Friday, July 29, 2011

Andie's Big Adventure: Planning the Road Trip

We are down to the one month mark. Minus a couple of days, even. I do not have butterflies in my stomach, I have bats. But we have made even more planning progress, which helps. We still don't have the ferry situation completely resolved, but it's close enough that we thought it best to go ahead and plan the road trip and make reservations for the stops along the way. Captain Pete has graciously made arrangements for Dinky to stay in his crate on a lower deck where we can visit him a few times. The only hitch right now is that I'm not 100 per cent sure where he'll be able to powder his nose, as it were. But we're assuming that Captain Pete knows that he won't be able to hold it for 15 hours, and there will be somewhere for him to go.

So yesterday, Pootie pulled up Google maps and got to work. The first call didn't go all that well. Remember, we've got a hundred and thirty pounds of dog in tow.

What did the vet mean when he said I was "phat"?
Hotels sometimes think they don't want giant dogs eating Doritos in the bed and watching the Weather Channel. I have no idea why. But it makes sense to mention the size of the animal when you're making reservations. Unfortunately, Pootie hadn't quite got the hang of it when he started.

Pootie (on the phone with Hampton Inn's 800 reservation number): Yes, I need to make a reservation. This Hampton indicates it takes pets and we'll be traveling with our Bernese Mountain Dog.
Phone guy: whaa hwaa whaa whaa whwaa whaaa wha
Pootie: Uh... about a hundred and thirty pounds...?
Phone guy: wha whaaa wha waa wha whaa whwaa whaaa
Pootie: Oh. OK. (hangs up) They won't take dogs that big.
Me: Did you call the hotel itself?
Pootie: Yeah... but they said they were busy, so they'd call me back or I could call the 800 number...
Me: Give me the local number for the hotel.
Me: Good morning. Could I speak to the manager please? Thanks... Hello? Yes, we're traveling with our Bernese Mountain Dog and would like to make a reservation. He's about 130 pounds, but he's older and pretty sedentary. I was wondering if you might be able to accomodate us?
Manager: Oh, sure. That would be fine. Would you like me to make the reservation for you? I'll just make a note on here for you.
Me: That would be great. Thanks.

And now I have passed along my wisdom to Pootie (and anyone else who needs it here). It doesn't always work, of course, but if you need to have an exception made, go straight to someone who can make it, and don't rely on the first schmoe who answers the phone. They aren't given the authority to make decisions and most of the time, they won't go out of their way to find someone who does.

The rest of the reservations went great. So we are stopping outside Baltimore, Maryland.

Then on to Mystic, Conneticut. (Which is just KILLING Pootie since we won't have time to actually see anything.)

Then to Camden, Maine, where we spent our honeymoon.

It was a LONG time ago. Yes, I know that dress doesn't fit. I was in borrowed clothes because the airline lost our luggage.

Then on to Moncton, New Brunswick (we'll be in Canada, by then, in case you haven't figured that out.)

Wow. That looks like a pretty big place.
Then to Sydney, Nova Scotia (not Australia - that's way too long a drive.) We catch the ferry there.

Dinky will be one one of those below decks. He's fussed that he didn't get his own cabin.

Then we take the very long ferry ride to Newfoundland and when we land, we drive an hour and a half to St. John's.

In case any of you are wondering about all the water, and I haven't already mentioned it, Pootie is going up there to start the PhD program in Maritime History. That ought to make a bit more sense of all the wet stuff.

So now we have several point Bs to go with our point A (here at home), and I feel better. Marginally.

Tomorrow we start mapping out the most important part of any road trip.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Where the Heck I've Been: Parents and Pecan-Crusted Skirt Steak

I know. You thought I'd run away from home or had my power disconnected didn't you? Nope. You're not that lucky. I've just been busy.

My parents came for a visit last weekend. So before they arrived, of course, I had to clean, so they didn't see that normally we live in filth and squalor.

I had to give the dog a bath so he smelled good. (He wouldn't speak to me for a good while.)

You're dead to me.
Then they got here and we dragged them all over creation.

We took them downtown.

We took them to Airlie Gardens.

We took them to Thalian Hall.

We brought them home.

This is why Dinky got a bath. He does love a lap and a glass of vino.
In between we ate a lot of ice cream and had a nice visit. I fed them once. For their dinner here, I made Pecan-Crusted Skirt Steak. It's one of my slightly modified old standby dinners from Fine Cooking. Easy as all get-out, fast and tasty. And I didn't take  pictures because I was distracted.

Turn a gas grill to high (or you can do this under the broiler, just watch it more closely or the top will burn).

Go back in the house and dump 3/4 cup of pecans, 2 Tbs. of cold butter, 2 tsp. of honey and 1 1/2 tsp of fresh rosemary into a food processor. Whirl it around until the pecans are finely chopped and the mixture is kind of pasty.

Put the skirt steak on a baking sheet with sides or a small roasting pan lined with foil and topped with parchment. Sprinkle the steak with kosher salt and pepper on both sides, and then spread the pecan mixture on the top side of the steak.

Put the steak on the grill and cook for about 4 - 5 minutes, or until the steak is browned but still a little pink in the middle. Set it aside to rest for 5 minutes, then cut it across the grain. If the crust falls off, just scoop it back on the meat. I like serving this with baked sweet potatoes and roasted asparagus.

If you would like to serve it to your parents, here's the .pdf.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cafe 305 Field Trips: Federal Point Farms Hoop House

Yesterday, I paid a visit to our friends Dave and Christin at Federal Point Farms. They've undertaken a very interesting project recently. They applied for a grant from RAFI - the Rural Advancement Foundation International. These funds in particular were available to reinvest in non-tobacco agriculture in North Carolina. Christin and Dave won the grant and built a warm-weather hoop house for crops. The idea was to build a large, open shaded and cooled area where they could extend the spring season. In case you haven't heard me mention it a few thousand times, it gets hotter than stink here in Coastal North Carolina. Our growing season is early, which sometimes sparks a little jealousy from our Northern neighbors (hey, Tony!) but long about mid-June, it's humid and beastly, and you can normally kiss nice lettuces and the more delicate herbs goodbye.

Enter the shaded hoop house. Check the soil temperature inside.

That's 81.8F (for you scads of international readers - about 27C)

Now check it just one step outside the hoop house.

 105.8 F (41C). Perfectly horrible no matter what scale you're using.
So let's let Dave tell us about RAFI and the hoop house. (Christin was busy weeding and stuff.)

The setup is pretty cool. They have the shade screen over the top of the hoops, which provide gradient shade - you can order what gradient you want. Then they have the misters which lower the ambient temperature inside the shaded hoop area.

A hundred years ago, I visited Phoenix, Arizona, and they had these things downtown to help cool people off. You don't see them in the South for People Purposes much because lord knows we have gracious plenty moisture to go around. But it was noticeably cooler inside the wide open hoop house than it was outside. So I hung out in there for most of the visit. They also have overhead irrigation inside that comes on twice daily.

It's pretty efficient, water and power-wise. Dave explains how it works.

This allows them to plant things like arugula, baby lettuces, sorrel and chard much later in the year than is normal. And even the hotter weather stuff seems to like it better. Shall we compare?

Gorgeous, lush, in the cooler hoop house basil...

Sad, pitiful, wishes it was in the hoop house but it's out in the hot sun basil

Happy tomato plant...
Not so happy remnants of a tomato plant. Similar to what you might see on the surface of Mars, for example.

Charred Chard. I crack myself up.

It's the scorching hot soil temperatures and sun that causes this tiny leaved output and yellow shrivel up. Which is why down here, you don't usually see lettuces and arugula and herbs stuffing the Farmer's Market stalls past late June. It's just hotter than Hay-Bees down here. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I've called it that since I was old enough to talk. It's all mine.)  But Dave and Christin have conquered the hay-bees heat and are going to have a nice crop of stuff that's normal to our spring, which for this year, they'll provide to local restaurants.

This year, they'll keep the hoop house open. Next fall, they plan to put plastic over the top and as a roll-up option on the sides so that they can trap heat and also do the traditional cool weather season extension. And with a year under their belts, they hope to be able to provide some of that extra produce for the Farmer's Market, as well. It's a great way to naturally extend both seasons.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cold Cucumber Soup

The last few times I've been to the Farmer's Market, Dave and Christin have had some gorgeous cucumbers, so I've laughed an unattractive, greedy laugh, scooped them up in my arms, and scurried off home.  Where I put them on the counter, scratch my head and go "What the hell am I going to do with all these cukes?"

Fortunately, last week, Pootie requested some cold soups. "Weench", he said, (long story on the nickname, but there it is) "Weench, would you make some cold soups for us for lunch?" And being the generous, sweet wife I am, who also happened to be loaded up with a bunch of cucumbers, I said sure.

For chilled cucumber soup, chop half a red onion.

If you're one of the millions of crazy people out there who think that red onion is "sweet" and "tastes awesome raw", knock yourself out and use it without cooking it first. Just don't make me eat it, and please refrain from breathing on me for 24 hours. I sweat mine in a pan with just a little drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt.

Peel the cucumbers and slice them lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. I use a grapefruit spoon, because I'm clever that way.

Roughly chop what you have left without the seeds and peels. For this I did 2 cukes and wound up with about two cups.

Or, you know, a little more.

Dump the cucumber, onion, 3 tablespoons of fresh dill, 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, 1 1/2 cups of plain yogurt, 1/4 tablespoon of celery seed, a few grinds of black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a dash of cayenne pepper into a blender. I have to confess that I used about a teaspoon of dried dill instead of fresh. It's too hot here now for fresh to do anything but gasp and wither. Kind of like me.

Puree the whole thing until it's nice and smooth. Chill it.

Serve it to your Pootie with a sprig of mint or dill.

If you want to clean the margarita residue out of your blender and give this a try, here's the .pdf.