Friday, July 30, 2010

Food Dork

Do you think chefs are cool?

Do you admire their bragadaccio, their swagger, their facility with foul language?  Do you kind of wish you could wear a white jacket, carry a knife kit, precisely mince an onion without looking?  Does the idea of handling a flaring gas range, a selection of freshly-sharpened knives and a window full of tickets seem beyond your understanding?

Me, too.  I think chefs are cool.  But I'm gonna let you in on a little secret.

Most chefs are Food Dorks.

Now, maybe I'm giving out a trade secret, I don't know.  But considering the recent rise in popularity of geeks in general, I think it's about time for chefs to come out of the closet.  I mean, gamer geeks are getting big press at Comic-con and squealing over Mario cupcakes.  Programmer geeks have their own inside-joke t-shirts and cubicle toys.  There's even a super-cool website devoted to all things Geek:

Although I'm pretty handy around a computer, and have fond memories of playing the orginal Space Invaders, I would hardly qualify for any of those Geek titles.  However, after getting to know several of Miss Chef's colleagues--not to mention Miss Chef herself--I am delighted to find that I do  have my own geeks to hang with.

Food Dorks!

Are you one of us?  If you read this blog on a regular basis, you just might be!  So, I've created a simple little test to see if you're ready to proclaim your allegiance to our own breed of Geek.  How many of the following apply to you?

1. Grocery shopping is not a chore, it's a weekly outing you look forward to.

2. You frequently find yourself tabulating how much of your meal includes local ingredients.

3. You grow some of your own food.

4. Spring, summer and fall mean less to you than strawberry season, tomato season and apple season.

5. You have planned at least one vacation around restaurants or food sources.

6. You are a regular visitor to a farmers' market.

7. You're on a first-name basis with at least one vendor at a farmers' market.

8. You actually have a preference between this vendor's and that vendor's tomatoes/berries/lettuce/beef.

9. You have visited a farm where some of your food is grown.

free-range flock at New Town Farms

10.  When you read the side of the box, you're looking at the ingredient list, not the nutrition label.

11. You've had a line of thought that starts with something like, "We should make pesto with all that basil," and leads to something like, "I wonder if hard-neck garlic takes longer to grow than soft-neck?"

12. You already knew there was a difference between hard-neck and soft-neck garlic.

13. You do your holiday shopping in your pantry.

mushrooms for Miss Chef's bûche de noël

14. You've made dinner reservations several months in advance, because it's the only way to get in to the restaurant.

15. You're willing to spend more on an exceptional meal than on your monthly cable bill.

16. You don't understand why anyone in their right mind would waste water on a lawn.

17. You have friends and/or family who gladly come over for a canning party.

interior of a bell pepper

18.  You have planned out a dream garden on paper.

19. You have put at least part of your dream garden in the ground.

20. You have converted someone else to gardening.  (Go ahead, give yourself a point for each person!)

21. You have memorized the locations and seasons of wild, abandoned or otherwise unharvested food trees, shrubs, thickets, etc.

22. You've put something in your mouth when you weren't quite sure what you were eating.

part of last year's garlic harvest--our first!

23. You have to bite your tongue pretty darn hard when you see somebody eating a "healthy" frozen dinner.

24.You have a ridiculous number of food pictures on your hard drive!

25. You have another obvious example in your head that I haven't mentioned.

Now, I'm not gonna make you add up your points and rank you from "Begining Food Snob" to "Hopeless Dork."  I would just suggest that if you said "Yup, that's me!" to five or more of these, you're probably on the way to Food Dorkdom.  In that case: Welcome!  Pull up a chair; there are nuts to crack, peanuts to shell and recipes to swap. 

And of course, there's always enough food to go around.

Did you answer "yes" to the last example?  Add your idea in the comments!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Belated Market Report: Tomato Day!

Wow, now that I'm only working one job, I seem to be busier than ever!  Really, it's just that Miss Chef is busier than ever, and between stepping up at home and making myself available for the few hours we actually have together, my weekends are packed.

Now, when I say "tomato day," I don't just mean that Saturday happened to be the tomato-tasting day at the Matthews Farmers' Market (although that was the case).  I also mean that somehow my entire day and night were dedicated to the plump sensual fruit of the semitropical vine Lycopersicon esculentum.

Our Saturday started with a 6:30 alarm.  Miss Chef and I had both signed ourselves up to volunteer at the market.  As I result, I was kind of double-booked, but it was no big deal.  First I helped set up for the tomato tasting.  The vendors submitted samples of as many varieties as they cared to, and a small army of volunteers proceeded to dice them into bite-sized, toothpick-up-able pieces.

To be clear, there were three tables; two with your basic beefsteak varieties, and one dedicated to cherry and grape tomatoes.  I was told each table held 11 samples.

Yep, that's right, 33 different tomatoes to taste and compare!  Here's our table:

I had to step away for a shift in the community house, selling coffee and cold drinks, and answering questions, but then I headed back to the tasting table.  It's always fun and very interesting to watch the market customers during these tasting competitions.  There are the hesitant ones who aren't sure what the rules are (there aren't many: taste and vote).  There are the serious ones, often in couples, who maintain an ongoing commentary with each other, replete with names like "Mecklenburg Black" and "Aunt Ruby's Gold."  (Many varieties were developed by the vendors themselves--one of them is actually a professor of horticulture at UNCC.)

And then there are the ones who want to share with you their favorites, their tomato recipes, their stories of tomatoes past,  of their struggles and successes with growing their own.  All in all, there's a whole lotta tomato chat over those tables.

This is the sample provided by Grandpa's Garden--which, yes, is run by a lean, elegant looking Grandpa type in a white straw cowboy hat.  We had three different Better Boy samples, each from a different farm, and each with its own very distinct flavor!

Of course, there were tomatoes for sale, too!


This is a great opportunity for the vendors.  Not only do they have a chance to win market-wide bragging rights, but as the customers found varieties they particularly liked, they often asked where that farmer's booth was.  It kind of tested my knowledge of the market, but once we pointed the way, most customers made a beeline to pick up a pound or three of their new favorite.  How's that for target marketing?

And whoo-wee, are we in prime tomato flood season.  Even Maw-Maw's Garden patch has tomatoes for sale.

The tasting wound up at 11:00, and we volunteers found ourselves cleaning up piles and piles of chopped 'maters.  We dumped them all into ziploc bags, and sent them home with whoever would take them!

Seemed like a lot of volunteers were either tomatoed out, heading out of town, or just didn't have the time to figure out what to do with a gallon bag of diced tomatoes.  I handed about three pounds to Mindy of Tega Hills Farms, so she could make tomato soup.  But between the two of us, Miss Chef and I ended up with ten pounds of diced tomatoes, just for spending three hours sweating like pigs.  (Did I mention it was sunny and in the mid-90s by the time we were done?)

Now, before I could address our suddenly overwhelming tomato supply, I had to stop in the office for several hours--but I can't say I really minded a few hours of free air-conditioning at that point!  Afterwards, I headed home, gathered some ingredients from the garden, set up the Victorio strainer and got to work.  'Cause when the tomatoes come flooding in, there's really only one thing I want to do with them: make sauce!

I will spare you the excruciating details, but several hours and dishpan hands later, I had successfully canned by myself for the first time ever!  Good thing I had all that practice with my mom and Miss Chef earlier this month.  I have to say I was quite proud, knowing that I really do know how to can...the only disappointing thing was this:
After about five hours of labor and sweat in a humid kitchen on one of the hottest days so far, I ended up with only three pints of sauce.  Oh well, even Miss Chef said it looked beautiful, so I'm just determined to buy about twenty-five pounds of tomatoes next time we bother to whip out the canner.

And, if you add my little pints to our new canning shelf, they surely add to the look, don't you think?

Here's our inventory: top shelf is the leftovers from last year (not too bad; we used a lot of it up!): whole tomatoes, peaches and strawberry lemonade.  Middle shelf on the left we've got two wee jars of pickled onions, a case of wee jars of strawberry jam, a few small jars of salsa, and the right side is all whole tomatoes and tomato sauce.

The bottom shelf is all strawberry jam!  Told you we made a lot!

So, after getting up at 6:30, sweating outside for three hours in the hot North Carolina sun, putting in a half-day at the office and taking on my first solo canning project, I finally hit the sack at 11 pm.  I was hot, tired and a little sore from being on my feet half the day.

But I still felt lucky.  Why?  'Cause Miss Chef was still at work!

So who won the tasting?  The favorite beefsteak was a variety called Italian Carmello, the favorite cherry was--for at least the third year running--the bright yellow Sungolds.  Which is why we grow sungolds in our garden!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sunset Tomatoes

Since you're here...I'd just like to brag about my Rosie for a short minute.  She amazes me sometimes.

At each meal, I scoop Rosie's food into her bowl set on the corner of the kitchen table, and then we go through a very important ritual.  She sits, I make her lick the spoon (because why wash that all down the drain, right?)  Then I place her bowl on the floor right in front of her, and she remains sitting until I give her the "ok."

I never thought I'd have a dog that would listen to me rather than the food in front of them.  So you have to understand, this already amazes me twice a day.  However, today Rosie really showed me how much she trusts and respects me.  You see, for the first time, she broke before I told her "ok."  Just as I opened my mouth to speak, her head was already in the bowl!

Oh, no you don't!  This is one bit of training I'm not going to get sloppy with.  So I got her attention: "Rosie."  She stopped eating and looked up at me.  "Yes?"
"Sit," I said, in my most authoritative voice.

And she did!

And she waited.

Until I said "ok."

I love my fluffy-tailed dog!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Fragments

Mommy's Idea
If you'd like to join the Friday fun,
stop over at Half Past Kissin' Time
to add your link!

Lots of words to start with; the pictures come later!

You'll notice the place has changed again.  I tried to keep it mostly the same color scheme. but I've ditched the garden background for a few reasons--although I did feel it was pretty perfect for my summertime posts!

First, I didn't like how long the page took to load.  I don't know if your connection is as slow as mine, but I didn't want to burden you all with a long wait for the stupid stuff to load.  I've actually stopped reading a couple of "big-time" blogs because all their gadgets and goozles slowed them down so much.

The other reason I made the change was because I added a "static page" to my blog, as you can see in the tabs above.  I've had several new readers pop in, and although I feel like everyone here knows me, it's been awhile since I've explained myself.  So if you want a little bit of background on where I'm coming from, or might be headed, check out the "About This Blog" tab.   (I'm also considering adding another tab soon...stay tuned!)

Oh, and I was also really annoyed at the way Rosie was sprawled across the edges at the top of the page, so I took the opportunity to give her a little trim.


Miss Chef has finished up her first week of teaching, and I thought I'd let you know how it went.  As far as I can tell, very well!  Being a bit older than a typical new teacher, and having listened to my teaching stories for the past decade, I think she had a very solid idea of what kind of instructor she wanted to be, how she wanted to relate to her students, and how she wanted to manage her classroom.

Frankly, I'm a little jealous.

The course she's teaching--basic skills, or "Fundamentals of Cooking"--is a first-quarter, multi-section core course.  Which means that the syllabus, lesson plans, tests and quizzes are all standardized across the course.  The first day is largely devoted to a lengthy review of the lengthy syllabus.  Sounds boring, but keep in mind, there are a lot of important policies regarding uniforms, safety, sanitation, equipment and so on.

It was during this first class that Miss Chef laid out her standards for the students.  She gave them a long list of why they shouldn't go into a culinary career: poor pay, long hours, missed holidays, obstacles to relationships, degrading physical environment.  Of course, she also explained what she finds addictively rewarding: creative control, freedom from a desk, playing with fire and knives, late-night adrenaline rushes, and doing something you are passionate about.  Nevertheless, one student went straight to the department chair after class, and dropped out of the program!

The Chair then went to see Miss Chef for a little light chastisement, but every other instructor privately cheered her on.  Miss Chef's Cool Quotient just went up a notch.  Look, if that student couldn't handle a stern lecture that wasn't directed specifically at her, she really couldn't handle the job.  Miss Chef saved her a lot of time and money.

As great a story as that was, Miss Chef found herself completely overwhelmed by Tuesday night.  Between the restaurant in the morning and her five-hour classes three nights running, preparation time is scant.  Teaching a new course for the first time (especially when you don't have the freaking textbook for the first week--sound familiar??) is one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences of a lifetime.  Doing it as a second job?  That's a stacked deck.

So I am very, very proud of Miss Chef for keeping her head on straight and being a forthright, honest and fair teacher.  She does care about her students, she cares about doing a good job for them and herself, and she wants to learn how to do this job right.  She's going to end up at least as good a teacher as I ever was, and possibly better.


As for me, I'm still trying to use my newly freed time wisely.  I haven't done tai chi again--in fact, I should be doing it right now, instead of blogging!  I have however, stepped up my walks with Rosie.  Instead of the leisurely sniff-and-pee stroll we usually take, I've been trying to maintain a fast-paced stride, enough to keep up with Rosie's trot.  I can't do it for long, but I've also been adding a few short jogs into our routine.  And I do mean "short!"  Like, from here to the next bridge short.  But I am raising my heart rate, and getting used to soaking myself in a good sweat.

Now, if you really knew me, your jaw would be in your lap now.  Why?  Three words: I hate running.  I find it uncomfortable and boring.  In my foolish youth, I did join my middle-school track team.  But once we started practice, I quickly decided to do field events, simply to avoid the extra running required of the track members.  Instead of communing with my body and challenging myself when I run, I just generally think "When will it be over?"

I'm taking a slightly different approach to this running I'm doing now, though.  Remember when you were a kid and ran just for fun?  Because the energy was absolutely bursting from your fingers and toes?  I want to run that way again.  I want to be able to frolic like a spring foal, without worrying about twisting an ankle.  I want to be able to play with Rosie or my nephews across a lawn or park, and not be self-conscious about running out of breath or getting a side stitch.

So, Liz, before you get all excited, I'm not going to be training for a 5k, and might not even bother to buy running shoes.  I might never even make it all the way around the pond at one go.  But I will stop thinking of running as my own personal torture.


'Mater season is kicking into the next gear in our garden.  We still haven't gotten flooded, but I think what we're going to get is a long, long season of handfuls of tomatoes every week.  Which is definitely going to test the depths of my desire for fresh tomatoes.  I wish they'd mostly ripen together, so we could can the suckers and then enjoy the occasional salad as the season wanes.

But this is more the speed of our river of 'maters.  This is about two days' worth:

You'll notice the basil in the foreground and the jalapeno to the left?  I spent Wednesday night in the kitchen, cooking up tomato-heavy dishes for Miss Chef and myself.

First up is our go-to recipe for disparate ingredients: pasta.  I splurged on a $3.75 bag of imported pasta, and added a bunch of free ingredients: cherry tomatoes, basil, broccoli my parents had brought from a friends' garden, and some sundried-tomato and olive goat cheese Miss Chef had brought home from the farm.  I ate it warm, but it's a good cold pasta, too.

I thought the San Pelligrino was appropriate.  This orange-flavored drink is reminiscent of Orangina, but a bit lighter.  It's way more expensive than soda, but we can buy it by the case at Restaurant Depot, which helps.

After I enjoyed my lovely dinner, I turned to the "regular" beefsteak tomatoes.  First, I cored and chopped them up.

You can easily see the three varieties we have.  From left to right, they are green zebra, black prince and nepal.  Every single one grown from local seed.  Boo-yah!

Oh my god, I'm such a dork.

Anyway, I chopped up an onion, a couple cloves of garlic and a big bunch of cilantro, tossed it all together and finished it off with....darn, no limes.  Ok, I finished off with some lemon juice.  And voila!  Salsa.

Only, not really.  What I had actually made was pico de gallo.  You might be familiar with it as that chopped-tomato garnish on your burrito especial at Casita de Mamita, or wherever.  I, however, am familiar with it as the reason I haven't been able to finish my lunch the past two days, because I keep stuffing myself with tortilla chips and pico de gallo as an appetizer.

Good thing I ended up with a quart of it!


Hey, cooking fans, you know how to chiffonade basil, right?  What's that?  Some of you aren't so sure?  Well, here, let me show you.  It's an incredibly easy and useful technique, especially if you love basil as much as I do.  And not only can you use it with other large-leaf herbs, like sage, but you can also impress people by adding "a chiffonade of basil" to your lemonade.

First, pick all the leaves off your basil.

This, incidentally, is a great job for your trusty kitchen assistant, especially if they are of the child variety.

Next, stack up five to seven leaves (or so), making sure to have the biggest leaf on the bottom.

Notice I've oriented them all the same way--I'm right-handed, so I put the stems to my left.  I don't know if the pros care that much, but I figure I'll take whatever advantage I can get.

Now starting on the long side, roll the leaves up as tightly as you can into a tube shape.

This always reminds me of rolling a cigarette, which is an odd association for a non-smoker.

Keeping a firm grip on that sucker so it doesn't unroll, position it "seam"-side down on your cutting board.  Chop in narrow strips the length of your cigarette tube.

Notice I'm holding the stems in my left hand; it seems the best way for me to keep it together.

And that's it!  You now have a lovely fluffy chiffonade to add to pasta, salads, lemonade, rice...or a simple mozzeralla and tomato salad.  Because I don't know about you, but I need all the tomato recipes I can get my hands on.

Oh, and if you're unsure of the pronunciation, it's pretty much what it looks like: shiff-oh-nahd.

Bon appétit!

Monday, July 12, 2010

6 Amazing Things

All kinds of amazing things have been going on here in Flartopia.  First, and not at all in order, it finally rained today! 
Raindrops on 'maters, and whiskers on chickens...

It has probably been a month since we've had anything more than a short shower.  I've been watering as much as possible from the rain barrel, but have also turned on the soaker hose two or three times to keep the 'maters happy.  Of course, wandering outside in my pjs this morning to turn on the hose at 6 am, I hadn't yet heard the weather report calling for 60% chance of storms!

The 'maters should be downright ecstatic today.

Second, the rabbits have kept away from our juicy red crop for the past week or so, as the real ones ripen up.  These are called Nepal; we grew all of these from seeds we bought from a local farm.
What's that, little 'mater?  Buggie gave you a boo-boo?  That's ok honey, we'll eat you anyway!

Third, Miss Chef's and my employment statuses (stati?) have changed.  I have got another quarter off.  Apparently the school doesn't feel like paying me to teach only four students...which I understand, but as Miss Chef pointed out, think how much I could do with only four students!  [pause for educator's daydream....]

Ok, well, that's fine, because Miss Chef is, at the very moment I type this, beginning her own teaching career!  That's right, she's also got a part-time job, teaching a beginning skills class in the culinary department.  She very patiently listened to all my advice (such a sweetheart), and claimed to be nervous, but I know she's very well-prepared.  I told her she probably wouldn't be as nervous as I was before my first class, waking up and spending some quality time dry-heaving in the bathroom.  [pause for educator's remembered nightmare...]

For those of you keeping score, this means that I currently have one (1) job, while Miss Chef can claim four (4)!  HAHAHAHAHA, THAT'S INSANE!  Truth is, she put herself on hiatus from the caterer's, so it's really only three (3).  That's much more reasonable, right?  Ok, well, she's also told Michele at Bosky Acres to start looking for a replacement for her by the end of August, so by the end of the quarter, she'll have (ho-hum) only two (2) jobs.

Because, having lived with a teacher, Miss Chef is smart enough to know, teaching is never a part-time job.

As for me, not only am I down to one (1) job, but business has slowed down enough the last few days that we're no longer behind.  That's right, I left the office at 4:59 today, and didn't look back!

flowering cinnamon basil

Knowing that I'd have my evenings free, I came to the conclusion that this would be the perfect time to do something I've needed to really find some balance--take yoga classes.  Unfortunately, the local Y membership is surprisingly I decided to be cheap as well as confirming my commitment.  I'll pull out my old Lilias yoga tape and do it twice a week.  If I keep it up long enough that it becomes too easy, then I'll look at classes again.

So tonight, I came home, changed and dug out my tape.  Popped it into the VCR, and hit "Play."

Heh.  There seems to be a problem with the tv-VCR connection.

Now, this would have been a great excuse to give up, but instead I rustled around in our entertainment center until I came up with a DVD instead, not of yoga, but of tai chi.  I have never done tai chi in my life, but I've always been curious about it.  Thanks to Miss Chef, today was my opportunity to find out just what I'd expected: it's harder than it looks!

But...I did it.

I think that's the fourth amazing thing--I started an exercise program for myself. And here's the fifth one: since I was home so "early," I cooked myself a real meal for dinner!

Miss Chef's "Santa Fe Rice & Beans"

This is a quick and easy dish that we serve meatless, though I suppose you could add some chicken or pork if you so desired.  It's pretty much corn and a can of black beans, heated up with some onion, garlic, cumin and just a touch of cayenne, then finished off with a very generous dollop of sour cream and, of course, some garden fresh tomatoes!  (and I should have added a bell pepper, but I forgot.)

We usually serve it over rice, but it would probably go great on some nachos, too....

So, you're wondering, good golly, we're only up to number five? When is she gonna get to number six?  Well, actually, the very first picture at the top of this post is number six!  Did it look familiar?  Have you been swimming yet this summer?

If you did, maybe you recognized that pattern as the bottom of a pool.  Yes, we have a pool now!  Well, sort's one of these:

Of course, ours doesn't come with the assorted youth, or the three-acre backyard.  

Miss Chef's parents actually gave this to her as a gift over a year ago, but it was much larger than she had anticipated, and the only place she felt comfortable putting it up was also the only spot that I really wanted to keep the grass intact.  So it stayed in the box in the shed all winter.

Somehow, having the fence put in made Miss Chef reconsider where she'd be willing to place the inflat-a-tubpool.  So last Thursday I came home to a 16' blue tarp spread out on the lawn, and a very hopeful look on Miss Chef's face.   It took a few days to fill up, and, because our yard turns out to be more sloped than we realized, we can't fill it up all the way without risking an AFV*-style collapse into the tomatoes.  But it's still a wonderful way to cool off, relax, and spend even more time in our newly-fenced backyard.

So I guess it's good for you that it rained today, or I'd probably be out there right now, instead of sharing six amazing things with you!

Have a great week, everybody.

*America's Funniest (home) Videos

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Flashback to the Fourth

Has it been a busy week for you all?  Only a four-day workweek for me, but since the weekend spilled over, it seemed as busy as any normal week.  Mom and Dad were here, and we had a wonderful visit.  We had a very busy Fourth!

We started out with the tomatoes.  (Well, actually, we started out slowly, with some reading of the paper, brief blogging, maybe a little breakfast...)  We had bought about 20 pounds of tomatoes at the market on Saturday, in preparation for our first Tomato Canning Day. 

Mom was the honored guest, as she spent years--decades?--canning all sorts of fruits and vegetables in our old Ohio farmhouse.  When Miss Chef and I started canning, I realized I hadn't paid nearly enough attention as a child, so it was nice to have the expert back for a little consultation.

While Mom and I cored the roma tomatoes for sauce, Miss Chef blanched and peeled whole beefsteaks to be canned...whole.

This shot above shows the preparations for the sauce and a small batch of salsa.  There are two bowls of chopped onions and garlic, plus red peppers and a jalapeno for the salsa.  In the foreground is Mom's legacy to Miss Chef and me: the Victorio strainer.

This baby saw a LOT of action when I was growing up.  Besides tomatoes, Mom used it to make applesauce and to puree pumpkin flesh to freeze for pies.  Thanks to Miss Chef, it has found a good second home with us.

Here's a shot of the strainer in action:
It works like a meat grinder, except instead of coming out of the end, the sauce comes out through sieve-like perforations in the cylinder.  The seeds and skins come out the end on the left, into a reject bowl. Then we usually run the reject back through a second time, capturing a surprising amount of extra Good Stuff.  Finally the reject goes out to the compost pile.

I like to think the farmers would be pleased to know that nothing is wasted.

While the sauce and salsa were cooking on the stove (making for a very humid afternoon), Mom showed Miss Chef how to pack whole tomatoes.

We've had trouble in the past with these, since we hadn't smooshed them in hard enough.  I knew Mom had lots of experience smooshing, and Miss Chef said she learned a lot.  Between them, they got ten pounds of tomatoes into four quart jars.  We also ended up with four or five pints of marinara and a pint and a half of salsa.  (Sorry, I didn't get pictures of the finished jars.)

That's not nearly enough.  We're gonna have to have another Tomato Canning Day soon.

Well, all work and no play is no way to spend a holiday, so Miss Chef and I had decided sort of last-minute to have a cookout for the four of us.  As usual, most of this ended up being Miss Chef's responsibility...but she's so good at it!  She even set a festive table--check out that bottle of pomegranate martini.

And who says grills are the men's domain, hmmmm?
That firepit was a gift from my brother a couple of birthdays ago.  It's much bigger than our Weber charcoal grill!  The foil bundles are cored peaches sprinkled with brown sugar.  And that was before we started making s'mores.

Earlier Miss Chef had made me laugh--and maybe roll my eyes a little--in the grocery store, because she couldn't make it past the fireworks display right inside the front door.  But after dinner, as dusk rolled in, I was as happy as anyone to start lighting things on fire.   In between, we were able to watch some rather impressive fireworks over the treetops.  I'm not even sure where they were coming from, but they sure made us happy.

Poor Rosie did not enjoy our own little pyrotechnic display at all.  She was uncomfortable with the noise, but wanted to be near me, but I was responsible for the noise, but she wanted to be near me...  I finally ended up inside with her, while everybody else watched the last of the distant fireworks displays.  She seemed pretty pleased with herself.  Or maybe I'm projecting.

The next-morning's aftermath of our little celebration:

Even though the official holiday was over, we had one more big event in store, and this suited Rosie much better than the fireworks.  On Tuesday, the crew finally showed up to install what I'm considering her birthday present!

A new fence!  Now instead of being tethered to a run line, unable to follow us to the garden or explore her entire territory, Rosie has full run of our back yard. 

I'm not one-hundred percent happy with the idea of stringing yet another intrusive fenceline across the land, but I have to admit we've really been enjoying it.  Long summer evenings puttering in the garden without either tying Rosie, or having to keep a constant eye on her, are very enjoyable.  And I think Rosie's loving getting to know her yard.

She even got pets from two neighbors Thursday night.  Good dog!

We got split-rail fencing with a wire interior to match our neighbors' fences, but the contractor doesn't do split-rail gates because they are guaranteed to sag.  So we ended up with these lovely gates:

Rosie's not so sure about that whole fence thing when I'm on the other side...

There's lots more to share from Flartopia, but I think we all need a little break from all this crazy excitement, don't you?  I'm ready to enjoy a quiet weekend now!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Memories

When I think of the perfect summer days of childhood, I see an endless field under a high sun.  Not a tilled farm field, but a wild field near a river, edged with the high rounded green of treedom.  The sun doesn't bake, but caresses the riotous mix of grasses and wildflowers, rich with queen anne's lace and punctuated by small white butterflies.  The slightest of breezes rustles the arching grasses and nodding white flower heads, all of it overlaid by a variegated symphony of crickets, cicadas and tree frogs.

  And there we pass, children on bicycles, crunching by on a dirt road, our chattering voices buried in the immensity of the sun, the field, the insect chorus.  We are headed to the next town over, a daylong project which requires no more preparation than lacing on our shoes and collecting our pocket money.  Why were we going?  To see if we could make it, or perhaps to visit a store that had some treasure of youth--pop-its, or a different kind of candy, or an ice-cream shop selling carmel corn.

For the field, this day is an eternity.  There is no tomorrow, yesterday no longer exists.  There is only today, and now, and growing, and buzzing.  This moment is forever, and summer vacation never ends.  Yes, there will be a winter, but not now; that is for a different field, a different world.  Now is for lazy sunny days that stretch forever and lead to small surprises and excitements.

Independence day, indeed.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How Does My Garden Grow?

Hereafter follows my pictoral garden diary, month-by-month, from March 'til today.  This post is mostly for me--I've been wanting to see these pictures side-by-side.  It's so easy to forget how small it all started, back in the early days of spring.  (For bonus fun, watch the black-eyed susans emerge in the background.)

March 30th--cool-weather seeds and seedlings in the ground--peas, carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli.

April 23rd--seeds have sprouted, broccoli recovered from the hail storm.  Peppers, basil and tomatoes put in, bean seeds planted (1st time).  Weed seeds also sprouting..ugh!

May 15th--a few beans sprouted, radishes and peas beginning to produce.  Broccoli starting to grow...tomatoes hopefully making roots.  2nd planting of beans to make up for poor emergence of first planting.

June 6th--broccoli, baby beets and carrots coming in, pea production falling off, radishes done.  Tomatoes, peppers and basil getting into the business of growing.

June 18th--baby beets working on being real beets.  Basil going great guns, peppers and tomatoes forming fruits, cherry tomatoes producing.  Broccoli gone, just a few peas now and again.  Weeds having a great time.

July 3rd--peas gone, beans taking over.  Peppers coming in, tomatoes and beans dribbling in slowly.  Squash plants put in a week ago.  Fully weeded for the second time.  (Anyone have a suggestion for a cheap mulch?  Grass clippings are not an option with bermuda grass; we don't have enough trees for leaf mulch.)

So, going into our fourth month...there are lots of plump green tomatoes hanging around, but only two or three ripening each day.  And even that doesn't help much, because the rabbits are chomping bites out of each one just before it reaches peak ripeness.

Never fear, we have plans.  In May, we put down a deposit on a fence, to match the split-rail, wire-backed ones our neigbors have on each side.  After the usual "you're next" delays, it's finally going in on Monday.

Yes, I know the rabbits can scamper right through or under the fence.  But a fence means little Miss Rosie will have free range over the full yard.  I'm hoping that a combination of her scent, plus maybe a few death-defying chases to the fenceline, will at least make the tomato-chompers warier--and maybe even convince them to find dessert elsewhere.

More reliably, we just bought approximately 20 pounds of tomatoes at the market this morning.  Half from Carlea Farms (where our Thanksgiving turkey is currently running around eating bugs), half from Pat of Pat's Pickings.  Tomorrow, Miss Chef, Mother Flartus and I will be blanching, peeling, slicing, smashing and otherwise creating preserved jars of tomatoey goodness to last us through the winter.  Yup, we're celebrating our food in(ter)dependence with a canning day!

I'm still cool at 40, regardless of what the teenagers may say.