Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy pumpkin day

When one tends a compost pile (or two), on occasion it yields some rather tangible human benefits.

Every year since I have lived here, I seem to have "allowed" a squash seed or two to do its thing and grow in or around the compost area. The first year, it was cantaloupe: the most delicious, tiny netted fruits you can imagine. The second year, it was birdhouse gourds. This year? Pumpkins from our daughter's discarded seeds from last year's jack-o-lanterns.

I mistook them for something else earlier in the season, and actually ate a few of the tiny squash. Quite tasty!

But they've found a good use as future pies. And then again, there's an even better use: here, art by the 3.5 year old, carving and candles by dad. Spoooky!

Monday, October 29, 2007

On ranting

In need of defense

Some very interesting comments came out of my Wednesday post on how the world is a-changing, and how some of us are doing something about it, and others, well, aren't.

Here's a comment: My friend Tim, in an email, said "The list of things not to be discussed in polite company (this includes the internet) now includes 'consumption patterns'."

I agree it's a touchy subject, especially when one trains one's sights on one's relatives as examples. (OUCH. Believe me, things've cooled considerably in my own household after that post; I've done a lot of mea maxima culpas to those affected.) But, (and Tim knows this about me) BUT...polite company aside, isn't discussing religion, politics and now consumption patterns at least really INTERESTING? Maybe it started in college, where I was one of maybe 6 Democrats in a student body of 7,000...maybe that is where I honed my combative skills. (It was the Reagan era: tough time to be a liberal, believe me.) But maybe it's a personality fault, or something, but I do like a good argument; I do like to poke the hornet's nest, to rattle a cage here and there.

Why consumption? Here is the thing: here is why: we are all connected. That Big Mac you had for lunch? It has global implications. It really does. And how good did you feel after eating it? Did you feel as good as you did when you ate your last homegrown tomato?

Big Macs are not the Great Evil, nor is a homegrown tomato a kind of Grail (though close, if it's a Brandywine). But it's a small, small, shrinkingly small world out there. By 2050 there'll be 9 billion of us calling this little planet home. You don't need to be an economist, geophysicist or even a farmer to realize that having India and China on a Big Mac diet too is just not going to happen. Our world is too small for this kind of consumption pattern. And we have to face this fact. Collectively. Together.

Our leaders are not leading on this issue, much less any other. Detroit continues to roll out vehicles that get only 18 mpg. We keep doing things as if there were no Katrina, no fires, no drought; that these were fickle aberrations of the weather. So, well, I will be discussing consumption patterns (and politics, but will stay away from the third rail that is religion) here. Why? Because enough of you have told me you do take a little something away from my rants: encouragement, head-shaking disagreement, something. And because someone needs to stand up for homegrown tomatoes!

Friday, October 26, 2007

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Sunset, Wednesday night

I can't seem to shake this feeling of dread, this the-world-is-f***ed-up dread. But I am able to appreciate things, like this beautiful sunset. The wind brought in our first frost too Wednesday night: little glittering bits on the pumpkins, and look at the tiny damage it's done to the seeding basil. One little blackened leaf. It's like a stay of execution, you know?

I hope to be out of this funk soon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am the bridge

The source of guilt AND motivation.

This post has been floating in my head for a long time now.

I was on the phone with my mother Sunday, trading tales, when she said, "don't you just love this [mild] weather? I guess global warming does have an upside, doesn't it?"

Now, my mother is a terminal optimist. Her motto, quite seriously, is Marty Feldman's line from Young Frankenstein: he played Igor, and, when queried by Gene Wilder's character about his hunchback, said, "What hump?" She cannot help herself. That said, she does understand that coal-burning power plants like her own really do compel you to save electricity by at least buying compact fluorescent bulbs and adjusting the thermostat all year. She has reset her sprinkler system, and I am trying to wean her off her green lawn love. It is a small gesture.

But frankly? My mother and [name redacted for family peace] have an enviable lifestyle. The [redacted ones] especially, God love them, don't practice conspicuous consumption, practice instead what I call Entitled Consumption. You know: we worked hard all our lives dammit so therefore we SHOULD be able to...fill in the blank consumptive habit. Maybe they are tinged with a bit of planetary guilt, but in reality, they won't live long enough for their lifestyles to be changed in any measurable way to them.

Me? LOADS of guilt. Especially since I became a mother myself: I realize SO VERY WELL that my daughter will not live in the same cushy world her grandparents, uncles, and parents had. The damage, in so many ways, was done long before she was born. Whether she grows up to resent the hell out of those who have gone before, soiling the planetary nest as we go, is yet to be seen.

I can only do what I can do. Moving to this farm has helped lighten our load (and my guilt) considerably. Thumbing my nose at industrial agriculture by growing my own has helped both our health and our wallets, and it certainly has challenged me in many ways to both show how easy it is to do, and to progressively do more. This blog is my small attempt to buck up and teach. But really, our lives, they are going to be a-changing. And I unfortunately have not inherited my mother's optimism. It is a lot more work, I know, to be a pessimist, but people, there is no quick fix to our problems. There are small gestures that, if taken collectively, will make a small impact. With the rest of the developing world following us by imitating our lifestyle, from hamburgers to SUVs, our little gestures are but a trifle, a drop in the ocean.

I am the bridge between the used to be and the future. I will see my parents' generation die off, and hopefully will see their habits die with them. I will see my daughter grow up in a world where consuming less won't be a matter of personal do-gooding preference but a matter of global imperative. Who knows if I will live long enough to see my daughter's own progeny be born and grow, because, let's face it, at 38 I was an old bat to be giving birth to her. But if I do live that long, I hope some solutions have been undertaken, Manhattan project-wise, going-to-the-moon-wise, to solve some of our global screwups, because, really, I don't want my succeeding generations to be cursing my name.

And I know my kid will at least know how to grow her own food, raise and slaughter her own chickens and make her own bread. This, this I can do.

You know, I do wish this blog could be something as light and simple as a documentation of the pretty flowers and luscious vegetables I grow. Maybe this could've been the case 15 years ago. But fifteen years ago, there were no blogs, and I didn't own a farm. I apologize to all of you whom I have potentially offended here in this post. I simply do not see enough being done. We're all still arguing about if things are really changing, whilst we still go about with our spendthrift habits. (I am not above reproach myself, jetting about hither and yon.) But really. Let's all get busy, doing what little we can do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On annuals

Zinnia, calendula, marigold and nasturtium

Every year, I plant rows of annual flower seeds. They get to be about 4" tall and then I scatter them willy-nilly all around the vegetable and perennial gardens. Usually, they don't do much all spring and summer: they kind of limp along, and, especially when interplanted with the veggies, I wonder "why did I devote the space to these wimpy things?" Well, it is because in late summer and all fall these things go NUTS.

Color and pollinator attraction is why they're in the veg gardens. In the perennial gardens, they act much like spring tulips and daffodils do: they tide things over as the clumps of green perennial leaves just sit there, flowerless. It's a good way to keep visual interest going, as your eye flits from color blotch to color blotch.

And then interesting things do happen. Look at what this calendula is doing (normally they're just single dark-eyed daisy-like plants). Isn't that just weird?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

On the winddown to autumn

It feels mighty strange to sit here on the front porch at 9:30 at night in late October, windows all open, and see that my trusty computer temperature gauge says it's 72* outside. That, my friends, is beyond weird. In all rights the windows should be closed and I should have a comfy blanket warming my lap, and a hot tea at my side.

This weather is sapping my normal need to hurry the hell up to get the garden put away for the frost. (Frost?) Instead, I putter as usual, or, rather, as I usually putter in August, but noticing instead how things that abhor August's heat are really putting on quite a show with their fleshy abandon: the nasturtiums, fennel, broccoli, and salad fixings are all positively Rubenesque, in their own photosynthetical way. We had a scraping of 39* in early September, but since then, well, it does not feel like October 21st.

I have, however, begun the process of plant tagging. I make notes, furtively, in my planner according to a plant's variety. As a succession planter, it makes no sense at all to list things according to plant date and harvest date: these terms are quite meaningless if your greening motto is No Dirt Left Exposed. My notes instead have listed that more new pests have emerged, yet some others remained (mercifully) missing. It was a good year for some things, a bad year for others. In other words, it was a normal year, except for its duration.

I learn more every year. This helps me immensely as I am a person who dislikes a plateau in her understanding of anything. I instead love the uphill slog that is, say, anything new (to you). So this greenhouse should be an amusing diversion. It hums along, nicely, its four of six beds seeded with new things, its unmade seventh and eighth bed at least partially newly made. Today I concentrated on keeping the greenhouse's enemies out, building the putative moat and drawbridge which is buried hardware cloth on the outside of buried 2x8 planks...all to keep the voles out. Voles love them some tender plants, especially in the throes of winter.

So I sit here and think, wondering what my next task should be, wondering if I have put enough applesauce by to feed us, wondering if this is the week to roast some pumpkins, wondering, well, as usual, wondering a bit ahead. Ahem. Even if it is warm, the country life is a good life to live. Even if my Metro card still has four rides on it....

Saturday, October 20, 2007

We have returned

We liked it so much, we stayed an extra day.

The kid is definitely an urbanite. She'd say things like "I need to make a call," and she would. She also had me in tears when she saw that I was taking her to the train and she said, "No, we don't take the subway to the restaurant. We take a taxicab."

Note kitties in the Hello Kitty bag. Don't leave home without them.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Stepping away from the gardens

Hello all...

My kid and I will be away for the week, going to "pick up" her daddy in New York.

Tom's book signing/book release party and talk will be on Tuesday night, October 16th, starting at 6:30, at Aperture's offices in Chelsea. He will be holding a joint talk with Chip Kidd, the graphic design world's rock star. Chip has followed Tom's work for years, and has utilized Tom's art on book covers for some James Ellroy rereleases and to illustrate a full edition of Francis Ford Coppola's literary publication, Zoetrope: All-Story.

Personally, I am hoping that book release parties are as entertaining as art openings. This should be some serious fun. And, of course, it's great to step off the farm every once in a while...at least for a bagel and a schmear.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Things you're not seeing

...because the camera is away, with Tom, on his trip.

Robins. Robins, today, flying south, a few at a time, a hundred at a time, flap flap flap swoop with their wings. They've been flying by all day, just above the treetops. Last week it was starlings, two weeks before it was red-winged blackbirds. The blackbirds even stopped for a visit in our maples. LOUD! Then, as I stood there in awe just staring, some unknown and noise-less signal caused them all to fly off, with an immense whoosh sound of their thousands of wings.

The changing trees. The deciduous trees are all in and around this pantone shade: wait, I can't find my wheel. So, if you squint, they're an unhealthy orange-brown.

Babies. Seedling babies, that is; of all the little seeds I planted in the greenhouse last weekend, most are up already.

The gross white scum that forms atop tomato gel when you squeeze the overripe fruits into jars for seedsaving. (Be thankful for not seeing this.)

The new chicken run. They're getting fenced in for the winter, as I don't trust the neighborhood raptors. The fence isn't finished yet, but boy will they be mad when it is. Lucky for them, their "pen" takes up almost 300' of fencing, so they shouldn't complain overmuch.

Bugs. Specifically, bugs eating my precious plants. I have taken to twice-daily prophylactic raids into the greenhouse garden to squish the cabbage worms that insist on munching my broccoli. But I spare the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, who're doing just as much damage to the neighboring parsnips and parsley.

Produce/recent harvest. Fall peas (egads!) and my one-and-only head of broccoli romanesco, the only cabbage plant (other than broccoli) that survived this August's monsoon rains, were dinner last night. And the lettuces, runner beans, rutabagas and radicchio have loved the cold weather that's moved in since our 90* day on Monday. I swear they've doubled in size.

(Can I just mention this again: fall peas. It's amazing they made it into the cooking pan.)

Ah, well. I'm sparing you my blurry shots; just use your imaginations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

On guineas

Ick, another bad picture.

Robin wanted to learn more about our guineas. I have been thinking I should do a complete post about them, so here it goes.

We decided to get guineas because we lost two hens to a hawk last year. What's the connection? Well, guineas are the Chicken Littles of the farmyard. Anything that flies, drives, or walks by that's out of the ordinary, they start howling. We decided on guineas over a rooster, who'd also watch out for hawks, but...well, I didn't want to risk the idea of getting a "bad" rooster who'd attack our kid. (I also wasn't too hep on having pecked sex-enslaved hens or being awakened by a 2:00 a.m. crowing.)

The guineas, of which there are four (three hens and a cock) are virtually indistinguishable in looks, activity and any other way from each other. They subscribe to a severe case of Group Think so if one of them is doing something, the other three will soon be doing the same. As a farm animal, they haven't been domesticated for long. This near-wildness appealed to me if I had to continue to pen in our birds: I really like seeing the chickens walking around the farm, in pursuit of their chicken-y desires; I figured if the chickens needed to be penned, the guineas, who can fly, would still be free-ranging. Well, let's just say that near-wildness is an acquired taste.

So, the initial reason that we got them remains. They are excellent watchdogs. They immediately notify the other birds, and the surrounding township, if anything is amiss. On Monday, for example, they were making quite a din and I thought: geez, it's kind of late, aren't those birds in bed yet? And I look out at the side yard and they are yelling at THREE DEER, one with a huge rack on his head. They actually chased the deer, too, once one of them turned and started to run.

Other than that, they lay their eggs in the bushes, what few eggs there are, so...if you expect to get eggs out of these creatures, you really have to work for it. They can sleep in trees, and expect to have a very high perch in the coop. They completely imprinted on the one chicken that looks like them: Letha, the Barred Rock. Anywhere their Mama goes, they go...otherwise, they'll follow Maggie, the Black Australorps or Pauline, the white Leghorn. (Interestingly, they never follow any of the other birds, who're all red or brown: they definitely segregate themselves with the monochrome range of the feather spectrum.) I think it was a good idea to get them and put them with the young chicks we had, as they picked up some but certainly not all of those good chicken traits, like, She is not the enemy; She is the bearer of all good treats. The guineas were the ugliest birds imaginable until they got all their feathers. Now, at least, they are mature: their heads are the only things odd-looking about them.

And from a very young age, they developed the ability to count. If one of them is not with them, they start hollering, trying to find him/her. It's an interesting but annoying talent.

My friend Tim said he ate them a lot when he lived in Italy. He said his Italian friends told him they had them to eat small blood-sucking bugs, of which he never had the English translation. (Ticks. They love ticks.) Supposedly, their meat is great roasted. I guess I will never know. We will keep them for the rest of their happy dopey lives, I think, but...they are just so incredibly loud that I doubt Tom would ever go for getting more of them.

Would I ever get guineas instead of chickens? Not in a million years. Chickens are friendly, egg-laying, happy souls. Guineas have an amazing persecution complex, one that will probably be worn down by another 10,000 of domestication. Don't get them if you have neighbors, period, unless your neighbors have them or their near cousins, peafowl.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On tidiness

In my last post, I mentioned how I strive to keep the farmyard tidy. It's a hangover from my city-house-owning days; you gotta be spic and span if you live on a major thoroughfare, you know. And it's also a counteraction to the sloppy farmyards around me (including this one when we moved in) where piles of "stuff" just seem to happen.

But inside the house? Forget it! Tidiness is a lower priority to the great outdoors and the kitchen, and I will do it only when I have time. This point was driven home with me this morning when I saw the chaos wrought by our kid yesterday. She was sick, so she stayed home from school. I worked a full day and was very proud of myself that I didn't put in a DVD for her all day. Instead, she played, as she will, with any and everything.

And Tom wasn't here to put order to the chaos.

I guess I take for granted that he acts very much like the Cat in the Hat when the Cat sweeps in to the messy house atop that machine, putting everything back in place while the kids' mother walks up the sidewalk.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Back to my old friend, Compost

No photo today. My camera is in London.

If I were to separate my time in the garden into some kind of pie chart, a very large slice would be "Compost Making." I've documented here, often, about my love of the stuff. But maybe the size of this pie slice is merely creative accounting on my part: not of the Enron sort or backdating stocks or whatever, but more that everything in the garden becomes compost, eventually.

My search for some nearly unattainable level of Farm Tidiness nudges me to gather any and all compostable material around here: Kitchen scraps. Fallen apples. Grass clippings. Branches. Leaves. Chicken poop. Weeds. Dead plants. Pet hair, broom sweepings. Cardboard boxes, junk mail, paper bags. All of it goes in.

I was mucking out the chicken coop Sunday, and for once I was thankful that my higher sense of order had actually NOT come to fruition. You see, I really, really wanted a concrete slab in the bottom of the coop. I had planned to put deep, deep bedding atop it to counteract the cold sink effect of all that concrete on those cold bird legs in the winter, but...well, we never got around to putting in the slab. And I am grateful!!! I muck the thing out with great regularity (about 6x a year) and when I get down to the bottom, to the dirt, you would just be amazed. The color. It is crumbly, BLACK DIRT. All that poop atop all that straw atop all those wood shavings equals microbe and worm heaven. So I scrape that stuff right up, put it in my faithful garden trugs, and layer it oh so carefully in the compost piles.

What's with the compost love? Well, I have clay soil. It could use some lightening up, so I try my darndest to do so with all the vegetable matter I pile atop the beds. It's helping. But even in the perfect soil of my Minneapolis garden (and it was, I swear), even the tiniest bit of compost goes a long way to ensuring happy plants.

So go out there and build a pile! Autumn is the perfect time, especially with all those leaves falling out there. And it will answer your need for tidiness.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Cold-weather crops

My photographer husband just shakes his head when he sees my overexposed and fuzzy photos. This is a bed planted mostly in September.

Now that I have the greenhouse frame up, let's see what's putting down roots in the beds. The greenhouse itself is 20' long by 16' wide. I (will) have eight raised beds in there, all 6' x 3'. There's also one big back bed that's currently part of the herb garden. I will be removing much the oregano, tarragon, lavenders and marjoram that are in the back bed now and hopefully espalier a hardy citrus tree up the back wall. My two fig trees will overwinter in there, too.

SO here is the running list of the first four beds. (Two beds need to be built yet, and the other two are currently growing late-season potatoes (Katahdins and Russets) that I will not evict until November.) You can see how I have packed things in...

Chickories in many stripes: I fell in love with these bitter things when I lived in Italy after college. As a family, they prefer the cold, so I've planted the following: 1. Radicchio: The bunching/heading varieties never work for me, so I have lots of the leafy Treviso type both out in the regular garden and now in the new greenhouse garden. 2. Rosso Italiano: This is a type of dandelion. Its red stems and green, bunching leaves will go well in both salads and in sautees/soups. 3. Catalonian asparagus chickory: This wild looking thing looks like a white pinecone; you eat it before the leaves get big (thus its resemblance to asparagus), cut up like celeriac. 4. I haven't planted it yet, but frisee is always a hit in the salad bowl.

Spinach: I'm growing three types. This is something I will succession plant, too; my first batch (planted early September) is getting eaten now. The three types are 1. Space Hybrid, 2. Tyee Hybrid, and 3. Winter Giant.

Lettuces: Where would the garden be without them? Two types are up and running (1. Grand Rapids and 2. Winter Marvel Bibb). I planted two rows of mesclun Sunday.

Other greenery: This is a wide-net category! Technically, I can use the beet greens and chard as salad fillings, but there are other strange types of cold-hardy greens that have been sown in these beds: 1. Arugula (two types), 2. Erba Stella minutina (a tall skinny leaf thing similar to that dandelion I mentioned earlier) 3. Two types of mache/corn salad. This latter thing will be spread into the potato beds when I harvest them, as mache, a tiny rosette of a plant, loves the cold. 4. Likewise, claytonia loves the cold and will be planted later in the potato beds.

Root crops: These have been in the beds since last spring. It takes them a while to get going. 1. Parsnips 2. Scorzonera 3. Salsify. In September, though, I also planted 4. Lutz leaf beet for both its leaves and its root.

Brassicas: I optimistically transferred 1. four seedlings of broccoli (Piracicabia and Calabrese) to the beds in August, but these are being decimated by those nasty green caterpillar worms. I squish them daily by hand (ick), but I am losing the battle. Sunday, I planted a row of 2. Red Russian kale for salad fixings, and I also planted 3. purple kohlrabi: it will be an early spring harvest.

Onion family: There is one stand of 1. leeks that I planted last spring. I also seeded 2. a hardy bunching scallion in late July. This is a perennial plant, so I am looking forward to eating it all winter. It's quite zesty now! The tightwad in me grabbed some mealy looking 3. shallots left over from last year's harvest: these things were dried up and quite unpromising, but, well, a week after planting them? They're now 2" tall. I'm not sure how they'll handle the cold, though. 4. Chives. These have been in the herb bed for years. I hope they like their extended season.

Herbs: I transfered into one bed some 1. chervil, 2. wild arugula, and 3. rosemary. Chervil and this kind of arugula are wild self-seeders, so I have to watch it. I forgot my other 3. rosemary plant last year, leaving it in the ground over the winter: it lived, so I figure maybe this new plant will fare better in the warm-ish greenhouse. 4. Six plants of Italian parsley was interplanted with the tomatoes last spring. Then there're all the other herbs I mentioned that I will need to partially evict for my trees.

Other things: Ruby Red Swiss chard. This is up and running.

The other four beds might hold more of the same, and I will also add one row of carrots, though I'm doubtful they'll like the greenhouse.

All this dreaming-turned-near-reality is due to reading Eliot Coleman's book a few years back. He bought some of Helen and Scott Nearings' land in Maine (they, the original back-to-the-landers) and has been experimenting ever since. Anyway, he's convinced me to dream big. So we'll see how it all goes; stay tuned!

The dream so far. Excuse the construction debris.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

One small thing crossed off my list

View from Mont Merde

Look what we were able to do this afternoon.

Of course I had to pick a record-high day to do it: here it is, quarter to 7 in the evening and it's 84* out.

There is a lot more to be done to the greenhouse, but putting it up was the biggest thing. I won't put the plastic film on it until it starts getting cold (and considering the temperatures now, who knows when that will be).

But I did need to commit tomatocide. I cut down/pulled out the Brandywines, Aunt Ruby's German Greens, Green Zebras and one Amish Paste. The dang things were 7' high, some of them, and--well--I needed to plant the December crops (!).

Friday, October 05, 2007


Yep! Hot off the press, just released Tuesday night: Alice Waters' latest. I am happy, as simple food is what I love. It's a fairly basic cookbook, actually. But consider the source: in her talented hands, and with her instructions, simple magic can happen in anyone's kitchen.

But what you're looking at, of course, is a bribe.

You see, Tom leaves for London on Tuesday. Alone. Without us! So he needs to do some things to curry my favor.

He's going to be in an art fair--slash--show there. It's his profession's version of a convention, I suppose; in such an instance I am glad I am not going, conventions being what they are. (I would never drag him to an AIA convention.) But then, London is a place where the child and I could have plenty of fun...with or without him.

As it is, we'll see what trouble we can get in at home...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Morning errands

Maggie has gone broody, so I brought her some food...

...but it looks like she'll have to share. I ended up putting those fake eggs in the right nesting box (from the kiddie kitchen section at Target: quite realistic, which is why I've marked them with an "X") under her to make her feel useful.

Every morning, between dropping our daughter off at school and starting work, I try to do one outdoor task. This morning, I headed east to the Fruit Exchange to get the birds some more scratch.

I adore the fruit exchange. It's our feed-and-seed shop, but it is also the regional fruit processing and storage facility. Normally, I can chew the fat with the guys who work in the warehouse. They look at me (I think) as an anomaly: when we first moved here, I was in there often to get supplies to beef up my compost piles (greensand, dolomitic limestone, cast-off fruit, moldy straw) so I guess I have rightly earned the reputation as "that organic gal." But today they were busy, far too busy to chat, and the place was hopping! Big semitractor trailers are rolling in, their trailers piled high with wood boxes filled with apples and pears. Conveyor belts were rumbling away in the now well-lit warehouse, with a few women sorting and dumping the beautiful red round fruit rumbling down it.

I got a peck of Cortlands for $3, got my scratch, and made for home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Swiss chard

Even if the trees don't cooperate, the Swiss chard will give you a great shot of color.

Autumn is treading very lightly on our little world here. It appears that this year's leaf display will again be very muted. (My indicators are the sassafras: in a good year, these rhizomatous trees will go through the whole hot range of the spectrum. This year, they've slowly slipped into the rusty-plummy range.) The veg garden is still going nuts (the peppers, eggplants and tomatoes have all hit a second wind), and the recent rain has helped the long-neglected perennial beds.

Chard! I am the only person in the house who adores it. It sure is a sight to behold in the garden, though. Last night, I made a stew in which the chard was a key feature. Rich stews and hot bread are a seasonal favorite. (Thanks, Kelly, for the chard reminder.)

Chickpeas and Chard with cilantro and cumin
From Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers
2T olive oil
1/2 t ground cumin or more to taste
1 large onion, finely minced
2 t tomato paste
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
pinch of saffron threads
14 chard leaves and stems
2 garlic cloves
2 15-oz cans chickpeas or 3 cups home-cooked, with some cooking liquid
1 c cilantro leaves
1/4 c parsley leaves

1. Heat 1T+1t of olive oil in a wide skillet; add onion and saffron and cook over med. heat, stirring occasionally, 12-15 mins. Meanwhile, pound garlic and 1/2 t salt with the cilantro and parsley to make a rough paste. When the onions are golden and soft, add the paste to the pan along with the tomato paste and work it in with the onions.
2. Slice the chard leaves off their stems. Put them in a wide pot with 2 cups of water and cook, covered, until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Set the leaves aside and reserve the cooking water.
3. Chop the chard stems into dice and drop them into the reserved chard water. Simmer until tender, about 10 minutes, and turn off the heat.
4. Add the chickpeas to the onion with their liquid or 1 cup water or stock. Coarsely chop the chard and add it as well. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the stems. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with the remaining oil drizzled over it all.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thoughts on how far we've come...

...and how far we have yet to go.

So, today is October 1st. Three years ago today we bought this house and came here, with our eight-month-old daughter, directly from the closing, to start to pull up carpeting, shovel out old furniture, and pull down curtains...all to prepare it for the floor refinishers, the electrician and the drywaller. Whew.

I am showing you a picture of the shelves of canned goods. I have a slowly filling root cellar elsewhere, and the chest freezer is nearly full, and there are at least 15 pounds of dried beans that need to be shelled in the potting shed...and the gardens are still full of goodies, including about 100 pounds of potatoes. There's a good three pounds of garlic braided and hanging in the kitchen. My mention of these things is really simply a wrap-up of September's Eat Local Challenge. And I have a long way to go.

But the recent Harvest Moon got me in mind of this whole "eating-in-season" idea. What would the ideal be, I thought to myself. The ideal, of course, is what most everybody has now: the denial of the seasons that our first-world global-access grocery stores offer us. But what would it truly mean, that is, to deny the seasons and STILL do what I am doing on my 100-Foot Diet?

I am going to seriously look into this. I have a feeling the greenhouse will help.