Monday, July 5, 2010

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream

It's 7:30 and I have homemade blueberry ice cream chilling in the freezer.

Used to be I thought you had to have an ice cream machine to make ice cream. Looking back on that now, I can't quite believe I was so dumb.

I remember hearing one of my grandmothers talk about making ice cream by putting a one pound coffee can full of the necessary ingredients inside of a larger coffee can, packing the sides with ice, and rolling it back and forth on the porch for hours. Voila, there was ice cream.

I didn't have to go that route (which is good because we don't get coffee in cans 'round here). No, thanks to simply in season, I can whip up a nice quart and a half of ice cream with just the ingredients, a big bowl, a big baking dish and a mixer. That's it. Well, a freezer too.

Without further ado:

Homemade ice cream
3-4 cups of mashed strawberries (or peaches or blueberries, or whatever you fancy tossing in)
2 cups heavy whipping cream (whipped to soft peaks)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (or 1.25 cups of homemade sweetened condensed milk)
1 cup cold water
6 TBSP sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Chill all ingredients. Mix well in large bowl (a 2 quart bowl won't cut it, you need a bigger one, or it's going to get everywhere). Pour into 13x9 cake pan and put in freezer 2-4 hours or until mixture becomes mushy. The recipe says to pour it back in the bowl and blend, but I found it just as easy to blend in the pan, so it's up to you... but blend well again. Return pan to freezer for another 3-4 hours.

As this sits in the freezer, it WILL get hard. But it's still super tasty.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

How are you using that dollar today?

In many respects, my job has helped me to develop a pretty thick skin. As many newspaper editors know, regardless of the size or quality of the paper, people like to hurl insults at you.
I've had callers tell me I was heartless over a news obituary for a man who used to be a town's only doctor... and who happened to be indicted and convicted for drug trafficking. I've had a member of a fire department, now a decade ago, accuse me of damaging the departments potential for fund raising because of a picture the newspaper ran.
They're particularly vitriolic via e-mail, where they don't actually have to speak to you, though some are bold enough to insult you via voice-mail and/or while actually speaking to you over the phone.
Some of them are pretty colorful. I've always considered insults via e-mail particularly cowardly, and such e-mails tell me a lot about the person sending them.
My recent offenses earning such colorful insults are: not printing what team raised the most money for Relay For Life in Henry County (never mind that we've not done that since I've been here), not printing who won the team camp judging at Relay for Life (again, something we haven't done since I've been here), accidentally flipping the results on a web poll question (an honest mistake for which we'll run a correction next week), and not responding to an email that, unbeknown to the original sender and myself, I never received.
The web poll generated the most phone calls, and some of the most colorful conversations — and no matter how many times I said it, they just didn't seem to believe me: It was an accident, an honest mistake, and we'll run a correction in the July 7 issue. But the callers seemed to think it was because I had some vendetta against the subject (a member of the planning and zoning commission who had been asked by Fiscal Court to resign after being served with a notice of violation by the state for operating an illegal landfill... thus violating the very law he was supposed to help enforce).
After those phone calls, I vented with my soul-sister Julie. You see, even though I can let these calls bounce off, I still have to vent (which in itself helps me to bounce them away). I wasn't surprised by the calls, just the amount of energy that people put in to them, and the things they assume (it's often said that the things you assume are simply a projection of what you would do. And what you would do, the other person might not).
Really? Of all things they could complain about? I figured the most calls I would receive last week would have been about the state of the reconstruction of the Campbellsburg Fire Department (a long, winding commentary in its own right) — something about which the residents of Campbellsburg ought to be in a right, foul tizzy. Not a peep.
Julie had just returned from a Rotary meeting and heard something that really brought it all into perspective. "You have $1 worth of energy to use every day. How are you going to use it?"
It's not about oil or coal or other forms of energy, it's about personal energy. What's worth that $1? How are you spending your personal energy, which is incredibly valuable, today?
Are you helping others or looking out for No. 1? Are you being constructive or destructive? Are you taking care of yourself, your family and those who are important to you, or are you tearing down others?
How are you using your dollar today?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Almost two weeks later, and I still think this is one of the prettiest plants I've ever seen.

On my last day at the farm, Carden walked up to the house with a bushel basket full of what looked, at first glance, to be broccoli. Except the "heads" were red. And, well, Courtney already told me Carden was out cutting rhubarb.

Yep, that's rhubarb you see there, and that lovely, colorful broccoli looking part is the seed head. You can't eat it, it's poisonous. You also can't eat the leaves. Nor can you eat the stalk to which the seed head is attached. But you CAN eat the stalk that ends up becoming the leaf.

Just cut the leaves off, chop the remaining part, and voila. Rhubarb. But what on earth do you DO with it? The obvious choice (to some folks) is pie. Either rhubarb pie or strawberry-rhubarb pie. In fact, most of the options for rhubarb involve lots of sugar, as this is a very tart vegetable.

Toting home about two pounds of the chopped rhubarb, I had 8 cups to work with. Enough for a few different things. So, I made muffins and pie, both with recipes from Simply In Season. I say the muffins were quite good, while Derek gave them the stinky cheese face. Not a fan of rhubarb, that one.

On with the recipes!

Rhubarb Pie

2 eggs
Separate yolks from the egg whites. Beat egg whites into stiff peaks. Beat egg yolks separately. (there is an alternative for this below, and how I made the pie)

1 cup sugar
3 TBSP flour
1/4 tsp salt
Mix in with egg yolks.

3 cups chopped rhubarb
Add to egg mixture. Fold in the beaten egg whites.

9-inch pastry shell, unbaked (c'mon, make your own!)
Pour mixture into shell and bake in oven heated to 425 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, and continue baking for 30 minutes, or until set.

Filling variation: Instead of separating the egg whites and yolks, add the whole eggs to the flour, sugar and salt. Flavor with 1 tsp vanilla and/or 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg or the grated rind of one orange. Mix well. Fold in rhubarb and pour into pie shell.

Crumb topping variation (HIGHLY recommended and pictured above):
combine 1/2 cup flour or rolled oats with 1/4 cup sugar or brown sugar. Cut in 2 TBSP butter until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over rhubarb mixture, then bake as above.

Rhubarb Muffins
1.5 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use all whole wheat if you want)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Combine thoroughly

1 cup buttermilk, sour milk or plain yogurt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg (beaten)
2 tsp vanilla
In a separate bowl, mix well. Stir in dry ingredients until just moistened.

1.5 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 cup nuts (toasted and chopped; optional)
Stir in. Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full.

1/4 cup sugar
1 TBSP melted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp flour
Combine and sprinkle on top of batter. Bake in oven heated to 375, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The miracle of dandelions

I've been derelict in posting, particularly about my last visit to the farm ... and I'll get to that one this evening. There's a rhubarb pie in the oven right now that's tied to that visit, and pictures will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I thought I'd wax poetic about the wonder that is the dandelion.

While walking Cookie on her morning excursion, I noticed that the dozens of dandelions that were in the backyard the day before seemed to have vanished. Instead of opening their yellow faces to the sky, they'd closed up under cover of darkness. All that seemed to be left as evidence that they'd been there was the parachute seed pod.

As the morning progressed, the dandelions opened up, seemingly marching down the hill of the backyard. I've seen it before, but this was the first time I really thought much about it. It is one of life's little miracles, the dandelion.

It is, for so many people in this country, a bastion of the evil side of spring. Millions of people spend millions of dollars trying to eradicate this sunny little thing from their lawns. I think they're absolutely nuts. Insane, I tell you.

Dandelions never fail to make me smile. There are a couple of hillocks along the road I take to get home from work everyday and they are positively blanketed with dandelions. Second to the farm with the baby donkey along the same road, it's my favorite spot on the road.

As a culture, we spend so much time going after this flower, that we forget it's actually quite important. Dandelions are food for butterflies, and who doesn't like butterflies? They also attract bees, though the dandelion doesn't reproduce by pollination. And bees pollinate other plants, thus carrying on the cycle of life.

But dandelions are food, too. Most commonly, they're used in Mediterranean and Asian foods. Historically, they've served a medicinal role, even in the U.S., though we seem to have forgotten that. Teas can be made both from parts of the plant, or by using the whole thing, and have been used in Chinese medicine for liver detoxification, as a natural diuretic and for reducing inflammation. According to the dubious-in-accuracy Wiki, but it's as good a source as any right now: "Unlike other diuretics, dandelion leaves contain good amounts of potassium, a mineral that is often lost during increased urination. There is also evidence that this property of dandelion leaves may normalize blood sugar."

Dandelions also are credited as being more nutritious than spinach, and "A cup of dandelion leaves contains 112% daily recommendation of vitamin A, 32% of vitamin C, and 535% of vitamin K and 218 mg potassium, 103 mg calcium, and 1.7 mg of iron. Dandelions are also an excellent source of vitamin H, which is proven to aid in weight loss when ingested."

So there. Stop killing your dandelions, and enjoy them for the simple miracle that they are! If you do decide to consume them, make sure you clean them thoroughly, and that they come from a spot/area where pesticides have not been used (our yard definitely qualifies).

For more information ... check out Healing Plants by Ana Nez Heatherly.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A tree in phases

This morning while I took Cookie for her morning walk, I noticed that the tree in the backyard was absent its crispy brown leaves that refused to fall in Autumn. They started falling a few days ago, as the leaves made room for the new buds, harbingers of spring.

But this morning, I noticed that about 1/3 of the tree's budding leaves were opened and uncurled. Another 1/3 were just starting to curl out of their bud like some bizarre science fair experiment. And 1/3 were still tight little green and white buds.

It's a tree in phases. I for one am quite happy the old crunchy leaves are gone, and that the green is returning. Spring is here ... even if tonight's temperatures don't reflect that.

In just a few days, the world outside will go from tight little buds to a glorious explosion of green. Trees along roadways look almost like they're on fire with green, or at least sporting a bizarre green glow. And before you know it ... BAM! All the leaves are out.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The need to use our hands

My mother recently lamented that the "old" knowledge, consisting of skills once common, was lost. We'd been talking about my most recent farm experience, in which I helped Courtney process four hens and how thoroughly fascinated I was (not grossed out like some folks would be).

"Sad, the skills that have been lost with the passing of the old-timers. Most I have known were quiet humble men but were willing to share their knowledge when they realize you are genuinely interested."

I countered saying that the skills were still there, one simply had to ask around. Those quiet humble men, and women, are still more than willing to share their knowledge to those who are genuinely interested and willing to ask. The problem isn't that the old skills are lost, it's that people aren't asking for them as much as they used to.

That conversation came to mind this morning while I waited for my tea kettle to whistle. After my last farm experience, I decided to pick up, again, a book I borrowed from my mother awhile back: The Foxfire Book. Talk about learning the old ways. I'm currently on an early chapter that discusses building log cabins. The chapter gives instructions for a lavish log cabin, a not so lavish one, and then variations. But the last two paragraphs of the intro are what brought to mind my mother's comment.

"To those who would look upon such a project as a farce, or a chore not worth the time, we have little to say. We speak instead to the individual who feels some loss in the realization that this age of miracles, miraculous though it is, has robbed us of the need to use our hands. We speak to the individual who feels that someday, somewhere, the use of the instructions contained in these pages will be a source of tremendous satisfaction. And we speak, in a sense, to the child in man - that free spirit still building tree houses in the woods.

To the enthusiastic, all-things-are-possible child spirit, and to the man who longs for the peace that independence and skilled self-sufficiency brings, we address ourselves in this chapter. And we wish him well. He's one of us."

In our age of iPods, iPhones and iPads, internet and cable/satellite TV, we HAVE lost the need to work with our hands. Ask me what it is I like about my farm days, and that's just it: the need to use my hands. The need to stick hand in dirt (or in chicken!), wrestle with prickly weeds and free carrots from the clutches of crab grass, to spend a few hours on the back of a potato planter poking at spuds with a tobacco stick and trying not to fall off.

And if I had the resources, I'd totally be building tree houses in the woods. All things ARE possible. :)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

From farm to pot

The smell wafting through the house right now is mouth watering. In my trusty soup/stew pot is a chicken just shy of 3.5 pounds, some chopped carrots and celery, a bit of leftover garlic and some salt and pepper.

Little more than a day ago, the chicken was still living the good life running around in the grass, clucking away with her coop mates, eating bugs and grass - in short, what chickens are supposed to do. But yesterday morning, with thanks from Courtney, this hen's life came to an end, as did the lives of three others.

I arrived to the farm apparently just as Courtney dispatched the second of the four hens, while Carden rounded up a third. Courtney apologized if I'd seen the fatal cut as I drove up. While I had seen two hens hanging by their feet, I didn't see the act. But I shrugged. It's part of the process. Chicken does not come to us in sterile (hopefully) cellophane wrapped packages in the grocery store, but from live, clucking, feathered birds who are ... well, entertaining.

Carden and Courtney hung the third bird by its feet. While Carden headed back to the coop for the fourth bird, Courtney knelt down, thanked the chicken for the life it had lived and the life it was about to give, and gracefully cut the bird's neck on both sides. Nearby, the second chicken hung suspended, wings outstretched in stillness. It sounds strange, crazy and a bit macabre, but it was an oddly beautiful scene. This was part of an age old cycle of life.

After all the birds were dispatched, we set about the task of scalding the birds in a giant pot of boiling water, and then plucked them of their feathers. Carden departed for the farm next door to do potato cuttings for the afternoon activity of planting potatoes. After the removal of chicken heads, we made for the kitchen, where the hens' feet were cut off, and we set about the task of eviscerating the chickens - or, for those of you who are unfamiliar: disemboweling and removing the organs.

I watched and learned, truly fascinated, while Courtney took care of the first three hens. Two of them, including one we dubbed "weird belly" for her, well, weird belly, had fully formed eggs. One hen was so fatty, she felt like she'd been soaked in olive oil. Early on, Courtney offered me the chance to process one (or more) of the hens. A lot of people might balk at that - but I'm keen on experiencing things. And, hey, if I'm going to know WHERE my food comes from, I might as well know HOW to take it from life to table, right?

Being hand deep into a chicken is interesting. Identifying the internal organs by feel is nothing short of an art form (the gizzard is large and relatively hard, the heart small and firm, the lungs small, soft and bright pink, and the livers smooth, soft and quite squishy). Removing them whole in some cases is tricky. Perhaps I'm just that much of a geek, but it was fascinating to see the innards.

After we cleaned up and put the eviscerated birds in an icy bath, we departed for the neighboring farm where I helped plant potatoes with John Brugman, standing on the back of a piece of machinery whose name I do not remember (but was, I'm assuming WAY better than a tobacco setter), pulled by a tractor driven by John Grant. Carden and John's wife, Bonnie Cecil, expressed concern over the state of my arms (which were pink, but not bright red, and now are browning quite nicely).

It was a day of good, hard work, and after retrieving my chicken (I chose the one I gutted) from Courtney, ventured home. Courtney also sent with me two gizzards for the dogs. The gizzards were rather greedily hoovered by the dogs, who seemed to wonder if I had anything else interesting in that green bag.

Time for the recipe:
This is not what you'll find at places like Cracker Barrel that's essentially overblown chicken and noodles ... this is a chicken stew with a biscuit top. And it is a GREAT cold weather meal. This is comfort food in our house.

Chicken & Dumplings
(a la the Betty Crocker cookbook)
3 to 3.5 pound stewing chicken, cut up
4 celery stalk tops (you can use the whole stalk, really)
1 medium carrot, sliced 1/2 cup (go for the gusto and add more if you like)
1 small onion, sliced
2 sprigs parsley (optional)
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
5 cups water
2.5 cups Bisquick (patooey! if you really want something good, make your OWN baking powder biscuit mix and the recipe follows this one)
2/3 cup milk

1. Remove any excess fat from the chicken (or not, it adds flavor to the broth you're making). Place everything but the biscuit mix and milk in a dutch oven. Cover and heat to boiling, reduce heat to low, and cook for about two hours, or until the juice of the chicken is no longer pink when centers of the thickest parts are cut.

2. Remove chicken and vegetables from Dutch oven, skim 1/2 cup fat from broth and reserve. Remove broth, reserve 4 cups (if you have extra, freeze it for later use).

3. Heat reserved fat in Dutch oven over low heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of the baking/biscuit mix. cook, stirring constant, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.

4. Stir in reserved broth. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Return Chicken & veggies to pot and heat until hot.

5. Mix remaining 2 cups baking mix and the milk until soft dogh forms. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto hot chicken mixture (recipe says to not drop it into the liquid, but you honestly can't help that part). Cook uncovered over low heat 10 minutes. Cover and cook another 10 minutes, or until biscuits are done.

Notes: Sometimes I double the amount of veggies (not that I actually measure) to make the stew go a little further. Throw the whole chicken carcass into the pot ... even the back and neck, though there's not a lot of meat there. It all adds flavor to the stock. This time, I also added what was left of some smashed elephant garlic.

Baking Powder Biscuits
(adapted for chicken & dumplings from the Betty Crocker cookbook)
1/2 cup shortening (or butter for a really tender biscuit)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 TBSP sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
(STOP HERE and mix the above ingredients for use in the chicken and dumplings. But, to make some really good biscuits, carry on)
3/4 cup milk

1. Heat oven to 450
2. Cut shortening into dry ingredients using a pastry blender or criss crossing 2 knives, until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Stir in ilk until dough leaves sides of bowl (dough should be soft and sticky)
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly 10 times. roll or pat 1/2 inch thick. Cut using floured 2.5" round cutter. Place on baking sheet about 1" apart for crusty sides or touching for soft sides.
4. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet, serve warm.

Notes: Roll out biscuits and cut with a cutter? Pffffffffffffffffffffffft. I hand shape mine when making for biscuits and gravy or for cheddar-garlic biscuits (I'll save that recipe for another day). If you use self-rising flour (patooey), omit the baking powder and salt).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I'm disappearing, shrinking I tell you!

It was some time in January when I decided to step on the scale. The truth glared at me - 218 pounds. I knew I'd gained weight, I could feel it. And here I was approaching the weight that I'd told myself was the "drastic measures" point, and my clothes were getting uncomfortable.

For well over a year, I'd pondered getting a gym membership, but the closest spot was a 24-hour place in La Grange that, to be honest, looked kinda foofy. I may be a woman, but a foofy woman I am not. And I dinna like foofy stuff (for example, I am allergic to the color pink. True fact).

Some of my better years in college were spent in the dungeon of a weight room at the University of Evansville where, along with a few other rats, I squatted, benched and deadlifted the days away as a member of the powerlifting team. And just about every day I went to school the first two years, I rode my bicycle the two miles (maybe it's more, I honestly don't know) from campus. I was, undeniably, in the best shape of my life. My resting heart rate late in my first semester of my freshman year was in the 40s. I weighed about 125 pounds when I got started.

Oh, I gained the freshman 15 sure enough. But it was 15 pounds of muscle, and by the end of my freshman year I weighed around 145 lean pounds. That was 15 years ago. Over the next couple of years, I put on more muscle, and as I started driving to campus, well, I wasn't using my legs near as much. By the time I graduated, I was somewhere around 175, but still packing around a lot of muscle. I loved it. And to be honest, I miss those days in the gym, with Coach Jeff Sellers barking at me (and everyone else).

But it smelled like a gym. And I don't mean it smelled like sweaty football players (though it sometimes did). I mean it smelled like iron. It smelled like 45-pound barbells, and the 2.5-, 5-, 10-, 25-, 35- and 45-pound plates. It smelled like dumbbells. It smelled like rubber floor mat. I've judged every gym since then by that standard, and none have quite measured up. But I have another standard - the gym has to be within 15 minutes of where I live, or I know damn well I won't go.

But here here was the truth staring at me on a white dial. 218 pounds. Foofy or no, it was time for a change.

I started out eliminating snacks, particularly at work, and making sure I was eating exact portion sizes. If I got the urge to snack, I drank a glass of water or hot tea (no sugar, ya whimps!). I tracked what I was eating on's Daily Plate feature I lost 12 pounds in the first two weeks doing that. TWELVE.

Finally, I swallowed my anti-foof standard and signed up for the foofy gym. They at least had a Smith machine (patooey!), dumbbells, and more than enough machines. There's an arsenal of treadmills, two elliptical machines, and one (count 'em, ONE) stationary bike, and one recumbant bike. There's no proper squat rack or bench, but this is better than nothing.

I started off relatively slow for me - 40 minutes of cardio (I prefer the bike) , some of the machines. After about 3 weeks, I decided to give squats on the Smith machine (patooey!) a try. I will never like this machine (and ignored the owner's attempt to direct me into a hack squat to, "save your knees"). It prevents a normal range of motion, but it's better than nothing, and I forgot how much I love, and I do mean LOVE the feel of the weight across my shoulders, lining up with my hips.

After a month, I could feel the weight loss in my hips and butt. My husband said the weight loss was noticeable (MOTIVATION!). My reporter asked me one day if I'd lost weight (MOTIVATION!) Now, almost two months later, I can feel it in my waist, and legs. And dammit, pretty soon I'm gonna need a belt, or my pants won't stay up. That's such a wonderful problem to have ... and it's motivation!

As of yesterday, I've lost 20 pounds. Since I've started keeping track, I've lost 8.125". Almost half of that came off my waist. More motivation!

I refuse to say I'm dieting - I'm not. "Diet" is a four-letter word when used in that context. I'm watching what I eat, but not really denying myself anything (except ice cream, which I didn't really eat that much of anyway). And I'm eating recommended serving sizes. I've probably cut about 1,000 calories a day out, compared to where I was - and it really was too much. I set goals and rewards for meeting them:

Goal 1: get to 200. Reward? BLIZZARD ... but I could only get down about half of a small one before my stomach protested.
Goal 2: Lose 20 pounds. Reward? Heine Brothers' sweat pants (Cuz I want Heine on my heiny!)
Goal 3: Lose 25 pounds. Reward? Dunno yet. I'm still working on that.
The BIG goal: Lose 50 pounds. Reward? A new tattoo.

The big goal would put me at 168 pounds. It'll be tough getting there, but if I keep this up, I'll be there by the end of the year, and hopefully .... by my sixth wedding anniversary in September. I have no designs of looking like I did in college (though, if I get there, fantastic), I just want to lose weight and feel better than I did Jan. 15.

Anything after that is, shall we say, gravy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The best food I ever ate

Warning: This is long. And you could walk away hungry.

Every now and then, you come across a meal that is so good, you know that if you were to walk outside the restaurant and get hit by a bus, you could die happy. Yesterday, I had such a meal.

I was in Louisville to meet up with my long-time good friend, Jessica Bratcher. We were without our husbands and I decided to introduce her to the magic creations of taste that are the meals at Sari Sari, a Filipino restaurant, on Frankfort Avenue.

Derek and I have eaten at Sari Sari several times and the food is always great, the service fantastic and we often leave wondering how on earth we got away with such great food for such reasonable prices.

Don't bother asking me what's good, my response is the same: EVERYTHING! The menu itself offers up some exquisitely tasty food (from Pork Adobo, my husband's favorite, to the Butterfish Inoong-Onan, my favorite). But each day, Sari Sari also has dinner specials that will, I promise you, knock your socks off, they're so damned good.

Last night's specials:
1) Combo Plate: Grilled Chicken Fajita, Shrimp Chipotle Adobo Taco, Sweet Corn and Cheese Quesadilla with Rice, Beans and Lemongrass Mung Bean Soup.
2) Ginger Seafood Sitr-Fry: Shrimp, fish, calamari and scallop with Rice, Beans and Spicy Chicken Soup.
3) Lemon Fried Fish Filet of Sole with Vegetable Fried Rice and Beansprout Coconut Spinach Soup.

Lourdes - the food magician in a very tiny kitchen - also routinely offers different takes on her Pinatubo Pancake, and last night it was the Pancake with Shrimp. There are no flour, sugar and milk involved here. This is a specialty of Lourdes' involving bean sprouts, walnuts and eggs, among other things. We ordered one before we even sat down.

Are you drooling yet? You should be!

The Combo Plate was my pick for the night, betraying my normal order of the Butterfish. Jess opted for the pork adobo. We both had the ginger lemonade (a must have - not to sweet, not too sour, and the perfect palate cleanser).

Jess was enamored as soon as she took a bite of the pancake (which came with homemade lime soy sauce), declaring it a meal in and of itself (she's right). Then came my soup, followed quickly by my plate.

When the waiter, Tony, brought out my plate (pictured above), I declared myself the winner of the night. Jess' pork adobo looked almost whimpy in comparison, but don't let appearances decieve you - her dish was great. It was tough to know just where to start on my own plate... so I started in the 12 o'clock position with the sweet corn and cheese quesadilla.

I savored that first bite - the corn was fresh, sweet, delicate. The tortilla surrounding it was crisp and light. Surely, the rest of the plate couldn't be as good as that first bite of quesadilla. Jess took a bite. "WOW!" was all she could say.

I was wrong, by the way. I moved next to the Shrimp Chipotle Adobo Taco (on soft corn tortilla). Nope, nope, THIS was the best bite on the whole plate. I offered some of the filling to Jess, who at this point had swiped a piece of the quesadilla ("I can reheat this at home,"she said, gesturing to her pork. "But THIS," waving the piece of quesadilla, "I can't reheat this one."). "WOW!" The taco was gone in short order, and I dipped it alternately in the chipotle sauce and salsa cups that accompanied the meal. While they added to the flavor, the taco was just fine on its own without any additional sauce. Now it was time to tackle the fajita.

Rolled almost like a burrito, I thought surely this can't be as good as the taco. I took a bite. I was wrong again. In fact, I damn near fell out of the chair onto the floor in a full blown food-gasm. I was officially having a love affair with my food, and I didn't care who knew it. This thing was out of this world good. While I reveled, Jess stole a piece of the chicken, and entered a similar state of semi-conciousness. "WOW!"

Though both of us were rapidly approaching the "stuffed" stage (we sped right by pleasantly full), we ordered desert. The pineapple flan sounded particularly interesting - we overheard Tony describe it to a family seated by the window: "It's got pineapple on top, but bits of pineapple in the flan itself, too." SOLD!

For the first time in a very long time, I talked to my food. Tony brought out the flan, and I had to force myself to put the fajita down. "I'm sorry," I told the fajita, "But I have GOT to stop eating you now. There's flan!" Even Tony joked about me not wanting to give up the fajita for the flan, as I hugged my plate closer to me to make room for the desert.

The desert was fantastic and not quite the kind of flan you're used to. It wasn't the smooth single cup stuff they bring you at Mexican restaurants. It was baked in a rectangular pan, and was solid, with, as promised, bits of pineapple laced throughout. We lost ourselves in the flan's custardy goodness, and Tony brought the carryout boxes. There would be no trip home for the flan - we devoured it.

As I transferred what remained of my dinner (enough for another dinner, I should say), I apologized to my soup. "I'm sorry, I didn't get a chance to eat you. There were quesadillas!" I offered joint custody of the remains of the pancake to Jess, who politely declined and granted me full custody.

Rarely does a meal make me want to run back to the kitchen and hug the genius who created it. Last night was such a night. Each time Tony came by to ask us how the food was, we gushed. Finally, I told him it was the best meal I'd had there, though the food is always good. A couple came in, having spotted the tiny restaurant from the street (there might be four or five table tops inside, making it quite crowded when the place is full, plus a couple of tables outside).

I praised the joys of the Combo Plate to them, saying that as a regular, I considered it the best meal I'd ever had. Jess told them she was a first time and that everything she tasted so far was amazing. They stuck around, and had their dinner on one of the outside tables.

We packaged up our carry-out, marveled at how we got such great food (and so much of it!) at such reasonable prices. As we strolled down Frankfort Avenue back to my truck, I contemplated taking a nap on the train tracks. I could die on the spot, and I'd be happy, with the best food I've ever eaten in my stomach. Though I ate entirely too much food, I didn't care. I'd happily gorge myself on that feast again. We're coming up on 18 hours after the experience, and aside from finishing off the chicken fajita somewhere around 11 p.m. (it was almost as good cold as it was hot), I'm still not hungry.

Though I've prattled on here for quite awhile, words simply cannot do this meal, or the restaurant, justice. Sari Sari has, I think, the best food in Louisville, period. It's simple, it's fresh, it's wholesome. Lourdes works with spices the way a painter works with shading. The flavors she creates are incredible.

Please go. The hours are somewhat limited, and when you go, go hungry (and in comfortable, expandable clothing!) and take your time to savor every bite. Be prepared to leave with leftovers. If it's particularly busy, it might take awhile to get your food. Be patient, it's well worth the wait. It's also worth whatever drive you have to make to get there.

This, my friends, is soul food.
Sari Sari is located at 2339 Frankfort Avenue in Louisville.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Is that a Mallowmar?"

With every camping trip, there is a story. Usually, a rather funny one. It generally involves quotes that make the story teller snort, slap their leg and wheeze from laughing so hard.

A couple of standouts for me are the "Johnny, don't pee on that tree ... pee on that one over there," and "HOLY SHIT IT'S A BOBCAT!!!!" (both from the same 2008 trip to Jackson Washington State Forrest in Indiana), and "Alllllright. Straightenerup!" (2008 at General Butler State Park in Kentucky).

After this weekend, I have a new one to add to that list.

Generally, I prefer to take Rufus with me camping becuase he likes just laying around the campsite, or sniffing around whatever he can reach on the dog tie. Cookie? She whines, a lot. It took almost 3 seasons worth of camping before I figured out why - we're outside, we're supposed to be walking. Cookie's also a big girl, and as she gets older, I worry about hip or leg problems on long hikes. Rufus is proven on long hikes - he takes 'em like a champ.

After a nice long hike at Red River Gorge yesterday, we chilled out at camp site #48 in the Koomer Ridge Campground. It was still mid-afternoon, and lots of folks came and went from the trail head (right next to our camp site). Around 5 or so, I'm happily nomming on Mountain House Pasta Prima Vera (it's quite tasty), as hunger finally hit (I'd burned well over 4,000 calories on the hike, and had consumed only 400 before I had my dinner). Then a fella comes tromping out of the woods, and pauses by our site.

"That's a pretty dog," he says. I thank him - just about everyone we passed on the hike commented on how pretty Rufus is (he IS handsome). Folks, especially the male college students, marveled at his doggy-pack (except for the folks we passed with a black lab/pit bull mix who ALSO had a pack - and in all fairness, they WERE surprised to see another dog with its own pack).

Anyway, the fella pauses for a second. "Is that a Mallowmar?"

I look from the dude to my food and back to the dude. Wow, must have lost his mind on Lung Buster Hill if he thinks I'm eating a Mallo....... oh, wait a minute, I wonder if ....

"Oh, you mean the dog?" I ask him, hoping to clarify my own confusion. He says yes. "Oh, no, he's a mut. Part pitbull and part German Shepherd."

We make small chit chat before he saunters on.

I giggled to myself for quite awhile ... does my dog look like a cookie? Truth be told, I would have LOVED a Mallowmar at that moment. All chocolaty and sweet and gooey. But, no, Rufus is not a Mallowmar. Nor is he a Malamute, the breed of dog this guy was thinking about. Rufus doesn't even resemble a Malamute. Not even close, as you can see from the photo (that, by the way is Rufus, who could have been mistaken for a dead dog, he was so bushed from the hike).

I think I'll just refer to him as my Mallowmar from now on. But he's getting old, and nothing that old is good for eating. :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dinner delayed

We made good this evening on a November vow between Courtney Willis and myself to get our respective selves and husbands together for dinner at some point over the winter.

Though the farm figured far more important in my life last year than I could ever have imagined, Derek had not yet been there. Various factors prevented us from going to the spring and fall potlucks at the farm.

The drive to the farm was a nice relaxing sojourn from the last couple of hours spent on the Interstate heading into and out of Louisville. The smell of the fields - the sweet, earthy scent of dried grass and hay - seeped into the truck through slightly open windows. We arrived at the farm just before 7, with enough light left for Derek to see the place I've come to know and love. He was captured, as I was the first time, the moment we went up the driveway. And to think - nothing is green yet.

Courtney greeted us from the hoop house, and invited us up to take a look at the newest members fo the farm - some chicks that are, I believe, about a month old. In a relatively adolescent stage for chickens, the chicks were in what I dubbed the "adorably ugly" stage. It's a fitting description really, as the poor things are rather awkward looking - midway between baby down and adult feathers, and gangly legged, but still chattering in the sweet peeping sound that only chicks make. They're cute in the weirdest of ways.

Back in the house, we prepared for dinner - roasted chicken and roasted winter vegetables. My contribution was homemade chocolate chip muffins baked in a cast iron pan. They hadn't turned out quite as lovely as I'd hoped - I didn't allow enough time for making them - but they were tasty just the same.

Dinner was an adventure, as we laughed through the, ahem, "carving" of the dinner bird - a task that proved more amusingly difficult than anyone imagined. I'm getting used to the task of carving up a raw chicken for making stock or dinner, but a cooked chicken is, well, a different bird. Later, we decided that the difficulty helped to break the ice a little, as Derek and Carden got several giggles out of our combined efforts.

But the effort was well worth it. It's been a very long time since I've had a REAL chicken. The Harvestland whole chickens I get in the stores are a better alternative than Tyson, but it's still ... different. You see, a chicken raised on a farm and nurtured into laying eggs lives a longer life than one that winds up in a grocery store cooler.

Chances are it's had more of an opportunity to run around - and on a time table according to the bird's instincts. Chances are it's lived longer, and has found its way to the dinner table because its egg production has diminished. Chances are it has eaten what chickens are supposed to eat.

The first thing you're likely to notice is that the dark meat is truly dark. The drumsticks were a little tough, yes, but still very tasty and had a stronger flavor than a commercial chicken. The white meat of the breast was tender and juicy, and too had a stronger flavor than the palid meat that passes for chicken breast in a grocery store.

I wondered briefly which one of the chickens I had photographed over the summer was sitting naked on the table, cooked to a golden brown, drumsticks in the air, waiting to give us sustenance. Internally, I said a little thank you to the chicken. It gives you a different perspective on dinner when you know you've met the animal that you're about to eat.

The dinner conversation, as lunch conversations were throughout the summer, was relaxed and full of laughter. I could tell that Derek was quite comfortable, as he was already telling stories and asking questions, where otherwise he might be quietly observing. "They're good people," he said on the drive home. "Really, really good people."

And they are. It was wonderful to see good friends again, and we hope to make dinner with them a more regular affair. It's our turn next, and I suspect Indian food will be on the menu.

Chocolate Chip Muffins
Heat oven to 350

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips (I recommend DARK)

1. Blend dry ingredients well in medium/large bowl
2. Add milk & butter and blend well. Batter may be lumpy.
3. Add chocolate and blend.
4. Fill muffin pan (lined or not, it's up to you) cups to at least 2/3 full.
5. Bake 15-20 minutes, maybe longer depending on your oven.
6. Remove as soon as you can handle the muffins, and cool on a wire rack.

* If you have the pleasure of owning a cast iron muffin pan, lube up the cups with melted butter (but don't overdo it - a dab'll do ya, too much will give you soggy muffins), and heat the pan while you're mixing the batter.

These suckers are nommalicious while still warm and melty. :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A piece of heaven

It's almost time. Spring is so close I can feel it in my toes. The first weekend of Spring will be celebrated with some manner of camping trip. And after that? After that it's CSA time.

Words cannot express how much our CSA means to me. I truly, truly cannot do it justice. I've started this post half a dozen times.

Our CSA — A Place on Earth CSA — is run by Carden and Courtney Willis, a couple of late-20-somethings who started their CSA about six years ago. They plan each year for 75 shares, and last year, I signed up to be a working share.

That meant that instead of the full price, we paid a fraction of the full share cost in exchange for working on the farm once a week for four hours. And, since I worked the day the boxes were packed, I picked up our share there, knocking a little more off the price. If we could have afforded to pay

But money? Money's not important here, except to say that it was the best money I've ever spent. Every week I brought home a box of (practically) organic, locally grown food that I helped to grow, weed, thin, harvest, wash and/or pack. The farm isn't even 10 miles from our driveway, so the produce is as fresh as it can be without being grown in our own back yard.

Very quickly I learned that the experience was about far more than great, locally grown food purchased at a discount in exchange for a few hours of labor. It was about the relationships formed on my farm days. Working along with me were John, Marissa, Carol, and others. And then, of course, there were Carden and Courtney.

The stories told and experiences shared while we spent hours, and I do mean hours, weeding carrots, or picking cherry tomatoes, or sorting tomatoes in the barn, were priceless. John and I talked endlessly about books and reading. Carol educated me on the raw food movement. Conversations about politics were plentiful. Each week, Courtney seemed to enjoy some of the more colorful tales I had from the rough and tumble world of weekly newspaper editing.

Each day, we'd gather, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 p.m., for an always fantastic lunch after a morning spent outside, in the sun, in the fields, enjoying the sites, sounds and smells of summer. The food. My GOD the food. It began with Courtney's roasted vegetable pizza (don't laugh, it was excellent) and stuffed shells made by Marissa's mother, and continued on throughout the summer with a variety of foods. Pesto. Vegetable Vindaloo. Homemade bread. Sweet potato quesadillas on homemade tortillas (made by Carden and the meal that finally urged me to purchase the cook book Simply In Season).

The best lunch came on a day when, as we later found out, Courtney had no bread in the house. That morning, I showed up with a loaf or two of sourdough. Carol showed up with a loaf of bread, and I think Marissa may have brought one as well. We feasted royally on tomato sandwiches. Oh, sweet summer, the tomatoes.

Just looking at this tomato picture conjures up memories of the smell in that barn where we sorted tomatoes. Nothing compares to the smell of a fresh tomato. And please, don't kid yourselves, those red round things you find in most grocery stores aren't tomatoes. Not really. They pretend to be. But they're not. They can't compare to that pile of red, yellow, orange, green and white orbs. On more than one occasion, Courtney delighted in my own expressions of tomato-worship. I couldn't stop smelling them, and praising their beauty. I can't help it. I love me some tomatoes.

My farm days were the best therapy a girl could ever ask for. It was, and is, good honest labor, performed with good, honest folks. I was very sad when the end of the season approached, and actually cried thinking about the last farm day - which was spent tossing hay bales from the back of John's truck. It was hard work, yes, but God it was fun.

Courtney reminded me, as we lounged outside after lunch that I didn't have to wait for the CSA season to start before I come back. Any time I wanted, or needed, I could come out. When she e-mailed me this week to say she'd received my subscription form and payment, she reminded me of that - and of an agreement we made to get together for dinner during the winter months.

The upcoming season has me so excited, I'm having a little trouble getting to sleep. And after that first weekend of Spring camping trip, I'll start up again with my farm time. No sense waiting until May for something that is so soul-fulfilling.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Traveling Woman

John Hiatt, via

Martin Sexton - The Way I Am
Dave Matthews Band - Cry Freedom
John Hiatt - Take it Down
John Hiatt - Crossing Muddy Waters

That was my soundtrack on the way to work this morning.

Those four songs provided a seemingly perfect backdrop as I drove south on U.S. 421. Martin Sexton's smooth voice serenaded me through Campbellsburg, and his yodeling toward the end of the song seemed to ring over the gentle hills and farmland, before Dave Matthews voice came from the radio.

And then came Hiatt. His voice washes over the landscape, almost ringing across the very gently rolling hills. The music is perfect for traveling, settling into a nice rhythm with the car at 55 miles per hour.

We have just the one album - Crossing Muddy Waters. I've cleaned, cooked, read and, obviously, driven to Hiatt's music. He is nothing short of a brilliant story teller. And I've had more fun car-singing to his songs that I care to relay here.

There will be more John Hiatt on our CD shelf to come, oh yes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just a few more minutes...

I have developed a deep and abiding dislike for Tuesdays. It's the day, for the last seven years, that we put the paper together. It's a long, stressful day that for me starts around 4:30, or whenever I actually roll out of bed.

Today, it was 5 a.m., and I took advantage of MSNBC's wee-hours Olympics coverage to watch some curling. The match actually was kind of tense, with the Danish team leading until the end, when Great Britain knocked three of the Danes' stones off the board.

Anyway, I get up, have my glass of water, then some tea and either toast or cereal and start getting ready for my day. I like to get to work around 6, though it was more like 7:15 today. The papers have been pitifully small lately, thanks to the economy.

But the Tuesday process almost always dictates that I don't get to see much of my husband. Usually, I'm out the door before he's even out of bed. No hug or kiss goodbye. Typically, I walk back, kiss his forehead, tell him I love him, and head out.

But sometimes, like today, I know I have enough time before I get ready for work that I slip back into bed, tuck along behind him, snake my arm under his and cuddle up for a few more minutes. I revel in the smell of his skin, the peaceful rise and fall as he breathes, the sound he makes as I run my fingers through his hair. This morning, I loved it as he softly stroked my forearm while I rubbed his feet with my own. Then the alarm clock went off again, and it was time for him to get ready.

Just a few more minutes of that, and I think I could be invincible today.

Monday, February 22, 2010

This is your brain on speed

I still remember my first panic attack.

That first sensation of being totally overwhelmed and drowning in open air hit about 10 years ago. Then it was specific - it was about money. Or, more specifically, my inability to pay all of my bills. My starting pay at the Charlottesville Daily Progress was a pittance of $18,500, just barely enough to live on in a major university city. Funny thing was, I did just fine before I got roommates. Or, so I thought.

Since then, I've had about half a dozen panic attacks, generally work and/or money related. Most often, I wake up with a sense of dread that won't let me sleep. It needles at my brain starting around 3 or 4 a.m., and grows stronger as I continue to put off getting out of bed. It typically centers around a sensation that I've forgotten something; that I've been lax in some particular duty or responsibility.

About half the time, once I get up and out of bed, it's gone, and I'm left wondering what the hell my subconscious thought was so damned important. The rest of the time, I get out of bed, trip over the cats on my way to the living room and write until the claws let loose of my head.

The first one I had in my current job was a doosie, and sent me to therapy. There were, and are, a variety of issues, but therapy was fantastic. Sometimes I think I should go on a permanent basis. Since my husband's motorcycle accident in 2004, the frequency of my anxiety stepped up a notch.

The truth is, the greater the responsibility, the greater the anxiety - the stakes are higher. Waking up early on a weekday morning with that sense of dread isn't uncommon, and it's strongest on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday's anxiety tends to be the "Oh, crap, what did I forget in the paper," or "who's going to call and complain about something trivial today," variety.

The one thing that really stems the anxiety for me is exercise. And this morning, because the last week hasn't really afforded the opportunity to exercise - I've worked out just once - the anxiety is a little strong. This weekend was a busy one that, while spent with friends and family, didn't really afford the chance for much relaxation (which I also need), or 2-hour chunks of time to peddle and lift my demons away.

Sometimes, it takes a "crack" game with repetitive actions and goals to lull my brain into a sense of evenness. My husband sometimes makes fun of these games, but they do serve a purpose for me.

So this morning, once I post this, I'll turn on the new crack - Popcap's Plants versus Zombies, play a couple of rounds, and then work on the lastest baby afghan. It's going to be one hell of a long day, I think.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Constant companion

As I was digging through the computer, looking for pictures to use for this very blog, I came across three pictures of a fella who is very, very important to me.

In August 1997, fate crossed my path with that of a wee kitten, a dumpling. It was the weekend of August 31 — the weekend Princess Diana died, which is the only way I can remember the date. My cousin Laura and I, and her then boyfriend George, were heading to an Aerosmith concert in Indy. I crashed on Laura's coouch the night before the concert, and the next morning, she woke me up asking if I wanted to see a kitty.

There was no question - of course I did.I got up, went to the back porch and there was George with a grey kitten in his lap. My cousin pointed to the neighbor's driveway and said there was another one in the wheel of the car. In the wheel?

Sure enough, I walked over, and the hissing started before I even knelt down to take a peek. I could see the eyes, and stretched my arm through the wheel, and into the wheel well, and wrapped my hand around a kitten. But he was a squirmy buggar, and slipped out of my grasp, ran to the neighbor's house and ran up the screen door, crying and hissing the whole way.

I rescued him from his precarious position, took him back to the porch and cuddled him. It sounds so corny, but the moment I looked into those tiny, beedy little eyes, we were bonded. That night, he slept in the crook of my neck. He has been my constant companion for the last 12.5 years, and these kitten photos brought back wonderful, wonderful memories.

He is laid back, the most un-cat-like cat you'll ever meet, and the cat that helped Derek to become more of a cat person. He is my Bubby Gato, Senor, Lord of the House, Sir Mickey.