Monday, July 21, 2008

The Plight of the Honey Bee

This great video on YouTube - BeeBoy Dance Crew Drops Dead - depicts the plight of honey bees due to colony collapse disorder in a super clever way.

Not only are bee keepers in trouble, but those who rely on bees to pollinate their crops are, too. And that means that we're all in a bit of trouble. Without those fuzzy-bottomed buzzing friends of ours, much of the food we enjoy (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, beans, etc.) won't be around much either.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kohlrabi - The Mystery Vegetable

Good friends from Wisconsin spent this past weekend with us and generously brought along their half share in Tipi Farm CSA. The box contained a beautiful selection of veggies - fennel with bulb, a head of bib lettuce, some summer squash and zucchini, and four small kohlrabi - that we all agreed would fit easily into our food plans.

Our friends drove back yesterday, and left me with two of the four kohlrabi. I left them in a bowl with some beets I picked up from Frog Holler. And then this afternoon I found myself weeding the kohlrabi patch at Frog Holler. I raised the question again as much out of curiosity as to instigate conversation to help the time pass.

Sauteed and grated kohlrabi came up but as I stood this evening in the kitchen planning our meals for the next few days I looked at the kohlrabi. The beets are diced into a bowl and ready to join the shallots shortly, but should I throw in the kohlrabi? I've got some beet greens, too, which are also ready to go in once the beets are done. Throw in the kohlrabi? Eat it raw, which is my only memory of it from when I was a child. Hmmm....

Chicken Bath

Periodically, we see one of the girls lying on her side, foot slowly unclenching, wing outspread in a fan, and her eye slightly unfocused. Then the foot scuffles into the dirt and flings it up and out. She burrows her head into the dirt. Sometimes we see more than one chicken at a time in close proximity doing this.

The dirt bath must be extremely satisfying. That slightly unfocused look is not uncommon, and they seem so at peace. It usually occurs toward the end of the day (just like our baths can), although a mid-afternoon "plunge" is not unheard of.

The first time we saw it we thought the chicken must have been attacked. To our untrained eye our girl appeared to be writhing about in agony. Rushing up to see what had attacked her, the chicken sat up somewhat dazed and appeared perfectly fine. We walked away only to see her resume the same activity. Once we realized there was no pain involved, we understood it was a dirt bath.

They often choose a somewhat shady spot, although I've seen them do it in full sun. A most recent hole outside our porch door is four to six inches deep. While a pleasant bathtub it could also turn into a real ankle-turner. They love it though, so we haven't asked them to switch spots yet.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

One of The Best Things Going

Our good friends at Frog Holler Farm are starting a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Customers have been asking for some time for one, and this year Frog Holler is going to give it a go. Local organic farms like Tantre in Chelsea and the Community Farm of Ann Arbor have been offering it for a number of years, and it offers a boon to growers and eaters alike. The eater is guaranteed a box of amazing (and sometimes unknown) vegetables and herbs over the course of the season (roughly late May to mid-October) each week. The farmer is guaranteed funds to keep that farm growing and going. The land stays in production, the eater gets food, and the farmer can stay in business. Perfection.

We joined our first CSA when I was going to grad school at Illinois State. A friend told us about Henry's Farm and the concept of getting food directly from them. We thought it sounded good, and so we split the share (box of food) for the season. It was an amazing experience. Along with about thirty other folks we waited in line to pick up our shares of vegetables and the little newsletter that gave us recipes, farm news, and updates about what was coming or going at the farm. It was the first time I'd ever eaten Swiss Chard, now a staple of my garden and diet, and spaghetti squash. The same was true of kale (another staple), burdock root, and diakon radish. It was the first time I heard the phrase "heirloom variety".

I got to thinking about all of this yesterday afternoon when I heard a piece on NPR about the salmonella scare that is currently sweeping the nation. My ears perked up though when one woman said she always buys at the market from a particular grower. She knew where her food was coming from and who grew it. There was no question of fearing her food. A similar piece in today's New York Times about CSA's talks more about the direct connection of eaters to growers. Meeting the person growing the food, seeing the farm, working the feeds (if you want), eating healthier food, and benefiting the environment are a handful of positive side-effects of such programs.

CSA membership can be expensive - running anywhere from $300 to $600 a season for a share - but considering a weekly food bill total for that time and the list of benefits above it seems like one of the best things going.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blueberries Beginning

One of the things I look forward to each year is blueberry season. One of my favorite fruits ever, the blueberry is one I chase down at the Farmer's Market almost relentlessly. In the past, our freezer fills with containers and our granola overflows with them.

Since I learned to can last year, my plan is to not freeze so many but to can them up in various forms. Freezing is easy but energy-intensive for long periods of time. Power outages are not uncommon here so canning seems safer and more logical. A few jars of jam are done up already with berries I picked up last Saturday at the Farmer's Market, and a recent adventure picking at Kapnick Orchards in Tecumseh yielded a nice number of quarts, too.

The bushes were nearly overflowing with big, fat berries. The majority made it into our containers, but went straight into our mouths. I'd never had a sun-warmed blueberry in my life, and one of my sincerest hopes is that those I ate that day won't be the last. Those little blue gems were the best. I look forward even more to seeing them on my toast, in my oatmeal, and even on my ice cream.

I Knew It!

Beets are easily one of my favorite vegetables. I pickle them, grow them, and cook them up just about any way that I can. So imagine my immense pleasure when I saw that they were listed in a recent New York Times Blog by Tara Parker in Health!

Based on work done by Jonny Bowden, nutritionist and author, Parker presents a list of 11 vegetables folks should be eating regularly. I'll confess we don't eat the beets raw, but we'll give that a go. Other than turning them into pickles, we make beet caviar. A combination of cooked beets, mayonnaise, garlic, and walnuts it is the loveliest shade of purple. Originally served to us as a salad in Kazakhstan by our host mother, Larissa, it included sardines. We leave out the fish as we're not big fans. Kids of all ages are attracted to the color, and the flavor keeps them coming back for more. The dish is always clean and empty when we come from a potluck.

Beet Caviar
Bunch of beets
Ground walnuts
Three (or more) cloves of garlic

Cut off the tops and roots of the beets, and boil until soft. Drain and then peel under running cold water or in a pan of cool water. Grate the beets into a bowl. Add the walnuts, and press in the garlic cloves. Add a tablespoon of mayo and stir in. Taste. Add garlic and mayo until you achieve the taste you want. I usually do about a tablespoon and a half, and depending on who I'm making it for and the size of the garlic cloves I'll use up to six or seven cloves. Serve with fresh bread or crackers.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Berry Harvest

They are everywhere. I swear. We get out of the car, and we see them on trees. We stop at a friends, and they are on bushes. I go to work at Frog Holler, and they are lurking in the fields. I help cultivate at Ambry Farms, and they dangle before my eyes.

What's a girl to do? Make jam, that's what!

So far it's been strawberry jam (courtesy of Frog Holler fields!) that came out a bit more like sauce than jam, but is still so very tasty. (To get jam, one must follow directions a bit more carefully than I did that day.) Mixed berry jam - black raspberries, black berries, and mulberries from Mull Road, Grandma's house, and Ambry Farms - that looked and felt more like jam while still tasting great. And today it was blueberry and red raspberry jams. (I can hear the jars popping while I type.)

We canned up a boatload of pie cherries a couple weeks ago, but those we didn't make into jam. It seemed more logical to simply can them whole for enjoying during the winter. Those quarts and pints of berries are snuggled in our basement already. Per our frugal friends suggestion we canned up the leftover juice, too, and I've got a jar in the refrigerator waiting for the right hot afternoon. (I'm salivating here.)