Tuesday, June 26, 2007

So long, fare well Auf Weidersehen, goodbye!

1 year ago today- larkspur and hollyhock, with a lone hosta


I see that it has been almost a month to the day since I last posted here. My friends Robbyn and Sveta have both come looking for me this past week. I'm sorry they had to seek me out, but it is nice to be missed!

I apologize to anyone who enjoyed reading this regularly. My new job, which is writing curricula, is terrific- I am loving it, but it drains my creative writing energy. Add to that the beginnings of the fruit season, (two weekends of picking and processing cherries, and then tonight I started processig the apricots) and you have a bad mix for keeping a blog.

I will be checking in sporadically, and I am sure as the job gets less frenetic, and as the harvest season wears down (November?) I will be able to blather on again on the blog. Untill then, check out No Impact Man and Riot for Austerity. Both blogs make me feel like a slacker, but they really make me think.

Until next time

Peace Out

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging- The Slime Machines

It's been a while since I was able to do Weekend Dog Blogging, and while I was gone, Sweet Nicks discontinued it. But I have this lovely picture, so I figured, why not post. We spent last week in Missouri, visiting family, and Juniper had her first lengthy interaction with other dogs in a non-kennel environment. Here she is hanging out with the Slime Machines, AKA Beefy and Sequoia. Everyone had a good time, Juniper was a good pack member. Unfortunately, she stayed at the dog spa and got her bath BEFORE meeting these drool masters...

I tell you, walking in Bart's house is like wading in a river of dog- there's always one right in front of you and you have to just push on through with your thighs.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Local Dinner for Mother's Day

Allium


Sunday was the jewel of the weekend- beautiful weather, pleasant activities and a yummy, 90% local dinner. The highpoint of the day, of course, was the phone call from my sons, who were spending the weekend together in St. Louis, attending something called Beer Fest. I'm told there was a lovely Blueberry beer served.

Here in PA there was no Beerfest. Instead we took the dog for a walk on our local Rails to Trails. Juniper was excited to be out in the woods, Chuck and I were excited to see a Baltimore Oriole. We checked on the progress of the wild black raspberry and wineberry bushes along the verge, with June in mind. I noticed how much wild garlic mustard was growing alongside the path as well. It was idyllic.

Later, we drove over the mountain through the orchards to visit a friend's farm. Such a peaceful spot, just a few miles outside of Gettysburg. We walked along the edge of her orchard to get a view of the pond; her horses frisked around in the pasture, keeping en eye on Juniper from a distance, just as she kept her eyes on them. It was so quiet there. I think of our area as rural, but the traffic noise from the interstate a mile or so away creates a constant, almost subliminal, drone.

She tells me that while they have been feeding the beef cattle on grain, next year they will make the change to grass finishing. She says they will raise two grass finished steer; I'm hoping it won't be much more trouble to make it three. I don't know yet if I will go to meet him...

And then back home for a local dinner- grilled pork steak, roasted asparagus, salad and for dessert, a rhubarb custard. Everything was local except the olive oil to lubricate the asparagus and the Girl Scout cookies used for the crust of the rhubarb custard.

It was a good day.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Change is in the air

Kwan Yin and the copper beech


A great change is underway at our house. As of May 1, I am a full time employee, something I haven't been since 1992. I have a different job, albeit in the same organization. While I am thrilled to be employed, excited about my new job, I am also mourning the end of my old job, one I loved beyond words, with people who were superb to work with.

I'm also worried about how the addition of 13 more hours a week at work will change the fundaments of our life. To eat the way we eat takes time; time to gather the ingredients, since we can't just run to the grocery store and pick up what we need, and time to cook, since the food we eat is minimally processed. Without a CSA, we are growing more of our food- will I be able to keep up with that? What about when harvest comes around? Will I be able to work all day, every day and still deal with bushels of peaches or tomatoes when I come home? Ripe fruits and vegetables won't wait around because I am weary, or until the weekend when there is time.

I'm lazy and I am afraid I will slide into the path of least resistance. And I am such a whiner!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Springiness

This 1s why I love Spring...And it's all in my backyard. Happy May Day.grape leaves- who ever imagined they were so pretty?
Lilac ; not purple, but lovely all the same
Dogwood
Viburnum- and does it ever smell wonderful~
Violets- one of my favorites- I trained Chuck and the kids to mow around them when in bloom
Bacchus and the grape- Chuck's god of wine

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge, The Final Day

Baby grape leaves on the vine

I think I am going to write a new diet book; I'll call it Eat Local, Feel Better, Help the Earth, and Lose More than Weight. Too long a title? Yeah, well, maybe.


I don't actually know if I lost weight during my local eating week, but I feel as if I ate this way all the time, I would. Whether this is due to what I was eating this week, or to the pressure of reporting what I was eating to the world, I don't know.

We have been trying to eat as locally as possible for a year or so now, so I didn't expect to have any major revelations during our experiment. And, in fact, the focus of our meals is usually local. What I realized was that the extras usually weren't. My granola, for example- even though I make it myself, from ingredients purchased from the Mennonite store, I felt it had too many non-local ingredients to include it even as an exemption. Tortilla and potato chips come from the grocery store. (There are local chips around, but we don't like them as well.) Same thing with ice cream. Mayonnaise, mustard, catsup. And this is probably why I feel like the week was a slimming one- with the exception of the mustard, all of these foods are calorie dense, and for the most part, highly processed; things I shouldn't be eating anyway.

For our last day on the challenge, I tried something I have been wanting to do for a while- make my own tofu. I'll talk about the process more at another time, but I did it because I realized I had no idea where my tofu as made, how far it travelled, anything. Soybeans do grow in the field down the road from my house, but since they are a commodity, I have no idea if the ones I bought at my local bulk store grew here or in Missouri. We also toasted the end of our week with the MOST local item since the dandelion soup- Chuck's Devil Dog 50-50 Wine. Using our own Concord grapes, Chuck has made wine for the past 4 years. He thinks the 2006 vintage is the best- I think it surpasses Koolaid in sweetness. I generally pass it up.

The Menu:
Breakfast: The last of the cherry zucchini muffins. Thank goodness!
Lunch: Chuck had the last of the chicken corn soup, I had a peanutbutter whoopie pie bought at the Mennonite greenhouse when we purchased some pansies for the garden.
Dinner: Stir fried spinach, green onion and mushroom over brown rice with tofu
Snack: Yes, yogurt. With peaches. And Chuck had Devil Dog Wine.

Local Items:
Muffins already included in weekly total
Whoopie Pie- $0.79
Spinach: $0.50
Onion $0.50
Mushroom $0.50
Yogurt- $0.24
Peaches $0.25
Wine: Priceless. The grapevines came with the house, all we do is pick them and wash them. I guess there is a yeast cost, but it would be in the fractions of a cent.

Semi-Local:
Tofu: Also Priceless. OK, OK, $0.25 for the soy beans, ($1.00/pound, we used 1/4 pound) $0.10 for the solidifier ($9.95 for a quart bag full, we used 2 teaspoons)
Brown Rice: $0.25 ($0.55/pound)

Total: $7.88. Total for the week- $81.88 with Wednesday's lunch out, $58.25 without the lunch out. I'm pleased that we came in well under the $144.00. We ate pretty much the same way we always eat, I didn't find it too dull. I did find it hard to keep from looking in the freezer or the cupboard for things to toss into the soups or the stir-fries- I'm sort of a seat-of-the-pants cook.

Caveats: I came into this with a lot of preserved food from last summer. It's a lot of work, but worth it. There were days when I came home from work and thought if I never saw another peach or tomato I would die a happy woman, but it sure tastes good now.

Purchasing meat as whole animals does take an outlay of money at the time of purchase, but is very cost effective over all. And I like having everything I need here, so that at anytime I can say let's have "X" and go get it out of the freezer.

On the other hand, I do have to have 2 freezers- one for meat and one for vegetables and fruit. I had the equipment and expertise I needed- I have always canned fruits and dried things. I've made my own yogurt for years, off and on. I like the feeling of self sufficiency I get from knowing how to do stuff like that. It's the same reason I spin yarn and weave. I'm not going to clothe myself with my output, but I could if I had to.

Some might say it was easier because I do live in the country, sort of. I would have thought that, too, except I keep an eye on the local food available where my children live- Kansas City and St. Louis, and let me tell you, KC has WAY more opportunities to eat local than I do. Not only are there a lot of small farmers, but the artisan products in the city are more plentiful, too.














Devil Dog 50-50 label

Chuck enjoying his wine

Friday, April 27, 2007

Day 6 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

It was a tough day today in the real-life arena, and that bled a little bit over into the local eating thing too. Tomorrow is our final day; it will be nice to be released from the obligation to calculate costs, but I have learned a lot this week.

Tonight's dinner contains one of the "local-est" ingredients. Um, maybe I am over exaggerating there, but I bet I'm the only person in the challenge eating this tonight!

Years ago, when I was still in high school, the daughter of an old family friend was getting married. For whatever reason, there was going to be a goat roast to celebrate the wedding. My parents friend felt like it would be cheaper for him to buy the goats young and raise them up for the feast. When we arrived at the wedding there was indeed roast goat, but there were also two pet goats wandering around. When it came time to slaughter, come to find out it was easier to go buy two unknown goats than to slaughter Patsy and Daisy. I have always worried that if we tried raising meat animals we would end up the same way.

The goat we had for dinner tonight was one that didn't get sold at the 4-H auction last year.My friend, who raises meat goats, called to ask if we were interested in buying it.

I have bought goats from Sandy in the past. The first one we bought was very small. We took it with us on our trip home to visit our son in St. Louis and it fit nicely in our larger cooler. My son used to work with a number of recent immigrants from Bosnia, who tantalized him with tales of the deliciousness of roast goat. When I called him to let him know we were bringing a goat, he floored me by asking if I could get the head and bring it too. I was taken aback by the request. Turns out his friend, Patrick, the one getting an MFA in sculpture, had a hankering to make something out of animal bones. With great trepidation I asked Sandy if I could have the head; to my great surprise she said that many of her Muslim customers find the head to be a great delicacy, and of course I could have it. She would even show me how to roast it if I wanted. I passed on that, and called Bart to tell him the head was coming too. "Cool, can you get a bunch of heads?" was his reply. Yeah, like I am going to drive half way across the country with a cooler full of goat heads. "Well, you see, Officer, we are just taking them to my son so his friend can make a sculpture out of them..."

We roasted the little goat in a pan made for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey; stuffed with apples, onions and garlic, it was wonderful. The head went to Patrick's house, where he put it in the freezer section of the refrigerator WITHOUT telling his mother, (who actually owns the refrigerator) first. She was thrilled, as any mother would be.

This goat was a little larger; approximately 40 pounds dressed weight. We told the butcher that we wanted it left whole, thinking of that first tiny goat. We picked it up just before my son's wedding, when I was anxiously filling the freezer with muffins. Just in case I didn't have room for it in my freezer, I had asked a friend if we could keep the goat in her freezer until after the wedding, she agreed, adding "As long as there are no heads involved". I assured her there would be no heads.

Chuck and I went out to pick up the goat, armed with our large cooler. On the way I told him that I thought I might be getting to the point where I could raise my own meat animals without becoming too attached. He snorted.

Wrapped up in plastic, the goat was a little larger than I expected. Chuck went over to pick it up to put it in the cooler, and as he turned to walk towards me, I saw a goatish grin sticking out from the layers of plastic. Not only was there still a head on the goat, but the teeth had cut through the plastic and were grinning at me. At that moment I knew I wasn't yet ready to raise my own.

The goat, roughly the same size as our Labrador Retriever, did not fit in the cooler. When we got home, it didn't fit in the freezer either, but I hated to impose on my friend. We decided to butcher it ourselves. We laid it out on the kitchen table, and managed to cut it into 2 pieces- a front half and 2 back quarters. That did fit in the freezer. However, this past winter we bought a lamb, and when we took it to the butcher, we also took the goat parts and had him cut them into chops and roasts. Tonight we had a small roast, roughly the size of your two fists together.

The Menu:

Breakfast: Why, Yes! It is indeed the zucchini cherry muffin!
Lunch: Chile Relleno Casserole
Dinner: Goat flatbread sandwiches with spinach, green onion and cup cheese. (Cup cheese is apparently a Pennsylvania Dutch treat- it comes in a tub and is supposed to taste like brie. Let me tell you, this is some funky stuff! Ours came from Lancaster.)
Snack: that same yogurt and peaches (I've gotten so it is almost as satisfying as ice cream!)

Local Items:
Eggs: costed them yesterday
Anaheim chilies: costed them yesterday
Cheddar Cheese: costed it yesterday
Green onion: $0.25
goat: $4.00 (The goat cost, all told, $80.00 and weighed 40 pounds, this was about a 2 pound roast)
Cup cheese: $0.34 ($3.38 for the tub- believe me, we didn't use a lot!)
yogurt $0.24
Peaches $0.25

Semi-Local
flat bread: costed yesterday

Not local
Spinach: $0.29

Total: $5.13; 74.00 with Wednesday's lunch, $50.37 otherwise

Top picture is The goat . Bottom picture is the cup cheese- See what I mean about it being funky stuff? A really unfortunate color and texture...And you should SMELL it!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 5 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

The list of bloggers participating in the Penny-Wise Challenge is posted over at the Eat Local Challenge blog. I'm anxious to read what others are eating, and how they are doing.

I read this over on Jamie's blog, 10 signs like this "It's all too tempting to say a lot of what we eat is "free"--after all, we produce our own eggs and most of our own vegetables. But we know better than anyone that it's not free! We'll charge ourselves fair market value, i.e., what we'd charge for it at the farmers' market."

I'd like to know how other people have chosen to cost their home grown produce. Personally, I have a garden for 2 reasons; taste and cost. Jamie is making a living from her produce, so that puts her in a different place than I am. I don't grow to sell to others, I garden so that I can afford to eat the way I want to eat. That's the same reason I can and freeze and dry so much during the harvest season. I am most comfortable costing out the price of the seeds and calling it even. I guess that probably doesn't help the person reading who doesn't have a garden, or isn't able to "put by" things for the winter, to get an idea of the costs of eating local. But I am curious as to how others have solved this dilemma.

Today is my Mother's birthday- I made a special dinner in honor of her. (Too bad she lives half way across the country and can't come eat it with me!) When I was growing up, I thought my mother was a wonderful cook. She made several things that were among my favorites, one was chile rellenos. Tonight I made a chile relleno casserole. I was too lazy to go downstairs and get the camera, so once again this is a cell phone picture, sorry for the less than sterling quality*

Also, I forgot to cost out the flatbread when it first appeared on the menu on Monday. Yikes! The cost tonight is the cost of all 8 flatbbreads I made on Sunday, so I won't count them again this week.

Day 5- The Menu
Breakfast: the ubiquitous cherry zucchini muffin (Costed out on Monday)
Lunch: flatbread with cheddar cheese and green onion
Dinner: Relleno casserole with salsa
Snack: yogurt with cherries

Local:
yogurt (in flatbread): $0.36
yogurt (snack): $0.24
green onion (4): $1.00
eggs (6): $0.60
Anaheim peppers $0.10 (from our garden)
cherries: $0.50
cheddar cheese: $0.80
salsa: $0.25 (from our garden last year)

Semi-local:
flour: $1.10 ($0.55 per pound, used 2 pounds)
rice: $0.55 ($0.55 per pound)

Total: $5.50 for the day, 68.87 if we include yesterday's lunch, 45.24 if we don't.
*What a strange world we live in where I am apologizing for the poor quality of a picture taken with a PHONE for gosh sakes!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day Four Penny-Wise Challenge

I fell off the wagon today for lunch, but it was a planned fall- Administrative Assistants Day, and we went out to lunch. Our AA is the hardest working woman I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and I wouldn't have missed the day for all the local food in Pennsylvania. And I listened to Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Dilemma on the way to and from the restaurant, so my mind was still on the challenge, even if my stomach was not. The book has so much food for thought, much of it disturbing. What struck me the most today- a quote from the man who founded Cascadian Farms- I probably don't have it word-for-word, "Eventually everything morphs to the way the world is." Man, how depressing for those of us who want to change the world!
And on to the Challenge.

The Menu:
Breakfast: Cherry Zucchini muffins (Costed out on Day 1)
Lunch: W- went out; C- peanut butter and green onion sandwich. (Yup, that is correct.)
Dinner: Chicken Corn Soup with Chard and Black Eyed Peas.
Snack: Yogurt and peaches

The Local Items:
Green Onion- $0.25
Yogurt: $0.24
Peaches: $0.25
Chicken Corn Soup- $2.66 (See Day 2 for breakdown of costs)

Semi-Local Items:
Peanut Butter: $0.25 ($1.99/pound)

Not At All Local:
Bread: $0.26
My lunch out- $23.63 (Includes tip)

Total: $27.54 with lunch, $3.91 without
Total for the 4 days so far: $63.37 with lunch, $39.74 without.

Interesting note- I read in our local paper that our "showcase restaurant" here in town is getting new management. It will be managed by an off-site company, but the on-site manager-employee says he has a commitment to local food. It will be interesting to see. Two or three years ago I drove my Mennonite neighbor around to every restaurant in town with boxes of produce from her family farm- no one would buy any.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Day 3 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

Hellebore, or Lenten Rose


I love my garden. It's the best part of living in this house. About 6 years ago we put in a pond, and constructed a man-made creek that falls from a waterfall at the edge of the backyard.
Chuck ran a hose under the creek to pump water from the pond up to the waterfall; with the flip of a switch we can have moving water. When I got home from work tonight, Juniper and I went out to sit in the yard and watch the birds bathe in the creek. The hostas and Solomon's Seal are poking their noses up, the Lilies of the Valley will be blooming soon. Bleeding Hearts bend over the creek, and the Lenten Rose is in full bloom. My favorite? Tonight it was the tiny flower of the wild ginger, unobtrusive and unseen. The picture was taken with my cell phone- sorry it is a little blurry. I didn't crop out my thumb so you could get an idea of scale.)


Eat Local:
One thing I have noticed already, I feel like this is more meat than I usually eat. Ordinarily, I will eat hummus and pita for lunch, or a pita covered with spinach and cheese melted over it. But since the hummus and spinach aren't local, I have skipped them this week.

OK, on with Day 3

The Menu:

Breakfast: Muffin, just like yesterday (And I just realized I included the cost of the whole muffin batch in yesterday's total, so I guess they are free the rest of the week!)
Lunch: pork roast sandwich with jalapeno jack cheese, (Chuck had cheddar), root beer
Dinner: Pasta with beef, onions and mushrooms in a roasted tomato sauce
Snack: Yogurt with cherries

The Local Items:

Pork roast $3.06 (About 1/4 of what was left over from Sunday)
cheese $1.23 ($4.33 for the total chunk of Jack, used about 1/10th of it, $8.00 for the chunk of cheddar, we used about 1/10 of it)
beef- $3.32; ($5.00 for the total, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
Pasta- $0.76 ($1.15 for the total used, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
Mushrooms- $0.33 ($0.50 for two, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
green onion $0.33 ($0.50 for two, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
Roasted tomato sauce-$0.10; made last August and frozen
Yogurt $0.24
Cherries $0.50; (Picked and canned last summer)

Sadly, not local
Hanks Root Beer, $1.00; made in Philadelphia- misses being in my foodshed by about 45 miles. Price is an estimate- I need to go do a price check tomorrow. We do have a local root beer, made by the Appalachian Brewing Company. It's pretty tasty.
Bread $0.52; I'm really bummed about this- I thought it was a local bread made in Lancaster PA. Turns out the bakery is about 45 miles out of my foodshed, but also is a subsidiary of G. W. Weston, which owns the companies that make Thomas Bagels and English muffins, Boboli, and Entenmanns.
Total for the day: $11.39

Monday, April 23, 2007

Day Two- Penny-wise Eat Local Challenge

You know, I think I committed a cardinal sin yesterday, and didn't post the link to get to the Eat Local Challenge. I'll correct that now.

I also forgot to link to an article on that blog by Heather C, Eating the Lawn, who used a different part of the dandelion for part of her first Eat Local day.

Now, on to Day 2.
Since the Attack of the Muffin Woman back in September, I have been trying to keep muffins on hand for us to eat for breakfast. So after dinner last night I whipped up a dozen cherry zucchini muffins for this week. Alas, I burnt the bottoms. But we ate them anyway. I also baked some flatbreads for lunches this week. They turned out great, but sweeter than I would have liked. Everything I did yesterday was just a little bit off- not bad, just not quite as good as I had hoped.

The Menu:
Breakfast: Cherry Zucchini muffin
Lunch: Flatbread with pork roast, green onion, provolone and hot pepper goat cheese
Dinner: Chicken Corn soup with chard and black eyed peas.

The local items:
cherries- $0.50-picked and dried myself-
Zucchini- $0.01- from our garden last year, frozen
honey- $0.84; I used 1.5 cups, $4.50 per quart
Eggs- $0.40
Yogurt- $0.24
pork roast- $3.06 (approximately 1/4 what was left over from last night)
green onion- $0.50, we used 2 at $0.25 each
goat cheese- $2.14; used about 1/4 of the chunk we bought, and it cost $8.55.
I have to figure the soup separately, because it will be 2 meals (And it was REALLY good, BTW)-
Chicken- $1.00 (The chicken cost $4.00, this was 1 cup of chicken, about 1/4 of the total)
Corn- $0.75- I used the frozen kernels of 3 ears, usually $3.00 per dozen ears during the summer here.
Chard- $0.01- from our garden and frozen last fall
Black Eyed Peas- $0.56- canned by a processor about 25 miles from here. I dither about including these in the Local category. Local they may be, but who knows where those peas were grown.
$5.32 total for the soup, $2.66 for the portion we ate tonight


Semi-local ingredients:
Flour $ 0.55, used 4 cups total $0.55 a pound.

Not At All Local:
Chicken Broth $3.00- used 1.5 quarts, $2.00 per quart. This is Industrial Organic, and I guess I need to start making my own broth. (This is figured into the cost of the soup above)
Provolone $1.86, used approximately 1/4 pound, $7.45 a pound.

Day 2 total- $12.76.

Day One, Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

Ingredients for the Cream of Dandelion Soup



The first day of our week long Challenge is under our belt, and it was harder than I anticipated. Not the food part- we ate just as we eat every Sunday. What was hard is figuring out the costs of things- I know, for example, how much I spent on a pound of oatmeal, but breaking it down to get the cost of 2 cups of oatmeal is trickier. Some foods I had in the house, and don't know how much I spent on them. But I will do the best I can...

There are two of us eating for this challenge.

The Menu-
Sunday, April 22
Brunch- Hearty Oatmeal Pancakes with Apple Slices, Peanut Butter and Maple Syrup
Dinner- Pork Roast, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Cream of Dandelion Soup


Dinner picture from the cell phone




Pancakes on the grill


The costs:

The local ingredients;

3 cups of yogurt (made it myself), $0.72
apple slices- (canned them myself) $0.25
Butter $0.66 ( $5.25/pound, we used about 2 oz through out the day
Pennsylvania Maple Syrup- $17.10 per quart; used approximately 1/2 cup- $2.13
Eggs- $0.20 ($0.10 each)
Pork Roast- just over 4.5 pounds at $4.00 per pound, $18.40 total, we will make 3 meals out of it so tonight's cost is $6.14
Dandelions from the backyard- free, but a lot of work!
leeks from the garden last year- $0.01



The Semi-Local ingredients (These are not grown or produced in our area, but were purchased from local businesses- a farmers market and a natural foods store that sells bulk items- rather than a chain- best I could do)
rolled oats- $0.55 per pound; $0.10
peanut butter- $1.99/pound, we used approximately 1 oz- $0.12
Sweet potatoes- 2 at $0.65 each; $1.30
carrot; $0.05



Grand total, $11.68


Critique- I'm not thinking we'll be having the Cream of Dandelion soup anytime soon, but I am glad I made it. The recipe, from A Veggie Venture called for Dijon mustard- and that was the taste I objected to, not the slight bitterness of the dandelions. But it was fun to make a soup from something that is not only free, but all over the yard. Our yard is chemical free, about the most noxious thing that might be on the dandelions would be dog urine, and I washed them 4 times...If you aren't sure of your dandelion source, don't gather them.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

And now to interrupt our regularly scheduled blog...

A Real World Friend, who blogs under the name of Whozat tagged me on the Thinking Blogger Award. She says this:

"I know Willa in the real world, but I feel like I've gotten to know her a lot better since I've been reading her blogs. Yumminess Ensues features recipes and more, while Plants and Animals... is mostly the "more" but both blogs have some really interesting insights into her strong convictions about eating primarily locally produced foods. This is something that I admit I've not thought much about before. I also admit I'm not ready to actually undertake it at this point, but I'm learning a lot and have been thinking more about these issues lately, thanks to her."

I'm really moved by this, because I find that I examine what I am writing more carefully because there are people out there reading this stuff who know me, and who can call me out if I say something outrageously wrong, supremely self-serving or utterly stupid. I've written for public consumption before, but this feels so diffferent than writing for the newspaper. So I am honored that Whozat reads and returns, but also I am honored that I make her think. That's what I wanted when I started this, to make people think about food and where it comes from, about how we treat this place where we all live, and about the animals who share our space with us.

So, now I have to name 5 blogs that make me think- and I guess I can't point back at hers (Although she does make me think, both in the blogsphere and when we meet in person AND about more than whether or not she will catch me in an exaggeration!) It's tough- there are so many that I enjoy, that make me laugh, or tear up.

OK- here goes-

Cookie Crumb, at I'm Mad and I Eat makes me think- The first thing I think is "Wow, I wish I wrote like her!". The second thing I think is that I would like to have her and Cranky over for dinner- especially if they cook! I dunno, I just think we have a lot in common.

Robbyn, at The Back Forty makes me think- I love how willing she is to experiment with her gardening. I also love that she has a goal- Chuck and I like to dream about homesteading, but never quite get it off the ground. Again, we seem to share something. I love that she "closes" her blog for shabbat.

Sher, at What Did You Eat, makes me long to take pictures like hers. She inspires me to do better with my photography. She has squirrels, and she taught me something about squirrels that I didn't know, and that REALLY made me think!

I wish I had access to Agnostic Mom when my kids were still at home. Especially after we moved here to PA. We homeschooled our kids for various reasons, none of them religious. In St. Louis we had a terrific support group, made up of people with a wide variety of religious beliefs or non-beliefs. When we moved here, we didn't fit the homeschool picture. I could have used Agnostic Mom MANY times on the PA homeschool list-serve! I mean, if you want to think- how's this from her March 25 post: "While most religious people think morality comes from their god and some non-believers think it is purely a social construct, others of us (including myself) believe that humans have an innate moral sense which is a compilation of states that evolved in humans"

Carla at Local Forage always provides me with something to think about. She's so far ahead of me in the ethical eating department that I can't even taste her dust.

A couple of group blogs also always provide me with food for thought, but since they are groups blogs, I don't know the protocol for tagging them. So I'll just mention them- The Ethicurean and the Eat Local Challenge.



Thanks for thinking of me, Whozat. This has been, well, thought provoking. (And wait until I start talking about the local party dinner being REALLY local....)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Lost Posts and a bunch of other stuff


I have written some amazing cogent, coherent, down-right excellent posts for this blog. You have never read them. Written in my head, as I drive to and from work, by the time I got to the computer, they were gone like the memory of a dream.

Recently, I did this with a post that tied together an article I read in Mother Jones Magazine, something I heard while listening to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and something else about marketing to children. Believe me, it was superlative. I was so impressed. Of course, now it's vanished, completely gone. So I will write this post- not the same, but what the heck.

My sisters and I used to play that game, where you listed the people you would most like to have dinner with, and why. Somehow, most of my supper guests were women authors- Alice Walker, Rita Mae Brown, Elizabeth Moon, Sharon McCrumb, Mercedes Lackey . And Barbara Kingsolver. Right now, my top number one choice for dinner would be Barbara Kingsolver.

I've read all of her books, and love them all. In addition, Barbara is leading the life I dream of living- pastoral, bucolic, and it looks like her kids still are young enough to live at home. She has a book coming out in May, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, in which she chronicles a year of local eating.

In the article Seeing Red, in the May-June issue of Mother Jones Magazine, Kingsolver talks about the politics of food and agriculture through the medium of tomatoes. She talks about the growing disconnect between eaters and the producers of the food we eat. She says "When we walked, as a nation, away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry soap commercial."

I've seen that disconnect. When we first moved here to rural PA, and were looking for a house, we rode around the county with the real estate woman. Ant one point she said "I wish the farmers would sell this land fronting the roads so we could develop it. They don't need it anyway." I was sitting in the front seat, and I felt my husband's hand on my shoulder- apparently I was about to fly out of the car in indignation. I remember thinking "Who on earth does she think is going to feed her if the farmers sell the land for new houses?" Sadly, more people here think like the real estate woman than like me, and new houses pop up like mushrooms. Mushrooms, by the way, are among nature's clean-up crew- feasting on the dead and rotting.

Kingsolver goes on to quote Wendell Berry saying "Eaters must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used." And she gives an example of that disconnect through the lens of tomatoes packaged under the name Appalachian Harvest, and marketed to supermarket chains in Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia.

In this example, she tells how collection of approximately 37 farmers in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, working with a nonprofit group called Appalachian Sustainable Development jumped through all the hoops involved in selling produce to chain supermarkets; organic certification, "appropriate" packaging, training. Things were looking good, until midsummer 2005, when they were ready to reap what they had sown, turning the red tomatoes into greenbacks, grocery store buyers backed out. Cheaper organic tomatoes, trucked in from California, went on the grocery store shelves instead of the locally grown. The farmers took a loss, the surplus locally grown tomatoes were donated to the poor, and the supermarkets made money.

Kingsolver says that 81 cents out of every food dollar we spend goes to processors, marketers, transporters, with the remaining 19 cents going to farmers. Corporate farms take most of that, she says, adding "We complain about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might actually send back more than two dimes per buck to the humans putting seeds in the ground, harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn."

According to the Alabama Farmers Federation, Americans spend about 10.7 percent of their deisposable income on food, compared to the 14.9 percent Australians spend, and the 51 percent spent in India. Like cheap gasoline, we demand cheap food, without thinking of the hidden costs. Perhaps not even realizing there are hidden costs.


Next week Chuck and I are going to be participating in the Penny-wise Eat Local Challenge. This challenge seeks to provide an answer to the complaint that eating local is too expensive for most people.


During this week, we will be eating as much as possible from a "foodshed" defined by a 100 mile radius of our home in South Central Pennsylvania, reporting on the cost of the food. We will be using a budget of $144.00 for the week, with 2 people in our family. We are still under frost here, so much of what we will be eating will come from the things I canned, froze or dehydrated last year. Somethings simply are not grown locally- grain crops come to mind. For those, I have decided I will buy them from locally owned businesses rather than chain grocery stores.


I've always been a big advocate of Voting With My Dollar, or as I read on some website recently, Voting With My Fork. For so many reasons, keeping a supply of fresh, local food available to Americans is very important to me, from food safety issues, to emergency preparedness issues, to simple health reasons. If we continue to demand the cheap food regardless of hidden costs, we may wake up one morning to find we have no local food available. Let me urge you to vote with your dollar, or your fork, as well.
And, if any of you ladies mentioned above would like to drop by for dinner, I usually eat around 7.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hi, I'm Willa

And I'm a bottled water addict.

Sad but true. Now, here's where I try to justify my behavior- "It's my only addiction." "I only drink bottled water away from home." "I recycle all the bottles."

Actually, I do only drink bottled water when I am away from home. Well, OK, when I am away from home, or when I am downstairs and I don't want to go upstairs to refill my glass. And sometimes during the winter the water feed for the refrigerator freezes, so of course I have to drink bottled water then. But I don't really have a bottled water problem. Or do I?

And here's where we do the intervention.

Actually, I really hadn't thought about the issues surrounding bottled water. I hadn't really even realized there were issues surrounding bottled water. But back in February, Organic Bytes, the newsletter from the Organic Consumers Association arrived in my email box, with a headline stating "Ending Bottled water addiction will save money and environment" I followed the link, and discovered this tidbit "Supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, according to the Container Recycling Institute. That's enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Add in the additional amount of oil it takes to ship the bottles thousands of miles from extraction source to recipient, and your drink of H2O could be categorized with the "Hummers" of the world." (Organic Bytes # 103)

Add in the fact that bottled water isn't necessarily healthier, or even as well tested as tap water, and I am ready to wash this monkey off my back.

But how? And I don't mean that in a fluffy sort of way, this is a serious question for me. Here's the problem-
1) I drink a lot of water- I like to be very well hydrated.
2) I don't drink anything BUT water- no juice, teas or soda. When away from the house, there's no stopping by a convenience store and buying anything but water.
3) When in the car I can't drink and drive well, so I can't use a cup for water because it spills down the front of me.

An additional issue is that most tap water around here has too much chlorine in it for my taste. Once it has gone through the filter on the fridge, or the Britta, it's OK, but right from the tap is like drinking a swimming pool.

So- I have to find a bottle-like container that is not plastic that I can refill with filtered tap water at home and take with me. I have unpleasant childhood memories of the smell of canteens, so the stainles steel bottles are all that appealing to me. But I could get two 27 oz. bottles from Greenfeet.com for around $25.00. The only other thing that comes to mind is the glass bottles that things like Snapple and Lipton Tea come in. But in order to acquire a supply of these- (and I would need several bottles, because I'm lazy) I would either have to find a heavy consumer of these products willing to give me the bottles, or purchase them myself and throw out the stuff inside. I could purchase a LOT of Snapple for $25.00, I guess.

Any suggestions, anyone?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Hey, I'm back!

I was out of town for most of last week, at a conference for work. For the most part, it was a good experience; I learned a great deal and had a pretty good time. I was immersed in a culture I know very little about- the conference was for people who are associated with youth summer camps. The not-for-profit for whom I work has summer camps as a component of the operation, but I am not generally involved with them. Along with the seminars, there was an exhibitors hall, a small city of booths where vendors reeled conference go-ers in with hooks baited with samples of all things camp.

I got some cool swag, including a peacock feather I can balance on my finger, but as I walked through the vendors village, I found I was really discouraged by the state of food in our summer camps. (I guess if I were still involved with schools, I would be equally depressed about the state of food there, too.) Food items were about as real as Saturday morning cartoons, designed to appeal to kids who eat the things advertised on them. Highly processed, brightly colored, they grated on my nerves, already exposed from listening to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma on the way to the conference. I asked a young camp director about the food choices; she replied that most of the food served at her camp was micro-wave ready. A vegetarian who lives on Kraft Mac and Cheese during her summer tenure, she added "It's because of all the food allergies. The food has to be bland or the kids get sick." That didn't make sense to me, but before I could question her further, the currents of people intent on samples of Bugjuice and peanut-less peanut butter swept us apart.
I was left with a sense of despair- how will we ever change the future when the kids are being trained to eat Kid's Food? Somewhere out in blogger-land, I read an excellent series of articles about kids food and kids eating food, unfortunately I can't find the post, nor remember the poster. I DO remember that it reinforced my opinion that feeding kids special kids food creates a generation of picky eaters.

My email brought me a post from Local Forage in which Carla talks about her appearance on a radio show with author Sandor Katz and Taylor Boetticher, the charcutier (translation from the French- Pork Butcher) of The Fatted Calf . A flurry of link-clicking took me to Amazon.com, where I was able to add a whole bunch of books on food and the politics of eating to my wish list. I was surprised to find there were so many that I had never heard of.

On the home front, Chuck took care of my seedlings very well. These are tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Anyone want to guess what I am using as plant markers?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Oh, my aching garden



My hamstrings are reminding me that gardening season is here. I'm a middle class American, doing a sedentary job; I don't do a lot of squatting in the course of my work. But Sunday was a bright and beautiful day, coming on the heels of a lot of rain and gloom, and Chuck and I worked on the garden. And, like every year, I am reminded of my forgotten resolution of the previous year, namely, to get into gardening shape by doing squats.

I've mentioned before that we are doing Square Foot Gardening this year. (Or, as I heard Chuck telling one of our sons on the telephone while we were out working in the garden "Your mother is micromanaging the garden this year.") I've had the book for a while, but have just been too lazy to try to convince Chuck that we needed to do it, and then to actually DO it. But since we won't have access to a CSA this year, and since I am trying to make more than 50% of what we eat local, I wanted to get the highest yield possible from our garden.

We have 2 beds, 19 by 4 feet, for a total of 152 square feet.






On Sunday we (meaning Chuck) raked and smoothed both beds, laid drip irrigation hose in both beds (we used this last year and we were really pleased with the results), and laid planters paper on one bed, to suppress weeds. We didn't have enough paper to cover both beds, leading to a complex negotiation as to whether we will buy more paper for the second bed, or use a newspaper substitute.

Then we marked the squares on the paper covered bed. We used some synthetic green twine and aluminum wire bent into stakes. Finally, we planted 4 squares of onions- 72 to pull as green onions and 18 for large onions. We also planted potatoes. This year we are trying a tip we read in Mother Earth News, and planted in cardboard boxes.












One thing did occur to me in the middle of the night Sunday- I had forgotten to put in place anything to support the beans or tomatoes. Mel Bartholomew, the Square Foot Guru, suggests stainless steel pipe, but I don't know if we can afford that. We'll have to give this some thought.

I was reading Susan's blog, over at In My Kitchen Garden. She rejoices in the arrival of spring, but reminds us of how quickly things change in the season of growth. Let me add my voice to hers in reminding you to stop and look at all the tiny signs of spring that are all around us.

As it happens, I had taken some pictures of what's popping up in the woodland garden, and the horseradish beds. The new seed starts in the greenhouse window are looking good, too. I have 2 kinds of eggplant, 2 kinds of tomatoes and 4 kinds of peppers.

(Susan's camera is way better than mine, I think I'll have to take a look and see what she uses. Very few of the pictures I took came out well.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Party Dog


Well, last week I posted pictures of my grandpuppies for weekend dog blogging. This week, it's Party Dog, the dog with garb for every occasion. Here he is wearing his Mardi Gras outfit.

Party Dog, better known as Ender, came to live with us in late spring, 1995, just before my older son's 15th birthday. He was about 7 months old, and teenaged boy plus teenaged dog made a great pair. My son would put on his Rollerblades, and E would tow him around our neighborhood- they made quite a picture.

Ender stayed with us when my son went off to college, transfering his loyalty to my younger son, until he also moved away. E showed himself to be an urbane, cosmopolitan fellow, meeting the world in the form of the foreign exchange students who came to live with us. He also learned to tolerate a variety of college students who lived with us at different times. He preferred students who provided treats.

The last few months of his life, Ender discovered MySpace, and did quite a bit of blogging. You can read his thoughts here. He died 3 months ago, today, and we miss him.


Weekend Dog Blogging is hosted by Sweetnicks- you can see the full line-up each Sunday

Monday, March 19, 2007

An Appetite of Robins?


Most of us know to call a large group of loud black birds a murder of crows, thanks to the 1999 movie starring Cuba Gooding. But how many of us call the large group of starlings we see wheeling through the sky a murmuration? I don't know who chooses the collective nouns to identify large groups of animals, but I am always fascinated to read them. I understand an ostentation of peacocks, and a charm of finches, even an instrusion of cockroaches. But a bouquet of pheasants? A business of ferrets?


On Sunday afternoon, I glanced out the window here by the computer, and noticed a large number of robins perched there. We had snow on Friday, and there was still quite a bit on the ground, so I assumed the robins were waiting hungrily for a patch of ground to thaw out so they could eat some worms.


A bit later we went upstairs to fix dinner. As I washed my hands at the sink, it looked to me as though the hollybush in the backyard was getting ready to pull up roots and walk off; branches were trembling and shaking, the whole tree seemed to be in motion. None of the other trees in the yard were moving, so I looked more closely.

The holly bush was full of robins, feasting on the hollyberries. The tree is large, at least 10 feet tall, and big around, and I estimate there were 50 or more in the tree. You can't see them well in the picture, but if you look at the midpoint between the clothesline post and the red thing on the dog run, you can make out a stack of 4 birds, one on top of the other, as if they were sitting on a ladder. The tree is thick with them.

Today however, my tree is as empty of robins as it is of hollyberries. What better to call a large group of robins than an Appetite? If you would like to learn more animal group names, check out the San Diego Zoo animal group names page.

Despite the snow and the miserable head cold that struck me down over the weekend, it seems that spring is here. On the garden front, the leeks are growing valiantly in the greenhouse window, holding thier own but still looking like nothing more than tiny blades of grass. The tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds are luxuriating on the waterbed; planted on 3/14, only the Flame tomatoes have sprouted, everything else remains stubbornly under the soil.

I got my last shipment of seeds today, two kales, Black Tuscan and Red Russian from Sow Organic, in Oregon. I'm frustrated by the snow and cold. I want to plant things. In other years we have been able to get our potatoes in the ground on St. Patrick's Day; we weren't able to do that this year. I am thinking of starting some lettuces in a window box planter and trying to grow them in the window greenhouse. I tell myself I should be taking a more Buddhist approach and appreciate the end of winter without wishing it away. So I watch the robins and think about the purple flowers of the hellebore, buried under the snow near the waterfall, invisible for now, but there none the less.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Weekend Dinosaur, err, Dog blogging


I'm so excited about the idea of weekend dog blogging that I am writing this on Tuesday and saving it until the weekend. And these aren't even my dogs!
These behemoths belong to my son and his girlfriend, but they are so cute I am compelled to show them to the world. Beefeater Maximus, the lovely brindle gentleman, is about 10 months old, and weigh about 140 pounds. His fawn friend is Sequoia- she's about a year old and slightly over 100 pounds.
I first met Beefy in September, when my older son brought him along to my younger son's wedding. He was a cutie, about 4 or 5 months old. My dog Ender, a crabby old man of 12, didn't like him one bit, but the rest of us were captivated. My son told me that English Mastiffs are very low energy dogs, big couch potatoes, in fact.

Because Ender had some antisocial tendencies, before the majority of the wedding guests arrived he took a short vacation to the Dog Spa for the weekend, but Beefy didn't get banished. He did spend the afternoon looking around for E, with an expression on his face that said "Hey, where is that guy? He wasn't very much fun, but I miss him!"
All the guys went out for the bachelors party, and I got to be the good grandmother, babysitting the pup. My son told me that Beefy would sleep. HAH!
The perfect couch potato decided to have a very active period between 1 and 4 AM. He found and chewed on everything, and I mean EVERYTHING! It had been a very long time since I had either a baby or a puppy in the house, and some might say I am "housekeeping challenged". That meant that there was a lot of stuff to interest a puppy. Especially balls of handspun yarn, sitting so attractively in a bushel basket. And my dirty laundry, waiting in a pile to go to the laundry room. After a couple of hours of this, I thought my head would explode! I had to call my husband and tell him to come home RIGHT NOW!
But he is awfully cute. And it is kind of like watching dinosaurs in the backyard.



Weekend Dog Blogging is hosted by Sweetnicks; you can see a full line up on Sunday.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spring?


Yesterday, the first crocuses.

Today, a skein of tundra swans migrating overhead

Tomorrow, a predicted 7 inches of snow by 7 AM.


Sigh.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How's That Local Eating Thing Going?



My email yesterday brought me some thoughts from the Eat Local Challenge blog. VI gives a report card of sorts on how the Eating Local thing is going at his house here at the end of winter. I decided I'd take stock as well, and found we are doing OK, but not as well as I thought we were.

Our last couple of trips to the grocery store I had to buy garlic and onions, spinach and kale. Two sweet potatoes each week. Once the bounty of Texas Ruby Red grapefruits sent each year by my parents ran out, Chuck has been buying Clementines (are they oranges or tangerines?), and he has been purchasing some nasty, hard pears since we ate up our supply of local apples. I bought a parsnip and a bunch of celery to make some vegetable stock. Bleu Cheese and Feta, and the plastic American he insists on eating found it's way into the cart as well. Stonyfield Farm yogurt and shredded cheese in bags, a loaf of nut and flax bread round out the purchases, along with some brown rice rice cakes and a half dozen organic avocados from the local natural food market.

I guess that's not too bad, although I am embarrassed about the cheese. Good local artisan cheese isn't a problem around here- I get marvelous sheep's milk Romano Peccorino from the same guy I buy my lamb and pork from. His cheddar and gouda are pretty good, as well, but somehow I can't bring myself to shred them up and put them in things. Hence the bags. Another local dairy, Keswick Creamery has a nice selection of cheese, but are a little more difficult to find.
I used to always make my own yogurt, but I used non fat dry milk to save money. No way that's stuff is local, or even organic or sustainably produced. I did purchase a half gallon of good local milk this week, from Trickling Springs Creamery, and I will have to decide which is more important to me- the fat-free aspect or the local aspect. I struggle with the Stonyfield Farms piece of this- they look good, I haven't heard anything bad about them, but they aren't local.

In my freezer I have a ton of fruit- peaches, cherries, black raspberries, strawberries. Last year when we were feeding 4 people, every Sunday morning Chuck made a huge fruit salad for breakfast, supplementing whatever fruit was in season here with tropicals and out-of-season grocery store fruit. When we started really watching where our food came from, I froze or canned a LOT of the summer fruits I love so that we could have the good stuff all year round. I didn't think about the fact that 2 of our four Sunday morning breakfasters wouldn't be with us this year. Now that we are only 2 people eating, we quickly discovered a fruit dichotomy. I love the summer fruits in my salads; berries, cherries, peaches, while he prefers melons, kiwi and the fall fruits- apples and pears. Sunday morning fruit salads became a point of mild contention, and sort of fell by the wayside.

However, I have another theory about the demise of the fruit breakfast salad. Eating locally is by necessity eating within season. More and more I find that I don't want to eat things that are not in season; in the summer I have to have a salad every day, but in December, salads are not appealing. January sees me making pots of soup that cook for days in the crock pot, August has us eating vats of gazpacho. I know that fruit will taste good, but it just isn't what my body wants right now.

Vegetables- I have winter and summer squash in the freezer- I have been using them to make our breakfast muffin. I still have quite a few tomatoes; frozen, canned and dried. I have a couple heads of escarole; I need to find a recipe other than soup with white beans and escarole. The frozen leeks are about gone, but I still have several cups of dried. I have a lot of frozen roasted Anaheim peppers- perhaps Chile rellenos for this Sunday's breakfast. Chard and turnip greens are lurking in the corners of the freezer, maybe some corn.

I have to fight my tendency to hoard food and get that freezer cleaned out. I'm not too worried about the fruit- as the new fruit comes in, I can make jam with whatever is still frozen. (Of course, then we have the problem of who will eat all that jam! Christmas presents for everyone next year, I guess!) Chuck made a tasty fruit milkshake the other day, and that's a possibility. But I've been eating a really tasty ice cream substitute lately; a serving size container of fruit or vanilla yogurt, a half cup or so of frozen or partially thawed fruit, a tablespoon of Sucanat or home made peach jam. Put all that into a bowl, stir it up and pop it into the freezer for an hour or two. Be sure and get it out before ice crystals form. The yogurt thickens enough that it can pass as ice cream, almost. If I forget about it and let it freeze solid, I just let it thaw a bit, stir and it's good to go. Does the nice creaminess come from the inulin in the Stonyfield Farms yogurt? Guess I will have to try making my own again.



I already have some changes I need to make in mind. Unless I stumble into a new one, we won't have a CSA, so I have planned out a less haphazard garden, using the Square Foot Gardening idea. I've already got my leeks started- they look like tiny green threads in the picture below. We do have a lot of local produce stands where I can get the regular vegetables, but they don't usually offer anything out of the norm.
I'll freeze less fruit, no matter how my hoarding gene nags me. But I will purchase lots more of the Gold Rush apples we bought this fall. A Golden Delicious cross, man, these were maybe the best apple I have ever eaten; I hear they store very well too. I live in an area thick with orchards, and fruit is easy to come by. Toigo, one of the larger local orchards carries a tremendous variety of apples and Asian pears, and does sell in the markets in DC and Maryland.
If I had to grade our effort, I guess I would give us a C+. We'll see what my grade is next year at this time.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The robins lied!

Well, first the American Food Industry cheats me of my full quota of kinds of squash and melons, and now the robins lie to me. Life is hard, I tell you.

Last Tuesday, March 6, I saw the first robin of the spring. I was very happy; while we had a late winter here in S. Central PA, with cold and snow not coming until February, once winter arrived, it was brutal. Temperatures in the deep freeze for the first 3 weeks, and snow, covered with ice covered with snow again.

But Monday, March 5 was sunny and warm. There was a little snow on the ground, back in the back where it is shaded. On Tuesday the backyard was full of birds- all the familiar winter birds, juncos, chickadees, cardinals were there, plus a host of the birds you don't realize have been gone until they return. The ground was covered with mourning doves, plump and pinky-grey, wandering around like maiden aunts or fussy grandmothers. The grackles and the starlings were marching about, turning over leaves in that military, authoritative way they have, and mobbing the feeder. When I saw the two robins, I knew spring was on the way, and I celebrated. I planted seeds, I dreamed of my garden.

Wednesday we had 8 inches of snow. Schools were cancelled; I got a snow day from work. It was cold again, and the winds blew incessantly. We didn't see another robin until today (Sunday). I don't know where they hid out- perhaps they high tailed it back south for the week. I had no idea that robins were such liars! I'll never trust them again.
Well, in all fairness, perhaps the robins were just as tired of the winter as I, and they were just pushing the season. It is a beautiful day today, after all.
The two pictures show the same part of the backyard. The first picture is just closer. In the second picture you can see the Kwan Yin statue in the center of the photo.
I heard from my friend Sveta, in Minsk; she tells me spring is arriving there, and the birds are out. She planned to spend her International Women's Day holiday taking a walk in the forest to look (and listen) for birds. I think of Sveta everytime I look at the birds in my backyard; we know each other because her son spent 3 weeks with us last summer as a foreign exchange student in a special summer program. We found we share many interests, especially birds. We exchange letters and pictures frequently via email, and I have learned much from Sveta and her son Vadim. I am so proud and pleased that she reads this blog.
And that reminds me- now is the time to think about hosting a foreign exchange student next school year. We participated in 3 programs- one full year exchange student from Korea, one half year student from Brazil, and the 3 week student from Belarus. They were all good experiences; we had fun, and I hope the kids did as well. You don't have to have a nuclear family with kids in high school to host, either- the first year we had a student, our youngest was in his last year of college. I've known single people who were hosts, as well. We worked with AYUSA; there are other organizations, as well.

Monday, March 5, 2007

We're being Cheated!


When you go to the grocery store, how many kinds of eggplant can you find? There's the deep purple one that everyone recognizes, perhaps the long, thin lighter purple asian eggplants. If you are really lucky, and shop at a "fancy" store, you might find white eggplants, smaller than the "regular" kind. At a farmers market during growing season, especially in an upscale area, you might be able to find Rosa Bianco, with lovely lavender swirls on a white background. But that's about it, at least in the places where I shop.

Well, if this what you know of eggplants, let me tell you, you don't know nothin'!

I just got my hard copy of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds 2007 catalog, and I am in awe. Jere Gettle, Baker Creek's founder, lists 39 kinds of eggplant. Thirty Nine! Seven pages of different kind of melons, not including watermelons, and 25 varieties of cucumbers! Not to mention the six pages of winter squash, and the tomatoes broken down in to color categories- green, orange, pink, purple, red, striped, yellow and even white.

My jaw dropped; I was amazed. And as I thought about the variety of foods available at my local grocery store, the main thought running through my mind was "I've been cheated!" (Or maybe it was "I'm BEING Cheated!") Even in the best, fanciest, yuppiest grocery store you don't find this sort of variety in the produce section. So here we sit, eating the same 5 or 6 vegetables- corn, green beans, broccoli, lettuce. Wow, I'm hard pressed to think of others. Spinach, maybe? Carrots? This sparsity of veggies is perpetuated; we end up feeding our children the same few things. Why, when there are so many lovely things to eat in the world?

Transportation, for the most part, is the culprit. We get to eat those things that tranport well. The average dinner travels over 1500 miles "from field to fork" , so we are limited to eating things that can be picked green and travel well. By and large, being picked green and transporting well doesn't equal tasting good.

Fear is another reason- we are afraid we won't like the taste of something, or that we won't know how to prepare it. We pass that on to our kids too, feeding them special "kid friendly foods" and teaching them that they really shouldn't be expected to like anything they have never had before.

How can we fix it? First, by eating local. If you can't garden, join a CSA (Community Sposored Agriculture). Find one near you at Local Harvest or The Eat Well Guide or The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. If there are no CSA's near you, try a farmers market. It's a fun Saturday trip.

Second, be willing to experiment. I had collards and kale for the first time this year, because they were in my CSA share- I LOVED them! We tried celeriac for the first time, too, same reason. If it's in your CSA box and you have already paid for it, what a great incentive to try it at least once. At the farmers market, ask the farmer, chances are she will have some recipes or cooking suggestions. Or use the Force, er, the Internet. You can find a recipe for anything there. Of course, if you are reading food blogs, you are probably already an adventerous eater, and I'm preaching to the choir here!


By the way, there are places in your grocery store where you can find diversity- among the processed foods. The cereal aisle, the chip aisle, the soda aisle. Isn't it pitiful that we have so much choice amongst the manufactured food (Typically made from corn and wheat, plus a big slug of preservatives and artificial colors) and so little choice amongst the real foods?
Well, I've placed my seed order. I did have a problem related to the number of varieties available, though- I had a hard time choosing only the amount I can fit in my garden. Oh, well, I have long tried to convince my husband that the front lawn is wasted space- perhaps this is the year I'll put a new garden in out there. Then you'll be able to identify my house- I'll be the one with 39 eggplants instead of bluegrass.