Friday, July 31, 2009

A note from Laurey

It is the eve of August as I write. The tailgate market is in full swing across the street from here. Tables are loaded with beautiful purple eggplants, gorgeous thin green beans, brilliantly wild-colored tomatoes of all kinds (including Mr. Stripey!!) and a whole lot more. I love Wednesday afternoons here, as I can leave my office, stroll across the street, browse through the tents and tables and bins of this and that. I feel filled with the bounty these farmers bring every week.

A long time ago I was given a very special gift of two weeks in Provence. I got to pick where we went, and I got to pick what we did. My pick for the entire time was to follow the markets. In Provence there is a market almost every day. We drove to tomorrow’s market town in the afternoon, found a place to stay and scoped out the lay of the land. Then, first thing the next morning we were up and at the market in time to stroll and watch the vendors as they set up. We’d buy a pastry, some fruit, a caffe au lait, and we’d find a place to sit – on a stone wall, perhaps.

After coffee we’d stroll more, taste cheeses, buy things for an afternoon snack, find a place for a nap, and then we’d wander back to our car. We might then stay the night or we might drive to the next town on my list. I loved those markets, that produce, that bounty.

It was a wonderful trip, quite a gift, indeed.

I loved being in France. Don’t get me wrong. But it fills me with delight these days to do a local version of those days. I get up early on Saturdays, visit one or two markets. On Wednesdays I visit the one across the street. I find myself standing, musing, imagining, dreaming. The market swirls around me. And then someone might say my name and I pop out – here in Asheville, not in Nyons or Gordes or St. Remy.

The market scene here is pretty good around here. For a town of this size, there are a lot of options. Last week, for grins, I went to three brand new markets. Imagine!

I’ll be cooking at the market across the street from here on August 5th. I’ll be at the North Asheville one in September. And I’m committed to the dinners with the farmers, as you see (the August one is on the 13th, the September one is on the 17th.)

After work I go home and stroll through my tomatoes which are bountiful right now. I have not planted anything else edible but I cannot live without a handful of cherry tomatoes – as often as possible. These days there are plenty for me to have.

August is tomato month. Asheville is a market town. Life is full and good. Hooray!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Jam Babes - a tale

July 17, 2009

Friday. Busy day for LCM (me). Whoosh. I’m trying to get a step ahead and so am writing my next week’s note today. Tomorrow I will be in a meeting for the entire day (I’m joining the board of the North Carolina Outward Bound School and will be away from the internet and will not be able to write tomorrow anyway.)

I thought you might like to know about yesterday’s jam production. As it was unfolding I thought that if I imagined WRITING about it, it might be a bit less frustrating than it was feeling as it was happening. Let’s see how it goes.

My mother made Blueberry Jam every year. We lived on Blueberry Hill, after all, so it was a logical thing to do. My sisters and I picked the berries, sold them to my mother, who insisted there be no stems or leaves. She made them into jam which she packed in little round jars. We stuck the label on the jars and stacked them on a table in our living room next to stacks of my mother’s cook books and the postcards that my sisters and I made. I also made potholders and sold them. In the fall I picked apples from our apple trees and sold them to guests who were completely capable of going and picking their own. Hmm – I guess it’s safe to say that I have been in the selling business for quite some time.

I make jam each year. It brings me, in a quiet way, close to my mother. I always think of her and then when I make my jam. I have found those same jars. I follow my memory of her jam as I make mine now. Hers was not very sweet. Mine isn’t either. Her label was a solid color with simple print. Mine too. Making jam is usually a meditation for me. A reverie. A time to reflect. That’s how it usually is. Yesterday was not quite a meditation.

I don’t have time to pick berries now but I found a good source and saved the morning yesterday to make my jam. I reserved the local commercial (BIG) kitchen. I cleared my schedule. All good. Annie is here visiting and stepped up to be an associate “Jam Babe.” We got to work really early, loaded up the car and headed out to the jam making place.

We arrived ahead of the facility coordinator and that was a bit frustrating. Standing in a parking lot wanting to get it. Wanting to get going. Not able to. Ugh.

After not TOO long, in the big scheme of things, we did get in. Unpacked. Got a review of how to operate the machinery, and got going.

The berries, much to my annoyance, had more stems than I would have liked (my mother, as I said, did not allow ANY stems in the berries we picked and I’m a stickler for this.) Annie and I spent quite a while de-stemming berries. Ugh.

“Okay, don’t let it ruin your day!” I heard in my mind. That is what Emily, here in the office, tells me. I kept telling that to myself.

We finally went through all the berries and loaded up the big steam cooker and got the jam cooking. We got the jars unpacked and set up in the washing area. We got the lids ready. We got ourselves ready. We got everything in place. We calibrated the jar filler – with water. All good!

But when I went to get the first (the FIRST!) batch of hot jam, it splooshed out all over me and burned the HECK out of my arm! UGH!!!

“Don’t let it ruin your day!”
I got some ice. Arranged an portable ice bath for my arm.
Filled the jar filler.
Kept going.

Calibrating a jar filler with water is one thing but calibrating it with jam is a whole other situation. You fill this gigantic funnel. You turn the machine on. You see how full the jar is. Finding it not quite right, you adjust two screws. You turn the machine on again. You fill another jar. You see how your adjustment worked. You might need to turn those two screws again. You generally have to do this four or five times before you get it. All with boiling hot jam.

And then there is the matter of coordinating the actions of two people, hot jam, a filling machine, hot lids. A burned arm. Sigh. Annie was great, jumping in like a pro (she IS a cook too, so she fit right in and we were able to work smoothly.)

Once we got started we developed a rhythm. Scoop the hot berries out of the gigantic steam kettle. Fill the gigantic funnel. Get hot jars. Get hot lids. Fill the jars. Put the lids on. Repeat.

Four hours later we had made 288 jars of jam. I was, by then, pretty much covered in blueberry spatter. My face was a blue freckled mess. My shoes were blue. My shirt was spattered with blue. I was sticky. Hot. Annie fared better but she had a lot of blue splots too.

My mother hired off duty Airforce employees to make 25,000 jars of jam each summer. She took herself away from Blueberry Hill and spent the week on Cape Cod. Annie and I made 288 jars of jam. In four hours. And then I came back to work and got ready for our Farmer’s dinner (which was a lot of fun by the way.) My arm still stings but is getting better (try putting honey on a burn – it does a wonderful job.)

And now I’m off to help with Outward Bound. Jam will be available here pretty soon. As soon as I get time to print some labels. Watch for it in our shop area. It’s REALLY good. And if you ask nicely, I’ll show you my arm.

Friday, July 3, 2009


We're now open until 8, Monday through Friday (unless we have a private party here.)

Downtown on a summer night is so nice. There are gallery strolls to enjoy, street performers, warm skies, not to mention interesting people to watch. The Orange Peel is right down the street from us. The Fine Arts Theater is just one block away on the other side. Come a bit early and stop in with us to have a simple supper.

We've got lots of thoughts for our future and will introduce them over time. Music nights. Game nights. Dance nights. House concerts. Book club gatherings. Drop by to see what we have up our sleeve these days.

And - here's this week's note from my weekly newsletter. Enjoy!

July 4, 2009

These marker dates really point out the flying by that time is doing these days. It really, honestly, seems like just a month ago – at the most – when I was talking about fireworks and swimming and summer frolic on the Fourth. And look at this – an entire year has gone by. Again.


I’m headed to Washington, DC at the beginning of the week. I’m going there to speak at the 12th Annual Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s conference. I’m the closing speaker, finishing out the conference on the 8th. Then I’ll drive back on the 9th, just in time for the lobster feast on the 10th.

Zoom zoom.

I’ve entered the next stage of the bike ride experience. After musing and wallowing and contemplating, I am finally at a point where I can see things a little bit more clearly and am beginning to be able to have some perspective on the whole ride experience. I’ll be addressing cancer survivors at the Washington event. In September I’ll be speaking at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, addressing young chefs, talking about the ride, spreading the word. I also just got to be the guest DJ on “Local Color”, Laura Blackley’s show on WNCW-FM, talking about the ride, sharing my favorite music, spreading the word. And I will be in Michigan in December, speaking to some business colleagues about the ride. These engagements begin to help me believe that my ride can have a lasting impact. And that makes me feel good.

In the meantime, my nephew is about to turn 3 on the 4th. My friend’s eldest child is about to turn 8, also on the 4th. I have been a part of these two lives since they started. And a close friend of mine turns 61 on the 9th. She has been a part of my life since the beginning of my time here in Asheville. Cooking for her was the beginning of my food life here. I cooked that meal 21 years ago.

Zoom zoom. Zoom.

Do enjoy your weekend. I’ll be sure to drive carefully and will look forward to telling you all about it when I get back.