Friday, July 31, 2009

The Return

So we are back. After being away a month, I have to say I am feeling refreshed and ready for the last of the hot months here in Florida. Yesterday I went to check on the garden. Now going away in July was risky business because growing veggies in the summer in Florida is tricky...bugs...torrential downpours...bugs...and blazing blazing sun.

We have our first garden event this weekend, a wedding reception, and thanks to our amazing crew at 29 South the garden looks great. The sunflowers have all sprouted, the okra is practically six feet tall and dripping with the slender slimy fruits. There are only two plants that need to go, the zucchini due to bugs and the pole beans due to being fried out. Then there are the tomatoes.

There are sixteen beautiful plants of all different varieties...heirlooms...organics...farmer's picks you name it. They are full, green, and flowering. Just one thing is missing fruit. Loads of little yellow flowers and According to one of our farmers this is because of the heat. I put them in the ground too late and the lazy vines don't like to produce if it is too hot. So, I just have to keep them alive until late September when it cools down and we will have fruit for fall. Tomatoes in October....Florida has its perks!

Next week I will plant Buckwheat in all of the remaining empty plots to keep the soil protected from the brutal August sun. So that is a little garden update. Have a great weekend and check back Monday for a fresh taste of EcoCulinaire!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ten Bites from the Big Apple

There is one city in this country that demands you to eat and eat well, and that is none other than New York, New York. It doesn't matter if you are grabbing a hot dog from a greasy man with gold caps or sitting down to a six course prix fixe meal set on a white tablecloth, the Big Apple is a place where food of all walks of life just seems to taste better.

Chef, Lil' Bit and I just wrapped up our trip to the mountains with a whirlwind culinary sprint through NYC. This is our second trip to "the City" this year and like every other visit our itinerary revolved around food. Below is a list of our ten favorite restaurants we have eaten at thus so far. If you live in the city and you haven't eaten at them yet, do. Sooo do. If you happen to visit the city make a point to make a reservation. If the place doesn't take them, go any way. It will be worth the wait.

The Spotted Pig: This bar is rock n' roll and the food is absolutely unbelievably wonderful. I had the best Bloody Mary of my life here, and one of the most delicious hamburgers I have ever put in my mouth.

Prune: I had my birthday party here in February and we came back for an encore last Sunday for brunch. This food is authentic, straight forward, and simply perfect. If you go for brunch, get there when they open at 10 am, or be prepared for an hour wait. If you order the fish plate, order it as a shared appetizer because it is a whole lot of fish for one person to take down.

Momofuku Noodle Bar: I had been dying to eat here, and finally did last Saturday for a late lunch. The picture above is of their steam buns with pork. We ate our first serving and had to follow up with a second order because they are literally one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. If you live in NYC go and eat them. Go quickly.

Barney Greengrass: I have an affinity for fish, particularly when it is smoked or pickled. Barney Greengrass, as it is spelled out grandly on the sign of this landmark restaurant, is The Sturgeon King...and if you are into smoked fish this is the place. Bar Pitti: This is a little Italian joint in the West Village that is beyond amazing. Any restaurant that is running 20 specials on a chalkboard brought to your table you know is going to be good.

Momofuku Bassam Grill: For $200 you get a pork shoulder that feeds ten with a wide variety of accouterments that make for a fabulous feast. Bib lettuce, oysters, rice, kimchi, hoisin sauce and other delectables.

Katz's Delectassen: The word deli and New York are basically synonymous. Katz's has been around since 1888, and while there are other deli's in the city that may be a little less on the tourist map quest, this place has a killer pastrami sandwich. Remember the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally? That was filmed in Katz's and basically sums up the experience perfectly.

Babbo: Owned by Mario Battali, we had the eight course here. It was phenomenal, but the most memorable thing about this place was the music. There is nothing like fine dining with David Bowie and Beck booming.

Back Forty: We just ate here this past weekend and the vibe is warm and casual and the food creative yet accessible...kinda like what we do at 29 South. If you like donuts...they serve them warm for dessert. The night I was there they were drizzled with a cherry glaze...major yummy factor.

Locanda Verde: Located in the Greenwich Hotel owned by Robert DeNiro, we had a great meal here. The waitress gave us the run down of the menu and described each dish as "meant to be shared." We took this to a whole new level when the man at the table next to us shared his lamb chop. The one thing you are not going to want to share on this menu is the fettuccine with white bolognese...beyond delish.

ps. I have to share our one celebrity sighting in the city. After dinner with friends at Locanda Verde we went to this great little bar across the street. When I say little, I mean tiny. It was about midnight when this big guy in a black T shirt and long jean shorts walks in with his dog. When I saw him I thought to myself...this guy is so mafioso...definitely the muscle in the neighborhood. Then, he turned and low and behold... James Gandolfini. He asked if the bar served food, and then walked out whistling for his pup who followed leash dragging behind him. Poor guy can't shake the character even in real life.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Skeeter Season

Mosquitoes. Skeeters. Mozzies. Ruthless blood sucking bugs that seem to exist everywhere on the east coast. From Bar Harbor to Key West, the miserable bugs are everywhere. They can travel up to 7 1/2 miles in one evening, and in the process they can turn a perfectly wonderful summer evening into a nightmare.

While these relentless little pests in their current evolutionary carnation have been around for over 30 million years, their lifespan is only 1 to 2 weeks long from start to finish. That is if they don't get squashed first.

I think the worst thing about mosquitoes is killing them. This is for two reasons. One, it usually requires smacking yourself, and in my case they seem to have an affinity for my head. The slap in the face is almost as bad as the bite itself. Something to think about next time you get bitten by a skeeter, only the females bite. They use the protein in the blood to make eggs, which leads us to the second reason why I think killing mosquitos is disgusting.

The blood. There is nothing like swatting a mosquito against your arm before it bites you only to have some other person's blood come gushing out of it. This immediately makes me think of disease. Only the granny mosquitoes, the old ladies, the cougars of the swarm spread disease. Dirty bitches.

I thought in honor of skeeter season I would list some all natural remedies for keeping the vampy little bugs at bay. Some of these I have tried myself, others are suggestions I have gathered along the way. If you have any other suggestions to add to the list please do!

1. Eucalyptus oil and lemon balm oil

2. Lavender oil, particularly the Spike Lavender variety

3. Listerine: Don't spray it on you directly, but instead on the area around you. While Snopes says this is a false remedy, I have seen it in action and it works for a little while, but not long.

4. Citronella candles

5. Cactus Juice : This is a brand of repellent that I use. It is made from the Prickly Pear Cactus. It smells good and is kid friendly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Farmers Market Travels

Farmers markets are a great way to get a taste of local culture when you are traveling. Whenever we are on a trip I try to make a point to find the farmers market in the region and if possible check it out. They are wonderful places to buy foodie souvenires and gifts for friends and family, and often times you will also find booths where you can sample some local cuisine.

Exploring farmers markets abroad can also give you a taste of the ecology of the place you are visiting. For example, at this particular market they had a stand that sold local mushrooms, which is something not offered at our market in Florida. These are not the magical kind, mind you, but a wonderful array of culinary fungi.

Chef has finally joined us on our mountain vacation, and we decided to visit the farmers market here in Great Barrington to do a little shopping for the inevitable feast parties that will follow his arrival. We bought some Shitake, Oyster, and Hen of the Woods mushrooms, as well as hanger steaks, short ribs, whole chickens, veal sausage, and pork chops. For Lil' Bit fresh blueberries, peaches, and cherries.

The market here is thriving, bustling with activity and has a fantastically diverse group of vendors. It is open every Wednesday and Saturday, and I hope to pay it another visit soon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Crunchy Lady

Since Lil' Bit and I have been without our personal Chef for the past ten days we have been doing our own cooking. One of the greatest aspects of having a chef as a life partner is that he is like a living recipe encyclopedia...and he can make anything ten times fast than the average human.

I decided I wanted to write a post about cooking a simple meal completely out of local ingredients that would be easy for anyone to find in their communities. Without Chef here I didn't have my culinary sounding board, so I began to rack my brain for an idea...and then it hit me...the classic french sandwich...the crunchy lady...aka la croque madam.

Now, the saying goes "Ladies first" but similar to Adam coming before Eve in the Jewish book of fairy tales, the croque monsieur is the impetus for the madam. The origin of this classic ham and cheese sandwich stems from the lunches of French factory workers in the early 1900's. The story goes that because they did not have any refrigeration for their mid day meals, they would leave them near the radiator and the cheese would melt.

The croque madam is the same hot ham and cheese sandwich, only with a fried or poached egg on top. It is told that this sandwich got its name because the fried egg on top resembles ladies hats of yesteryear.

While finding local ham is a bit tricky, every other ingredient in the croque madam is fairly simple to source. Uncle George, Lil' Bit and I set out to gather our ingredients and managed to collect all of them in just a few hours. We started with a trip to the local bakery.

First we drove to the Berkshire Mountain Bakery which is located in a old brick building down a state road. We went inside where a small display case set up beside the door showed their goodies of the day. Behind the little counter was a bakery in full force...big tables with dough being needed and rolled, big stainless steel shelves being wheeled about, flour everywhere. I couldn't help but wonder how long most of the people there had been awake. Bakers keep strange hours. We scanned the breads and settled on a lovely loaf of French peasant bread, and also bought a pan au chocolate for dessert.

Next we headed to Rubiner's, the acclaimed Berkshire cheesemonger paradise. Here you can find the finest cheeses you will ever put in your mouth, some of which come from faraway places, but many also from dairy farms across the USA. We asked the cheesemonger on duty what local cheese he thought would melt the best and he recommended cheese from Cricket Creek Farm. He cut us a nice wedge from the wheel and off we went to Guido's for eggs.

Guido's is the local gourmet grocery store in Great Barrington, and it was here that we purchased the last four ingredients to make our meal complete. First we chose our eggs. Rather than using a chicken egg, which is the traditional topper for a croque madam we decided that duck eggs would make the sandwich just a little bit more glamorous. We bought eggs from Lucky Duck Farm, and in each carton they slip a little downy duck feather in with the eggs.

Then we grabbed a stick of artisan Vermont butter. This is some of the most delicious creamy butter I have ever put in my mouth. Vermont is only about an hour and a half away, so we counted the butter as a local item.

Last but not least, we wanted to get some accouterments for our pan au chocolate dessert. Raspberries from a local farm, and a pint of creme caramel ice cream from SoCo Creamery, which sources their ingredients from local dairies, did the trick.

I decided in order to stay true to my mission to eat an entirely local sourced meal to forgo using ham on my sandwich since we were unable to find any local ham. Uncle George swung by Taft Farm and picked up a 1/2 pound of ham that is cured and smoked there, but they were not sure where the pig was from. He then hustled on over the The Berkshire Brewery for a growler of beer. A growler is a large glass jug of beer, and if you bring your own jug it only costs about $8 for a refill. Not a bad deal.

We arrived home with all of our goodies and decided to wait until Lil' Bit went to sleep before we began to cook. It turns out that the croque madams make for great late night snacks. We It was 9:30 before we sat down to eat. After frying the sandwiches, Uncle George, who had been sipping on various adult beverages since about noon was unable to eat the steaming sandwich mainly because he found the glorious duck egg yolk unappetising to look at in his lushy state. However he had no problem helping me polish off dessert.

Here is a quick recipe for the croque madam. It is truly one of the easiest hot meals you can make from local ingredients, and I recommend you try it! It is deliciously rewarding!

Good Life Recipe #8 / Croque Madam, local yokel style

  • loaf of bread from a local bakery
  • cheese (Gruyere is what is traditionally used) and butter from local dairy (Local Harvest)
  • eggs from local farm - check Local Harvest for farm near you
  • ham, again check Local Harvest, but this can be option
  • Smear butter on both sides of two pieces of bread.
  • Melt butter in frying pan.
  • Stack cheese and ham on bread (sandwich) and fry in pan
  • Remove sandwich, and add more butter to pan
  • Fry egg in pan
  • Top sandwich with egg and season with salt and pepper
  • If you want to get fancy with it you can make a bechemel sauce. You can find a recipe for it at Epicurious

Friday, July 17, 2009

Community Currency

Money is something that we all have a relationship with...for better or for worse, it is a definite part of our ecology. Tangibly it takes up space in our wallets, purses, pockets, and piggy banks, and symbolically it buys us everything from food and drink to heart stints and toe nail clippers. We rely on the Federal Government to supply it, one way or the other. Well...not all of us do.

This region of the USA, The Berkshire Mountains, has its own currency called a Berkshare.
Berkshares made their debut in 2006 as a means for the community here to explore an alternative economy based completely on local industry. Today over 370 businesses accept this currency, and over 2 million Berkshares are in circulation. Uncle George has a friend who even pays her monthly rent in Berkshares. Each bill is a work of art designed by premiere local artists, and celebrates a hero of this region, and of our nation.

The Mohican Indian is the given the honor of being the face of the 1 bill of Berkshares. The Mohican tribe was 20,000 strong living along the Hudson River before European settlers arrived in the seventeenth century. The Stockbridge Mohicans were only one of two tribes to side with the colonists against the English during the Revolutionary War, and George Washington gave them a commendation for their service. Now known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans, they live primarily on a reservation in Wisconsin, but they still see the Berkshire Mountains as their true ancestral home.

The 5 Berkshare bill is dedicated to Dr. W.E. Du Bois, which is fitting because Great Barrington is the birthplace of this great intellectual who founded the civil rights movement. From a young age Du Bois had a innate understanding of not only the ecology of humanity, but also our relationship with the natural world, much inspired by the beautiful landscape of the Berkshire Mountains. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Dr. Martin Luther King described Dr. Du Bois as "a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths."

Co-founder of Indian Line Farm, Robyn Van En established the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in the USA in 1984. She sparked a revolution in the USA by reconnecting Americans with the culture and heritage of their food. In 1997, Robyn Van En passed away unexpectedly at the age of 49 leaving behind a legacy that continues to flourish as CSAs continue to sprout up across the nation, building communities based on the foundation of sustainable agriculture and economics.

A whale of a story teller, Herman Melville's mug graces the face of the 20 Berkshare bill. Mariner, author, poet Melville wrote
Moby Dick here at his home in Pittsfield, MA. While he was never recognized for this work of literature while alive, it is now apart of the American cannon. It was considered experimental for its time because of the manner in which he delved into the biology of whales and today it is recognized as an early example of environmentalism in literature.

Last but not least, the 50 bill celebrates the quintessential American artist Norman Rockwell who also lived in this region. His comedic depictions of small town America are iconic, and a true testimony to the America our grandparents remember. Later in life, the civil rights movement and the war on poverty became the subjects of his work. A true patriot, Norman Rockwell deserves a place on a bill more than most Presidents.

The Berkshire Mountains are so rich in American history, and as a region they have decided to commemorate their heritage with currency. It is that innovative and pioneering spirit that brought so many intellectuals and artists here throughout the centuries, and it is good to see it alive and well today. Driving through this area you feel as if you have stepped into a place that is truly authentic, and that authenticity still holds true in little pockets across this country. I think this is what politicians are referring to when they speak of "Real America."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Baby Date

Going on a baby date is like going on a blind date. The conversation is awkward. Sometimes games are played. You don't know if the other person is going to like the food at the restaurant you chose. You leave feeling insecure about what you are wearing (on a baby date this is due to the fact that you are wearing most of your child's dinner). And then of course there is the chance that things could go really bad.

My tiny travel buddy and I have been on two dates this trip so far. We had breakfast together Sunday at a little restaurant in downtown Great Barrington called Martin's. Lil' Bit and I wake up usually between 5:30 and 7:30 on any given day. I decided that since Uncle George had other house guests, all of them 20 somethings who keep very different hours, my daughter and I should head out of the house early and start our day with a meal.

Whenever you walk into a restaurant before 8 am on a weekend you can be sure of one thing...families with children. On this particular Sunday there was a table by the window with a family of four...2 adults and 2 preteens looking particularly miserable as their parents described all the vacation activities for the day. Lil' Bit and I grabbed a table in the center of the restaurant, ordered a spinach and cheese omelete with a side of fruit, and so our baby date began.

Within five minutes of our food arriving another family walked in to the dining room. It was a middle aged couple with their son who was maybe 8 years old. Lil' Bit's sole purpose when dining out is to engage with as many people as possible, regardless of whether or not their food has arrived, or if they are in the middle of a heated conversation. She is so aware of her ecology, and her need to build relationships with all that is around her. Within seconds, Lil' Bit targeted the threesome at the table next to us.

First she went after the son, who had brought 2 race cars with him. He did his best to ignore Lil' Bit and focus on his cars, but when her gaze grew too unnerving he told his mom. The mom then began speaking to Lil' Bit asking her how she was doing, how are her eggs...telling her how adorable she is...and I responded for my baby in open ended questions...

"How are you little one? What do you think? Are your eggs good? What do you say? Do you say thank you?" We continued this conversation back and forth until their food arrived.

This is always the tricky part for people who have fallen into Lil' Bit's web. They don't want to be rude to the baby by ignoring her, but they want to eat their food. I try my best to distract her with her own meal, I give her ice to play with, and cold spoons to chew on, toys, crayons if available...but usually to no avail. I have to be honest, I find it facinating to watch grown ups try to ignore her. You can tell a lot about a person in how they react to unwanted baby flirtation.

The woman politely turned back to her family and began eating her food. Lil' Bit realized that she needed to step up her game. She began to pick up handfuls of omelet from her plate and throw them with great force down at the feet of the woman at the other table. Each landed with a splat. The woman looked down at the food and smiled, I am sure thinking to herself how glad she was to be done with the baby stage. I began picking the food up toss by toss, and then had the brilliant idea to remove her food from her reach. I asked for the check and paid cash as soon as it came, making a quick getaway.

Most meals I eat out with Lil' Bit end up on the floor of the restaurant. I say most, but not all because she loves Indian food and rarely does any of it end up anywhere but her mouth or shirt. Lil' Bit and I went out for Indian last night and had a feast.

First of all, this restaurant had booths, which I find essential to a successful baby date. I plop Lil' Bit down in the the booth next to me, kick up my leg along the edge so she doesn't fall, and we both peruse the menu. Me with my eyes, her with her mouth.
We ordered veggies samosas, chicken tikka marsala, and spinach stuffed naan.

As we waited for our meal to arrive Lil' Bit immediately tried to scale the back of the booth. The heads of two Indian men peaked up over the edge of the booth next to us. The temptation of their beautiful thick black hair was too much for her. For ten minutes she tried to reach and grab and peek at them, until she got her shoe stuck in the crack of the booth and she gave up.
Luckily, after a few rounds of peekaboo, the food came.

I transferred her to the high chair and she was content munching down all that was in front of her. We finished the meal with a fantastic rice pudding sprinkled with cardamon. As we were waiting for the check she demanded to sit in the booth, where she decided to crawl at top speed traversing the four feet of booth, only to ram her head into the wall next to it. Lil' Bit let out a mind splitting cry, which brought our check and doggy bags back to our table remarkably quickly.

Baby dates, like bad blind dates, have the tendency to end abruptly. There is also that moment of relief when you get into your car and you know that it is over. You buckle your seat belt and drive a way with a little bit of guilt, not because you know you are not going to call the next day, but because you left a pile of food under the table for the waiter to clean up. At the same time, the mess is half the reason why you decided not to eat at home in the first place. Better them than me, so I just make sure to leave them a great tip to make it worth their while.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Farm Girl Farm

There is something unbelievably wonderful about picking up a box of seasonal organic vegetables grown by a farm specifically for you. Saturday, Uncle George, Lil' Bit and I hopped in the car and drove to Farm Girl Farm to pick up his CSA share for the week. We drove down a dirt drive and pulled up to a little barn structure where two beautiful women were doling out squashes, greens, scallions, garlic scapes, kale, potatoes, and cucumbers. This is their 5th season at Farm Girl Farm, and they feed over 70 CSA members from their 5 acres of land. Pretty incredible if you ask me.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is one of the best ways out there to get seasonal goodies. Basically, you pay a certain amount of money per grow season to buy a membership, or share of the harvest, which equates to a weekly supply of fresh vegetables. The cost can range anywhere from $300 for a summer season to $600 or more for a full season. It is a little pricey, but more often than not you get more food than you can eat in a week so splitting it with another friend or family is a great idea.

Chef and I were members of a CSA a few years ago, and we found ourselves swamped with lettuce. Three weeks in a row Chef and I received 4 heads of lettuce and 2 lbs of mixed greens. Now I love salad as much as the next person, but this was a little ridiculous. I didn't want to throw it away, so I went online and found a Giada De Laurentis recipe for a soup that was mostly lettuce pureed with a bit of potato. I told Chef I was making lettuce soup and he cringed...but when he came home and tasted it he was pleasantly surprised. It was delicious! It was like Vichyssoise, only much lighter and refreshing...and a lot less calories.

This membership really opened my eyes to an entirely new variety of vegetables. At the grocery store you see the same old stuff regardless of the time of year. One of the major perks of being a member of a CSA is that you are introduced to new vegetables that you would never think to buy or sometimes even see at the store. For example, one week we received a bunch of Kohlrabi which is a member of the cabbage family, but it is more like a broccoli and you eat the bulb. It is a bright green and has a fresh crisp taste. I had no idea what it was when I went to pick it up, but the farmers supplied me with a recipe for slaw that was fantastic.

Actually, last week Uncle George received some Kohlrabi and didn't quite know what to do with it. It was still sitting in a bowl on his counter when I arrived to town. I remembered the slaw from a few years ago, and this past weekend we made our own version with radishes and topped it with a delicious piece of red snapper.

Garlic scapes were a new vegetable for me from George's CSA. They are pictured above and below in the white basket. They are the shoots from the garlic bulb that the farmer trims in order to make the bulb grow bigger. They are long and curly and make beautiful arrangements for a table, and are great sauteed and eaten like a scallion.
We made a yummy potato salad with his share of scapes and potatoes.

CSA farms first made their appearance here in the USA in 1984, actually here in Great Barrington, MA. If you want to see if there is a CSA in your area Local Harvest is an awesome resource for finding out pretty much anything you want to know about farms across the USA.

A CSA membership is a simple way to reconnect with your food. You take a risk with your farmer, if mother nature decides to ruin a crop there is no refund, but there is the knowledge that is gained about the ecology in your area. It is a fantastic partnership and in a lot of ways it is an adventure.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

I love airports. In fact, I like to get to the airport extra early just to hang out and write, and I welcome layovers. Chef thinks I am nuts. Prime people watching and eavesdropping are my two favorite things to do at the airport. There is just something about the energy of people in the midst of travel. We are a nomadic species, and it seems to me that in airports people are in a more natural state, living more in the present moment.

The whole security situation is unnerving, and a definite annoyance when you are traveling with a baby. They make you put the stroller through the x-ray machine which is ridiculous. This time Lil' Bit had to not only take off her shoes, but they also made me open her bottle and tested the contents. "It is just rice milk, I swear."

After a two hour delay, one relatively flavorless smoothie and a mediocre meal at Chili's Too, we finally boarded the plane to JFK.  Lil' Bit and I both crashed out on the plane. There is nothing worse than to wake up and realize that you have been asleep next to a stranger with your mouth gaping open for an hour.

No, wait there is something worse. You wake up to this realization as your baby wakes up to her ears popping, and no matter how hard you try to convince her to suck on the bottle or do anything else that might help, she just continues to cry for 10 minutes straight as if you were stabbing her in the eyes.

We arrived at JFK and jumped in a cab to Grand Central Station. We missed the off peak train by two minutes, so we had an hour to kill. We strolled through the market there and bought some cheese and fruit for the train ride. Then we shared a vanilla gelatto, although I think Lil' Bit got a brain freeze and would have nothing to do with it after about 4 bites. Instead she just flirted with the table full of Asian women sitting next to us. My father would have been proud.

Where are we traveling to you might ask? Lil' Bit and I escaped the brutal Florida heat for a mountain retreat. We are off to Great Barrington, Massachusetts where we will be for almost the entire month of July. Why Great Barrington? My oldest friend, George, lives in a lovely little yellow farm house nestled in the southern Berkshire Mountains and this will be our second visit with him this year...and with Lil' Bit toddling around now Uncle George is in for a whole different type of house guest experience.

This area of the country is known for its amazing organic farms and fresh seasonal food. George and I love to cook together so be on the lookout for some pretty scrumptious posts! Have a great weekend...and come back Monday for another taste of EcoCulinaire.

Monday, July 6, 2009

American Beach

This Independence Day, Chef, Lil' Bit and I celebrated with a picnic on the beach...but not just any beach...American Beach. American Beach was the first African American beach in the USA. It was founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis in 1935. He was the president of Florida's first insurance company and he created American Beach as a vacation spot for African Americans to relax with out the tension of segregation.

Going to the beach can be as simple as a towel and a tube of sunscreen...or it can be a whole lot more. We decided to go all out...tent, table, chairs, cooler... the whole nine yards. Chef looked like a donkey laden with supplies as he trudged his way through the sand, while I juggled the baby and two bags of stuff along with a beach chair. We made our way up the sandy path and passed the boarded up, burnt out nightclub once known as Evan's Rendezvous. Louie Armstrong, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Zora Neal Hurston and a long list of other brilliant artists once graced this juke joint.

I set Lil' Bit down in the sand to help Chef with the tent and she immediately took one look at her gritty little hand and started screaming bloody murder. By the time we left she was crawling at top speed across the beach chasing after birds and dogs.

This was Lil' Bit's 1st time swimming, or should I say clinging, in the ocean. It was wonderful. When we arrived dolphins were splashing in the surf, which I always take a sign of good luck.
The waves were low key and the water was cool and refreshing. It was lovely.

We dined on pesto pasta and wild shrimp salad, caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes that I had picked up from a local farm that morning, and ice cold watermelon. A daredevil pilot was doing all sorts of wild acrobatics in the sky further down the beach. Chef shouted from the water "Look!" I saw a plane doing a nosedive with smoke billowing out behind its tail. Then before it hit the water it swooped straight up to the sky. For a second I thought I was about to witness a tragedy. The plane dipped and dived for the next half an hour. It was like we had our own private air show.

There was something really special about spending the 4th of July on American Beach this year. I felt like not only were we celebrating a national holiday, but also the first African American president. Everyone on the beach that day seemed to be genuinely joyful.

I couldn't help but think of MaVynee Betch, Abraham Lewis's great-granddaughter. Known as The Beach Lady, she was a striking woman with an operatic voice and gray hair woven into a dread lock the thickness of a boa constrictor and so long she would carry it wrapped around her arm. MaVynee passed away in 2005, and she spent the latter half of her life striving to protect her family's beach and its history. We parked our car in the grassy lot next to the little pink cinder block house that served as her home and beach museum for many years. As we packed up the car I swear I could feel her humming in the air, and I know that she was there in the ocean breeze looking out on her community and her nation proud to see how far we have truly come...and knowing that more change is still on its way.

On this Independence Day I was proud to be a member of a nation that took one giant step in the direction of progress this year.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lil' Bit's Birthday Bash

The first birthday of your first child is such a milestone...I mean as a parent you have actually raised a child for an entire year...and your baby survived! Hurray! I worked with kids for years...babysitter, nanny, preschool teacher...and oh I thought I knew what I was in for...but let me tell you there is only one phrase that comes to mind to describe the first year of a child's life from the exact moment it comes slipping out of mommy to when you blow out their 1st birthday candle for them ...
Balls to the wall.

Lil' Bit was born June 25, 2008 and it was the most powerful day of my life. She was born at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, FL. I wanted to deliver her at home, but here on Amelia Island there is no NICU at the hospital so if things went wrong it would be an hour drive to the nearest hospital with proper care. Besides, Chef who was born to a doctor and deeply entrenched in the philosophy of western medicine was not about to have his first born birthed in our living room. As he put it, "The only thing to be delivered at home is pizza and Chinese food." Whatever.

I brought Lil' Bit into this world after 23 hrs. and 45 minutes of natural childbirth. I was nervous to have her in a hospital, for fear that I would be swayed from my birth plan. Natural child birth isn't good for hospital business because it is unpredictable. Luckily, I had an amazing midwife, doula, and a team of nurses who as a team gave me the most incredible support imaginable...and Chef who was my rock. For many of the nurses Lil' Bit was the only natural birth any of them had witnessed, what a gift. And then it all started.

The first 3 months of a baby's life is also known as the 4th trimester...because they are not fully cooked. A human is born after 9 months of gestation because our brains are so big that our giant noggins would not make it through the birth canal otherwise. The first 3 months of motherhood is absolutely insane. You have to feed your baby every 2 hours, which means all day and all night. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture mind you, and that is all I am going to say about that.

Then from 4 months until they are 2 years old you have different rounds of teeth growth...which makes everyone miserable. But in the midst of all the craziness there is no more awesome experience than spending every waking moment with a human that is so fresh from the source. Their little souls are so bright and strong and it completely replenishes your faith in humanity.

So in honor of Lil' Bit's 1st year on planet earth we decided to celebrate with a crab themed party for our favorite Cancerian! Many people said to me during the planning time for this party... "You know she is not going to remember the party at all. It is really for the parents." This really got under my skin. Lil' Bit is not going to remember anything at all about the first year of her life, heck probably not the first three years of her life...but that doesn't make them any less important or meaningful. I was throwing a party for my daughter and her friends which range in age from 87 years old to 6 months old, and no party pooper was going to sway my determination to make it something special for Lil' Bit.

I made crazy crab crowns for all the children, but only one baby wore their crown the entire party. Lil' Bit just wanted to chew on hers. We set up a bubble machine on our screened in porch and made a bubble room to contain the little ones in one place, and blasted They Might Be Giants sing the 123's. I covered two low tables with paper and set out crayons for drawing. There were grab bags and cupcakes galore.

Chef made a smorgasbord of food...crab cakes, shrimp salad on croissants, stone crab claws with Louie sauce, Kobe sliders, pulled pork sandwiches, spinach and cheese quesadillas, a fruit display, and hummus and Naan platter for the any vegans that were attending. There was wine, beer, orange punch, soda, and good old fashioned water. I set up a kids table on our tiled living room floor. I put down a vinyl picnic table cloth and set our lowest coffee table in the center of it. The kids all sat on the floor around the table and had a blast eating together while Jazz for Kids set the mood on the stereo. It was hilarious. There was so much food left over we sent parents home with their own goody bags.

The party lasted from 12 -2 pm...which was perfect. Over in a blink of an eye. A word of advice to all moms out there throwing parties for little ones...keep them short and sweet. There was only one casualty...Chef jumped up to answer the door and knocked over Simone, Lil Bit's 1st baby friend. She is 18 months old, and luckily has a hard head. He felt like a total jerk, but her mom was really gracious about it.

We ended the afternoon sitting on our living room floor unwinding with a couple of late guests, a bottle of white wine, and a pile of presents. It was a lovely way to wrap up a wonderful party. Lil' Bit is so loved and it was such a great celebration of her new life! It was the first party ever thrown for her...the first of many to come!

Good Life Recipe # 7 / Pulled Pork Sandwich / Chef Scott Schwartz
If you like barbecue...this sandwich will be one of the best things you put in your mouth. For this recipe I am going to send you to a link to fellow blogger The Blushing Hostess. She lives in New York, and stumbled upon our restaurant on a trip. Today on her site there is an interview with Chef. If you look at her previous July posts listed, the post 29 South: Contemporary Southern with Integrity has the recipe, as well as a great photo montage of her trying it out herself. She did a beautiful job!

Sundays at Gan Gan's

Mother in law. That one little phrase is so loaded with innuendo. Luckily, Chef's mama is pretty awesome. In fact, I have to give her a lot of credit for inspiring me to start this blog. One day she decided that since I was a writer, and was a pioneering organic gardener and new mom...that sounded like the perfect trifecta for a great blog. Like any good mother in law worth her salt, she reminded me every week for about four months that I really needed to do it. She gave me books on blogging and we brainstormed on names together...and here we are today! Thanks Gan Gan!

Gan Gan is an independent spirit with amazing taste in design and an extraordinary talent in the kitchen. Chef first became aware of his passion for food helping his mother in the kitchen. I feel very privileged to be able to enjoy both of their food now, 30 years later. Every Sunday Chef, Lil' Bit and I head over to Gan Gan's house for a fabulous meal.

Gan Gan lives in a charming pink historic bungalow about five blocks away from the restaurant. When we arrive on Sundays, sometimes there is a fresh cocktail waiting for our arrival. She made the most delicious homemade whiskey sours a few months mouth waters just thinking about them.

This particular Sunday our menu consisted of a variety of things found in her freezer and pantry. In fact every ingredient except for a few she picked up the farmers market were all things she had bought in the past and wanted to clear out. This week our menu was:
  • oven roasted turkey breast
  • Saginaw Island corn pudding
  • fingerling potatoes
  • heirloom tomato salad
  • olive oil cake with organic blueberry compote and vanilla ice cream

Gan Gan loves to try out new recipes, and we are happy to be her guinea pigs. She is on a constant quest to find the best recipe out there for a variety of dishes...the best mac n' cheese, the best chocolate cake...the list goes on and on. One day soon I will request a list of her favorites and post it. She is like our own personal test kitchen.

The most amazing thing about this particular Sunday was that Gan Gan volunteered to do our ironing. When she first offered I was not quite sure if I heard her correctly, but then as she went on to describe her love for ironing...well I was beyond thrilled. Laundry I do, I even hang up the clean clothes...sometimes a few days after I pull them out of the dryer, but they eventually get hung. But ironing, only for special occasions.

There is an art to ironing, that is being lost on my generation. Gan Gan described to me how as a child she had to wash her and her mother's clothes in a basin and then rinse in another of warm water. Then wring the clothes out, spray them with a starch that left them as stiff as a board, hang them to dry. Then she would iron them with a iron actually made of iron heated on a stove. She told me all of this as she meticulously ironed each individual ruffle on Lil' Bit's birthday outfit. She did it with such care, I was kind of in awe. I would have just taken the outfit, laid it out on the ironing board and ironed the whole little dress flat across. When it comes to most housework I am totally in the dark.

Here is a little photo montage of our meal that day. It was extraordinary that it all came out of her freezer/fridge. Gan Gan recently sent me an article about people who are deciding to unplug their refrigerators and buy their groceries daily and keep their food in cooler in their kitchen. I am all about going green, but this seems a little nuts. I mean, think of all the energy that goes into the shipping and freezing of the bags of ice needed. Right?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fruit Abortion

Fruit abortion. This is a phrase I just ran into this week...and it totally caught me off guard. At the garden our beautiful crookneck squash plants have started to rot at the tips. Right where the flower meets the fruit a black and white furry mold festered. Particularly on the baby squash which I thought kind of weird. We have been spraying with an all natural fungicide, but to no avail. I decided to Google the problem and there it was...

"It could be just good old fashioned fruit abortion."

Yes, a fruit abortion. I had to read it twice. It is actually a very common place term for when the young fruit on a squash vine starts to rot. From what I understand, fruit abortion occurs when the female squash plant flowers don't get pollinated enough. We had plenty of bees around, but perhaps the heat is so intense right now they just aren't in the mood..if you know what I mean.

So I kept reading and it turns out that there is a way for me to save the plants, and that is to pollinate the female flowers myself by hand. Artificially inseminating squash is not something I really saw myself doing this summer, or ever for that matter...but perhaps that is what must be done. Although, I noticed that there seemed to be some sort of pest boring holes into the main vines. I read up on it and it seems that it is a moth of some sort that will lay its larvae in the soil where it will incubate until next I am not sure if these vines are worth saving.

Intrigued, I read more about squash and learned a few other strange things. One is that the fruit, which we eat is actually the ovary of the plant. When you really start digging into the natural world and how it all works, you learn things you may not really want to know. I mean, who really wants to think about pumpkin ovary pie?

Another yummy little tidbit of info I picked up is that squash are actually bisexual. While most plants have male plants and female plants, both with separate flowers...the squash plant has both male and female flowers on the same plant. Kinda kinky huh?

So to sum it up, I have a bisexual plant that is aborting its I choose life and artificially inseminate the squash with my bare hands? Or do I just rip the freaky plant out and pray that whatever is wrong with it does not spread to the rest of my garden? I am worried about the moth that is drilling into its stem in particular. IT could very easily spread to other beds in the garden.

I think I will go with the latter. C'est la vie.