Tag Archives: Gardening

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CREATIVE PROCESS WITH JUDITH WINFREY OF PEACHDISH

Judith Winfrey is an Atlanta native with a deep connection to the land and an extensive knowledge of farming. Her work with various organizations in Georgia has created a great impact on the state’s slow food culture. Judith was co-founder of Community Farmers Markets—developed to create a local food infrastructure to impact the community in a meaningful way— along with Wholesome Wave Georgia, a group that works to increase a greater circle of access to reasonably priced local foods. She and her husband, Joe Reynolds, founded Love is Love Farm in 2008. Love is Love is located at Gaia Gardens in Decatur, Georgia, where it serves to mentor young farmers through providing community supported agriculture with a focus on servant leadership. Joe currently runs the farm as Judith is the founder and creative mind behind the Atlanta-based meal kit delivery service, PeachDish.

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Photo credit (left): Kate Blohm for PeachDish

PeachDish has a “farm-to-table” approach and sends out over 2,000 meal kits per week, each one based upon the seasonal harvest availability; they currently work with about 200 farmers and focus on organic offerings, whenever possible. Overall, PeachDish ships to kitchens in each of the 48 continental states. You can purchase PeachDish gift cards in varying amounts, which would make a wonderful holiday gift. Visit here for more information.

We had the opportunity to ask Judith some questions recently. Keep reading to learn more about Judith, her creative process, and her inspirations

AC: Do you have any creative rituals?

JW: Yes!  It’s important to me to stay both grounded and in communion with my higher self.  I have a daily morning ritual that consists of study, journaling, meditation, and a good long walk with my two dogs.  It gives me perspective and helps me set intention for the day.

AC: What makes you curious?

JW: The natural world.  Currently, I’m very curious about the sentience of trees and epigenetics. Free will and whether or not we actually have it. I’m also perpetually curious about communication — when it does and doesn’t work and how and why. Extrasensory perception. Telepathy.

AC: What do you daydream about?

JW: World Peace. Throwing big, extravagant parties for my friends. Gardening again. Travel. Having tea with Alice Walker.

AC: How important is education to your creative process?

JW: Very important. Education stimulates new ideas. New ideas are the beginning of creativity. Education doesn’t have to be formal. Podcasts are education. Art Museums, concerts, conversations, documentaries, films, basking in someone else’s wisdom — all of these are education. The best education nourishes the soul as well as the mind.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

JW: You can’t force flow. If I’m really struggling, the best thing I can do is walk away, and do something else for a while. Creativity is like a spring. All the right conditions must be in alignment for the vent to boil. My job is to get out of the way; make sure that there’s not too much clutter; take care of my body and my mind so that energy and ideas can stream to me and through me.

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

JW: I need quiet. Solitude is good, too. I don’t think I have to be in a certain mood, but my mood will impact the quality of what I create.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

JW: Nature. For sure. I think creativity is innate. However, I think we can and should nurture creativity in ourselves and, especially, in children. It’s tragic when people are conditioned not to be creative. Creativity for me is essential. It’s freedom. It’s an expression of joy.

AC: What is the difference between an idea or a product being interesting and being creative?

JW: Well, history is interesting, but it’s never creative. I guess action is the difference. Action and newness or innovation.

AC: What have been some of the most successful campaigns you have launched? Why did you feel successful?

JW: We launched an organic farm, Love is Love Farm. It’s ten years old. That’s been successful. It has fed thousands over the years. It gives us an opportunity to care for and commune with a piece of land. It has given us an incredible community of employees and partners.

I helped launch an organization called Wholesome Wave Georgia that makes healthy food more accessible by doubling the value of SNAP benefits at Farmers Markets and supporting Fruit and Vegetable prescription programs in Georgia. Over the years, we’ve raised millions of dollars and made millions of dollars worth of fresh healthy food accessible to all Georgians. Of course, launching PeachDish has been my greatest endeavor and my greatest success.  I am so proud of the incredible product delivered every week. I’m proud of (and grateful for) our thousands of loyal customers. I am most proud of and grateful for the incredible team that keeps the whole thing going every week.

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Photo credit: Kate Blohm for PeachDish

AC: How do you define success?

JW: Staying alive and thriving.

AC: If your creative process or project isn’t productive, at what point do you cut your losses? Or is there a point? Do you keep pressing on?

JW: That’s difficult to determine. An important indicator is one’s own joy. If the project still brings joy, it’s worth continuing. If it’s not really productive and it’s draining your life force, then it’s time to put it aside — at least for a moment or two. When it’s time for something to die. I think you just know. You have a peace about it.  You can still grieve, but the grief is release not resistance.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

JW: Managing cash flow is the heaviest. Managing people is the lightest.

AC: What parts of your imagination seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

JW: The fearful, worrisome side of my imagination is the heaviest. I try not to spend time there. The lightest aspect of my imagination is connected directly to spirit. I am often working on recognizing the guidance that is direct from the source versus my own ego-based ideas. It’s a subtle difference, sometimes, but it’s important. Our egos can really create havoc if we let them lead.

AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

JW: Yes. Spirit is the mothership.

AC: What makes you nervous?

JW: Seeing people get injured. I can’t watch violent movies because of it.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

JW: I’d like it to be more outlandish. Dream bigger and bolder.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

JW: Social media is not only a big-time manipulator; it’s also virtually useless.  It will quickly rob me of creativity. I try to limit my screen time.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

JW: I don’t think I’ve censored my imagination. Just because you think or create something, doesn’t mean you have to share it.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

JW: I would have trusted myself more and sooner. I had this idea that most people knew more and better than me.  I was wrong in most cases.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

JW: I would like to have a huge ornamental garden.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

JW: Yes. Nothing is ever perfect and there is always something to learn.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

JW: Rejection has hindered both my creativity and my productivity.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

JW: Visionaries come in so many different forms. Clarence Jordan was a visionary. Marina Abramović is a visionary. So is every immigrant everywhere and everyone who escapes a dysfunctional relationship (with themselves or someone else).  My mom, Dixie Eloise Alvarez Winfrey, is a visionary. She would never identify that way, but she is.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”

JW: Patagonia’s official response to the 2016 election was pretty brilliant.

AC: If you were to become a professor, what classes would you teach?

JW: The Power of Positive Thinking.

AC: What are your favorite things to do? What do you distinctly NOT like to do?

JW: I love walking. I love cooking with my husband. I love music. I don’t like picking up my dogs’ poop. I don’t like waiting in line.

AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

JW: Meditation.

AC: Which ones of your products and/or services inspire you the most?

JW: Our meal kits change every week. I’m always inspired to see how our customers integrate them into our lives. We have some customers who cook with us every week and they often post pictures of their meals. It makes me so happy.

AC: Are there parts of your life that you always make a priority? That you struggle to make a priority?

JW: My morning ritual is always a priority. When you’re the boss, a lot of people get your time. Making time for myself first thing ensures that I get in self care.

AC: Where does inspiration come from? Where does inspiration live?

JW: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Colors are inspiring to me. Music is inspiring. Inspiration lives at the feet of the master.

AC: Where does imagination come from? Where does imagine live?

JW: Imagination comes from the ether. Imagination lives in the galaxy and beyond.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts)

Lead photo credit: Kate Blohm for PeachDish

SCOTT PEACOCK, PLANT SAFARI, + INDIGO

There is a lot you can say about Scott Peacock: James Beard Award-winning chef, engaging storyteller, companion to Edna Lewis, budding farmer, writer/filmmaker, experimenter with indigo—yes, you got that right, indigo.

Several weekends ago, my daughter Maggie and I took a road trip to meet Scott at his home in Marion, Alabama. We were joined by a lovely group of makers: Rinne Allen—photographer extraordinaire, Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors, Hunter Lewis and Liz Sidamon-Eristoff of Bois d’Arc Farm—a certified organic farm in the middle of Perry county, and Ozella Thomas—native to (and expert on) the Black Belt.

Booker T. Washington wrote of the Black Belt in his autobiography Up from Slavery:

The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the color of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently, they were taken there in the largest numbers.

The black soil of this fertile plain was formed during the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 66 million years ago. At that time, this part of Alabama was covered by a shallow sea where the carbonate skeletons of marine plankton accumulated into massive chalk deposits. That chalk eventually became a soil suitable for growing crops, this ancient shoreline creating the arc that came to be known as the Black Belt.

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Three hours south of my home in The Shoals, the Black Belt has been home to some of the deepest poverty in my home state (and our nation). At the same time, it has also nurtured some of the most flourishing and prolific creativity (from natives and visitors alike) that defines the very best of the new south (Gee’s Bend, Rural Studio, HERO, photographer William Christenberry, Walker Evans, James Agee, Lonnie Holley, Emmer Seawell, Charlie Lucas, and writer Mary Ward Brown just to name a few). In fact, Mary Ward Brown is what originally brought Scott Peacock to Marion, Alabama—but I digress.

The weekend Maggie and I spent in the Black Belt was adventure-filled, and as I sit down to write about the experience, I’m not really sure where to start. I call Scott to reminisce and question him about some of the most fascinating moments. I’ve tried to create a transcript of our conversation; those of you who know Scott (or have eaten his food) will know that his agile mind finds connections between the most disparate topics and tastes, weaving together a banquet of food and story that feels (and tastes) like poetry.

NC: Friends who saw that I had visited with you sent me messages of astonishment that I’d actually “laid eyes” on you. It is rumored that you’ve become a hermit and that you’ve “turned your back on cooking.” I see this differently—to me, it feels like you’ve gone to the very root of cooking: the plants. Can you tell me just a little about that transition and how you got to Marion, Alabama?

SP: [laughing] I’ve heard that I was opening a cooking school, opening a bed and breakfast, lost my mind. Maybe I am a bit of a recluse at the moment but this isn’t a forever thing.  I think of it as a cycle; I go in and out of this. I’m slow, it takes me time to understand things, to build my understanding. I came to Marion because, in my gut, I knew it was the right thing for me to do. And that sense was so strong—even without knowing exactly what I’d be doing once I got here—I had a feeling of certainty. We all have that internal compass. It took me a lot time to trust it, but I do now.

My oral history work led me here originally. I first came here to interview the writer Mary Ward Brown, the PEN Hemingway awarded writer. I was working on a book and film project interviewing the oldest living Alabamians I could find. I was really interested in people who were born and raised in Alabama. I wanted to record their recollections of food and the food culture of their childhood. As you know, we are running out of time. The oldest person I interviewed was 107. This is part of an evolving project.

I’d never been to the Black Belt, didn’t know anything about it. It was that process of falling in love with Alabama—this place I’d been so happy to have left. There were two places I was never ever going to live again: 1) Alabama 2) a small town.

Now I’m completely happy living in a small town in Alabama and secure in my decision to do this.

I’m as mystified myself, and I marvel at that every day. I’ve gained this appreciation through the older people I’ve met. It’s for an Alabama I didn’t know existed. As T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

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NC: And now you’ve got this gorgeous house and you plowed up your back yard, and you are raising rare varieties of plants. Your house even has a name; can you tell me about that?

SP: My personal name for my home is Alabama House—all the old houses around here have those historical markers out front but not mine. So Alabama House became my affectionate name for the house when I was still in Atlanta. I would say, “I’m going to the house,” They would ask, “What house?” I’d answer, “Alabama House.” But then it resonated.

It all started with Mary Ward Brown, and then this house, and then I started hearing about this man Hunter Lewis. I’d been in Marion a few months. Out of the blue, I heard about this man who had purchased Reverie—a Greek Revival mansion in Marion—and was restoring and had purchased land and that he wanted to farm organically. I was skeptical, as much as anyone is. You know, you hear all sorts of things and you take them with a grain of salt until you know it to be true. I had heard things about myself that weren’t true. But it turned out to be absolutely true about Hunter.

Hunter and I met for lunch, had lots to talk about, and I realized that he was serious about farming. He was assembling a herd of Piney Woods cattle—the oldest breed of cattle in the country and one of the rarest—with an important history in the Black Belt. I was fascinated by this all-purpose breed. In the 1800s, they were the meat cow, dairy cow, work cow. There are lots of noble things about this cow and their relationship to the Black Belt, and the ecology of the Black Belt is astonishing. There aren’t that many of them left. So Hunter and I had this idea to track and discover what attributes of the cows are best. There are so many questions: figuring out the impact of the different forages, understanding the right age to slaughter, discovering how the cow is best hung for aging. There is a talented young butcher in Atlanta named Brent Lyman working at Spotted Trotter who is working with us to develop the potential of the breed. We’re working and experimenting with age, forage methods, ways of curing—evaluating the full potential.

A friendship developed between Hunter and I—we were interested in one another’s work. It’s been the last year and a half that I became more involved in the farm. The whole farm is an exploration. We don’t have all the answers.

Sometime in this process, it occurred to me that I wanted to learn about indigo (more on this later). So I called Glenn Roberts. Glenn has been a generous friend and mentor to me; he is also changing the landscape of seeds and heirloom strains of all varieties of plants. Glenn and I began our conversation about indigo but wound up talking about the history of the Black Belt and the plants that would have been grown in this region. After one of these conversations, Glenn sent me 3 tablespoons of Purple Straw Wheat (called Alabama Blue Stem Wheat in Alabama). And yes, 3 tablespoons, which was incredibly generous given its remarkable scarcity.

I felt such a responsibility to Glenn Roberts for giving me these rare seeds, so I didn’t want to take my eyes off of them—and that’s how the decision came to plow up my back yard to see what could be gleaned from it planting wisely, harvesting wisely.

So I planted 2 teaspoons of the 3 tablespoons and those produced about 8 cups of viable seeds after the birds ate half the crop—greedy bastards. I wound up having to put up two layers of bird netting to keep them out. We’re now in the process of planting those 8 cups on a test plot at Bois c’Arc Farm.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SCOTT PEACOCK, PLANT SAFARI, + INDIGO

NC: Hunter has a miraculous certified organic farm in the very center of the Black Belt. Can you tell me about the farm and what you’ve been working to do?

SP: There are 80 acres set aside as test plots at Bois d’Arc (pronounced Bo’dock in the Black Belt), and I will keep planting some of the seeds in my back yard plot as a sort of insurance policy for the seeds. Just to make sure we don’t put all our eggs in one basket (or seeds in one plot).

Bois d’Arc is the largest certified organic grain farm in the southeast. Bois d’Arc is the French word for Mock Orange or Osage—at present 5300+ acres of certified farmland.

Glenn [Roberts] uses the word “repatriate.” I like that. And it is Hunter who drives the experimentation, he once said to me “not to go in this direction would really be to miss an opportunity.”

ALABAMA CHANIN – SCOTT PEACOCK, PLANT SAFARI, + INDIGO

NC: For me, the most beautiful part of the weekend was Sunday morning (just before we were leaving) and what Maggie and I have come to call the Plant Safari. Tell me about the purpose of that day and what you hope develops from it:

SP: Botanist Brian Keener who is from the University of West Alabama – The Center for the Study of the Black Belt joined us on this adventure. The purpose of the Plant Safari was to go with Dr. Keener who is so knowledgeable about The Black Belt and to assess the native plants for botanical pigments with Kathy Hattori from Botanical Colors. And we really just started to scratch the surface. There is perhaps the thought of growing indigo on a larger scale—for production. But also, Osage Orange (known as Mock Orange in the southeast) is very prevalent at the farm—all over the Black Belt.

The wood is so hard that it is difficult to mill after it is dry and the farmers aren’t crazy about Mock Orange because it has very large thorns and takes over the farm. But it makes a beautiful color of yellow dye. Mock Orange renders a lightfast yellow pigment when dying fabric. Depending on what mordant is used, you can develop a range of colors. So, it would be interesting if something considered to be a pest could be turned into a cash crop.

So we set off around the hedgerows of the farm to look at Mock Orange and try and discover any other dye stuffs that might be prevalent. And then we went back to Reverie and created dye baths and colors.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SCOTT PEACOCK, PLANT SAFARI, + INDIGO

NC: And then there is the Indigo—which is how this whole story started. Let’s talk about that:

SP: Indigo is one of those things that happens with me where something just pops into my head. I was in Atlanta and thinking about Alabama House and how an old crumbling house needs something new. A new crisp cocktail napkin would make this all right.

But I couldn’t find the right thing one day as I was avoiding something that I should have been doing, and I started Googling organic indigo and found Kathy Hattori. I called her and she offered to walk me through it. Kathy had read an article in the NY Times about Ms. Lewis and me—it’s a moving piece and Kathy had remembered it. She asked me if I was that Scott Peacock. I remember that both of us weren’t having the very best day and it felt affirming to just speak about this plant. And I realized that I was on the right path. She was getting ready to go to Charleston to visit Donna Hardy who was harvesting and making dye baths from indigo that she was growing.

So all of this started with those cocktail napkins, and they are still not dyed even though everybody was here two weeks ago with their arms in the dye vats.

From census records, indigo was grown here in the 1700s—crop records…indigo and rice. I started researching different kinds of indigo and where I could get seeds. Glenn told me that by 1780 anything that was being grown in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas was being attempted in Alabama because those were the crops that the settlers brought with them. We found records of people moving into Alabama and growing indigo.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SCOTT PEACOCK, PLANT SAFARI, + INDIGO

NC: There are several people doing great work of indigo. There is Donna Hardy of the Sea Island Indigo in Charleston, South Carolina, Sarah Bellos of Stony Creek Colors in Nashville, and Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors in Seattle, Washington, who joined us for the weekends Plant Safari and indigo test.

SP: Sarah Bellos, Donna [Hardy], everyone was incredibly generous and gave me seeds and put me in touch with contacts. I got seeds from several different sources and all have grown and behaved a little differently from one another. There are several varieties of indigo from tropical to Japanese. The Japanese indigo is just now going to seed.

Next spring, I’ll be planting again in my back yard but also at the farm on a larger scale.  Increasing seed stock and experimenting with what grows well, what thrives, and once the plant is harvested, what kind of color does it produce that can be applied to textiles. There are so many variables. Isolating variables: environmental, mistakes, when to harvest, what sort of vat to use to maximize potential. In most circumstances, we’re just figuring out how to make it survive.

You know, Glenn inspired me and guided me towards the books and sources I need to learn about growing wheat and indigo and now sugar cane and rice. This is so much like cooking it’s always humbling. You are always learning and always evolving. Happy to discover that gardening is a lot like cooking and the closer I stick to that, the less daunting it is. At the end of the day, it is alchemy.

And that is what drew me to cooking as a young child: the miracle of transformation.

Images courtesy of Rinne Allen

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Look for more on Eliza Lucas and Sea Island Indigo in the coming weeks.
xoNatalie

P.S: Anyone who has any information about the history of indigo in the state of Alabama please let us know in the comments section.  And if you just happen to have seeds from the past, we can connect you to Bois d’Arc farm. You never know, the seed you save might just be the most important one.

FERMENTATION (+ HARVEST ROOTS FARM)

Lindsay Whiteaker and Pete Halupka – Harvest, Alabama natives and who met in the 5th grade – launched Harvest Roots Farm and Ferment in 2011 with less than $1,000. What was then a small, organic vegetable farm has grown into a full-scale “fermentory” – focusing on producing wild, fermented food and beverages. Lindsay and Pete found that their produce customers were increasingly interested in their small line of fermented goods and ultimately switched their focus from farming to full-time fermentation. They forage and glean – and also process vegetables from local farms, then mix everything together in their Mentone, Alabama, kitchen.

In this context, fermentation refers to the low energy chemical conversion of carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide or organic acid—using yeast, bacteria, or both. Beers, ciders, kombucha, and other naturally effervescent drinks are the result of fermentation. The process of fermentation also leavens bread, as carbon dioxide is produced by active yeast. It can also be a method of preserving goods—resulting in delicious foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. Harvest Roots uses wild yeast in its fermentation and preservation techniques to create distinct flavors in foods that may also have medicinal benefits.

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JONES VALLEY TEACHING FARM

I first heard of Jones Valley Teaching Farm around 2003. The farm was still a small plot of land located close to The Garage, in Birmingham, Alabama. I drove down one cold winter day to have lunch with (then director) Edwin Marty. There was one hoop house, and running water, and not much else—yet. It was ambitious, and it felt like the beginning of something special.

Later, I heard much more from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Nick Pihakis and chef Drew Robinson. Those two so fully believe in the farm’s mission and methods that they back up their beliefs with fundraisers and hands-on support. I am also convinced that the organization can make real difference in the community.

Since my first visit in 2003, Jones Valley Teaching Farm has grown and moved to downtown Birmingham. Since 2007, the organization has expanded their farm and their scope with a focus on educating students, visitors, and community gardeners on how to grow real, healthy food. Today, the farm is a hub of downtown green. The farmers on site use both established sustainable and experimental practices, with the goal of developing a flourishing ecosystem in the heart of a bustling city. They currently grow over 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers and offer their produce for sale on-site and at local farmers’ markets—generating over $45,000 in sales in 2014 alone.

ALABAMA CHANIN – JONES VALLEY TEACHING FARM

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LITTLE FOREST AND BIOPHILIC DESIGN

As part of our On Design and Makeshift conversation and event series, we have led discussions on various design movements and schools of thought (like Bauhaus, Arts and Crafts, and Memphis), the business of artisan craftwork, and designers like Charles and Ray Eames. This week’s discussion takes a turn toward a new design arena—Biophilic Design and Terrariums.

The speaker today was Birmingham-based artisan Jonathan Woolley, whose collective—known as Little Forest Design—has given The Factory entrance a facelift by installing a beautiful tableau of terrariums. The effect is transformative; bringing natural elements into our workspace influences not only our work environment, but also our mood and productivity.

Response to the installation reflects the basic philosophy behind Biophilic Design—that incorporating nature into living and working environments can affect mental and physical health, and allow for healthier connections within communities. The design theory presents the idea that humans fundamentally need a connection to nature, but our urban environments have separated us from those elements that might nourish our spirits and physical bodies. Biophilic Design is a way of reconnecting people to nature in a way that incorporates natural elements into current living and working systems.

In preparation for his presentation, we asked Jonathan to give us some background on the theory of Biophilic Design and his design collective, Little Forest Design.

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CANNING CALENDAR

The process of canning and preserving is just one of the “living arts” that we are thrilled to see making a comeback. This year at The Factory Café, we have set ourselves the goal to “put-up” as much of the bounty of summer as we possibly can. (Not to mention my plans for my own backyard.) Our kitchen staff is constantly searching for ways to further source organic and local ingredients. Part of that solution means growing herbs, tomatoes, and other vegetables on-site; canning as much locally grown produce is another.

Last summer we made my Gram Perkins’ recipe for 14-Day Pickles for our café Egg Salad and, unfortunately, ran out of pickles by November. This coming summer we plan to, well, make better plans.

We are starting with the canning calendar below to save our harvest at its peak and preserve only the freshest garden fare. (Please note, the calendar below is tailored for the Southeastern U.S., but you can look for more specific information on your region or zone on The Old Farmer’s Almanac website.)

Find more information and resources on home canning at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. We also recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life for further inspiration.

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BLUEWATER CREEK FARM

Each week, as the Factory Café staff puts together our menu, they take into consideration the produce and meats available to them from our local farms and merchants. We have developed long-time relationships with growers like Jack-O-Lantern Farms, who provide us with homegrown, seasonal vegetables—using no pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic nutrients. In recent months, we have also begun working with Bluewater Creek Farm, a family-owned sustainable farm in nearby Killen, Alabama.

BLUEWATER CREEK FARM

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THE HISTORY OF PUMPKIN CARVING – REVISITED

Without fail, the arrival of autumn marks the season of all things pumpkin. From pumpkin bread, to pumpkin scented candles, to my daughter Maggie’s annual visit to The Pumpkin Patch, the pumpkin is an essential part of the seasonal change. Just ask any coffee shop employee who hears the cry for Pumpkin Spice Latte dozens (or hundreds) of times each day. In celebration of Halloween and in the spirit of the autumn season, we thought we would re-share our tribute to all things pumpkin. We have also added links to pumpkin carving tutorials and seasonal recipes.

Pumpkins are a form of squash, native to North America. Over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced in America each year. This fruit (and, because it develops from a flower, it is technically a fruit and not a vegetable) is the most common symbol of the fall season and Halloween. Pumpkins are present in our literary and popular culture, making appearances in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, and Cinderella.

The act of carving pumpkins dates back thousands of years to the Celtic festival of Samuin, or Samhain. This festival marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of harvest and it was used as a time to honor the dead. Some believed that this was the night when the separation between the worlds of the living and the dead was the thinnest, making it easier to communicate with those on the “other side.” Celts who sought to ward off evil spirits would often light great bonfires to dissuade unfriendly visitors. As Christianity spread, the fires became more contained and were placed inside large gourds or turnips. Families would carve the fruits and vegetables, placing them in their windows and hoping to deter the otherworldly from entering their homes.

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BLACKBERRY FARM’S GREEN TOMATO PIE

It is no secret that Southerners love green tomatoes. We fry them, pickle them, stew them, bake them in pies, and even write books about them. Readily available at the beginning and ending of each summer season, this under-ripe fruit has a firm flesh and an acidic, sour taste—which allows them to be used in an array of dishes.

The chefs at Blackberry Farm suggest selecting medium-size green tomatoes, since larger ones can have woody, inedible cores and clumps of bitter seeds.

From The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm, page 109:

“Here is our classic twist on a classic Southern favorite, red tomato layered pie. We borrow the flavor and textures of the traditional accompaniments to fried catfish- tart lemon, creamy tartar sauce, and fried hush puppies- and present them in an untraditional way: Green tomato stands for lemon to provide the acid, buttermilk mayonnaise and cheese provide the creamy richness of the tartar sauce, and the flaky crust that holds it all together stands in for the hush puppies.

The lard and the buttermilk contribute flakiness and great flavor to this pie crust, but the real secret to its tenderness is the rolling method. Folding the dough onto itself and rolling it out several times forms thin layers within the dough. When the fat melts in the heat of the oven, the evaporation of moisture contained in the tiny space between the layers forces each layer to rise, just like in puff pastry.”

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EARTH DAY + RECYCLING

“Don’t throw anything away. Away is not far from you.”

The quote above hangs in our studio as a reminder that each action we take (no matter how big or small) impacts our environment. Designed by our friend Robert Rausch a few years ago, the simple quote was stamped on an event invite as a means to provoke thought about what people use and, consequently, throw away each day. At Alabama Chanin, we are taking strides to become a zero waste company—where the results of one production process become the fuel for another. It is our continuing goal to maintain a well-rounded, (w)holistic company that revolves around a central theme: sustainability of culture, environment, and community.

WASTE-NOT-WANT-NOT---Rinne-Allen

Not only do we reuse and recycle each scrap of fabric, but we also participate in other sustainable and environmental practices on a daily basis. We recycle paper and cardboard, collect and save glass in the café, compost all food waste, repurpose scrap paper, plant trees, and are even starting a garden at The Factory. Waste not, want not.

RECYCLING-02

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MACRAME HANGERS + KITCHEN HERBS

This summer’s harvest has begun to reveal its bounty. Tomatoes and cucumbers are in full-swing and soon I will have all of the squash and zucchini I can stand (and plenty for the neighbors) not to mention, beautiful Italian basil, which I love with a tomato sandwich. I recently received this book, Vintage Craft Workshop, from friend and author Cathy Callahan. The macramé planter project immediately caught my eye and got me thinking about the possibility of year-round fresh basil and mint.

In my mind, I am planning several hanging pots that will live just inside a large window, where they will get lots of sun. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of hanging pots are the macramé plant holders in my home in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. They ran along the kitchen wall in varying heights, usually filled with ferns and the random “Spider Plant” (Chlorophytum comosum). Here, we attempted our own Alabama Chanin version, to test out the sizes we could make, the height, and how they would look made with our cotton jersey pulls. No surprise – they look exactly as I remember them.

MACRAME HANGERS

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SHANE POWERS: BRING THE OUTDOORS IN

I love having fresh flowers around the office. I dream of flower beds surrounding the building and vases of camellia blooms on each desk. Shane Powers’ book, Bring the Outdoors In: Garden Projects for Decorating and Styling Your Home, has inspired me to perhaps be more ambitious in my plans for floral décor – both at home and in the office. I first met Shane through his work with my friend, Li Edelkoort. He worked on her (amazing) magazine, Bloom, and I met him again in Finland as he was helping curate and install Li’s exhibition, A World of Folk, and the Design Seminar, Folk Futures. Shane went on to work for prestigious titles like Vogue Living Australia, Blueprint, and Martha Stewart Living, and he recently created an indoor garden collection for West Elm. He is a busy man, to say the least.

Bring the Outdoors In is not a traditional gardening book. Rather, Shane presents ideas and instructions for projects that are akin to floral art installations. The results are astonishing, especially when compared to the traditional potted plant. This type of project would be perfect alongside traditional décor and would fit right into any unconventional home design. It is also ideal for apartment dwellers who lack the outdoor space for a garden plot of their own.

SHANE POWERS: BRING THE OUTDOORS IN

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IN THE (KITCHEN) GARDEN

Popular culture, social media, and our peers are all embracing a trend in home gardening across the country (though few of these gardens are as radical as Ron Finley’s median-turned-vegetable-garden project in Los Angeles). A guest for dinner last night mentioned that “even Oprah is on trend now,” having planted her own garden. Here in North Alabama, the home garden is hardly a trend. Most people grow at least a couple of tomato and pepper plants every summer. And if you take a drive down one of our many county roads, you’re likely to see large swaths of lawn devoted to food, with neat rows of summer vegetables stretching over red blankets of Alabama clay.

I’ve had a garden since I moved into my house in 2006. Putting it in might take only a weekend, but the cultivation takes years. However, it’s the week-to-week management that becomes difficult. When temperatures reach 98 degrees in the shade (and stays there for days on end) keeping up with the insects, weeds, the harvest, and watering becomes quite the challenge. Making time becomes stealing time. This is why my generous fall garden was still in the ground in late May, every kale or broccoli plant flowered and well on its way to seed.

IN THE KITCHEN GARDEN - photo by Abraham Rowe Photography

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REAL WOMEN EAT LETTUCE (+ SHERRY HONEY VINAIGRETTE)

On Monday, Sara wrote her thoughts on fashion and designing for real people with different body types. We’ve written before ‘On Beauty’ and the comeback of pin-up style. Even though media representations might make you feel differently, the fact is that women come in so many beautiful shapes and sizes. This is a deeply important and significant subject, and will be a recurrent theme for us this year. Our journal is a platform to share our views and opinions on any matter of the body (and mind), and we always encourage you to share your own stories and thoughts in the comments section.

It’s the New Year (10 days in already), a time when many of us reflect on our life in the past year, resolve to find peace in each day, and to look ahead to new goals and achievements. 99.9% of the time, weight loss is a top goal for resolutions in the New Year.

Diet. Eat salad. Lose weight. Be skinny.

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THE YEAR IN EATS (+ A NEWFOUND LOVE FOR SORBET)

This year saw our Journal take a more structured tone and we devoted particular days to particular topics. Wednesday’s became Recipe Wednesday and we worked to get ourselves organized and cook. EVERY WEEK.  It was quite a feat of organization since we also run the production office, online store, design, pay bills, and as I mentioned on Monday, also manage this Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook. It’s a lot of content. Erin joined the team full-time early in the year, Sara continues to make this stuff worth reading, we planted the garden (again), and we got cooking.

My biscuit recipe made it into the Wall Street Journal thanks to Charlotte Druckman. (More on Charlotte’s terrific new book Skirt Steak in the coming months.)

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ROSEMARY VODKA

Everything from roasted potatoes to strawberries and Prosecco  (sometimes in the same meal) have been flavored by my rosemary plants; I have been known to make flower arrangements (and wreaths) from the fragrant leaves and drink rosemary infused tea at the same time.  And while I use rosemary year-round, this evergreen bush is readily available in the deep of winter, when all the other herbs have died back. Perhaps for this reason, there is something about the flavor of rosemary that just feels like the holidays.

Rosemary flavored vodka has recently become a bit of a staple amongst our friends. It’s easy to make and looks absolutely beautiful when you include a fresh sprig for garnish. It’s been tested and approved in a modified screwdriver: just mix 1 ounce of rosemary vodka with the juice from one orange and serve over ice.  Rosemary vodka is also delicious with a bit of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Small Batch Tonic or in your favorite Bloody Mary recipe, but the possibilities are endless. If you have a great idea for a rosemary cocktail, be sure to let us know in the comments section.

Make extra of this easy infusion for your upcoming holiday gifting.

Homemade in three days—can’t beat that.

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DIY ROSEMARY WREATH

I have been somewhat of an herbalist since I was a small child.  Plant names and properties have always come as second nature.  While I struggle with the names and faces of people (sometimes people I have just met can go undistinguished an hour later), I have a recall for plants that sometimes baffles. It is almost like I have a memory older than myself when it comes to leaves and weeds.

Like Juliette of the Herbs (see the clip at the bottom of this post), I have planted many a garden—across the globe—and while each garden has its own story, every garden I planted has included rosemary.  After a brief “settling in period,” this elegant (and evergreen) shrub grows tall and wide in the Alabama climate. There is an Old Wives’ Tale about perennial plants: “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps.” It’s true. I have two rosemary shrubs in my home that I took as small diggings from the garden of my last house—our old production office at Lovelace Crossroads. Five years later, those bushes thrive and have spiced many a lunch, dinner, and, yes, cocktail. Come back this afternoon for our Rosemary Infused Vodka recipe .

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FALL GARDEN

Apples, sweet potatoes, autumn squash, turnips, rutabagas, leeks, and greens of every shade—I await the fall garden and all of its bounty each year with as much eagerness as the changing of the leaves and the relief from blistering Alabama summers. Root vegetables are at their prime this time of year and their heartiness is a beautiful accompaniment to braised meats. A meal of slow-cooked beef or pork alongside a simple roast of beets, potatoes, and turnips is my way of welcoming the season. Autumn squash, with its wonderful versatility, may find its way into a bisque or pie. And no fall meal is complete without a serving of greens—collards, mustards, turnips, kale, cabbage, spinach, etc.—served braised, sautéed, or dressed in salad.

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THE HEART: AUTUMN EQUINOX

When you are raised in a community with a large farming population, the seasons take on a deeper meaning than a simple change in temperature. It is true that for agriculture, to everything there is a season –every vegetable has a growing season, every time of the year has beautiful moments and challenges to overcome. For most families tied to the land – much like the earliest humans – the sky is a clock and a calendar; the sun’s path across the sky, the length of each day, the location of sunrise and sunset – these things are actual signs of things to come and preparations that must be made. So, the upcoming Autumn Equinox will be a time of reflection upon the year’s successes and failures and a moment of celebration of the harvest cycle.

There are two equinoxes each year – one in March and the second in September. Technically, these are the days when the sun shines directly upon the Earth’s equator and the length of the day and the night is roughly equal. The Autumn equinox symbolically marks the beginning of autumn and the end of summer. From this moment, temperatures typically drop and the days begin to get shorter than the evenings. The sun begins its shift toward the south and the birds and butterflies follow it in their migrations. For us, September and October mean that it’s time for broccoli, greens, root vegetables, and apples. It also means that summer crops should have been stored and put up for the coming winter.

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TOMATO + TOMATO PIZZA

Last week, during a photo shoot at my house for our new Indigo + Carmine pieces, my son Zach took time from his busy day of new fatherhood and running his growing catering company to make us lunch: a simple, delicious pizza piled with tomatoes.

This summer has been hard on my garden. Many of my herbs have simply withered away, and my tomatoes have been scorched in the harsh sun. Between the drought and my absence in travels, I’m surprised (and thankful) I’ve managed to gather a few heirloom tomatoes.

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SEED BOMB UPDATE

A few weeks ago, we took to the streets of Florence to spread wildflower seeds guerrilla-style. We tossed our homemade seed “bombs”, seed encapsulated clay balls, into alleys and onto vacant areas – hoping to add more color and beauty to our community.

With the amount of rain that we have been receiving lately, every growing thing has been sprouting up and up toward the sky. Yesterday, retraced our steps to see if our dispersed wildflowers were making progress. There were no full blooms yet; however, we are starting to see small dots of the color purple in Olivia’s yard.

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SEED BOMBS

Living in a community that has an abundance of farmland and agriculture, one might not think that ‘guerrilla gardening’ is exactly required. However, like any community, The Shoals is dotted with the occasional abandoned lot and neglected space in our downtown area. And we are of the opinion that most any space can benefit from the addition of colorful flowers.

During my visit to Berlin for the Hello Etsy conference, I noticed an abundance of green spaces and gardens that were situated on vacant lots throughout the city.

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MARKET BULLETIN

After our fall visit to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, we learned about the South’s Forgotten Locavores, market bulletins, and how these newsletters helped heirloom varieties of vegetables and plants survive generations.

We subscribed to Alabama’s Farmers and Consumers Bulletin shortly thereafter and are happy to report that we received our first issue just in time for spring cultivation. Old- timey Tennessee Red Cob Corn and Cow Horn Okra will be great additions to my garden. Continue reading

TALES FROM THE SOUTH’S FORGOTTEN LOCAVORES

After a few months and a busy holiday season, I’ve finally begun to process the experiences of my momentous trip to Oxford, Mississippi, for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. I left the event full of delicious food and copious amounts of knowledge. More specifically, Elizabeth Engelhardt’s talk, “Tales from the South’s Forgotten Locavores,” filled my hungry mind with questions on how I can contribute to the preservation of heirloom fruits, vegetables, and plants.

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CHAT WITH A PIRATE

In follow-up to our EcoSalon post last Friday on Punks + Pirates, Alabama Chanin (AC) held a Facebook chat with Richard McCarthy (RM) of Market Umbrella to explore his interesting perspective on cultural assets, punks, pirates and the Spanish Armada.  I was first made aware of Richard’s work at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium last October. You can watch the entirety of Richard’s very engaging talk here, read my post at EcoSalon here, and join the conversation in the comments section of this post.

The text below recaps the questions and answers that surfaced during our hour-long chat. Like our Facebook page and join our mailing list to take part in future conversations.

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THE YEAR IN EATS (AND A RECIPE)

In the spirit of “The Best Of” week as we move towards New Year’s Eve, I had to recap some of the best meals of my year – and they were plenty (despite my detox).

2011 started with a trip to Blackberry Farm’s Taste of the South with an amazing array of chefs and artisans.  The weekend is somewhat of a blur – perhaps because of all the wine tasting with Angie Mosier, and Charles and Kristie Abney.  I remember a biodynamic wine that was a glowing, beautiful orange color. (Charles and Kristie – if you are reading, can you remind me of the name of this wine? I would love to share it with others!)

Pardis Stitt will not let you leave her house, restaurant, or presence without a “to-go” box. And I know this may come as a surprise, but one of the best meal moments of my year was eating freshly cooked homemade chips and charred onion dip from Bottega in my car, on my way home to North Alabama. The recipe for this deliciousness can be found on page 23 of Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food. I have not been able to replicate the perfection of that afternoon in my own kitchen – must have been the “Pardis Love” that made the difference.

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ECOSALON FRIDAY (AGAIN)

Where did the last two weeks go?  Read my bi-weekly post @EcoSalon on the importance of being wobbly.

And thank you to my friend George for the gift of a simple garden gnome – so many, many years ago. Perhaps I will watch Amelie tonight!

There’s No Place Like Gnome

I planted my fall garden last weekend – perhaps about a month late but nevertheless, it is in the ground. My daughter has finally reached the age where she is a willing participant most of the time. In fact, she planted about half a row of garlic before scurrying off to uncover the peas I had just planted and to bury the little ceramic garden gnome that keeps watch on the birds who are eating our carefully planted seeds. That little antique gnome, a gift I received 20+ years ago while living in Vienna, has traveled the world with me, gone to every new home, and overseen each new incarnation of my life. He has always reminded me that a garden was waiting in my future.

The morning I decided to plant, I woke up in my own bed after returning home the day before from a trip that included three stops in two and a half weeks. I arrived home with a head cold and the desire to lie still for another two weeks. But, my daughter and I got up that morning and raked and hoed and planted. It felt good. I sighed, and relaxed and smiled as we settled into an afternoon of working and playing side-by-side.

I admit that I am not the best gardener in the world. This fall garden should have been planted a month ago; my rows are a bit wobbly as they move down the length of my backyard plot. I am certain that when the lettuce and spinach begin to sprout, there will be sections of the rows where too many seeds were strewn too closely together, and other sections where nothing will come up.

This is much like the story of my life and business.

A business owner recently said to me, “You are so successful, you wouldn’t know about the difficulties we have had in trying to build our business.” I couldn’t help but laugh. There are beautiful aspects to what we do at Alabama Chanin every day but there are also carefully planted rows that don’t come up, sales that don’t happen, frustrations and disappointments.

I recently came across an essay I had written in 2006 for Leslie Hoffman at Earth Pledge titled, “What Does Planting Tomatoes Have to Do With Fashion?”  It seems at first blush that the two would have little to do with one another. The gist of the essay was how coming home and re-learning how to plant a garden had connected me to my community, my business, the greater art of sustaining life and, consequently, to the fashion industry at large. As I look back over the essay, it feels like such a long time since I wrote those words. Our first book had not yet hit the shelves. My separation from my former company was still new and the wounds were fresh. When I re-read that essay, I could sense my fear, my hopes and my determination between the lines.

What that essay also reminded me was that while my rows today might still be wobbly, the birds-eye view of the garden is straight as an arrow. My path has been crooked, but the mission that I set for myself so many years ago is alive and growing.
So, what I really wanted to communicate to the business owner that day was not laughter – as if it were a silly question. I meant that laughter to mean: I am in the same garden! As a business, we experience the same ups-and-downs, the same excitements and the same disappointments, and in spite of it all, we are still here and we are still gardening.

Today, as I sit and look at my wobbly rows, my garden feels like my business. I realize that the wobbly row is a perfect analogy for my own process. We plant rows that flourish; we plant rows that putter along. We water, we nurture, we pick, we grow. But the real beauty of it all is not in the harvesting but this moment of sitting in the sun waiting for the first sprouts to poke through the earth.

The point is to watch the little plants grow and to savor the laughter that will come when I finally discover the buried garden gnome that my daughter has left for me as a present.
xoNatalie

TOMATOES + FASHION

In 2006, Leslie Hoffman of Earth Pledge asked me to write an short paper for inclusion in their Future Fashion White Papers.   I recently came across the volume while browsing my library and the essay stirred up so many memories from that time.  As the last of my tomatoes drop to the ground, I wanted to (re)share my thoughts on tomatoes and fashion.

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PICO DE GALLO

I arrived back from Berlin to find that tomatoes are still dropping off the vines in my backyard.  I just can’t seem to keep up with them this year.  In a situation like this, the best thing to do is to make Pico de Gallo.  A great dish for the heat of summer, it’s also known as Salsa Fresca, a name that can cool you off just by saying it. If you have a small vegetable garden there’s a good chance that you can get most of the ingredients right outside your back door.

Assembling the ingredients reminds you that the garden knows what flavors do well together.  Or, as my friend Angie reminds me, “What grows together, goes together.”

Even the colors are beautiful together. What better way to prepare for my trip to Texas?

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LEFTOVER BISCUIT + TOMATO PIE

This recipe was the lucky culmination of a recent visit to the Lodge Factory Store in Scottsboro, Alabama, the abundance of cherry tomatoes in my garden, and leftover biscuits from this morning’s breakfast. It features the biscuit recipe from page 80 of the Alabama Stitch Book and is a riff on the Put-Up Tomato Pie on page 89 of Alabama Studio Style.

Maggie woke up clambering for biscuits this morning and I was one cup short of the white flour that she loves best.  So, I substituted one cup of wheat flour on the board and used that for rolling.  It made a light but hearty biscuit that was the start to a great day; we finished our evening with this hearty dish that was a hit with my family (i.e. no leftovers).

Add some Benton’s Bacon for meat lovers.

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CHICKENS + EGGS

Chicken and Egg has been lying on my kitchen work table now for weeks. I pick it up, put it down, then pick it up again and have been trying to decide just why I like so much. The beautiful photographs by Alex Farnum certainly take my breath away and the stories of backyard chickens and homesteading by Janice Cole are inspiring but it is the selection of simple recipes that keeps me coming back.

A guest at our studio recently told a story about how she has an ongoing competition with friends on who can find the most difficult recipe. She laughingly says, “When the recipe starts with ‘Visit your local Fishmonger,’ she knows that she is in trouble. “Do I have one of those?” she asks.

The recipes in Chicken and Egg seem deceptively simple but inspire me to go out to my garden to pick some basil and mint (bumper crops this year) and prepare the Baked Eggs with Basil-Mint Pesto (page 83) for dinner.


Some of my favorites include (in no particular order): Creamy Deviled Egg-Stuffed Chicken Breasts (page 65), Golden Spinach Strata (page 145), Toasted Chicken Sandwiches with Caramelized Apples and Smoked Gouda (page 228), Paprika Chicken with Hummus (page 235). (Try substituting field peas for your hummus if you live in the south.)

Desserts are deliciousness like Key Lime Cream Pie with Billowy Meringue (page 47), a Bittersweet Fudge Pound Cake (page 49), and the Blueberry Sour Cream Tart (page 99).

From the introduction:

“The chapters are arranged seasonally because chickens are seasonal in their behavior. In the fall and winter, the number of eggs that chickens produce decreases, sometimes so dramatically that they don’t lay at all for days or even weeks at a time. As a result, each egg is more precious, and we’re more careful about how many we use. In the spring and summer, the increased daylight stimulates the chickens to produce lots of eggs, which we use with abandon.”

Since we are also having a bumper year for blueberries in North Alabama, I am off to make the Blueberry Sour Cream Tart with abandon.

Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes

P.S.  Janice suggests the Eglu to get started.

67℉

Sunday morning in the garden and seeds are starting to sprout.

FRESH AIR

The first day (and night) of cold has arrived like a breath of fresh air… tomatoes pulled from vines for fear of frost and our walking cape is my new best friend.

 

GREEN GRAPES + SIX WEEK SLAW

According to friends, I might be the only person in North Alabama still harvesting tomatoes.  I was angry at myself for not getting them in the ground earlier this year; however, it seems that my busy life made the perfect storm for a great harvest.  One of Zach’s friends gave me a load of heirloom plants to try and I have to say that there were some great selections in the mix:  purple, yellow, and plums to name a few.  However, the “Green Grapes” have become coveted around my house.  I have saved some seeds for next year and will certainly (hopefully) have more than one plant.

Try out this great lunch:  Six Week Slaw (recipe below) with shaved Parmesan and halved green grapes.

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SOUTHERN FOOD 2010 + THE BENNE

The Oxford American: Southern Food 2010 arrived while I was traveling and I am breathless to devour the issue this weekend in the sunshine and at my own kitchen table.

I will move seamlessly from John Kessler’s “Tale of Two Cities” to Dian Robert’s “People of the Cake” while sipping a tea and listening to Maggie talk to her “babies” in her room.

Get your copy and start with this great article from Matt & Ted Lee on the OA website: Matt and Ted Lee on the Next Big (but Tiny!) Southern Ingredient

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COMING HOME

Although the travels of the last months have been truly wonderful, there is nothing quite like coming home. My garden survived the neglect and the tomato plants are now at shoulder height with green pearls of delight starting to form. And while I have been a bit lax in keeping up with reading and writing, I have saved a few articles over the last months that I look forward to sharing.

I was surprised and delighted to find Preserving Time in a Bottle in the New York Times and see it truly as a sign of changing times. I am looking forward to savoring my time at home, eating in my own kitchen, keeping my suitcase packed away, devouring fresh tomatoes with Maggie, trying out new recipes, “putting up” our garden and letting the summer arrive slowly, slowly…

Photo: Evan Sung for The New York Times


STRAWBERRIES

My little strawberry patch is working miracles this year. It is wonderful for us to be able to go out the back door and pick breakfast. Maggie has appointed herself the official color inspector and tells me which ones are red enough to pick and which ones have to wait until tomorrow. I follow her lead religiously.

For a special treat this weekend, we are making our own version of Strawberry Shortcake with the recipe for my Aunt Mae’s Pound Cake that was originally posted about Georgia Gilmore. There is a reason that they call it Pound Cake.

Here it is again and perfect for fresh strawberries:

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AN END TO WINTER

It has just been so COLD outside. All the southerners are complaining so I can’t imagine what it is like to be up north at the moment. It seems that the weather has made the transition from the holidays back to work especially difficult this year (almost impossible) and the grey landscape could definitely use a bit of color right now. Does everyone feel that way?

My seeds came in this week: Seed Savers Exchange

I love the names: Dwarf Gray Sugar and Blue Podded Shelling Peas, Lacinato Kale. Chives, Lettuce Leaf Basil, Florence Fennel, Calabrese Broccoli, Summer Crookneck Squash, Pingtung Long Eggplant, Spinach and Smoke Signals Corn.

And, I received my worms: Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm

This weekend I am going to clean up my beds around the house, plant Snow Peas, and prepare the compost pile that is going to be my summer garden.

THE GIFT (PART 2) – OR SQUASH ON THE DOORSTEP

Okay. If you live in the South (and perhaps everywhere else for that matter), summertime is filled with anonymous gifts left on your porch.

Martha Foose writes, “When it is not possible to eat all the squash that comes out of the backyard garden quickly enough, the Kornegays have admitted to leaving anonymous gifts on neighbors’ doorsteps under the cover of darkness. They, too, have been on the receiving end of this generous gesture.”

Well, let me attest to the fact that this has been “one particularly prolific summer” for crooknecked squash.

When I lived in Vienna, I visited a restaurant called “Panigl” just about every (other) night of the week. (Is my name still scrawled under the table at my seat?) Well, I used to love an antipasti dish of slow-roasted vegetables that seemed to melt in your mouth. My dear friend, Agatha Whitechapel, once told me how to make the dish and I have approximated her instructions here:

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GARDENIAS FOR NATALIE

Bless Blair for sending this email just when I thought that there would be no reprieve in my week. We have a potted gardenia in our front garden bed and I have been struggling for one year to decide on its permanent spot. Blair’s post has inspired me to plant it right down by the road that everyone who passes our house on a June morning can revel in its glory.

From Blair:

Hooray for Gardening week! As I was answering my morning email, I heard a mother stroll her jabbering baby down the street. The woman said, “Smell those gardenias! They’re amazing!” So, I had to write this little something for the lady who planted them:

Mrs. Knight, the original owner of our 1940’s home, was known for her bread baking, bridge parties, chain smoking, and Gardenias. What remains of her, along the south side of the house, are her fragrant bushes. The sweet, thick aroma of the twirled-open buds is so dense that every walker, stroller, or jogger who crosses our block is bound to comment on the sugary breeze.

I especially love to watch the gardenias though our evening window. At night, in the dim streetlight’s cast beams, the blossoms look like paper stars clustered across the windowpanes.

I take no credit for these Gardenias. I do give them a little food, and after each bloom, I do cut them back so they won’t grow taller than the house. These flowers belong to Mrs. Knight, and every June, I clutch my breath until they gloriously return.

Illustration of gardenia thunbergia via Wikipedia by Edith Struben (1868-1936)

ROSES LOVE GARLIC

It has been a really busy week. I had intended to post every day about the wonder and beauty of our simple garden. Now it is Thursday and here you have the second post of the week. Perhaps there will be time to elaborate as the weekend approaches.

This is the first year that I really concentrated on companion planting. What seems a complicated subject matter to me is demystified by Louise Riotte in her two books:

Roses Love Garlic & Carrots Love Tomatoes

I love how my blooming garlic mingles with an old rose bush that was a part of my house the day I moved in. Maggie and I have enjoyed watching the garlic blooms pop their little ‘hats’ as the blossoms open from their little paper shell.

I have to admit that I have not been able to wait until the fall harvest and have been sampling our garlic since the stems emerged last autumn.

I recently came across an article with recipes for young garlic in a magazine which I simply cannot recall this morning. However, a simple Google search provides scores of young garlic recipes from Shrimp Stir Fry to soup.

And be sure to watch Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers by Les Blank.

Enjoy!

THIS WEEK IS GARDEN WEEK

I am inspired by my garden. These small beds that run around and behind my little house will feed my family this summer.

Thanks to our compost, we are pleasantly surprised by all of the volunteer tomato plants that have sprung up in every spot that we spread this luscious soil.

Maggie and I watch as flowers mingle with the rogue tomatoes, sunflowers and cantaloupes willy-nilly.

Our backyard composter and worm bin, the Biostack.

 

WEEDS

This post from Blair Hobbs reminds me of why I love gardening. Just this week, Blair agreed to become one of our regular contributors to share her views on being mother, creator, business person, lover of food, gardener and woman of the new south.

I know it’s spring when Mrs. Gary’s field is a snowdrift of little white flowers. Up close, these weeds are star-shaped, and they blanket the lazy lawns of our neighborhood in Oxford, Mississippi. But there are lawns on South 11th Street where these weeds don’t wake. There are yards that are not lazy and are tended by hoards of gardeners from places like Azalea Happenin’s nursery. These gardeners show up after the first frost and get busy on whatever is trying to sprout. These gardeners-for-hire crank up with their loud mowers, weed whackers, and ghost-buster leaf blowers. They prune the Crape Myrtles and Knock-out roses; they blow brown-and-fallen holly leaves from beneath the trimmed boxwood. They also show up with birth control for the Zoysia, and the growing grass remains pure and green and perfect.

Come spring, what grows in my family’s yard does not grow in those more manicured lawns of our neighborhood, and this makes me sad. I like weeds. I like the craggy dandelion leaves, the fragrant stronghold of honeysuckle, the pom-pom clover, and this little yellow flower that now feathers throughout our rain-sodden grass. I don’t know the name of this weed, but the blossoms are precious. They remind me of the small woolly balls that peel up from my favorite cardigan’s sleeves after a long winter’s wear.

Here is Blair’s Bio:

I was born in Oxford, MS in 1964 and moved to Auburn, Alabama when I was three. My dad was dean of Arts and Sciences at the University and my mother was an art professor. I am married to John T Edge, and we have a fabulous seven-year old son, Jess. I teach writing at the University of Mississippi (have an MA in Creative Writing from Hollins College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan). I am a collage artist and painter, and I always weave words into the content of my canvases. At home, I enjoy cooking, eating, patting the cats, reading, writing, laughing, tending the window boxes, and watching some trashy television.