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Showing posts from January, 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 shel

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 fami

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 I

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. Inst

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 fe

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 Mark

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

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 thing

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!

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.

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.

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

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 li

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. ( Tho

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

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

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.

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