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Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The woods behind our house are full of wisteria, tangled in the giant privet bushes and climbing all the way up to the tops of the trees. It smells wonderful, especially in the evening. We weren't living here last year at this time, so we didn't know there would be so much wisteria (the vines themselves get sort of lost in the underbrush after the blossoms are gone). Wild, crazy wisteria like this isn't at all uncommon around here, but it's a special treat for me because it reminds me of my folks' old house in Virginia, where the wisteria completely covered the front porch and the arbor over the back deck in spring.

The bug and I saw Mr. Chalmers off this morning—he'll be gone until Sunday, so us girls are going to occupy ourselves doing girl stuff like maybe going to the Georgia Museum of Art and planting the herbs I started from seed a month or so ago. Sorry about the lack of knitting and cooking content. I haven't made anything that great lately, or at least haven't been up to taking pictures and whatnot. I am reading a novel (!) that I'm very much enjoying, if only because it's fiction and I'm actually managing to read it: Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, which is basically about office life, something I sometimes, occasionally, rarely miss.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bug!

The bug turned one year old on Wednesday. Here she is on her birthday, helping me sand down some old chairs:

The next day we spent a lot of time outside digging trenches for the fifty asparagus crowns I ordered in a moment of optimism and high energy. Two twenty-five-foot-long, twelve-inch-deep trenches down, one to go. The bug enjoyed crawling around in the Georgia clay. When we took a break and retired to the quilt I'd set out on the ground for lounging, she took her first steps, two or three at a time! I was so excited I took her inside to try it on a more solid, level surface, and she would walk up to six steps at a time before diving into my lap. So she's walking, in spurts. March 22. I'm a little bit sad about it.

This was taken about fifteen minutes before her first steps.

That evening we had cake, a dense, rich carrot cake, with—in a nod to the bug's Florida beginnings—orange juice and zest in the cake and cream cheese frosting. For the cake I used this recipe. I made up the frosting as I went along; it was a bit soft, but nice and tangy with the orange and sour cream and just a little butter and powdered sugar.

We let her have at it, and she just went to town. She looked like she could not believe her good fortune. Cake!

We tried to put party hats on the dogs, but they were having none of it.

Monday, March 19, 2007


The bug had her first haircut on March 9. We sat her in a chair outside while some meat was smoking and cut her some bangs. It was hard to get them straight, but I think it looks cute a little uneven. And I think she can see better now. She'll be one year old on Wednesday, March 21, the first day of spring.

She loves the walker wagon her grandma in New York gave her for Christmas. She's not walking unassisted yet, but she's close!

The bug signed "train" for the first time a few days ago when she heard one going by, and she does it pretty much every time we hear a train now. And I swear she said, out loud, "dog" the same day when she spotted the neighbor's dog roaming around nearby.

Even though they came up early and I was worried they'd freeze off, the Narcissus "Thalia" I planted in the front yard are blooming. They have a mild nutty fragrance. I cut some and put them on the fireplace mantel in the bug's room.

There are lots more blooming since I took this picture a week ago.

And finally, finally, believe it or not, yesterday we got our dining room table and bench! They were made, very slowly, by Jimmy Poss in Carlton. I think he did a nice job and it was worth the wait. He'll have to come back in a few weeks to attach the table top after it's had time to warp and shrink or expand or whatever wood does. It's a bit wider than I'd expected, but we have a large room to fill up, so what the hell.

In context, from the kitchen door.

In this picture you can just barely see the three holes in the top, which are where the ceiling beams were attached to the wall boards with large bolts. The skirt pieces are made of floorboards supposedly from the Crawford Long family house in Banks County.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dirt, Fire, Meat

We had a cowboy cookout on Saturday, St. Patrick's Day, don't ask me why. It just seemed like it would be fun to cook a bunch of stuff outside, even though it turned cold and windy, like it was fall. Our meal was not really cowboy-authentic, but it sure was good.

Mr. Chalmers smoked huge, thick chuck roasts he rubbed with his special combination of salt, salt, salt, cayenne, dried oregano, and sliced garlic. I think he cooked them with hickory for about three and a half hours, and they were nice and tender, juicy, spicy, meaty. Chuck really is an excellent cut of meat for smoking, and I'm surprised more people don't use it instead of the more expensive brisket. The only trick is slicing it across the grain, which tends to go every which way. We've even smoked thinner chuck "steaks" with great results.

Here they are, about an inch and a half thick, maybe an hour after they went into the smoker.

In the oven, in a (cowboy?) bain marie, we baked a simple corn pudding with roasted poblano peppers: corn, peppers, milk, heavy cream, melted butter, fresh eggs from the lady down the road, et cetera.

The night before, I soaked two pounds of Great Northern beans in water. Early the next morning, I simmered the beans in fresh water for about an hour, drained them, and added new water, some molasses, dry mustard, a little ketchup, a lot of bacon, and one and a half chopped onions. I dug a hole and started a big fire in it, and let it burn down to embers. It was cold outside, and had just begun to get light. With the Mister's help I set the Dutch oven full of beans, along with a few potatoes brushed with butter, seasoned with fresh herbs, and wrapped in foil, down in the coals and we shoveled some of the coals on top, then covered the whole thing with dirt until we couldn't see any smoke rising from the ground. I think the fire probably died when we covered it with dirt, because when we dug the pot up five hours later it was barely warm. So I put the pot on the stovetop and finished up the beans the regular way. These were New England–style beans, not Southern or Texas beans, but they were pretty rustic anyway. We put the potatoes and sweet potatoes in the coals in the smoker while the meat was cooking.

This is the covered-up hole for the beans; we checked it every now and then to make sure we hadn't started an underground fire, though I suppose there could be one raging out there as I write and we wouldn't know about it.

Digging up the lukewarm beans.

More successful was the cobbler, which we made in an eight-quart Dutch oven ("Made in China for Texsport, Houston") with a flat, rimmed lid and three legs. Apples, pears, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and tapioca. I precooked the fruit a bit because I wasn't sure how it would work on an open fire, but as it turns out I didn't need to do that: the hardwood fire Mr. Chalmers and our friend built in the old goat-cooking pit was extremely hot, and the fruit juices were boiling in no time. As soon as it was all bubbly, Mr. Chalmers mixed up a biscuit-y topping (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, half butter and half nonhydrogenated shortening, then milk) and dolloped it on, trying not to singe his arm. We put the lid on and piled coals on top. We let it cook like that for about twenty minutes, then I said it was time, and we pushed the coals off the pot and lifted the lid and it was perfect. A little blackened on the side closest to the center of the fire, but otherwise just right. It may well be the best cobbler I've ever had a hand in making. The apples and pears were all dark and caramelized, and somehow the topping was both fluffy and crisp, and tasted as if it had been baked, then fried, then drizzled with caramel. And there was just a touch of smoke flavor, or maybe that was burnt flavor—in any case, I liked it. A lot.

I used about eight apples (mostly Granny Smiths, and a few Galas) and three pears.

It's hotter than it looks. I think those are motorcycle fenders around the edge there.

We took it right off the coals after this, because it was bubbling furiously and the fruit looked like it was going to burn onto the bottom of the pot.

Plates in a tree.

Add Miller Lite and Bailey's Irish Cream (brought by our friends from town) and it was a fine way to celebrate our Irish cowboy heritage.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bug's First Live Music

This was at the Saving Grace Café in Comer on Friday night. We had a nice dinner there after the chicken auction in Royston. Lovely place, fun time, even though the food wasn't very good. It was the first time I've heard a server offer half-and-half to put in the espresso and water to put in the wine (because it's so strong). The bug ate a big slice of lemon and watched the guitar player, and was a little confused every time the applause started up.