Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Old-timey Christmas at our House

Christmas morning dawned and our excited 8 year old could barely contain herself.  What did Santa bring and where do we start? Stockings, always the place to begin while Mom and Dad drink their coffee! 3 years ago, I made us all matching stockings from an old knitting pattern. I kept some of the graphics but created new designs to suit each of us. The stockings each had an orange and Rebecca got a pomegranate, which she SO wanted. There were other little goodies in the stockings too. What a festive bunch of paper tearing and ohs and ahs.. Even before the stockings were done, Rebecca declared this "The Best Christmas Ever!"
This year most of the presents I gave were hand-crafted.  I made Rebecca a pair of knitted fingerless mittens, knitted and felted wool and mohair slipper boots and a kitchen apron made of muslin and printed fabric trim with a pocket. I made David a new pair of wool socks and fingerless mittens designed to keep his hands warm while playing the fiddle in cold weather at outdoor festivals. There is something really special about making a gift for someone. The energy that is knitted in with every stitch, the love that is incorporated in the  design and the good wishes that are wrapped in for eternity make the gift a lasting reminder of your feelings. I like that.
It was a morning spent opening presents and playing with our new treasures and enjoying each other's company.

Once the meal preparations were well underway, David made us a Christmas Day Bonfire in the yard. It served as a gathering place as our guests arrived for dinner, bits of snow remaining after our big storm last week..and Rebecca's snowman slowly disappearing....

Our Christmas meal was most amazing. It took all day to prepare.. well, the preparations began the day before,  got the turkey in brine and assembled the ingredients for our feast, planning and all that...
We had a beautiful, moist and tender turkey complete with all the trimmings: stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, divine gravy, spinach salad, cranberry relish, cranberry sauce, wild rice with shitake mushrooms, pumpkin soup, homemade sourdough bread...YUM! Not as many of the ingredients were from the garden as I would have liked.. but we used onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, sage, and apples from the garden.
For Christmas Dessert, I made the Sweet Potato Pie again and it was fabulous. I forgot to put the sugar in the filling.. so it was not as sweet as last time.. but really nice. The sweet potatoes have plenty of sweetness in them and the recipe does not call for very much sugar, so it all worked out. We also made some homemade whipped cream for the top. WOW.  As you can see from the photo, I decorated the pie with dried apple rings and raisins. It was a lovely and impressive presentation.
All in all it was a fabulous day, simple and joyful, filled with love and laughter and friends, and a minimal amount of commercialism.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowy Weekend in the Mountains

We've had a big snow event over the weekend. More snow than I have sen around here for a long time! We were lucky enough to keep power the entire time and we were happy to have a good excuse to be still for a few days. David got out and took some photos of the garden blanketed in snow. Then he stitched several photos together to make this panoramic view of the main garden from the front porch. Pretty cool.

It looks like the snow will be around for a while, which is unusual around here. Usually after a day or two it is all gone and just a chilly memory.
I am wondering how my covered rows of salad are doing.. but the row cover material is pretty delicate in the snow so I don't want to mess with them at all... time will tell.
Happy Solstice. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Noxiousness to the Organism

Genetically modified Corn was in the news this week, Big Time! A study in the International Journal of Biological Sciences proves the toxicity of three varieties of genetically modified corn to mammalian health. Yikes! This study is a comparative analysis of blood and organ system data from trials with rats fed three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world.
I first read about this yesterday in an article published by Truthout and then I went on to read the actual research paper.
"For the first time in the world, we've proven that GMO are neither sufficiently healthy nor proper to be commercialized. [...] Each time, for all three GMOs, the kidneys and liver, which are the main organs that react to a chemical food poisoning, had problems," indicated Gilles-Eric Séralini, an expert member of the Commission for Biotechnology Reevaluation, created by the EU in 2008.
Liver and Kidneys! These are our detox organs. Their primary function is to expel toxins that result from the body's metabolism of food and drink. In this way they support the overall health of the body. When the liver and kidney are compromised, we have major problems.
This research looks at the Monsanto research which was only conducted for 90 days.
Caen and Rouen University researchers, as well as Criigen researchers, based their analyses on the data supplied by Monsanto to health authorities to obtain the green light for commercialization, but they draw different conclusions after new statistical calculations. According to Professor Séralini, the health authorities based themselves on a reading of the conclusions Monsanto has presented and not on conclusions drawn from the totality of the data. The researchers were able to obtain complete documentation following a legal decision.
Our family has been concerned about these genetically modified foods for quite some time. I was troubled and started asking questions when I learned that one of the "benefits" of GMO's is that the genetic modification makes the crop  "Round-up Ready" (resistant to Round-up, a serious pesticide). So the crop can be sprayed with Round-up to kill competing weeds while leaving the corn "un-harmed". I find this alarming! The amount of pesticide residue in these crops must be monumental.
Organic is not allowed to be genetically modified. So we buy organic. Corn is in so much processed food. Read Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, for many reasons but the "Story of Corn" will change your life! or at least the way you look at corn.
The researchers conclusion:
These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown. Furthermore, any side effect linked to the GM event will be unique in each case as the site of transgene insertion and the spectrum of genome wide mutations will differ between the three modified maize types. In conclusion, our data presented here strongly recommend that additional long-term (up to 2 years) animal feeding studies be performed in at least three species, preferably also multi-generational, to provide true scientifically valid data on the acute and chronic toxic effects of GM crops, feed and foods. Our analysis highlights that the kidneys and liver as particularly important on which to focus such research as there was a clear negative impact on the function of these organs in rats consuming GM maize varieties for just 90 days.
These substances are currently approved for consumption. My advice: ask questions, read labels, eat local, grow your own and don't believe that something is safe just because it has been approved.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Inspired Sweet Potato Pie

Wow!  I think I have managed to invent the world's best ever Sweet Potato Pie. A while ago I posted my Coconut Pumpkin Pie Recipe. I used it to create this new pie.
Imagine Candied Sweet Potatoes with dried Apples and Raisins. We had that for Thanksgiving Dinner. Sweet Potatoes from the garden and dried apples from my neighbor's tree with butter, brown sugar, raisins, and orange peel. They were fabulous but I made a lot and we had left-overs for a while.
When we tired of the Thanksgiving left-overs, I made a "Thanksgiving Left-over Soup". First step was to make bone broth with the bones. Then I added Turkey, pureed sweet potatoes, mushroom gravy, broccoli, and mushrooms. The soup was served over the left-over stuffing. It was like Thanksgiving dinner all over again in a soup. Oh yeah and we had homemade cranberry sauce with it too!
Anyway, when I pureed the sweet potatoes it got me to thinking about how I could substitute them for the pumpkin puree in my Coconut Pumpkin Pie Recipe... Inspiration!

Inspired Sweet Potato Pie 

~Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

~Cover the following with water in a pot on the stovetop and cook until tender.
4 medium Sweet Potatoes skin on, scrubbed and cut onto chunks
1/4 cup  Raisins
1/4 cup chopped Dried Apples

~Drain Sweet Potatoes and allow to cool. Puree in food processor with
2 Tablespoons Butter
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Orange Peel
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 teaspoon Cloves
1 can Coconut Milk
2 eggs

~Pour into Pie Shell. I used my recipe for Coconut Almond Pie Crust. And I decorated the top with a dried apple and raisins in a sunburst pattern. Pretty!

~Bake pie at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 40 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean.

~Serve at room temperature. YUM!
 We went to a Christmas Party/Potluck/Music Jam this weekend and brought this beautiful pie as our potluck contribution. IT was a big success. Give it a try. I am looking forward to making it aan for Christmas Dinner! YUM.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Connecting to the Life Cycle

It has been three years now that I was having lunch with an activist friend who's current fight was the battle over the proposed path of I-26 through our town. I had told him all about my garden project but after listening to his activist stories, I said that I wished that I had time to be more active like he was. His response pushed me into new ways of thinking about my garden. He said, "You are growing food in the city. You are already doing a radical and activist thing."
Up until that day, I hadn't thought that was I was up to could be considered "activism". But that day opened my mind to the bigger picture of the world and where I fit into it. And so began my Urban Plot to set an example for my neighbors and community on just what can be done with a city lot.
When I bought my house I was overwhelmed by the size of the front lawn. This photo, a great before shot, shows the lawn as it was when we first moved here. The lot is the better part of a half acre and the house is set back on the back third of the lot. It is in a little neighborhood just 4 miles from the middle of downtown. This neighborhood was farmland until the 1920's when the land started to be broken into lots with little houses.

The front of the house faces West, so I have great South and West sunlight all day long. I started small four years ago with a 20' X 20' area... it has grown! The areas planted in edibles now exceed 4000 square feet.... more than 4 times the size of the house.
I work with "Low Work" methods so that I still have time for other things in my life. No tilling, lots of mulch, minimal watering. It works for me and we are eating well.
Here is a photo that show the bones of the garden in early Spring this year. I love photos of the verdant, abundant summer growth, but in the winter and spring it is easier to see the skeletal structure of the garden.
I talk with lots of people who think that they cannot possibly grow food. I have the advantage of having grown up with parents who always had a garden and canned and put up food. I grew up thinking that this was the norm. But you too can grow food. Do you have houseplants? Add a vegetable plant to your menagerie of house plants, maybe a tomato plant or pepper plant, and some herbs. Start somewhere and see where it will take you. Every little bit helps and will help you see the big picture. I think that anything that connects us to the life cycle and adds a degree of self-reliance, affords us a fuller life experience.
My own Urban Plot has become a journey of awakening. A growing awareness of the food security issues that our country and the world are facing including the invasion of pesticide and drug residue in so much of our food supply, not to mention the consequences of modifying the genetics of seed and animals. The beginning impetus of my garden project was simply to find a way to feed my daughter healthy food that I could not afford at the grocery store and to teach her about where food comes from. It has become SO much more. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Story of a Meal

Last night we enjoyed a fabulous mostly local meal. IT was a pleasure! For me, the meals that mean the most come equipped with a story. Too much of our food is without story, just food. But when food has a history, some story that you connect with, I think that it has the ability to not only nourish our bodies, but our souls as well. And our souls could use all the nourishment that they can get these days.
So, how do you connect with your food and it's story? How do you find a way to make food more than "just food"?
I imagine that we each do this in our own way. For me, it begins with growing as much of our food as possible. Putting up the harvest by drying, canning, pickling and root cellaring as much as possible. It does not always last us all through the winter, but it is a start. It also means cooking from scratch with wholesome nutritious ingredients that are without artificial color, artificial flavor, food additives, pesticide residue, genetic modification, hormones or drugs. It is about being aware of where food comes from and what is in season.
The food we supplement our own produce with is bought, whenever possible, at the local farmer's market. At the Farmer's Market you get to talk with the farmer and ask questions about how the food was grown and where and even find out what variety of tomato it is. The varieties of produce available at the Farmer's Market are so diverse, especially when compared to what you can find in a conventional grocery store.
When we buy produce at the grocery store, we make sure to get organic. It does cost more and the regulations leave much to be desired.. but I know that I am NOT buying genetically modified produce and this is important to me. If I can talk to the farmer and find out how the food is grown, I don't need the certified organic label... but without the farmer, I want the certified label.
This fall we got a share in a cow that was raised locally and humanely. No feedlot meat for my family. Several folks went in on it and we have a great supply of wonderful beef. It has the flavor of life.
Another great source of local meat for us is Hickory Nut Gap Farms. It is the family farm of Amy and Jamie Ager. They raise wonderful meat. Last year we got a pork tenderloin from them at the Farmer's Market. The first bite brought memories flooding back to me, " This is what meat is supposed to taste like," I exclaimed. I had forgotten, I had actually forgotten what meat is supposed to taste like. As a child, we raised most of our own meat: each year a pig or two, a calf, and chickens. But it has been so long, that I had forgotten that taste of "Life" that is inherent in fresh meat. That one bite brought it all back to me and nothing else would ever be good enough again.
Now we get our meat from Hickory Nut Gap and have a great time going out to the country (all of a 15 minute drive) to do our shopping, talk with the farmer and see the baby animals. 
I will be honest with you, it does cost more. But the flavor is such that you don't need as much because it actually is satisfying on so many levels. Most of this country's food supply travels many, many miles to get to us, and average of 150o miles.  This food is breed to have long shelf-life and to look good. Taste is not even a consideration. No wonder so many of us simply eat to live...
Buying local should not cost more that food brought 1500 miles and imbibed with petroleum in so many ways. But for now, it does. The more we can support the local growers, the better it will be for all of us: economically, environmentally, nutritionally. In time, our support will make a big difference in so many lives!

I recently read the book, "Kitchen Literacy" by Ann Vileisis. This book rocked my world. It tells the fascinating story of "How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back". Check it out. It will change your relationship to food and the stories we attach to our food.

I am fond of recounting our food's story as we sit down to eat. We hold hands around the table and Rebecca says thank you for the yummy food. I love that she is always so sure that it will indeed be yummy before the first bite! Then I tell the story of our meal.
Here was last night's story:
Yum! Hamburgers made from our cow with homegrown onions and home grown garlic and fresh picked arugula. Yum. Sweet Potato fries made from the sweet potatoes that we grew in our front yard this summer.   And my favorite, Tomato Jam made this summer from our tomatoes, basil and cayenne pepper instead of catsup. Yum. Maybe next time I will make the buns from scratch and someday maybe we'll get a goat and make our own cheese, but for now we know that the bread is organic and the cheese has no bovine growth hormone or antibiotics. Thank you for good food! Yum!
Does your meal tell a story? Is it telling the story that you want to hear?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Zero Waste Goal

When Rebecca started the first grade at our local neighborhood public elementary school, I sent her to school with a home-made lunch, it seemed the right thing to do. She had her lunch box filled with wholesome, largely home-grown  and local food.   Out of 20 kids in the classroom, only 2 other kids occasionally brought their own lunch. Everyone else ate whatever processed food menu was presented by the cafeteria. Rebecca felt a bit out of place but seemed happy to have a good lunch!
By second grade, she managed to get a spot at Evergreen Community Charter School. What a difference. I remember when we were at the Information Night for potential new families that she was SO excited to find the EVERYONE at Evergreen brings their own lunch!
And not only does everyone bring their own lunches but the school, being an environmental ed based program, encourages everyone to have a "zero waste" lunch.
Have you ever seen the trash can in a regular cafeteria? Overflowing with trash.. uneaten food, cartons and wrappers and more! At a recent potluck at the school, I was amazed to see the lack of trash at the end of the meal! Each family brought their own utensils and cups and plates. Because "bring your own" is the school way, I have a picnic basket that has a set of dishes, utensils, cups and cloth napkins for our family. Each classroom has their own compost container that is emptied into the school compost bin at the end of the day. Recycle bins are in each room as well.
Rebecca has a lunch bag made out of a re-usable grocery bag that I re-purposed into a cool custom lunch bag. She has a series of re-usable plastic BFA-free containers that come home each day along with a cloth napkin and spoon or fork. Classy and NO Waste!
Today I got my weekly copy of Organic Consumers Association Newsletter. The article that really caught my attention is on Zero Waste for Zero Warming. It takes on the concerns that Evergreen Community Charter School addresses through all of their school functions in a big scale way.  And the only way for it to make a difference, is for all of us to participate in our own everyday lives!

Here is a quote from the article...
Zero Waste aims to close the loop on all material used in the economy. Under Zero Waste, each element of a source-separated waste stream is subjected to minimal treatment so that it can be reused. Clean, source-separated organics (including kitchen discards) are composted or subject to anaerobic digestion; usable goods are  repaired and re-used; other materials are recycled.
I want to encourage you to become aware of the stuff that we throw away and where it will go and how long it will take to decompose, if ever! For many of us, once our trash is picked up at the curb, we don't think about it anymore... Think about it!

Watch this video from Zero Waste to learn more.

Never Stop Fighting

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955

Monday, December 7, 2009

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

Yesterday was the BIG day. The day we got our Christmas tree! My friend Richard has a tree farm out in Transylvania County and it has become our tradition to go out to Richard's and get one of his trees. He grows Frasier Firs and they are beautiful. We go out there before Thanksgiving and pick out our tree in the field and tag it. Then we go back to get it later-fresh cut and longlasting.
Last year was the first year that we did this.. we were so excited to get our tree. I think that Rebecca expected a big fanfare with lots of drama when the tree was cut. Much to her dismay, one slice of the chainsaw and it was done. Last year we brought the camera but didn't take a picture.. it was simply over too fast.. this year, prepared for the moment, I thought we'd get a picture.. but forgot the camera.. Three is a charm.. maybe next year we'll get an actual picture to document the event.
What I really like about this new family tradition is that we get to stay connected with where our tree comes from. We are so focused in our family about were our food comes from, and our clothes and other stuff... being more connected to our Christmas/Solstice Traditions is a good thing. It makes for a fuller experience all around.
As we gather around our tree though the holidays, we remember the hunt, walking through the field of trees, out in nature, chatting with Richard about how he plants and cares for these trees, listening to his stories of trees long forgotten and Indians who once camped on his land. We remember the excitement of discovering that perfect tree and staking our claim. Rebecca loves to be the one to tag the tree with that bright red tag with her name on it. We remember arriving to get that tree weeks later... will we be able to find it again.. where was it, and then awe when we realize how much the field has changed in the last few weeks as others have been chosen and taken away.
We gather that tree up and take it home and David works his magic with lights and ornaments from Christmases past. We are each of us filled with that child-like awe, inspired by the magic of the season once more.
And as in other things that we bring home, I wonder about what we will do with this tree when it has served it's high purpose as our Yule tree.
I have plans for that tree. The branches will be pruned off and placed around my blueberry bushes as the blueberries like acid soil and the pine boughs will add acid to the patch.
I plan to use the thick part of the trunk to create an edging at the downhill edge of the blueberries to establish a border and help to retain the mulch.
The remainder of the trunk, I will put into my compost fence where it will slowly decompose and eventually become part of the soil.
There are many great ideas of how to use your tree after the holidays. Start now to think about what you will do with your tree.
“The Christmas spirit that goes out with the dried-up Christmas tree is just as worthless”
I suggest that we find ways to keep the Spirit AND the tree!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another Wendell Berry Quote

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do”.                    ~Wendell Berry

Friday, December 4, 2009

Using My Bounty of Homegrown Pumpkins

For our Thanksgiving Feast, I made a most wonderful Pumpkin Pie using my homegrown pumpkins. It was a big hit at both of our dinners! These pumpkins were volunteers this year. After removing the seeds and other "waste" from the pumpkins, I spread it on the garden bed destined for next year's Volunteer pumpkin patch. The seeds are covered with a layer of soil and mulched with straw. When the weather is right in the Spring, the process will begin again. I love the circular pattern of nature. When we allow it to, Nature provides all we need...
Here are the recipes for both the Coconut Almond Crust and the Coconut Pumpkin Pie Filling. Enjoy!

Coconut Almond Pie Crust
Makes 1 pie crust

3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup almond meal
~Dry mix coconut and almond meal together.

3 tablespoons butter
~Cut in the butter with a pastry blender.
~Press mixture into an 8 or 9-inch pie plate.
~Bake at 325*F (160*C) for 15 minutes or until golden.
~Allow to cool before adding filling.

Coconut Pumpkin Pie Filling
~Preheat oven to 425°F.

~Makes 1 pie. 
1 1/2-2 cups pumpkin puree
1 can  Coconut Milk
2 eggs beaten
1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves
~In a large bowl, mix pumpkin puree, Coconut Milk 
and eggs.
~Add salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and mix well.

~Pour mixture into unbaked regular pie shell or use Coconut Almond Pie Crust. YUM!
~Bake pie at 425°F for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350°F and continue to bake for 30-40 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Revisiting the Pearson Community Garden

This summer I checkout the the Pearson Community Garden. I had heard about it for years, but did not even know where it was.. knew it was on Pearson Drive.. but never found it... well I took a workshop there in August and was pleased and delighted to see what they were up to there!
Meander down Pearson Drive farther than you thought that it could possibly go until you are near the end of it.. and there on your left is the garden. It is like a well kept secret and the end of the road!

Rows and rows of all sorts of goodies. Tomatoes, pumpkins, herbs, greens and more. Interesting trellises and supports for plants, a hoop house, a lean-to greenhouse on the tool shed, and cob structures: a composting toilet and a bread oven.

The Pearson Community Garden is one of the gardens in the Bountiful Cities Project. Bountiful Cities Project is an amazing organization. Here is an excerpt from their website:

Our Mission

To create, on urban land, beautiful community spaces that produce food in abundance and foster a learning environment for social justice and sustainability.

Our Vision

The vision of Bountiful Cities Project is to enliven and empower self-reliance, cooperation, and a stronger sense of community through providing an opportunity
to grow, harvest and eat fresh, local produce. We envision community spaces that serve as models for sustainability through organic food production, water conservation, ecological building, community celebration, and cooperative economics.

This vision is becoming a reality at our two flagship gardens: a permaculture-based vegetable garden on Pearson Drive in Montford and the Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park at Stevens Lee Community Center which is home to over 30 varieties of fruit trees and an under story of berries and medicinal herbs.

408 Pearson Drive, Asheville, NC

The Pearson Drive Garden is the Bountiful Cities Project's model garden. It is over an acre of land that produces edibles for the community. We grow a diverse selection of vegetables, including a wide range of greens and peas in the spring, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, and pumpkins in the summer. There is some vegetable production throughout the year, as we grow cold tolerant vegetables under row covers.In addition to the traditional garden vegetables, we grow wild greens, culinary and medicinal herbs, and some perennial vegetables, like the Jerusalem artichoke. Fruits grown at the Pearson Drive Garden include strawberries, raspberries, and apples.

When the Garden was first conceived, the garden beds were arranged in pie-shaped wedges around a central area devoted to medicinal herbs. In 2005, this circular layout was converted to a square layout with linear beds. The linear beds allow for a higher level of food production, and also make it easier for volunteer gardeners to move through the garden.
Community Gardens and organizations like the Bountiful Cities Project  are great ways for would-be gardeners to get started and learn from others in a safe and supportive manner. These gardens also offer gardeners a chance to see ideas at work. I am always inspired to see what other people are doing.
Winter is a great time to be thinking about what you want to do in your home garden, how you might re-organize beds to make them more efficient, what to plant, what seeds to get started, etc. Check out a community garden where you live and support organizations like Bountiful Cities Project, they are there to provide both a model for you and inspiration.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lusting for this Garden Fence.. or one like it!

Traveling over the holiday we passed this most amazing suburban garden in Annapolis, MD in my sister's neighborhood. The entire front yard was taken up with the most wonderful rustic fence and garden...obviously a gardener after my own heart!  There are some winter crops covered with a low row cover, herbs, swiss chard and more.
But I was particularly taken by the rustic fence. I want one! It was beautiful and was so nicely integrated that it really looked like it grew there along with the garden.  My camera gave out and I only got this one shot.. I hope it will give you an idea of the magnificence of this garden container!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Today's Food for Thought

I love Wendell Berry. He has a way of geting right to the heart of things. Thank you to my friend Heather for reminding me of this piece by Wendell Berry that I will in turn share with you.

“Questionnaire” a poem by Wendell Berry

1. How much poison are you willing to eat for the success of the free market and global trade? Please name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much evil are you willing to do? Fill in the following blanks with the names of your favorite evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared to make for culture and civilization? Please list the monuments, shrines, and works of art you would most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and the flag, how much of our beloved land are you willing to desecrate? List in the following spaces the mountains, rivers, towns, farms you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security, for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children whom you would be willing to kill.

----Wendell Berry

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dreaming of Fresh Tomatoes Already!

The seed catalogs are beginning to show up in the mailbox. When David brings them in, he calls them  my "garden porn".  Funny man! For me, I am reminded of the arrival of the "Christmas Wish Book" when I was a kid.. think about it.. the photos are bright and colorful and sunny and oh so tempting.. I spend time dreaming and planning and dog-earing the pages. I make lists, lots of lists. I do love the planning and dream-time of the winter months.

I canned and dried lots of tomatoes this summer so this winter we are enjoying our pasta with yummy homegrown, home-made tomato sauce and soups made with a handful of dried cherry tomatoes dropped in and bursting with concentrated goodness, yet I find myself dreaming of those fresh tomatoes straight off the vine, warm from the sun, popping them into my mouth.. like a burst of sunshine! WOW.. dreaming of good things to look forward to in the summer.

WE eat in season NOW, so no grocery store tomatoes for our family. During our first winter together, David and I would disagree about buying tomatoes from the store.. he'd WANT them.. and I would argue that they were simply "tomato shaped objects" with no real food value or taste... by the following winter he "got it" and now.. we just spend the winter dreaming of the real thing and making plans! When you eat in-season, you develop a different kind of relationship with your food, a healthy relationship! Eating in-season also supports your local food growers because eating in-season and eating local go hand-in-hand with each other!

This summer I planted lots of varieties of tomatoes... what to plant for next year?? I adore the many shapes and sizes and colors of the heirloom varieties.

My favorite tomato is an old Italian Heirloom. The seed for this variety came to me 17 years ago from an Italian friend in WV. Jimmy got the seed from Joe Bova who was 90 back then.  The story is that Joe came to WV as a young man from Italy. When he left Italy for his new life in America, he brought the seed for this tomato with him. I have no idea what the variety is called... but I call it the Bova. It is a large paste-like tomato that makes great sauce but also make a great salad and eating tomato... SO much flavor! If I could only grow one tomato variety.. it would be this one!

Then there is the Purple Cherokee, and the orange cherry tomato and the weird green tomato that stays green, the Old German that is both yellow and red at the same time... dreaming... and planning... Yum!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Planning for a healthy garden

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is credited with saying "Nothing endures but change."  Nowhere is this concept more evident than in the garden where change is constant. Growth implies change and movement. My garden is in a constant state of flux. This season the peas are in the southeastern quadrant of the garden and next time they will grace the northwestern quadrant... always changing where your crops are planted ensures better growth and less pest and disease issues.

This winter take some time while you peruse the seed catalogs and make your lists... take time to plan where you will locate your plantings this year.. graph paper and a map of last year's plan will help to get organized. Consider ideal companions for your beds and what was there last year.. for instance, nightshade plants do not like to be where nightshades were last year.. think it through and make a plan!

And consider the following garden quote....
A garden should be in a constant state of fluid change, expansion, experiment, adventure;
above all it should be an inquisitive, loving, but self-critical journey on the part of its owner.
-   H. E. Bates

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You Can Use The Land You Have!

The destiny of countries depends on the way they feed themselves.
~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 18th century French gastronome-philosopher

Last year, USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber forecast that "overall retail food prices for 2008 to 2010 are expected to rise faster than the general inflation rate."

We continue to see both food and gas prices rise and the quality and safety of the food we are offered by the "Food Industry"  decline. 

It is these very trends that intensify for me the importance of my garden project. If we all produced some of our own foods in our own yards for our own families, the impact from rising gas prices and food prices would not affect us in the same ways that they do when we are totally dependent on someone else to grow all of the food for our families! Growing our own along with choosing to buy locally produced meat, vegetables, and staples will minimize the impact we will each feel and support our local economies and be better for our environment and our health!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Favorite Garden Quote

Unemployment is capitalism's way of getting you to plant a garden.
~Orson Scott Card

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ginger Pecan Scones

Ginger Pecan Scones 

Pre-heat oven 425 degrees.

Mix together the following...
1 1/2 cups flour (for GF-I used 1/2 cup Buckweat Flour and 1 cup GF flour mix)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking powder

Cut in butter until the texture of coarse meal.
1/4 cup butter

Add in the following...
1/3 cup chopped crystalized ginger
1/3 cup chopped pecans

In a separate bowl beat together...
1 egg
2 Tablespoons of milk

NOTE: When doing Gluten-Free Baking, it is important to wait to mix wet and dry ingredients together until the oven is ready and the pan is prepped. Once the wet and dry are mixed together you want to get it in the oven as quickly as possible. 

Mix wet and dry together until a soft dough forms.

Turn out onto lightly floured board and shape into a flat round about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into wedges and bake on greased sheet for 12-15 minutes. 

I like to put the finished scones in a basket lined with a dishtowel or cloth napkin. Nothing like reaching in for a warm scone. YUM!

Time to make from start to finish.. about 20 minutes. Actual hands on time.. about 5 minutes. You can find 5 minutes for fresh scones! 

"Everyone loves a home-cooked meal, but who has the time?"

To be honest.. I think we all have the time.. but the media and the makers of processed foods want us to believe that we don't have the time and that there are more important things for us to do with our time than to cook nutritious foods for our families made from scratch with real ingredients..

With Thanksgiving coming up, we have been watching the Food Channel thinking that we may get some new ideas for our feast. What has surprised us is how much of the dishes prepared on these food shows are made up of processed foods mixed together.... like everyone's classic favorite that has been around for quite a while.. the Green bean casserole... (can of cream of mushroom soup, can of green beans, can of fried onions... mix together.. bake). But so many of these dishes are made with store bought, processed foods filled with preservatives, HFCS, artificial flavor, pesticide residue, etc.

One night we were watching a Thanksgiving Cooking Special on TV... it was already underway when we tuned in.. IT seemed to be even more a show about using processed food to make a gourmet Thanksgiving meal for your family... The message really was.. Open these cans and add some other processed stuff to them and turn them into something new and exciting..... At the end of the show the woman said something like.. "now you can cook a fabulous semi-homemade Thanksgiving Feast."

Semi-Homemade... have you ever heard such a thing?? It made my mouth drop open and stay that way for a long while! When did homemade become something that could be done in a "semi" sort of way? 

Before I started writing today, I googled "semi-homemade" and was amazed to find that Google returned 719,000 instances of "semi-homemade" on the internet... guess I am adding to the numbers by posting this.... 

Semi-homemade is a movement for sure... designed to make us think that we don't have the time.. and to get us to buy products, and ready made food. I could go off on a big rant here against this movement but I really want to focus on the answer, another way. 

Just how much time does it take to make real food for your family?? 

Our friend Sara celebrated her 23rd Birthday this weekend and yesterday morning we had her over for a Birthday Brunch. I spent about an hour cooking this special meal and I want to take you through the process to illustrate just what can be done in an hour in the kitchen. 

~I started off with Ginger Pecan Scones. Gluten-free so that David could enjoy them too... I started with the scones because scones are best warm, not hot out of the oven.. so I wanted them to have time to cook and cool just a bit before the meal. Measured and mixed dry ingredients, cut in butter, added chopped crystalized ginger and pecans.. added egg and milk, mix together, shape and cut.. bake for 15 minutes... 
~While the scones were in the oven, I went out the the garden and picked some fresh arugula and celery for the fritatta, and some calendula flowers for the table. I also began cutting the veggies...sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, onions and garlic from this summer's garden along with the celery and arugula fresh picked. I cut up some mushrooms and grated the cheese from the store. 

~ Scones out of the oven, I got the potatoes, onions, garlic and mushrooms going in the skillet. Added the celery after a while and put a lid on the skillet to soften the potatoes. 
~Meanwhile I cracked the eggs, added some milk and beat them together with the chopped arugula to add to the skillet. Poured in the egg mixture and stirred it around, sprinkled the grated cheese on top and popped the skillet into the already heated oven from the scones, 350 degrees.
~ While the fritatta was cooking in the oven, I got some bacon going on the stove-top. By the time the bacon was done, the fritatta was ready to come out and be served.
~ Between steps, I did the dishes  and cleaned up the kitchen so that at the end of the meal, there was very little clean-up left.

This meal was more of a production than usual as it was a Special Celebratory Meal. But in the end it was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. Filling and satisfying and healthy. I take great pride in serving food that has history, a story. These stories shared around the table help to remind us where food comes from and how much our health depends on this wholesome food made with love. 
Because I take the time to care where our food comes from and to share that story, it is especially important to me to share these meals sitting around the dining table. Too much of our food is eaten in a hurry, at our desks, or in the car.. running.. when food is simply eaten to relieve hunger, we are left wanting. Food is life and our food should have a story and a life that does not include a factory or assembly line. FAST food is the fast path to dis-ease and dis-comfort in our physical bodies as well as a detriment to our spirit.

I know I am preaching to the choir here.. but REALLY... In my experience, cooking from scratch does not take that much more time.. maybe more thinking ahead... not that much more time!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Up-date on Evergreen Cob Project

The building continues and here are some photos to show you how far we have gotten. The cob bench is mostly finished and the strawbale playhouse is coming along.

The playhouse  has an urbanite foundation with a cob layer. Then the bales are stacked and "sculpted" to form window and door openings. There is a stick-built skeletal structure with a deep overhang on the roof to protect the cob and strawbales. The straw will eventually be covered with an earthen plaster.

Close-up of foundation layers.

Cob Bench. I know it looks like a little oven... but it is NOT... Cubby is for the "Observation Journal".

Close-up of Door on Cob Bench. There is a piece of wood with nails embedded in the cob structure that the door is tied into.

The brick patio between the cob bench and the strawbale playhouse.

Side-view of the new playarea. Roof space between the two structures is open as a pergola. It will be fun to see what we eventually plant in the space after the construction is complete!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Winter Garden Shots-November

Under plastic is carrot and beet seedbed planted last week. Patch of green is arugula planted in September. We are eating lots of Arugula. It will be fine throughout the winter without cover.

Another view of carrot/beet bed and arugula. Further down the row is plastic covered bed of Broccoli. I got the broccoli starts in late and am hoping that the plastic cover will give them a jump start. We'll see. So much of gardening is an experiment.

These covered beds  are more late starts. Broccoli, red cabbage and brussel sprouts. Again.. hoping for a jump start. By now these plants should be much bigger. If they don't get some growth going soon, I am guessing that come spring, they will take off!

Lettuces with open chenille row covers. These covers are awesome. I read about them in Elliot's "Four Season Harvest". The idea comes from France. These covers are SO easy to use and will keep the lettuce growing all winter. This photo shows the cover open. I'll need to take a photo of them closed. Watch for another post on how to build this row covers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Baking Bread on a Rainy Day

I simply adore homemade bread.. who would not! Fresh out of the oven, hot and steamy, butter melting into the airy spaces. Yum! To me homemade bread is an expression of HOME...that warm, cozy place that lives inside each of us, filled with love.

As a child my Mom made bread for our family. I remember helping her knead and shape. What Fun! She let us kids each make our own loaf. We got to do the kneading of our own bread and shaping too... So exciting to watch it grow, punching it down and growing again! These little loaves where baked in custard cups. That evening, we would have our own loaf for dinner, hot with butter melting. Oh so proud to be eating something we had made ourselves!

When I went to college, I think that what I missed most was hot, homemade bread. The dining hall just couldn't even come close! After my first year, I moved off campus into a house with a kitchen and began the process of learning to make bread on my own. Mom always made it look easy.. but it took years to really get it right.. over the years housemates and friends have enjoyed my endeavors...

Between working and raising a kid, I got out of the habit of making bread. Too busy... but craving that homemade taste, I found bakery breads that came close.. our local healthy grocer bakes a Whole Wheat Walnut Bread that I LOVE! But the price is now well over $5/loaf. Well worth it but money is tight and I can make alot of bread with $5 worth of Organic Flours!

I made my first loaf 3 weeks ago and have make a loaf each week since. I pulled out an old recipe and have been working with it.. refining it to make a good loaf for sandwiches for Rebecca's lunch box.
Once you get a routine going.. it really is not time consuming to make your own bread. NO machine necessary. Last night I got the dough started just before I put dinner on the table. It did the first rise while we ate dinner. After the kitchen was cleaned up from dinner, I did the next step-shaping the loaf.  Set the timer for 15 minutes, put my feet up and relaxed. When the timer went off, I started the pre-heat for the oven and put my feet up again. When the oven signaled that it was at temperature, I put the loaf in and set the timer again... Relaxed some more, listened to the rain... and waited until the timer went off. Took the bread out and could not wait until it cooled... so I cut off a slab and spread it with butter... Yum, the best yet!
Last night's flour mix included wheat, flax meal, corn meal and millet flours with pecans.

Here is the recipe:
One Single Loaf 

Mix the following in a bowl.  

2 cups hot water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

Sprinkle over the top of above mixture
 1 package of yeast 

Wait a few minutes to let the yeast proof. When the yeast is bubbly, add the following half a cup at a time and mix well. 
4 cups flour (mix of wheat, white and others)
1/3-2/3 cup of nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Mix in each half cup until most of the flour is in. It will become harder to mix with a spoon, time to knead in the last flour. Turn it out on a lightly floured board, or knead in your bowl until the dough is smooth and elastic and even a bit sticky. Do not work it until it is dry or you will have a very dense and crumbly loaf.
Work the dough into a ball, put back in the bowl and oil the ball. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until double (about 35 minutes). Punch down and knead again adding as little flour as possible. Place dough in greased loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise again for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, start to pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. When the oven is ready, remove the plastic wrap from your pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a cooling rack.

Give it a try... be amazed by your own homemade bread! Enjoy. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Garlic and Onions in the Ground

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.  ~Andrew Wyeth

I love knowing that throughout the winter the onions and the garlic are gathering strength underground. I love to see the green tops pushing out through the snow, bright green on a field of white. 
I planted a few weeks ago now. Last year I tried a number of varieties of garlic and picked the most successful variety to plant this year. My choice was Music, a hard-neck variety. I have planted 5 pounds of it. This year's crop was beautiful, large and tasty cloves!
I have also planted another variety.. a later maturing California White, a soft-neck variety. This one is an experiment. I planted one pound. 
Onion sets went in about the same time, yellow and red varieties, about 5 pounds worth. 
My family uses lots of garlic and onions. Growing our own is easy and saves dollars at the grocery store! Freedom and Yum!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GF Ravioli Trials

My guy is gluten intolerant along with many other food allergies, so cooking around our house can be a bit of a challenge! Although, I've got to say that any cook loves a good challenge and I enjoy the constraints that David's diet put on my meal plans.  His allergies narrow down the endless possibilities and keep me in thinking mode.
I am Italian and David spent a year studying in Italy when he was in college... we LOVE Italian food in our house. Buying pasta can be tricky when one is gluten-free! We have found one that we all like, Bionaturae.. it is potato, soy and rice and comes pretty close to regular pasta... but they only make the most common shapes: spaghetti, elbows, fusilli, and penne... so if you want anything else, you are on your own!
I have been experimenting for a while with pasta.. without too much success. The ravioli came out pretty good... a bit dense and not at all like a gluten dough, but tasty nevertheless. 

I used an all-purpose mix of GF flours with some extra rice flour, eggs, and water. I mixed the dough in the food processor. Then rolled the dough out on a rice floured board until it was as thin as I dared.
The filling was made of fresh pesto from the garden, walnuts and Manchego Cheese (sheep milk cheese from Spain.. David is also allergic to cow dairy).

The tops were added after a thin film of water was painted around the edge to help make to two pieces of dough stick to each other when pressed gently together.
After the ravioli was cooked in boiling water briefly... we topped them with fresh from the garden tomato sauce with fresh herbs straight out of the garden (oregano, basil, garlic). A simple sauce to compliment the flavors of the filling which was very rich.

The finished product was a bit heavy, definitely filling, but really tasty.
After this ravioli project, I bought a pasta maker.  It did NOT make this GF pasta maker happy at all. It was SO much trouble, not at all helpful so I brought it back to the store the next day. Next time, I'll just do it myself!
I love that our garden provides us with such wonderful healthful food and as the economy continues to slide, I know that my family will be well-fed, both with produce straight out of the garden and with the foods that I have put up (canned, frozen and dried) for the winter. Knowing where our food comes from is important to me. Healthy food that comes with a story, our story.  Life really IS good! 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brasstown Gardens

We took a trip to Brasstown, NC in early October. I was calling the evening contra dance at the John C Campbell Folk School during their Fall Festival. It was a beautiful day and we got there early enough to see lots of great crafts and listen to a big variety of folk music.
We had some time after the daytime festival and before the evening dance to kill... so before our picnic dinner on the porch at the Keith House Dance Hall, we checked out the Kitchen Garden at the Folk School. This garden provides food for the kitchen classes and dining hall at the school.
It was fun to see all the winter veggies in their long rows as well as the remnants of the summer crops... Beautiful handmade trellises.... and a living fence in the works... The fence is made of live trees woven and trained together to create a living growing fence that curves around a wooden rocking chair near the entrance to the garden.. Beautiful!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Next Installment on the Cob Bench Project

It has been a busy few weeks and these photos spent a long time in the camera! But here they are. Back in October, Tony's Cob Building Class at AB Tech did most of the earthen plaster work on our bench. But Tony and I put the final earthen plaster touches on our bench project one sunny afternoon.
The plaster is made of clay, sand and wheat paste. The mixture is smooth and thick and is applied by handfuls and then compressed and smoothed with a piece of plastic cut from a yogurt container. This plastic rib helps to make the edges nice and gives the plaster a smooth surface and a finished look.
The earthen plaster coats the entire bench and gives it a harder, smoother finish than just raw cob.
This bench was designed to have room for lots of kids to sit around it. The backside of the bench overlooks the woods, to one side are the raised garden beds and to the other side are bird feeders and a storm water garden.
The bench has a beehive theme complete with giant sculpted bees on the top surface. It is to be an observation station for wildlife watching at the school. The bench has a built-in place to store a notebook which will be used as a journal to record bird activity.
I love this detail of where the foundation meets the cob.
The opening now has a wooden door fitted for it, hinged to a piece of wood that was built into the cob structure. I'll need to get pictures of it to share.
Sammy the snake guards the opening. Not sure yet what we are doing to finish the snake.. right now, we left it in raw cob. I think Tony was talking about oiling it to preserve it and allow it to have a different look from the smooth plaster finish of the rest of the bench.

The whole project still has a way to go.. The AB Tech class continues the work on the strawbale playhouse that is located opposite of the bench. In this photo you can see the brick courtyard that has been started between the two structures.
More pictures to come. What a great way this has been for me to learn about cob building and help out and my daughter's school. I look forward to the day when I am ready to build something out of cob in my own backyard!