Saturday, October 11, 2014

Careful What You Wish For

"Be careful what you wish for," the old saying goes, "or you might just get your wish." That pretty much covers the situation regarding rain hereabouts. After the driest September in living memory, we have been subjected to October rains that my grandfather would have described as "toad stranglers." Although I don't have an accurate gauge any longer, I would say we are in the 3-4 inch range over the last few days.

As a result, the fall greens crops are lush and abundant, and the snap peas are covered with blooms. Ornamental plants that had not begun to go dormant due to the lack of moisture in September have taken on renewed vigor after repeated soaking. Given the timing of the rain, we can perhaps hope for an especially beautiful fall foliage display this year.

This is a great time of year to salvage the last of summer flavor by making herb-flavored jellies. Tender plants, such as many rosemary and lavender cultivars, will succumb to the cold before long. It makes sense to gather them now. Recipes are abundantly available online. You can substitute one herb for another in any of them, as long as you maintain approximately the same weight of herb leaves. One ounce is a typical quantity. For leafy herbs such as basil and lemon verbena, this could be a quart of leaves stripped from the stems. In the case of tiny rosemary leaves, roughly a cup will produce enough essential oils to flavor a batch of jelly. Be creative! We are going to try lavender and curry leaf jellies for the first time this year, and will keep you posted on the results.

In keeping with our promise to steer the focus of this blog post to local businesses, local products and benefits to the local community, I want to take a moment to call your attention to the veritable renaissance going on along Knoxville's Central Avenue corridor. For many years, this area of town was in decline, with lots of empty store fronts and delapidated industrial buildings dominating the landscape. Recently, however, new restaurants and shops have opened, and the area is fast becoming a great place to dine and shop. Beginning at Broadway and moving north, one finds Holly's Corner in the old Corner Lounge location, with Magpies Bakery next door. Behind them is a place for yoga enthusiasts.

On up the street is Broadway Restaurant Supply, a professional warehouse that does not discourage home cooks from shopping. I have purchased some of my favorite, and least expensive, kitchen utensils there. Expect no frills, however.

At the intersection with Baxter Avenue is Three Rivers Market, surely with one of the deepest selections of local, regional and artisanal products one might find anywhere. They also offer a fine hot buffet with salad bar featuring both vegetarian and carnivore options. Go another block north and you arrive in Happy Holler, so named because of the profusion of bars that once lined this block. Here you will find Central Flats and Taps. The pizzas are great and there are taps to suit every beer taste.

Continuing north, you will move into Knoxville's food history zone, where the two oldest restaurants in town, Rankin and Original Freezo, still do it the way it was done in the 1950s. And then further on out, at the intersection with Springdale, you can discover just how good a sandwich can be at the North Corner Sandwich Shop. While you can always opt for the nearly-perfect Italian sub, try one of the specials. This little shop distinguishes itself with creativity and fine ingredients, such as house-made corned beef.

Next time you have a few extra minutes for lunch, I suggest a drive up Central. Any of the restaurants I mentioned will give you great taste and good value, and they are all locally owned.

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