Monday, November 8, 2010

R.I.P. Felix

Felix lost his battle today. We're devastated. He'll be missed tremendously.
There's not really anything else to say.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Did You Vote?

Well, did you? Regardless of your politics, if you live in the US I hope you participate/d in the political process today. If you do nothing else to influence the policies that shape how you experience life, I hope you took ten minutes out of your day to vote.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Got Chocolate?

Kristen at Rage Against The Minivan posted these videos today. You may have (hopefully) read about this issue before. But this series of short videos (there are five in all) really sheds light on the reality of cheap chocolate. It also highlights the illogical and immoral sense of entitlement to inexpensive indulgences that seems to pervade US consumer thought. I hope you'll watch these videos and then come back and share your thoughts here.

And then here, here, and here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What (To Do With) The Duck?

This is less an actual post than a request for input. I have had, for a while now, a duck in my freezer. I bought it at my son's request, but never prepared it because... I don't know what to do with it! The duck came packaged with a packet of sauce. But naturally (or, unnaturally, as it turns out) the sauce is full of stuff I don't want to eat or feed my family. So, I figured I would just check with all of you to see if you have any recipes you love for preparing duck. I don't have time to go surfing the net for recipes right now, so I'm really hoping your collective wisdom will come through for me! Whaddaya say?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Where Should You Buy Organic Eggs?

Well, according to this morning's newsletter from Dr. Mercola, you should probably buy they from a small local producer. The Mercola article relates a report from the Cornucopia Institute (there is a good, short video on the front page if you scroll down just a little and then an organic egg brand scorecard located here) that sheds a rather dismal light on the production methods responsible for the majority of "organic" eggs in the US.

The short version is that eggs labeled organic which come from large producers are produced almost exactly the same way traditional eggs are produced. The one notable difference is that the chickens are fed organic feed (in their overcrowded buildings, shut away from the great outdoors). It sounds like these big producers are only paying lipservice to organic standards and the expectations of consumers. Newsflash, I know...

Just one more reason to support your local family farms!

This post is participating in Fight Back Friday hosted by Food renegade.

Friday, October 8, 2010

So, Here's The Deal. (In Which I Ramble)

Yes, it seems I've taken an unanticipated hiatus from posting. I've tried to write about that, to explain, many times. But... the right words just were not there for me. There's been a lot going on here. For months. More than a few crises, epiphanies, and changes of direction.

Initially, the lack of posts here was due to the combination of me being busy with what can be, fairly accurately, described as "many things breaking," and the simultaneous realization that what I wanted to write for Please Be Edible had moved beyond what I originally said I was going to write about that. That second bit resulted in my brain temporarily checking out while my emotions wrangled, in my free time, with the question "what to do?" If you just read "free time" and thought to yourself oh yes, I've read about that mythical creature before then you probably understand why this process took me so long to resolve in my mind. To the extent that it has been resolved.

As I was starting to figure things out, several things happened. It felt like they all happened back to back. Boom, boom, boom. But, really it's taken a couple months to unfold.

The boys in my life have been difficult. Well, except for Teak, who has been behaving himself. Good dog.

First, Felix relapsed. We almost lost him. Again.

And it was all my fault.

I was too busy, too distracted, too disorganized. I lost track of his medication schedule. But thankfully, when his condition changed, I noticed it. Today, he is improving.

Then school started. For the kids. For me. This is my second to last semester working on a degree I started almost ten years ago. My thoughts on that process and the state of education in this country could be a whole blog unto itself. But for now, it's a matter of balancing all the things I need to get done each day. This is a precarious balance. Little things can throw everything out of whack. Big things... well, it's just bad...

So, when I found myself at the ER with my son, who had a four inch wide hole in his abdomen and was pulsing blood onto the gurney, I just accepted right away that things were going to be tough for a while.  Oddly, or not so oddly, really, when you think about it, it has been rediscovering the joy of reading for pleasure that has helped me keep on an even keel. I owe Su-sieee! Mac over at This and That. Here and There. Now, Sometimes Then. a big thank you for this, because she suggested I join that Cozy Mystery Challenge. It's all about balance people.

So, that's where I am right now. Too little time. Too much to say, but can't find quite the right words. Trying to stay afloat. I will post more often, now that things are starting to settle a bit. But, I'm writing a lot, a ridiculous amount really, for school. And that has to get done first. Meanwhile, brace yourselves for a few posts on bigger picture topics. I've had these stuck in my mind for a while now and just haven't been able to shake them- so I've decided to share. You lucky folks you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Review And Giveaway!

Back a little while, I posted about the five Louise Penny books I read as part of the Cozy Mystery Challenge. At that time, the sixth book in the series was about a month away from being released. Well, Penny's publicist saw my previous review and sent me a copy of the new release, Bury Your Dead. I've written a review and will be giving away a copy! You can read the review below, but to enter the giveaway you'll have to click over to a new blog I've started, which is dedicated to books. The link is at the end of the review. More news on Please Be Edible's future coming soon.

If you’ve never read anything in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, there’s something you need to know. This review is of the sixth book in the series. You will find no spoilers in this review. However, if you are new to Chief Inspector Gamache and company, start at the beginning with Still Life and work your way up to this one. This will both allow you to avoid reading spoilers in the later books and, at least as importantly in my opinion, allow you to learn the characters’ characters (did you get that?) in the same order Penny did. I believe you would have a very different relationship with some of the important characters if your first meeting involved only the full brunt of their superficial aspects rather than the nuanced introduction you receive when reading the series in order. It’s up to you; but I’m confident you will thank yourself for starting at the beginning.

The first books in this series were set primarily in and around the cozy, if somewhat murder-prone, fictional village of Three Pines in Quebec, Canada. Bury Your Dead gives the weary village residents a break. There is no fresh murder in Three Pines. Instead, Penny introduces us to some new characters during Inspector Gamache’s recuperative stay in Quebec City. Recuperative stay? Well, yes. While faithful readers were off killing time between books, Inspector Gamache was busy as ever executing his duties. In the course of things, something went horribly amiss. So, when we meet up with Gamache again in Bury Your Dead, he is in recovery mode. Unfortunately for the Inspector, someone forgot to deactivate the devil’s GPS and murder finds him even in Quebec City. Bury Your Dead dishes up one fascinating dollop of Quebec history, two murders, three four mysteries, and too many red herrings to count.

Penny is a devastatingly good mystery writer. You see this in the lyrical writing, the reticulating plot lines, and the vibrant descriptions that bring it all alive. But! The trait that really sets Penny’s books apart is their grounding in “the good.” All the traditional elements of a mystery are there, but Penny’s spin on them, woven quietly throughout each book, suggests an unflappable hopefulness about the world. Sure, you’ll meet characters who make terrible decisions with heart-rending outcomes. But this author just never takes the easy way out of a tricky situation, and doesn’t let her readers off the proverbial emotional hook either. Where others write characters you love to hate, Penny writes characters you hate to love. But you will love them, because Penny’s particular skill is in her portrayal of humanity. She presents characters as essentially good, but inherently fallible. If that sounds a bit heavy, relax. While you will meet complicated characters who are sometimes torn between emotions, who struggle to figure out how to do the right thing, and who sometimes fail, along the way they visit fascinating places, share what they learn, and eat decadently. And if that’s not enough for you, there’s also the judicious use of congenial snark.

Click here and scroll to the bottom of the review to enter the giveaway!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Let's just skip over the part where I try to explain why I haven't posted in almost a month and go right to the part where I tell you that, after considerable mental floundering, I've given a lot of thought to where I want to go with this blog and that, while I don't have a complete plan for its future just yet, I have some ideas- the fruit of which will soon be forthcoming. Meanwhile, there are a few things I'd like to wrap up- the fruit of which will also be forthcoming.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Watch This: Educate Yourself

You really can't be an informed voter or citizen without an understanding of the issues discussed in this video. If you can't see the whole video screen, click here to open it separately.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

GE Salmon About To Be Approved With No Labeling?

I'm really starting to think the FDA should be considered a subsidiary of a corporate conglomeration rather than a government body intended to serve the public.

The FDA is "considering" approval of genetically engineered salmon. From the center for Food Safety article:
FDA announced the same day that it will hold a public comment period and a hearing on labeling for the transgenic salmon, which seems to presuppose that the controversial GE fish will be approved. If the GE fish is approved, Agency officials are undecided as to whether they will require any product labeling.
NO PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD has been opened on the question of whether to approve GE fish and there is only a BRIEF PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD on the question of labeling GE fish. Check out the article at the Center for Food Safety website, to read more about this issue and to make your voice heard.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In The Garden

It is totally cool to be able to toddle into the backyard and come back with dinner. THAT'S food security.

It seemed like it took forever for the tomatoes to set fruit. Now, the plants are loaded with fruits. I've been harvesting paste tomatoes for a while now, but no slicers. Yesterday I spied my first Cherokee Purple nearing ripeness (not pictured here). Woohoo! (Next year: blow off school and get the garden in on time!)

I've started planting the fall garden. This is broccoli. I have more to put in, but nowhere to plant it! Time to expand the garden again.

It will be a race to the finish to see if the melons have time to ripen. I was feeling pretty confident until today, when I noticed some kind of borer damage in the melon patch. Go melons, go!

These Echinacea have had a hard summer. Something has been eating the petals. This was actually the first time I saw them more with petals than without since I planted them in late spring.

Cozy Mystery Challenge Update

Knowing that I would have little to no time to read for pleasure come September, I jumped right into reading for this challenge. I've completed five of the six books so far- and enjoyed every minute of it!

All five books I've read have been by the same author, and from the same series. This is Louise Penny's Armand Gamache mystery series. All the books in this series are set in and around the cozy, if somewhat murder-prone, fictional village of Three Pines, Quebec, Canada. The first book in this series, Still Life, was Penny's debut novel. It was a strong start.

In all five books, Penny displays a great knack for describing the complexities of human feelings and motivations. She deftly illustrates how an individual can be both wonderfully good and startlingly bad. And she wraps these descriptions up in a package gilded with descriptions of scenes that paint a lifelike and charming picture of the fictional Three Pines community. I don't want to tell you what happens, or even tell you too much about the characters (and boy are they characters!). Suffice it to say that I think if you pick up Penny's books you will be pleasantly surprised. My only caveat is that I recommend starting at the beginning of the series in order to avoid prematurely learning things from books that occurred earlier in the series. In order, the series is:
Still Life
A Fatal Grace (US title)/Dead Cold
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder (US title)/The Murder Stone
The Brutal Telling

And, a sixth book, titled Bury Your Dead, is set to be released September 28. That's not quite enough time for me to finish the challenge, so I'll have to pick up a sixth book elsewhere (and my local library system just put out a list of recommended cozies- how convenient!). But I will definitely be looking for The Brutal Telling later this fall. For more info on the Cozy Mystery Challenge, click the bookshelf to the right in the sidebar.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reinventing The Wheel

It's been a while since I've posted here. Life has been busy. And complicated. And challenging. I've started multiple blog posts, only to not quite be able to pull my thoughts together. Just too much happening all at once in my mind. Sometimes that's just how it goes.

On the up side, I've seen compelling evidence of the difference resulting from the dietary changes we've made, and that even The Boy, who has fought these changes at almost every step, is starting to appreciate the difference in how he feels- at least when he stops eating this way. That's worth a lot. And it's part of what pushed me over the edge to tackle another, long neglected, food goal. Tonight's dinner preparation was the first of the kids' cooking lessons.

Sometime back toward the beginning of this journey, the reality of my own spectacular lack of training in the "kitchen arts" sank in. It was an overwhelming realization to confront while also trying to radically change the totality of one's dietary habits. But it also made me cognizant of the need to prepare my children better than I had been prepared. Yet, being at the beginning of that journey myself left me frustrated and not ready to tackle teaching anyone else. The goal was shelved until recently.

I'm still learning how to cook with real ingredients rather than short-cut ingredients that are convenient but packed with stuff we shouldn't actually eat. I still get frustrated in the kitchen on a fairly regular basis. And, sadly, I still botch meals on a fairly regular basis. Fortunately, I have learned that thats's one of the lessons the kids need to learn- that developing cooking skills takes time. It takes trials and, inevitably, errors.

I had been getting frustrated with the restrictions on what I could prepare- not only from my own lack of knowledge, but due to the kids "won't eat" lists. And I had grown tired of complaints when things didn't go as planned in dinner preparation.

Finally, this combination of circumstances came together to push me to just jump in where I am and let the kids learn first hand the trials and tribulations of feeding your family. I feel like I'm reinventing the wheel. I know the knowledge to manage a kitchen well and prepare tasty wholesome foods is out there. I'm still working on tracking it down. But that's okay. We can learn together- and they can avoid waking up when they're pushing forty and realizing they don't know how to appropriately feed their bodies. It'll be an adventure. The kids will gain a useful skill. I'll gain a few nights off from cooking duty. And hopefully we'll all gain greater appreciation for each others efforts. Wish us luck on this new journey- we're going to need it!

How about you- have you taught your kids to cook? Do you have any tips to share?

This post is participating in Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Giveaway Winner!

Well, we have a giveaway winner! The winner was drawn old-school in order to accommodate entries that combined, for example, a comment and following in one comment submission. Each entry was written on a slip of paper. All entry slips were combined in a bag and then mixed and shaken. Finally, one slip was drawn at random. I'd like to thank everyone who entered Please Be edible's first giveaway. This was fun!

The winner of the $60 CSN Stores gift certificate is Debbie C! Debbie C, your email address has been forwarded to CSN Stores and you should receive your prize via email before too long. Enjoy!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cozy Mystery Challenge

This is completely unrelated to food and gardening... But Su-sieee! Mac recently blogged about belatedly joining in the 2010 Cozy Mystery Challenge and it looked like so much fun I had to join in too. Briefly, a cozy mystery is a mystery sans naughty language, sex scenes, and gore and often involves an amateur sleuth. You can follow the bookshelf link to the right (looks just like the pic above) for more info, a fantastic book list, and the opportunity to join in too!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Homicide In The Garden

That's the title of the post I intended to write today. It was going to be a double homicide. And I was going to perpetrate it. In the end, though, I just couldn't go through with it. I hope the two near-victims appreciate the reprieve. More than that, I hope they redeem themselves; but I'm not holding my breath.

You see, last year was the first year I tried the much celebrated Sungold tomatoes. They produced well but, like most of last year's tomatoes, tasted watery because it rained all freaking summer last year (except the time I was away which was crazy hot and bone dry and, naturally, did in much of the garden. *sigh*). This year, I gave the Sungolds another chance. It's been a tense relationship from the start. They have severe B.O.

I tried to ignore it. I tried to be sympathetic. I hoped it would go away and be replaced by that lovely normal tomato smell. It didn't. It got worse. The other day when I touched one of the Sungold plants it made my hands reek. When I came inside, The Girl actually recoiled from the smell... after I had washed my hands twice. The relationship just seems headed down a dead end road. Even with the new garden bed, space is at a premium in my food plot. Everybody needs to pull their own weight and, I now realize, not offend the gardener.

But I couldn't pull them out. I haven't given them a fair trial. I would just be wrong.

So, I'll check freecycle for someone giving away hazmat gear and walk wide circles around this variety. I won't grow them again next year. And I'll no doubt spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what nutter of a plant breeder thought it would be cool to introduce to home gardens tomato plants that cause gardeners to smell like roadkill with a side of toxic waste.

Please also see Would You Eat This? I'm so curious to know!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Would You Eat This?

Paula Crossfield over at Civil Eats recently posted an interview with Daniel Imhoff, discussing his new book The CAFO Reader. If you don't follow "food news," CAFO refers to Confined Animal Feeding Operations. It's an interesting interview and I encourage you to read it. However, at one point, Imhoff states "Ultimately where we’re going now is in-vitro meat, where we don’t need animals at all, we just clone tissue, and manufacture animal flesh." I've been thinking about this for several days and I'm curious... would you eat this?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Few Quick Recipes That Are Healthier Than Fast Food

It has been really interesting to me to read your challenges and concerns about eating healthier in the comments of the giveaway post. Many of them are my challenges as well. Over the last six (almost!) months, I have become much better at avoiding fast/convenience foods and eating healthier instead. But... I totally understand the problem of not having the time, or energy, to cook a healthy meal after a busy day. So, here are a few of the "quick but healthier than fast food" recipes I fall back on when I just don't feel like cooking.

The first one I have posted before. That's my Who Hash recipe. The only caveat with this one is that it does involve rice (brown rice, because it's better for you! * Ha! Naturally, having posted that, I then read this article that presents a different view of that. You be the judge!). Sometimes I am too tired to wait for rice to cook. But rice is also something that can be made ahead of time (heck, you can probably even freeze cooked rice for a quick go-to). This is such a simple, filling food- and the kids love it.

Next is what I call Cheater's Chili. I know chili aficionados will be appalled, so it you consider yourself in that category please look away now. Cheater's Chili caveat: involves canned ingredients. I try to avoid canned ingredients these days, but on days where the choice is between canned or take-out, I try to go for the can.

Cheater's Chili

brown a pound of ground beef (with onion if you have it, but it's fine without too)
if there's a lot of fat, drain it off (I don't bother if the meat was very lean)
dump in a couple cans of pre-seasoned chili beans (I like Bush's)
dump in a large can of diced tomatoes
chop a green bell pepper and toss that in
add chili powder
stir while heating through
eat and put leftovers in the fridge

And this last "recipe" is really just a way to prepare salmon (Pacific wild-caught is best, but honestly, you could do a variation of this with canned salmon for less money).

Yummy Salmon

Cover the bottom of a large pan with diced tomatoes, basil, garlic, chopped onion, and chopped/sliced black olives. You can use canned seasoned tomatoes and it works great. Lay the salmon fillet on top of the mix. Cover and heat until salmon is cooked through. The flavors melt together nicely. You don't need to stir this or anything, but use a medium heat so it cooks quickly but doesn't burn to the bottom.

Okay, one more thought... We stir-fry pretty often. I don't really consider stir-fry to be super quick, but it just occurred to me that if I pre-cooked the meat when it was convenient and kept it in the freezer, I could toss it in to re-heat with the veggies and save some time. Especially if I had cooked rice in the freezer. Has anybody frozen cooked rice? How did it work out? I think I have to go try that now... Anybody else care to share your "quick but healthier than fast food recipes"?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Buying Local And Balancing Needs

It wasn't that long ago that I finally started feeling a bit settled about my "buy local" routine. I had figured out what day I needed to go out to the farm store in order to get milk before the gallons of organic whole milk sold out. And I'd found a substitute free-range organic relatively-local egg source after becoming concerned about the cause of the brittle egg shells on the local eggs at the farm store. But recently, I experienced a bit of a setback.

The farm store changed milk suppliers. Previously, we were able to buy gallons of organic whole milk. It came in standard plastic gallon jugs from a creamery a bit north of here in Pennsylvania. I'm not a fan of plastic; but storing multiple glass half gallon jugs in our refrigerator is just not practical. It's also more expensive.

When the farm store switched milk suppliers, they changed to a more local creamery. This outfit has various fancy certifications and shaves a few food miles off the end product. But, for my family, there are a couple problems with this change. The first problem is that milk is now only available in glass half gallons. Also, the price to buy a gallon of milk is now roughly $7.50, compared to the $5.95 for the plastic jug we were previously buying. But there's still another problem. We think the new milk tastes gross. I've never really imagined myself to be a milk connoisseur, but let me tell you, these milks are two completely different beasts.

Now, we had discovered a while ago that the natural food store carries the same brand of milk we had been purchasing from the farm store (which is closer to us). But, the natural food store carries an even smaller quantity of milk than the farm store, and the delivery day is a problem. You see, the natural food store is where I found the eggs I've been buying. But, the delivery day is different for the eggs and the milk, and if you don't get out there on delivery day you don't get what you are after. Plus, the natural food store is farther away. Multiple trips out there each week would burn up a lot of gas.

Honestly, the logistics of buying healthy local food is sometimes daunting. I understand why so many people don't make a serious effort to buy local. It is far more convenient to go to the grocery store and get everything at once, regardless of how it was produced. It's cheaper too. In the short run. But once your eyes are opened to the long-term costs to your health and environment, it's hard to go back to buying standard grocery store fare. Plus, I've become spoiled by the rich tastes of food raised right. I recently purchased grocery store brand organic, "cage-free" eggs in a pinch. They were pale and tasteless and so disappointing.

So far, the "solutions" I've come up with have been less than optimal. I know I'm not the only farm store customer who us unhappy with the change. The farm store is pushing hard to sell the new brand, but I'm hoping that they'll switch back to the previous brand. Until then, my choices seem to be either eggs or milk, or to buy non-local organic milk or eggs at the grocery store.

Sometimes buying local is a balancing act.Maybe it always is. In a strange way, I've come to appreciate the challenge. When I have to work a little more for the food I want to feed my family, I appreciate it a little more. The extra effort makes me think consciously about the food choices I make and is a reminder of why it is important to make these choices. Sure, I'd be quite happy for the process to be easier. But in the mean time, I try to embrace the bumps in the road as opportunities not to be missed. I've come a long way since February!

This post is a participant in Fight Back Friday, generously hosted by Food Renegade.

Also, check out our first GIVEAWAY!

A Giveaway! $60 Gift Certificate

I've wanted to hold a giveaway at Please Be Edible for a while now, so I was thrilled when CSN Stores contacted me offering one of my lucky readers a $60 gift certificate good at any of their online stores. Whatever your household needs, I'm pretty sure these folks have it. And really, who wouldn't love sixty bucks toward stuff they need?

Maybe you have a dog like our Luna who has put you in the market for new dining room furniture. Don't ask. Seriously. I'll cry. No naughty dog? CSN Stores has everything to go on or under the dining table too. How cute are these glasses? Or maybe this rug?

Or maybe you need new kitchen gear instead? Personally, I'd be thrilled to take home these gems...
Need something else? Swing by CSN Stores for the full range of options.You get the idea, right? Good stuff, and lots of sale prices!

So, the "rules":

Each entrant has up to three chances to win.
1. For your first chance, leave a comment below telling me your biggest challenge or concern regarding eating healthier.
2. For an additional chance, mention this giveaway on your blog or any social media (and then post a comment below telling me you did).
3. And for another chance, follow this blog with Google Friend Connect and post below telling me you did (or that you already follow).

You must enter by midnight, Eastern Standard Time, Friday July 23, 2010. One entry will be drawn at random and announced Saturday July 24. You've got one week to get your entries in!

The $60 gift certificate is a one-time use certificate. You have to use it all at once, at one of the CSN Stores shops. Winner will be responsible for shipping charges. International fees may apply if winner resides in Canada.

Per CSN Stores, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada. (I know, I know...sorry!)

The winner will be announced in a separate blog post on July 24. When submitting entries, please make sure I can reach you via email as the gift certificate will be emailed to the winner!

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Help! Calling All Birders!

Earlier this evening, I opened the back door to let Luna in and something weird happened. She didn't bound over to me. In fact, she stood at the edge of the patio smiling at me, but not approaching. I called her. She nudged something on the ground. The something on the ground moved. I called Luna more firmly. She came in. I went out.

Luna had a bird. I think it is a young mourning dove, but I'm not 100% confident. Can anybody confirm that for me? The poor thing lost a lot of feathers (including its' tail feathers), but seems to be generally okay otherwise. I don't believe it can fly now. We have it in a big box with mixed seed from the bird feeder and some water. My goal is to keep it alive until it can fly again. Advice?!?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nature: 1, Gardener: Wha...?

I walk my garden every day. Several times. Weather does not deter me. So, I like to think I have a pretty good idea of what's going on in my garden, more or less, at any given time. But apparently this is yet another example of the human ability to delude oneself.

Today, as I was checking in on the original bean bed, I glanced over to the grape trellis and noticed the grapes are filling out nicely. I stepped over for a closer look.

See? Grapes. Plump and round, just like they're supposed to be. But what's that behind the grapes?

It's the nest of one clever bird! I'm sorry to report that I don't know who built this. I imagine whoever it was is probably done with it by now. But perhaps they'll be back sometime since they managed to find such prime real estate. This nest was built straddling the wooden top rail of the grape trellis. No shaking or weaving and bobbing in the wind. It is surrounded by grapes, which means the bugs come right to whoever is sitting on the nest. Plus, the giant grape leaves both shelter this nest and collect water right at the front door. I'm totally impressed! I have walked past this nest everyday- probably for months!- and had no idea it was there. Nature wins again!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Sometime very early this morning, the sound of the storm beginning worked its way into my still sleeping mind. By the time I got out of bed, it had been raining for perhaps a few hours. I was so relieved to look out the window and see my garden completely soaked. As I drank my coffee I thought about what a precarious life it is to depend upon rain arriving in a timely fashion for one's food crops to survive- the kind of existence the settlers lived, but also which many people around the world still live today. I feel fortunate to have the ability to turn a knob and water my garden when it needs it. But I also feel a responsibility not to abuse that ability. I've lost a lot of plants this year because I have refused to water that which I cannot eat.

In a way, this heat and drought has been an opportunity in the garden. This environment has forced plants to really fight for it and has made choosing which plants to save seed from far easier than it might be under more accommodating circumstances. For example, shortly after the first bean planting was up and looking good, some critter (bunnies, I suspect) went through the entire bed nibbling off all the leaves and chewing the stems to nubs. Only three plants were left with leaves on them. Fortunately, two of those were the Golden Rod Bush Beans I had planted the last of and hope to save seed from. A burst a hopefullness and the inability to force myself to look at the carnage again combined to result in me leaving that bed alone to see what would happen. Maybe some of the nubs would come back?

Miraculously, most of the nubs came back. Some of those plants have done ridiculously well and are now sporting beans. Those plants have been marked for seed saving because, honestly, a gardener can't ask for more from a plant than to survive and produce through bunny attacks, neglect, extreme heat and drought. Similarly, in the new garden some of the tomatoes are really taking off while others, like the Romas, are struggling. Same thing with the peppers, all of which I nearly lost to insect damage early on. So, while it is a worry and a pain to garden through a summer like this one has been so far, it is also a blessing to be able to select for seed from plants that are really outdoing themselves under these circumstances. And the best thing about it is the seeds are free, and no lab is required to produce them.

Friday, July 9, 2010

New Garden Weirdness

So. It's been so long since I've posted that I was actually too chicken to check and see when my last post was. Things have been busy here. Like much of the East Coast, we have been getting creamed by this heatwave. Lawns are brown and dormant. Even some of the trees appear to be going dormant- leaves turning brown and falling off, as if it was fall. That's a bit worrisome. But my garden is what's really been on my mind lately.

Because I put the garden in late this year (after finishing the spring semester and then digging the new garden bed), it was not well established when the heat hit. Oh, and then there's the "huh?" problem I had getting it going. Where I live, the soil is almost without exception a little on the acidic side. I mean, I had never seen a soil sample test alkaline... until problems in the new garden led me to test the soil. After finally getting plants into the new garden, they immediately started deteriorating. The leaves turned chlorotic. Bugs began devouring them. They didn't put on any new growth. It was bad. And, the few tomatoes on the Romas developed blossom-end rot.

Blossom-end rot is linked to uneven watering and calcium deficiency. I knew the problem was not uneven watering, so naturally, this pointed to a problem with calcium uptake. Often, BER can be treated by applying lime. On acidic soils, this really isn't often a problem. On alkaline soil, however, applying lime could cause trouble. Most plants are not fans of a highly alkaline environment, and liming decreases acidity. So it was a good thing I didn't rush out to the garden with my bag-o-lime, and instead decided to test the soil. Lo! It came up alkaline. This was such an anomaly that I had to repeat the test to believe it.

The alkaline test result presented me with a bit of a quandary. How to increase calcium and acidity...quickly? I suspected that, for some unknown reason, soil calcium was bound up rather than absent. A little research turned up the solution, which was to apply fertilizer intended for acid-loving plants. This variety of fertilizer is high in sulfur, which increases acidity.

Let me tell you... this was an almost miraculous cure. It took a few days to begin to see results. At first, the only sign of improvement was the hint that perhaps the bugs were devouring the garden less quickly. But over the first week or so, the leaves started re-greening. At this point, just about everything seems to be growing well, flowering, and setting fruit. The one big exception is the Roma tomatoes. While they did set some fruit, the plants themselves are barely hanging on. I'm not sure why either. When I transplanted the tomatoes, the Romas appeared the strongest. Unfortunately, they went downhill fast.

It's more than a little disappointing, too. I was relying pretty heavily on the Romas this year and now it looks like I'll harvest very little from them. The pair of San Marzanos I received from a fellow master gardener is doing well though. Not well enough to fill the pantry with jars of tomato sauce- but hopefully there will be enough "regular" tomatoes to still put up some sauce.

Oh well. The garden is always a "win some/lose some" proposition. What else is there to do but Keep Calm And Carry On?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Getting The Most For Your Meat Dollars

This morning's wade through the ole inbox uncovered a nifty little gem in today's edition of Mary Hunt's Everyday Cheapskate newsletter. Inside was an article titled "It Pays to Know Your Cuts of Meat," which included a link to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension pamphlet (note that it is labeled "historical materials" as if somehow this info would cease being useful).

The basic idea behind this pamphlet is pretty simple. Instead of comparing meats by price per pound, we get more bang for our buck by comparing meats by price per serving. I think most of us probably already do this to some degree based on our previous experiences. But this handy dandy pamphlet includes a chart that does the mental gymnastics for us and covers more cuts than we (okay, I) can mentally keep track of, based on serving sizes of 3 ounces each.

One caveat: This pamphlet focuses on how much meat you get for your money, not how much utility. So for example, there is no accounting in the pamphlet for the bone broth you could make from the bones you paid for with your meat.

This post is a participant in Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What Does It Mean? or The Joys of Suburban Life

So, this morning I took the recycling out to the curb and noticed a plastic grocery bag next to our mailbox. When I picked it up, it became immediately obvious that it contained dog poop. Nice.

Now, we have a fenced yard, so our dogs remain confined to our yard most of the time. We do walk them also, but because we have two dogs it requires two people and 99.99% of the time I'm one of them. So, I know that we are not leaving doggy deposits around the neighborhood that might prompt an irritated neighbor to relocate said deposit back to our yard. But does someone think we do? Or, was this a comment unrelated to our dogs and directed more at us?

I'm baffled. And a bit irritated. And, honestly, kind of creeped out. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free Pollinator Guides

In honor of National Pollinator Week (who knew? but, yay!), Horticulture magazine included in today's email a link to free pollinator guides customized by your zip code (US). Funded by a variety of organizations and provided by the Pollinator Partnership, these guides are pretty slick. I have not read through mine with a fine tooth comb (yet), but on first glance would say it provides a comprehensive basic introduction to who is a pollinator (they're not all insects!) and planting for pollinators. It appears comprehensive in that it covers a lot of ground, but basic in that it does not go into so much depth as to lose a new gardener's attention. There are also some nice charts that break down what is blooming when and who benefits from it. One caveat: When I plugged in my zip code, it took me to the "simple map" view. There is also an interactive map view. My location is right on the edge of a zone change. So, check to see how close you lie to a zone change. If you are very close to the break like I am, it may be worthwhile to download the guides for both zones. Click HERE to go to and download your free pollinator guide.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Back On Track

Recently, I became aware that all three of us were having "episodes" of "un-well-ness." Not really sickness, but definitely not well either. And I realized that we'd been slipping on our food goals. After sitting down and taking a somewhat unpleasant, but honest, look at our recent eating habits, I recommitted to eating right.

Now, everybody's body is different, of course; so, I don't think there really is a one-size-fits-all diet that is perfect for everyone. But over the course of this journey, I have come to better understand what my body needs, and what seems to work, more or less, for the kids.

I function best on a high protein diet with lots of veggies and limited whole grains and fruit. So, a week ago, I got serious (again) about eating the way my body needs me to eat, and cutting out the crap that I had let slide here and there for all of us. The change has been huge. Truly enormous.

For one thing, I have tons more energy. My skin looks better. But best of all, I have less pain. For several months, I was relatively pain free with regard to the rheumatoid arthritis. If you've been reading here a while, you know that I quit all my meds a while back to see what changing my diet could do for my RA symptoms. But as I started sliding off the routine, I started experiencing more inflammation, until I had a full blown flare not long ago. Come to think of it, that's actually when I had the wake-up call to get back on track and realized the kids were having issues of their own. A week back into clean living and I am nearly pain free.

We are just beginning to eat out of our garden. Until that is in full swing, we'll continue raiding the farm stand and farmers market (although, this last Saturday I bought nothing at the market because there was so little food there- our market has a policy of limiting vendors so as not to cause competition between vendors; but competition between vendors is what pushes vendors to supply amply and with variety, in my humble opinion).

I have developed a rhythm of purchasing from various local suppliers, and this has helped me learn to plan ahead a bit more. This is still not my strong suit, but as long as I am progressing I don't think I can complain. I am also coming to accept, and better understand, the higher prices for local and ethically-raised meats and dairy products. It is still a challenge for me with regard to my budget. I have cut back, and then cut back some more, and then a bit more, how much meat we eat. I am thankful eggs are more affordable, and they have become an important staple in my bid to keep my protein intake up where I need it to be, although the kids still don't want to eat them.

The fallout from this one decision- to eat what I should eat- has been surprising and wonderful. Having all this energy has made the idea of maintaining a fitness routine seem entirely doable. The Girl, the dogs, and I have all gotten a lot more exercise than usual lately. We haven't quite figured out what activity to do to entice The Boy to come along with us, but we're working on it!

Figuring out how my body needs to be fed involved a lot of trial and error, as well as a fair bit of frustration and soul searching. But it was an exercise well worth undertaking because feeding your body how it needs to be fed is sort of like turning a magical key in a door between Blahsville and So-This-Is-Life Land. If you are on this journey too, and if you sometimes lose your way or become discouraged, know that improvement is only one better decision away, and that each better decision takes you closer to the life you want. Keep looking for the right fit for you; it will be worth it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Save Strawberries From The EPA!

This call to action showed up in my inbox today from the FRESH: the movie site. The short version is that the EPA has decided that methyl iodide is safe for widespread use as a soil fumigant on strawberry crops, despite the knowledge that it is a known carcinogen, thyroid disruptor, neurotoxin, and has been shown to cause spontaneous abortions of late-term pregnancies.

Despite the risks to farm workers and the surrounding populations. Despite the risks to people who eat strawberries. Despite a California state-commissioned study that warns against it. Despite a 2007 letter of protest sent by prominent scientists and Nobel laureates. Somehow, the EPA has decided it is safe.

I disagree, and signed the petition against approving methyl iodide. If you would like to sign the petition too, you can find it, and more information, HERE.

*The post is participating in Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Magic Beans

Jack and the Bean Stalk must have been written by someone as entranced by beans as I am. I always look forward to planting them because they always get right to business for me. I planted the bean bed 4 or 5 days ago. Yesterday, I was starting to worry that the beans had not shown themselves yet because they have traditionally popped up after 3, or sometimes 4 days, for me. When I looked up online how long they take to germinate, I was surprised to see 7-10 days! But, I figured there was no need to panic. This morning when I went to finish digging the new bed, the beans were peaking out. They looked like this:
 Sorry. That's sideways.
Just now when I checked the garden, it was obvious the beans had been busy today. Here is what I found:
Pretty amazing, huh?
This bed includes two kinds of beans. The majority are Empress bush beans (green); but I had just a few Goldenrod bush beans (yellow) left from last year that I planted here also. So far, it seems the Goldenrods might be moving a little faster than the Empress. Last year, I was gifted a handful of Goldenrod beans by one of my master gardener classmates. I really liked them, but then forgot to save any seeds! D'oh! This year, I'll have to mark them early so I don't forget. (In theory, if I want to save seed I should separate bean varieties to avoid cross-pollination. However, beans are self-pollinating and pollination occurs before/as the flowers open, so the likelihood of cross-pollination is low.)

What kind of beans are you growing? And if you are a new gardener (or not yet a gardener!), why not give beans a try? They're easy to grow, and you can't beat the taste.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In The Yard Today

I have been working on digging a new 12 by 18 garden bed in the sunniest part of our yard. I'm only half way there, so no pictures yet. It's just been too hot to work out there for long. But stay tuned- work progresses! It has to- I have way too many plants that need to go in the ground still! Meanwhile, here's what's going on in the yard today.
The front roses are blooming
The side roses are blooming
and so is the clematis
I've been patiently (not patiently) waiting for the onion flowers to open. Do you see the first two?
The first Roma tomato 
A Lantana that is usually bicolor
This riot is the Russian Red kale seed pods that fell over due to the sheer weight of the pods. This plant is massive and survived our crazy winter completely unprotected.
Do you see the bumblebutt hanging out of the Hosta flower?

Saturday, May 29, 2010


We had these, fresh from the garden, with dinner tonight. I harvested a small bowl of strawberries several days ago. But today, The Girl collected quite a bit more while I prepared and planted the bean bed. Still more await picking in the strawberry bed. I derive a great sense of abundance from moments like this.

We planted the strawberry bed last year. You're supposed to pick off the flowers the first year so the plant can become established and not put its energy into making berries. But putting in that bed was a lot of work and I was determined to have a few hard won strawberries. Alas, it was not to be. I forgot to put netting over the bed and the critters ate every last one. This year, we were out in the near darkness netting that bed when I realized the berries were beginning to ripen! One of the best things about this harvest is I know exactly what all the ingredients are: soil, sun, water, nothing hinky.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Week Recap

Or rather, a Weak Recap. It's been a busy week, with too much to report and too little energy with which to report it. But first, since I have no recent photos to share, a quick trip down memory lane, inspired by Leigh's recent additions. (Felix update at end of post)
Young Felix snoozes, knowing sis Hatchi has it covered.
Teak wonders what he did to deserve this.

This week I have really been struggling to get the garden in. Early in the week, the temperature was perfect for gardening. Unfortunately, it wouldn't stop raining. Then, it stopped raining for a day and turned all "July heatwave" on us. And then back to rain. I did manage to pot up several volunteer tomato seedlings (to be replanted elsewhere, currently undecided) and get half of what will be the bean bed turned. I had really hoped to have that bed planted, but things happen. Or, don't. I had also hoped to have broken ground on a new garden bed and plant my now impressive collection of tomatoes impatiently awaiting transplanting. But that didn't happen either.

I did score big in the "it's fun to know master gardeners" category this week. One MG was giving away extra seedlings she'd started but couldn't find places for. I came home with a couple San Marzanos and a Purple Cherokee, plus two purple tomatillos! And today The Girl and I carted home a yard bag full of Sweet Box (Sarcococca), and a flat of Mondo grass, Japanese Painted Fern, and a type of ginger from another MG. Both these awesome ladies gardens will be on the county garden tour benefiting cancer research next month. How cool is that?

I really love visiting other gardener's gardens. It is always educational, often inspiring, and generally uplifting. And honestly, I have been trying hard not to be depressed this week. The ongoing oil spill really has me down. It is such an irresponsible thing to drill in a sensitive environment when you have no idea how to clean up or even stop a spill there. I am starting to feel like I did following Katrina, where I walk around plagued by the same recurring thought: How could we not have had a plan for this obvious possibility?! But I digress...

There have been setbacks this week. I have lost a huge oak to borers. It will have to come down so it doesn't fall down on our house or the neighbor's house. The tree guy says that will cost $800. Huh. Then, The Girl and I were out to do errands when we smelled a strong burning smell and then heard what sounded like roaring flames. Inside the car. The exact cause of this is not 100% known at this point, but it appears to be related to the electrical system. I could not be any less happy about this development and I have no idea how much this will cost to fix. I also have no idea where the money will come from. I have tried convincing Felix he is obligated to start laying golden eggs, but so far I have gotten nowhere.

Fortunately, however, Felix is our big success story of the week. Today's re-check at the vet showed his hematocrit at 32% (woot! inside the normal range!), his protein normal, and his weight up to 8.4lbs. Also, after restarting the doxycycline earlier this week, the respiratory problem is much improved (although not yet gone). The vet was thrilled with Felix's progress. We are finally able to cut back some more on the meds, and not re-check for two weeks (unless there's a problem). So that appointment was good news all around and I think that high note is a good place to close this post.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sauteed Spinach And Garlic

I brought home a bag of spinach from the farmer's market on Saturday. For a long time, I have been looking for a good but easy recipe for sauteed spinach and garlic. It always sounded so easy to make, yet I regularly had less than satisfactory results. Too bitter, too blah, to something... The other night I prepared a variation on Ina Garten's Garlic Sauteed Spinach. You can find the original recipe here.

The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 lbs baby spinach. Well, my farmer's market purchase was a gallon-size zip-loc bag stuffed full of full-sized spinach. I have no idea what it's weight was. Once it cooked down, it served the three of us just about perfectly (as a side dish). I roughly approximated (really roughly) the rest of the ingredients. But the original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons kosher salt and I think this may be too much. I didn't use anywhere near that (because of the smaller amount of spinach I used), but it still was a bit too salty for our tastes. Also, I didn't measure the black pepper at all. I sprinkled it liberally over the spinach in the pot, stirred and repeated. I think it would have benefited from a little more. I love garlic and used the full amount called for. If you are using a strong garlic, that might be overkill. But the stuff I was using was fine.

Sauteed Spinach And Garlic

1 full gallon bag of spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon Real or sea salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (my best guess)
dollop of butter
lemon juice
sprinkle of sea salt

1. Rinse spinach well and dry.
2. In pot or large pan, heat olive oil and saute garlic over medium heat 1 minute.
3. Add all spinach, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine.
4. Cover and cook 2 minutes.
5. Uncover and turn heat to high. Cook 1 minute, stirring, until all spinach is wilted.
6. Remove from heat. Transfer spinach to serving bowl.
7. Top with butter, lemon, sprinkle of salt and serve.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Roasted Red Potatoes And Asparagus

I wish I had thought to take a picture of this dish when I made it the other night. But it was getting late by the time I got to fixing dinner, and everybody was hungry. This dish is a taste that is a little bit more sophisticated than The Boy cares for, but The Girl did not complain and I thought it was nice. I liked it even better as leftovers, which is saying a lot because I am not generally a leftovers fan. This one goes in the "keep" file.

I brought red potatoes and asparagus home from the farm stand and then asked Google for a recipe. The base recipe is here, but I did as many of the comments suggested and modified it a bit. Here is what I actually did (please bear in mind, there are only three of us; I served three as a side for dinner and got one lunch serving out of the leftovers):

Roasted Red Potatoes And Asparagus

4 large red potatoes and 1 medium sized one, cut into chunks
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 tsp chopped garlic (more would be better)
2 T. olive oil (I think I used it more liberally than this, really)
1 tsp dried rosemary (might bump it to 1.5 tsp)
1 tsp dried thyme (might bump this to 1.5 tsp also)
2 tsp sea salt
black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
2. In baking dish, combine garlic, rosemary, thyme, half salt, and half olive oil.
3. Toss potatoes in mixture and cover.
4. Bake potatoes 20 minutes. Mix in asparagus and remaining olive oil and salt.
5. Cover and bake 15 minutes or until potatoes tender.
6. Remove foil. Bake until potatoes start to brown.
7. Season with pepper to taste.

* I actually added the pepper with the other spices, but not a lot. I also threw the potatoes into the oven before the oven had fully heated. I needed to run to the store (kids were home to keep an eye on things) and just added in the asparagus, etc when I got home. It turned out fine.

Felix Update

Two things have been happening in my household lately. We've been alternating fussing over Felix and working to get the garden in. I've waited to post an update on Felix because, frankly, I didn't like the news I had to post and was holding out for some better news. And yesterday I got some!
Felix testing out his new window seat

The news we got at the Wednesday re-check appointment was not good. Plus, Felix had vomited a couple times that day after having not done so for nearly a week. His hematocrit was 18%, which is the level they consider the lowest it should go before triggering a blood transfusion. However, this was actually a slight improvement for Felix from the previous check. Unfortunately, his protein level had dropped, suggesting internal bleeding. The vet thought Felix had probably developed an ulcer from the meds. I was also distressed to see that he had lost more weight, although I tried not to freak out because I don't actually know how much he weighed when he left the emergency clinic. Our vet added three more meds to our routine and scheduled a Friday re-check appointment. *sigh*

Our Friday appointment gave us cause for celebration. Finally! The hematocrit was up to 24%, which is closing in on the 30% considered normal for cats. The protein level was up, suggesting the ulcer was healing. And the scale said Felix had gained .2 lbs. The vet said that was not a big deal because it may have been fluctuation between scales. But I am choosing to ignore her and hold onto the idea that he is gaining. He is starting to feel as if he has gained a little and right now that's just what I need to believe. We were able to begin the process of trimming back some of the meds, which Felix and I both appreciate lots. The poor guy has started drooling uncontrollably if he suspects I'm thinking about medicating him, and by the end of the process we are both soaked. It's not a lot of fun for anybody, but- with the exception of the time he left a nail embedded in my palm- Felix has been pretty good about this process. He continues to need to be isolated from the general household population, although we have allowed his sister supervised visits, and one night we booted everybody else (dogs) out of the den and brought Felix in for a change of scenery. We also sprung for a window seat, which is positioned overlooking a bird feeder and a bush with a robin's nest in it. This has been a hit so far and was well worth the price.

I would like to express tremendous gratitude to all of you who have come in from the cat blogosphere (which I previously didn't even know existed) and especially to Leigh, who alerted the cat blogosphere, and offered your support and encouragement. It is a strange thing, but I feel an almost eerie calm about having invested so much to save Felix. I think it's because I know that it was the right choice. Now, I need to trust that somehow the money will work out in the end, while also working to make that actually happen. Just knowing that there are others out there who understand why I did it has been incredibly reassuring. And I thank you for that. And Felix does too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Recipes: A "New" Twist On Breakfast

Yesterday, NPR ran an article called "Market-Fresh Breakfasts" which you can find here. If you are looking for a few new ideas to shake up your breakfast repertoire, you might just find them here. Personally, I have learned that I am far more satisfied with a breakfast of bacon and eggs than I ever was of cereal (including oatmeal) or pancakes. So I'm not sure I could switch to a breakfast that didn't include a good bit of protein. But, I see no reason not to include a generous helping of veggies as well. I think the Eggs Baked With Spinach And Feta In Tomato Shell and Israeli Tomato And Cucumber Salad will both be on my menu soon, with probably some variation of Summer Squash and Red Pepper Tarta With Basil Crust following at some point. The tarta probably involves the most work, but I love that the article's author mentions that this dish is a good one to cut up and freeze in individual servings for easy eating later.

I was surprised by some of the comments this article received at NPR. I would have guessed that anyone who didn't find these recipes appealing would just move on and not take the  time to comment. But apparently, some people really have a problem with the idea that vegetables could be breakfast food, or...something. What do you think Would you eat these foods?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Do You Eat Art?

On Friday, my dad rode along with the kids and me when we went to retrieve Felix from the emergency vet. When we arrived at the clinic, we had to wait a while due to the recent arrival of a couple critical cases. That was fine; we spent our time chatting in the lobby.

Dad told me about the dishwasher woes of one of my brothers. High-end machine, chronic problems. Conversation shifted to the way saving up to buy "top of the line" machines was no longer a safe bet because quality overall had decreased so much. I was reminded of some of the "art" I saw at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. I was really struck by some of the everyday items on display. They were beautiful and utilitarian. They were obviously made by skilled artisans who took pride in their work. And they have survived more or less intact through the ages.

Segue to yesterday. The Girl and I worked in the garden. We got most of the tomatoes in, all of the basil, and some flowers too. We made a good dent in the remaining patch of weeds, and have the strawberry bed just about ready to be covered (and not a moment too soon!). The Girl worked on filling the crater (mine shaft?) The Boy dug last fall (because he likes to dig and I was curious to see how deep he would go if left to his own devices. I told him to quit when I could only see his head bobbing amongst the grass). And I noticed that the Russian Red Kale plant is covered in seed pods, and began wondering how long I should leave them before harvesting the seeds.

Moving right along to this morning, I was looking for an article about harvesting those kale seeds when I found this post at Calendula & Concrete. The article itself wasn't what I was looking for, but goodness, look at those photos! The variety of shapes, colors, and textures is... awesome. And beautiful. And just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the art you can find in the garden, much of which is edible.  I was again reminded of the everyday items on display at the Met, and wondered if those artisans took their inspiration from their gardens.

When you open your cabinets, do you find art inside? How about when you open your refrigerator? If you read that C&C article, then you read this quote from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life: "Modern U.S. consumers now get to taste less than 1 percent of the vegetable varieties that were grown here a century ago." Less than 1 percent. Would you feel you had been robbed if some band of corporations bought up your culture's art and left you with access to less than 1 percent of your artistic heritage? Because that is exactly what has happened to your food heritage if you live in the U.S.

This is part of the reason I garden. A walk through my garden is like a walk through an edible living history museum right in my backyard. There are colors and textures and smells and tastes you will never find in a modern American grocery, or probably even at a farmers market. So, if you do not garden, I encourage you to plant something- anything you like- and see what happens. And if you do garden, I encourage you to plant some new art this year, and then savor every bite.

This post is participating in Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade, which you can find here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Bumbling Blogger and Her Buddy

 Felix with toy and shaved paw

I expected that I would have more time to post here when the semester ended. And I will. But life has taken me on a short (?) detour through Pain-in-the-ass Land. I hope you will bear with me while I try to navigate my way back to some semblance of normalcy.

Things have changed here and I'm not sure how we will find a new equilibrium. But I believe we will. I have to, so I can continue putting one foot in front of the other.

If Monday hadn't been so tragic, it would have made a good comedy plot line, complete with broken eye glasses, broken fingernail trying to fix glasses, broken door handle on route to vet, etc. Last week was all about studying for my last finals and paying my summer tuition bill. The weekend was all about taking those finals and preparing for an unavoidable whirlwind trip to NYC on Tuesday. And Monday was all about Felix.

When we moved into this house two years ago, we adopted Felix and his sister, Hatchi. They are cats. They came from the local shelter, which is always overworked and underfunded. When we brought them home, they were so tiny. Too small to be on their own, really, but the shelter was happy to transfer their care to us and we were happy to bring them home. They were sick when we got them. But we nursed them to health and they became full members of our little family. Over the weekend, I realized that Felix had shrunk.

I made a Monday morning vet appointment. Even though Felix was behaving normally, I knew that a weight loss that significant was not good news. The vet confirmed Felix had lost 2.5 pounds, which was a quarter of his previous weight. Then the vet discovered that Felix's gums were yellow. She suspected liver failure and did not offer an even remotely positive prognosis. I spent several hours begging the universe for a different answer and when I returned to get Felix later the universe threw me a bone.

The blood tests were not consistent with liver failure. But they did show that something was destroying Felix's red blood cells. The vet explained that a normal kitty hematocrit was 30%. If it dropped to 18%, it was generally accepted that an immediate blood transfusion was in order. Felix's level was 10%.

The vet had called several counties looking for a donor. Ultimately, the one confirmed donor was right here in our own town. We went straight from our vet to the emergency vet clinic. Felix was tested again. He had dropped to 9% and the vet was honest that this was a really dire situation and that there was a pretty good chance Felix would not be able to bounce back.

We left Felix in the care of the wonderful folks at the emergency clinic. I can't even begin to describe how conflicted I was about leaving town the next morning, even though it was only one night. But, I can wait by the cell phone just as easily as by the house phone and I had an obligation to make the trip, so off I went at 6:30am.

I got the call with results from the first transfusion while I was still on the bus. It was not great news. He was back up to 10%, but it wasn't enough. The vets had drawn more blood than they had used, so they gave Felix a second transfusion without charging me- a real blessing considering the enormous bill I was facing. And we waited some more. We got updates every twelve hours. At first, there was not much to report. And then, miraculously, the number started to climb. When I left NYC, he was up to 18%.

I arrived home very late Wednesday night. I walked in the door and the phone rang. It was the clinic. Felix's latest results showed he'd slipped to 14.5%. They wanted to start him on another medicine, but they didn't have any. Would I go to the 24-hour pharmacy and pick it up? Of course. I turned around and went back out the door. I started making my way across town and the phone rang. Never mind; there had been a miscommunication with the pharmacy tech. The meds wouldn't be available until morning.

And so the rest of the week went by- his number climbing, then dropping, then climbing. Yesterday, he had been holding steady long enough to come home. He is not out of the woods. As of yesterday, his hematocrit had not climbed into the "safe" range. He is on three meds that suppress his immune system because the theory is that this is some sort of auto-immune problem. At this point, we realize that anything could happen. But we are so relieved to have our little buddy home.

I understand that not everyone would be willing to decimate their already tenuous budget they way I have just done in order to save a cat. But I adopted him and take my obligation to care for him seriously. He is a member of our family and while I worry about paying the bills, I have no regrets about spreading myself thin in order to try to save another living creature, and especially one who has so thoroughly enriched my life. There will be no summer camp, no vacation, no frills. But in the grand scheme of things, that's really okay. If we can stay afloat, it's all golden.

I think my changed circumstances will shift the focus of my blogging a little bit, at least until I am back on an even keel. The garden just became a huge priority. We will have to expand it significantly and try to pull as much of our food as possible out of it for the summer and fall. I will almost certainly chronicle that process here. We have already significantly reduced our meat consumption due to the cost of sustainably and ethically produced meat. But I will have to reevaluate that portion of our food budget again and reduce it even further. Brown rice has already become a big part of our diet; but I expect it will become even more important for a while. The list of necessary adjustments goes on.

Our food journey just took on far more urgency. Thankfully, my lighter summer academic load will allow me more time and energy to address these challenges. I hope you will stick around and continue to offer your suggestions. I may not always explicitly say so, but I consider each comment and find each one meaningful. And I thank you for taking the time to offer them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Who Hash

This meal is so easy and so tasty. When I was a kid, my mom made this. At some point we started referring to it as Who Hash. Must have been in December when The Grinch Who Stole Christmas played on TV. I had forgotten about this simple dish for a long time, but have been making it recently. There are only three ingredients- all real foods. Plus salt and pepper. Easy.

Who Hash

(amounts of these ingredients can be scaled up or down as appropriate for your needs; this is just how I do it)

1 lb. ground beef
1 cup brown rice (that's one cup dry, which works out to several cooked cups)
1 onion, chopped

1. Cook the rice.
2. While rice is cooking, brown the ground beef and onion together.
3. When rice is done, combine with beef/onion mix and mix well.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This always takes more salt than I expect it to. Add a little, mix well, taste, repeat as necessary.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

News From The Brink

Be honest. Do you ever think that America is on the brink of a massive, food-related calamity? When I think about our food system, I am aware of the real food movement, slow food, pasture-based, 100-mile diet, etc. These are good things. But when I broaden my focus to include the wider view, I am… horrified. Honestly, I think that’s the best word for how I feel about it when I actually stop to think about where we are. My solution (read: my attempt to do something and hopefully avoid losing my mind) is to share with others my concerns, and hope that eventually enough of us will share the same concerns to be able to force change. In some ways, I can see how we are taking a step forward. In other ways, it looks like two steps back.

Today, I want to share with you some of what I read this morning. The three articles referenced here represent that step forward and the two steps back.

First up… This article by ClizBiz, which I found over at Blogher, is an interview with Carrie Balkcom, executive director of the American Grassfed Association. I learned about the AGA’s new (?) symbol that its certified producers can use to label their products. I haven’t seen this symbol in a store in my area (yet?). But I hope I do, because it indicates adherence to production standards that are superior to those that follow the USDA definition of “grassfed.” Take a look, so you’ll know what you’re seeing if products labeled with this symbol show up near you.

Next, we move on to the category that leaves me wondering why there is no Darwin Award equivalent for corporations. There really should be. Perhaps we should start one. But what would we call it? The Species Suicide Award? Think on that while you read these gems…

 We take our first step backward with this article by William Neuman and Andrew Pollack at the New York Times. The authors introduce us to Eddie Anderson, a Tennessee farmer who has been strictly no-till for 15 years. Until now. This year, Anderson is plowing one-third of his land because of Roundup-resistant pigweed, which is so tenacious and sturdy that it damages harvesting equipment. And that’s in addition to growing three inches a day, reaching seven feet or more in height, and shading out crops. You can see Mr. Anderson’s problem. Thanks, Monsanto. Zombie pigweed. Niiiice.

And now, the latest rendition of greed-in-a-can. This article by Amy Gates is another one I picked up at Blogher. I have Gates to thank for introducing me to Mead-Johnson’s new Enfagrow Premium Chocolate Toddler Formula. That’s chocolate toddler formula for children ages 12 to 36 months. You know, the ages when children are supposed to be learning to eat whole foods. I know, you’re thinking “girl, I don’t even need to read that- I’ve heard enough,” but you’re wrong! Go read it, and be enlightened. Everybody should know just how low our boat is sinking.

Then come back here and let me know who you nominate for the award.