Sunday, August 2, 2009

One of Ten Mighty Mini-Burgers on

I was honored to be selected as one of ten mighty mini-burgers in an article on Woman's Day's website. In the article they mention our weekly foodie potluck. Click HERE to view the mini-burgers article. Click HERE for my BBQnoosh slider recipe.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Send Me Dead Flowers Every Morning

As I was pulling the spent daylily stems out of my garden, it dawned on me that these dead flower stems might make a nice arrangement. So, I took them inside and stuck them in three white vases that we bought on sale at the West Elm outlet. I think they look perfect and they never need water.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Recipe: Feta, Roasted Pepper and Basil Muffins

Oops -- I've been so busy posting other stuff that I've forgotten to mention the superlative food we've had at the last few dinners.

These muffins, which I fixed on the fly two Thursdays ago, were a big hit. I found the recipe in one of my trusty Sur la Table cookbooks, although you can get it right here.

With feta in my fridge and basil growing in the backyard garden, I had all the ingredients already on hand -- except for the buttermilk, which I made myself, dumping a spoonful of vinegar (a squeeze of lemon juice will also do the job for you) into a glass of regular ol' two percent.

I also substituted a mini-muffin pan, and, using a cookie dough sized ice cream scoop, got nearly 36 muffins using just one batch of batter. Mmm, good!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Affordable Food

More and more often, as I talk with friends, family members, and even the part of my brain that tabulates my running expenses, the question comes up: Is eating well worth the cost?

Three years ago, Michael Pollan penned an excellent essay about this very topic, assauging, for the most part, my guilt and fears about overspending on quality ingredients.

Then another essay, written by Pete Wells and published in the NYT on June 14, caused me to rethink a bit.

Wrote Wells: "Until recently, whenever we went to the farmers' market, we would lug home $50 pork roasts and $14 gallons of milk. We would spend over $100 on food that might not last more than three days. Sometimes we'd shop on Saturday morning and have nothing to make for dinner on Monday. I shrugged this off as one of those oddities of New York life, like getting a ticket because your neighbor put out his trash on the wrong day. But the $35 chicken made me reconsider. Buying sustainably raised beef and sustainably squeezed milk and sustainably hatched poultry is a way of life that, these days, I just can't sustain."

I had my own wake-up call back in late April, when a large bulk of my freelance work unexpectedly dried up. After I cancelled all but my basic cable services, cut back my cell phone minutes, and struck all other non-necessities from my monthly budget, I was still broke. Luckily, within a few weeks, more work had rolled in, but I was still scared.

My mama was in town soon after, and she accompanied me on a trip to the grocery store. She shamed me into forgoing name-brand sugar (I buy about a pound a year, for baking) for the store brand, which cost about half as much, but, overall, I think she was impressed with my shopping skills.

Is sustainable eating also financially sustainable for someone in my income bracket? Considering I don't have traditional health insurance, I think it's ultimately worth the cost. Fortunately, coupons have saved me about 10 percent off every shopping total I've ran up in the last three months.

I now brandish a Kroger card, which, in addition to collecting my information for Big Brother, nets me some great deals and bona fide freebies, in the form of monthly coupons they send in the mail. It might not be glamorous, but today, I scored $1 off a 4-pack of organic butter, $1 off organic cheese, $1 off organic eggs, and bought several cans of Bush's northern beans (the foundation of my favorite quick summer salad) for half price.

I also spent an hour in front of the computer, brainstorming about the luxury brands I can't seem to live without (Kashi cereal, Contadina tomato paste, Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products, Horizon dairy products, etc), and googling their websites to look for coupons or sign up for special deals. Within a week, Kashi mailed me two coupons for free boxes of cereal (that's $10 in savings). Sure, these companies now have my personal info to plug into their demographic models, but I get something out of the deal too.

Next, I signed up for emails from Whole Foods (or, as many of my friends call it, Whole Paycheck) and Fresh Market, which means more coupons and sales circulars that come my way.

Today, after my run through Kroger (all in all, I paid $84 for $112 worth of groceries, including replacement refrigerator staples from the storm last month and tons of fresh fruit), I ran into Whole Foods to stock up on my favorite cheeses (admittedly, never on sale) and to redeem a coupon I'd gotten on a postcard for a free bag of store-brand chips. When I checked out, an employee handed me another coupon for a free rotisserie chicken and a free 56-oz tub of ice cream, redeemable later on this month. The trick is, of course, not loading up on the expensive junk when you're running in for a freebie.

I still get the Sunday newspaper, and I always scan the coupon section for deals (last week, I scored $1 off Terra sweet potato chips), but I have better luck picking up info from bloggers like Affluent Pauper and Coupon Geek. From them, I learned about Mambo Sprouts, which offers all kinds of healthy/natural food coupons. Now, grocery shopping is like playing a game called "Beat the Cash Register." Sometimes, I walk in with coupons that, once I see the item, don't seem to be such a good deal. In that case, I carefully tuck the coupon next to the product, so that someone else can use it.

Even better, of course, is growing the food myself. I have tons of herbs, tomatoes, and jalapenos coming in, but haven't bothered with many other crops this year, mainly because of the CSA basket I get every week. I also make 98 percent of my meals from scratch -- including pizza crusts and loaves of bread.

I'm curious about your shopping tips. Anybody got any advice or questions on finding high quality food that's more affordable?

Please note: This week's dinner will be at the home of Robert Gordon and Tara McAdams. Same day, same time, just a different house. Drop me a line for their address. Sue Easley is organizing a trip to Jackson, TN for the UT Summer Celebration Lawn and Garden Show, which is also on Thursday. Go here for more info.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mexican Oilcloth

¡Viva Mexico!

Four years ago, when I moved into this house, Millett and Gene, who own Flashback, a vintage department store conveniently located a stone's throw from my front door, practically gifted me with a trio of red vinyl upholstered chairs, holdovers from some mid-century industrial setting. When I upgraded to a matching quartet of yellow Heywood-Wakefield classroom chairs (identical, not-so-coincidentally, to kitchen chairs my friends Melissa and James own), I retired the red chairs to the garage.

Last summer, the patio finally happened, and the chairs came out of hiding.

I'm no upholsterer, but I harbored a long-term fantasy about recovering the vinyl, and, last fall I took the plunge -- with one chair. The other two languished for another nine months, until last weekend, when I ferreted out my staple gun from the garage, cleaned off the semi-permanent cobwebs that cling to the legs of every stick of furniture stored outdoors, and, while watching Alfred Hitchcock put Tippi Hedren through her paces in Marnie during a day-long AH marathon on Turner Classic Movies (hey, it was 100 degrees outside), I finished one more chair.

What happened to the final chair? I got the seat and the back unscrewed from the metal frame, and carefully stapled oilcloth to the chair seat, then realized I didn't have enough oilcloth to finish the project.

¡Qué un lío! Quizá el año próximo...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Clarksdale's Farmers Market Is Now Open!

Check out this photo of the fields at Chicken Scratch Farm in Alligator, MS. If you're down in the Delta this summer, you can sample their wares at the Clarksdale Farmers Market, held on Saturdays in the 200 block of Delta Avenue. On sale now: pecks of purple hull peas, Black Beauty eggplants, tomatoes, and yellow squash grown by the crew at Chicken Scratch Farm, as well as farmers and community gardeners in Marks, Friars Point and Moon Lake.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

$5K for the Memphis Farmers Market

Go here, place your vote, and get the Memphis Farmers Market to the top of the list. Or, if the Agricenter is your spot, give them a vote.

The market with the most votes wins $5,000 from Care2 and Local Harvest, and right now, the Flint Farmers Market in Flint, Michigan is at the top of the list.

And be sure to head down to MFM this Saturday -- Mac Edwards will be giving some tips on salsa making. Meanwhile, on Sunday night, the MFM Dinner Tour stops into Tsunami. Thirty percent of the evening's proceeds go to MFM, so it's a veritable guilt-free meal!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What to do for dessert...

...when it is sweltering hot outside? We recently turned to the magic that is popsicles for last week's OSOME dinner. We used local peaches, nectarines, cucumbers, and blueberries to create the flavors. It's likely that we will never buy popsicles again due to the fact that now they all seem to taste like the cardboard boxes that hold them. Check out the recipe HERE.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I Never Said I Was A Pioneer

Given a choice, I'll always gravitate towards comfortable living. Sure, I'll go camping, or happily spend several hours working outdoors. If push came to shove, I think I could do without central air conditioning, if I've got a cold drink and a fan to keep the circulation going. But if you want to find my Achilles heel, strip my 98-year old home of its electricity, crank the heat up into the upper 90s, and disconnect me from the world for a few days.

Friday afternoon, a storm hit our town, knocking down trees, felling power lines, and setting the tornado sirens to full-volume wail. Many OSOME contributors lost their electricity. A live wire was knocked loose on my street, and I was 100 percent unprepared -- my kitchen sink was still filled with dirty dishes from Thursday's OSOME meal, and the washing machine was halted mid-cycle, while loaded with cloth napkins and sheets and towels from the house guests I had earlier in the week. Although I'm the daughter of an airplane pilot who lived by the meteorologist's word, I'd missed the last three days of weather forecasts, and, when Elvis Redux blew in, I was in my car on Union Ave. trying to run errands. I came home, assessed the situation, and initially decided to keep the windows closed and the refrigerator full, with hopes that I'd get back onto the grid within a few hours.

By Saturday afternoon, I decided to open the 4 windows that aren't painted shut and eat the OSOME leftovers I'd set aside for my mama, who was due in on a plane later that night. I downed a half-pint of Marshall's zingy borscht, sampled a bowl of Tara's radish salsa, and finished the last few spoonfuls of aioli I'd whipped up two days earlier. Tara came by and picked up the steaks, milk, butter, cheese and Gulf Coast shrimp that were defrosting in my fridge. I crammed my Downing Hollow CSA -- bag and all -- into an ice-filled cooler, and everything else went into the garbage. I ran to the airport, and then Cassius, my mama and I settled into Red Roof Inn for the night.

Sunday, we optimistically checked out of the motel room and went to Cafe 1912 for brunch. At 7PM we went to a movie, then came home to a hot house and tried to go to sleep, because I had Sewing School to teach at Grace-St. Luke's this week.

After camp on Monday, we downed ice coffees and sandwiches from Cafe Republic. Drove home holding our collective breath, then let out disappointed sighs when we realized it was still hot, hot, hot, and decamped to Scott and Kerri's for a brief respite. Another storm blew through, and I raced home to open the windows and get the cool air inside.

Today, with Justin in tow, I went into Fino's Italian Grocery for an Aquisto sandwich on a baguette. Came home and it was still hot. I know I'm not the only Memphian dealing with this -- there were nearly 200,000 of us at first count -- but geez, the monotony of it is stressing me out. As I've been saying, If I wanted to deal with the impending threat of natural disasters,coupled with the ineptitude of an ineffectual bureaucracy, I'd have moved to New Orleans eons ago.

Somehow, I weathered (pun intended) 14 days without power in 2003, when a progressive derecho called Hurricane Elvis took a similar route through town. That time around, I made do by grilling with friends, lingering at the ice machines strategically located across the bridge in West Memphis, Ark., and drinking like a fish.

This time is different.

Five days without power, and, as certain friends can attest, I've been reduced to a sniveling mess. Although the Memphis Light, Gas & Water trucks zip by every few hours now, the power lines are still dangling across my sidewalk, and my refrigerator is still bare, its freezer door hanging forlornly open so that the fresh box of baking soda can do its work. What was once a magical cold cabinet chock full of beer, cheese, and other tasty treats is now a sterile. empty box. Sure, my pantry is heavily laden, but who -- other than Justin -- wants to cook in stifling temps?

I am trying to count my blessings.

In the grand scheme of things, I got off lightly: I have a kitchen that was uncrushed by tree limbs. I was fortunate that I had food to jettison, and food I was able to save, even though Tara's power went out a day after mine. I have friends who have offered shelter, and friends who have shared their food. I had to junk most of last week's CSA, but I was able to save a few beets and green onions, which I'll add to a salad as soon as I can make a meal at home without sweating.

When MLGW powers me back up, I'll simply turn on the washing machine, and take a few grocery expeditions to replenish the fridge shelves. I'm grateful that I don't have to yoke up a team of oxen and traverse a mountain range to do so, or make like the characters in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," and trek through the aftermath of WWIII. To paraphrase Scarlett O'Hara, "As God is my witness, I'll never take electricity for granted again."

And, please note: If you're planning to come to this week's OSOME dinner, it will be held at Lorette and Alex Greene's house, which is in the U of M area. Call me for the address. It's gonna be a great night -- Lorette plans to set up dinner tables in the fields out back, where her team of urbagrarians have been planting tomatoes, lettuces, squashes, and herbs. Next week, we should be back in my backyard.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Field Trip: Nesbit, Here We Come!

Kerri mentioned this in passing last night -- and today, I saw this article in the Commercial Appeal...

It's finally blueberry season!

The 15,000 or so blueberry plants at Nesbit Blueberry Plantation are ready to be harvested, so who's ready to go down to Mississippi? The farm is open 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Tues.-Sat. until August 1.

U-pick blueberries are $11 per pound.

Maybe next Saturday?

Who's in?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

OSOME Field Trips

So, earlier this week, I got a call from Sue, who had a brilliant idea:

Field Trips.

Up first, the Magevney House Kitchen Garden Tour, which is this Saturday, June 11.

Sue's words: "Once a year, people! Don't miss this! They are keeping this a big secret for some reason--I couldn't find anything about the hours. Called the number on the Pink Palace website and got the program director's voice mail. Finally, I called garden designer Suzy Askew, who heads up the volunteers, and left her a message. She called back right away and said it was from 9-12 on Saturday, June 11 only. And, she said it was fine to take photos. I emailed Slow Food Memphis to ask them to send this info to their email subscribers. Maybe it will help to get the word out. I've seen it once and I can't recommend it enough if you are interested in growing food in Memphis or in Memphis' early history. These dedicated volunteers have spent years recreating an authentic garden, using the same varieties that would have been grown in the 1830's in this area."

Go here for a fantastic Edible Memphis article about the Magevney House garden, which features 19th century garden varieties of asparagus, kale, peas, potatoes, St. John's Wort, onions, collards, sesame, potatoes, lettuce, eggplant, rosehips, and more, plus 17 varieties of antique fruit trees.

Sue plans to get to the garden at 9 a.m. Saturday and stay for 2 hours, if anyone would like to carpool. I'm also going to aim for 9 a.m., but can't stay there that long. She says there is a shady arbor to sit in and peruse the garden, and she recommends packing your own drink.

Second Field Trip: Gardens Oy Vey in Arlington, TN.

From Sue: "Nursery and three acres of woodland paradise on what was once a kudzu-covered gulley. They carry lots of native plants and the Southern Shield fern, which is one of the best ferns to grow in the South according to Felder Rushing. They are open on Fri., Sat., and Sun. through June or we could make an appointment. Hopefully, Diane would be there to chat with. She is an absolute gardening guru. They are way out in Arlington. Here's a link to Diane and Wolfgang's article about organic lawn care."

Third Field Trip: UT Summer Celebration Lawn and Garden Show in Jackson, TN.
Thursday, July 9, 10:00 a.m. - 7 p.m. $5.00 admission.

Sue: "This is a must-do and an all-day event. We could carpool and leave at 8:30. Lots of unusual stuff for sale from volunteers. Workshops all day long. Plantings all over the place, whimsical and eye-popping displays. Who knew there were such creative people in Jackson! They sell food, but we went into downtown Jackson and ate at an old restaurant there. Also good to take snacks to keep the brain fueled since they are sharing LOTS of info and handouts. I learned tons (especially the benefits of organic Garden-Tone fertilizer). (Also, the nurseries in Jackson are worth a visit sometime. Some of the Jackson people and presenters even write for Fine Gardening!!!)"

Go here to see Sue's photos from last year.

Family And Friends, Close To Home And Far Away

Here's one more glance at last week's meal -- a plateful of early June veggies! Dinner last week was just spectacular. Six days later, and I am still basking in the warmth that comes from hanging out with friends, old, new, tight and loose-knit. I love my family, but don't get to see any of them often enough -- hence my "Memphis family." And aren't we a creative bunch? I think there were two teachers, four writers, five musicians, and four or five artists (with plenty of cross-pollination) at our last OSOME meal.

I also love that the rhubarb in Amy's wonderful tart was grown by her sister in Seattle, and mailed cross-country. And that my friend Lorette -- with plenty of help from Sue, Lori Aime, Tara, Libby, et al -- is growing most of the veggies I'm eating this summer. And that recipes come with stories attached, family lore that is as integral as the teaspoons of herbs and a warm oven.

Since last Thursday, I've had two bands crash land at the Landis Street house -- Saturday night, old friends the Goodnight Loving spent the night along with their dog Jerry (he and Cassius made fast friends).

And Tuesday, the New Zealand group Bachelorette, who played at Minglewood Hall with Bonnie Prince Billy, stayed over. A Portlander, an Australian, and three NZers in this tiny house -- we were connected through a former Memphian who works for Drag City, but, as it so often turns out, we discovered we had about 10 random friends in common, connecting us from halfway around the world. It's always so wonderful to discover friends in faraway places -- and good to know that, should I ever make it to NZ, I'll have plenty of free places to stay! Anyways, the NZers kept cracking me up, because they pronounced "awesome" as "osome." I took 'em to Dejavu for a Creole soul food lunch, and when they all declared the food as "osome," I had to laugh and explain that while former Louisianan Gary Williams is my favorite chef in town, they'd have to stick around 'til Thursday to get a truly OSOME meal.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Last week was magical

It just keeps getting better. We had two kinds of fresh salads, double-dutch mac n' cheese, zucchini-orzo pasta, some wonderful empanadas with ricotta and radish, green beans, peach ice cream, and The Wife's strawberry-rhubarb pie. It is only Monday and I'm already looking forward to Thursday night.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Don't Forget: OSOME Move

We're moving -- days, that is. As of this week -- and for the rest of the summer -- OSOME will be held on Thursday nights at 7PM. See you on the 4th!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shittake Sausages

At the OSOME gathering this past Wednesday as we went around the table to tell what we made for everyone, Andria proclaimed that it is not a contest to see who can use the most local ingredients. "Too bad," I said jokingly, "because I would have won." So there!

Read about my vegetarian shittake mushroom sausages HERE.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Third Wednesday

After the wealth of mosquito bites I got last weekend, I was thrilled that I was able to get the grass cut a few hours before this week's dinner. Then Cassius decided to make it snow -- he took a down-filled pillow off the couch and took it to the back yard, then went nuts. Geese feathers everywhere, thousands of 'em, flying onto the patio, into the holes he'd already dug, and all over the grass. I spent a good hour raking and scooping, but the problem just wasn't going away. Then, at 6 p.m., the rains came, matting down the feathers, and soaking the patio furniture...

Fortunately, we had a smallish crowd for supper -- 9 adults and 4 almost-teens, who preferred the glow of the TV set to our company.

We had so many beautiful local ingredients: shitake mushrooms in nearly every dish, plus potatoes, herbs, tomatoes, and lettuces.

Justin and Amy went all-out, making yummy sausages out of potatoes, wheat gluten and mushrooms, then tucking them into whole wheat hot dog buns with a dab of sauerkraut. Tara made a beautiful green bean dish, topped with bread crumbs. Lori and Tim brought over a delicious cold pasta salad chock-full of tomatoes and herbs. Sue tossed together salad greens and a wonderful homemade blue cheese dressing. Lori, the farmer in our group, came armed with the CSA I didn't have time to pick up, as well as a bouquet of gorgeous sunflowers. I got together a pizza crust just in time, and made 2 pizzas topped with sauteed shitakes, just-picked herbs and feta cheese. And Kerri brought over Pancho's Cheese Dip and a big bottle of Prichard's Rum. Sure, she thought outside of the box, but she adhered to the local theory nonetheless -- and the Pancho's dip was the hit of the night!

Paul and Angela came by too, although they couldn't hang around for supper. But they did bring some good news and enough eggs from their backyard chicken coop for everyone to take a half-dozen home. (I borrowed the photo above from their blog, although the eggs in that shot were eaten long ago.)

Thank you, everyone, for such great food and company.

And don't forget that as of June 4, we're switching to Thursday nights. See you next week!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Southern Sliders

Last Wednesday, I wrote a story about sliders for the Commercial Appeal. While researching the article, I found out that May is designated "National Hamburger Month," and I road-tested some of the sliders around town. I interviewed local restaurateur/gourmand Karen Foster Carrier, a VP at Krystal, Bardog's owner, Huey's employee Ashley Boggs Williams, and OSOME participant Justin Burks, trying to uncover what makes a tiny burger great.

Then, a few weeks ago, I made my own sliders, with Kerri's help. No secret ingredients -- just good, high-quality grass fed beef from Mathis Farms. We grilled 'em over charcoal, topped 'em with farmers market arugula, and served 'em up for OSOME's inaugural meal. Go here for the slider story and recipes galore, including the recipe for my own burger, The Chubby Vegetarian's patented N'Awlins Veggie Slider with Remoulade Sauce, shrimp sliders from the Lee Bros., and more.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Second Wednesday

Well, I failed to remember to take any photos last week -- until after the dishwasher was loaded. Oops. If you were here, you know what a great meal we shared, and just how beautiful it all looked. If you missed it, well, you know to try to make it here soon.

Local components: Potatoes, greens, shitake mushrooms, eggs, strawberries, milk, and herbs galore. We were initially worried that we'd be eating nothing but salad this early in the season, but so far, we've had plenty of variety in our meal.

Justin has already blogged about his frittata, a fantastic so-called pinch hitter after his pizza crust debacle. Tara and Esther made an incredibly delicate asparagus and mushroom phyllo tart, using shitakes from Lorette Greene's mushroom block. John brought a caprese salad laid out on a beautiful platter and topped with just-grown basil leaves. Melissa and James showed up with a gorgeous bowl of vegetarian stir-fry with fresh, local kale. Sue, Henry and Doug came with a bowl of the best guacamole I've ever had, using Lorette's cilantro for extra flavor. Alan had a loaf of bread, freshly baked in Arkansas. I made my first ice cream of the season, combining strawberries from Lorette's CSA and Jones Orchard with Mennonite milk purchased at Easy Way.

There was plenty of food to go around, and I discovered that one of the best parts of hosting these weekly gatherings is the leftovers I get to enjoy the next day. Nothing like a cold slice of frittata followed by a forkful of mushroom tart. Mmm...

One more thing to mention: Lorette and Hattie brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Whitton Farms in a mason jar that looked perfect on the table. I had to toss most of 'em into the compost heap today, but I still have this stem to enjoy. None of the blooms in my own garden are ready to cut yet -- I have marigolds, phlox, a few leftover Lenten roses, and Sweet William going strong, but I prefer to leave those blossoms on the plants. Soon enough, I'll have flowers galore. What's getting ready to bloom in your garden? Anyone here have luck with Lady's Mantle? I had a nice chat with my friend Chanda this weekend, and she's got it in her Pacific NW beds, but I think it's too dry in the summer to grow it here...

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Justin's last post, plus a recent drive through Tipton County, and a wedding notice in the newspaper, all got me thinking about Oak Hill, my mother's family's farm.

Oak Hill is a Tennessee Century Farm. It's also, according to my recollection, the oldest home in the state that's still lived in by the same family. It was established as a plantation in Keeling in 1832, although a Maclin (my mother's family name) didn't actually move there until 15 years later. By the time I was born, much of the land had been parceled off (mainly during the Depression) and the plantation had been converted into a dairy farm. The old house still stands, and I remember playing in its earthen cellar during a family reunion in the mid-1970s. Back then, my mother's great cousins, Lancelot and Helen Maclin, lived in the big house, and their children and grandchildren resided in another newer house down the hill. The last time I drove out there -- October 2008 -- it looked like my cousin Steve ( one of the grandchildren, who got married a weekend or two ago) had moved into the old house with his kids.

My mother had never spent time at Oak Hill -- she was raised all over Louisiana, and on Pedernales, an island in Venezuela, before she was parceled off to boarding school in Vicksburg, MS -- but the farm was writ large in our family lore. My grandmother, Alice Minor Maclin, had spent the summers there along with her siblings and cousins. Oak Hill -- we always called it "the farm" -- served as a makeshift summer camp during the Depression and the wars, and the cousin-children would be bussed in from Texas and Louisiana to stay there so that their mothers could more easily hold down the fort at home. Because our part of the family was so mobile (even my great-grandmother, Beatrice Maclin, didn't emigrate from England until the early 1900s), the Oak Hill branch of the Maclin family, which had resided in one TN county for the better part of the last 150 years, perfectly illustrated our idea of home. Five years ago, my brother even named his daughter Maclin.

Farm-wise, I don't know much about the Maclin crops. I remember the dairy cows, grazing between the tombstones in the old family cemetery, and a feist dog named Foo-Fi that I wanted to take home with me when I was about 7 or 8, when we stopped at Oak Hill for a few days on our move from suburban Chicago to Lafayette, LA. What I do know, however, is that I love, however distant, having some connection to the land.

Interestingly, through my mother's side of the family, I am related to all kinds of Memphis folk: Through my cousin Tempe Walker Chancellor, I am related (by marriage) to photographer Perry Walker, the Malco theater family, and my friends Adam and Jason Hoenberg and Katherine Greenwood. I'm also, according to this abstract, related to the Broadnax jewelry family via Imogene Maclin, a cousin who was born 9 days after the Battle of Shiloh and who lived to be 101. I also have a great uncle, Jack Findley, who emigrated from St. Andrews in Scotland (by way of India) to marry a Maclin girl and ultimately build most of the country club golf courses in Louisiana, including, I believe, the Tallulah Golf and Country Club and this course in Bogalusa.

And last fall, after that trek out to Oak Hill (supplanted by a trip to the original Gus' Fried Chicken in Mason), my friends Jay and Chanda from Portland OR and I stopped off at the Big S Lounge for a beer. There were two guys sitting on barstools who wanted to know who we were and where we'd been, and it turned out one of 'em was from Keeling. His last name, of course, was Maclin.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tomato Time

Last summer my dad would show up at my door periodically with a box of the best tomatoes I'd ever tasted. All he could tell me was that his friend Jimmy drove down to Holly Springs, Mississippi to pick them up whenever he got the call that the tomatoes were ripe and the farmer would be picking that day. Soon Jimmy will get the call that the first tomatoes of the summer are ready, so my dad and I will catch a ride with Jimmy down to Holly Springs. It was there that I first met the man who has mastered the tomato: Brad Carpenter.

Mr. Carpenter sells his 'supernova' and 'jet star' tomatoes and other home-grown vegetables out of a small stand that sits between his two vegetable fields on Carpenter Road. He is a fourth-generation farmer who speaks poetically about the sun, seed, and soil. He and his family work the fields by hand, tying up each vine and waiting patiently for the fruit to become ripe enough to pick. He does not irrigate or use pesticides, and every drop of water that nourishes the plants is rained down by God himself. Mr. Carpenter told me that he doesn't care about high yields. He treats his plants in a way that will produce the best tasting fruit, not the most fruit. He let me know that a plant that struggles in the soil is better for it in the end.

He was kind enough to take me on a tour through his fields. I was endlessly astounded by his depth of knowledge of the land and his innate ability to turn Mississippi soil into delicious food. As we walked, he pulled potatoes from the ground, allowed me to taste the roma tomatoes he was trying out, and picked a dozen squash blossoms right off the vine. These ended up on my plate only a few hours later. As we walked back toward the stand, his father pulled up in a red pick-up truck and handed him a pail of freshly picked blackberries to sell. It almost goes without saying that I took a few of those off of his hands as well.

Tomatoes are my favorite food and Mr. Carpenter raises the best around. Without people like him and his family we would all be damned to eating those flavorless, red orbs they try to pass of as tomatoes in most grocery stores. So, next time you are down in Holly springs to take your friends to Graceland II, stop by and see Brad Carpenter, buy a few pounds of his home-grown tomatoes, and thank him for what he does.

Consolation Frittata

I told everyone that I was bringing pizza. I had this dough in my fridge that I had let rise for 3 days and I believed that it was ready to be made into pizza. It was a mess. I can make pizza in my sleep, so I'm not really sure what went wrong. It was sticky and flat. So it is now 10 past 6 and I'm supposed to be at the OSOME gathering at 7ish. What do you do? Frittata, that is what. I had the pizza topping already prepared, and I had gotten some eggs from a friend earlier in the day. I used some select pizza toppings to fill and top the frittata. It was some unplanned local deliciousness.

2 red potatoes (thinly sliced)
10 eggs
3 slices of bread (torn into small bits)
1 sweet onion (sliced and caramelized in some butter)
2 field roast sausages (sliced and browned)
1 cup mozz (shredded)
1/2 cup goat cheese (crumbled)
12 sprigs of thyme
S & P
olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Mix the onion, eggs and bread together in a large bowl. Oil a large non-stick skillet and place over medium heat. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer. Pour egg mixture over potatoes and top with sausage. Cover and cook until the edge starts to set. Place into the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove cover and add cheese. Cook until the center is not jiggly and the cheese is golden. Top with fresh thyme.

Local ingredients: potatoes, onions, eggs, thyme

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Constitutes Local Food?

In other words, if you live in Florida and you're eating Lay's Potato Chips made from Florida-grown potatoes, are you still a locavore?

This New York Times article tackles that very topic. In a world where marketing is everything, the folks at Frito-Lay are doing their best to cash in on a craze birthed by writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. Dave Skena, the VP of potato chip marketing at Frito-Lay, even declares of his company's latest ad campaign, “This is celebrating the notion of community."


It pisses me off, and I'm not even a real locavore. I'd die without bananas, year-round spinach, or blueberries for my cereal, come wintertime. But I am aware, with every penny I spend, whose pocket it's going into, and what effect it has on my local community. Sure, I do more than my share of shopping at Kroger and Target. I also switch to local purveyors as soon as they have enough bounty to sell. I buy from local farmers because I'm selfish -- the food I get is gonna taste much better than anything that's been shipped cross-country. Come over for dinner tomorrow, and you'll understand exactly what I mean.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Through the eyes

I couldn't resist. Hattie is 5 years old, armed with a pink digital camera, a burning desire to be a "garden girl" some day, and lots of time on her hands. She knows we are blogging and she wanted to show everyone the perfect pea pod, full of plump little English peas. If you ever wonder how a kid sees the world, get them one of those new fangled digital cameras covered in rubber so they bounce when you drop them. 
Think peas... with mint... with pearl onions... with fettuccine and cream...with tuna and shiitakes. Or eat them like Hattie, unzip one and pop the peas straight in your mouth. 
I can't wait til the next potluck and I thank you Andria for hosting a wonderful dinner last Wednesday. So much soul satisfying food and good conversation. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Justin's BBQnoosh

Because The Chubby Vegetarian is always such a great source for meatless recipes -- and because I knew he'd just taught a roomful of Whole Foods clientele how to make veggie burgers -- I called on Justin earlier this week for an upcoming CA story on sliders.

Justin delivered with some great commentary and a fantastic recipe that will appear in the pages of the CA next Wednesday. He also hatched an idea for a savory BBQ eggplant slider, to accompany my Mathis Farm Black Angus beef sliders that I grilled for our inaugural OSOME meal.

Local component: Honey Slaw, which Justin created using cabbage and onions from Whitton Farms, and honey from Peace Bee Farm. The slaw topped caramelized eggplant doused in homemade smoky barbecue sauce and gouda cheese. For the recipe -- and to see Justin's professional shot of the sandwich -- go here.

To register for The Chubby Vegetarian's next cooking class, "The Vegetarian Grill," go here.

First Wednesday

Twelve people -- the perfect test run. John and Justin are hamming it up for the camera. Thank god for Kerri, who, after doing some major prep work, spent the evening running up and down the stairs getting plates, forks, glasses, etc. We had some delicious food and drinks -- Justin and Amy brought barbecued eggplant sliders, Sue and Doug brought a "kilt" salad, Tara and Robert brought a radish salsa, and John and Scott brought wine and vodka. Lorette, of course, grew most of the food we ate, and brought beer. And Kerri and I made burger sliders using local beef and arugula... Everything was delicious! More on the recipes -- and the incredible 8-foot table Doug built (along with the entire patio) -- coming soon.

Writing About Cooking, Writing About Eating

I will write for food!

Here's the evidence:

Farmers Markets
Teach-A Pizza
Crawfish Celebration
King Cake Tradition
Tennessee Peaches Blues
The Lenten Tradition
Cold Comfort
Vietnamese Feast For the New Year
Super Bowl Food
All from the Commercial Appeal...

How It All Began

Last March, I sent this email to about 20 friends:

okay, folks, I know that summer seems like it's still a long way off, but I wanted to get out this email sooner rather than later -- and I know that a lot of my gardening friends are planning their crops now.

I have a proposal to make -- a weekly potluck meal that involves local ingredients.

right now, I'm calling the concept "our summer of magical eating" -- hopefully Joan Didion doesn't decide to sue me!

here's the scoop: we each make a dish using a locally grown item as the star ingredient. it could be something you've grown, picked, received as part of a CSA, or bought at a local farmers market or produce stand. make enough for every member of your family, x 4 (i.e., if you're a couple, you'd probably just double your recipe). find a recipe in a book or a magazine, or create your own. it could be something as simple as mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil, or as complex as a cocktail using local fruit.

bring your dish over to my house, along with a serving utensil and the beverage you'll be drinking, every wednesday at 7 p.m., and we'll have a potluck dinner.

I plan to serve dinner in my backyard every wednesday, from may through august (or elsewhere if anyone wants to take a turn hosting it). no RSVPs, no need to divvy up courses. kids are welcome. maybe some weeks, 20 folks will show up; maybe just 4 diners another week. there are vegetarians among us, but since we're talking summer bounty, I figure much of the fare will be vegetarian friendly. I also have a charcoal grill if anyone wants to do some cooking over here (hello, Neola beef eaters!).

a huge component of this will be a blog I'm setting up so that everyone who participates in the potluck series can post their recipes, discuss their gardens, swap crops, etc.

if you have any ideas, let me know. I'd like this to be a fairly organic, low-key production that sates our appetites, our social lives, and our budgets.