Monday, December 5, 2011

The Visitation of the Starlings

The last blog I posted was October 28th...two days before I broke my ankle in New Orleans. HOWEVER, I am going to skip over that story to share the video I shot today.

FarmerChefBuilder Jeff and I started noticing the annual gathering of the starlings over the last few days.Today they came into the backyard, creating a deafening wall of sound. I ran out with the camera and caught some in flight. Enjoy!

A side note about the birds:  European Starlings were Introduced as part of a plan to introduce to the U.S. all birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. They crowd out native birds (bluebirds, titmice, nuthatches, swallows, wrens; sometimes even American kestrels, flickers, acorn woodpeckers) and can destroy crops.  *See National Invasive Species Information Center of the USDA. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Southern Trip 2011 - Clarksdale, MS & Delta Divertissement

To pick up where we left off...we left NOLA on Tuesday morning after a spectacular breakfast at Mother's. We drove across Lake Pontchartrain and then north up to Mississippi. On our way we stopped at various antique stores (didn't find anything there) and then just high-tailed it to our serene place in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  I can't put my finger on what makes it so special. Maybe it is the quiet, the stillness, only to be broken by the flock of birds that live in the big bush. I wish I could tell you where it is, but they are getting all the business they can handle. 

A Mississippi Delta Bottle Tree in Clarksdale, MS
 We went out to dinner at our favorite little place in Clarksdale for Delta Tamales and barbecue pork ribs, Abe's. We had discovered this place and eaten here several times before we heard the story of the owners. They are descendants of Lebanese "peddlers", so named because they sold their wares off of their bicycles.
More Delta Tamales from Abe's with no extra chile or cheese

Delta Tamales from Delta Fast Food in Cleveland, MS

Once in Greenwood  I was on a mission to try the famous pie at Crystal Grill. Okay, this seemed like a good idea at the time. Apparently Jeff was still on his tamale quest. The pie was a chocolate meringue and the meringue tasted like toasted marshmallows!

 Lunch at the Viking demonstration kitchen was amazing. Made with free range quail by Chef Nick of Giardina's in Greenwood, MS
True Southern Hospitality - A stunning cocktail buffet set up on a blueberry farm. 
Pinwheel Pickled Okra and Cream Cheese Sandwiches. Delicious!

 We were fed wonderful vegetables grown by and in the garden of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Greenwood.
Progressive Dinner of Chicken and sides
My Dinner plate - Okra, Chicken, Greens

Delta Shrimp and Grits at Delta Bistro, Greenwood
The Southern Foodways Symposium Lunch - Korean/Southern Bento Boxes - Incredible!
My new favorite cheese from Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Southern Trip 2011 - New Orleans & Chef's Collaborative

We are on our annual trek to The South. We love it here. Phase One: our free days until the Chefs Collaborative Summit '11 begins. Our first full day in New Orleans, LA (NOLA) started with lunch at Napoleon House. The place is dripping with ambiance. Take a look at the walls. I really don't think it has been painted for 75 years! It is a little touristy, but there are locals to give the place an authentic feel. We had a quarter of a muffaletta, the classic New Orleans sandwich with provolone cheese, salami and a great olive mix. 

 We got out of the "Quarter" as soon as we could (not a big fan of crowds) and went straight to our favorite "rusty/dusty" antique yard right off of Magazine Street in upper Garden District/lower Uptown. We bought the kettle in the picture along with some other cool props and metal crates that we will have to ship home. I don't think we can carry that home in luggage!
 Phase Two: We took advantage of the Chef's Collaborative Summit while in NOLA. Little did we know it would include a 3 hour bus ride. (The theme of Gilligan's Island kept floating through my head..."a 3 hour tour".) First stop: a rice farmer who, along with his wife, also raises crawfish in the same rice fields, Frey Crawfish . They are very "green" and sustainable. Above is the photo of the mudbug (crawfish) sorting machine he created.
 These are the push boats he had made. The workers push the boat and walk through the rice fields scooping crawfish. The way this used to be done was with a motorized boat which not only was burning fossil fuel, it also destroyed the crawfish due to fuel and oil in the water.
 Here is a bag of their crawfish. They explained that the yellow tint is from crawfish fat, which as we all know, fat equals flavor. It just kills me that this is so readily available in stores in Louisiana...but not near us!
 Here is one of the Mama Mudbugs just loaded with eggs. She will drop a couple hundred eggs.
 We then hopped on the bus and went out to look at the 2nd rice crop. As you can see, they treated us to true Southern Hospitality and supplied ice cold beer.
 Our stop at Prejean's in Lafayette was incredible. What you see on my plate: a crawfish pie and crawfish etouffee (smothered crawfish). At the top of the photo you can see Boudin Balls, tasty sausage rice fritters with a creole remoulade sauce.

We stopped at a little grocery/butcher along side the freeway, Don's Specialty Meats, that is most famous for cracklin's, which are not to be confused with fried pork skin. Cracklin's still have a little bit of meat...Most folks I have talked to said that they couldn't help but eat a full pound bag of them on their way home. Fear not...we at a couple of them, and no more. We did, however, buy some local andouille sausage and tasso ham. As you can see from the photo above, I was surprised to find stuffed catfish available, too. Dang...they have some of the most amazing food so readily available.
The collaborative wanted to make sure we were paying attention. What better way to do that? Give us amazing sandwiches (muffaletta & banh mi) from Cochon Butcher . I don't think I have ever had a better banh mi!
I think my favorite part of the conference was the Italian-style hog butchering class at Domenica. We watched the very talented Chef Alon. He lived in Parma, Italy and studied  the Italian method of butchery and sausage making/meat curing. It was fascinating to see him cut the pig up in a new way, well, new to us. We also learned about the heritage pig that he raises for the cured meats. I couldn't find my notes but know that it is on
the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's list. I can't heap enough praise on the class and the meats. They were both incredible!

Phase 3 & 4 - next post!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Where did the Time go?

 If you are wondering why there have been no posts since April, when we began to prepare for planting, I will do what I can to explain...or should I just show pictures of what we have been doing for the last 6 months? Pics it is!

We decided to simplify our lives (yes, can you believe it?) by farming on a smaller plot of land. We had been over-achievers for 3 years by farming on 2 acres. It was too much for us (me, Farmer Jeff and one other very part time person) to farm and maintain that much land/plants.
Tiger, our feral kitty, that has decided he now enjoys being pet, is hunting for gophers and voles. Go Tiger!

Not the normal cash crop grown in Mendocino or Humboldt Counties, rather our tomatoes in the "Green" greenhouse.
This is the first evidence we had that the bees had returned. (What you are seeing is pollen on the "porch")
Tomatoes were late this year. Really late. Our first ripe tomatoes were one month late, around August 15th. We made our traditional first summer pasta with our tomatoes, wild arugula, goat cheese and whole grain pasta. TOTALLY delicious!
We fell in love with Padrones last year and planted even more this year. We ate them every night we were home this summer! We also tried planting shishito peppers, a Japanese-style frying pepper. They were prolific! We will grow them again.
Once we had our first summer pasta, ZinFarmerChef Jeff fired up (literally!) the wood burning oven and made  pizzas for us. He was very proud this was a totally home made pizza: he made the crust, grew the tomatoes and basil from seed and made the mozzarella. So amazed by all that he does! ..and yes, the pizza was AMAZING!

Fear not, we are still in love with our chickens! The girls have gotten bolder and now come up on the back deck. The cats inside the house run...those birds are too big! The dogs start barking and when we shush them, they just wander off and go back to sleep! Spoiled Babies!
Our beloved Elder Statesman, Callebaut.