Hustle and Bustle

It’s been pretty quiet – on the blog front at least.  I haven’t updated you in a couple of weeks, but trust me when I say it’s not because there hasn’t been anything going on.  It seems like I’ve been running hither, thither, and yon (as my mother says) for the past month.  I have a wonderful pinterest project to share with you, and a couple of recipes that you simply must hear about, as well as some other odds and ends to share, but in the meantime I’ll tease you with some photos of my various goings-on of the past few weeks.

 

There was some more of this:

Lots of this:

And all kinds of this:

 

In a nutshell: motorcycles, dogs chasing things, and lots of plants popping up all over my yard.  More later!

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Out and About – Bremen, Ga

I recently visited a new Farmer’s Market in my area: the Sewell Mill Community and Farmer’s Market in Bremen, Ga.  There were several interesting vendors, and I enjoyed looking around, but honestly, I was much more interested in the old part of downtown Bremen where the market was located.  I love small towns – they just have so much character, and often the oldest structures are the ones that catch my eye.  

I often catch myself saying how glad I am that we live so close to Atlanta so that I can get to town for shopping and entertainment, and sometimes I forget how many lovely things there are just down the road.  The Farmer’s Market communities are so friendly and, especially this time of year, there is so much color and liveliness there.  Enjoy the view!

 

Cotton Mill Farmer’s Market

 

Hooray for Farmer’s Markets!  Last year my parents joined the Cotton Mill Farmer’s Market in Carrollton, Ga as a way to get their products out to more people, and I must say that I love going out to say hello so I can browse all the lovely (local!) produce.  It’s not a huge Market, but all the major food groups are represented: meats, dairy, fruits and veggies, and greens.  There are some great people involved who really love their crafts, and it makes for a fun shopping experience when the farmer is clearly dying to tell you all about their products and methods.  Buying local isn’t something that’s for everyone – sometimes it’s just not practical.  The prices are higher than most conventional grocery stores; most Markets are open only one or two days a week, limiting your ability to get groceries at the drop of a hat; selection is limited to what’s in season, and there aren’t many exotic items (tahini in Georgia? I think not). But there are many advantages, chief of which is that the quality of the products is generally much higher.  Because the produce isn’t being hauled from the other side of the continent, it’s usually perfectly ripe and ready to eat – and usually naturally grown or organic.  Also, buying from local farmers and artisans is a great way to put money back into your community.  I’ll be honest here – I buy the majority of my groceries from Publix, but during the spring and summer I try to get as much of my produce as I can from the local producers.  I like knowing that my food was grown less than an hour from where I live, and I like that it’s been grown by folks who have a love for farming.  Because more people are becoming concerned about the quality of the food we eat, more and more Farmer’s Markets are popping up in cities and towns all across the country, and if you’ve never been to one, I encourage you to check one out.  If nothing else, you’ll probably find a friendly farmer ready to talk your ear off about something.

Spring Photo Goodness

I know, I know, another post of “Springtime” photos… Can it get any more cliche, right?  Well, the thing is, spring is inspiring.  After months of grays and browns, bare tree limbs, and barren lawns, we are finally getting some color back into our lives.  Flowers are blooming, pollen is flying, and our grass is about to need a trim.  And really, it’s lovely.  Lovely, I tell you.  So just suck it up and enjoy the sight of leaves unfurling and blooms happily waving on heavily laden branches that is the annual sign of new life and warmer days that we call: Spring.

 

 

Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

I made this with one of my few remaining Meyer Lemons, and I must confess that I was a little worried that the recipe wouldn’t be appropriately wonderful for my rare and precious lemons.   I’ve been dying to cook with them, but I have this irrational fear of using them in a less than spectacular way – you know, of making something just average and wasting them.  It’s silly I know, but I’ll only have them for these few months and I don’t want to waste them on something mediocre.  So.  I hunted around forever before settling on the recipe that I used, and even then I adapted it quite liberally to suit my high expectations.  And readers, it was totally worth it.  This simple little loaf is the very essence of Meyer Lemons.  It’s sweet, tart, and as you pull it out of the oven you will be greeted by the most divine scent: slightly pine-y, citrus-y, and totally delicious.  You won’t want to wait for it to cool so you can smear the slightest bit of salted butter on and enjoy it curled up on your favorite comfy chair.  It’s a typical quick bread type recipe that comes together in no time flat, and then you just have to wait impatiently for it come out of the oven.

Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Bread            

Adapted from AmyBites

A few notes:  I added extra lemon zest, juice, and poppy seeds.  I really wanted a pronounced lemon flavor and I love the little crunch of the seeds, and I got what I felt was a well-balanced loaf.  Keep in mind that I used Meyer lemons though, and they have a less pronounced flavor and aren’t as tart as regular lemons, so you may want to adjust if you can’t find them.  Also, milk would be fine in the place of the heavy cream if you want to lighten it up.                                                                                              

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup sugar

2 tablespoons lemon zest

½ cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter a loaf pan.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using electric mixer, cream unsalted butter, sugar and lemon zest on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla bean paste. Mix in dry ingredients alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in lemon juice and poppy seeds.

Pour batter into pan and bake in center of oven until a tester inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 65-70 minutes. Let loaf cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out onto rack. Cool completely.

Spring has Sprung!

I’ve been so busy running back and forth from my greenhouse to watch this happening:

That I totally missed this on the other side of my yard:

We’ve had 5 consecutive days of 70º weather, I’ve had my windows open since Thursday of last week, birds are singing, seeds are sprouting, and I bought a pair of sandals today…I think it’s safe to say that Spring has finally decided to grace us with it’s presence.  So far I’ve got radishes and brussels sprouts peeking out, and also some arugula that came from my first ever seed swap.  We’ll be tied up this weekend, and the next as well, but my garden should be officially in the ground by April 20.  I was a little worried that was going to be too late, but a coworker who is a Georgia Master Gardener told me that traditionally in Georgia gardens are started on tax day, so I’m not too far off.

Happy Spring Everybody!

 

 

Seedlings

 

And that, my friends, is how you start seeds.  I’m super duper excited about this since this is my first time starting my own plants.  It was very easy, and seems to be working well – I planted these on Wednesday and I already have sprouts.  The boxes I’m using are by Jiffy – I got them at Home Depot for a very good price, and I would definitely recommend them.  After planting my seeds I left them overnight with the lids on, per the instructions, and when I went back the next day to check on them, they were nice and steamy under the lid.  I know they’re staying warm at night, and not drying out, although I expect I’ll have to add water in a day or two.  I got two sizes – several with the smaller pellets like you see above, and then two that had larger pellets for my tomatoes.   It took mine 30-45 minutes to absorb all the water and fluff up completely, so be prepared for a little wait if you use these, but I quite like them and will probably buy the pellet refills and continue using them.

I’m having Easter house guests this weekend, so I’ll be cooking something wonderful (I hope!) and visiting with my family.  I hope all of you have a wonderful Easter, as well, and a beautiful weekend!

Fabric Shopping and Local Flavor

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I know I told you all weeks and weeks ago about my new sewing machine and how I had visions of textiles dancing in my head, and you’ll just have to take my work for it that I actually did make something wonderful (two somethings! Eeeek!) a full two weeks ago.  I made an Envelope Cushion Cover that I found here, and another project that I will refrain from mentioning until the intended recipients receive their surprises in the mail.  It was so much fun!  It was one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever had to hold my finished projects and know that not an hour previously they were just piles of fabric (much like when I did this and got so excited).  It was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some more complicated projects.  I’m really keen to try out a dress, like this, or a quilt, like this.  I’m going to keep practicing with cushions and, ahem, other things, until I feel really comfortable with my machine, but after that, it’s anything goes!

I actually made my first fabric purchase from Joann’s, because I have one only about 10 minutes down the road, and it was very convenient.  But I actually had another place in mind that I wanted to check out for textiles called The Fabric Peddler.  I spent several of my college years in Carrollton, Ga, and it’s a pretty cool little town – a typical old southern town in that it’s got a great town square surrounded by all these cool old homes and buildings.  The one I had in mind is a former railroad depot that has been turned into a combination antique and fabric store.  The Fabric Peddler has been there for years, but I think the Feathers & Twigs is a fairly new addition, and I really had fun looking around. The fabric selection is pretty good, and I found two things on the “$3/yd” table that I’m looking forward to using.  I’ll tell you more about those another time, because, honestly, I had the most fun browsing the antiques.

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I’m usaully skeptical when I see an “Antique” store, because most of the ones I wander into end up being just yard sale junk.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good yard sale, but I don’t think your IKEA coffee table that has seen better days qualifies as an “antique”.  This place was a typical consignment style antique format (one big space seperated into small areas for each seller’s items) but there was some great stuff here.  Things that were clearly aged, but of good quality, and lots of solid wood furnishings.  There was a good range of newer “lightly used” items likes those rolling pins, and some actual antiques, like the colander.  Everything was arranged beautifully, and there was plenty of room to move around.  All in all, a great little shop that I’ll be visiting again.  Hopefully soon since I found a chifferobe that I absolutely love, and if I can convince Jacob, I’ll be moving it into my bedroom next weekend…

After my browse through the store, I was heading out of town and so enjoying the beautiful weather (74° out on Saturday!  Lovely!) that I just had to stop and walk around the old part of town for a minute.  I took a few photos that I had to share some with you.  It’s hard to explain what is about places like this that I love so much, but they’re just so full of character and charm…and some other quality that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Whatever it is, I love old neighborhoods like this, and I could happily wander around for hours enjoying the view.

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I hope all of you had equally lovely weekends, and a great St. Paddy’s day!

Book Themed Baby Shower

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I’ve been dying to tell you all about this, because, quite frankly, it was awesome.  This is the third shower I’ve hosted with this group of ladies, and we are a great team.  We’ve sorted out our particular talents so that each of us is doing something we’re good at, and also that we enjoy…it really makes for one heck of a shower when you have such amazing co-hosts. The book theme was really fun and easy to work with, and we were able to coordinate all the food, games, and decor with no trouble at all.  My co-host with the Cricut (such an amazing device!  I want one!) made the banner above, as well as the tissue paper Hungry Hungry Caterpillar, and the clothesline for the  gifts was her idea as well.  Another friend (the adorable young man below belongs to her) came up with some children’s book trivia games for us (I didn’t win.  I was actually sad about that, but then, I don’t read a lot of children’s books these days…), and our fourth co-host made us some lovely invitations, of which I have no photo…but they were made to coordinate with our banner (above) and you can rest assured, they were adorable.  Your truly was responsible for the food, and I can’t even tell you how much fun I had with it.  Everything I made was meant to go with one of the books and here’s the list:

Green Eggs and Ham – Spinach and Pancetta Quiche

Goodnight Moon – Homemade Moonpies

Give a Mouse a Cookie – assorted cookies, including Homemade Oreos, Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbreads, Sugar, and Chocolate Chip (not made by me, but I will be telling you about them, because they have a secret ingredient that is Killer)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Carrot Cupcakes

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – Baked Chicken Meatballs

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – fruit Kebabs

We also had Lemon-Berry Punch, which was a Martha Stewart recipe and came out quite well.  I’ve already share the meatball recipe with you, and I will be sharing the rest of them over the next week.  The carrot cupcake recipe came from (where else?) SmittenKitchen, and I’ll just direct you over to her site for the recipe.  As usual with Deb’s recipes, they turned out wonderfully – moist, tender, and tasty.  I did pipe wee carrots on top of them, and I was quite proud of how they looked, since I usually have no great gift for decorating.  Please do email, or comment, if you have any questions about any of our decor or the theme, etc.  We had so much fun being creative with it, but it took a few skype brainstorming sessions and quite a bit of time on Pinterest for us to put all of our ideas to solid plans and then to reality.  For now, enjoy some photos of the happy Mama-to-be, and be sure to check back in a day or two for the recipes!

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Ding Dong Eight Alarm Chili

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Let’s just start off with a disclaimer:  This is not eight-alarm chili.  At least not the way I made it.  In all fairness, it would have been had I been able to find anything I was shopping for at the grocery store last week.  Let me just say, Publix, that I’m really disappointed in you.  You’ve never let me down like this before.   But I’m over it, because it was still delicious.

I found this recipe on Epicurious a while back (like 2 years, actually).  It was originally published in Gourmet magazine back in 2003, and it’s supposed to be the famous chili from the Cosby show (I dunno.  I didn’t watch the Cosby show, but I hear the chili was like a big deal or something).  I just thought it looked like a pretty good recipe so I saved it, and when I had my little impromptu dinner party last weekend, it seemed like a good time to dig it out.  You can never go wrong with a (mostly) one pot meal that you make a day ahead for a dinner party.  It gives you plenty of time on the day of to do any last minute house-cleaning, dog de-hairing (that’s the technical term for the removal of dog hair from miscellaneous surfaces and/or seating areas), or decorating.   I’ll admit it.  I did all three of those things.

Back to the chili.  Please, please, please don’t buy packaged stew meat for this.  They just like to trim off any random leftover bits from whatever they’ve been working with in the meat department and you never know what you’re getting in there.  Buy a shoulder or a chuck roast and cut it yourself.  It only takes a few extra minutes, and you can be sure of the cut of meat you’re getting.  Also, since you’re cutting it yourself, you can make sure that your pieces are all similar size for even cooking.  Once you’ve done that, you brown your meat – get a good sear since that is where all the flavor comes from.  Set your meat aside and throw some onions and garlic in there, then some spices, then your sauce (we’ll talk about the sauce in a moment), and that’s it.  You cook it down for a while, let it cool, and stick it in the fridge.  Let it sit around for a day or two, then heat it back up and voila’,  chili.  Yummy goodness chili.

Now the reason mine didn’t turn out super spicy is because I couldn’t find the right sorts of peppers.  All my Publix had was jalapenos and “long hot peppers”.  I’m not sure what a long hot pepper was supposed to be, but I tasted it and I’m pretty sure it was just a funny shaped bell pepper.   I wasn’t going to inflict habaneros on dinner guests, so I just used the jalapenos and then added some extra chili powder and aleppo pepper.  It was faintly spicy, but not robustly so, so if you like a good scorching chili, you need to make sure you get peppers with some heat.  Also: the sauce.  When you puree your peppers, etc, the recipe has you add a half cup of cilantro.  When I took the top off my food processor I was immediately hit with the smell of cilantro.  Jacob actually said that I had ruined the chili, because the smell was so strong, and I was a little worried myself that it would be overpowering, but don’t fear.  Add the cilantro!  Once you cook it for a couple of hours, it disappears into the background, leaving just a slight herbal note that you really need to balance out the other heavy flavors.

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This made a great chili that wasn’t overly difficult to make, and turned out to be a good, hearty, warming meal.  If only I had winter weather deserving of such a dish…alas, you can’t have everything.

Oh! Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope yours is going splendidly!

Ding Doing Eight Alarm Chili

2 oz dried ancho chiles (4 large), stemmed and seeded*

6 large garlic cloves, 3 of them finely chopped

1 tablespoon salt, or to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder (not pure chile)

4 lb well-marbled beef brisket or boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice

1/4 cup canned chipotle chiles in adobo

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1 1/2 lb white onions, chopped (4 cups)

1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled

1 to 4 fresh serrano or other small green chiles, finely chopped, including seeds (1 is fine for most tastes; 4 is the eight-alarm version)

1 (12-oz) bottle beer (not dark)

2 cups water

2 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (optional; 30 oz), rinsed if canned

Soak ancho chiles in hot water to cover until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain well.

While chiles soak, mince 1 whole garlic clove and mash to a paste with 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon cumin, and 1/2 tablespoon chili powder. Pat beef dry and toss with spice mixture in a large bowl until coated.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide 6- to 7-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef in 3 or 4 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch (lower heat as needed; spice mixture burns easily). Transfer beef as browned to another bowl. (Do not clean pot.)

Purée anchos in a blender along with tomatoes (including juice), chipotles in adobo, cilantro, remaining 2 whole garlic cloves, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon salt until smooth.  Add enough oil to fat in pot to total 3 tablespoons, then cook onions and chopped garlic over moderate heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits from beef, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add oregano, remaining tablespoon cumin, and remaining tablespoon chili powder and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add chile purée and 1 chopped serrano and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes.

Stir in beer, water, and beef along with any juices accumulated in bowl and gently simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and checking often to make sure chili is not scorching, 2 hours.

Taste sauce, then add more serrano if desired and continue to simmer, partially covered, until beef is very tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 hours more. (If chili becomes very thick before meat is tender, thin with water as needed.)  Coarsely shred meat (still in pot) with 2 forks and cool chili completely, uncovered, then chill, covered, 1 to 2 days to allow flavors to develop.

Reheat over low heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 30 minutes. Add beans (if using) and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes

* I think it’s safe to say that if you can’t find dried anchos, or any of these specific peppers, the world will not end and the chili gods won’t rain hellfire down on you.  Just use whatever chilies you like, or whatever suits your taste heat-wise.