Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A cheesy story

This is a little story I have been meaning to tell you for about a week and a half. Here's how it goes:
About a week and a half ago I was at work with the Dirty Hoe, which, for those of you who don't know, is a gardening and landscaping company. We were working out in Brevard on a site and got rained out about hafway through the day. On the way home, Heidi (company co-owner) spotted an employee of a certain store (which will remain anonymous) "chucking" multiple boxes into its dumpster, which is visible from the road. She said, "Call Paul and tell him about this!" Paul is the Dirty Hoe resident dumpster diver.
I called Paul and informed him of what we had witnessed. He went down there to check the scene, and about a half hour later he showed up at the house (which is also serves as the Dirty Hoe Central Control Panel) with cases and cases of mozarella cheese and a big ole honkin wheel of Morbier's Charles Arnaud semi-soft cheese (aged over 60 days). He deposited the goods and then went back for a second round.
While he ws gone, we decided we would cut into the wheel and see what it was all about. Donna (other company owner) obtained the finest wooden cutting board and the sharpest, shiniest kitchen knife. She very deliberately cleared the counter and positioned the wheel on the board. Before she cut the cheese, she considered long and hard what was the best way to make the first cut. I mean she was handling that cheese like it was the $300 piece of fine cuisine that it was, not like it was something that was scored for free at the local dumpster. She cut the wheel slowly and respectfully, and when she had cut off the first piece, we passed it around and smelled it and oohed and ahhed like people who were very very impressed and excited. Because we were. Heidi's mom and her friend were in town from Austria, and we all know those Austrians really like them a good snack. Someone had the good idea to cut up some pears to go with the cheese, and we may have even pulled ut some specialty schnapps, I can't recall. But I do recall that there was so much delight taken in snacking on this cheese that you could never imagine. And the way Donna handled it like a professional was just classic Donna. Crucial. They did some research later and found out that this particular cheese is made by a dairy cooperative somewhere way up in the Alps on the France Switzerland border. The farmers take their cows up to high altitudes to graze during the summer season, and the quality of the milk changes dramatically due to the difference in plant materials. The quantity of milk the cows give reduces, but it becomes richer and higher in a certain bacteria that aids the making of this cheese. They do not add extra cultures, and protect layers of fermenting cream with a layer of ash, which creates a beautiful charcoal colored stripe in the center of the cheese. It was lovey to behold and rich and gamey and delightful to the taste.
When Paul came back and all the mozarella was cleaned and sorted through and any marginal cheese was discarded, we ended up with the entire wheel of Morbier's Charles Arnaud and about 50 pounds of mozarella! Get it Paul.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Galax, VA: the next frontier (An Ode)

Has there ever been an ode to Galax, Virginia?
My friend Sara F. and her family moved there from Charlotte something like 2 years ago to get out of the city and try their hand at farming. Sara and I have been friends since high school. On time we rode bikes downtown and walked right into the First Union sky scraper where my dad was working. We took the elevator to the 12th floor and found Dad giving a presentation to about a dozen or more straight backs in a conference room that had all glass windows around it. We knocked on the big window and waved and smiled real big at my dad. I think he might have been embarrassed. Maybe. We were sweaty and Sara had something like purple hair and some sort of facial piercing at the time. When we got back outside her bike had been stolen. One of those things, I guess. Anyways, she is back to brown hair and her regular (gorgeous) face now, and she is a vegetable (and future apple) farmer in Galax.

When they moved to Galax I thought, gee, how much more po-dunk could you get? I mean, it sounded really po-dunk to me. Not that I mind po-dunk, because I really rather like it. I just didn't know what brand of po-dunk Galax was.
Well, let me tell you, Readers. Galax is the good brand of po-dunk. The kind where a typical errand may include a trip to "The Bake Shoppe," a cake making supply store (very good, and thorough...) which doubles as a stringed instrument rental shoppe, which also doubles as a gospel and country music cd store. It was the best shoppe I have ever been in. I went there with Sara, who went there to rent a banjo for her son, who was starting lessons. I think the lessons had something to do with the Heritage Center (I hope I am getting these details right), which is my other favorite thing about Galax. The Heritage Center is this fantastic place located right by the Blue Ridge Parkway in Galax. They specialize in Appalachian heritage and cultural preservation. Just about every day of the week, they have live old time music in the "breezeway" for free! It goes on pretty much all day. Old people were there in rocking chairs to listen to the music. It was so great. There is also a lovely walking trail that meanders through the woods and the pastures around the center. Very very fine.
My other favorite thing about Galax is Sara and her family. They are very much fun and a handsome clan to boot. Her boys are 8 and 6 and pretty much the coolest kids on the block. Her husband likes hockey and foul humor and could probably successfully rock a serious mullet if he ever chose to do that. He can also custom make the hell out of some cabinets. And Sara is funny, generous with her candid honesty and viciously loyal to her clan. You always know where you stand with Sara, which is so refreshing here in the South. She assembled quite a tailgate market scene in Charlotte and then moved to the next farmers' market frontier: Galax. They have done an enormous amount of work on their 10(?) acre farm, and their vision for their place is inspirational to me. Git it Sara. I'm proud of you and your Bake Shoppe frequenting self... And I am an official fan of Galax (pronounced Gay-Lax).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Emily and Michael went to the beach

Emily and Michael went to the beach. While they were there, they utilized proper eye protection techniques while they sight-saw a stampede of wild majestic horses.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mama, there's a girl in the paw paw patch

As some of you may know, I have been "frequenting" a certain "paw paw patch" for the past 2 fall seasons. A certain retired mail carrier, a gentlemen by the name of "EB" (who bares an uncanny resemblence to Robert Duvall in The Apostle I just discovered thanks to the Hot Springs library movie collection), gave me unlimited access to his paw paw trees. Well, actually, they used to be his paw paw trees, but he recently lost the property in a divorce, but that's just details... Anyways, I have been collecting pounds and pounds of paw paws weekly for the past few weeks and enjoying the H-E-Double-Hockey-Stick out of them. I've been giving them away freely, which is buckets of full, and I have been eating them freely, which is also buckets of fun. My favorite so far is to peel and de-seed 2 paw paws and blend them into a smoothie with some raw milk. Tonight I am baking chocolate chip paw paw bread. I just substituted paw paws for bananas in a banana bread recipe and added chocolate chips. (And for that special last minute touch I sprinkled extra brown sugar and some cinnamon over the top of the loaf before baking...)
Last week while picking paw paws I met two ladies, residents of Dry Branch Road where the trees are, and we stood around talking paw paws and Dry Branch history. As it turns out, one of the ladies, Sophrania, had a granny who grew up in the house where the paw paws are. It was fun standing around talking. The other lady told me that when I pick paw paws down there, everyone on the road watches. Figures. She told me that her son or newphew or some relation like that came in the trailer and said something like "Mama, there's a girl down there in them trees." She told him it was OK because I was a friend of "EB". She told me if he ever looks at me funny to just smile and wave. That's a good strategy.

For those who do not know, paw paws are a native fruit tree to the Appalachian mountains. They grow in the woods, especially by rivers. The fruits are mango-ish shaped and taste like something of a mix of banana and mango and custard. They are good as hell and nutritious to boot.