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.