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.
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.
Since my fall garden is finally coming in beautifully:
Hard Boiled Egg
A sprinkle of ground flax seeds
My Favorite Dressing:
1 clove pressed garlic
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/3 c. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Make in a small glass jar, cover with lid, shake vigorously, drizzle salad with dressing and serve.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
P.S. Janice suggests the Eglu to get started.
Sunday morning in the garden and seeds are starting to sprout.