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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Birds, Bees, Honey & Eggs - An Urban Farm Tale

I have a friend who lives between South Philadelphia and Center City - South of South Street but North of Washington Avenue - the affordable and not over-crowded area of Center City South.  Mr. Bale has a cute townhouse, built in a newly gentrified neighborhood.  He has all the great amenities of city life, close to the bars and restaurants, walkable to his business and artistic pursuits yet far enough away to not  hear all of the hustle and bustle of a densely populated metropolis.  Adding to the charm of his city dwelling is an extended private yard which allows Bale to cultivate a sizable city garden.  He has a Victory Garden that rivals the Whitehouse's; corn, squash, tomatoes, greens, lettuces, herbs and  gorgeous flowers.  Along with a green thumb calling card,  Mr. Bale is also a gentleman urban farmer to  a brood of chickens and hive of bees.  All of which is mere steps away from one of the USA's longest continuous thoroughfares in a major city.


At first, Farmer Bale planted his garden and populated it with a beehive and a quartet of chickens, aptly named after the Golden Girls - Blanch, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy.  These weren't ordinary, run of the roost chickens, they were exotics, some that look like Carol Channing with a  crazy feathered hat; chickens with diminutive statures; rare one in twenty million genetic oddities.  It wasn't long before it was discovered that his "Dorothy" was a rooster, fitting actually.  Off with her/his self, banished to a larger farm where Master Dorothy could roam and cluck and crow to his heart's content.  Soon after Farmer Bale added a few more chickens to his brood and lo and behold the eggs started rolling into the coops.  And then the offers of fresh eggs started to be posted on his Faccia Libre page, enticing his friends and colleagues with the promise of truly local, organic, straight from the hen's pen to your plate, pot or pan.  Mmm. Pretty enough to be in Martha Stewart magazine, Easter eggshells in varying hues and patterns.  Delicious and gorgeous all at once.  Seems that at the urban farm stand, the chicken truly came first then the eggs, then the friends came a begging for the eggs and the honey.

Well, once a chicken fetish begins it isn't long after that you start to desire more unique species of the flightless bird. Ruffled and Frizzled Plumes.  Or this chicken little, as seen above, one of only twenty known in the United States, a rare genetic mutation chicken, with all white feathers and a small stature.

My favorite chicken is a wee chicken, known as a dwarf, big as a minute or about the size of an underfed a guinea pig.  Poor little thing went missing for a few days, and everyone in the house thought a feral neighborhood cat got a hold of her and had roast chicken for its midnight smackerel.  Not so, it seems she somehow got out of the yard and went wandering in the grass outside of her safe haven.  There she was, walking along the sidewalk lawn.  A housemate of Gentleman Farmer Bale noticed her looking up at him while he was walking home.  Pigeons, squirrels, the occasional rat, maybe you see these urban critters on your daily stroll in the city, but a miniature dwarf chicken in the grass along the street - only on the side streets of a Miami barrio.


Of the many other chickens of City Center South Philadelphia, there is also this large fowl, with one white claw nail on each foot.  Scaly chicken feet are not the most appetizing sight but then again, not many people are indulging chickens for a mani/pedicure.


Where there is a garden, you will have bees. Farmer Bale is actively keeping bees, in a large hive box.  He's reaped honey from his hives, about 45 pounds so far this summer.  It's not quite single sourced honey but it is definitely unique; a real sweet taste of Philadelphia.  Of course there is a great bee story.  Early in the summer the bees were hyper active.  Mr. Bale said he was stung a few times and only later realized why the colony was so active.  The bees were getting ready to swarm. The next day they migrated a few blocks away to a small, newly landscaped area and formed a new hive on a small shrub.  It took some coxing to get the bees back into their appropriate hive but the job was done.  I saw photos of Farmer B in a safety suit, working the smoker, sweeping the frisky yet now docile pollinators back into their proper home.  Bees will be bees, except when the Queen demands a new locale.


I get such a kick out of visiting the Urban Farm and helping in some small way, support my friend's endeavors.  The best thing, aside from the freshness and taste is knowing exactly from where your eggs and honey originated and that you are helping to keep the art of farming alive and well in the most unlikely places.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pizza Night Smorgasbord: Grilled Hot Dog Pizza on Wholewheat


Work with what you have on hand and use what you love to eat.  Case in point, I wanted to make grilled wholewheat pizzas and I wanted to use what I had in the 'fridge.  There they were, delicious and guilt-free 97% Fat free Hebrew National Beef Franks.  I love hot dogs and pizza so naturally, I thought why not put these two food groups together?  While the pizza dough was on the grill crisping on the first side, I threw the dogs on the grill to heat and cook through.  This gave me some time to invent the perfect sauce for the pizza as it had to be some combination of what you would normally put on a hot dog; ketchup, mustard and relish. A combination of both with some added barbecue and hot sauces.  In the on-going recipe files of my grilled pizza obsession, I present to you my grilled hot dog pizza on wholewheat pizza dough.  Simply perfect.


Grilled Hot Dog Pizza Ingredients:

  • 4 Hot Dogs of Choice - though 97% Fat-Free Hebrew National Beef Franks are fantastic
  • 2 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard
  • 1/4 Cup Barbecue Sauce
  • 1/4 Cup Ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon Pickle Relish
  • 3-4 Dashes Hot Sauce
  • 1/2 Pound or 1/2 of a Ball of Wholewheat Pizza Dough - rolled out thin, and grilled on one side
  • 1/2 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese or Three Cheese Blend
  • Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat your grill to medium high.
  2. Grill the hot dogs until cooked through and slightly charred.  Remove from grill and when the hot dogs are cool enough to handle slice them on a bias into 1/4-inch thick slices.  Set them aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, combine the yellow mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce and relish, stirring to combine.  Add in several dashes of hot sauce, to taste.
  4. Grill one side of the the pizza dough on a medium-hot grill.  Remove the dough from the grill and cool for a few minutes.  Flip the grilled bottom and use this side as your "topping" side; the un-grilled side will now be the bottom and will be finished on the grill once the pizza is topped.  
  5. Place the pizza dough onto either a pizza peel or onto an rim-less cookie sheet or use the bottom of a sheet tray.  Spoon the mustard/ketchup sauce over the entire pizza dough.  Layer the sliced hot dog pieces across the pizza dough.   Season with a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. If there is any sauce remaining, dot it onto the hot dog pieces.  Top with the shredded cheddar cheese.
  6. Carefully place the pizza back onto the grill, sliding it off the pizza peel or cookie sheet, and grill the pizza until the cheese melts and is bubbling, about 3-5 minutes over medium to low heat.
  7. Remove the pizza from the grill, sliding it back onto a pizza peel or onto the cookie sheet, using tongs and a spatula.  Allow to cool a few minutes before cutting into slices. Serves 2-4.  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

and the results (& photos) are in...


It's the small things in life that truly make me happy:
Crossing the SheRox Tri finish line with Nate, over-coming my fear of swimming in the Schuylkill River, finishing the triathlon for this season, being a good mentor.  I just found the photos from Action Sports International of this year's SheRox Tri, click here to see small thumbnail versions of the photos Action Sports International.  There are a few that brought some tears to my eyes and gave me a happy lump in my throat.  As a three-time triathlete, I have to say, it feels good to have accomplished and finished this year's triathlon in particular.  It's been a more difficult year for me mentally and physically, as I've written over and over again.  I did not train for this year's tri, to the degree that I trained for the 2008 and 2009 Tri's.  I just wasn't "with it" this year, my mental focus was clearly elsewhere, like with my new family and the lack of sleep.  I was really tired on Sunday, bone tired, so I just didn't have the push to do more than I did.  In my statements about being a mentor for this year, I chose to do so because I needed to motivate myself via motivating others.  Accomplishment number one!  The funny thing is, what I also accomplished I didn't even realize until well-after I crossed the finish line, literally and figuratively.
My time in this year's triathlon was somewhere between dreadful and not bad - depending on my mood and with what and whom you compare the numbers.  2:12, without the benefit of being in top shape, having barely run in the past month and with very little swim training.  I did better than my first year and not as well as my second year.  Over-all I'm pleased, mostly because there were other milestones achieved that are harder to quantify in time and numbers. 

Accomplishment #1: Being a Mentor.  I had a great time being a mentor.  I took on this endeavor and really offered my experiences, life-story, inspirational ideas and training tips to over 20 women.  I met about 15 of them, wrote emails weekly and did training events at least every other week, some weeks doing two events!  I learned a lot about myself and found some patience and inner strength.  The feed back I've received has been overwhelmingly kind and positive.  I met some truly wonderful, determined and courageous women, many of whom I proud to have helped in some small way.  I was able to come to triathlon day and complete the event because of them.  Many of the women, nearly all who participated in the event as a matter of fact, had great race times - between an hour and a half to just a few minutes over 2 hours.  Strength of character comes in wanting to help and encourage others and not worrying about someone else being better than you; it's all relative.  
Accomplishment #2: I over-came my fear of swimming in the Schuylkill River.  That open water swim clinic a few weeks ago gave me the gumption to feel comfortable in the open water and swimming a distance greater than my gym's 50 foot pool.  I lived with the fear of this swim for two years - in 2008 I panicked so much that what little swim technique I had I forgot, doggie paddling my way through the event.  In 2009 I never got to test what I had learned in the intervening year. While I was relieved the swim was canceled due to the inclement weather, I didn't know if I had any ability to actually do the swim.  My fear was so great that I'm sure I would have been a nervous wreck.  This year I saw what my ability and strengths were and realized that had I been swimming all season, I would have been great in the water.   Funny how that works.  Work out, train, see results!
Though I did not have much in me physically on race day, I did have the thrill of knowing that I set out to do something and I completed my event.
Minor Accomplishment #4: Crossing that finish line with Nate, being a mom and a triathlete.  I can honestly say I never thought this would happen.  I've seen other women run with or hold their kids as they crossed the finish line, but for me, I never expected to be a parent, so it's not something I ever envisioned for myself.  The feeling was so thrilling and emotional, more so than when I crossed that finish line my very first time.  Having your own child will do that to you, giving you a new perspective and sense of accomplishment.  Nate, Liz and I, we all Rock!