Friday, October 29, 2010

Trick or Treat

Love Halloween.  Love costumes.  Love sweets.  Love pranks.  Love pumpkins.  Love spooky anything.  October 31st is my favorite holiday.  Last year I delved into the history of the jack-o-lantern. This year I thought I would touch on the heritage of Halloween itself.

There are many different traditions from the past that have contributed to the evolution of Halloween, but for today I am going to focus on the Celtic history.  The word Halloween is derived from the Scottish phrase, All-Hallows-Even.   It is thought that Halloween evolved from the ancient festival of Samuin which honored the end of the long days of summer and the start of the drawn out darkness of winter months.  The Celts thought that the barrier between our world and the Otherworld, or underworld, was lifted on Samuin (pronounced sow-in)...allowing souls of the dead to return to earth.  

Like the Day of the Dead, families would welcome their ancestral spirits into their homes, at least the family members they wanted to spend time with.   People would wear costumes in an effort to disguise themselves as terrifying spirits to ward off the souls of those unsavory relatives and friends we all wish to avoid during the holidays.

They would take stock of their food stores for winter on Samuin and in honor of the upcoming darkness great bonfires were lit in each home, while all other fires were extinguished. Some families...when they were feeling particularly daring...would build two bonfires next to each other and then walk between them, with their livestock as a sort of cleansing ritual.  I wonder what my neighbors would think if I staged a bonfire cleansing ritual in the yard?  Probably wouldn't go over so well.  Chef would probably have me committed.

Trick or treating evolved from a tradition in the Middle Ages called souling.  Impoverished people would go door to door and receive food in exchange for praying for the dead on All Souls Day (Nov. 2).  Trick or treating is actually ritual begging.  If food was not given, then sometimes the poor folk would take wagon wheels or whatever they could find to teach the greedy hoarders a lesson.

So what are my little beggars going to be this year?  Lil' Bit is going to be "Super Girl!"  She had her costume on yesterday and was saddened when she realized that just wearing a cape would not make her fly.  The Sprout is going to be a of the more frightening foods commonly available.  Me...I am wavering between pirate and cat, and Chef said he was going to be a chef, but I told him that doesn't count.   

Dress up. Trick. Treat. Enjoy yourself this weekend!  Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Small Farms, Big Ideas: Naked Bee Honey

Honey and butter on a hot fluffy biscuit.  It is a combination that I venture to say most people on this earth would find comforting and utterly delicious.  Whenever I have brunch at 29 South I order a plate first thing...the perfect appetizer to wash down with a cup of coffee.   What makes this little bread plate exceptional is the local honey.  Naked Bee Honey Farm, owned by artists and artisans Gayle Prevatt and Enzo Torcoletti, make some of the best honey I have ever tasted.  

I feel like we have a lot to learn from bees, yet I find myself nervous whenever I find one around me.  What better way to confront a fear of an unknown than to learn about I thought I would ask Gayle a few questions to gain a little insight into the world of bees..

What sparked you and your husband's interest in beekeeping?  How did you get into the craft?
For many years I had the hobby of finding and planting different and unusual varieties of citrus trees and a few other fruit trees.  I would research each variety to see when it bloomed, bore fruit and its particular characteristics.  The process of discovery is such a pleasure!  After some years, I realized that the trees should be bearing fruit and alas, there was none.  And so began the discovery of the absolute need of bees for the pollination of fruit trees and the subsequent finding of a beekeeper willing to sell me a hive and encourage me along.  That was more than ten years ago.

Is there a season for honey?
The beauty and harmony of nature is truly the most wonderous gift of the universe.  The spring season arrives with the blooming of wild trees  beginning with the swamp maples in December in North Florida.  This is quickly followed by wild fruiting trees such as the mayhaw and plum and then the first cultivated fruit trees, the pears begin to bloom.  Other trees wish to join the party and so festoon themselves with delicate blossoms and spicy scents wafting through the air.  And who can slumber in winter doldrums through all this....not the honeybees!  From the maple blossoms through the palmetto in late May or early June,  they only take a break in February while waiting for the next trees to come out!  Mid summer is hot and often dry like this year, so the honeybees hang out on the back porch and tell tales.  If the August rains come, then there are beautiful fall blossoms of goldenrod, ironweed, spanish needles and a myrad of other wildflowers to help the bees tuck in stores for the winter.  And then it is back to the homefront for them, safe with their golden stores of fuel to see them through the cold until one day in December the scarlet flags of new growth in the woods signals once more the earth and sun desire to transfer their energy in the form of sugary delicious nutrients through the soil up into the tips of the living Maple....

What types of flowers do your bees enjoy?  
The honeybees I care for enjoy wild persimmon, wild cherry, pear, a variety of citrus, holly, blueberry, palmetto and black gum tupelo in the spring.  In the fall they like spanish needles, ironweed, golden raintree, wild oregano and most of the yellow wildflowers.

Can you describe the process of extracting the honey?
To bring the honey to the table, I gently pull a few frames of honey from the top of the beehive, and bring it to a horizontal box upon which rests a notched device to hold the frame without disturbing the contents.  With a serrated knife, I slip the blade just under the surface of the wax covering the delicious honey and remove it, flip and repeat.  Four such frames are place vertically into a hand cranked vertical stainless steel extractor.  The frames must be spun, stopped and flipped to repeat, then left in place for awhile to drip.  There is a valve at the bottom of the extractor from which to collect this nectar.  I usually place a simple stainless steel strainer under this in a food safe bucket to catch the bits of wax which may come loose.  There! Thats all there is to it!  A beautiful and wholesome harvest of one of nature's marvels!  Before the invention of the centrifucal spinner about a hundred and twenty-five years ago, people would simply eat the honey together with the wax or place the combs into a light cloth and squeeze to extract the honey.  Very time consuming!

How do you keep your bees from mingling with wild bees?
Honeybees are family oriented!  They may enjoy flying out to see what the day has to offer but they don't keep it to themselves, they load up with pollen and nectar and take it home to share with their family members.  Always!  They may pass other bees or share some particularly wonderful flowers while out but they always go home at the end of the day or when they have loaded up with goodies!  Wild bees do this too.  We could learn alot.  p.s.  They've been around this earth a lot longer than us.

Have the bees taught you anything unexpected?
As far as learning new things from the bees, I really do learn new things everyday.  I must be alert and present when around these active creatures and watch them so as to see how to behave that day.  What are they telling me about the weather?  Are they content or is something bothering them?  I have to move at the same speed as they are working or they become irritated.  I must be sure they have enough to eat and a fresh source of water every day.  It really forces me to pay attention to what the day (and the season) is offering.  Before working with honeybees, I didnt realize how all incompassing the seasons really are and how they affect everything that all living things do and how we and other living things feel as the earth and sun turn in relation to the universe.  Anyone who thinks they are not so engaged is fooling themselves and is missing out by not waking up and enjoying active, awake participation.

I couldn't agree with Gayle more!  If you want to learn  more...or sample this lovely honey go to

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers

Last night at 29 South we joined farm to table restaurants across the country in celebration of the debut of Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux.  It is a beautiful book...part travel diary, part photo essay, part cookbook.  Jessica is a chef based out of San Francisco and she was rewarded a grant to travel Italy and collect the recipes of its matriarchs.  I am sure it was a grueling experience...amazing food, gorgeous landscapes, and extraordinary women.  I can't think of a better way to spend a year of one's life.

Grandmothers are the bards of a region's culinary heritage.  It is from them that the traditional foods are passed down through the generations. It was an honor to be apart of this national event.  We sold every book, and took orders for more. It was a wonderful evening...4 courses of traditional Italian dishes, each meticulously paired with a delicious wine is hard to beat.  Chef went above and beyond.  I will let the pictures speak for themselves.  Here are some of the highlights of the meal.  

Proscuitto with Roasted Peaches and Arugula

Crostini with Chicken Livers and Cipollini

Rigatoni with Spicy Eggplant and Pignoli

Chianti Brased Veal Cheeks on Chestnut Lasagna

Hen Braised with Olives on Creamy Polenta
The other choices for the 3rd course were
Roasted Catch on Truffled White Beans
Wild Boar Sausage on Kale and Ricotta

Roasted Forelle Pear with Naked Bee Honey and Pecorino

Lemon Crostata with Olive and Truffle Ice Cream

Bravo Chef!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sow Seeds

I love the dichotomy of fall.  While certain plants are preparing for winter, a glorious transformation of decay, others are being born from seed.  At the 29 South garden we started our winter seedlings and are looking forward to a great cool weather crop.  I was introduced to an amazing new heirloom seed catalogue, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and am thrilled with the new varieties of veggies we are going to try this season.
Here is a just a little taste of what we plan to have in our garden:
Dragon Carrots (seeds pictured above)
Turga Parsnips
Lacinato Blue Kale
Veronica Romanesco
Carentan leek
Albino Beet
Val D' Orges Butterhead Lettuce
Morris Heading Collards
French Breakfast Radishes
There is much much more, but I hate to bore you.

What I find the most beautiful about fall is the air and the light.  You know what it is like...the first time each year you feel fall in the air.  It practically happens overnight. You wake up one morning, step outside and everything seems a bit warmer in color, but the air is cool and crisp.  Each breath you take of fall air has a certain freshness about it...a certain clarity that washes away the haze of summer.

This is a fall in which we all have planted a seed of life change.  Lil' Bit has begun ballet lessons, which has taken cuteness to an entirely new level.  She loves to dance, and it is wonderful to watch her confidence bloom as she traipses around in her tutu.  The Sprout is crawling, and mobility has given her a new sense of adventure, much to my dismay, and she is also exploring her palette as she tries new foods. Chef has recently joined the abbreviated world of Twitter delving into all it has to offer, and I have self published my first kids' book with my dear friend and artist Ryan Ford.  It will be available this holiday season on Amazon and I will be sure to keep you posted on our launch date.

With every end there is a beginning.  Fall is a season that embodies the best of both.  Happy Fall!

Good Life Quest # 12 / Plant a Seed

Fall is a wonderful time to knock out the one thing you promised yourself you would get done this year that you just haven't made the time for...clean out that closet or start taking long walks everyday.  Whatever it may be, take a nice deep breath, clear your head and plant your seed.