The farm that converted me to a CSA

Right now you’re thinking either, “Ooh! CSA!” or “CS…what?”

It’s Community Supported Agriculture. And I love it. What it means is that The Yankee and I essentially bought into a local farm, and in exchange we get a box of food every week. I wanted to do a CSA for years but I couldn’t hide from the truth of our eating habits: we’re too picky. Kale? Kohlrabi? What? I have lovely friends in Nashville who get all these lovely veggies every week and love it and say that opening the box every week is practically Christmas. They come up with beautiful menus and use every bit of their boxes (I’m especially looking at you, Erin and Kira).

And then I found Avalon Acres. And they had me at hello. Well, not so much “hello” but at “meat and eggs package.” Now you’re speaking my language!

Now all the eggs in my house are from local, free-range egg laying hens.  The chicken we eat was raised in a pasture without antibiotics, chemicals or preservatives. The heirloom pork is free range and amazingly tasty. Our beef is Piedmontese, which has the highest amount of good fats, and much lower bad fats and calories. It’s so tasty and so lean! When I brown up a pound of ground beef I almost never have any grease to drain off at all, but the flavor is incredible. And, like the rest of the meat, there are no hormones, artificial chemicals or preservatives. Check out this page for lots of great information.

So why am I telling you all this? Because I love this program. And because it’s not too late for you to join the spring and summer program! After that there’s even a fall and winter program with lots of yummy winter goods including homemade bread that is out of this world. If you’re not eating from here you’re missing out. Click here and check things out — pick a package, build your own package, pick and choose what sounds good. And let me know what you choose! I love hearing how creative people get with their shares from the farm.

Cornstarch: your friend in the garden

Just like last year, I planted a bunch o’ tomatoes in the garden in the back yard. Unlike last year, my tomatoes this year came under attack (ATTACK I say!) by bugs. First it was worms (tomato worms? Hornworms? I don’t know. Icky worms). Then came the stinkbugs. All my tomatoes were being eaten and rotting before they even started to ripen and I hadn’t gotten a single tomato for me to eat.

I wanted to evict the bugs, for sure, but I didn’t want to do it with a bunch of chemicals — sort of defeats a large part of the purpose of growing them in the back yard, you know?

Enter: cornstarch. Seriously! Now my garden looks like this:

I use a powdered sugar shaker full of cornstarch to cover the leaves, the tomatoes, and the ground around them. The plants look ridiculous, sure, but guess what? The tomatoes are MINE again!

I’m not sure exactly why this works, honestly — I don’t know if it kills off the bugs or if it just keeps them away; as long as I’m the only one eating the tomatoes, I’m good. It even deters Vinny the squirrel a bit which is an unexpected bonus. A quick wash in the kitchen sink removes all the cornstarch and I’m good to go. Tomato sandwiches for everyone! :)

Saving a cast iron skillet

Remember when I wrote a cautionary tale about cast iron? Allow me to review:

Rust is not your friend.

I know. This is shocking news to you all.

I’m happy to report that picture up there is all the same pan. A bit of an improvement, yes?

The folks at Lodge told me that I should have this pan sandblasted. Being stubborn determined, however, I went at it with some sandpaper and did the best I could. It was not great, and the pan went back to live at the bottom of my pantry while I sulked about it thought of another plan.

Then last week we took a road trip to “Chagganooga” (so sayeth Kiddo) and I obviously could not resist swinging through South Pittsburg on the way back up to Nashville. At the Lodge factory store they had this little rust eraser thing sitting on the counter for a couple bucks — worth a shot, right?

Y’all. It’s a miracle! The rust just fell from the skillet and the pan without even that much elbow grease involved. A MIRACLE I TELL YOU.

So the next step was to re-season it in the oven, then put it to work. The perfect first job?

Bacon, of course.

This one will need a lot of use to start to start getting dark like my generations-old skillets, of course, but we’re certainly off to a better start now.

Garden update!

Remember this post?

This:

Turned into this:

Pretty awesome, huh? And this is after I pulled a few things, too — like the green beans, which were taken over by ants. Grr. But I did get a bunch of them blanched and frozen first.

In my little 8×4′ garden I grew:

  • Brandywine tomatoes x2
  • Early girl tomatoes
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Green beans
  • Cayenne peppers
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Onions
  • Carrots

Pretty impressive for such a little space, huh?  And the majority of it was grown from seeds, so I spent very little on the actual plants, and ate ridiculously good food all summer long. I highly recommend the Square Foot Gardening book! This is good stuff. And easy. This was my first garden beyond tomatoes, so imagine what I could do if I actually knew what I was doing!

You see that I had to add chicken wire. We have a plentiful bunny population around here, and they were enjoying the fruits of my labor a bit too much. Unfortunately chicken wire is merely a ladder to this guy — I have named him Vinny:

Some of Vinny’s handiwork:

I thought this one was particularly lovely. I watched him carry my tomato up to the top of my 6′ fence. He munched a while, then left, leaving the tomato there. To taunt me. Apparently came back and got it later. I am currently accepting applications for squirrel hit men. Don’t tell Vinny.

I did get hit with some tomato blight this month, but it wasn’t awful. I had to pull one Brandywine and cut back the giant Roma, but nothing tragic.

How did everyone else do? What did you grow? What did you eat?

Homemade corn tortillas

I have a new toy! After doing a few batches of flour tortillas rolled out by hand, I realized that, um, I’m not very good at rolling out an actual circle. I bought this cast iron tortilla press from Amazon and I love it! I went with cast iron rather than lighter weight aluminum because the weight of the press does a lot of the work for me, and because I just have a thing for cast iron. It makes me happy.

I started by watching this clip — Alton Brown making tortillas. The step of lining the tortilla press with a ziploc bag is not one to be skipped! The negative reviews of the tortilla press on Amazon were folks complaining that the masa sticks to the press, but the dough should actually never come in direct contact with the press. Issue solved!

I used the recipe on the back of the Maseca bag The Cousin bought when she was here for salsapalooza — for four tortillas:

  • 1/2 cup Maseca
  • 1/3 cup water
  • pinch of salt

Really, could that be any easier? Mix the ingredients for about 2 minutes to form a soft dough, then divide into four equal portions.

After lightly pressing the tortillas (the first time I pressed too hard and ended up with paper-thin tortillas — not good!), I slapped them on a hot griddle for about 45 seconds on each side. Since these tortillas were destined for quesadillas I didn’t want to cook them all the way through, since they’d be meeting the heat again:

See how they’re just barely cooked? And already yummy?

Then I added last night’s leftover steak, sliced thin against the grain, with some tomatoes from the garden and some cheese. Sandwiched between two tortillas, this all went in the quesadilla maker (which gets a ridiculous amount of use in our house).

End result:

Love it! Crispy outsides, warm gooey/cheesy insides. Served with sliced tomatoes, this was fantastic. And quick. And easy! Definitely give this one a try.

How does your garden grow?

Wanna know how much The Yankee rocks? A LOT.

He built this:

And, because that line in Rocky Top about the dirt being too rocky by far is all true, we filled the raised bed with this:

Saturday morning we headed out to Home Depot with The Kiddo. We checked out all our options, lumber-wise: we didn’t want pressure treated lumber because we didn’t want the chemicals from it to make its way into our garden. Then cedar was suggested as an option: the Home Depot guy said, “Oh you could use cedar! It would do great. I mean, you’d have to build a new one every season, though.”

After a few seconds of blinking and telepathic communication, we did not pass go, but went directly to the Trex. This was more our style! More sturdy than anything else in the store, and safe to use around food.

“Oh yeah,” says Home Depot guy, “You could eat off it.”

Uh, okay.

All told, it cost $93 for the supplies to build this garden (not including the fill dirt), which is eight feet by four feet. Expensive? Sure, a little. But we have to do it only once. And we used screws to assemble it, so we could theoretically take it apart and reassemble it every year. But smart money is on me leaving it there. ;)

So far The Kiddo and I have planted four tomato plants (because, really, what’s the point of a garden without the prospect of tomato sandwiches?), two pepper plants, some cilantro, some basil and some strawberries. I’d love to add onions and carrots and green beans.  This nifty online planner shows how many of what you can plant in a square foot (thus my semi-obsessive square foot markers… made from The Kiddo’s yarn), then gives instructions for each plant you picked. How great is that?

So tell me! Do you garden? Do you have any advice, this being my first raised-bed garden? Any thoughts on how to keep away bunnies and other unwanted guests at the salad bar? Lay ‘em on me!