Cyclamen “White Cloud”

Blooms before Leaves

It takes more than a few white clouds to make these Cyclamen blooms–it takes a sho nuff deluge. 1.8″ of rain on August 11 brought these jewels back to life, and they will bloom from now until the equally spectacular leaves emerge sometime this fall.

“White Cloud” is one of the Cloud series of Cyclamen cultivars, with white blooms and silver veined leaves–we also grow the “Silver Cloud” Cyclamen, which has pink flowers and similar evergreen leaves. A single plant can sell for $7 to around $50. We paid $6.95.

The good news is these cultivars come true from seed, and re-seed prolifically–we now have these plants scattered all through our rock garden, and the plant below the rocks is a seedling. The silver Christmas tree looking leaves are equally impressive, even if they remind me of those incredibly hideous silver tinsel fake Christmas trees from the seventies. Some things you just can’t forget–ugly is just as memorable as beauty.

Monaco Italian Bread

Grab the Butter

This bread is definitely Southern, although more Southern France than Southern US. Strangely enough, it is only a couple of ingredients away from being identical to Creole French bread, which, as I have noted, is more Italian than French.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1/2 teaspoon Salt

1 1/2 cup Flour

1 tablespoon non-fat dry Milk

3/4 cup warm Water

Mix these by hand or with a stand mixer. Also mix together in a measuring cup-

2 teaspoons dry Yeast

1 tablespoon warm Water

1 tablespoon Maple Syrup (this is a substitute for Malt Syrup)

Let the yeast mixture rise in a measuring cup, until it reaches a volume of about one cup , then mix thoroughly with the flour mixture. Knead by hand or with a stand mixer. When the dough stops sticking to your oiled fingers, transfer to a bowl to rise–a wooden dough bowl is traditional in the South. After an hour or more of rising, form the loaves into the shape of your choosing–I like baguettes. Lately I have been cooking mine at 450 degrees F.

The recipe comes from the The Breads af France by Bernard Clayton Jr, and it has replaced the Picayune Creole Cookbook on my kitchen cookbook stand. It’s that good. As Clayton notes, Monaco, all 400+ acres of it, is highly influenced by its proximity to Italy, and thus we have the addition of oil to the bread, which fortifies it. Take away that and the milk powder, and you have Creole bread. However, when it comes to this style of French/Italian/New Orleans bread, there is only one thing to say about it–it’s all good.

Sunday Breakfast–Farmer’s Market Omelette

The Eggs of Summer

Our local Farmer’s market, held at the Festhalle, has been busy this summer, purely because of the excellent produce and value, compared to jacked up super market prices And people still keep arguing that transportation costs don’t result in higher prices. Check the price of gas, because Scotty did not beam that food to Publix.

Every ingredient, save for two, came from either the Festhalle or our front yard. I’ll differentiate those in the ingredients list.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Italian Olive oil

1/2 medium Onion, Chopped (Festhalle)

1 sweet Pepper (Homegrown}

4 plum Tomatoes, Chopped (Festhalle)

2 Oyster Mushrooms (Festhalle)

Saute the onions, peppers, and mushrooms in the olive oil, and when done add the tomatoes and cook for a further minute. Mix together—

3 extra large Eggs (Homegrown)

1/2 cup shredded Vermont Cheddar Cheese

Chopped Parsley (Homegrown)

Sea Salt and Pepper

Pour the egg mixture into the veg, and cook this frittata style–let the eggs begin to set, and then throw the skillet into a 400 degree F oven, until the omelette is done to your liking. Alas, poor supermarket. Only two imported items, from Italy and Vermont. Wait, the cast iron skillet is from Tennessee, another exotic foreign country.

“Josette” Creole Shallots at One Month

The Second Planting is Here

The first planting of Josette shallots worked out so well I had to order another bag. All told, I will have 22 Josettes planted in four cinder block “raised beds.” I saw this idea at some gardening site on the inter webs, and had a pile of free cinder blocks lying around, and had to try it. With a little potting soil, presto, instant raised bed.

Now that Allium cepa has been divided into two large groups, bulb onions and multipliers, I am going to refer to all multipliers as shallots, in the great Gulf Coast tradition. My next multiplier purchase will be some of the Southwestern I’itoi onion, an heirloom that was brought from Spain, circa 1699.

This exercise has led me to mentally compile a list of onions, leeks, and garlic that are suitable for permaculture. In short, I buy them once, and then propagate them myself. So far I have in mind five onions, two leeks, and two garlics. When they are all in the ground I will report back.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Parts One and Two, Oven and Stove

The Big Kahuna

The Freudian idea of the unconscious mind is a problem for speakers of English, and is probably the result of yet another weak translation concerning the difference between German and English. Unbewusst, usually translated as unconscious, could be better thought of as unaware, as unconscious is more often considered a medical state in English, like a blow to the head. So if we go back to Dr. Freud, unconscious, conscious (unbewusst, bewusst), are more understandable in English as unaware, aware. Because you are unaware of something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and doesn’t involve any head banging.

This all may help to explain my realization that I have a final plan for a five part outdoor wood-fired kitchen. I realized this when I woke up from a dream this morning, and the discovery cost me nothing in psychiatric fees. At any rate, here are the five pieces/parts/cooking stations, though I am only going to discuss the first two. I’ll get to the others later.

Brick Oven

Brick Stove

Smoke House

Tuscan Grill

Fire Pit

The Cornerstone

The brick oven will get the most use of all of these, mainly because of its versatility. I should point out that a brick oven is not a pizza oven, but a pizza oven can be made of brick, and most are, but they can also be metal and a number of other materials, such as clay. Many people, myself included, will lapse into calling this a bread oven, as that may be their primary use (this was designed to be mostly a bakery oven). However, anything that can be baked or roasted can be cooked in one of these ovens, with the added advantage that the temperature can easily be raised to 1000 degrees F, or higher. When this oven gets very far above 1100 degrees, my digital thermometer just says “HI.”

Baking traditional bread (think round sourdough loaves) also requires a door for the oven. After a fire is hot enough, which can be used to roast meat, veg, etc, it is allowed to burn down into coals. Those are then spread over the entire surface of the oven, to further heat the surface of the firebricks. After those coals are burned down to ashes, the oven is cleaned out, and the loaves are placed in the oven–this size oven will hold a dozen loaves. The door is then closed, and used to maintain an even temperature of between 400 to 500 degrees, or thereabouts. Theoretically, 36 loaves could be cooked in this with one firing, which made this style of oven popular with large bakeries, or even as communal ovens. The most loaves I have cooked in mine is a grand total of two.

Potager

This particular masonry structure fits into the category of something you don’t see every day–a Potager, more commonly called a Stew Stove in English. These were particularly popular with the upper crust of the eighteenth century, and the most famous ones in the States are at Monticello in Virginia. My Potager is a copy of one rebuilt at Ham House, a British National Trust Elizabethan period property in Surrey. It is definitely a French influenced design.

The concept is elegantly simple. A masonry firebox leads to a chimney like opening (I used flue thimbles as openings). This concentrates all the heat and smoke down to a six inch area. In the case of this stove, just sit a cooking vessel over the opening. The temperature can be varied so that it can range from a sear, to a saute, to a long and slow stewing. In short, this is a half ton equivalence to a modern cooktop, with the exception in my case, that the fuel is free and one hundred percent renewable.

As an experiment, I first used this to roast some poblano peppers that I bought at the farmer’s market, on a grill. They smoked as well as roasted, and were jet black in no time. After I cleaned and sliced them, they went into the freezer for use this winter. For stewing, shovel coals into the firebox, and use a pair of bellows to control the temp. Extra fuel is literally at your feet.

Coals from the brick oven can be used for the Potager, and a busy cook can bake and saute at the same time. Alternately, coals from the smokehouse steel wood stove, pictured above, could be used to smoke something and stew at the same time. A cook with four arms could bake, sear, grill, stew, and smoke food simultaneously. Such a creature would end up with a powerful hunger in no time at all.

Optimus 45 New Tool–A Jet Cleaner Pricker from the UK!

More Solid Brass

Everyone who has an old Optimus stove complains about the pitiful disposable tin prickers based on the original Optimus model. Optimus is all about being on the opposite end of disposable. A kerosene stove jet is going to clog, and will have to be cleaned in order to function. Those clever Brits have an answer to that problem.

Above is a nice sold brass pricker with replaceable needles. Even better is the fact that the end that holds the needle in place is also machined out to serve as storage for spare needles, and this device comes with twenty. That’s probably enough for a pricking lifetime.

Anyone can buy these on fleabay, or at Tilleylampsandstoves.com. Julian Shaw, the owner (not the actor) sure knows his stuff. Just don’t order things during a heat wave in England, if you need your pricker ASAP.

Armin Trösser Coffee Mills–Beloved by Coffee Snobs Everywhere

Back in Grinding Shape

Melanie Jane and I finally realized about a week ago that our old German manual coffee grinder has been AWOL for at least the last twenty years. This one on fleabay looked grungy but fine, and it was nice and cheap. So we bought it, without having any knowledge that we were treading onto the fetid grounds of coffee grinding controversy.

For a few moments, after I hit the inter webs and searched for these grinders, I thought I had broken through the dramatic forth wall, and was sitting in Café Nervosa with the cast of Frasier; but slowly the outlines of the argument became clear. It’s all about the food and volatile oils. The parallel between stone ground corn and metal ground coffee is clear. Corn ground at a high speed has the volatile oil overheated and changed chemically–burned, in fact. Coffee ground with fast spinning blades suffers the same fate, as opposed to that ground slowly in a mechanical mill. I am beginning to side with the snobs, logically, but I will still have my pot of Community Coffee Coffee and Chicory every weekday morning.

At any rate, here is how to refurb an old grinder. I polished the metal parts with some automotive buffing compound, and gave the wooden cabinet a good work over with some Walnut oil wax finish, applied with my high tech old smart wool sock with a big hole in it. I fiddled with the mechanism until I found the adjustment, which is at the bottom of the grinding mechanism, and accessed by removing the drawer. I tightened it down as far as I dared, and this thing began to grind like the German Tier (beast) that it is.

We bought a couple of pounds of Fair Trade, organic coffee to go along with our purchase, and the real competition began. Right now the result is Guatemala One, Peru Nil. The match resumes this weekend.

Creole Shallot “Josette,” aka Spring Onion, White Multiplier Onion

Josette Shallot?

As this plant has at least three common names, I’m going with the most provocative, and yet the most historically accurate one (if you want the whole scoop, read the long discussion from 2008 on Nola.com about the issue). Creole food expert Poppy Tooker of New Orleans believes the original ones from France were actually shallots, but that only the green parts of the plants were used, and that eventually any green onion became known as a “shallot.” Here she is–

I believe in all those original old Creole recipes, people were actually using shallot tops, because they were growing them like that out in their garden, then, later, probably buying them in whole bunches with a little oniony part on the bottom and the green onion part on the top. . .I really believe this is the truth, and why we call them shallots instead of scallions or green onions or spring onions.

Poppy Tooker

Common names of plants are really only as useful as nicknames anyway, so this debate is about as important as what your dog’s name really is–is one of our Aussies named Siegfried, or is it Ziggy? Either way, he’s still a dog.

This plant does have a provenance of sorts, as the person I bought these bulbs from wrote “I obtained a start about 1972 from an elderly Creole gentleman in Golden Meadow Louisiana.” That’s good enough for me.

I think of these scrawny things when I hear multiplier onion.

Ready for Replanting

These are the common yellow multiplier, which come in various varieties. Fortunately, scientists have come to the rescue, and reclassified all onions and shallots as just Allium cepa, with different types. Now to the questions of whether or not Elephant garlic is really garlic: Hint: it isn’t. A scallion? Different species also. For now.

Another Alabama Kangaroo is on the Loose–in Tuscaloosa County

As per Al.com, our local news site, this roo is no beer drinking, pickup riding, good time Aussie. It is a sure enough public menace. And I remember the good old days when a PBR would get an Alabama roo into your F-150.

Says Tuscaloosa County Deputy Martha Hocutt, “These are wild animals; these are not the cute little fuzzies.”  On a side note, Nick Saban is rumored to be recruiting this beast to run for the Crimson Tide.

Making Sourwood Tool Handles

Unfinished and Shellaced

Sourwood is a fairly common tree in the South, known primarily for its Lily of the Valley like blooms, and the famous Sourwood Honey, the result of the partnership between said flowers and honeybees. One particularly large (for a Sourwood) tree was uprooted when it was whacked by a broken off White Oak during our latest tornado. That led me to search for uses of Sourwood lumber.

The most common answer for traditional uses of this wood was for tool handles. More deep diving came up with spokes and arrow shafts. These things all had something in common, which is the best quality for all of these dinguses is resistance to splitting, even when made from green wood. This is the result of the fact that Sourwood has a very low T/R ration, which means it is unlikely to split while drying from green wood to seasoned.

The T/R ratio is the ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, which for wood working purposes, should be as close to one as possible. This info is easily obtained for most species via a simple Google search. Species with very low T/R ratios are usually little used or non-commercial woods, such as Southern (evergreen) magnolia, and sourwood. Evergreen Magnolia has a T/R ratio of 1.2, and sourwood is 1.4.

Making the traditional octagonal carving tool handles was simple enough, and only needs two or three tools–a drawknife (optional), a smoothing plane, and a drill. Take a round limb of unseasoned Sourwood slightly larger than the final handle, and rough it with a drawknife or plane into an octagon. Continue spinning it around, and taper it down to an inch or so at the tang end. When satisfied with the results, drill a tang sized hole and whack in the tool blank. The green Sourwood will slowly shrink around the tang of the tool, and will never, ever, come off.

I bought these Italian made carving tools from Mountain Woodcarvers for $6 each, although they are mistakenly selling them as USA made. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about the mistake. They might raise the price.

Spud or Peeler?

Because I have more sourwood on the ground that I can say grace over, I also decided to turn another limb into a handle for a log processing tool, a bark peeler, aka bark spud. This one a a beastly tool that doubles as an axe/brush cutter by having both sides beveled and sharpened. It is made by Ochsenkopf (Oxhead) in Deutschland. After five months of drying, the handle has no sign of a crack or split. Big tool handle is in a permanent world of hurt in this household.

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