Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cane Creek Organics CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)

Weekly CSA box from Cane Creek Organics

The first time I heard about Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA), or the concept of subscribing to a weekly box of vegetables during the growing season, I was skeptical.  Really? You can’t just go to a specialty produce store and get the best produce from the area? Then I moved away from Southern California and it’s many conveniences (including Plow Boys market in Fountain Valley).  The move also opened my eyes to how my convenient lifestyle left my exposure to “the bounty Mother Earth provides” very limited; pathetic even. I was a tomato, asparagus, bueberry & banana addict.  Nutritious? Yes.  Tasty? Yes.  Exciting week after week? No.

For the 2010 season, I decided to embrace the wonders of greens, heirloom tomatoes and okra.  Using an analytical calculation, I explored what CSA's had to offer, as well as the concept of organics and what it really means to spend a little more to get something with more bite-for-bite satisfaction, produced using sustainable methods.  If you still deem organics as inefficient, extravagant and even unnecessary, get with the program.  If you are on a budget, joining an organic CSA is a way to help ensure you get a diverse sampling of foods at a set cost.

For $24/ week, I was able to subscribe to a box of veggies that covered my family of two adults, one toddler and a next door neighbor (who shared with us, bringing our cost to $16/week).  Think that is too much to spend on produce each week? Then you are probably not eating enough!  The USDA guidelines say women should be eating approx 2.5 cups of vegetables and 1.5 cups of fruit daily. For men it is more. That equals 28 cups of produce per woman, per week.  Just try to match the CSA's variety and volume of produce (fresh, so it actually still contains the nutrients you are seeking) for less at the grocery store. And forget about the specialty grocers!

In WNC, we are so fortunate to live in a location with the highest per capita number of family farms in the country.  There are an average of half a dozen CSA’s you can choose from within a ten mile radius of your home.  With so many choices, you may wonder how to narrow the selection.  Well here are the attributes I looked for in my selection process…
  • Number of Members
  • Number of Years
  • Distance of Farm
  • Distance of Pick-Up Location
  • Growing Methods
  • Produce Included
  • Number of Weeks
  • Payment
  • Alternative Buying Options
  • Other products offered
Since I had no first hand recommendations to go by, I chose to look at the three CSA’s closest to me, with the largest scale production and longest history; however, I also recommend considering small scale farms, if you have the opportunity to talk to other members or meet the farmers themselves.

In the end, I chose the FDA certified organic farm, with the farmers I had previously met, even though the price tag was the steepest and the length of the season was the shortest.  This family had the longest history of farming and could offer lower fat meats with my order.  I did bemoan missing a weekly subscription for flowers, but I’ve always got Fisher Branch Flower Farm at the Asheville City Market.
Cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, parsley, yellow squash and peas are some of the weekly box.
During the 23 week season, I’ve made some of the best greens I've ever tasted. Just some of the things we've sampled: broccoli, basil, three different cabbages, two different mustard greens, Swiss chard, multiple kales, romaine, green and red lettuces, radishes, spring onions, acorn squash, blueberries, spaghetti squash, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, heirloom tomatoes, okra, string beans, corn and tons of new potatoes. 

The decision to join a CSA was one I do not regret and I, in fact, enjoyed immensely.  
  • The pros: try new foods, learn new recipes, eat the freshest most nutritious and flavorful foods, guarantee you will incorporate these new foods in your diet or feel terrible about throwing them away & explore the countryside or City Market on your pick-up day (We especially enjoyed picking up at the City Market on Saturdays. Lots to see!).
  • The cons: if you travel a lot, you'll miss your box or have to give some away, you may get intimidated by the variety of vegetables and need more time to plan meals.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fisher Branch Flower Farm

I'm an amature gardener, but being new to the Eastern US, Southern region and mountain climate, I have no idea what to grow or where to grow it.  To avoid wasting a lot of time and money on planting flowers that may make me more sad than glad, I've given myself the year off.  Instead of feeding my inner 'anal rententive' gardener (thank you Preble), I’ve been sitting back to enjoy a week by week introduction to the flora and its various stages of bloom. As Spring progressed in WNC, I knew I had to find a regular supplier for weekly cut flower bouquets. I found my favorite in Fisher Branch Flower Farm.

Peonies are one thing East has over West.
Jennifer's flowers in your home may make
giving up the outdoors to avoid bugs and humidity slightly less annoying.

Jennifer Miller runs her flower farm out of Marshal, NC and sells her loose flowers, as well as a variety of seasonal bouquets, at the Asheville City Market. She is very popular, so get there early for the best selection.

Super lacy Hydrangeas feel so Springy

Week after week, I'm impressed with the variety and creativity of Jennifer's bouquets. Her attention to detail in presentation sets her apart. The bouquets are well trimmed, stems cleaned and wraps colorful, yet still earthy. They look equally pretty enough to give as a gift as they would in a crystal vase.

Summer sunflowers and glads bring the sun indoors, but not the heat.
Jennifer's arrangements always make me smile.
In general, I get a full week out of my bouquet and her prices are reasonable at between $6-$15 an arrangement. She offers a subscription to weekly arrangements, as well, and is available for weddings. In the late Fall, she creates holiday wreath arrangements.

I’ll be adding some pictures of the flower farm after my next trip to Marshall.

I bought mine at Asheville City Market

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Christopher's Garden (The Gnomon)

Well, I finally got to work on my front yard this month and ended up spending a lot of time at Appalachian Creek Nursery. On one of my visits, owner Jeff Seitz introduced me to Christopher Mello who runs an urban sculpture garden in West Asheville. They convinced me to check out Christopher's Garden when I was next in West Asheville. The day was a little rainy, and added a bit of gloom to my pics in a purposefully dark garden.

Entrance to the garden begins near the studio.

One of the features of the garden are the blue glass bottles amid the tree branches.

I loved this manhole cover garden stairway.

Lost your marbles? They may have ended up here.

A little spooky in the photo,
even more so when you stand surrounded by the circle of these shovel people.

Open to the public, located on the corner of Westwood and Waynesville Avenue off Haywood Road behind the Rocket Club and the bio-diesel pump.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Foothills Family Farms

My lovely neighbor, Rose, tipped me off to this jewel when she told me that Black Mountain’s Johnny B switched gears this season from operating his Sprouts Café to having a Wednesday afternoon Sprouts Market. A small affair, with just a few complimentary vendors, you can buy all you need for a fresh, local grown dinner. (Try the NC caught fish Johnny sells. It has been an education on Eastern aquatic life!)

Our favorite find of the market is Foothills Family Farms’ pork shoulder roast. It is not the most expensive cut of meat and, when prepared, not the most distinguished, but it gets a 9 on the Mike eating noise meter. I slow cooked mine with two cans of Coca Cola and a little last minute prep to make a tender, caramelized pulled pork that beats anything at any restaurant I’ve had so far. Simple cooking with an excellent piece of pork is the key!

Frozen pork sholder in the slow cooker with two cans of coke. Cook on low for 6 hours.

Pull the pork from bone and fat.  Add fat and juice to pan for reduction, till glaze forms.

Add drained glaze into pulled pork.
I usually refrigerate over night and remove the seperated fat.
I’ve tested this recipe twice, so I know the first shoulder was not a fluke.

Foothills Family Farms is made up of a coalition of Old Fort family farms who "believe that by providing fresh, sustainably grown foods we can significantly contribute to a better quality of life for our farmers, consumers, neighbors and land." I’ve seen them at Sprouts Market on Wednesdays 3-6pm and at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market 8am - noon.

I bought mine at Sprouts Market in Black Mountain Wednesdays 3-6 pm.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pisgah Brewing Company

One of our favorite repeat haunts this winter has been Pisgah Brewing Company's tap room.  Music, atmosphere and great beer give mommy and daddy a place to feel like adults, while the toddlers dance and play (before 9 pm).  Last weekend I finally got a chance to snap some shots of the place before the masses descended to enjoy beer and blues. 
An unassuming front to Pisgah's brewery/tasting room

I'll always remember my first visit to the brewery.  Off Old US Hyw 70, in an industrial park, Mike pulled into a parking lot with half a dozen cars, but no other signs of life.  I tentatively followed him through an office door, into a manufacturing facility, then, finally into what is the warehouse style tap room. 

Belly up to the tasting bar.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a dozen patrons, enjoying music and a pub-like atmosphere.  College students, professionals and families made up and interesting mix and made me feel more comfortable about taking my baby to a bar. The tap room is lined with local artists' work; some for sale to fans.  An upright piano backs one wall, oposite a stage and sound system near two roll-up bay doors. 

When Emma isn't tickling the ivories, she loves to trip the light fantastic.  What a ham.

Now that Spring has sprung, the bay doors have opened, transforming the pub into a beer hall. Picnic benches and a fire pit can be enjoyed while food is prepared on the resident BBQ. It smells like heaven and the price is right. Every once in a while the game room is open, housing a pool table and old school video game.

The back patio.

On to the reason for Pisgah Brewing: the beer.  The greater Asheville area is home to about a dozen micro-breweries and has recently attainted the prestigious BeerCity USA title.  Its easy to become a beer snob after just one season.  Three months here and I lost the last of my lingering interest in commercial beers (with the exception of the ritualistic Natty Light, my FEMBAs), now tasting only chemicals and forced carbonation.  Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives and our consistent favorite is Pisgah Brewing's Pale Ale.  We buy it by the double growler, to enjoy at home.

Bring your empty bottles back for a credit toward your next growler!

Recently, Pisgah released their limited production German Pilsner.  We saw a growler at Earth Fare and snatched it up.  I now regret not having bought every one of them.  The tap room is sold out and the brewery may never make it again.  It was delicious, well balanced and my favorite beer ever!

The tap room carries a few guest brews, including Lambic and Rootbeer.

Pisgah Brewing beers are certified organic.  Currently on tap: Nitro Stout, Pub Ale, Pale Ale, Porter, Solstice, Brown Ale, LEAF Amber, IPA, San Francisco Lager, Vortex I, Vortex II, Baptista Noel, Schwarzbier, Hellbender Barleywine, Endless Summer Ale, Valdez Coffee Stout, and Irish Red Ale.  Limited production brews are added frequently.  A few of the more popular, like the Pale Ale, can be purchased in growlers and 22oz bottles.

So many choices!

My advice to first timers is to sample as many of the house beers as possible, as all offerings are high quality and just yummy.  Brewery tours are offered on Saturday's at 2 and 3 pm; an experience I'm looking forward to in the near future.  Hopefully, one of these days, I can find a babysitter and enjoy the post 9pm entertainment!

A park-like setting near a stream is open on nicer days.

We are looking forward to many more visits to Pisgah's tap room. Houseguests WILL be taken here!

I bought mine from Pisgah Brewing's Tap Room, Earth Fare, & a number of local tap rooms & pizza houses.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Faerie Made

I stumbled onto Faerie Made while browsing the shelves for local products at French Broad Food Co-op.  It was actually the shnazy packaging that caught my eye.  Pretty nice for small scale production.  The soaps were nice and earthy, different from the competition and looked like they had some potential for future review.  Then I saw their muscle ache rub; an item of which I was in sore need.  I vowed to come back for a closer look, and off we went to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial to enjoy some of the history of our new city.

At the end of our tour, I began chatting with our tour guide, Allen (an excellent guide), only to discover he was the Faerie Made owner's neighbor!  He told me he always had some samples on hand and was happy to pass on a couple soap chips.  He confirmed for me that Faerie Made really was a local, small batch, hand crafted business right out of Asheville.  Now I was really excited about my muscle balm purchase!

Sans child and hub, I headed back to the Co-op and grabbed a stick of muscle rub, then prowled the shelves for more Faerie Made.  There were facial lotions, many soaps, but none of the Cheeky Balm I had read about on the Faerie Made web site.  The testimonials were pretty fantastic for that item, but there was an additional statement that it often sold out.

Then I saw it!  I was so excited.  Practical, so a justifiable purchase.  Natural, so safe for baby.  Another OMG best I've ever experienced: Body Oil Spray w/insect hating lemon eucalyptus & catnip (AKA Pester Me Not).  This oil is so soft, so moisturizing, so light, so lovely scented that I want to wear it every day.  Where I was before dreading the new experience of flies the size of my thumbnail and mosquitoes that drain one dry, I'm now looking forward to the excuse to spritz away!

Bring on the bugs!

Oh, and as for the Arnica Balm Muscle Rub?  Skeptically, I ran the stick over my stiff neck and shoulders.  I have to say, the scent was fabulous; sort of Eucaliptus and Mint.  There was a slight tingle that faded away, then I went on with my day and forgot about it.  Thirty minutes later I came across the container and realized I had full motion in my neck!  Wow!  I don't know how it works, but it really does.  And no Ben-Gay smell!  A winner.

I bought mine at The French Broad Co-op. 
Also saw it at Asheville City Market.
Available online:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Grove Park Inn Spa

This week I finally had some time to use the Grove Park Inn Spa gift certificate burning a hole in my purse.  Many people have told me a Grove Park Inn visit is a necessary Asheville experience, but my mid-March drive-by revealed a lot of tourists and construction. My decision to wait till mid-April was prudent. The property was at its best, in preparation for the Obamas' visit three days later.  After a week of rolling paint on raised garage ceilings and participating in Swannanoa’s Spring Cleanup, I was overdue for some massage therapy and decided to check out the resort.  What followed was a surprising day lost in the fabulous caverns of The Spa. (I saw absolutely nothing else of the entire resort!)

The entry to the lobby is palatial. There is a sense of the American extravagance of an earlier time, now open to the masses for public viewing and appreciation. Avoiding the milling tourists, I speed-walked through the meandering halls to the Vanderbilt wing, took an elevator down the mountainside and entered a hallway of guest rooms. Signs guided me to the spa hallway, a rock lined, declining ramp tunnel that gave me flashbacks of waiting in line for Indiana Jones the Ride at Disneyland.
The entry to the spa is flanked by a café and spa boutique. Both are quite large for a resort that already provides a number of dining options and shops, but made me quite glad I didn’t have to hike back out for a decent lunch! The front desk was friendly and efficient. The locker room concierge was very attentive, even though there were four ladies checking in at the same time. The locker room was very small and a bit cramped. My fellow spa-goers were average people, of varying experience levels. No resemblance to the Las Vegas spa divas. On the other hand, I feared I’d have to avoid some, like those casual travelers you strategically bypass in airport security lines. Armed with my comfy robe, I was prepared for a average experience.

HELLO!  The facilities of the spa and the service from attendants knocked me right out of my mindset.  My day was filled with many hours of one glorious surprise after another.  I had to take notes at lunch just to remember every impressive detail, and I’m sure I’ll still miss some! It turns out that the clientele helps make this resort spa's experience better than average. People were extremely courteous. They actually obeyed the spa restrictions for noise! Really shocking.  There was an odd aspect of modesty, but then there were no crazy exhibitionists to distract, either. There were lone ladies, like myself, getting away from our obligations; girlfriend groups; and romantic couples. Choosing a spring shower day was perfect, resulting in less than a dozen visible patrons, at any one time.

The spa is two-story, with the gym, café, shop, front desk, lockers, showers, and relaxation rooms taking up the top floor. Downstairs are four indoor pools, an outdoor pool, a mixed relaxation room and two gender segregated areas; the women’s side containing a steam room, showers, sauna, aromatherapy inhalation room and contrast pool, split into hot and cold. There are more than 40,000 square feet total, much of it lined with local Carolina rock. And more fireplaces than I could count; even by the pools! The pools contain salt/mineral water, rather than chlorine, and the tranquil music continues to them, providing underwater nirvana! Really... it was pretty fabulous.

My appointment was for a 50 minute deep tissue massage and my masseur’s name was Jeff S. Loved him! He was so nice, so informative, so attentive and I felt totally comfortable and relaxed the entire session. I was given a choice of the three GPI brand aromatherapy scents: detoxify (citrus), relax (lavender) or rejuvenate (mint). Difficult to choose, but I went with the mint & rosemary; divine! Little niceties included: the digital dimming light & temperature panel, the three way adjustable massage table and the patron tailored music. The massage was, without a doubt, the most effective I’ve ever had. Jeff is a miracle worker and the setting helped to relax me before he started, so I felt like I got the most for my 50 minute dollar. And to top it off, Jeff brought me a flute of champagne and a yellow rose, since I was there as a valentine’s day/anniversary present from my wonderful husband.

Making my way through the two relaxation rooms, one with an indoor, cozy feel, which allows low talking levels centered to a large stone fireplace. Since I was by myself, I decided to venture to the silent relaxation room, which feels more like a conservatory, with open windows and another stone fireplace. Spring showers tinkled outside. Blooming trees, with colors of white, pink, fuchsia and spring green peeked into the window’s view. Chirping birds were calling to each other. A subtle breeze periodically stirred the air. If that room doesn’t relax you, then you are just hopeless.

Though I could have stayed in my vegetative state all day, I figured I better get out there and enjoy the rest of the facilities. Try the cold tub, even if you only get your legs in, like me. Surprisingly energizing and prepped me for the steam room. I love steam rooms, and this was a winner. It had a perfect eucalyptus balance: not overwhelming, but enough to make my Carolina pollen bombarded sinuses revel!!! The temperature was perfect and no steam flow extremes. The inhalation room is a dry ambient temperature room with clean, pleasant air. Didn’t try the sauna.

Once you leave the gender specific area, you enter a mixed relaxation area with couples meeting and heading to the indoor pool area. Waterfalls fall from the central ceiling and fall into a lighted pond, creating white noise to cover the murmur of conversation. The cave-like entry opens to vaulted ceilings of rock and stone archways, housing the pools. The main pool borders windows with a view of downtown Asheville and the outdoor pool. To each side are grotto’s with small pools collecting falling water. Jeff suggested using the force of the waterfalls to work out neck muscle pain. But my absolute favorite was the lap pool.

At the very back of the cavern is a high ceiling grotto, rimmed by inset, dark enclaves where reclining spa chairs are paired near very low set lights. The whole feel was one of a European catacomb transformed for decadent rejuvenation. The pool itself could accommodate two swimmers comfortably, but no one was interested exercising while I was there, so I had the whole thing to myself! The underwater music was especially peaceful in this pool, as there were no jets or waterfalls. Swimming on your back, you can enjoy the notes while gazing at the three skylights cut into the high ceiling rock. True, the rock on the ceiling is necessarily fake, but they do a good job of making it look as real as possible. The composite material even allowed them to add tiny twinkle lights, which look like flecks of mica. The experience was like combining a deprivation chamber with virtual reality.

I pulled myself out of the pool, once again forcing myself to experience more, and headed to lunch at the café. Another Jeff was my server and, so pleasant to talk to about local foods and such. I chose the Chilled Seared Tuna wrap, paired with the suggested Soba Noodle Soy Salad. Yum! Everything was very fresh. I chose a local Highland Gaelic Ale. They did have a GPI Abbey Style Ale, and I wish I asked about that. The desserts sounded wonderful, but I had some swimming to do and passed. If you don’t wish to change from your robe, they welcome spa clients to remain comfortable. I decided to wear clothes while dining, though.
Did a little more swimming and headed back to the relaxation room, where I proceeded to fall asleep. Turns out I stayed for just over 5 hours and could have easily found more to try. I regret not visiting the steam room again.

If I had one disappointment with the whole experience, it was that there was absolutely NO evidence of local products in the spa shop. High quality, local chocolate, skincare and wellbeing products are readily available and would give the shop an edge with spa tourists who also visit the competition.

This is NOT an exclusive spa. GPI has, however, created a comfortable, down-to-earth, yet luxurious experience that can accommodate a number of guests, making it accessible to anyone with the $80 entry fee (Monday-Thursday only). Reasonable for the experience. Go for the experience. Go for how it can’t help but make you a more pleasant person to be around. Stay for as long as you can! They are open from 8am to 9pm, that’s $6/hour to exorcizes our inner witch!