Saturday, August 9, 2008

Yup, I Grow My Own

My fellow gardening fiend Finny has posted a mission, for those who should choose to accept it: Make something (something edible) from an item you grow yourself, post about it, and then she'll do a whole "Grow Your Own" roundup later. Well, I saw that, and I said, "Count me in, Finny." (What I actually said was "I'm SO in like Flynn on this one." Because I'm clever.)

I could do one of these posts every single day, because, as you all know, I grow my own. My own everything, basically. The garden, she is a little large. What I meant to make last night, after accepting Finny's mission, was garlic soup. But then I had a couple of G&Ts (we discussed this weakness of mine yesterday), and I saw the tomatoes on the counter and the leftover (multi-grain! healthy!) pasta in the fridge, and plans changed. This is what I ended up making.

Not garlic soup.

Please forgive the fact that this is not so much a recipe as a stream of consciousness. And you will now see why I do not write a food blog.

Okay, first off. Garlic from the garden. Two cloves, minced (without touching it with my fingers, because have I ever told you of my skin's freakish ability to retain garlic odors for days? gross), thrown into some hot olive oil (not from the garden). Then, a lone shallot from the garden that was hanging out in the garlic bowl by the stove. Mince it and chuck it in. Saute. Or fry. Or whatever it is you do with garlic. But don't do what I did, which was turn the heat to high to get the oil hot because I'm impatient, which causes the shallot and garlic to brown, which the Food Network people hate and will tell you imparts a bitter flavor. Whatever. Until Mario Battali is standing in my kitchen, I'm not going to worry about it.


Next up, tomatoes. I used about six small ones, some Romas, some Raad Reds. From the garden. I didn't peel them, because I'm lazy and hate to peel tomatoes, but I did de-seed them. Mostly. Then a rough chop and into the pan. Next I threw in some chopped collard greens from the garden, about three large leaves. And a little chopped basil (from the garden--but I bet you already guessed that). Maybe a teaspoon. Maybe not, because I didn't measure. Simmer until the collards are wilted and some of the liquid is evaporated.

For seasonings, I used some chile-infused vinegary oil a friend of mine had made and given me awhile ago (thanks, Alyssa!), because I vaguely recalled various pasta sauce recipes calling for a little hot pepper. And also, I thought the vinegar would be good because homegrown tomatoes tend to be a lot sweeter than canned tomatoes from the store. A real foodie-type person would tell you that the vinegar "adds a nice bright note and a balance to the sweet tomatoes" or some shit, so insert your own Food Network jive here. I'll just say that I had it, so I used it. Then some salt (not too much, because of the Parmesan--spoiler alert!) and ground black pepper. Then a little grated Parmesan. Then some more. And some more. Until it tastes good.

As a side dish, we had a creamy cucumber salad. Cucumbers from the garden, dill from the garden, mulberry-infused vinegar from the mulberry tree. Plus onion, sour cream, and sugar. This is a stand-by recipe from the "Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook." My very first cookbook, by the way.

That adds up to . . . let's see . . . a total of 8 items from my garden that ended up in my dinner.

So do I grow my own? HELL YEAH!

Friday, August 8, 2008


Do you see how I cleverly spelled out the bad word so the kiddies wouldn't know what we're talking about? I'm sly that way.

It's Friday! And what better day to talk about spirituous beverages? We believe in hard liquor here at Blackrock. We have a good collection of various types of liquors, sure to satisfy any taste. Except tastes that run to vodka. We don't drink vodka.

But anything else, we got you covered. Gin? You have come to Gin Central, my friend. Rum? Yes, light and dark. Bourbon? Have a seat with Old Granddad there. Campari? Nasty, but yes, we have it. Whiskey? Your choice of four different varieties. Sherry, Cointreau, creme de cacao, applejack, tequila? Check, check, check, check, and check. We got it all.

Now, with this vast and impressive collection of liquor, you'd think we'd have a full-on bar. Like the one my mom's parents in New Orleans had at their house. It was a four foot by six foot piece of furniture that housed all the libations one could hope for. It was cool.

But we don't have a bar like that. Nor do we have a proper liquor cabinet. We have a cabinet, but it is woefully inadequate to contain our wealth of bottles.

The liquor? AWESOME. The cabinet? LAME.

Clearly, this cabinet is not doing the job. So we have an addition to the liquor cabinet. An annex, if you will.

Now that's class.

Yes, we store our extra bottles in a box. And when the box gets full, on the kitchen floor. Next to the dog toys. Awesome.

My father, who is an amateur carpenter extraordinaire, is at this very moment working on remedying this pathetic situation. He's building us a wine rack/liquor cabinet. But in the meantime, I will have to pick my gin up off the floor. That will not, however, stop me from enjoying many of these.

The Nectar of the Gods

And if you don't put bitters in your gin and tonic, get thee to the store, buy some Angostura bitters, and shake in several drops. It will change your life. And also, make your G&T a very pretty pink. Also also, do not give me any shit for using diet tonic water. I get enough of that from A. and the MiL, who obviously wish me to weigh 300 pounds.

Now before you start your weekend, tell me: What's your favorite alcoholic drink? I don't want to feel like a lush all by myself here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Barn

There used to be an amazing complex of barns on this property--dairy barns, cow barns, pig barns, chicken barns . . . But they've all burned or been torn down over the years. A. pulled down the last half-burned barn a few years ago. But what's a farm without a barn? So he built one.

Note the corn plants to the left growing as high as the barn roof. Freaks.

It's not huge, but I still think it's impressive that he built a barn basically by himself. There was some grudging and inept assistance by me, but it was mostly his show. He built it for his sheep. It sits on what used to be part of the garden, and it serves as the winter quarters for the flock, and also the lambing barn. It's not weather-proof by any means, but it keeps out the rain and snow and most of the wind, which is all our cold-hearty breeds need.

I believe the Baby Jesus would have been quite comfortable here.

The only materials he bought to construct this were some nails and the metal roofing. And the roofing was torn off a friend's barn, so it didn't cost much. We need to work on the siding a little, but this is basically a very solid, sound structure, built entirely by A. with hand tools. No plans to follow, no power saws or nail guns, no help (except me, and I don't really count)--just him, his hammer, and a whole lot of hard work.

Are you inspired yet? It's like Chicken Soup for the Junk Farmer's Soul.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Sad Development

I am sorry to announce that there will be no baby chicks. Sniff. The hatchery just called to tell me that the chicks just didn't hatch. We had ordered a special, sort of rare breed that was on backorder or simply sold out everywhere, so there's no way we'll be able to find more before it gets too cold. This means no chickens until spring. And the coop will stand empty and silent all winter long . . .

Can you hear the ghostly cheeps of the chicks that might have been?

I know this is a crushing blow for many of you (read: Jive Turkey), and I am sorry you will have to bear this disappointment. Does this make you feel better?

Mia is sorry she is not tiny and covered in yellow fluff.

Now, this. This makes me feel better.

A new tractor compensates for many disappointments in life.

But we always come back to the cold, hard truth in the end: there will be no photos of fluffy chicks on this site. At least until May. Boo.


If I had any sense of nostalgia or affection for dead machinery, I would have entitled this post, "R.I.P. Grasshole." But I don't. So I didn't.

Instead, I am pleased and proud to announce that Grasshole has been retired, soon to be delivered to that Great Junkyard Around the Lake, and replaced by a new lawn tractor. Thank God and all her angels.

Here is the story of Grasshole's demise.

The day before we left for our exotic vacation, I hopped onto Grasshole (yes, Jive Turkey, you will be pleased to know that your name stuck and we have actually been referring to the tractor this way) to mow the front lawn, thinking I'd better get it done before we left so we wouldn't come back to find a grassland inhabited by birds and small mammals. I turned Grasshole on, started the mower . . . and it died. AND, there was a clearly visible wire sizzling and smoking. Not good.

So when A. got home from work with Big Red, we loaded up Grasshole and delivered him to the repair place, to be fixed while we were gone.

Fast-forward a week, we actually drove to the repair shop the day we got back, punchy and sleep-deprived as we were, to collect Grasshole from the doctor's. Where we were assured all problems were fixed. The next day, I did in fact manage to mow all the lawns that desperately needed it.

Sunday, A. drove Grasshole to the lakeshore with the gas can to start the lake pump. And then Grasshole wouldn't start again. So A. brought the battery up to the shop to be recharged overnight.

Also on Sunday, we moved the rams from the paddock near the house to a pasture nearer the ewes. I decided the paddock really needed mowing, since those picky sheep don't just graze everything down, but pick and choose, leaving big hillocks of grass that look like crap.

The next night after work (Monday, if you're having a hard time keeping track), A. put the battery back in, Grasshole started right up, and I jumped on while it was running to mow the paddock. Then I got stuck on an incline and the engine turned off. Sonofabitch. We couldn't get it started again, and flooded the engine trying. So we left it alone another night to stop sulking.

Yesterday morning, A. started it unexpectedly before he went to work. I was still in my pajamas, but I knew that once it got going, I'd better get on the thing and mow or it would never start again. So I jumped on it in sandals and my pajamas, got about 10 feet, and it not only threw the belt (again) but threw the entire drive shaft. A. declared it dead. And instead of making the sign of the cross and wishing Grasshole Godspeed, I cheered.

A. went to the farm store after work yesterday and bought a new lawn tractor. A NEW new one this time, not a new-to-us used one. It has a larger mower deck, a more powerful engine, and is all around better than Grasshole.

As soon as we'd had dinner, I got on the new mower, in a skirt and sandals no less, to finally finish the half-mowed paddock. The new tractor started right up and I began the mowing. And I had an epiphany:

Grasshole was a serious piece of shit.

The new mower wasn't struggling to cut the grass, wasn't getting stuck all the time, and didn't feel like it was in imminent danger of tipping over, thereby throwing me to the ground where I would be pinned and probably get my head chopped off by the mower blades. No, the new mower has none of these problems. I was in paroxysms of joy.

Then I ran out of gas. This is, indeed, the story of my damn life. So the paddock is still not finished, but at least I know that today, when I finally get my ass out of the house and to the gas station to fill the gas can, I will be able to mow without a breakdown. And there are few things in life (in MY life, anyway) better than that.

And just to make this post A LITTLE LONGER, I present to you my niece. She's the cute one in this photo. A. looked at this picture and the first thing he said was not "Oh, look how cute the baby is," but "Do I really look that wide in real life?" He's pretty brawny, but no, he does not look quite this wide in real life.

This may be the only photo you will ever see of us dressed like normal people and not covered in sheep shit or cistern filth.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


My new, cheapo digital camera has arrived! It's not as good as the one I killed, but it does have the advantage of actually working. However, the ability to take photos of whatever I want has rendered me paralyzed with indecision. Should I show you my tomatoes?

Can you hear the siren song of the tomatoes? "Eat me!" they whisper. Hee.

Or perhaps the freakish Giant Corn Forest?

I believe the Children of the Corn emerge from this thicket at night.

Or maybe a gratuitous dog shot would be appropriate.

Mia is ashamed to show her scarred face next to the unbelievable adorableness of Leda the Fluffball.

The decision is too much for me. Lemme sleep on it, and check back tomorrow for more fun photos.


I must make a confession: I hate reading "classic" literature. I find most classics incredibly boring and tedious (apologies to the MiL, who is an English professor at a very good university and reads this stuff for fun--I'm a great disappointment as a daughter-in-law). The real irony here is that I was an English major. A. calls me the worst-read English major in the world, and it is possible he's right. I took this one class in college that required us to read a novel a week. I didn't finish a single one, and yet I still managed to get an A in the class. I think that speaks more to the low standards at that school and my ability to bullshit than to my great intelligence.

But despite my unwillingness to read Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" to the bitter end, I do still read every single day. And what do I read? Mostly the same things over and over again, because I'm boring. Some people can't stand to read books more than once, but I find it comforting. I know what's going to happen, I can skip over the stuff I don't want to read and not lose the plot, and I can put my brain on auto-pilot. Sort of like watching t.v., except without the horrifying possibility of encountering graphic images of a crime scene or Flavor Flav.

Here are some of my go-to favorite books, many from my childhood:

1) All of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. I have already alluded to my fondness for these books, but perhaps you didn't realize that I re-read all of them probably once a year. I know that makes me sound juvenile and lame. What's your point?

2) The President's Daughter trilogy by Ellen Emerson White. These are fantastic books for teenagers. They were written in the 80s and are about the daughter of the first female president. They're very well-written and funny, despite being dramas, more or less. Plus, I've always been fascinated with the White House, and it's just cool to read about a woman being president. Especially considering the book was written pre-Hillary Clinton, when the possibility of a female president was still a far-off dream.

3) Anything by Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters (except the Amelia Peabody series). Same woman, two different pen names for the two genres she writes. She's very funny, very witty, and very educated. She writes these hilarious tongue-in-cheek modern Gothic thrillers. She's probably my favorite author ever. And at least she doesn't write children's books, so I can pretend that I'm a grown-up.

4) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Awesome. And hey! This one is a real, actual classic! So I'm not a complete English-major reject! But once again, it is a book for children. Are we sensing a theme here? I apparently suffer from literary arrested development.

5) Alas, Babylon. This book was written at the height of the Cold War. It's a novel about the possible scenario had the U.S. been hit with multiple nuclear bombs. It's a great book about survival. But not as abjectly depressing as many "when the end comes--dum dum DUUUUUM" books, which is important because I'm mostly into escapism, not reality.

There are others of course, but I won't bore you further. Plus, I want to know what your top picks might be. What do you read over and over again?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Are You a Follower?

You know those people who can go into the kitchen, rummage around in their cabinets and fridge for five minutes, and then spontaneously create a meal from found ingredients that is not only edible, but actually inspires praise?

I am not one of those people.

I like recipes. I almost always cook from a recipe. Or at least, I consult recipes before I begin cooking so I have some idea of what I'm doing. This is not to say that I follow recipes blindly and slavishly--there's often a lot of substituting. Not honey-for-soy-sauce kind of substituting, but relatively like ingredients substituting. It goes something like this in my head:

"Hmm, we have a lot of sausage. And I really need to start using the collard greens in the garden. Sounds to me like a pasta sauce. Of some kind. But do I add onions, or just garlic? Do I need to add some kind of creamy thing as a binder? Do I have to cook the sausage first, then take it out of the pan and cook the greens? CAN I OBSESS ANY MORE OVER A STUPID MEAL?"

Yes, it turns out I can. I have this fantastic cookbook I got from the library that has hundreds of recipes for using garden vegetables. I think it's called "Serving Up the Harvest," but I'm too lazy to go downstairs and look. ANYWAY, I thought I remembered some kind of pasta sauce in there with sausage and greens. Once I have the recipe, it goes something like this in my kitchen:

So, I have this recipe that tells me to first cook the sausage in olive oil. Check. Then add three cloves garlic and 1.5 pounds chopped Swiss chard. I like garlic, so that becomes four cloves, the Swiss chard becomes collard greens, and who honestly weighs shit for a recipe? I have no idea how many pounds of greens were in there. I'm such a rebel. But wait! I have leftover beet greens in the fridge. They might make the sauce disturbingly pink, but those Food Network prisses are always yapping about color on the plate, right? Then the recipe called for tomatoes and chicken broth. Well, guess who has tomatoes in the garden now! One and a half cups? How much is that? Screw it, I'll just toss in all the Roma tomatoes I've harvested so far. Chicken broth? No, do not have. So let's just put in some water. Oh wait! There's white wine in the fridge! That'll work, right? A glug or two of that down my throat, and then into the sauce. The recipe gives an actual measured amount for black pepper? Who does that? I'll just grind until I don't want to anymore. Then add salt.

And there it is! A meal that follows the spirit of the recipe if not the actual recipe.*

Despite all my deviations though, I still always want to have something to consult. It makes me feel safe. Also, if it all goes horribly wrong, I have someone else to blame it on.

So tell me: are you a recipe follower, or a fearless inventor in the kitchen?

* In case you were wondering, it turned out really well. But that might have had more to do with the sausage than with my awesome kitchen skillz. Sausage makes everything better.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Camera Sure Would Be Nice . . .

If I wasn't such a complete dumbass sometimes, I would have a camera. And if I had a camera, I could have shown you the following things:

-The corn, which is 12 feet high. I'm not exaggerating even the slightest bit, either. It's mutant.

-The BAAAAAAT, squatting on my kitchen floor. That's assuming I was brave enough to stand there a second longer than necessary to photograph the little bastard. Unlikely.

-The table filled to overflowing with garlic harvested from the garden. This will come in handy to repel the vampire BAAAATS. If only that actually worked, I would make a necklace of garlic bulbs and wear it to bed every night.

-The absolutely perfect loaf of bread the MiL made with some of the whey from her mozzarella-cheese-making endeavor. Seriously, it looked like the sort of thing that would be photographed for a cookbook cover. Except we've already eaten half of it, so it's not so photogenic anymore.

-The enormous size of the ram lambs. They're rapidly approaching their date with destiny in the form of our freezer.

-My tomatoes, because I'm a nerd and can't get over my excitement about having fresh tomatoes to eat again. Gimme a month though, and I won't be so excited anymore. How quickly I become jaded . . .

I will remedy my camera-less situation before the end of the week though. Why the end of the week? Because the chicks are shipping on Wednesday, and if that isn't a camera-worthy event, then I don't know what is.

Just remember--don't get attached. Repeat after me: "Fried chicken on legs."