Saturday, June 21, 2008

Harbinger Lavender Farm

My mom and I visited the Harbinger Lavender Farm for their Open House last Saturday. It is a small family farm where they grow lavender (using no chemicals) and make products with dried lavender and lavender oils. We even had lavender lemonade and lavender sugar cookies. They grow Provence and Grosso varieties at the farm. 

The farm is located across the bridge from the Outer Banks in Currituck County, so they have sandy soil just like we do. The plants love it. The lavender ladies recommend mulching with white sand or gravel for the sun to reflect light and keep the plants dry. The humidity of our area is a challenge for them -- at the farm they set the plants wider apart so that air can circulate around them.  

The ladies recommend that lavender plants receive at least six hours of sun per day and excellent drainage. In the fall they prune their plants by one-third into a dome shape. In late winter they add lime to their fields. 

After looking around we hit the field and clipped a bunch of lavender to bring home to dry. Hang lavender upside down to dry so the stems remain nice and straight. Drying will take about two weeks. At the farm they hang their bundles in an old barn that is dark, dry, and well-ventilated. They propped the door open and I took a picture. It smelled great in there. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Seafood and Spice

For a few weeks I was on a major seafood kick. I would stop by the seafood market on my way home from work and cook it up. Now the tourists have invaded and I don't want to drive anywhere. But here are a few of my latest favorite dishes. 

Shrimp and Grits

We visited Tybee Island in February for Kate's birthday and had a great version of shrimp and grits at a restaurant there. I've been making shrimp and grits with okra and tomatoes ever since. First I prepare the grits according to the directions on the package. I love Bob's Red Mill grits. Then I slice a couple of spicy sausages. I use aidell's sausage, the cajun style andouille flavor. Then I peel the shrimp. If you're cooking this dish with a friend and the friend asks if they can help you with anything, look busy and say: "oh, maybe you could peel the shrimp while I'm getting everything else ready." If I'm using large shrimp I de-vein it so it has a nice butterfly shape. Also a good thing for someone other than you to do. 
I cook the sliced sausage while I dice the tomatoes, okra, and garlic. Throw in these three ingredients with the sausage. Add a little butter and white wine. Add a little salt and pepper at some point, but not too much if you're using spicy sausage because it adds lots of flavor. Wait to throw in the shrimp until everything else is almost cooked, because shrimp only need a few minutes. Cook them until they are pink and no longer translucent. Add some green onions just a minute before you turn off the heat under the pan. Serve over grits. Drink the rest of the bottle of white wine with dinner. 

Blackened Trout

This is an easy way to prepare fresh fish. I have experimented with making my own blackening seasoning, but for this dish I just bought pre-mixed seasoning at the seafood market. While I heat up an iron skillet I coat fillets of speckled trout with the seasoning on both sides. I add butter to the pan once it's hot and cook the fillets for a few minutes on each side (for thin fillets like these a few minutes will do; add more time for thicker fillets.) Only turn them once. Top with a pat of butter and sprinkle some chopped cilantro on top. Chris made the potatoes, and I just lightly steamed the sugar snap peas to go along with the fish. 

Lemon caper flounder

I stole this flounder recipe from Back Porch restaurant in Ocracoke. Lightly dredge flounder fillets in a breading of flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper. Pan fry it a few minutes on each side. For the sauce, melt a little butter (I just did this in the microwave), add some lemon juice and a lot of capers. Pour over the flounder after assembling a plate with flounder and white rice. I used Basmati rice and it was excellent with the sauce. I also made a tomatillo and corn relish to go along with the flounder. I also couldn't resist the softshell crabs at the seafood market, so Chris panfried a couple of those to go along with the flounder. 
The softshells were so fresh they were still alive. They cleaned them for me (removed the lungs and intestines) at the seafood market. The woman came out of the back with the cleaned crabs and was chuckling (in a creepy way, I thought) about how the crabs were still moving. 
"They don't know they're dead yet," she said. 
"Yeah," I said, "I feel kind of bad about that." 
"Just don't name them," she said. 
This meal was awesome with the new Radler beer from the local micro-brewery Weeping Radish

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I said yes

Chris asked me to marry him and I said yes. Actually, I got a little choked up (who, me? Me who cries at those black and white Rice Krispies commercials?) and I couldn't say anything for a second. So I just nodded enthusiastically until I could squawk out yes. Because I started suspecting something when Chris asked me to pick out a ring, it wasn't a surprise, but I don't think I could have been any more excited if it was.

Since everyone I talked to and everything I was reading said that it takes six months to plan a wedding at the very least, I was anxious to get started since we want to get married this fall. Turns out that planning five months out seems to be working just fine. Within a week we were able to reserve the location and the photographer that we really wanted. We're also planning on doing quite a few things ourselves, with the help of my very talented mother and sister. And hopefully a few friends, too. I'll be baking cupcakes instead of hiring someone to bake a cake. I'm thinking about carrot cake, even though the time I made carrot cake cupcakes for Lori's baby shower all of the carrot sank to the bottom. So I'll do a few trial runs and take notes. My mom will be in charge of the flowers, and hopefully we can use mostly plants and flowers from our own garden. We'll start researching some fall-blooming plants. I like these. There's a great how-to on making your own bouquet on Real Simple's site.

No matter what happens with the cupcakes, catering, music, or decorations, at the end of the day we'll be married. I asked Chris what he was looking forward to the most about being married and he said, "having breakfast with you."