Signs of Summer: The Farmers’ Market

Farmers Market near UNC-Asheville

Farmers Market near UNC-Asheville

A sweet family. A dog. Colorful Plants. Homegrown (and homemade) food. A beautiful day. What more could you want?

As Close As I’ll Get to Growing Vegetables

Everyone but me is successful at growing vegetables — at least it seems that way. I hear people talk about their heirloom tomatoes and their exotic cultivars of chard and radishes and how they cooked a mess of green beans for supper last night. Well, here’s the extent of my “crops” for the year:

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The potatoes in the vegetable drawer sent out these gigantic pink shoots before I realized it was happening. Admittedly, I don’t cook as much as I used to, but was still shocked to find such long, healthy shoots growing in the cabinet. I started to use this photo on an Easter blog post but figured it might come across as sacrilegious. Anyway, this is the sum yield/production of vegetables at my house.

Main reasons why I can’t grow anything but potato shoots:

1. Deer (as many as seven on the property at any given time) 2. Voles  3. Moles  4. Rabbits  5. Squirrels  6. Chipmunks  7. Assorted predatory insects  and caterpillars  8. Steep hillsides  9. Not enough sunny areas to produce healthy crops, even if reasons 1-8 didn’t thwart the process.

Even herbs (other than basil and spearmint) won’t grow. The soil is so loamy and fertile it keeps Mediterranean-type plants too moist and spindly. Trees, shrubs, and wildflowers love the soil and shade — just not herbs or most vegetable plants.

Here are some ways I could compensate:

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– Grow lettuces in a giant teacup.

– Wear one of Julie Rothman’s temporary tattoos of a carrot or tomato on my arm. People might assume I grow vegetables, or that I’m a big fan of eating them.

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– Get a scarecrow or two, like these at Sunny Point Cafe in Asheville. The deer would be undeterred probably, but the neighbors would believe we’re busy growing vegetables over at our house.

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Oh…. I think I’ll just go sit down …. maybe make a list for the farmers’ market or the grocery store. I’ll remind myself of all those long, hot days spent hoeing vegetables when I was growing up. I’ll remember why buying them sounds so appealing right now.

Maybe a friend will take pity on me and offer some homegrown heirloom tomatoes. It’s hard to find a good tomato, you know.

Biscuit Festival, 2013

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I’m overdue on a post about the 2013 Biscuit Festival in Knoxville. The event was several weeks ago and I’m still sorting through photos. Every image reminds me of intoxicating tastes and smells. I keep thinking I need a snack, when really I just need to get back to the blog.

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The second day of the Festival was rainy, but thousands of people ignored the weather and came downtown anyway. Some spilled onto adjacent Krutch Park.

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The idea was to get in line and buy a general ticket which would be shown to each of the twenty or so participating vendors. Then, you’d get a sample  of the vendor’s interpretation of biscuit goodness. We didn’t want to wait in line, then stand in the middle of the street and eat biscuits for several hours, so we ducked into Tupelo Honey Cafe for brunch. After that, we did some people-watching on the festival end of the street, and shopped for herbs and vegetables on the farmers market end.

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These biscuits, from the innovative and enduring Tomato Head Restaurant, were made with smoked cheddar and onion. They made me wish I had bought a ticket after all; maybe TH will publish their recipe someday!

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Tupelo Honey, which originated in my hometown of Asheville, opened a Knoxville branch in 2012.

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There were plenty of things to buy (or sample) besides biscuits.  Moonshine cake was an example. Eat responsibly!

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Vendors on the farmer’s market side of the mall had vibrant displays of vegetables. The grower of these luscious-looking radishes told me he likes the D’avignon variety (third from the left). He recommends slicing them thin (oblong side) and putting them on a buttered baguette. Real butter — not margarine, mind you.

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Could you stop by this booth and not feel a surge of health and domesticity coming on?

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I liked these t-shirts and graphics, displayed at the farmers market booth. If there was a sales/information booth dedicated to the Biscuit Festival organization, we didn’t see it.

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These young women were happy to smile for a photograph and answer questions about Napping Cat Flower Farm, source for the gorgeous array of cut blossoms all around them. I bought a sweet mixed bouquet that was arranged in a simple tin can. Napping Cat has one of the prettiest Facebook sites I’ve seen. It’s full of flowers and nature photographs and, of course, cats. The owners say they’ve adopted a lot of cats over the years, but always spay or neuter them. In their words, they don’t grow kittens. Only flowers.

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I think herbs are essential in a garden, even if you live in an apartment and have a tiny patio and a few pots. They’re great hosts and pollinators for butterflies and bees, they smell good, and — oh my — what they can do to jazz up a biscuit!

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Dogs of every breed, mix, and size were at the festival. I loved seeing them, but don’t know how they withstood the olfactory overload from food in various stages of preparation: bacon and ham frying, cheese bubbling, biscuits baking, onions sizzling, and more — it must have set their canine mouths to frothing!

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The biscuit festival has ended, and I’ve decided to try my hand at making biscuits again. I’ve never been much good at it — mine always have that hockey puck quality. You have to make them regularly to get  those light and fluffy ones, I think. At any rate, I’m dragging out my tattered recipes, with an eye to jazzing them up with some fancy, special ingredient. We’ll see how it goes. Old dogs can learn new tricks, right?

Sweet Potato Drop

A few weeks ago, word got out in my mom’s community that there would be a “potato drop” at a church near my old high school in Asheville.  I happened to be home then, so Mom and I decided to go check out the “drop”. When we arrived, we saw people down on their knees, sorting through several mounds of spuds that had been loaded directly onto the grass. Some people wore rubber boots and gloves — it had rained that morning, and bits of debris clung to the grass and the wet potatoes.

Volunteers at the church were having a great time, welcoming everyone and giving away what remained of the original 40,000 pound load of potatoes. They had pre-filled dozens of produce boxes and were passing out pages of recipes for all-things-sweet-potato. When I asked about the organization behind the drop, I was introduced to a representative from a non-profit organization called Society of St. Andrews. He gave me one of their brochures and told me they had recently distributed an overage of crops grown on the Biltmore estate. (I can’t remember what type of crop, as I was distracted by all the activity and the  pungent smells of wet potatoes, rain, and newly-trampled grass). He said the sweet potatoes at the church had been grown on the coast of North Carolina and brought in for distribution by SoSA. Later on, I wished I had asked why the potatoes had to travel such a great distance rather than be distributed in areas closer to the coast. Since transportation/energy cost is a major concern of advocates for food from local sources, there was a probably a logical reason for this particular long-distance transport. I need to follow up with SoSA for more information.

Later in the day, after we left the church,  I looked at the Society of St. Andrews brochure and website. I learned that SoSA has two primary objectives: to feed hungry people and to minimize food waste.  Every year, as part of their “gleaning network”, thousands of volunteers distribute 20-25 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks, churches, homeless shelters, and other organizations across the nation. This is food that would otherwise go to waste because of size or minor blemishes. (You know how everything has to be perfect and uniform at the grocery store).

So, yes, I brought a few potatoes home. The volunteers encouraged me to take them, although I don’t meet the criteria of need. I remember this — and am thankful for my blessings — every time I open the refrigerator or pantry door.

Opa!

Greekfest dancers

High school dancers from St. George  Greek Orthodox Church in Knoxville, Tennessee await their cue to begin performing a traditional Greek folk dance. Each year, church members share their heritage at a two-day celebration of Greek culture that includes food markets, cooking demonstrations, live music and tours of the church and its iconic religious art.

Reminder for next year: get more loukoumades – fresh, hot pastry puffs covered in a lemony, honey-cinnamon coating. Yum!

Frog Level Coffee Shop

Going Back in Time

I’ve been to Waynesville, NC many times, but somehow have always missed Frog Level, the old industrial part of town located down the hill near Richland Creek. Today, I found the historic and inviting spot as I deviated from my normal route on the way back to Interstate 40.

There are only a few streets in Frog Level, but I felt a sense of nostalgia as I walked on the old sidewalks and saw the sturdy buildings from the late 1800’s and early-to-mid 1900’s. My favorite was an old warehouse with very high ceilings and wide, wooden floor planks. Now gently restored, the warehouse is home to the Panacea Coffee House, a popular return destination for visitors. Today, I had their fragrant, freshly-roasted coffee and one of the best brownies of my life.

From the Breakfast Buffet

Pancake Day at Davy Crockett State Park

It’s somewhat strange to see a squirrel maneuvering a fully-formed pancake at five o’clock in the afternoon. Whether he’d saved it since breakfast (doubtful) or had grabbed it from someone’s campsite later in the day, he was very protective of his bounty. Each time I tried to get closer for a photograph, he walked a few steps on his hind feet, then turned his back to me as if to say, “Go do something else”, or “This thing’s dry and needs some syrup”.