Enjoying St. Pete

In late December, W & I headed South to spend some time in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We went down with family who highly recommended the city.  While we spent most of the vacation sitting on the beach or by the pool, we make time on Saturday to wander around downtime and spend some time at the Saturday Morning Market as we are fans of farmer’s markets and we’d heard lovely things.

The market was amazing.  Every type of produce you could imagine was available for purchase.  The colors were almost overwhelming.  I was so tempted to buy, but we were leaving the next day and I knew most of it wouldn’t survive the drive home.

We did make time while there to eat.  Aside from all the fruits, veggies, breads and pasta, there were a large number of stalls selling prepared foods.  Again, the variety was amazing.  Beyond the typical things you would expect, there were empanadas, flat breads, Thai food, crepes and Ethiopian.

The other side of the market is full of craft stalls and clothing shops with performers at various intervals around the exterior.  I fell in love with a sustainably focused booth that was selling palm frond hats (one may have come home with me).  There were gorgeous terrariums and yummy canned goods.

After we finished wandering, we drove around the corner to the Brocante Vintage Market. It is 15,000 sqft filled with vintage goodies.  It opens for one weekend once a month and we just happened to pick the perfect weekend.  I adored the chair and side table above, but we ended up taking home only a few gifts.

We’ve seen amazing photos of the street art downtime and know there were so many places on our list we didn’t get to see.  Our time there was so short, we can’t wait to go back.

From the Road: Forsythia & Fried Green Tomatoes

Forsyth Georgia is a quaint town midway between Atlanta & Macon.  Every year, on the second weekend in March,  the good folks of Forsyth celebrate the coming of Spring with the aptly named Forsythia festival.  Artist and crafters setup around the beautiful downtown courthouse as folks from the surrounding area come out to enjoy food, fun and hopefully some good weather (this year was picture perfect!).

 

Pets weren’t allowed but somehow this little fella slipped in (yes, that is a pet goat)!

 

 

If you know us at all, you know that we like to seek out good food wherever we go.  While Forsyth isn’t necessarily a culinary mecca (no dissin’ here, they do have a couple of nice restaurants downtown) I did stumble on an interesting eatery in the small town of Juliette, a few miles away.  For anyone who remembers the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, you will recall the central role that the Whistle Stop cafe played in the film.  The building had actually been a general store that was converted just for the movie. After the movie was made, the owner decided to keep the cafe and to serve up the southern favorites made famous in the movie.

 

 

Here is a basket of the famous fried green tomatoes with the obligatory mason jar of sweet tea!

 

 

Here is the pit where the “special ingredient” was added to the bone sauce (and yes, he totally deserved it!).

 

 

The rest of Juliette is an homage to the movie with numerous shops dedicated to Idgie & Ruth.  If you enjoyed Fried Green Tomatoes and you enjoy good southern food, it is worth a little detour to check out this piece of cinematic history.

 

 

Update: We received an email from a customer that the original Whistlestop Cafe that was the inspiration for the book is actually the Irondale Cafe in Alabama.  “They’ve been serving up fried green tomatoes for decades, and the cafe sits right by the railroad tracks. Fannie Flagg wrote the book, and she is from Alabama.”  Thanks for sharing!

New Furniture

Some of you may know from Facebook that we have purchased our first official Soap Mobile.  We’re thinking of naming her Bubbles.  Seems fitting right?

 

 

Well, the reason for adding Bubbles to our lives was two fold:

1 – To avoid any more wear and tear on our personal cars (Wayne’s Civic is getting up in age and we’d like to avoid replacing it anytime soon)

2 – To be able to build out a slightly more upscale booth display

 

With that in mind, we used the first couple weeks in January to look for inspiration.  Oddly enough, we both managed to fall in love with the same piece of furniture at Pottery Barn:

Goregous right?  Unfortunately it also came with a gorgeous price tag to the tune of $1,300 or so.  We knew we couldn’t swing that for a booth setup.  We found one at the Pottery Barn Outlet in Gaffney marked down to $700, but it was still slightly too steep for us.  Instead, I challenged Wayne to build it. It seemed like a natural progression.  To make life easier, I even found plans online for him to use.  🙂

Here’s his first run:

Impressed?  I was.  I need to stage it to make it look a bit more Pottery Barn-esque and would like to find more subtsantial hardware that isn’t $75/pull, but otherwise I think it’s pretty snazzy and with mistakes, and a new saw, the total cost was around $450.

He’s already working on the second piece which will be a variation on this.  Hopefully in another week or so we can share our whole new booth design.  Stay tuned!

Eating in Month: Spring Rolls

Every January Diana from The Chic Life runs a challenge called Eating in Month.  The idea is to spend the month of January cooking and eating from home.  During the busy holiday season we rarely cook (it’s often not worth turning over the kitchen to cook one meal), so this seemed like a great opportunity/excuse to try to change our habits for a bit.

We started the process making one of my favorite things – hmong style spring rolls.  Although the rolls are time consuming, it is a fun project for us to do together and it is awfully yummy.  As a warning, you do fry these.  This is the one and only thing we have ever fried in our house – neither of us like the smell, but we’ve found that if we open windows and then burn one of our peppermint clove candles afterward, it doesn’t linger long (shameless plug, I know).  {update: we are now making these without frying!  Keep reading below for details}

I adapted this recipe from Annie Vang’s site & modified it to make it veggie-friendly, smaller, and a bit easier for us to put together.

 

Spring Rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup bagged shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion (white or green is fine)
  • 1 package firm or extra firm tofu – pressed to release as much as water as possible.  (TofuXPress is great for this step)
  • 1 package cellophane noodles – pre-cooked and cooled
  • 2 eggs (reserve one egg yolk and set it aside)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 package of 25 spring roll wrappers (buy the frozen ones from an Asian store – not the refridgerated egg roll wrappers)
  • Oil for frying

Start by adding the ingredients into a large bowl.  I suggest sorting through your cabbage and carrots to ensure there are not large pieces mixed in that may come through the wrapper when you are rolling.  Take your pressed tofu block and break it up by hand.  You want small pieces that should be similiar in texture to a ground meat.  Take your cellophane noodles and cut them up into bite-sized lengths and add to the bowl.

Once all ingredients are in, it is time to mix. Hand mixing is easier for this part of the process and Wayne usually takes over.

I’m left to do the wrapping.  A few incredibly helpful hints: take your wrappers out of the freezer just 5 minutes before beginning to wrap them.  You want them to be very, very cold when you are using them – it makes it much easier to get a tighter wrap.  Also, once you’ve opened the package, make sure to keep a wet paper towel on top of the wrappers at all times.  Dried wrappers = a mess.

I turn my wrappers into a diamond shape and add a small line of filling.  I’ll fold the end over the filling as tightly as I can, then fold the edges in and roll up toward the top peak.  It is always a struggle to keep the wrapper tight, but I get better at it every time I do it.  Right before closing, take a small amount of the egg yolk that you’ve set aside and run it across the top of the wrapper.  This seals the spring roll for frying.

We use a very deep pot for frying just to avoid any splashing.  We pre-heat the oil on medium.  Wayne takes care of the frying while I wrap.  Our pot is not overly large, so we usually only fry three rolls at a time. Don’t push the rolls into the oil, but let them roll across the surface, but you do want to make sure all sides hit the oil.  Fry until a light golden brown – for us that’s around 3-4 minutes.

As you can see below, we use a cookie cooling rack with paper towels underneath to drain the oil off the rolls.  Too much oil = yucky, greasy rolls.

We always serve the rolls with a sweet chilli dipping sauce from the Asian store (Pantai is my favorite), but any sauce that makes you happy will work.

 

They are best served hot right after being fried, but I like them enough that we stick them in the fridge and either warm them up or eat them cold.  The crispiness will be gone, but they taste just as good.

{Update: As an alternative to frying, preheat the oven to 400.  Take a cookie sheet and spray it lightly with an olive oil spray.  Place the springs rolls on the sheet with a small amount of space in between.  Cook for 10 minutes, then flip and return to the over for 10 more minutes.  The result is a spring roll that is missing the all over golden brown look, but is surprisingly crispy and much better for you!}

The few tips and tricks above were courtesy of hmong friends who were kind enough to answer my 1,000 questions about their spring roll perfection.  🙂

 

Did you make any amazing recipes to celebrate the new year?

Checking in on the Bees

Although we keep bees, we have (mostly) allowed them to keep themselves this season.  We had a few extra hours on Saturday and decided it was about time to take a quick peek and see how they were faring.

Below is the hive in our back yard.  We added an extra super the last time we inspected and left the feeder on the top in case they are in need of water.  Last year when it got so hot, the girls chose our neighbor’s pool as their water source (not the best idea for anyone!), so we want to do our best to avoid those complications this year.

Our Hive

I had my trusty camera, so Wayne did all the heavy lifting (good excuse, huh?).  First things first, we removed the cover and located just a few (hundred) ants.  Ugh.  We’ll have to work on that a bit.  Next we remove the feeder to find the girls buzzing around and none too happy to see us.  I firmly believe the less you inspect, the less tolerant of inspections the bees become.

Here’s where the fun begins.  Wayne commented that he was hearing the girls rather loudly.  That’s not surprising if they are aggravated, but something about the way Wayne said it made me pause.  Two beats later, Wayne goes running (literally) across the garden in his bee suit (yep….our neighbors were outside…of course), through the garden gate, directly to the hose.  He turned it on, took the nozzle, aimed it at his face, and pressed.  He was left wet and gasping a bit.  After making sure he was okay, I almost collapsed giggling.  Other beekeepers will likely know what happened.  For those who have not been in a bee suit I’ll explain: there are zippers.  A collection of them.  If you forget one or two (like the handy ones around your hood), bees get in and often get ever so slightly frustrated when they can’t get back out.  Wayne had been collecting “friends” inside his hood while we were out there.  They were becoming less friendly the more time they spent with him.

Thankfully Wayne’s quick (and comic) reaction meant that he ended the experience with only one sting, and it’s in his beard. So, although it is painful, it’s not noticeable at all.  After double checking for bees in his suit (and finding one other rather aggravated bee), we carefully zipped him up and returned to the inspection.  My guess is that he’ll double check zippers next time.

Super

The first super from the top was FULL of honey.  Totally and completely.  It’s great news as it means the girls are thriving and collecting; however, it means that they are likely honey bound.  We’ll need to either harvest, or add an additional super.  Otherwise they may start storing honey in the brood chamber and there will be no where for the queen to lay.

Honey

Speaking of which, here’s one frame from the brood section.  The capped cells all contain developing brood.  The pattern is a bit strange.  You would normally see the whole middle filled in – almost in a football shape.  Wayne suggested that maybe those were newly hatched and/or the queen is making her way there now.  Who knows.

Brood

We didn’t pull out any additional frames as the girls were rather grumpy and had been open a while because our of detour   to the hose.  Wayne will be poking around again on Monday to add a super if nothing else.

As Wayne closed up the hive, I wandered around the garden a bit.  It is a total mess right now and needs weeding and training of the vines that are trying to take over.  Our bee balm is one plant that I’m glad is getting a bit out of control.  Not sure what it is that I adore so much, but I just find them gorgeous, and (bonus) the hummingbirds love them too.

Bee Balm

In Bloom

Not much to say today, but I did want to share some photos of our little yard in bloom.  It is a good exercise for me.  Taking these photos forces me to quietly walk around our yard, take a deep breath, and just enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.  Join me on the tour?

We have several clematis that grow up and around our garden fence.  They are by no means perfect specimens (see all the chewed parts?), but I love the pops of purple.

Clematis

This is our prized Dwarf Japanese Lilac that we moved with us twice.  Yep.  Really.  Like across the state.   We now have it planted beside our front door so that at least twice a day we get to breeze by and experience the amazing smell that graces us for such a short time each year.   It’s not surprising to find one of us just standing there with nose in the bushes.  The neighbors must love us.

Dwarf Japanese Lilac

I call this one simply “the other lilac.”  I’m not sure the variety and it is much taller and lankier than the one pictured above, and it still smells almost as sweet.

Lilac

Oh, our hellebores (aka Lenten Rose).  I adore them.  We planted them running along the front of the house and below the lilac bush above.  They’ve been in long enough now that they have filled out and taken over their allotted space.  They always remind me early on that spring is coming and they bloom for a wonderfully long time.

Hellebores

Finally, one of our little trees.  I have no clue what kind it is, but I think the blooms are simply adorable.

Tree in Bloom

Stay tuned for more pictures….I’m finding that our little yard changes almost daily.  What’s blooming for you?

A Nice Walk

At 2:05pm on January 17th, I walked out of Harris Teeter, leaving behind 9+ years of service and an almost 20 year career in the retail grocery industry.  The full gravity of this trip across an all too familiar parking lot would not be felt for some time,  but as each step carried me a little farther from the past and a little closer to the future, a smile spread slowly across my face.  It was the kind of smile that comes to you without warning or provocation and speaks to a satisfaction and fulfillment that one achieves rarely in this life.

The first step of this walk was taken more than two years earlier.  Julia and I had a series of discussions about what we truly wanted from our lives.  Did we want children, careers, wealth, adventure, etc.  What we decided was that we wanted a simple life with each other and little more.  To that end, we focused our collective intellectual efforts on finding the quickest route to that simple life.  We considered farming and began doing considerable research in that direction.  I started developing web based software with the hope of building a software company.  As you may know, it was our hobby of soap making that ultimately became the business model that caught traction and became our best hope of making a meaningful change in our lives.  Much of that journey has been chronicled and if you have been following along you know that we had to greatly accelerate our lives in order to hope to slow down.

That walk in January, beneath a steely gray sky, was a new chapter in this journey of ours.  On that day, our little soap company stopped being something that we hoped would work, and become something that had to work!  Moving forward, I will be adding my voice to this shared ledger and will offer my musings and meditations on the continued growth of Belle Terre into a viable and sustainable business.  This will no doubt be a challenge as Julia has set such a rich tone already and my thoughts are frequently of a the less glamorous elements of business.  If nothing else, the picture that we will present here, will be more complete, if a bit less elegant.

May this journey bring us all a breath of peace and laughter that we would have otherwise been without.