss Chef done it when she was already exhausted. Still, she seldom gets the chance to visit other, high-end establishments, and I know she lives in a slightly different world than I do, working at night in a high-energy job. Far be it from me to hinder her professional development!

So off she went, with my blessing and admonishments to be safe, enjoy herself, and tell Adam to keep his hands off her (there's an unspoken and jocular agreement on mutual sexual harassment between them). I trundled off to bed, my own fatigue turning out to be stronger than my slight concern about her making it home without falling asleep behind the wheel. (I did wake up when I heard her come in the front door, but was asleep again before she made it to the bedroom.)

This morning, I had to wake Miss Chef up shortly after 6 am, so we could drop her car off at the auto shop before she drove me and then herself to work. Once she regained consciousness, I asked her what time she'd gotten home.

"About two."

That's my girl!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Small Beginnings

I haven't had much of a chance to enjoy my garden lately. Half of the time, I get home after dark. But whenever it's still light enough, I use Rosie as an excuse to pop out the back door after work to see how things are coming along.

As you can see, the radishes are happily growing, and now another crop is coming in--fresh, sweet, tender young peas! I love growing peas; they pop up so fast, climb up the trellis with their delicately twisting tendrils, and flutter their pretty little white flowers in the spring breezes.

I thought I'd make myself a lovely little appetizer to snack on while I start on tomorrow's lesson plan.

Cute, huh? Well, lemme, tell ya, I was in for a surprise. While the radishes have been getting bigger, they've also been getting stronger. Magnitudes stronger. Whoo-whee, they are the snack that'll bite you back! The peas are a nice, sweet and soothing contrast, but as you'll notice, there aren't many of them to even out those snappy radishes.

Which means I have most of a couple of sliced radishes still hanging around, looking for a salad to adorn!

Ok, back to work!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday Market Report: Link Up!

Did you hit a farmers' market this weekend? Add your link to the Mr. Linky box below, and share your market with us!

Well...I lied. Miss Chef and I had plans to visit the Davidson farmers' market, in a small college town on the northern side of Charlotte. As it turned out, we were both incapacitated this morning by fatigue. That, and Miss Chef realized she needed some rest before heading into Mothers' Day weekend.

So, we slept right past our usual 6:30 Saturday wakeup. However, we are truly lucky here, for there are not two, but multiple farmers' markets in Charlotte. And the one we fall back on when we can't make the early bird markets is the official, Charlotte Regional Farmers' Market.

This baby's a whole different experience from our favorite little market. First of all, it's BIG:

This is one of four total sheds on the property. There are two closed sheds with walls (and heat!). One houses more regular vendors and the other is the craft barn. The fourth one, also open like the one in the picture above, is for plants. Herbs, veggetables, flowers, trees, you name it.

Yeah, there's a lot to see at this market. But we don't come here all the time, even though it's the closest one to us. First, not everything is local; you have to pick and choose. Second, it's really crowded at times, like today. So it's harder to get to know your farmers.

This being Mothers' Day weekend, the flower vendors were plentiful, and busy!

For some reason, all the flower vendors here are Asian. It's an odd sort of phenomenon.

Miss Chef has been looking for asparagus for the last two or three weeks, so she made a beeline to this table! She bought three pounds...for two people! She loves her some asparagus.

And at the next booth...strawberries! I turned smugly away, thinking we had taken care of our strawberry duties. But later I saw that Miss Chef had got herself a quart while I was busy buying eggs. Apparently, she's not over her strawberry addiction for the year.

(Notice the pineapples in the background? I'm guessing they're not local.)

You know you're at a Southern market when... (Oh, and for any Yankees, those are "bald" peanuts. Just so ya know.)

This guy sets up just outside the open shed, making popcorn in a real live kettle for all to see. He had just tipped out a new batch into that table. The smell is incredible.

We resisted the kettle corn, because we were still headed to breakfast at Harvest Moon.
Grateful Growers, the best-known local pork producer, sells various sandwiches and other yummies from this trailer, all with local meat, veggies and breads. That diminutive (but energetic) woman in the brown shirt is Cassie, one of the owners. Last fall, she had offered Miss Chef the job of, erm...Executive Trailer Chef, but Miss Chef wanted to stay in an actual kitchen.

For breakfast, I got an egg and cheddar sandwich with braised leeks, and Miss Chef tried the carnitas. I could do without the leeks in my breakfast sammidge, but I'm sure there were lots of vitamins and some fiber in there. Miss Chef enjoyed her carnitas. We also had a local root beer to wash it all down.

We spent more time in the closed shed, where most of the local farmers are, but it was so crowded I didn't even try to take any pictures. However, after buying my breakfast dessert--a chocolate croissant--I had to duck back in to take a picture of Nova's booth. (Unfortunately, the glare makes the sign impossible to read!)

This bakery has a permanent retail space, too, on the other side of town. It was opened probably a dozen years ago by a couple from eastern Europe. They make really excellent European-style breads, and the Miss Chef's restaurant serves their rolls. (So do we...we buy 'em by the dozen, freeze 'em and pop a couple in the oven to thaw & crisp up when we have a nice dinner at home.)

I know for many of you, it is not Farmers' Market season yet, but hang in there! And when you finally get to yours, please add your link and share what's in season out by your way.

(Oh, and E Coli in the lettuce supply? I raise my nose at you, with my New Town lettuce and spinach in the fridge. Sammy would never let that happen to his produce.)

Who's been to market this week?


I'm in a bad place. Woke up exhausted this morning, literally unable to move. At 6:27, I rolled over and asked Miss Chef, "Do you still want to go to the market?" (I had turned out the light last night at 9:30 and have no idea when she got in). Her response: "uh-uh."

So, we didn't get up 'til after 8, and while we did make it to the Big farmers' market (and my report will follow...eventually), I'm dragging. No, not dragging. Stumbling.

Literally. I checked out the garden this morning when I let Rosie out, and found myself actually staggering around after trying to pull a few weeds. I eventually staggered back to bed for a few minutes, before we pulled ourselves together.

Right now, I'm back in the office, for a 4-hour shift. Then it's home to lesson plan--this coming week is mid-terms, and I have an exam to write. Tomorrow I'll have to be at the restaurant before 10 am, clean, pressed, and on my feet for four or five hours, facing the toughest restaurant crowd of the year. Yes, the day we honor the women responsible for teaching us manners is the day the rudest, impatient, most inconsiderate people come out to eat.


I'm not complaining--I can't. Miss Chef is at work now too, and after I go home tomorrow afternoon, she'll still be there prepping for dinner service. So I'm just venting; just hoping to get it out to help me make it through the weekend. And hoping I won't be staggering again tomorrow, as I squeeze between the tables.

Happy Mothers' Day, everyone, and remember to be kind to your restaurant staff!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Strawberry Adventures: Part 1

This is just a quicky post. I promised I'd write about our pickin' and jammin' this weekend, but I won't be able to until later this week. As it worked out, Sunday's jammin' session ended up happening off-site. And, after about 6 hours of sweaty work, I glanced around the kitchen on our way out, and completely forgot about the camera! So I only have three pictures I had already downloaded, from our picking time on Saturday.

Of course, they all include Flat Stanley! Who, as it turns out, was also forgotten in the kitchen with the camera. (Wonder if we'll find any interesting pictures when we get it back??)

Anyway, that first picture is obviously of the field where we picked. There was another, equally large field behind this one, and as we left, we passed by yet another field where workers were picking berries for retail sale. That's a whoooole lotta berries!

We ended up only having one friend with us in the field--our other friend had to take a detour, and by the time he got to the field, we were gone. (Miss Chef and I had both left our cell phones at home--omigosh, can you imagine??? lol) The three of us picked seven gallons of berries in probably less than an hour. And then we went out to lunch, because, you know, woman shall not live on berries alone.

Although, a sun-warmed fresh berry eaten at the edge of the field, with the scent of fresh cow manure wafting across the land, to remind you of the truth behind your food...well, that's just good living.

I had forgotten that Lisa of Laughing Orca Ranch once lived just across the border in SC--Lisa, we may very well have picked at the same field! We went to Springs Farm, in Fort Mill, SC. They're better-known for their peaches, but they grow all kinds of berries, too.

The only thing I don't like about them is that they're not an organic farm, so I assume they use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And they probably use some genetically-modified strawberry plants. I mean, look at these monsters:

Ah well, at least they're local, and super fresh. The berries that were on the plants Saturday morning were canned and sealed by 4:00 Sunday afternoon.
But that's a topic for another post...and a few more pictures!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saturday Morning Market Report: Link up!

First of all, I just have share...I'm ridiculously excited about going berry-picking tomorrow! In view of my general lack of a social life, I've been looking forward to this weekend for about two weeks now. We have at least two friends coming with us, and Chef Adam wants to, but I doubt he'll be able to find time between his cooking demo that morning and prepping for service that night.

Anyway, today's my first attempt to launch this carnival thing. Liz has showed me the way, and I'm hoping you all will join me! What I'm proposing is that all you farmers' market-goers out there write a post (with or without pictures) about your own visit to your local market. What's in season? What did you buy? Do you have any specific plans for it? Did you talk to any farmers? Learn anything cool? See any adorable kids? Whatever catches your attention.

Just below this introduction is a Mr. Linky, where you can quickly and easily post a link to your blog. That way, we can all check out each others' posts, essentially visiting markets all over the country without the hassle and pollution of long-distance flights. My own market report is below that, so keep on scrolling down!

I'm hoping for this to become a weekly post throughout the summer, but that will depend on y'all's participation. As long as I've gone one other marketer with me, I'll keep it up.

There. Now I'm committed. *gulp*

See who's been to market today!

....and here's my own Market Report. This week was kind of special, but not in a way that lent itself to lovely pictures of produce. I seem to have focused more on the people. Which is logical, since we brought a friend with us. She has always been excited about this market, but travels a great deal, so her Saturdays are usually dedicated to catching up at home. This was her first visit to this market, and she loved it!

Actually, to be completely honest...we had a second friend with us: Flat Stanley.

My 8-year old nephew sent us a copy of Flat Stanley as part of a class assignment. For those unfamiliar with him, the story goes that one day Stanley woke up flat, after a bulletin board fell on him. Teachers around the country use the idea that Stanley can be slipped into an envelope and sent all over the world. Students send him to friends and family, who photograph Stanley doing things in their part of the world. (In our case, Stanley arrived as a JPEG, via email.

I knew that a visit to the goat farm with Miss Chef would be a unique photo opportunity. He went Friday, but Miss Chef didn't have a chance to take any pictures. But Michele was more than happy to let him help at the booth today!

Miss Chef did most of the shopping, since I was kind of busy sheperding our (3-dimensional) friend around, plus taking pictures.

We spent an hour volunteering again this week, this time inside the Community House. It's the only permanent structure at the site, an old cotton-trading market. They sell coffe, tea and all kinds of cold drinks, as well as market tees and sweats. And there's a bathroom. So it can get kind of busy.

Stanley was there to help me out, though.

This was our view out the front screen doors of the house. This is half of the market; there's another aisle to the right. If you can see the guy in the dark sweater with the diamond pattern, that's the Mushroom Guy. He's very shy, but he and Miss Chef have bonded a little. (They ended up running into each other at traffic school last year, of all places.)

After our hour, we stepped outside to find that some of the farmers' children had become little entrepreneurs. That sign says "Free Rocks for Sale." (They were $2.99, in case you were wondering. And no, we passed. Maybe next week.)

Since this is technically a farmers' market report, I'll save the strawberry-picking pics for tomorrow (hopefully!) And since Liz did it, I guess I'll do the layout picture, too!

Ignoring the strawberries in back, vaguely left-to-right, back to front, we have bok choy, radishes, escarole, endive and spinach, then a frozen chicken, shitakes, sugar snap peas, Bost Mill Grits (of the Civil War re-enactment last summer), and kohlrabi. Only Miss Chef knows what to do with half this stuff, so don't admire MY shopping habits. All I bought was a chocolate-chip muffin for breakfast.

Oh, okay, here's a gratuitous strawberry shot:

Yes, Stanley, you're a very good strawberry picker. Thank you!