Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ice Cream Road Show: The Cincy Adventures

Fuschia and I have been having so many adventures lately (some pleasant, some the complete opposite) that I've been struggling to find time to wash our delicates, much less update our loyal readers.  Luckily we've hit a lull in the action, so let the stories commence.

Ahhh, September. Just a few short weeks after our rockin good time at the KY State Fair Fuschia and I were offered a couple of free tickets to King's Island during a private P&G event.  With a policy of  turning down only free colonics, we jumped at the chance to check out this classic amusement park just  2 hours to our north. Being random roadtrip adventure junkies, we went ahead and planned an entire weekend around our windfall. 

With a three day window of opportunity for fun we decided on a modest itinerary: inspirational meditation at The Temple of IKEA, ambling stroll through downtown Cincy to admire architecture and locals' handguns, pilgrimage to the original Graeter's, supremely delicious culinary exploration at overpriced gastropub, topped off by our day with Snoopy and the gang at King's Island.

Unbeknownst to Fuschia, I had discovered that Cincy was hosting the country's largest Oktoberfest that weekend and had remembered that Cincy is home to the Findlay Market, a mecca for Ohioan foodies.  Clearly the weekend was going to be nonstop, action-packed awesomeness.

We actually made it to about half our planned events and still had ample time to enjoy a lie about.  By far my favorite part of the weekend was the trip to Findlay Market.  I'm sure my slack-jawed countenance marked my newbie status, but the Cincy locals were kind enough to look the other way. We strolled among the vendors, marveling at the cheeses, meats, spices and prepared foods on offer. 

Seeking a substitute for breakfast we stopped by Taste of Belgium, where they make waffles (didn't see that one coming, didya?) as big as your face.  Opting for a classic, no namby-pamby topping for us, we got the traditional and a few soft drinks.  The waffle was unlike an Americanized version of a Belgian, with a thickness and beautiful yeasty smell that nearly made me swoon.  I managed to control myself and actually share a few bites with Fuschia, but it was touch and go for a moment.

In true Cactus and Fuschia style we followed the taste of Belgium up with a little taste of Italy: gelato.  At the end of the market, just pass the spice guy sits Dojo Gelato, Findlay's awesome gastropub, fusion Italian creamery.  On offer that day were flavors previously unimagined: malted milk, amber lager, Italian hazelnut, dulce de leche de salt, etc, etc, the end.  Clearly, we would need to order the bucket size.  Served in a foursome, our gelato was a delightful mix of malted milk, hazelnut, classic chocolate and dulche de leche de salt. Words fail me.  The chocolate alone was worth driving to Cincy.  You must go there immediately.

We did eventually move on to Oktoberfest where we sampled  solid bier cheese, pretzels, fried pickles and enough draught cider (yay Woodchuck Amber) to make crowd navigation just a tad more like competitive sport.  After enjoying the vibe of a downtown for a couple of hours (read: sobering up) we located our car and sped off to find more debauchery in the Rust Belt.

Hours later , nap time and showers having been indulged in, we arrived in Over-the-Rhine for a trip to Senate.  A simple, modern hot spot with wood details and exposed brick, Senate was a rare find: trendy food without the snotty hipster scene.  As this was a meal we had really been dreaming of, Fuschia went with a signature dog, the Hello Kitty 2.0 (wasabi peas, cabbage slaw and bacon) while I stuck with the Lobster BL (you know my feelings on tomatoes) and truffle fries. I washed it all down with a Kitten Fizz (some vodka/raspberry yumminess) while Fuschia looked on with regret that she lost her license somewhere between Louisville and Cincy. 

Rolling ourselves back to the car we determined that only a movie would make the evening more perfect. We headed north to Springdale to see 'Contagion', a relentlessly cheerful flick, if ever I've seen one.  Sufficiently revived at the cinema we indulged in classic American ice cream for dessert: 2 delicious scoops of Ben and Jerry's Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz.

Over the course of our weekend we did make it to Graeter's somewhere in the land of the yuppie suburbs where we sampled new flavors and each had a monster scoop of deliciousness.  At King's Island we managed to have an excellent time despite my fear of roller coasters and other trauma-causing automated adrenaline milking machines.  One of the better parts of the Island?  Free P&G stuff just for showing up and the (yes, I ate tres) huge blueberry soft serve ice cream cones that the park is famous for.

If spending a weekend exploring Cincinnati taught me anything it's that I have sorely misjudged the Midwest.  Cincy had so much great food, some really excellent things to do and an interesting vibe in most areas.  Perhaps we'll have to visit again.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gettin Frisky at the Fair

After all the tomatoes of late July, August was reserved for me to scrub the red stains off my cutting board, walls and self.  Now that I've finished that we're getting back to the business of learning new things.  The end of summer in Louisville doesn't offer much unless you're finishing up a garden, planting cover crops or already dreaming about next season or so I thought.  Enter the KY State Fair (Aug 18-28).  Billed as an agricultural offering with a side of thrill rides and deep fried madness, this was an event I looked forward to for months.

Last Saturday Fuschia and I finally managed to find a common day off so that we could head off to see what we could see.  My initial thought upon arriving: why the hell is the fair inside? and why are there 5 million people here at 10am?  Turns out the fair draws people from every holler in KY,a feat that only KY basketball can also perform.

We paid the entry fee (ambitiously priced at $28 for two people and 1 car), grabbed our free (or $28, depending on perspective) program and headed into the 'C' hall.  Naturally being Cactus and Fuschia, we had managed to stumble into the food court. With no self control and no previous sustenance that day, we availed ourselves of the offered junk food. Breakfast of champions? Philly cheesesteaks with mushrooms. Yummy.

Finally feeling ready to throw ourselves into the milling herd (every pun intended) we headed off to the animal exhibits in hopes of seeing a few piggies. Turns out the animal areas were HUGE and filled with cows, pigs, sheep,goats, and horses.  Fuschia, being a refined suburbanite had never been so close to farm animals and spent most of an hour enthralled with petting each and every creature.
Feeling exhausted (code for hungry) we headed off in search of 3 mythical fair foods: the donut burger, fried butter and fried Kool-Aid.  Eventually we discovered the fair food area in the middle of a baking asphalt parking lot and set about seeing what was what.  On offering were all the usual suspects plus a few I hadn't seen before: deep fried Derby Pie and Maple Bacon Ice Cream Sundae. 

After discovering that the fried Kool-Aid was just cherry drink mix in funnel cake dough that had been deep fried, we opted for the deep fried Derby Pie drizzled with raspberry sauce and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  We both were skeptical that this deep frying and drizzling would in any way enhance the already awesomeness of Derby Pie, but we're always willing to eat saturated fat in the name of research.  Boy am I glad we did.  That fried pie was easily the best Derby Pie I've ever had.  Ever.
With the sun heating up the place, we decided against further culinary exploration, even though we had found a place with the donut burgers (cheeseburger on a Krispy Kreme).  Sadly the fried butter continued to elude us.  Needing to cool off we headed into the 4-H exhibit all to see the Great Pumpkin.

We found not one, but three gianourmous gourds. The winner came in at a whopping 996 pounds, with the second and third places right behind at 980ish and 886ish.  Those things were big enough to make a hobbit condo.

Wandering deeper into the veggie/fruit/nut display we discovered 2 important things: a lot of old people really like to look at tomatoes and we're not very good judges of the relative merits of fair entries.  Either way we had a good time and decided that nothing would do but for us to enter something random in the fair next year. Black walnuts possibly as there were only two entries in that field.

The rest of the afternoon we spent looking at bees, tasting honey, admiring quilts, cakes, home canned goods and really hideous hobby craft entries.  We went to a petting zoo, walked inside a TARC bus (oh the fun), and entered a few drawings for trips to Disney.  I was determined to get my $28 worth.  By the time 4pm rolled around my feet were begging for relief so we took a spin around the fairgrounds on the tram. Approaching speeds of 3mph, the tram gave us a chance to cool off, rest and look at the motley assortment of folks milling around.  Halfway round the parking lot we conceded defeat to the heat and crowds, jumped off the tram and spent a delightful 30 minutes playing hide and seek with the car. 

We'll be back next year for sure, most likely with a few entries of our own and a willingness to dominate the donut burger.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Adventures in Rural Central KY

Last week I had the bright idea that people on may have produce for sale at reasonable prices.  So I had a look around over the course of a few work shifts and, sure enough, there were more than I had imagined posting any combination of picked or u-pick seasonal veggies and fruits.

The ad that attracted me the most, like Pooh to that damn tree, was one for a blackberry farm in Lebanon, KY.  Ninety minutes south of Louisville, they were letting people pick unlimited berries for $5 per person.  To put that in perspective, the local farm we usually source from charges $5/pound for u-pick berries. 

With visions of thorn less, heirloom berries dancing in my head I left work, picked up Fuschia and hit the open road.  After making a few superfluous loops, turning around twice and getting honked at approximately 257 times (none of them deserved), we arrived in the area where the picking was to commence.  There was only one slight problem: there was no sign, as promised online, to mark the farm entrance.  I call and get someone on the phone for the first time. It takes all of five seconds for me to discover there are no more blackberries.  None.  All gone.  I managed to be mostly polite to the farmer, but inside I was cussing up a storm.  Honestly, what kinda tool doesn't know enough to take the ad off craigslist when they no longer have the product? 

Not to be completely stymied in my search for cheap foodstuffs, I pull into the local Golden Arches where Fuschia and I can refill our sweet tea tanks.  After two hours of riding around the boonies, they're basically on empty. With a quick call to Eeyore (thanks goodness for her smart phone) for navigational assistance, I point the Jeep back down the highway towards Hart County.

Just last week I had discovered, thanks to my obsessive use of Google, that Hart County is home to a produce auction.  And it's open to the public.  Clearly,  I have to go.  Fuschia and I get to Munfordville a little early, so we have plenty of time to scope out the situation.  Horse and buggy road signs populate the length of the  meandering highway.  Being a tad slap happy at this point (no sleep since Thursday morning) I go on on and on and on about wanting to see some Amish folks.  Fuschia ignores me and rightly so.

Maybe I didn't get my cheap berries that day, but by god I got my Amish.  Turns out they own the produce auction.  It was interesting to see such a large number of people who eschew modern conveniences working so closely with very typical folks there to buy cheap produce. For anyone with an appreciation of farm fresh food, hoarding tendencies, or just a love of community events, this was an awesome spectacle.  Under a metal pole barn sat pallet after pallet of food grown in that very county.  It was hard to maintain my dignity when all I wanted to do was hug each farmer as a show of thanks.

After a moment of confusion over the auction workings (hey, it was our virgin visit) we got a number and commenced to buying produce.  Anyone who has ever known the thrill of gambling can understand the allure of the auction.  It sucks you in.  Although tempted at times, I managed to refrain from purchasing 50 dozen ears of corn or 25 watermelons.  I did win though.  I got 80 pounds of tomatoes and 40 pounds of new potatoes. Grand total cost? $54.  That's not a typo. Put that in perspective: at a big box store tomatoes cost roughly $1.59/lb and potatoes are going for $1.29/lb.  That's about 178.80, not including taxes.

As you can imagine I've been more than a little busy ever since we got back from the Amish auction. So far I've put up ketchup, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa.  On the agenda for the rest of the week are tomato paste and BBQ sauce.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Just One of Those Days...

Have you ever had one of those completely obnoxious days where you get heatstroke while picking a bushel of beans, get stranded in said bean field for hours, chug too much Gatorade and almost vomit, drop a water bath canner lid on your head, and then ruin an entire batch of applesauce after spending three hours sweating over it?  Yeah, me neither.

At least that's the lie I'm telling myself, but so far I seem to be too astute to fall for my own shenanigans.  Yesterday started well enough.  Fuschia and I walked the dog to the library to pick up more homesteading books and even managed to remember the Redbox movies this time.  In an obvious ploy to avoid Saturday morning ritual torture (aka housework) I suggested we visit a local farm to pick up a supply of green beans so I could try out the death trap pressure-canner Mama gave me. So far so good.

We meander into Southern Indiana, arrive at the farm and wait for the tractor that will take us to the land of milk and honey.  Or green beans and blackberries.  Whatever. Our first stop at the berry patch is a raving, rapid success as the fruit hangs in luscious gobs just waiting to hitch a ride in our bucket.  We picked 5 pounds in less than 15 minutes.  Back on the tractor and off to the beans we go.

Perhaps the fact that we were the only morons wanting to pick beans should have been clue enough, but of course we failed to heed the warning.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the vines had not been trellised, but allowed to sprawl willy-nilly.  To say this would be back-breaking is to state the obvious. Our goal was a full bushel of green beans and though the sun sought to beat us into the earth, we, after 45 long minutes, managed to fill the baskets. 

Resting on our laurels, we waited for the promised tractor to return for us. We waited,waited and waited some more.  The world just a stage? We were in Waiting for John Deere.  Finally, after an agonizing ninety minutes with no fluids, no shade and definitely no energy to walk back to our car, I called the farm market and pleasantly (truly) asked that they send a car around.  Just moments later here comes our savior in denim, laying the hammer down on what turned out to be a Kubota(that's a type of tractor, folks). 

Rejuvenated by our rescue we popped into the market to shop for some additional veggies that weren't available to pick.  We loaded up on peaches, Magnum beans (insert size joke here) and some early apples. Alas, we didn't load up on water. Being priced at a prohibitive $2/20 oz we decided to forgo hydration until we returned to town.  I've always been particularly good at ignoring my body's distress and yesterday was no different.  By the time we hit the store, I was as close to actual heat exhaustion as I've ever been.  Gatorade chugging ensued, followed by an epic struggle to retain said fluid.  Not my finest hour.

Never mind, I thought upon regaining lucidity.  We had food to process.  Hours passed, the temp dropped and finally I was ready to make applesauce.  Just last year I learned how to make applesauce and apple butter, which a few of my friends can't get enough of.  It was time to restock.  Going to Fushcia's closet to retrieve the water canner from an upper shelf, I knew I should get the step ladder.  Knew it, yet didn't do it.  Dropped the lid directly (at a 90 degree angle, no less) upon my noggin.  For the second time that day, from two unrelated causes, I almost passed out.  I couldn't form words.  I couldn't even articulate what I was thinking: shitassfuckfuckityfuckdamnit!

After applying a bag of frozen peas to my head wound, I managed to finish my applesauce.  All my cans set up seals beautifully within just minutes of being removed from their jacuzzi.  Life was good.  Until this morning, when upon waking I hobbled into the kitchen to discover mysterious black flakes distributed throughout my golden brown apple goodness.  Turns out my water canner was flaking enamel, only I hadn't noticed it when processing the jars.  Probably cause of the post head-trauma blurry spots. The end result: I had to throw every drop of that applesauce, all 3 hours, 2 blisters, and 1 major injury worth, in the garbage.  A day's work ruined.

And that dear friends is how I ended up in bed all day, depressed and possibly concussed, on the very day that was to be my pressure canner debut.  With any luck I'll be back on my game tomorrow....there's a bushel of hard-won beans waiting for me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Warning Labels and Mama

For me at least, there's no need for a consumer product to carry a warning label.  After all, I have a mama who has made it one of her major roles in my life to inform me which small electronics could potentially blow up in my face.  Unlike some people's moms, mine has never done this worrying in an oppressive way, never made me scared of the world.  She tells me these concerns matter-o-factly, yet with enough drama that I can't help but enjoy a frisson of fear and excitement each time. 

I'm thinking about her particular concern over the frailties of consumer goods because she recently gifted me  a tool that I've been lusting after for years: a pressure canner.  One of the first thing a modern homesteader will realize upon perusing the Ball Blue Book: Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration that first time is you simply must have a pressure canner.  Without one you're stuck in jelly, jam and preserve land forever.  You can maybe make tomato sauce , but even that is considered dicey. 

Being the new, proud owner of this marvelous beast of an appliance, I've been daydreaming about all the things I'm going to put up before the season ends.  Yesterday I realized I've had that thing for two weeks and have gotten no further in the veggie canning odyssey than moving the jars into the kitchen. What gives, you ask?  I could bore you (and me) with excuses about the pressures of my hectic life, family drama, house hunting, etc.  Since I like you, I'll just leave it at: I've been a little preoccupied. 

Come this weekend my new canner and I are going to take that leap of discovery together.  On the agenda: green beans for sure and maybe even some corn.  We'll see how it goes. I definitely know this: as I fire up my turbo stove under the canning kettle no booklet from the box is gonna tell me anything I don't already know, thanks to Mama.  You have to be careful with a pressure canner: they'll blow up in your face.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Beginning

Two and a half years ago I had no idea that a single book purchase would launch a new lifestyle for Fuschia, me and and a half dozen others. But that's exactly what happened.  To be fair, our (now)friends Biker, Hippie Chick, Reader, and The German all had some leanings in the self-sufficiency direction.  In the fall of 2008, in a magical, mystical perfect storm of coincidences, all those people blew into our lives, the stars aligned and we began our group journey into homesteading.

The first major purchase, and perhaps my largest contribution to the cause, was The Urban Homestead  by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. We called it the Bible and it was good.  Filled with more projects than we could reasonably try in a year, we wore out mine and a few library copies those first few months. Our enthusiasm was boundless in the early days with various people trying home brewing, potato tires(look in the book), building furniture, vermicomposting, and gardening.  It helped that part of our (collective) job was to work with some local gardens. 

Months rolled by with varying successes and (ahem) learning opportunities, including my worms, until we reached the point of group fervor required to discuss founding a hippie commune.  Daydreaming continued unabated until we reached a point where Fuschia and I had to make a life changing decision: stay or go?  Ultimately, whether right or wrong, we went and it took us away from all  our hippie friends.  We would eventually be reunited with some of them, for various periods of time, but even that has proven to be bittersweet.  Never again will we all be in that beautiful moment attempting to live a more authentic life, together.  Everytime I can green beans, pick berries or pick up a new homesteading book I think of the commune that could've been and wonder if in an alternate universe we're all sitting on a porch somewhere, drinking Biker's brew, eating Hippie's bread and enjoying the sweet life we've built.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

And so it begins...

Being a grownup is long on hardwork and short on reward, right? Lately it seems like Fuchsia and I do nothing but worry over work, family illness, our 401ks and the date on the milk carton.  When did everyday life become such an unbelievable downer? 

In an attempt to inject some fun and interest into the ol' grind we've started looking for ways to expand our homesteading adventures.  Right now we're the Homesteader Lite type.  We recycle, can jams, pick fruit, buy vintage, use the library and reject (most) conspicuous consumption.  It's really time to step it up and become full-flavored, totally committed Homesteaders. 

Our laundry list of dream projects is lengthy, but achievable: outdoor clothes line, bee hives, compost piles, vermicomposting, chickens, espaliered dwarf fruit trees, foraging, cheese making, bread making and of course, gardening.  If that sounds like overly ambitious, pie-in-the-sky type business to ya, you're not alone.  Most people can't conceive of doing all of that and working, too.  Lately, with all the free time I have since I stopped clubbing and binge drinking (in 07), I've realized that watching TV and umm, watching more TV just aren't fulfilling for some of us.

Even HGTV and the Food Network (my absolute faves) can only hold my interest for 2-3 hours a week at best.  I love to read, but even I like to occasionally get off my ass and DO something. Hence the interest in total homesteading. To really progress much further we need our own property with at least 1/10 of an acre, some sunlight and neighbors who share our passion or are a little myopic/disinterested/never around. 

In this lil corner of Kentuckiana we call home (for now) there are plenty of options for low-cost, progressive-friendly neighborhoods and we've logged a lotta time looking at possibilities.  Our goal is to find and move in before Oct 1 so we can get garlic in the ground, but we'll see. Wish us happy hunting.