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Posts Tagged ‘grandfather’

When I was a child, a visit to my grandparents was a magical event. They had a farm with gardens, cows, tractors and sometimes even horses. My brother and I were transformed into free-range children, loosed to explore the edge of the woods, climb big hills of red clay and ride the Big Wheel up and down grassy slopes, dodging excited dogs and fallen tree branches along the way.

The food was also an adventure. I can’t think of my grandmother without picturing her in the kitchen, mixing biscuits by hand, cutting up potatoes or rolling out a pie crust.

One of the culinary experiences we looked forward to the most was homemade ice cream. My grandmother always kept one of those old-fashioned hand-crank wooden barrels on the back porch; once it was deemed hot enough outside, she would make a ton of ice (or get someone to pick up a couple of bags on the way back from town), gather the salt, make the ice cream base and prep the grandkids for hard labor.

Because if we wanted ice cream so badly, we were going to have to work for it, turning the crank until the mixture thickened so much that we our little arms just couldn’t turn it anymore and our grandfather had to come to our rescue and finish the job for us.

The ice cream always came out thick and delicious, not as firm as it would be after a couple of hours in the freezer, but good enough to eat without having to wait. And while we were good kids, waiting for ice cream after all that work was not on our list of things to do.

Fast forward to the late 1990s, when I my husband gifted me with an electric ice cream freezer. I was disappointed when my first batch emerged from the canister not merely soft, but soupy. When the second and third batches did the same thing, I packed the freezer away and gave up.

(Yes, you can buy hand-crank ice cream freezers, but they make way more ice cream than two people [these two people, anyway] can eat, and we don’t have any readily available child labor.)

I was on the verge of tossing the freezer a couple of years ago when I gave it one more chance and it redeemed itself with a recipe for strawberry ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s recipe book. Alas, that’s the only ice cream recipe that emerges from the maker ready to eat.

I’m ready to give it another go, however, because the Red Velvet ice cream from Jake’s Ice Cream in Atlanta is everything I’ve tried to accomplish in homemade ice cream and more. It was like a fresh piece of cake, cream cheese icing and all, mashed up in a scoop of ice cream. Only it had all been frozen together at once, without the cake drying out or freezing into crunchy, unsatisfying bits.

We visited the Irwin Street Market location of Jake’s, a former warehouse housing several creative food vendors. The building’s got kind of a Lowe Mill feel, for any Huntsvillians reading, only on a smaller scale.

The husband had the Nutella flavor, which I don’t even SEE on the menu. Jake must spend his days dreaming up awesome new flavors. I want Jake’s job.

Anyway, I’m trying to decide whether to dump a measure of red velvet cake and cream cheese icing into my unpredictable (or, I guess, quite predictable) ice cream maker or just mash some cake and ice cream together toddler birthday party style. It’s a win either way, right?

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The first CSA haul of the summer and I’m already faced with the unknown: eggplant. I guess because my grandfather never grew eggplants, I hardly ever ate them and certainly never had to figure out how to cook them.

Indulging my tendency to try things that are probably a bit too complicated, I settled on making Eggplant Parmesan, using a recipe from Martha Stewart.

That’s right. Martha Stewart.

It turned out delicious, even if it took the better part of two hours to make. I was unable to capture its deliciousness in a photograph, however; it’s one of those dishes that just looks like a big watery blob on the screen.

Next week I’m hoping for tomatoes, because juicy homegrown tomatoes have to be nature’s gift to us for putting up with heat like this.

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OK, I know I sound like a shill, but you should totally buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this summer.

I had the best time last year with my weekly pickups from Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tenn. It really did turn into my own version of Iron Chef, having to work with whatever ingredients showed up in the box each week. And since there are few things scarier for my husband to hear than the statement “I made something new for dinner,” it’s somewhat of a miracle that he had a blast with it, too.

It’s a lesson in the natural cycle of crops for those who aren’t used to the whims of Mother Nature. For example, last year’s rains made for a very short corn crop, so I didn’t get nearly the amount of corn I had expected, but I got tons of tomatoes, chard and peppers of all varieties. And strawberries. Not those tasteless baby-fist-sized strawberries you get at the grocery store, but juicy, delectable berries, so many that you can’t eat them all and will be forced to make the best ice cream ever with them. Darn the luck.

Some folks tell me that they just prefer to go to the farmer’s market, which is cool if you like rolling out of bed before 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Which, truthfully, I have been known to do. But what I find myself not doing at the farmer’s market is buying something I’m unfamiliar with, or buying so much of something that I have enough to freeze for later. (I’ve got two more servings of zucchini/onion/garlic soup base in the freezer, and I just ran out of frozen bell pepper slices in January.) Even if you’re not going to get into canning, you can still have a little taste of summer when it’s 30 degrees outside.

Seriously, it was the best summer food-wise that I’ve had since that summer in the early 1980s when my grandfather and I grew a huge patch of watermelons and I ate my weight in fresh tomatoes.

Head to Dennison’s page on LocalHarvest for details on its 10-week program, or search for a CSA closer to you.

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CSA

Pictured above is the haul from my first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery from Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tennessee. Even after splitting it with a friend (save for the strawberries, which were way too ripe to last the weekend), it’s quite a collection of freshness.

Enlisting in a CSA is a little like buying a share in a farm, only you don’t have to keep the deer out of the cornfield or harvest anything (although I must point out that digging up potatoes may be the dirtiest fun you’ll ever have before dark). Every Friday for 10 weeks, I get to pick up a big box of just-picked produce (whatever is ripe), split the goods, and head home for what I have dubbed Iron Chef Huntsville.

I figure it’ll be a weekly summer adventure. Before the season is over, we’ll have, among many other things, watermelon, tomatoes, squash, corn, potatoes, beans, peas, and something called a Cape gooseberry.

Last weekend, we more or less lived off of fresh greens (Swiss chard and Yukina savoy), cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

Also, for the first time ever, I had to cook a green tomato. My grandparents had a small farm, so growing up I had access to what seemed like an unlimited supply of tomatoes. Red, ripe, juicy, delicious tomatoes. The whole fried green tomato thing never made any sense to me. Who in their right mind would pluck a tomato from the vine before it ripened? Who would batter and fry this unripened fruit instead of waiting to make it the key ingredient in a BLT?

My reaction upon tasting fried green tomatoes for the first time a few years ago: meh. I would have rather waited for a sandwich.

I’ve never been a fan of frying things, despite being an occasional fan OF fried things. So I found a reasonably professional-looking recipe for baked green tomatoes, scaled it down and sliced and coated my way to an OK side dish.

Meh. I still would have rather waited for a sandwich.

The strawberries were lagniappe, as the folks running the farm were under the impression that there would be no more strawberries after mid-June. These bonus berries were far too delicate to hang on until Monday, when I delivered half the goods to my fellow shareholder (she got the cabbage and eight-ball squash – not exactly evensies,  but we’ll work it out). These went into a batch of strawberry ice cream, a concoction that turned out to be so rich and delicious that it actually saved my oft-criticized ice cream maker from the Goodwill box.

If you have any interest in making ice cream, get Ben & Jerry’s recipe book. Just using the one recipe has convinced me to toss the other two ice cream recipe collections I have and devote my empty calorie expenditures to homemade ice cream, at least for the summer. The tasty, tasty summer.

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Like all hopeful kids, my brother and I left cookies out for Santa when we were young. Santa needed a snack, and our grandmother’s sugar cookies and a glass of eggnog fit the bill quite nicely.

Of course, I realize now that Santa’s elves would have appreciated a gin and tonic much more.

I also remember my grandfather sprinkling hay in the front yard for the reindeer AND ensuring that it was gone the next morning. I don’t know whose idea it was, but I do remember thinking that I was one lucky little girl. After all, EVERYBODY left cookies and milk for the jolly old overfed elf. Reindeer get hungry too, and not that many kids had access to a barn filled with hay.

Anybody out there with any Santa-snacking/reindeer-feeding traditions? Leave a comment and share.

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I don’t have a thing for goats. Really. The photo at the top of this blog just struck me as a cool image, a unique moment in time.

The husband and I had just finished making our way through a north Alabama corn maze (an especially bad idea, given that I grew up spending summers on a Mississippi farm and knew how miserable a cornfield was in August). Making our way back to the car, we stopped at the advertised “goat walk,” and this is what we found. A lone goat on an elevated walkway. He wasn’t picking stocks or diving into a plastic pool. He was just walking. On the goat walk.

When I was about 2 years old, I’m told, I developed a terrific fear of goats. I got my signals crossed with the “Billy Goats Gruff” fairy tale and thought that goats were the bad guys. This may or may not have had anything to do with my grandfather, whose story embellishments were legendary.

At any rate, my fear of goats led me to pull my feet up anytime I sat down, proclaiming that the billy goats were going to get me. This lasted until my dad took me to the nearest petting zoo and introduced me to the goats, decidedly non-scary furry creatures. My phobia was cured.

So goats and I go back a long way.

The goat on the goat walk seemed a little embarrassed, like he knew how ridiculous the whole contraption really was, how futile it was to be part of a rural circus put on for city folk. I felt a little embarrassed for him, too.

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