one local supper: 11

This week I focused much less on meals than on preserving food. I've been a bit of an ant preparing for winter. Fair warning, I'm writing a lot about processing and preserving local food in this post. We did have an entirely local meal- one I grew up eating frequently. Stewed okra with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, and rice. The okra was in my freezer from last fall's CSA from Whitton Farms. Tomatoes and garlic came from two North Mississippi farmers. The rice was grown in Arkansas(Did you know that all Riceland brand rice is grown in the counties along the Mississippi River in Arkansas?) This is a simple, one-pot (not counting the rice) meal- sauteed onions and garlic, add peppers, add okra, add tomatoes and a bit of water, simmer down, serve over rice. The leftovers are really good. It's also fabulous with shrimp, chicken, or sausage. When we ate it again later in the week I added some sausage.

I spent so much time this week thinking about food- about school lunches, about preserving it. I've got a lot of good, fresh, perishable food that is either free or cheap right now. This fall and winter, this same food will be a) expensive and b) imported. I accidentally bought a bell pepper imported from Holland and had soemthing of a fit when I realized how far that yellow gem had traveled. Did it still have any vitamins? How much did it cost to ship a $1 bell pepper from Holland? All of this was in the back of my head on Monday, a good friend came by with 20+ lbs of pears and about 15 lbs of potatoes from his Mom's garden in Mississippi. I decided to make gnocchi with the potatoes (it freezes for up to a month- so I'll make some, use some, and see if it will keep for 2 months. The rest of the potatoes will go in basement storage for a bit) and pear sauce with the pears.

Now: canning. I'm not sure what's happened to me this summer except that I might be under my friend Jennifer's influence. She is a master canner. I've called her with questions, we've emailed about how-to and what-to. I attempted some canning in 2001 but haven't touched the weck jars or the huge stockpot I used to hot water bath process since. In late June, when I realized that my favorite tiny plums were about to go bad, I made a batch of jam with plums, blueberries, raspberries, and maybe some cherries. I put those up in some jars I had on hand, boiled them in the stockpot, and had 8 pints of jam. I could can food! And eat it later! It's silly, but I felt like embracing my inner pioneer woman.

A few weeks after the plum jam success, I borrowed my mom's huge (holds 7 quarts at a time) canning pot, some quart jars and lids, and bought a bushel (I think) of tomatoes. I put up 7 quarts of tomatoes and another 5 quarts of sauce (canned the tomatoes, froze the sauce). I had some free organic apples my mom's coworker gave her- those became 3 quarts of apple sauce. I ran out of quart jars and bought some pint and 8 oz jelly jars. When the last of my figs threatened to mold away in the fridge, they became 3.5 pints of jam (mixed with rosemary and lemon zest- yum). So when Michael and Lee showed up with all those pears, I knew I'd make pear sauce. And I did- ten pints. More apples are coming, more applesauce.

All of the blueberries we picked this summer went into the dehydrator (I lucked out 10 years ago and got an excalibur when my stepmother was clearing out her unused kitchen gadgets). Dried blueberries are so expensive, so good, and so easy to do yourself. We still have frozen berries from last summer, but we ran out of dried blueberries in October, so I concentrated on drying them this year. And Peaches! The essence of summer! Outside of what we've eaten, about half of the peaches I've bought, picked (25 lbs worth), or gotten for free because they were culls (scratch'n'dent produce, anyone?) have been dried, half have been frozen. The peels and bits of flesh from both of those were pureed and turned into fruit leather for little boy's lunchbox. Most of my fig crop was dried, but 6 gallons of fresh figs, when quartered and dried, only equal about 4 cups. Sad but true. The dehydrator has worked overtime this summer. We've even used it for grocery store bananas that had gotten a bit more spotty than we like- they dry sweet and chewy.

At this point, I feel a little like I have a mania. We even cleaned out the basement this weekend solely so that I'd have a place to put the canned food. But the pepper from Holland really made me open my eyes- and I've also just read ALL of Hodding Carter's humorous and thought-provoking essays for Gourmet. WHY NOT buy $2 extra of these wonderful 3/$1 pesticide free peppers at the farmers market, chop them, and freeze them for winter (and I'll be doing the same thing once my own peppers and tomatoes start ripening in my own garden). Too many cherry tomatoes? That seems to be all my garden's producing this year. So I'll pop them in a freezer bag for tomato cobbler this winter. I know how to can, why not turn free produce into something that my family loves to eat (and that I won't have to buy later). And yes, I have time on my hands. Yes, I want to save money (and time) later. No, I don't think this is something that everyone can (or will want to) do. But some of us can. So I am. And if you feel like it, I hope you do to.

I promise, I'll start writing about pottery again this week. I've been sneaking a little making time in over the past few weeks, but school starts tomorrow so my pottery break is officially over. Have a happy week!

one local supper: 9

Nine! Can you believe it? I have been feeling particularly uninspired about cooking this summer. It's been a little difficult to cook 100% local meals simply for lack of inspiration. We've been eating almost 100% local produce, dairy, and meats, but sometimes getting all of them into a delicious-sounding and photographable meal isn't up my alley.

That being said, this week we had two local meals. On Wednesday I made an oven-roasted baby eggplant, tomato, and feta dish, plus a baked cherry tomato-feta crustless cobbler (cherry tomatoes, smashed, 1T flour, well-mixed in, crumbles of feta, ribbons of basil). We had some other non-local food (with local lady peas, couscous, lemon juice, and LORDY big fat decidedly non-local shrimp) with it, but I made enough to have for lunch on Thursday. It was a good, good lunch.

Last night I used up a lot of produce we'd had languishing in the pantry and crisper. I roasted a lovely porkloin from Barnes Farm in Jackson, TN with local onions and shallots. I also roasted beets and sweet potatoes, cubed them, and dressed them in a mustardy vinaigrette with arugula. Earlier that morning I mixed up a big batch of dough to keep in the fridge (I use the basic boule recipe with 1/3 whole wheat from this book) and made both a sandwich loaf and six dinner rolls with whole wheat and all purpose flour from Delta Grind. I used up my last leek, some aged swiss chard, and kohlrabi in a mixed-vegetable sautee. My seemingly random mix of ingredients- the last dregs from the fridge- I haven't been to the farmer's market in two weeks and won't be able to go again until next week- was pretty good.

My garden, at the end of July, is just beginning to produce. Thanks, miserable dry hot June. Our July's been more like a typical May. My tomatoes are going crazy, peppers blooming, green beans- well- they're languishing. I'm going to rip them out. Last Friday little boy planted our fall crop of Arugula- we've eaten the last of ours. This week I put in purple sprouting broccoli, broccoli raab (my favorite), more beans, lettuces, swiss chard, and a few other things. I'm hopeful for my little garden. I laugh at the thought of all of my tomatoes coming in from August to November's first frost, just in time for my fall CSA to begin. I think September and October will be heavy-duty canning months for me. And heavy duty pottery months, but that's a different story.

Happy weekend!

the fig post

the fig post
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Every year I have a glut of figs. We eat them fresh by themselves, with goat cheese, dry them, blend them with butter and honey, turn them into pizzas/tarts, freeze them to pop in oatmeal in the winter, mash them with good vanilla icecream, and this year, I made fig sorbet.

I looked around on the internets and combined several recipes to come up with this:

1 lb of figs, trimmed
4T honey (local is best, light is better than dark)
the juice of one lemon (this, unfortunately, is essential for color and flavor)
2T each rose and Mathilde raspberry liqueur (you could use something else, like port, red wine, etc. but the alcohol keeps it from becoming a brick in the freezer)
almost 2 c water

Briefly cook figs with honey and smash them up. Add the zest of your lemon and the water. Puree with an immersion blender (or in a regular blender). Add your chosen alcohol. You'll notice with some disappointment that your mixture is the color of gravy. And the taste is somewhat flat. Add your lemon juice and change all that. The color perks back up, as does the flavor.

Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to its directions. If you don't have an ice cream maker, pour it into a loaf pan, cover, and stir every half hour or so.

Most people would make fig preserves, but they're too too sweet for me. I much prefer a savory treatment (you'll find a basic recipe under the fig tart photo- I make this at least twice each brief fig season, for any potluck we might attend or for our church's hospitality hour), but the sorbet may change my mind.

If you didn't buy your house based on the fact that it had the biggest fig tree you've ever seen in its backyard, you could use black mission figs that are sometimes available in gourmet markets. Or if you're down south, you could make friends with someone who has a fig tree. I know I'm happy to share.

one local supper: 4 and 5.

one local supper: 4
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
The night before we had this meal we celebrated our 9th anniversary at one of the better (in my humble opinion) fine dining restaurants in Memphis, Hunt Phelan, that makes good prodigious use of local ingredients from local farmers. It is my favorite go-to restaurant for special occasions. This meal, however, rivaled my wonderful carrot-ginger bisque and redfish clemenceau. It was a roasted halal chicken with halved baby onions and a roasted beet, feta, and basil salad.

A little bird told me that all of the halal meats in Memphis were raised by Mennonites in the Jackson, TN area. The butcher at the shop I went to agreed, then disagreed. I think we had a language barrier. I'm going to try the other halal butcher I know about and ask him, but for now, I'm calling this delicious chicken local, hailing about 60 miles from Memphis. The onions, basil and beets were from Whitton Farms, and goat feta came from Bonnie Blue Farm.

I bought one chicken to roast and another to cut up and freeze. We already made chicken and dumplings with my local flour, local milk, and Whitton's leeks, onions, and carrots, but no matter how you cook it, chicken and dumplings just isn't a pretty dish. It's white with flecks of vegetal color. But it was very very good.

And I made a 95% local blueberry pie- my first double-crust pie ever. I used this recipe for the crust and nothing but blueberries, flour, a sprinkle of sugar, cinnamon, and water for the filling. It was so, so good. As in, eat it for breakfast good.

Have a wonderful week! I'm looking forward to making a tomato cobbler this week- it is my favorite!

one local supper: 3

one local supper: 3
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
This week I finally got my hot little hands on some local flour. A few weeks ago I was visiting with the Becky and John, the nice folks at Delta Grind, buying grits and polenta - theirs is the only brand that I like to use. They are a small business, family-owned, and they procure local corn for their masa, grits, polenta, and cornmeal. I saw a bag of wheat bran and asked about flour. Happy day! They carry whole wheat, wheat bran, and all-purpose. I ordered a 5 lb bag of all purpose flour, and I'm planning to pick up a bag of whole wheat next week, as well. All of their corn and wheat is grown in North Mississippi. I was thrilled. I was even happier when I realized that John was a dear friend's grandson and that I could throw them a little more business!

It has been ages since I've made any sort of dough with just all purpose flour. It was very, very soft. Most of the flour you can buy commercially is made with hard wheat, which makes a stiffer dough. This was *almost* difficult to work with because it was so soft. If you've ever used White Lily brand flour for biscuits, you'll know what to do. I think that once I add in some of their whole wheat flour the consistency will be closer to what I'm used to. The finished texture was fabulous- very airy and soft.

So- the meal- pizza bianca with sauteed swiss chard from my friends at Dodson Farms, garlic from Flora at Bluebird Farms (and I'm keeping a few cloves to replant in my own garden this falll!), and my favorite goat cheese from Jim Tanner at Bonnie Blue Farm. It was good hot, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, but even better cold the next day for lunch.

I also made my favorite summer soup this week and ate all week for lunch. It is nothing but pickling cucumbers (from Tim Family Farm, and I recently found out that they're moving from minimal pesticides to NO pesticides!), a clove of garlic (from Flora, see above), a splash of rice vinegar, and a cup or two of buttermilk (from Rock Springs Dairy, in Wildersville, TN) or yogurt. Process it all in the blender, add some mint, basil, or dill if you like, and call it soup. I've also thrown it in the ice cream maker to produce a savory ice cream (after an happy accident last summer). It is so good and refreshing on miserably hot and humid days.

one local supper: 2

local meal: 2
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I missed last week's local summer entry due to the amazing powerless adventure, so I'm going to make up for it this week by doing two local meals. Tonight we had a skirt steak that looked bad (I think this cut is not a grilling cut) but tasted SO good. It was from Donnell Beef, just outside Jackson TN. I pre-steamed then grilled potatoes from Whitton Farms and dressed them in rosemary and my homemade mayonnaise. I also bought their green beans this weekend- delicious steamed and sauteed in some Mennonite butter one of our produce stores carries.Tims Family Farm from Ripley, TN provided the tomato and zucchini I grilled and dressed with olive oil and basil for a warm salad.

I cooked some extra potatoes to make gnocchi later this week, and I still have chard, green beans, zucchini, and cucumbers (not to mention peaches and plums!) from the market this week.

One thing about local meats- I'm not the biggest meat-eater around, but my boys love it. Buying local meat can be more expensive, but I think that the benefits- health and environmental- from buying sustainably raised and healthy livestock is worth the higher price, especially when meat is used sparingly. This piece of steak was nearly a pound and only cost me $9. For a special meal (like Father's Day), I think it is a bargain. I really try to stretch my food budget, but I am an avowed foodie. If I have red meat (or any meat, for that matter), it needs to be spectacular. Similarly, I'm not interested in chicken just to have chicken. It needs to be really good- no bland frozen chicken breast, please. I'm exploring a source for local chicken - I think I'm going with halal chicken provided by the west TN Mennonite community, because they don't use antibiotics or hormones on their farms. If I could find a local sustainable source for ground turkey (or any turkey, because I could grind it myself), I'd have all of my meat bases covered.

Hope everyone has had a great weekend.

I'm home! and mayonnaise

Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Tuesday night I had reached my limit and we fled to a friend's house for relief until our power was restored on Thursday I'd tried to be really diligent about keeping the house picked up and clean while we were here, but really, it is a disaster area. I spent Thursday cleaning up, running the dishwasher and multiple loads of laundry, wiping up spills and wiping down the inside of the fridge. We went to our local produce store to get milk, a new loaf of bread, and those first tempting tomatoes.

Once home, craving a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, I thought about my jar of mayonnaise that had gotten warm, cooled down, gotten warm, cooled down, and thought better of it. I use a really good mayo (Duke's is actually all I will use when it comes to commercial mayo, and it is a southern thing, like community coffee, which I used to have college friends from Louisiana bring to NC on breaks), but I started thinking about the mayonnaise I used to make, and how it had a shelf life of perhaps a week and a half, and why was I expecting a jar of the commercial stuff to last for more than a month? Yes, it is pasturized and heat processed, but it left me thinking. So I pulled out the blender, rice vinegar, two eggs*, and 3/4 cup of olive oil.

The recipe is simple- you can use a hand-mixer, a whisk (lord help you), a food processor, or a blender. Take two eggs, break them, and mix them with 1/2 tsp salt, a dash of dry mustard (I didn't) and 1 tsp lemon juice, white wine vinegar, or rice vinegar. I mixed this for about a minute on high in my blender. Slowly slowly add about 1/3 of your oil (I used straight olive, but next time I'll add in half safflower oil) in the thinnest stream- or drop by drop. I was reminded that if you use a food processor, there's a hole in the "food pusher" thing that will dispense the oil in a thin stream- that's why the hole is there. I used my blender and did it manually. You'll notice that the consistency will change after you've added half the oil. Towards the end, the sound of the processing changes noticeably and you'll know you're about finished.

After you first make mayonnaise, it will be a little thin, but taste it, and add more lemon juice/ vinegar and salt to taste. Mine completely filled an old Bonne Maman jelly jar. After refrigerating overnight, it has thickened considerably. The color is golden, not white, like commercial mayonnaise. Mine also has a distinctive olive oil flavor. I think I'll use most of it for a roasted potato salad and to go with grilled veggies and a steak for my local meal this week. I also use mayonnaise in my favorite ranch dressing/dip, so that should take care of the rest of it. It should keep a little over a week, but I think I'll make half a recipe next time.

I'm looking forward to getting back on the wheel today. I've made no pottery for the last two weeks and am itching to get back to it.
I'm so grateful to be home, have my power restored, and for all of your kind comments, thoughts, and prayers last week. Thank you for your friendship.

I hope your weekend is beautiful!
*My egg man was at the farmers market last Saturday and told me that because they didn't "scrub the eggs to death," they would be fine for a week without refrigeration, so I put them in a lidded container and stuck them in the basement, which is always cooler (it felt like 20 degrees!) than the rest of the house.

fingerling potatoes

fingerling potatoes
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Clearly, I'm a bit nuts to begin a 97 degree day by digging up part of my potato crop, but I was outside looking at the garden and noticed that two of my potato plants had yellowed and fallen over, which means it is time to harvest. The other four or five plants are still looking good, so I left them in the ground. These are Russian Banana Fingerling potatoes (if I remember correctly) that I bought from Whole Foods in the winter. A few of them started to sprout, so I left them on the counter and cut them into pieces once the eyes began to grow. I didn't plant them until mid-March (usually we plant potatoes here in February), didn't hill them up properly, but this was a nice sized crop from just two little plants. I spread some of the dirt and composted leaves over the remaining plants so they'll grow a bit more, and in a few weeks I'll harvest them, too.

There are only 10% of the original 130K+ residents left without power- they're estimating that we will join the ranks of the powered today. Last night we bailed and went to a friend's house to sleep in the AC. It was bliss.

I had planned to finish the last of the May 27 berry bowl orders this week, but obviously, that didn't happen. The good news is that the enforced rest means that my arms are healed! Hopefully next week when little boy is at a day camp I'll crank the rest out and get them out to my most patient friends and customers.

Happy Wednesday! And keep your fingers crossed for us!

one local supper: 1

one local supper: 1
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
This isn't our first entirely local meal. I'll post about the first one a bit later, because it's been such a hectic week. Tomorrow is my farmer's market day, little boy has been at a day camp all week, and I seem to have come down with tendonitis in both arms. The first local meal was before all of this craziness began, and I'm grateful for that, because this is only the second real, home-cooked meal we've had this week. Usually I'm a 5+ home-cooked meals a week kind of girl. I like to cook and I'm nutritionally picky.

I, ah, amended my definition of local a smidge this year. I'm allowing a 150 mi radius from Memphis because my milk and goat cheese sources are both a tad over 100 miles away. And after much deliberation, I've decided to give myself the gift of purchased wine/cider vinegar, because I couldn't find a good local vinegar. I tried, but it was all meal-ruiningly-bad.

So. Friday evening we had local polenta (from delta grind, and I'm afraid you'll have to google anything you're interested in because I'm to stinkin' tired to link) with sauteed green onions, swiss chard and beet greens (dodson farm and whitton farms) with the leanest pork sausage* I've ever had. You know how when you cook sausage the pan usually fills up with fat? I had to add olive oil to get the greens to cook "right." Bulk sausage came from Yoder Bros in Paris TN. We had a chopped "farmers market salad"- lettuce, radishes, carrots all from the market, cherry tomatoes from my garden- with a buttermilk/yogurt/goat cheese ranchy dressing. Buttermilk and milk for the yogurt (which I made) are from Rock Springs Dairy in Wildersville, TN (available in Memphis at Easy Way). Goat cheese is from Bonnie Blue Farms in Waynesboro TN.

This was good- even little boy ate it all. He said that the goat cheese tastes "gorgeous." Yes, it's a word I use a lot. He wasn't crazy about the swiss chard stems, but he tried one or two and I happily ate the rest.

Next up- our local pork chops, beet salad, and roasted potatoes. Every meal at our house doesn't feature meat, but it keeps the boys happy. I was a vegetarian for many years, and probably 1/3 of our meals are completely veggie, but we usually have meat as a side dish, as we did Friday night. There wasn't more than 1/2 cup of sausage in our meal (total, not in each serving), but it sure did help the boys to eat those greens. There were none left!

Have a great good-eating weekend everyone!

*Andrew Donnell, of Donnell Beef just let me know that this wonderful sausage comes from Barnes Farm and is his neighbor. He also makes wonderful porkchops, bacon, and porkloin. I have more porkloin in my freezer but I haven't broken it out yet. I'm looking forward to it, though!

eating local

5/24 farmers market
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
If you've been reading my ramblings for any length of time, or if you know me personally, you'll know I'm a bit of a nutter about food. I love to cook, love to eat, and shopping for good, reasonably priced, delicious and local food sends me over the moon. Last year I did the One Local Summer Challenge, wherein participants pledge to prepare at least one 100% local meal for thirteen weeks during the summer and photograph/blog the results. I had the best time. We ate very well, and at a reasonable cost, as well. Even though the 2009 challenge doesn't begin until June 1 (registration is open until May 31), I'm beginning next week.

My biggest challenge last year was finding a good acid to use. I love lemon juice, and I like white wine vinegar, but I have a hard time finding a local wine that is dry enough to make a good vinegar. I'm going to check with a local orchard to see if they have any cider leftover from the fall to try cider vinegar. Failing that, I plan to plain old cheat on the vinegar front.

The second biggest challenge was bread. I can, and happily do, make my own bread. Finding locally grown wheat flour was more difficult, but I have a friend whose father grows wheat, so perhaps they also have flour. . . . I have a great source for local grits and polenta, goat cheese (soft, feta, and camembert. Or gouda, I can't remember which), an orchard with apples, peaches, strawberries, plums- you name it, they've got it. And veggies galore.

This photo is a small sampling of my haul from the farmer's market this week. Remember what I said about reasonable? I spent $20 yesterday. $5 for the broccoli, cauliflower, and six zucchini. $6 for sugar snap peas (a whole pound!) and carrots. $2 for a huge bunch of chard. Strawberries were $3.75 for an overflowing basket (maybe a quart sized? There were easily 40 large berries), and spying a box of culled peaches and berries behind the stand, I asked if I could get some of them instead of change. I got a dozen peaches and twice as many berries for that extra $1.25. Not too shabby.

(ETA 2/25) I forgot to address meat issues. We're not vegetarian. I used to be, but my boys love meat. I've learned to cook meat, though it is rarely the centerpiece of a meal- more like a garnish- sauteed garlicy greens over local polenta with a few crumbles of spicy sausage on the top. That's how I like to eat meat, though I surprised myself by serving grilled local porkchops with seared new potatoes and loving it. The extra meat from the porkchops will go into Vietnames spring rolls later this evening- not local, but the meat will be a garnish in the rolls rather than the star.

There are several vendors at our market who sell farm-raised, hormone-free beef and pork. While I could happily give up beef, I'm not sure if I could do without a little sausage here and there. My dad is a hunter- he supplies us with venison and duck. Chicken and turkey have been issues- but I discovered that middle-tennessee Mennonites raise halal (chemical-free, slaughtered according to strict Muslim standards) poultry for the Muslim community in Memphis and the surrounding area. They also sell hormone and antibiotic-free milk to one of the local produce stores. Both are slight more expensive (maybe 20%) than conventional dairy and poultry, but after little boy's severe allergic reaction to the growth hormones in conventional milk, we switched over to all organic (or at minimum hormone-free) dairy.

I hope you'll join along my local eating adventure this summer and think about taking one of your own. It's funny how much of a habit eating local can become and how easy it is to assemble good, fresh, local, and very importantly during these tight times, affordable meals. Even when we do spend a bit more, say, $10 instead of $6 for those 4 thick-cut porkchops that will give us 2 different meals (we're a small family, that helps), it is nice to know that 80% of the money goes directly to farming families.

Happy Memorial Day! I'm going to go think more about those pork and mango (nope, not a local meal by any stretch now) spring rolls!


Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I have a good friend, Rayner, who hails from the Mississippi Delta. Land of Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, excellent music, dire poverty, and not much to do. She says that when she was growing up (and still, today, based on the personalities of my Delta friends) that anything was an excuse for a party. "It's rainin'! Let's have a party!" sticks out in my mind. In Rayner's honor (and because of the fan-tabulous peaches I got at the farmer's market on Wednesday), here's my rainy Friday evening party. Really cheap Italian asti mixed with pureed white peaches. A bellini without the prosecco. I have a bottle tree in the back yard (another Delta tradition), so when I saw this super swirly bottle, I knew that I had to buy it for the bottle tree, if not for the liquid it contained. Asti is a bit sweet, but mixed with the super-sweet-essence-of-summer white peach puree, it goes down nicely.

So, it's rainin', ya'll! Let's have a party! Happy weekend.

one local supper- august 13

This was my first real cooking since I came back from DC. I ate and ate and ate there, so I didn't want to really cook. Plus the larder was pretty bare (it still is), so I didn't have much to cook until after yesterday's farmers market trip. We did have some local black angus flat iron steak that Gary had thawed, marinated, and partially cooked, so I knew I needed to use that. Generally, I'm not much of a meat eater, but I bought this after talking to the farmer (rancher?) and it was a huge piece of meat for $9, and it makes my boys happy. I took some zucchini, tomatoes, bunching onions, and basil (some of which had been languishing in the produce drawer for a week or two) and made a simple sautee (the leftovers have been added to my frozen ragu from a couple of weeks ago), and sliced up the potatoes, drizzled them with olive oil, topped with kosher salt, and roasted them. I am a potato fanatic. These were between golf-and-baseball sized, and I could have eaten six of them. I only made 4 to prevent that from happening. I ate 2.
All of the veggies came from my friends at Whitton Flower and Produce. The potato recipe came from Mark Bittman's Minimalist Cooks at Home, which I cannot find anywhere (and it's making me a little crazy, because it's my favorite cookbook and I'm a little afraid that I inadvertently purged it at the end of June when I was doing the great de-junk). It has a name, but I have no idea what it is. Fancy Crispy Potatoes, we'll call it for now.

We also got some slam-fanstastic peaches at the market yesterday- about 25 of them. Elbertas, the "regular" kind, and some big white-fleshed varieties (sorry I didn't pay attention) that is making me crave a bellini (4 T white peach puree per bottle of prosecco), so maybe when I do "real" grocery shopping later today I'll pick up some prosecco and indulge!

one little supper- 5 august 2008

one little supper
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Small supper tonight, but peas are filling, you know? We had polenta squares with goat cheese, lady peas and arkansas traveler heirloom tomatoes dressed in salt, pepper, and olive oil, and some sauteed yellow zucchini with basil. Pretty yum.

Did I tell you that when I go to the farmers market I'm buying a bag of lady peas to blanch and freeze for the winter? Every time? The rest of this bag got dressed in some lemon juice with the olive oil (a huge and decidedly non-local improvement), and next time, I'm cooking some shrimp to go along with this for a Low Country (that's coastal South Carolina, if you didn't already know) kind of supper.

This may be the extent of my cooking this week except to prepare some things for the boys to eat while I'm gone so that they don't subsist on PBJs.

Tomorrow- POTTERY POST. Finally, huh?

one local supper- july 23

This was an almost all-farmers-market meal. Vegetable and venison-summer sausage ragu over hollowed-out baby Japanese eggplants on a bed of goat-cheese stone ground grits. Purple cabbage and julienned yellow zucchini slaw, dressed in homemade yogurt-goat feta dressing. All of the vegetables in the ragu (and the stunning red zinnias!) are from my favorite farmers, Jill and Keith Forrester of Whitton Flower and Produce. Cabbage was from Dodson Farms, also located in East Arkansas. Grits come from the Grit Girl.

This morning I got up with the sun and blew $40 in 10 minutes. 2 dozen eggs, goat feta, and soft goat cheese, 6 lb of ladypeas (more on that later in the week) to share and freeze, more baby eggplants, Arkansas Traveler tomatoes, and a bare-root basil to use, trim, plant, and hope for more.

I told Keith about this meal this morning, and in his honor, I'll share the ragu recipe:

-1 big chopped tomato
-2 small green onions (his are purple and white!), greens and bulb chopped -reserve some greens for garnish
-4 baby eggplant, halved, hollowed, and flesh chopped
-1 yellow zucchini and 1 green zucchini, dice (the squares make a nice texture contrast)
-1 clove garlic
-handful of corn kernels (left over from earlier in the week- these may have come from Whitton Flowers, or from another vendor. I bought them some time ago and forgot about it!)
-diced venison summer sausage (or other smoked sausage- this is what I have from my dad's deer camp- it is both free and local)
-marjoram and basil to taste

Slick a saute pan with olive oil, add tomatoes, eggplant, and onions (garlic, too, if you want) and cook for a bit until they start to break down. Add a bit of water or stock to make it saucy. Add corn, zucchini, and fresh herbs shortly before you're ready to plate everything up and/or bake, so that they're still more firm than soft and the herbs still have a fresh flavor.

I cooked cheese grits with goat cheese, pre-cooked the eggplant shells for a few minutes, then layered grits, eggplant shells, and some of the ragu. Sprinkle with goat cheese, bake at 350 for 10 minutes or so. Sprinkle with reserved green onions before serving.

But wait, you say, isn't this a pottery blog? The casserole dish to the right is one of my first ones, from 2001, I think. I use it all the time- a big deep-dish pie plate. The dish that the saw is in is a vintage pottery piece- a miniature covered casserole decorated with pussy willow stems. I bought it at a garage sale for 50 cents and discovered that my boss at the Brooks has a full set! It's from New England and was mass-produced from the 50s until the 70s, perhaps.

Happy Saturday!

summer obsession

This time of year, I get a little obsessed with the fig tree in my back yard. I go back, look at it, peer under the leaves, squeeze fruit, chase away birds. In 2004, when we were house-hunting, I peeked over the back gate of this house, saw the fig tree, which was roughly the size of a barn silo (okay, maybe not quite, but at least swimming pool size), and knew that, even though I didn't particularly like the looks of this house, this was the one. Yes, really. Four years later the house is finally starting to look how I'd like, and I'm still in deep smit with my fig tree.

We picked a few precious fruits from it on Thursday, several more on Friday, Saturday, and then on Sunday, I had enough to make this gorgeous, easy, and delicious fig tart for my friend Lisa's final going-away reception at the Cathedral. Today I'll start gathering figs to turn into fig butter to take with me to my upcoming girls' weekend in DC- our hostess dreams of the stuff, which I haven't made in several years.

Every year I do something different with the figs. The first year, it was the butter- we had just moved in at the start of the season, so I unpacked my cuisinart, bought several pounds of butter and little 1/4 c containers to store them in, and went to town. The second year, I dried them all. The third year, I saved them up for my aunt to make preserves out of (WAY too sweet for my taste, but it was the best birthday gift I could have given her). Last year we had a late freeze then drought, so I let the birds eat what we didn't eat out of hand. The crop was pretty measly. This year, I'm going back to the butter. Oh, and this fig ice cream! Recipes, you say?

Fig Tart
1 sheet puff pastry (like peppridge farm)
1/2 brick cream cheese (or goat cheese would be so divine)
a squirt of honey (maybe 1-2 tsp)
1T fresh minced rosemary
quartered fresh figs (I used maybe 20)

-Mix the cheese, honey, and rosemary. You can also add chopped dried figs if you have them to increase the fig flavor. I keep the home-dried figs in the freezer and use them on lots of things. They keep for years.
-Spread the square of pastry on a baking sheet (use a silpat or parchment liner because it leaks!), score a square inside the pastry (1/2 inch from the edge).
-Spread the cheese mixture over the pastry up to the score line and arrange fig quarters over the cheese mixture in a pretty pattern.
-Drizzle with honey (but not much, just a few thin ribbons over the top)
-Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes

Cut in squares after it cools with a serrated knife. Cut carefully and you won't mar the figs!

Fig butter

1 lb butter, salted or not, softened ( I like salty with my sweet)
1-2 c fresh figs
1-2 T honey, to taste

Whirl around in a food processor until the figs are completely broken up and everything is nicely blended. Pack into 1/4 c containers and freeze until you need them. This is SO good on hot french bread. I stole this idea from some caterer friends in Oxford, MS.

almost 100%

almost 100%
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Last week I got Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, which said everything I knew that it would and left me feeling both hopeless about our collective culture and hopeful for my own family, just as I knew it would. I try really hard to only serve whole food, at home or away, but it's difficult to explain to your 4.5 year old why even "organic" gogurts are bad- for health, the environment, the pocketbook. All he knows is that all of the other kids from playschool have gogurt, oreos, string cheese, boxed drinks (which I hate more than the gogurts, even).

On the whole, I think that we do pretty-to-really-well. I love shopping at the farmers market, buying amish-made butter at the local produce store, and cooking from scratch. I'm looking very forward to our fall and winter CSA subscription. Bread is one place where I have big problems. When I was single and newly married, I didn't buy bread. I made it. Somewhere along the line, I stopped baking regularly. Two years ago when I realized that high fructose corn syrup was in everything, I got really picky about the bread that I buy. But even this one single brand that I can reliably find (all bets are off when it comes to hot dog -soy or kosher, please- or hamburger buns), there are 19-odd ingredients. That is not a whole food. Hello, oven. I hear you calling me.

One good thing about the local summer challenge is that all of the local food is real food. These eggs- from grass-fed chickens. Goat cheese- grass-fed goats. Blackberries (oh, so precious and fleeting) picked by my mother and little boy. I do plan to start using this book soon, because it's always been the bread (I love my carbs) that's hit me hardest- in the pocketbook and in the conscience.

summer weekend-

It has been a very busy week here-I guess I'll work backward. This picture is from my morning at the farmer's market. The produce is really coming in beautifully for all of my favorite farmers downtown. Everything was blue and purple and green and golden this morning. I spent a little more and bought some organic local bacon to make my OLS meals a little happier for my carnivorous boys, but I am really DIGGIN' the veggies. I got there a bit late this morning- 8:30 (usually I'm there before 7 to catch my egg and goat cheese man, but this is his off week)- boy was it crowded. We all slept in after watching the fireworks on the river-that didn't start until 9:45. It was almost 11 by the time we got sleepy little boy and exhausted parents home. But the 4th on the bluffs of the Mississippi was magical. It was cool (usually it is still 85 and humid at night on the 4th of July here, but last night it was about 75 and breezy at 9). Little boy's never really experienced fireworks before, so they seemed especially enchanted to his sleepy eyes.
My good friend Leigh Ann visited this week-from Wednesday to Friday. She is a PhD candidate in Public Health at Tulane University in New Orleans. She lives in Zanzibar part time, or has for the past few years while she's been working on her dissertation. She is a good college friend, a former Peace Corps Volunteer (she did stints in both Sri Lanka and Thailand) and comes from a family of high hilarity with an emphasis in storytelling. She is a dedicated vegetarian, so I was happy to try some new veggie recipes on her, like this splendid Chard Tart. It was filled with ruby chard, beet greens, goat cheese, and home-grown onions and shallots on a locally-grown and ground cornmeal crust. I got the recipe from Amy of My Land but altered it liberally to fit within the local guidelines. Ya'll should be happy I took a picture before I baked it, because mine wasn't as pretty as Amy's, but my word, it was delicious. I'm going to try it again in the winter with pecans to decorate the top, and try to figure out what sort of herb will stand up to the chard and beet greens' assertive flavors.
While she was here, we took several family walks-my friend is a big walker. This night we took both dogs- it was helpful to have a person for each dog and little boy. Our neighborhood has a wonderful 3 mile greenline park running through it, but the path isn't so conducive to training wheels. The bike gets stuck, with little boy peddling as hard as he can and literally spinning his wheels. I think that our Thursday walk was a 2 miler- leisurely, but still hefty for both dogs and boy.
Birdy dog (Luther is pictured) is 9 in September- she loves her walks but stays in her bed, in the cool of my bedroom, away from the craziness of little boy and Luther, most of the time. She sniffed out this box turtle midway through the walk and gave us a nice opportunity for a little ecology lesson. We learned all about box turtles, and the differences between tortoises and turtles, after this encounter.

I mentioned that my friend comes from a family of hilarious story-tellers. She started a blog on her first night here. I was honored to shoot some pictures for her and play a small role in her second post.

one local supper-july 2

one local supper-july 2
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
This may be one of the most family-successful meals of this challenge. I have a dear college friend visiting this week, and since she's a vegetarian, this is the perfect time to use up some of my farmers market and garden veggies, because she'll enjoy the dishes more than my boys will. But they all liked this one.

At the top is a layered, tian-style ratatouille. It is alternating layers of eggplant, yellow 8-ball squash, tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil. Topped with homemade breadcrumbs- from either bread I made, or farmers market bread. Plenty of salt and pepper, a little olive oil. If I weren't making this strictly local, it would also have a layer of couscous on the bottom to soak up ALL of the juices- my boys don't like it stewy.
At right is a small salad of julienned kohlrabi and pickling cucumbers in my homemade wine vinegar, a dash of olive oil, slivered basil, and kosher salt. I bought the kohlrabi weeks ago-amazingly it kept just fine for weeks- a great storage vegetable. I'd never tried it before, and it was great! I'll definitely do this again.

Next up: a swiss chard tart as featured on the My Land blog. Revised, of course, to fall into the local criteria.


Yesterday, as Gary and I were leaving an afternoon birthday party, I demanded that he stop the car. We'd just passed a house in a hip little neighborhood that had a great funky garden and a pile of brush by the curb. Why stop for a pile of brush, you ask? Because it was LOADED with ripe peaches. Not much bigger than golf balls, but golden, velvety, and being steadily consumed by mocking birds. I grabbed a grocery bag (I keep a stash of reusable bags in the car, plus little boy suffers from carsickness, so I also have a little bag stuffed full of "emergency" plastic bags), fought off the mocking birds, and brought home about 30 small but extremely sweet peaches. Gary waited patiently while little boy offered encouragement and guidance- "you missed one over there, mama!"

When I finally got back in the car, Gary said that I'd reached new levels in my tenderheartedness. I've gone from rescuing dogs to birds, and now abandoned fruit. I piped in that he'd left out cool old furniture that I've rescued from the curb. Here's my question about the whole thing: who in their right mind would cut down five huge limbs loaded with ripe-to-almost-ripe fruit? My friend Liz has a little peach obsession. She was the first person I informed of this incident. I think she'd understand.

Hello, brandied peaches. Christmas will be fruity this year!

one local supper: June 25

Man oh man was this a good little meal. It was a solo meal- little boy refused to open his mouth to it (win some, lose some) and opted for a turkey burger instead- and Gary's been with his mom in pre- waiting, and post-op all day. She is just fine, thank you, and we're hoping/praying for a speedy recovery. So my local meal was for me alone, and frankly, I was happy not to have to share. On my last visit to the downtown farmers market, I bought a bunch of baby beets and baby carrots from the fine folks at Whitton Flower and Produce Company. Then little boy was sick, then we were out of town. Today we visited the mid-week market, so I had to use up produce, fast. I knew just what to do.

About 5 years ago the Dan Zanes family appeared in a thanksgiving Martha Stewart Living article. They live(d?) in a great Brooklyn brownstone and had the whole crew in for a typical beautiful/funky MSL feature. There was a fabulous roasted beet, walnut, and feta salad recipe (sorry I can't find a link!) that I made that year and have been making ever since. Then in March a really delicious grated beet and carrot salad recipe showed up at Chocolate and Zucchini. I combined the two in an incredibly happy marriage of whole roasted baby beets, baby carrots, arugula from my garden, and goat-feta. I used olive oil and a splash of local wine (that I don't like at all but will make great vinegar) for the dressing. (Really. It said of itself that it was "dry and fruity," but it made me make a face.) I'm thrilled to have a local acid, because the lack of one was really hurting me in this challenge.

And look what I found while I was trimming the carrots! A carrot man! I can almost see a little face. I love finding anthropomorphic vegetables (remind me to tell you about the dancing green onion man sometime)! This guy escaped the knife and is propped up on my butter dish on a bed of spices until he gets ready for the compost. I plan to keep him around until he's old and wrinkled and smelly. I was too tickled to top, tail, and roast him!