Thursday, January 29, 2009

Birds in the Garden

With the bitter cold temperatures and snow cover at the moment my heart really goes out to our little feathered friends. Our chickens have a coop, and we bring them their food and water, but the chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, and nuthatches don't quite have that luxury. Like so many others we trudge out in the snow to fill the feeder, knock out frozen water, and then happily watch from our window as the pear tree fills with so many lively little ornaments. I like to think the pear tree enjoys the company in its old age, too. (And it seems to lend the screech owl a hand, too.)

As pivotal members of our ecosystem - eating the bugs we are not fond of like mosquitoes and cabbage worms - birds will come if encouraged. (Do watch out in early spring for birds who want to share the seeds you plant. Mourning doves absconded with some of my bok choi this past spring. Just use a row cover until the seeds sprout.) Native plants and trees provide food and shelter throughout the year - attracting bird snacks in the spring and summer, necessary nectar during bloom time, and tasty seeds in the winter - that help birds survive and thrive.

Here are a few ideas and resources to learn about and encourage birds:

- Build a bird garden to specifically attract them.

- Find a native plant nursery to visit and learn more about the plants best for birds.

- Check out Birdscaping in the Midwest by Mariette Nowak or Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy to get inspiration and information.

- Get a bird guidebook and see who's hanging out. You don't even need binoculars, although they are handy sometimes.

- Learn about Michigan Bluebirds and how to invite these lovely little ones to visit and live nearby.

- Simply put up a feeder out in your yard and see what happens. It may be a little messy, but I say that's a good sign for sandwiches so it must hold true for most things.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Clearing Land

"The past, with its own power and life, imbues all kinds of land."
Jane Brox, Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm, North Point Press (2004).

Clearing Land is nearly as poetic a read as The Earth Knows My Name, which is where I learned of it. A story of American agriculture as told essentially through the eyes of a family farm, and mostly in the context of the New England geography where it rests, Clearing Land is a beautifully told history of farming (in all it's glory and despair) tempered by the reality farming faces.

Beginning with the purchase by her Lebanese grandparents of the farm in 1901 and moving up to the present day - Brox lives nearby while a former farmhand runs the farm - she neatly parallels one history with another. She writes to determine her family farm's place in the history of agriculture that is America, and brings to bear the sweeping tale of horses, wagons, scythes, plows, chemicals and trade to the tale of one farm, one family, and one region to see how it shakes out.

Vivid portraits of her family and the farm itself run alongside colonial farming and Jefferson's portrait of the citizen farmer: "They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it's liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds." (pg.19)

Early farmers, overwhelmed at the vastness of the land before them and its perceived wildness, cleared land with abandon. Brox points out that by the time the Pilgrims arrived Europe was, in a sense, well-manicured and full. Feritility had to be managed and new land was non-existent. Here it was different. "Colonists continued to make new fields out of the wild in part because of increased settlement, but also because the sheer abundance of available land seemed to discourage prudent agricultural practices." (pg. 40) From a 21st century standpoint virtue does not seem like quite the right word to describe this environmental carelessness along with our well-known history of sketchy treaties, wars, and racism; however, it does show we honestly come by some of our worst habits.

Brox grapples with these issues respectfully and honestly, along with those her own family faced on their farm. A small farm is a business, one run by family and friends together in the context of a wider world of politics, societal values, and economics. "Whatever the situation of the land, there is always the lay of the family as well, which has as much to do with the success of farming as anything else." (pg. 58) The pace is relentless and the work demanding both physcially and mentally, especially during the growing season, and tensions can run high. The split between generations can be painful (as it was for her father and brother), and a farm may be lost in the process. Or the next generation may be forced to leave for one reason or another. Brox is the third generation to help with the farm, and unsure of whether or not she might be the last.

This personal transition, too, is paralleled with history as Brox describes "...the nineteenth century, when New England girls followed the rorads down from rocky, marginal Vermont and New Hampshire farms to meet industry in the first textile cities along the rivers." (pg. 71) It isn't difficult to see a similar history as the children of farmers venture off to the cities in search of better pay and a different life. She recounts (perhaps a bit too long-windedly for my tastes) her own youthful desires to get off the farm and her subsequent adventures in the wider world.

And she examines our desire for farmer's to remain while still wanting out of season vegetables at rock bottom prices. She is not judgemental, but simply posing a question to herself as well as to the reader. "I wonder what this place will be without these farmers. What does it mean to want their life to remain, to count on them for a sense of gravity, even as I could never abide the same demands for myself?...I feel myself mythologize them, my own separate life mythologizes them." (pg. 137)

All is not doom and gloom, or reminiscing over old sepia-toned photographs. Brox notes the emergence of new farmers and those who "come back to old places after having lived away." (pg. 138) This new generation offers hope for the future and our food security. "You need all kinds of men and women working the land to preserve agriculture, to do the work of feeding a thousand, or five or one. It isn't inconceivable at all that we may need to fall back on ourselves and our labors, and the land underneath our feet, which carries the mistakes and knowledge of centuries, that we may need the land to mean once again what it had meant." (pg. 139)

This is an admirably honest portrait of her own family and our country's history of farming that is a compelling read. While I saw in my mind's eye my own family history of farming, I also found the questions Brox raises about the future of farming, open land, and our food supply compelling. While sometimes overly wordy (with a bit of navel-gazing), it didn't really matter. I was effectively transported in time and place, and given much to think about.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Local Theater with Good Popcorn

Cathy King over at Frog Holler mentioned the Clinton Theater after reading my post about conventional popcorn. She wrote, "Let's give a shoutout to the Clinton Theater that pops up Eden's organic popcorn for righteous movie munching!It's a family theater in downtown Clinton where the price is right ($3.00)and the pre-movie music is the coolest in the county (served up by theater owner Frank Allison from his vast and quirky audio library)."

And she's right. It's one of the niftiest little spots of fun in our area. Cheap, quality entertainment with tasty snacks from Eden Foods literally just down the street. The Clinton Theater periodically opens its doors and offers its projector to groups wanting to bring a not-so-mainstream film to our rural community. They've done showings of Fahrenheit 911 and Super Size Me for free and to full houses.

Worth a field trip in itself, the theater is snuggled next to a couple terrific restaurants - the Clinton Inn and Dan's Tavern - on historic Highway 12. Make it an evening!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Maan's Beans

Our neighbors, Sybil and Maan, are famous for their food. One cannot enter their home without finding a dish of tasty nuts, a warm bowl of soup, or a plate of hummus and tabouli. Their annual lamb roast is an event we schedule our lives around, and a dinner invitation is never declined. (They are also incredibly company, so it's not just the food we go for.) The best is when Maan lets you help make the dish of the day. My favorite memories undoubtedly include watching my olive oil soaked hands disappear into the verdant green of parsley, mint, garlic, tomato and bulgur to mix the neighborhood favorite - tabouli.

So, at a recent gathering of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers the theme for the potluck was Summer in January. I wanted to use some of the canned goods I am trying to work my way through. Berries and fruit were covered - strawberry shortcake, homemade ice cream, a berry crisp - and vegetables seemed a good choice. Then I spotted the jars of tomatoes and green beans. Instantly, I saw it. Maan's green beans and tomatoes bubbling away in a big pot.

Maan makes this dish with fresh green beans and tomatoes, and lots and lots of garlic. It is, of course, best when all the ingredients are fresh and brought over from Frog Holler Organic Farm down the way. I used my canned beans and tomatoes, and lots and lots of garlic. (While the rest of America might be slowly turning into corn, Maan is quite possibly turning into garlic and thankfully taking us with him.)

Maan's Green Beans (offered with permission)
2 quarts canned tomatoes
4 pints canned green beans (hold back the juice)
Medium onion, chopped
Two heads of garlic, peeled*
2 small cans of tomato paste
Olive oil
*Maan has left the garlic unpeeled in the past making for a fun exercise while eating this dish.

Saute the onions in olive oil until they are very brown, nearly carmelized. And use a generous amount of olive oil to do so. Then plop in the tomatoes and tomato paste, the beans, the garlic, and the salt. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Salt to taste. When the beans are fresh, simmer until they are well done. When the beans are canned, simmer until the garlic is soft and you can't wait anymore. I left it for about five hours, but it was even better the next day after more time sitting. If you make it early in the day it could be perfect for an evening meal. Best if eaten with fresh pita bread, but tasty on its own or served over rice.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Cure for Cabin Fever

We spent the bulk of this past Sunday afternoon out in the cold helping gathering firewood with our friends at Ambry Farms. The temperatures were well below freezing, although not as frigid as the four or five days before that, and wind and snow were blowing. The sun was shining, but you could only vaguely feel its benefits if you stood inside the barn door in its light. Yet, there we were.

And I say it was delightful. Sure, I could hardly speak as the cold wind seemed to freeze my chin and lips into place, but eventually my feet, fingers, and hands thawed out enabling me to drag logs over to the folks with the chainsaw and splitters. Sawdust in my eyes made dodging the swinging splitter no easy task as I foraged for the split pieces to fill the first of ultimately five truckloads of wood. (Two more loads went the next day.) They say firewood warms you twice - once when you cut it and again when you burn it - but I was getting a much-needed bonus heat from working with friends who feel often more like family.

Two people chainsawed down a fenceline ash tree out in the pasture, one person ran the logs back using the horses and a sled, and three of us worked on cutting, splitting, and loading. The branches coming back were large, but nothing compared to the rounds of trunk. Huge slabs of wood with a beautiful grain it was almost a shame to cut into. It split beautifully due to the cold and the dryness of the wood from standing so long, and ash often burns well when first cut.

Horses and people alike worked up a good lather despite the cold, and the truck beds filled faster than expected. One load went over to Dragonwood, and two others traveled that evening to family farmhouses. Laughter and banter accompanied moments of relishing the beauty of the farm, punctuated only once by the goats getting out and needing to be recorralled and a few times by the dog chasing the sheep. (He's a puppy, and I can't blame him for wanting to chase the sheep. Sometimes I chase the sheep, too. They're funny.)

After a glorious sunset - snow crystals made the light appear as a firey column in the sky - and helping feed the animals for the night we headed off to gloriously hot meal of chicken curry, cups of homemade chai, and pumpkin pie. Cheeks glowing and eyes droopy we played with a niece too young to have joined us for long outside, and then headed off home. Cabin fever dismissed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Truth About Popcorn

It almost hurts to share this Checkout Line column from Grist about popcorn, but I am compelled to do so by my own love of popcorn, the title of my blog, and my thesis topic from grad school. (One of my first steps in the new era of responsibility. It feels good despite it's depressing nature.)

Lou Bendrick takes a good look at conventional popcorn - mostly the microwave stuff since that's what most people eat - and it's not pretty. (I've posted a photo of the popcorn I grow to balance out the ugliness with some of the grains natural beauty. Refresh yourself as needed.) The grain is most likely genetically modified and not grown organically (unless it otherwise states), the butter flavoring might taste good but is undoubtedly not good for you, and the packaging is not good for the planet.

I grow my own organic popcorn using a combination of seeds - Tom Thumb, a small yellow variety; Strawberry, a small red variety that can often also be found at Farmer's Markets for eating or decorating; and Thanksgiving, an heirloom brown variety offered by Project Grow that gives up good size cobs with caramel-colored seeds. If we weren't moving to Japan, I'd add Blue to my list to see what happens.

Corn plants need other corn plants nearby in order to produce. Michael Pollan gives perhaps the best explanation of this process I've ever read in his book Omnivore's Dillemma, but suffice it to say that corn has male and female parts - tassle and silk, respectively - and that the pollen must go between them (cue the bees and the wind) on different plants to bring the ears we love to eat. (A more detailed explanation of the corn growing process is also offered by the National Gardening Association.)

In my garden I plant a double row and intersperse the corn seeds with beans and nasturtiums. Down the center I have put in winter squash, but did not this year due to a major infestation of squash bugs two years ago. A neighbor plants corn in his fields that are on both sides of our property, so that helps with pollination, too. (I am sure he plants genetically modified corn, but for whatever it's worth I take solace in the idea that my garden is chemical free and an oasis for those critters that need it and help with pollination.)

I consistently get a good harvest, and the cobs are a jaw-dropping mix of colors. Once I can't dent the kernals with my fingernail the cobs are ready for harvest. I pull back the dried husk, but leave it attached. I remove the silk, and then bunch the ears for hanging. (The husk is helpful for this process.) I let them hang until they are dry or I remember that I need to finish that project. I get about two to three quarts of popcorn (dried and de-cobbed) per year.

It pops up smaller but very consistently, and is incredibly tasty. We make it in an oil popper or on the stove. (I don't believe in hot air poppers. If I wanted to eat cardboard I'd go to the recycling bin.) We use olive oil, and then serve it up topped with soy sauce and nutritional yeast. I may need to whip some up now...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Interesting Idea for Native Plants

Garden Chick had this interesting thought for native plants - contain them. The idea is that in case you are out of room in your yard you can still have and enjoy native plants, but pop them into containers.

I'll admit I've got mixed feelings about this one, but on the whole I like it. For folks who aren't sure about whether or not they want native plants, it would be a good way to experiment with them. It also seems like a nice way to introduce some of the benefits of natives - attracting pollinators and predators to your yard and garden while offering an invaluable food source for insects and birds - without committing space for a perennial.

I've dedicated a bed in the garden to perennials, and most of them are natives. The more I read about the benefits of natives, the more I think they are the way to go for our future and for farming and gardening. I have a hard time now thinking about other more traditional perennials - hostas, bleeding hearts, day lilies, etc. - as a viable option. Some are really invasive and others offer the wider world nothing but their beautiful colors. That's not really so bad, I admit, but sometimes it doesn't seem like the best criteria for a garden or landscape. Somehow it's important to me that what I grow, whether vegetables or ornamentals, are helpful.

Some useful resources for thinking about incorporating native plants are:

Enhancing Beneficial Insects with Native Plants - This MSU study really got my mind turning on incorporating them into my garden. The site includes plant lists and their rating, helpful publications outlining their research and findings, useful publications and websites.

Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens - Douglas Tallamy's book is one of the best I've read yet on why native plants are relevant to urban, suburban, or rural gardeners or farmers. Compelling research written in an accessible manner along with great photographs inspired a fondness for bugs I never thought I would have.

Wild Ones - The premiere organization focusing on native plants and native plant education, if you ask me. (Disclaimer: I received a grant a few years ago to do a project in Tecumseh, Michigan, from Wild Ones.) Find a local chapter and plan to spend some time. I learned loads from them and still am. An invaluable resource for people, information, and activity.

Look also for local native plant nuseries. I just ran a quick search and found oodles. Add your state name, and you'll be in business.

Your local arboretum is a great place to look, too. The University of Wisconsin Arboretum (I'm an alum, I confess.) is a terrific resource for Wisconsin folks.

Natural Area Preservation, a division of Ann Arbor Parks, is a great resource, too. Workshops, workdays, publications, and a blog are but a few of the ways this group works together to educate and learn about native plants.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Garden Journals

Ever since my first garden in Michigan I've kept a garden journal. It appealed to the side of myself I consider a writer, and it appealed to the side of myself that wanted to be a good gardener. I had a big pile of books leant to me by Uncle Bob, a few seeds, some seedlings from Frog Holler, and a shovel. Oh, and a brand new compost pile. And I really had no idea what I was doing.

So, a journal seemed a way to keep track of what I tried, grew, learned, and where I put it all. I tried writing every day, but after a time that seemed absurd. Not much changed from day to day, so I eventually stopped that. However, toward the end of the season when I was harvesting more tomatoes than I thought three plants would ever provide, cutting flowers, and cursing bean beetles I decided to jot down my impressions.

It's fun to look back in that journal and see the diagrams I planned in the spring, and see how the beds I actually planted turned out. It's also interesting to read how things were going mid and late season, and remind myself of what I liked and didn't. (Squash bugs were my next nemesis. They found a cozy home safe from my squishing fingers in the pallets we used to make the garden walkways.)

Here's an entry from this past May 28th:
Frost last night, damnit. We covered just about everything, were glad we did. Ice in a drip tray. Jeepers. Will be chilly again tonight. I'm feeling bad for the basil.

Now the journal has expanded to include work around the yard. Where I put in bulbs, perennials and transplant them, canning results, i.e this many blueberries made this much jam or this many jars of straight berries, recipes from magazines I borrow, notes on books I'm reading or talks I attend. Oh, and I briefly kept track of the eggs we found each day. I wasn't very dedicated to this, but in the future I will be.

This post on the Regional Gardening News blog offers some other great ideas about gardening journals, too.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Local Food Summit - Something's Happening Here

There's a great community event coming up on Thursday, January 29th at Mattheai Botanical Gardens. The Local Food Summit seeks to bring people together who are interested in food - growing it, eating it, selling it, protecting it - to learn about each other and see how we can cooperate. It should be an exciting time, and well worth giving a day to. And I imagine the food will be good...

Registration is required, so start clicking and calling!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Girls Below Zero

The deep freeze currently known as Michigan is not ideal weather for our ladies. We suspect that while we were in Marquette returning a cousin to Northern Michigan University that they did not leave their little hut. They practically dove into the feed container when I put it in down yesterday! I also suspect that the cold weather makes them hungrier just like humans. Trying to stay warm requires energy, which requires food.

We are also considering giving them a hot water bottle or rigging something that will radiate heat. No electricity runs out there at the moment, so we won't rig a light bulb for them. We are considering starting a handwarmer in a jar and placing it in there with them. A little strange, but so far the best idea.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cooking Science

Once again, I'm reading the New York Times. Someday I'll get a new resource, I swear. Anyway, a recent failure with cabbage soup (I swear I'll stop focusing on that someday, too) got me thinking and talking about the chemistry happening in the pot.

This article covered some interesting actions and reactions that occur when cooking and made for a thought-provoking read. It also made me hungry.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Greening the Garden Guidelines

(Note: I also blog for Project Grow now and again, and this post will also appear there. Hence, the shameless marketing of that organization.)

This great article in the New York Times about the Sustainable Sites Initiative is a really fascinating read. The idea is to offer guidelines for landscaping similar to those that now exist for green building. Use of native plants, permeable walkways, and rainwater catching (for lack of a better phrase) are integral parts of the system.

To view the full report, visit and offer your two-cents until January 20th.

Feel inspired to begin creating your own sustainable site?

Well, you can:

Sign up for the Landscaping with Native Plants class taught by Greg Vaclavek of Native Plant Nursery. Better yet you could take the whole Organic Gardening Certificate Program offered in conjunction with Washtenaw Community College.

Or you can attend The Stewardship Network Conference at the end of this month! An inspirational two days of talks and presentations about native plants and restoration efforts in Michigan and the Midwest.

Plan to take a field trip to Wildtype Native Plant Nursery as well as peruse their helpful articles on native plants.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kale Soup Recipe

Since the demise of our hoophouse I'm buying kale wherever I can whenever I can. Since I live in the rural corner of southwest Washtenaw County, it can be a challenge to find greens. Kale is still relatively unknown out here except for the folks like Frog Holler and Ambry Farms who grow it.

I came home recently with four big bundles that needed to be rehydrated and then used. (I rehydrate kale, chard, and other greens by snipping off a bit of stem and plunking them in a bowl of water. A few hours later it's a brand new vegetable and a great centerpiece!) We also had meat-appreciating houseguests coming the next day, so I thought why not make some soup? I couldn't find my recipe for kale-sausage soup, so I went trolling and found this one for Portugese Kale Soup.

Now, I've had some bad luck with soup lately, so I followed this recipe mostly to the letter. I used some St. Julian's Blue Heron, my own canned tomatoes, and some homemade chorizo we bought at a little Mexican grocery in my hometown in Wisconsin. It takes longer to prepare than the recipe says, but it is so much fun and well worth it. I took the apple out, but it might be interesting to leave it in, too. I served it with homemade bread we made with the rest of the wine. Full satisfied bellies all the way around.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Patio Play

So, we're getting ready to move to Japan for a year or so, which has somehow translated into a series of projects around the house. We've put up gutters, two new doors, done some trim work inside, and constructed a flagstone patio out our back door. (The back door is really our front door, but we still call it the back door since we have a door on the front of the house. The only folks who knock on the front door are the UPS driver and the chickens.)

Drainage is the other motivation for these projects. No one likes a leaky basement, and for sure no one likes mildewed holiday decorations. (If you do, I've got a nice selection that need to move along.) And friends took up their flagstone patio to put in pavers. We spotted the stack of flagstones, and craftily rubbed our hands together.

A bout of beautiful weather in the fall gave us a window of opportunity. We took up the old mulch, removed some bushes that had proven to be a tripping hazard, and moved the old pavers. (Those went to live in the hoophouse and looked much happier.) With the help of our friends at Ambry Farms, and using a neighbor's tractor we scraped down about six inches, added a good layer of new sand (with a touch of gravel) and then raked it smooth. We pitched the slope toward and away from the house. This was a real exercise in three dimensional thinking and geometry. We constantly measured and checked to make sure water would move the way we wanted it to. We also removed the old railroad ties that extended the "patio" area about two feet out. (I transplanted some bulbs and perennials the neighbor with a tractor had given me to another spot.)

It was great fun trying to piece together a pattern that worked for the space. We also used one of the larger stones as a doormat/step just in front of the door. Richard became proficient in shaping the stone with a chisel, and we continued to spend a great deal of time using the level to ensure we maintained the pitch.

We also dug a trench next to the foundation of the porch to create a sort of French drain. The trench pitches to the west, and a perferated pipe lies at the bottom. We topped it up with small gravel along the side of the house, and then gravel and dirt once it got beyond the new patio border. It ends in a dry well - a hole we dug, filled with gravel and topped with dirt - that send the majority of water away and down. (I planted a row of daffodils along the new trench to mark it and take advantage of the available space.)

Once the stones were positioned we got a load of sand from our local quarry in Napoleon, and began filling in the cracks. This still required measuring and checking the pitch. Some of the flagstones naturally had uneven bottoms and sand needed to be tucked under in order to protect against drastic settling. We also packed sand between the stones to keep them from shifting and for good drainage. (The folks at the quarry were incredibly helpful in talking us through this whole process, too.)

Some settling has occurred, and we've got two five-gallon buckets of sand on hand to continue filling in as needed. We do need to keep it clear of snow or we end up with a thick pad of ice. Woodash works well for traction if it gets slippery, but as long as we shovel or sweep all seems well. And it's just beautiful to boot.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Two Books to Read

My sister-in-law got what looks like a fascinating book - Sacred Land: Intuitive Gardening for Personal, Politcal and Environmental Change by Clea Danaan. (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2007) She leaves tomorrow, so I've only really had a chance to skim the text. The book offers a combination of gardening information and advice paired with short profiles of goddesses that influence gardening elements. (I usually don't go in for this sort of material, but this one seems a bit more grounded in reality with the right amount of spiritualism.)

The other book I'm hoping to delve into more deeply is Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio. ( Material World Press and Ten Speed Books, 2007) These are the same folks that created Material World: A Global Family Portrait and Women in the Material World. (My mother-in-law gave me both of those to take with me when we left for the Peace Corps in 1997, and they were invaluable teaching tools. My students and fellow teachers couldn't get enough of them.) Hungry Planet takes a close look at what people around the world eat, budget for food, and where they get their food. The rest of the family can't put it down, so I haven't been able to get a good look at it yet.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cowboy Poetry and the Afterlife

We haven't owned a television for just over thirteen years, so it's fairly easy to guess that I'm an avid NPR listener. Thankfully, we have two stations in our area - WUOM for talking my ear off and WEMU for some of the best music around - to satisfy whatever my need is for audio input at that moment.

My morning coffee is often shared with one of those local stations, two cats, and a woodstove. This Saturday was no different, and we joined Bob Edwards as he was interviewing Wally McRae, cowboy poet. Long-time fans of Baxter Black our ears were ready for words on the range, and McRae did not disapoint. Funny, thought-provoking, and powerful all other noise stopped as we listened to him recite Things of Intrinsic Worth and Reincarnation, my personal favorite of the morning.

Reincarnation with a touch of humour for the first time made me feel, for lack of a nicer way of puting it, better about death. It made me think of Beau Jacque, one of our first chickens to die. We buried her in the garden with a little ceremony and some words of thanks. Then we planted tomatoes there and a sage bush. She's still part of the action. Similarily, our compost bucket and bin make me feel a wee bit better about fruits or veggies that get lost in the back of the fridge or bottom of the bowl. Really, it's no loss. They come back in full force in the garden later as compost that fortifies the popcorn, the beans, or the kale. And that in turn fortifies us. It's like getting a rebate but without the hassle of sending in your proof of purchase.

For the first time, I know how I'd like to be put away at the end of my day. I'd like to be planted somewhere and have things growing above me. Not grass that gets mowed (boring and against what I believe in), but perhaps prairie plants or an oak tree that offer food and shelter to wild things large and small. Or a vegetabe patch, although that might gross out the living, but I can think of nothing that would be better. I'd still be helpful to others, maybe even friends and family. How nice is that to think about? That might just be heaven for me.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Food as Art

Not an unusual concept, but I just finished reading this article about Corin Hewitt's exhibit at the Whitney Museum. Cooking, food sculpture, compost, and photography all come together in what seems like a really fascinating look at our food and its cycles. And the cycles of art - kept and rejected - and what it all comes down to in the end - compost.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Healthy Eating on a Budget

We often talk about eating healthy, but since I've not been working we are paying more attention to our bills. I'm not saying we didn't pay attention before, but let's just say there was less of a lump in my throat when the amount due flashed on the register screen. It does sometimes feel tricky to eat healthy, organically, and locally on a budget. While I intellectually understand why it's important to eat that way the amounts I am being charged sometimes give me pause.

We are not poor, but we are watching our pennies. We are moving to work in March, but in the meantime we still have ourselves, two cats, chickens, and two goldfish to feed. And our other expenses have not stopped and some have increased. This past month alone two laptops died, the holidays arrived with joy and expense, our refrigerator left the building, and the bitter cold temperatures caused the furnace to run more.

So this list of twenty healthy foods for under $1 is inspiring and offers some relief. We eat a number of these foods already, and I would bet that purchasing them organically or in a non-bg-box store would result in a price mark-up. These items, of course, are unprocessed foods that require mixing, preparing, and cooking. If you're like us with more time than money at the moment, you might as well hang out in the kitchen learning to make tasty treats.

One of our favorite meals includes kale sauted with garlic (not on the list but it's still good for you) and pumpkin seeds, rice, and tofu. The rice takes the longest, but once it gets rolling you can move on to another project. The tofu requires some attention while frying it up, but not much. We dip it in soy sauce, dredge it in a mix of herbs (randomly selected with varying levels of success), and fry it up in olive oil.