Archive for November, 2008

‘t (almost) is the season …

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Once upon a time there were three wise men, they were Kings of the Orient; Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar were their names. They supposedly followed a star to Bethlehem. Now, this whole thing might have started out as a ‘let’s do something different tonight‘ venture, but since they lived in Persia and the star traveled a great distance East, they must have been convinced that something worthy of their effort lay at the end of their trip. They were not young men. They left prepared, carrying gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. Maybe they walked, maybe they had camels to carry them, in any case, this must have been quite an undertaking. If we can assume that (at least according to Catholic teachings)  Jesus was born on December 24th – or maybe it was on the 25th – it was such a long time ago who really can tell, and we celebrate the feast of the Three Kings on January 6th, that must have been some pilgrimage. Well, at least they should have been spared snow and cold, given the location. But still.

So, how did we come from the story of the Three Kings adoring Baby Jesus in a manger to the Christmas of modern times you might ask? With headlines like “US stores opened early and offered steep discounts on Friday”, “It is regarded as an important test of how willing consumers are to spend”, the Christmas shopping season has officially been declared open. And in a shopping frenzy a man was trampled to death and many others were injured in a suburb of New York. How did we come from a story that began with three kings worshiping a newborn in a manger to this shop til we drop business oriented Christmas. It seems we got lost along the way. Instead of following a star we sit in our car and follow the brake lights of the car in front of us . . . which leads us to a shopping mall where, with a little luck, the last empty parking space has not just been taken. So we can spend money we can’t afford on presents that quite likely will be exchanged or returned after the hullabaloo is over.

There has to be an in-between, something that satisfies the needs of our modern times yet still retains some of what this holiday was supposed to mean. I, for one, would like some sanity to return in time for this year’s holiday! Whether we believe the 3 kings actually ever set out on their trip East to follow a star or think of it as a fabrication, I for one want some of the fairy tale feeling back.

Turkey day the eco way

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

for this year’s celebratory dinner this news comes just a tad too late, but it is something to remember before your next turkey is brought to the table. I think we have all been conditioned (not to use the word brainwashed) to think that turkeys come frozen, with breasts that are puffed up like balloons, lots of white meat that doesn’t really have all that much flavor when you come down to it. But there is some good news: some farmers are raising heritage birds again, turkeys that are not bred for their huge sizes but for flavorful meat, turkeys that are not cooped up in places too small for them but have the run of the land. And they are beautiful birds, resembling those we remember from picture books about the pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving, the Bourbon Reds. They are colorful animals with reddish brown feathers and white tipped wings that I first read about in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Vegetable Miracle“. Maybe you can find a farm in your area that specializes in old breeds. If you do, let us know. My grandmother used to tell us kids that turkeys have 12 different kinds of meat. Over the years that fact seems to have gotten lost. Ah, maybe those were the good old days after all ;)

Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Thankgsgiving!

Beets – a superfood

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

some foods seem destined to wind up on our ‘do I really have to eat this’ list. Spinach seems to be high on that list, but so are beets. And they do have a grungy kind of appearance. But the taste – heavenly, if you ask me. This bunch I brought in just before last night’s rain turned to snow. They are the last of the season and not prime examples but they will taste just as sweet as their predecessors did which were pulled up during the summer months. Beets are quite versatile – eat them raw with a little vinegar and oil, or cook them with cumin seeds, tomatoes, garlic and onions; the leaves make a fine salad, and that is just for starters. A juice made with beets and carrots is naturally sweet. And so healthy!

If you still aren’t convinced that you like to see beets on your dinner table look up the health benefits of beets and get convinced ;)

Wild lettuce

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

this afternoon, as I was preparing to lay the ground work for another section of path around the rose beds I discovered lettuce! A few years ago I put some seed down, we had some delectable salads that first year, and ever since then the harvest has been a pretty steady one even though the exact location of the plants has been somewhat unpredictable. Apparently the birds scatter the seeds, and so I have wild lettuce appear in the middle of a path, between the roses, and – I know this is hard to believe – sometimes even in the vegetable garden ;)

So tonight’s dinner will center around a nice salad, the herbs are still producing nicely and will be mixed in, possibly one of the last hurrays of the season. There is some frosty weather in the forecast ;(

You might know this type of lettuce as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce. No matter what you call it, it is a real taste treat, far better than the stuff one can buy in the market.

Declaring war on weeds

Monday, November 17th, 2008

now that things have quieted down in the garden and the vegetable patch is resting cosily under a blanket of mulch is an excellent time to get a head start on fighting next year’s weeds. Take the paths along the two rosebeds in front of the house. Very pretty, but they forever need my attention during the growing season. There seems no end to the work involved in keeping these paths presentable during the summer months. So I decided to try something I read about not too long ago. It is a fairly simple approach. First you cover the area with cardboard, no need to skimp here, then add a layer of bark chips to cover the whole mess. The cardboard acts as a barrier. While it does allow moisture to get through it will keep the light from getting to any seeds that might start to sprout underneath it and they will die.  Just make sure that the bark chips have not been treated with pesticides. I have tried this procedure underneath my berry bushes and it seeems to work quite nicely in supressing weeds. An added benefit is that earth worms seem to love the moist layers of paper, and we know how beneficial they are to the soil. After a while the paper will rot away, but I feel it is a simple task to push the chips aside and place new cardboard underneath when that happens.

I am about halfway there, let’s hope the weather stays mild for another few days ;)

Pumpkin art

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

It is amazing how many things one can do with pumpkins. In the kitchen anything goes, from a delectable spiced pumpkin soup to roasted pumpkin cubes to cake and bread, pumpkins are amazingly versatile. Now it seems that some rather creative people in a neighboring village have come up with ideas all their own (it kind of makes one wonder if they might not have gotten tired of eating these things 3 times a day) ;)

The detail on the carvings is what really impressed me. There might be some as yet undiscovered artistic talent in that little farming town. I love the smile on that little piggy.

Fruit too ugly to eat?

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

It appears that the European Commission is doing away with certain rules that deal with fruit and vegetables having to do with a standard of perfection. And to think that I wasn’t even aware of the fact that we are paying bureaucrats to ensure we are not confronted with  – ah – what – ugly fruit on the supermarket shelves? Give me a break! An excellent guideline might be – if it is really too ugly, let’s say revoltingly ugly, it might not sell. But do we really need someone to protect us from seeing that imperfect peach or whatever?

Actually the restrictions are only lifted for 26 items (among them apricots, artichokes, asparagus), but remain in effect for another 10 types of produce which make up about 75% of items sold in the EU (apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes). So the good news is that as of July 1 2009 a cucumber does not have to show a certain curvature to be allowed to grace the market basket. That is good news I suppose, but my question is still – what about the taste? Is that not an important aspect of what we eat? Anybody care about that?

You can read more about how the EU slices up ‘ugly fruit’ rules.

And here is some imperfection that grew in my garden last summer. Weird to look at but still quite tasty as I remember ;)

Gene manipulation? No thanks? You think!

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

isn’t anything safe anymore? Bad enough that GM food quietly finds its way onto our supermarket shelves. Now we can also worry about seed contamination. If you want to read how our current government is looking out for us, and if you think that growing your own takes care of your worries, think again. You might want to take a look at this article. Scary in so many ways.

the things we give away – just a thought

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

This morning I was awakened by the garbage truck that came thundering down the street, making quite a racket and spewing smelly exhaust. The truck comes by the house every 2 weeks to take away the leaves, the grass clippings, the basic ‘stuff’ that collects in the kitchen. Half awake it dawned on me that many of us give away for free the very things that every gardener can and should use to improve the quality of the soil, the things that should go on a mulch pile and not in a plastic can to be carted off.

I am not a convert to organic gardening. As far back as I can remember never was chemical fertilizer used in our garden. While there were no grass clippings when I was growing up – every inch of the garden was used to grow food – there were plenty of leaves from the fruit trees in the fall, the neighboring farm had cows and we could have all the manure, hay and straw that we wanted for free; we had an organic garden and weren’t even aware of it. So when I started to grow things it seemed only natural to me to continue in a similar way. Now, as I refer to the many books that I am starting to collect on the matter, I read a chapter and nod my head, thinking yes, of course, I knew that ;)

So as I lay listening to the truck picking up the good stuff that gets taken away I wondered whether I could make a trade with my neighbors, they can have all the zucchini, cukes and tomatoes in the summer months for a year-round supply of their organic refuse. Hm! Just a tought.

Italian food, lasagna and much more

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Italian food – ideal for a cold fall evening. Just breathe in that lovely tomato-garlicky aroma! This summer I discovered a recipe that is  a very light version of eggplant parmigiana that is made by layering vegetables, eggplant, peppers, carrots, mushrooms etc., and without the cheese. Come to think of it, it is time to give it another try. Don’t let the preparation discourage you, the dish freezes quite well. So make a big batch and enjoy, and don’t worry about the calories!

So much for food. Recently I came upon a post that talks about “Lasagna Gardening“. Sounds different enough to get my attention! A promise to cut back on weeds and give the old vegetable patch an energy boost in one easy step? It sounded so good that I grabbed all the newspapers I could find and went out on this foggy, drizzly morning to get started. Huge potential there!