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I like my life with a side of spice.

It all started with Tabasco. As a wee young thing, my group of goonies and I doused everything from popcorn and chicken wings to chocolate chip cookies (no we weren’t child prodigal gourmands, we enjoyed food related dares)- with the good, spicy stuff. Maybe I was desensitized to spice at a young age-my Memaw’s best friend is from India, but my tolerance to scoville’s is not rivaled by your average 20-something Caucasian.

My first rant- Most Asian restaurants encourage customers to rank their spice preference on a 1-5 scale, with one being mild and five being anything thing from “extra-spicy” to “Thai Hot.” From my experience, if you are white, they automatically subtract your preference by one before they send the order to the kitchen, thereby I always end up with a plate of veggie filled noodles that aren’t up to my spice-spectations. It wasn’t until I was in Puerto Rico that I found the good stuff that’s spiced with a healthy dose of habaneros- that warms your tastebuds without causing a flaming sensation that demands more than your daily recommendation of fluids in one setting to relieve the burn. El Yucateco Caribbean Habanero and Kubit-ik (an ancient Mayan recipe) hot sauce, where oh where have you been all my life? After smuggling bottles home for fear of never finding a spice to match, I learned they vend this delightful sauce at local Hispanic groceries. Relief…

Another rant- When I purchase herbs or spices at the grocery store, it would be nice if they actually tasted something. Yes, it’s hard to mess up garlic or onion powder, extracts or black pepper- but, I’m tired of having to use a tablespoon of cayenne powder just to get a tingle. I’m not heartless, it doesn’t take me that much to get excited…I took matters into my own hands and had high hopes there must be a solution. We planted a variety of peppers in our summer garden plot, and last week the cayenne’s were kickin’. After picking nearly 100, I washed and trimmed them, before popping them into the dehydrator. Out came crispy, crackly water-free peppers. After a brief grind in the food processor, I had my own eye-watering, extra hot cayenne powder- exactly as I like it. I’m experimenting with habaneros, jalapenos and aji amarillos at the moment and hope they are just as delicious!

I’ve decided, we’re living in a time, when it seems that doing things yourself is a the only way to avoid culinary disappointment.

4.6.11

The sunshine decides to make its grand entrance after a 4-month hibernation from my vitamin-Deprived epidermis, and my neck cranes and my back elongates, mimicking a sunflower following the rejuvenating rays. Spring and winter dueled in February and May, but April produces a long-awaited winner. The Northern Hemisphere awakens, and the environmentally-frustrated people begin to bustle around the town planting gardens, mowing lawns and tossing or kicking various balls or discs.

To sum up my winter: I bet I’ve eaten over 50 lbs. of sweet potatoes, at least 25  lbs. of carrots and lord knows (because  I don’t want to) how many pizzas. As much as I love a good caramelized, roasted vegetable, I’m over it. I’ cannot wait to  re-introduce the dusty adjectives– fresh, crisp, light, acidic and balanced– into my cooking repertoire. I need tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, squash, eggplants and fruit!

Winter featured noteworthy highlights:  I’m pumped about gifts of the food preservation nature–an excalibur dehydrator and companion “Put it Up!” cookbook. I’ve got notions of  fruits, tomatoes devoid of bacteria and mold-loving water and nifty jalapeno chips for next winter… A new kitchenaid and immersion blender now grace the kitchen gadget brigade, and baked goods and pureed sauces will make frequent trips to the “Y” necessary. Only a few more weeks until the garden of Grubb gets going and farmers descend upon the urbanites of Knoxville to bring greens, lettuces, strawberries and spring onions.

We’re moving into a new apartment this week. A new space, a new season. Perfect timing.

I fancy things working out just right (sort of the glass half full to Alanis Moirssette’s “Isn’t it Ironic”)–just enough milk in the jug for one bowl of breakfast cereal, exact change at the checkout line, the instant arrival of the subway as you reach the platform, and recently, the perfect song playing as I arrived home after a 17-hour drive from Vermont.

“Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be,
Baby won’t you carry me back to Tennessee.”

sang the Grateful Dead

I believe everything happens for a reason, but I contribute more to timing than fate. Fate and luck I, nor any known force, have foreseeable control over. But, being patient, mindful and introspective paint a path to clarity.

I get excited frequently and with ease, but I rarely feel disappointed.

I have plans of travel, adventure and graduate school, but I am happy with the here and now.

I want to own things like a home, business or dog, but I’m willing to wait.

I need more outlets for creativity, but I have my whole life to learn how to sew, tango or brew.

My little 25-year old body and soul are at the jumping off point, but rather than choosing the road that is less traveled (or more traveled for that matter), or blazing my own road, or asking someone directions to a road they like…I think I should probably stop with the analogies….I want to find my road by loafing around until I find the one road of the many roads that I will travel on during my life. Life should be simple, and I intend to keep it that way.

 

 

I love my job(s).

a. Farmers Market Second Liutenant (Real title still in limbo)

b. Mountain Meadows Farm- tomater sorter, CSA organizer, veggie planter, apple analyzer and anything else Shannon may deem important

c. La Costa- tender of the bar and server of zee cuisine

d. Market Gnome

I’m guessing the positive words relating to careers are rarely uttered by my fellow countryman these days, especially by the sprightly 20-somethings who are still searching for the best beer deals in town, something financially and socially beneficial but with less long-term gratification than being happy with your career choice. Reaching the point of satisfaction required hours and years of self-exploration and refinement, not forgetting the unnecessary mentionables–physics, engineering calculus, and volunteering in the sterilized white-washed depressing Jackson-Madison County Hospital. I mean really, could you imagine me as Dr. Pettigrew…boring, I prefer Kimberly.

Ive always had a hard time making concrete decisions, so the fact that I’ve settled into a job genre is surprising to me…but I guess since I do work a trio of jobs that’s not exactly choosing one thing . What is your favorite food/color/song/movie? Impossible! What would you like to major in? Impossible to pick one field of study and consider it a complete education. Im really not complicated, I just will never fit my dreams into a tiny nutshell. My current non-rotting in an office between the hours of 9 to 5 job(s) combine the following: education, outreach, nutrition, physical labor, conferences, philanthropy, multi-media, food, farmers, wine and people. Im able to shape and influence the direction that Knoxville takes in regards to the local food system in the next few years and decades. What more could a gal want? (besides the obvious money to make this all happen)

My job is malleable, and this enables me to fluidly grow with the needs and wants of the community. Charlotte, market mama and friend, and I can generally be found with a cup of Counter culture coffee at Old City Java or perched up at the Farmers’ Market Info booth or more recently swingin on her porch, talking about our dreams to bring local food to all and to educate the public about what’s around them–lesser known veggies and fruits (heirloom tomatoes, fennel, herbs), preservation (canning, drying), cooking, nutrition,etc. Charlotte got the wheels turning by introducing the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets in TN. Her ability to turn visions into realities is the main reason I decided to axe my grad school dreams and give my soul to local food. I have dreams of community kitchens, cooking classes, mobile markets, food sheds, and community gardens. These things will happen here and I will be a part of them. It tugs my heart and makes my eyes slightly misty and my throat a bit lumpy to think of all the possibilities–how far we have come, how daunting a task these things are to accomplish, but how fortunate I am that Knoxville is ready to stop being stagnate.  Knoxville isn’t so different from other places that linger somewhere between a big town and small city. We’ve got a blend of SUV-drivin, strip-mall suburbia to a riveting pedestrian friendly downtown. But what we do have is the people and support to make this happen. We may not be as financially stable as Nashville or Chattanooga, but damn our lack of money is made up with willpower and determination. Here we come world.

No, I didn’t lose my marbles in South America.  I acquired worms and munched on weeds at my friend Katie Ries’s MFA Thesis Show–The Urban Land Scouts. The worms will be my little kitchen scrap recyclers, breaking down my leftovers into organic matter. My prior composting involved putting scraps into a bowl and waiting until nightfall to sneak down to the green space behind my apartment to deposit my unwanted peels, coffee grounds and egg shells. But now, I shall fear the landlord no more and compost in peace.

Onto the part about eating my lawn (well, I live in an apartment so I’ve actually been borrowing lawns from others). Well, I came back from South America not exactly with money overflowing from my pockets. So, what’s a starving foodie to do about sustaining herself through the day? Forage for food! My favorite food to forage for (aka easiest to find) are dandelions.

The best part about the dandelion, besides its beautiful yellow color, is that the entire plant is edible from the roots to the petals. I don’t recommend eating them when they reach the snowball stage, they are better used for entertaining purposes at that point.

Health Benefits

- The flowers: helps purify the body and blood; aids in the treatment of hepatitis, yellow jaundice, anemia and weight loss; rich in lechitin (good for the brain and the liver)

- The greens: sodium, iron, beta-carotene, potassium, antioxidants, and vitamin A

- The roots: ontain inulin and levulin, starchlike substances that may help balance blood sugar, as well as bitter taraxacin, which stimulates digestion

How to Use

- Flowers: dry them and use as tea, infuse into a simple syrup, deep fry (thank you Katie Ries), mix into and omelet or fritter, blend into wine or make into jelly

My way: dried leaves to make dandelion tea

- Leaves: after sauteeing or steaming these leaves can add flavor and nutrients to salads, soups, fritattas, crepes…the possibilities are limitless. The small, immature greens can be eaten raw.

My way: Soup

Forage Soup Recipe

Saute 4 green scallions with 6 ramps. Add two chopped carrots and saute in 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Add dried herbs (I used oregano, time and winter savoury). Add 2 cups of dandelion greens and any other greens you have on hand. I added baby collard greens. Cover with water, salt and simmer until your kitchen smells heavenly. As a finishing touch I added spaghetti noodles. Dollop with pesto (I made cashew, spinach and arugula pesto) and voile!

- Root: Delectable roasted and ground into a coffee-like substance similar to chicory coffee. Can also be eaten raw or sauteed.

Ms. Biscuit

I call myself a southern gal, yet I must confess my shortcomings. Not only do I lack that sweet-as-honey delta drawl, I also make sub-par biscuits. Yes sadly, my poor spicy sausage gravy just doesn’t have that buttery, flaky partner it deserves. In my opinion it’s wrong to use a canned or frozen biscuit if you live South of the Mason-Dixon line. (I must admit, can-opening pop is quite fun, but 5 seconds of elation doesn’t stand up to the remorse of consuming them.) So, here I am confessing (a bit bitterly) that I can’t make a perfect biscuit. We all know that the first step in change is admitting you have a problem…Now that I’ve done that, let’s learn what gives the southern biscuit its prestige.

The Biscuit Deconstructed

A. Flour–Yes, although Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose” the same cannot be said for flour. When talking Southern biscuits, there are two important words to remember concerning flour–White Lily. We all recognize that Northern and Southern accents are as different as night and day, but few people realize that the type of flour grown in each part of the country is just as different. The type of flour defined the type of carbalicious creations that could be made from them. Southern flour, with White Lily being the most referenced brand, has less gluten that Northern flour. Gluten is the protein in flour that gives a French loaf or bagel it’s crustiness. The idea of a crusty biscuit is enough to make the entire batillion of Southern Belles turn over in their graves in protest. So lesson numero uno, be a flour prude if you want light, fluffy biscuits.

B. Fat- Why of course fat makes a biscuit taste better, but it also gives the biscuits the characteristic flakey layers that are perfect for layering with fruit preserves or my personal favorite, butter (more fat please.) But as with flour, our ancestors relied on what they had, which wasn’t margarine or an omega-rich, heart-healthy oil. No, they used lard and lots of it! For those of you who have been brainwashed to tout this perfect fat, reconsider! Although vegetable-based shortening is an adequate substitute, it lacks the richness and depth of lard. Lesson numero dos, say yes to lard.

It’s all in the technique

With two biscuit commandments under my belt, it’s now time to master the technique. This is probably where the majority of my past problems occur. I tend to rush through baking. I just get so excited about the final product that I don’t follow recipes to the “T.” What can I say I’m a lover not a baker. But, after much past disappointment I’m turning in my lazy card and getting down to business.

  1. Cutting- It’s the only way the flour and lard can get cozy without activating those pesky gluten proteins. Becoming a master cutter is vital to produce a light biscuit. To begin, make sure the fat is cold. Rather than adding the fat in a large lump, small pieces work better. From here it’s necessary to your two god-given hands or a pastry cutter to combine the fat and flour until it resembles small crumbs.
  2. Next comes the addition of the liquid. This step also requires restraint, because over-mixing is a cardinal sin. First, make a hole in the center of your mixture and add all the milk at once. Use a fork to incorporate flour from the outer edge until a soft dough is formed. Whatever you do, don’t go haywire, less is always more. It won’t be a cohesive ball like yeast bread, so just use your gentle fingertips to combine the crumbly stragglers.
  3. Remove dough ball and knead 2-3 times. Dust the rolling surface with all-purpose flour, self-rising will leave the golden tops with a bitter aftertaste. Lightly pat or roll out biscuits to 1/2 inch thickness.
  4. Cut the biscuits into circles. Rather than twisting the biscuit cutter, press down and lift up.
  5. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Make sure the biscuits are touching. If they are touching they are less out to spread out. Because they don’t grow horizontally they rise more!

Well, I now have biscuit facts popping out of my ears and the flame of desire is lit. Tomorrow morning, I have a date with White Lily + lard + buttermilk and I’m quite sure it will be a long-term love affair.  Wish me luck because if all goes right I’m going to be a real Southern belle after tomorrow, damn it! And as always..tips are appreciated!

Tuesdays are my day off. I don’t handle 24-hours of freedom very well. Yes, I love to read and lazily drink my cup of english breakfast in my flannel with the rest of the world–but then I think of all the productive things I could (and should) be doing and my relaxation bliss turns into me repenting for my deadly sin of sloth. I wanted something to do on Tuesday that would occupy my wandering mind but still provide solace after working my stressful hosting shift on Nama’s half-price night. I thought about exercising–getting that good anaerobic exercise, but just the thought of jogging makes my muscles cramp and my bones ache. I’m not particularly artistic or creative  making sewing, painting, or drawing out of the picture. Man-oh-man what is a girl to do with 24 hours of free time.

That’s when I got the perfect message. It came via cyberspace,  but it’s sender was merely 1-mile away as the crow flies.

“Does anyone want to work the dirt at Organicism farm to and receive a free CSA share?” it asked.

I thought about it for a whole two minutes.

Question 1 to myself: Do you love free food? Who doesn’t

Question 2 to myself: Do you have time? Yes, Tuesday!

Brilliant. And so it came to be that my Tuesdays are now spent working at Ryan and Jessica’s farm in Seymour. This is my first official week as a CSA’er and I must say I am quite smitten. In addition finding peace working in the cool mountain air, I have a basket (with a nifty handle) full of produce begging to be made into something delicious.

My CSA basket has a blingin metal handle

CSA Basket Week 1

  • CSA Flier Week 1

    CSA Flier Week 1

CSA Meals

  • Arugula pesto pizza
  • Arugula pesto cream cheese spread served with late summer vegetable sandwiches
  • Gumbo
  • Double Chocolate Mint Cookies
  • Pumpkin Penne with pan-fried rosemary butter
  • Late fall salad- with butter lettuce, micro-radishes, pears, caramelized walnuts and lemon-garlic dressing
  • The slaw was gone in less than one hour…oops
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