Friday, April 23, 2010

What We Did, in Pictures; Join Us, Market Lovers!

Wow, I can't believe a week has gone by already. I've been re-reading my last post, and thinking, "Gee, that's kind of boring. If I were reading it on someone else's blog, I'd wonder, 'Why didn't they put up any pictures?'"

So here they are! Above, our precious radishes in their "native" habitat. I brought one in for the receptionist at work, whose husband grows even more food than we do. She found it amusing, that I brought her one wee radish. But then she ate it, leaves and all!

Here's a shot of the whole garden at the end of March:

And here we are, three weeks later:

You can see the peas are starting their climb up the trellis. That fine mesh at the bottom is what I added last weekend. The bigger plants by the edge on the right are broccoli, and behind them are peppers.

You can't really see the 'maters at the far end, because they're almost as small as those radishes! We planted them up to their necks: the cells in the stems (the stem cells, I guess) are apparently undifferentiated enough to change into root cells, so the whole thing can give the plants a good start underground. The leaves have hardened off nicely, turning back to a nice deep shade of green, but so far they must be too busy growing roots to put out more leaves.

One thing we've always done in my family is pour a little epsom salts around the plant, at the surface, before watering it in. Dad, the biochemist, says this gives the plants some minerals important to "making tomatoes." Does anybody else do this?

Miss Chef added some herbs to her little herb garden. I have to say, for a relative neophyte, she did pretty dang well when she put this in last year:

About a month ago, I cleaned out all the dead stuff for the new growth that was already sprouting, and I'm glad I did. Not only does it look better, but it gave Miss Chef some room to put in things like lemon verbena and...I don't even know what else.

Those flowery, bushy things growing over the edges are thyme, and the big broad-leaved plant in the center is sage. We didn't know these were perennials until we planted them elsewhere! Although I suspect the thyme may be a 2-year plant. We'll see.

Do you remember our poor little broken broccoli plant after the hailstorm a couple of weeks ago? I had every faith it would come back, and it did!

You can see that it's now battling the bugs. I haven't had a chance to spray yet, though I already have the bacillus I need. It's a naturally-occuring bacteria that gets into the cabbage moths when they chomp on my broccoli, and kills them.

You probably also notice all those little weeds in most of these pictures. Last year I cleverly bought straw as mulch, to retain moisture and inhibit weeds. Ha! I inadvertently planted the entire garden in wheat! By the time they sprouted this year, we had already planted half the garden. I've tried to hoe around the plants, but they're packed fairly tight, so every few days I get out there and hand-weed a square foot or two. Needless to say, the weeds are still winning.

And there's one last stop for every good organic's Miss Chef's new compost bin!

We emptied what was left in our compost tumbler, which wasn't getting hot enough to "cook" the weed seeds from garden clippings. This pile will hopefully get things started, and the new system is supposed to be: kitchen scraps in the tumbler, yard scraps in the open bin. We'll see if we have any more discipline about it this year than we did last year!


On a related note, Liz at Eternal Lizdom has suggested a great idea: I'd like to host a regular weekend celebration of farmers' markets. I know most of you regular readers enjoy visiting your own markets, and many of you enjoy reading about other peoples' markets. So let's all visit each others'! I have to figure out how to set it up, but I'll do a Mr. Linky, so you can come add your link to your own farmers' market post.

Now, Liz said she's got a few weeks 'til her markets open up (I kind of forgot how blessed we are down here with this long growing season). And I'm not sure how long it'll take me to figure out what I'm doing. So I don't know if I can get this off the ground this week, or next week...or the week after. But in the meantime, leave me a comment if you're interested in participating.

And, even if you're not, it'll be worth tuning in next week: we're taking a friend to her first visit to our favorite market, then we're going strawberry picking!

Until then...


Update: Here are a few pictures from Saturday's farmers' market. I was volunteering at the chef demo, which turned out to be Josh, the sous-chef from our fave, Passion8! Just a few pics to whet your appetite for next week!

Josh's assistant Casey tries tempts a young market-goer with local shitake mushrooms. She considered it, but decided against. (In the background? Oh that's Lea and Carl, of Carlea Farms, who grew us our Thanksgiving turkey last year, chatting with a customer. Talk to your farmers, they're passionate about what they're selling you! )

Josh demonstrates the not-so-correct use of butcher's twine on a pork roulade. The "correct" way is shown in the foreground of the picture.

The finished dish: (local) pork roulade, stuffed with (Bosky Acres) goat cheese and (New Town Farms) bordeaux spinach, with a (local) shitake hash and (local) broccoli rabe, finished with a beurre rouge (that's a reduced butter & red wine sauce).

Hungry anyone? *evil grin*

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where's Flartus?

You know where I've been...working. Certainly not blogging; and sadly, not even commenting on your blog. (I have been reading my usual list, but haven't had the time or brainpower to spare on many comments. My apologies to you all, sincerely.)

However, there's a dim light at the end of the tunnel. Job #1 has started to slow down a little, and I finally got a new, more useful, textbook for my French course. Hopefully, that will cut down on preparation time for me...once I completely re-write my syllabus calendar (wheee, looking forward to that.)

But, most exciting of all: I actually got a Saturday off!! For the first time since February, I had the whole weekend away from the office. Of course, having had little time during the first part of the spring, I had a growing "to do" list. Which I've been doing. And since Miss Chef and I are supposed to be heading out the door soon, this post is going to consist solely of my "satisfaction" list.

Because this is what we got done:

Mowed the lawn
Cleaned up a week's worth of dishes
Took Rosie for her annual checkup
Farmers' market (only one this week)
Nap (just me)
Put the soaker hose in the garden
Planted the last of the garden (tomatoes and herbs)
Watered, watered, watered
Added some wire to the pea trellis
Pulled out a holly rootling I'd put in as an experiment 3 years ago, and planted it as a new shrub
Emptied and rinsed out one of our two rain barrels
Transplanted a houseplant
Put together Miss Chef's new compost bin from wood pallets
Emptied the compost tumbler and moved it
Dug a hole for a shrub Miss Chef bought yesterday at the farmers' market (mountain fire pieris)

There were probably one or two other little tasks we took care of, but I'm too tired to think much harder. Oh, yes, I almost forgot: picked THREE more radishes. Take that, you attempted radish thieves!

Oh, and when I was mowing the lawn, I scared Mama Robin away from the nest, and saw this:

The third egg mysteriously disappeared. So now we have twins! Shall we name them? :)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

A lot of posts lately coming out of Flartopia, eh? That's because I feel like I'm about to dive in again, into a river of churning, fast-moving days which barely give me a chance to breathe. Tonight, at 6:00, I start another quarter of French 101.

That's not the only reason I'm expecting to feel overwhelmed. I'm actually already overwhelmed at work, putting in 10-hour shifts during the week, and going in on Saturdays for a half-day. Plus, it's just spring--time to turn my attention beyond the walls of the house. There's a lot to do and see out there, and the farmers' market starts back on its weekly schedule next Saturday.

Knowing this, and knowing that I was going to be spending Easter Sunday working at the restaurant with Miss Chef, I did what any self-aware procrastinator would do: took a vacation day for Monday. I figured I'd be pushing it to find time to prepare my syllabus and course materials for tonight, so I gave myself a break. And, I'm happy to say, I have not squandered it. By noon, I had prepared my course materials, watered the garden, walked the dog and vacuumed the house. (I wonder what men do on their days off?)

So now I have a few hours to do as I please, and I would like to share some of my springtime joy with you. Consider it a sort of last hurrah before I check out again for another week. Anyway, here are some pictures from my wanderings with Rosie. (As always, click on any of them for a closer view.)

One of our few returning tulips. This picture would be really beautiful if only I could figure out how to make it NOT POST SIDEWAYS, grumble grumble...

Japanese-variety magnolia on the way to the pond


red maple seeds

early leaves on a beech tree
I love their color, and the way the branches mimic the curves of the land behind.

First signs of life from the persimmon tree!
(Will it fruit again this year? Only time will tell...)

Back home, past our "mailbox garden."
Is this a uniquely American tradition, to landscape around one's mailbox? The creeping phlox was planted by a previous owner, and it is perfectly gorgeous this year!

Carolina jasmine, also thanks to previous owners

Rosie crashes after our walk in the hot sun.
She loves sleeping by the screen door, so she can check out the neighborhood activity.

Thanks for coming along. Hope to see you on the other side of the week!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Rare Night Out

Last night was Friday. I had plans, small ones. Catch up on email, walk the dog, clean the kitchen, and spend a good long time with my book. I was only on the first step when I heard a strange noise--the rattle of the lock on the front door.

Miss Chef stepped in as I got up to say "hi." We looked at each other a few seconds, and she said, "I love that look on your face." Obviously, I couldn't see it, so can't describe it to you, but I was definitely perplexed, a little worried, surprised and delighted! Imagine that on a face, if you will.

It turns out there were hardly any reservations on the books that night, and the whole weekend is looking to be slow. When Chef Adam decided he only needed one other person with him in the kitchen that night, Miss Chef pulled rank on Mike, the pantry cook: "I worked Christmas Eve, so..." she was! And, as ever when she has a surprise night off, she wanted to visit one of our favorite restaurants: Passion8. I've written about this place before; we went there for our early Valentine's dinner last year. They have exactly the same schedule as Miss Chef's restaurant, so we've rarely had the chance to eat there, but each visit has been remarkable.

This meal was destined to be a little different, though. You see, the owners--Chef Luca and his wife Jessica--are, well, passionate about supporting local farmers. So Miss Chef has run into him several times at the famers' market and even at Bosky Acres (they brought their staff out to visit the farm on one of her work days...all the strands of her patchwork career are starting to meet up!). In addition, Miss Chef had to turn down a caller to the restaurant who wanted to make a reservation when they were going to be closed--but she knew Passion8 was going to be open, so she sent the caller there. Jessica was apparently quite effusive in her thanks.

As a result, we got extra-special treatment last night. As I told Miss Chef, it's finally paying off to be hooked up with a chef! We were warmly welcomed, seated at a great corner table, and were warned that a few extra treats might show up on it.

That did not stop us from ordering well...though we opted to split a single appetizer. Which we probably would have done anyway, for we ordered the foie gras trio. Some was brûléed, some was seared, some was in a fried won-ton. Yes, a won-ton. Chef Luca and Josh, his sous-chef, are eternally creative. Anyway, the foie gras was as foie gras is wont to be: unbelievably rich. Variously served with sauces like sweet/tart lingonberry, or dressed with microgreens, it was almost enough to call a meal.

Aha, but we knew there was more to come. We had ordered the duck breast--served with bok choy, a red lentil croquette and licorice sauce--and pork loin injected with 12-year old balsamic. It took a while to get them, though. For first we were presented with a small cheese plate, courtesy of the kitchen. Soft gorgonzola with orange marmalade, firm pecorino with sun-dried tomato sauce, and a stinky-socks fontina with honey.

I hereby reaffirm my inexplicable attraction to stinky-sock cheeses. Though they were all delicious, the fontina was my favorite by far.

Well, we were feeling nicely sated by now, hoping to have enough room for our main courses, but Chef Luca wasn't done with us yet! Next to be placed in front of us were small portions of a dish we'd both been eyeing on the menu--handmade pasta with proscuitto, fava beans and porcini mushrooms. The pasta was perfection, cooked just right, with a heavy, thick chewiness that forced you to actually taste it, rather than use it as a ride for the other ingredients. I love pasta like that.

At that point, we were finally rewarded with our entrées, which were equally delicious. As always, we had to swap bites of everything. The injected pork was incredibly flavorful, and the duck was...well, I love duck, and I was not disappointed--though I was full enough to leave a bit for a small take-home box.

We were not surprised to find small dessert spoons of tiramisu delivered to our table next...complete with chef & sous-chef in tow. Josh introduced himself and quickly retreated, but Luca stayed for a while to quiz Miss Chef on the cooking demonstrations at the Matthews Farmers' Market. He's doing the demo opening week, and was eager for details of what was provided, how much to prepare, etc. We were both more than happy to supply him with all the information we had. It was small repayment for what we had just enjoyed.

A spoonful of tiramisu was the perfect portion after our generous meal. We sat for a while, chatting, even after we'd paid, and eventually Jessica came by to see how we'd enjoyed our meal. Our conversation quickly moved beyond our dinner to local food, whole food, slow food... Jessica's a fervent supporter of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Neither one of us had heard of it, since we don't watch tv anymore, but it sounds like something we'll have to look into. We had quite a long chat with Jessica, to the point that the staff was sitting at the bar, waiting for one other late table to finish.

I don't remember what time it was when we finally hauled ourselves out the door of the restaurant--I think I remember Miss Chef saying something about 11:00. That may not sound impressive to most people, but since I spend most of my Friday nights at home, catching up on my blog and the dishes, this was quite an adventure!

Before we left, Jessica made sure to get Miss Chef's phone number...and she somehow ended up with my blog address. So it's a little weird writing a review of her restaurant, knowing she might be by here soon (hi there..), but what the hey? This is my journal, that was my night, and it was definitely worth remembering!


pea sprouts, 2 weeks after planting