Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Day in Knitter’s Paradise

When you give Barbie a haircut with someone, you form a lifelong bond. Even when you fall out of touch for, oh, twenty-five years and then reconnect through a mutual friend and Facebook, the ties remain strong. And that bond is reinforced when you discover that you share a passion for knitting.

Theresa was one of the folks who inspired me to take up knitting, and of course, her abilities far surpass mine. In fact, she is a knitting rockstar. She also spins and makes her own dyes from organic sources like mushrooms and such, and she even embroiders (check out this guitar-pickin chickin she made for me!).

The first time I mentioned to another knitting pal that Theresa of “Techniques with Theresa” on Knitty.com was a childhood friend, I thought I was going to have to scrape her off the ceiling, she got so excited. Now I get a thrill out of impressing People Who Knit with, “Hey, guess who I know . . . ?”

You can imagine, then, my joy when Theresa, who followed her heart to Europe many years ago to marry herself a handsome Norwegian, moved back home a few weeks ago (bringing said handsome Norwegian) — not just to the U.S., but to Franklin, North Carolina, where she is now nestled in the heart of her extended family on some beautiful, hilly farmland in the Southern Appalachians (she and I grew up not even a mile apart in Rabun Gap, Georgia, about 20 minutes south of where she now lives).

Last week I drove up to the mountains for a few days to visit with my family and reconnect with Theresa in person. Our plan was to indulge our shared fiber fantasies — from raw material to finished product. We began our day with a visit to an alpaca farm.

Merritt Farm is ten acres surrounding a lovely 100-plus-year-old log cabin in Otto, North Carolina, situated just between Rabun Gap and Franklin. Liza McArthur, farmer-in-chief, left police work in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to pursue her dream there in 1996 with her kids. She spent the next several years restoring buildings and land in preparation for an alpaca herd.

Liza acquired her first alpacas in 2000. She breeds them and maintains her herd using environmentally sustainable methods (diatomaceous earth instead of toxic chemicals for pest control, for example), and her fiber is supple, soft, and strong. When Theresa and I visited, she had just received a supply of yarn back from a mill where she had sent off a batch of raw fiber. I bought two skeins of creamy, lustrous laceweight stuff, and Theresa bought some beautiful roving.

We sat on the porch of the cabin for awhile, listening to Liza’s story and running our fingers through her yarn. She could tell us the name of each animal from which each yarn came, just from the color and lustre of the stuff (mine came from a gal named Mawatta). Then we walked through her morning chores with her — feeding, weighing the cria (that’s what you call a baby alpaca), and just saying hello to everyone. Alpacas do spit, but only if provoked. Liza’s animals are gently handled from birth and therefore are very friendly. One even offered to style my ’do.

Liza also has a small flock of chickens and the beginnings of an orchard, plus like me, she nestles food gardens in every sunny spot she can find. She has several dogs who guard the female and gelded alpacas in shifts throughout the day and night, and a guard llama named Solomon protects her breeding sires.

Yes, you read right: a guard llama. I was fascinated to learn that llamas, it turns out, are very alert and have this fierce call that will sound an alarm if an intruder or threat comes around. They will even go after it kicking. Some guard llamas will draw their flock together and herd into safety, just like a herding dog. Who knew?

Theresa had visited with Liza before and had told her of her vision for her North Carolina farm home. Which may have been part of what she had in mind when she offered a couple of seven-year-old male Alpacas for Theresa to adopt! I squealed like a llama when Theresa provisionally accepted the offer, explaining that it would probably be wise for her to check with her family before bringing home two large mammals. After making plans to return to the farm in early May for Liza’s shearing days (fun!), off we went to Theresa’s house to check out her fencing and barn — both for the alpacas and the flock of chickens she’s planning on getting. I’m living vicariously through Theresa’s hoofstock acquisition, since City of Decatur ordinances prevent me from having my own.

Later we drove a little further north into downtown Franklin for lunch and a visit to the yarn shop there, where I got to witness a real rockstar moment. A woman ahead of us in the register line kept turning around and looking at Theresa — “I know I’ve seen you somewhere . . .” — and finally realized it was from her knitty.com column. Then the shop owner spoke to Theresa about teaching a few classes there. Hello, mushroom dyes and kitchener stitch!

Determined to find an excuse to stay in touch with Liza, who is someone you just want to know, I talked with her about starting a yarn CSA. She thinks it would work, especially if she recruited a few other producers in the area (llama, angora goat, and wool, maybe) in a cooperative effort. Knitting readers, would you have an interest in participating in such a thing? Liza thinks she might be able to handle 20 subscribers. Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll share details as we work on them.

Here is an example of one yarn CSA.

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Making things

Things that make me go “Yay!”

All of these photos were taken over a three day period. Everything is waking up!

Baby apple tree with new growth

Parsley by the mound

Fungal goodness

Stir fry with my broccoli and mushrooms

 

Big, fat, hairy chives

Arugula without end

Sweet potato-apple muffins (my sweet potatoes, dad's apples)

Camelias on my table

Good egg production on organic feed

Yoga socks (what a great idea!)

A giant pot of wheat straw pasteurizing on my stove (for more mushrooms)

Salad greens and cilantro

Flats of seedlings in my house, away from marauding rats

The last of last fall's collards

Sugar snap pea sprouts

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Filed under Feasting, Flockkeeping, Gardening, Making things

Eat • Play • Love

It’s early evening on a Sunday. I have been in my kitchen all afternoon, and four mounds of homemade pizza dough sit rising in a large bowl covered with a towel. The counter is arrayed with a bounty of toppings: mushrooms from my mushroom growing project, a bowl of sauce made from tomatoes I canned last summer, local chevre, pesto I made from my basil and froze in August, prosciutto and Italian sausage from a nearby charcuterie, onions, peppers, olives, more cheeses. I have also made an enormous salad with arugula and radishes I harvested from my garden that afternoon.

The sideboard is loaded with stacks of plates and napkins, and two big tumblers hold knives and forks. Several bottles of wine stand open on the counter bar alongside rows of glasses, and a cooler in the floor is brimming with beer. There’s a gallon of my specialty, mint iced tea, in the fridge.

Folks start to arrive around 7 o’clock, their arms full of desserts and more drinks, instrument cases slung over their shoulders. I help unburden them. We set the desserts on another counter corner, and jackets and instruments go in the living room. We gather, of course, in the kitchen.

By the time a dozen or so people are chatting and laughing, drinks in hand, I have pressed out the first of the pizza doughs onto a peel and have invited a few of the hungriest ones to load it up with their desired toppings. Into the oven it goes, followed shortly by a second one, then a third, then a fourth. A half an hour later, with steaming plates piled high, we are seated at the bar counter and around my broad square maple table, laid out with the red, yellow, and blue straw placemats I picked up in Mexico not long ago and some camellias I cut from the bush out front and tucked them into a cluster of bud vases.

This tastes good.

Flavor, to my palate, is about more than ingredients. It’s about the environment around the food as it comes into being, the emotions of the cook who is preparing the meal, the mood of the room in which it is being served. Our awareness of all these things, I believe, affects how food tastes, even how it nourishes one’s body during the rest of its journey.

Now, I love to fix myself a solo dinner and tuck in with my veggie and noodle bowl and a cold beer, my doggie or kitty, and a movie in my big kitchen chair, but one of the joys of my life is sharing the Southern Urban Homestead bounty with friends. We gather, we feast, we take pleasure in the rich and subtle flavors of the food lovingly prepared, company warmly welcomed.

On this night it’s pizza and a dozen folks, but it could  be venison chili (thanks to my neighbor, the hunter, who is willing to barter game for eggs) and eight people. Or it could be a frittata with my girls’ eggs and my garden veggies for two or three people. But the ritual is the same: after we have eaten our fill and rested our full bellies a little while, we complete our celebration of good flavor with a kind of sonic dessert.

Many of my friends are musicians, and they are good, appreciative eaters, too. Our spirits are high from the meal and congeniality of this loving group of people. Our resident piano player has recently acquired an accordion, so we launch into a raucous rendition of “Mama’s Got a Squeezebox” in its honor: guitars, basses, ukuleles, harmonicas. Warmed up and tuned up, we then settle into an around-the-kitchen routine of taking turns at leading a tune.

We play for several hours–some of our original songs, some covers so beloved we’ve practically worn grooves into them. Because we’ve played most of them together before, everyone falls easily into their parts. For the others less familiar we take a moment to teach and learn. The house is full of music and the lingering good aromas from dinner. Caleb is asleep in the middle of everything, adding his sonorous snores to the din.

Around 10:00, we stand up, stretch, nibble on leftover cold pizza and the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies someone brought, and start to pack up instruments. Warm hugs farewell, talk of gigs coming up. A few folks linger to chat and help load the dishwasher. The house is quiet and empty by 10:30, but my heart is full.

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Feasting