Monday, December 7, 2009

Care of the Earth CSA

This fall I stumbled upon a new local farm called Care of the Earth Community Farm that was offering a fall season CSA farm share. I've always been interested in the CSA concept, but it always seemed like such a big commitment of time and money. But since this farm just got up and running this year, they decided to offer a partial season from September through November. So it was only a 12 week commitment, thus significantly cheaper than a full season. So I did it...and it was GREAT.

I went with the half share, which turned out to be just the right amount each week. A typical box from early September might have been 3 summer squahses, 2 green peppers, 4 jalepeno peppers, 2 large tomatoes, one small head of lettuce, one bunch of swiss chard, one bunch of herbs, a few small potatoes, a bag of green beans, and maybe some other little things too.

By the late fall there was a lot of butternut squash, carrots, beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and dark greens (so much damn kale!) I found myself cooking a lot of different things that I would never buy at the store, because I had to use it all up. I learned that roasted beets are amazing, and that I don't much care for turnips or radishes (especially that evil daikon radish).

They had a little open house one Saturday afternoon at the farm. It's just outside Knoxville to the east side of town. They have about 30 acres total. For this first short season, one young woman did ALL of the work herself. Everything. She fed 50 people for three months. I think that's an admirable job.

The last CSA pickup was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. And now, two weeks later, I'm really missing it. The freshness of this produce was like nothing else I've ever had. I guess I got used to it, because after a weeks worth of Kroger produce again, it's just not the same. I was wavering on whether or not to make the investment for their full season next year, but the last week or so has completely made the decision for me. I can't wait until it starts again in April.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall Saturday

Yesterday was awesome. We had absolutely nothing to do. So I decided it was time to stop mourning the passing of another summer and embrace the fall. Pretty much the best way to do this is to cook things that contain pumpkin, cinnamon and/or apples. So I did.

Seamus, don't you dare.

These pumpkin muffins were really good. I made them as soon as I woke up...somewhere around 10:30. You really can't beat that. Then with the rest of the can of pumpkin, I made this pumpkin apple butter recipe, courtesy of Nicole. It's pretty delicious, I was impressed with the texture, and how easy it is to make. Next time I think I might add more pumpkin than apple, since it basically just tastes like good apple butter. I used a honeycrisp apple because Kroger manipulates my eating habits by putting things on sale.

I also thought that this might be a good day to drag out this old bread board that used to be my grandmother's. It's a big flat wooden board that kind of latches onto the countertop so it doesn't slide around. I discovered that the back edge of it has our last name scratched into it, but uh, spelled wrong. Missing the "k":

So I didn't really feel like making bread, per se. Too much waiting and not enough instant gratification. So I decided to try my hand at some scratch made noodles. I guess you could say pasta, or spaghetti, but they didn't really resemble any kind of actual pasta, so let's call them noodles. I used this method.

Now there isn't anything particularly autumnal about this dinner. But c'mon, I made my own noodles, that's impressive, right?

Please excuse the ugly dishes. I've been eating off of these for close to 20 years and I'm not buying new ones until they all break.

The noodles came out a little rubbery. I'm thinking that this could have been caused by either 1.) overworking the dough, or 2.) overcooking them in the water. I have absolutely no way of telling, and nothing else to compare it to. So maybe I'll try it again sometime and do something differently. Or maybe I'll get the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment and they won't look like rubber worms next time. Either way, it was a delicious fall Saturday.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Finest Bacon Money Can Buy

It's time for the world to know about Benton's. Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams. Benton's bacon. It's an authentic delicacy. It's only made in East Tennessee. It'll change your life.

This little hole in the wall on highway 455 near Madisonville, TN is a real deal smokehouse. It's every pig's nightmare. They smoke and cure country hams and their bacon is really something else. It's like no bacon I've ever had before. Think about that expensive thick cut applewood smoked bacon you can get at Whole Foods or Fresh Market, but ten times better. It's really meaty, and the hickory smoke is amazing. This stuff smells delicious before you even start cooking it. Open up the white butcher paper and the whole kitchen already smells good.

Foodies and chefs are obsessed with it. They ship bacon all over the country. But not many make it to their actual store. It's staffed by a crew of Tennessee good ol' boys who will answer any question with a smile.'s cheap. It's really a great deal. We got 2 lb of fresh cut slab bacon for less than $8. (They'll ship 4 lb of it for $21.) Yet another perk of living in Knoxville.

We finished out the order with 3 huge, beautiful NY Strip steaks, one of which he gave to us for free for some reason. Plus a little packet of Benton's prosciutto. "What? Rednecks in the holler making prosciutto? How do they even know what that is? Only Italians can make prosciutto." Don't underestimate a man who smokes pork for a living. It's effin' delicious.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tomato City

Garden update: stuff grows. I've gotten at least three pints of cherry tomatoes already, and I'm about to go out and pick another bowl full of 'em. The first two big tomatoes are starting to turn now, and there are about a dozen more green ones. Bell peppers are growing, even though the plants never got very big. Not the poor little eggplant though...he never made it.

The neighbor just brought over 4 massive English cucumbers from his yard. Now I need to go figure out what to do with those. Tzatziki anyone?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Homespun Neighborhood Fireworks

I didn't realize until yesterday that Tennessee is the first state I've ever lived in where fireworks are completely legal. It's a new concept- you can buy colorful novelties filled with gun powder and shoot them off on the city streets. The kids squeal, the drunk rednecks sometimes burn and blind themselves, and the rest of us get a damn good display. It's 100 times better than going somewhere crowded and waiting in the hot sun for six hours before it gets dark for a 15 minute show. (Ever been to the DC mall on Independence Day?)

We were lucky enough to have our two immediate neighbors spend about $200 on the best stuff they could find. One even had the Pyromaniacs Discount Card from the Fireworks Supermarket. I'd say it was worth every penny of someone else's money. Enjoy these blurry, yet fascinating pictures, all taken from our front stoop.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hot Springs, NC

Three day weekend, how about that! We took this one to Hot Springs, NC. I found this crazy treehouse village campground on the dang ol' interweb called Creek Ridge Camping and thought we'd give it a try. I heard some people at work talking about Hot Springs and it's claim to fame, some springs. Most people go there, stay in a cabin, and take a soak in these hot tubs that you rent by the hour and they fill up for each party with actual hot mountain spring water. But you know how we like pretending we're homeless on the weekends and "roughing it"? Well, I just had to choose the most rugged organized campground in the area, and go there instead. So let's preface this by saying that I think the next time we go to Hot Springs we're renting a cabin and relaxing in hot tubs. But I'll have to report on that later.

The basic deal with this crazy place is that that have a handful of really sweet campsites along this little creek down in a holler. You can't park your cars anywhere close to your site, so you hike in from the cabin at the top of the mountain and the guy who runs the place drives you gear down about 3/4 of the way on his little 4-wheeler. This would be awesome, except when the guy is gone for the whole afternoon and his hippie teenage nephew isn't allowed to drive the 4-wheeler. This resulted in more trips up and down that damn hill than I care to remember. Just in case you ever go here- pack like you're backpacking not car camping. Here's the trusty Cherokee at the top of the hill-

But the good news is that these little sites they have down by the creek are just lovely. Each one has a covered deck structure they call "peekas" or something made-up like that. Some of them are more treehouse-ey than others, and ours - "Birds Nest" - was kind of close to the ground. But cool nonetheless.

The sites were nicely separated and fairly private, which they ought to be for all the effort involved. There was a thick understory of fraser magnolia trees (according to the eastern forests book). And being right on the side of the creek, it was really pleasant to sleep to that sound. Nice rock fire ring, with which to burn all the firewood I had the teenage nephew carry down for us.

It was actually a good thing to have the covered deck at the site, because it rained for a good part of the weekend. Seamus hid behind the tent. He's our lil' dumbass.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Little Spring Garden

Well it's been a long, mild Knoxville winter, but in between thunderstorms the sun's out and things are looking up. For the past 8 spring seasons, I've lived in apartments with no sunlight, balconies, or backyards. This is the first chance I've had to plant anything close to a garden. There was a lot of talk all winter about tilling a huge plot in the back yard and growing rows of vegetables. Not so much action on that front, though. The yard's not flat, we rent this house, and it just wasn't really worth all that effort this year- particularly since I'm not even totally sure how to grow vegetables anyway.

So my 2009 container garden was born:

Now there are certain things that you can't really grow in a little pot, that I would have wanted to plant, but they're going to need to wait until next year (namely squashes and corn). I ventured down to the enormous Stanley's garden center in south Knoxville, and picked out some plants: yellow bell peppers, "sweet olive" grape tomatoes, "big rainbow" heirloom tomatoes, skinny eggplant, sweet basil, purple basil, sage, and chives. I rounded out the party with a big honkin' dill plant from a dude in a truck at the farmer's market this morning.

I'm pretty sure that the full size tomatoes aren't in big enough containers to really grow to their full potential. I'll be surprised if they take off. But the herbs are looking really great. The purple basil is the scene stealer. It's doubled in size in the first two weeks.

I have high hopes for the little eggplant though. And the grape tomatoes have taken off like crazy in two weeks. All the rain has helped I'm sure. Also, I think shoving three plants in one planter might have been overdoing it. But I have a feeling that it'll be a huge bush soon, and in a few weeks start shooting out more tiny tomatoes than I know what to do with.

I promise to take more pictures, especially when delicious food starts growing on my back stoop. Happy spring.