All Choked Up

I realize I may write about food more than anything else, but I’m sorry: I just can’t help it lately.  And if you told me I’d be taking pictures of produce ten years ago, I think I might have hung myself from boredom.  However silly I sometimes can get (taking pictures of a salad; a beet; a Kombucha bottle; and now an artichoke), I have to say that I’m terribly fascinated by vegetables, fruits, or any other living matter outside.  In other words, nature.  They’re all just so … so … complex!

This morning while watering the garden I noticed the artichoke plant.  It’s never been a heavy producer, and we’d be lucky to get one.  Last year nothing happened to the plant, so this year we figured the same thing would happen.  But to our great surprise, something has happened; it’s stocked full of artichokes (about 10).  Barefoot and feet pressed against the damp summer morning grass, I walked over to the plant.  One hand holding a hose, the other holding a cup of tea.  Hair long and crazy, shorts and long shirt, and having a conversation with an artichoke:  Hey, good morning Artichoke!  Nice to meet you.  It’s been a while.

I suppose it’s safe to say, a happy gardener has a happy garden.

So, readers, is there anything in your garden this year that has surprised you?


A Splash of Color

Everybody has a favorite vegetable to grow.  Some prefer fingerling potatoes for their knobbly finger-like shape, while some favor a tedious vegetable like the artichoke for a sense of great accomplishment.  Mine, however, is the rainbow chard.  Why?  For one, it tastes delicious and secondly, for their assortment of colors! 

A general rule of thumb for gardening is to have as many colorful vegetables in the garden.  You know the saying: More color, more health.  Chalk your garden up with color!  Eggplant, radicchio, radish, blue/purple/white/red potatoes, pomegranates, purple cabbage!  Red veggies are packed with a natural pigment called “lycopene” or “anthocyanins” … big words for a rather simple meaning.  They help in reducing risk of cancers, liver damage, heart disease, as well as containing awesome antioxidants protecting our aging skin from further damage.  We all hear the word “antioxidants” labeled in everything now – wine, shellfish, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  We live in a civilized era now with information and tools of resource at (literally) the tips of our fingers.  Everybody can learn how to eat and live healthily without having to make an appointment at the nutritionalists (unless there are other underlying health problems).  But for the most part, it’s an easy thing to do.

This doesn’t mean, however, we all live by it.  I, myself, plead guilty to a Mary Poppin’s hypothetical suggestion: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!

A Rose By Any Other Name …

There are two types of flowers that send me in delirious happiness when I smell them: roses and sweet peas.  I love the two for different reasons.  Roses always takes me to the present, and gives me a sense of immediate enjoyment for the day.  Sweet Peas, on the contrary, sends me back in time when my late grandfather would pluck them from his garden and place them in one of my Nana’s beautiful antique vases in time for morning’s breakfast.  A rose by any name would smell so sweet… this goes for Sweet Peas, too.

During rose blooming season, there are a few things I like doing.  I like trimming them and placing them vicariously around the house in vases (or jars, if I don’t have any more vases, which always seems to be the case).  I like making potpourri (I use this recipe).  And most especially, I like getting “Petal Showers” from my two little boys as they dance around me with giggles and sweet childish kisses.

When my Sweet Peas bloom, I snip the flowers off immediately (they multiply in abundance the more you snip away) and place them in little jars on nightstands in the bedroom and everywhere else that volunteers, “Here!” (which is just about everywhere).  Like the Lilac, Sweet Peas scent up a room so fast and so sweetly – no artificial room spray or “plug-in” could suffice. 

So, in respect to Shakespeare himself, What’s in a name? That which we call a rose /By any other name would smell as sweet.

Purple Haze

There’s always a sense of serenity when my husband, two boys and I go to our lots in the community gardens.  The conversations on the drive there always seem to be in good spirit and mood, the day fills up with an enjoyable activity, and we always leave feeling filled up with an energized vibe of Life.  Whether it’s spending a few hours weeding, going on explorations with the boys, catching butterflies, planting seedlings and seeds in rich organic soil, or jabbering about with fellow gardeners, I just have to say this one small thing: I like it.

A few days ago a fellow gardener gave me an idea of what to do with the copious amounts of chive flowers we happily “inherited” by taking over an additional lot.  At home we have one big healthy chive plant.  In the “new” lot (which we’re thinking of naming “Teesville”, after my husbands’ Nan’s charming little house in England) we adopted four extra chive plants, equally as huge and abundant.  This means … more chives than we’ll know what to do with.  They’re such beautiful plants; and so forgiving and low-maintenance.

But yes, back to the fellow gardener who gave me an idea of what to DO with all these lovely purple flowers, with a scent of that chivey-onion delight!  She recommended making a “chive vinegar” with two ingredients: chive and vinegar.  Easy enough, yes?  As soon as my chives flowered into a purple craze, I took out my scissors, camera and smile and started snipping away!

I collected as many as I possibly could and put them as carefully in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag.  After doing this I found that I hardly made a dent on my chive plants, which will make many friends happy; hopefully they can harvest some for themselves!  After transporting them home, and laying the baggie on my kitchen counter I noticed two recognizable trails that of slugs.  Naturally, I groaned in disgust (not a huge slug fan), and took the entire bag of flowers out of their captivity and let them loose in a bin of lukewarm water.  Typically, I’m not much of a germaphobe, nor am I entirely squeamish of bugs and critters (hey! protein!), but when it comes to slugs and their slimy trails, I like to clean them as much as possible.  So, I individually inspected each one (this took about 45 minutes, but it was worth it to me and my sanity).

While soaking the flowers, I heated the vinegar up to a “just boiling” stage.  Meanwhile, after carefully inspecting the flowers, I let them out to dry and enjoy a moment of sun.  I put them all in a big jar (rather than individually putting them in smaller jars, merely because I lacked the jars and wanted to get on with this project as soon as possible) and filled up the entire jar with hot vinegar and beautiful clean, purple flowers.

Almost immediately after introducing the two main ingredients together did I get to witness a magical transformation of color and beauty!  My little boys watched the process along with me, and we all agreed that this was a show worth seeing!  Every single flower burst into a beautiful pink color as did the vinegar.  Watching the vinegar soak up the purple and translate it into a different “version” of purple is perhaps the best part of the entire process.  I haven’t had any of the vinegar to taste yet (however, let me tell you: the aroma cast out in the kitchen made my mouth water and crave for a summer salad!).

So, with all this said and done, harvested and groomed, loved and nurtured … I thank my fellow community garden gardener for her generosity and very much appreciated suggestion of what to do with my prolific amounts of purple onion-scented flowers.  Now for some salad!

Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly Away Home

Out of all the little insects in the garden, my favorite is the ladybird (or ladybird beetle, lady beetle, and most commonly named in the States, ladybug).  Whatever you wish to call it, one thing is for certain: they’re a popular insect to admire.  Many people love these scarlet-coated beetles for their vibrant red and black anatomy, while gardeners love them for a more practical purpose: ladybirds are an excellent source of a natural method of pest control.

My husband and I bought a package of ladybirds from our local nursery, containing roughly 1,500 beetles.  At dusk, we spread them out on a few select plants with what seems to be a weevil problem (weevils look like little black aphids).  Though 1,500 sounds like a lot of ladybirds, they didn’t look like that many.  However, they did take charge!  As soon as we spread them out, they climbed the base of the black currant bush, like aphid-eating pros!  Well worth the $9.99 purchase (which at the time, I thought was a little steep). So the next time you see a little ladybird, stop and take a moment.  Look at her closely, admire her whimsical beauty, and thank her for me.

Experimenting with Arugula

This is the first year I’ve ever grown arugula.  Being a salad freak, I’m surprised that I haven’t grown it before.  Then again, I’ve never grown Nasturtiums until this year and I love putting edible flowers in my salad.    But, alas, I bought some arugula seeds and then went to a nearby nursery and saw a small flat of arugula seedlings.  I bought them.  I said to myself that I’d rotate them once the arugula was plucked & harvested, however the more I’m reading up on it, it sounds more like a self-seeder (somewhat like a perennial) which defeats the purpose of rotation.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to grow arugula (and forgot to ask the clerk), but from my veggie book, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith, found that the best ways to grow is sowing seeds directly in the soil 3” deep in Spring as soon as soil is good enough to be worked with.  They didn’t say what to do with a flat of “bunched-up” seeds together, but I’m assuming you can just plant the entire flat directly in soil.  This might be naive of me, but that’s what I did.  We’ll see how it pans out.

This is what the arugula looks like.  I chose the Rocket Arugula.  A spicier and peppier version of the scrumptious leafy green.

And this is how I put it in the soil.  Pretty simple looking, eh?  Well, let’s just wait and see if it turned out okay.  If you know of any other ways I should have done, this let me know!  I’m actually kind of curious how it’ll pan out.

Some things to keep in mind about arugula (some facts about arugula) that you might find interesting:

* There are 3 main types – Astro, Rocket, and Italian Wild Rustic.  Astro has a milder flavor and can be harvested a few days earlier.  Rocket, as mentioned above, has a spicier and peppery taste, and also an early harvest.  Italian Wild Rustic has tender leaves, a spicy flavor and sufficient yields.

* Only about 2-3 weeks after plants germinate, you can harvest the leaves (they’ll be about 2-3 inches in height).

* The flowers are also edible, so gather them up, bunch them up and put them in your salad!  They have an awesome flavor to them!

Okay!  I think that’s about it for arugula for now.  I also planted my other lettuces today.  So exciting!  To think in a month or so I’ll be eating daily fresh grown salads again.  Mmm.

Endive, Red & Green Leaf Lettuce               Cherry Tomato: Pantano Romanesco, Heirloom.

A Springy Thought

I love Sping.   No, wait.  That’s such a clichéd thing to say, isn’t it?  I mean, really; doesn’t everybody love spring?  Don’t we all feel that giddiness rush through our veins on the first sunny, warm day?  I can’t speak for everybody, but I do plead guilty to every so often feeling a surge of nostalgia during my teenage years when spring hits.  I can almost, almost, hear “Hey Macarena!” in the distance, and oh my God is that the mysterious sandy blond headed boy (what was his name?  Josh?) in my 10th grade pottery class moping beneath the Willow tree??  No.  False alarm.  It’s just an abandoned wine barrel.  Honestly; I need to get those aged eyes of mine checked.  Ah, yes.  Spring.  The season that makes the heart aflutter, the birds sing, and delicate petals bloom.

Our back garden is a place I cherish.  We spend so much time back there that our poor front yard gets sadly neglected.  I’m sure our neighbors don’t mind seeing thousands of overgrown weeds intermingling with one another, creating its own ecosystem … right?  Surely foliage from last Autumn’s appearance strewn all around the pebble pathway, housing all sorts of little critters, and dandelions will perhaps become the newest Front Yard Fashion.  I can see it now: HGTV’s latest Curb Appeal could potentially tear down a perfectly manicured front yard and put in “Urban Overgrowth” in its place.  Hmm.  In all seriousness, I plan to tackle this, ahem, eyesore tomorrow.

But back to the back garden!  The place nobody else sees, save for family and friends and our ferocious Gandalf (poor birds, bunnies and snakes … yes, snakes!) cat.  The garden has bloomed into an abundance of color.  Flowers, flowers, and flowers.  Best of all, it’s designed as a Wildlife Habitat where most of every plant helps protect and nourish wildlife.  Berries, foliage, nuts, pollen, nectar to name a few … we love to spy on nearby hummingbirds, squabbling jays and other birds (my avian knowledge is next to null), chipmunks and squirrels, and raccoons.  Considering this back garden is nearly entirely enclosed, it’s pretty impressive to see so much wildlife.  And the bees!  Oh, we do love the bees!

So, yes.  It’s just this time of year where everything outside begins to explode.  Where our childish selves are excused for thoughtless tendencies (examples being frivolous purchases of darling pink frilly tops, and neglected front yards … hey, just blame it on spring fever!)  On top of all the flowers and berries and fruit trees, we have our vegetable garden that we’ve been working on since February (more on that later).  Needless to say, we love the Earth.  So, in honor of Earth Day today, I write this little note of thanks … Thank you, Earth, for being so kind to us.  If only we can always be so kind to you.

Harvest Time

Harvest Time
By: Roberta Owenjuly 09 155

Picture this.  Spring comes along and the vegetable seedlings you nursed to maturity are ready to be planted in rich, dark soil.  Spring rolls through and you see the little inch-high seedlings begin to take shape and form into something a little bigger, a little sturdier and a little more like a vegetable than a weed.  It’s amazing, almost miraculous, to see the little lettuces, leeks, carrots, onions or beets battling against spring’s unexpected frosts, winds or heavy rains.

As gardeners, we tend to these little lives with a special love and care.  They grow bigger and heartier through summer’s heat and sun.  And our green thumbs weed around all our hard work.  We nurture them endlessly:

  • Watering when rain is scarce
  • Supplementing with minerals and vitamins
  • Plucking out pests in and around our inviting habitat
  • Leafing through the entire garden making sure every little life is flourishing

Now picture this.  All the life that was once small and seemingly helpless is now full grown vegetables.  Tomatoes are in full bloom, bursting in radiant color.  Zucchini sits lazily on the ground, long and plump.  Potatoes are snug deep below the rich soil.  Beets are boasting in purple glory.  Onions, leeks, garlic and chives are shades of green so vibrant you feel healthier just looking at it.  Cabbages are spherically shaped in ruffled perfection.  Carrots and parsnips are laced in intermingled unison, nearly begging to be plucked and devoured.  Your entire garden is ready to be harvested.  It’s a bittersweet moment: the moment, you’ve been waiting for.  There’s something inside of us that silently says “I’m sorry.”  Not that we’re entirely remorseful (we wouldn’t have grown them in the first place if this were the case), but there is an undeniable hint of mixed feelings as we see our garden slowly getting smaller due to cropping.  But, it sure tastes good!

My husband and I have a vegetable, fruit and flower garden at home.  In addition to this, we have a garden plot (20×20) through the city’s community gardens program.  The vegetable garden includes potatoes, leeks, onions, chives, various herbs, eggplant, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, parsnips, squash, cabbages, cauliflower, lettuces, pole beans, sugar snap peas, garlic, zucchini, cucumbers, brussel sprouts and beets.  Needless to say, its upkeep took extreme dedication (thanks primarily to my husband) and time.  This is a 100 percent organic garden, no chemicals to rid pests.  This means every plant required manual riddance of slugs, aphids, caterpillars and cutworms (top four pests we encountered this year).  Most plants survived, but some did not.

The top three “successful” vegetables in our garden were tomatoes, cabbages and potatoes.  If you are a newcomer to growing a vegetable garden, I would highly recommend these three vegetables (in addition to lettuces, sugar snap peas and carrots).

We chose the Hillbilly and Riesentraube Heirloom tomatoes, bought from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog.  The Hillbillies are meaty and pink, rich in flavor and relatively easy to grow.  Because of their individual weight (two pounds) supporting the plant with poles is mandatory (we chose thick bamboo rods).  The Riesentraube tomatoes are smaller, excellent for salads and bear so much fruit you feel like you’ve become a master gardener.  Cutworms and tomato fruit worms are common pest dwellers for tomatoes; if you’re not the squeamish type, just pluck them off when you see them.  Early blight is another difficult and sometimes harder disease to control with tomatoes.  This occurs during hotter, wetter months of the season and targets older leaves.  Simply pruning off the diseased leaves before it infects the entire plant (early blight is highly contagious) can help the plant.  Proper irrigation and air circulation also helps to reduce the risk of early blight.

Early and Late Cabbage proved to be a success for us.  Early cabbage is very small (the size of a softball) so if you do grow this, keep this in mind.  We were expecting it to be much like late cabbage (the size of a basketball) as we left it nearly too late.  In its earlier stage, cutworms and root maggots almost annihilated our crop.  You’ll know a cutworm or root maggot has gotten its feisty little grip on it when you see the leaves chewed off or if the plant seems stunted in growth.  Removing cutworms is easy: just pick them off.  Root maggots, on the contrary, pose a different problem because they burrow inside the soil, attached to the root.  When this happens, the only natural way to remove them (from what I know and have researched) is to carefully uproot the cabbage, find the pest, remove it and carefully search for any more that may be in or around the soil.  Sometimes this helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s good to remember that the vegetable will not always survive the uprooting and replanting. In cabbages later stages (both in Early Cabbage and Late Cabbage), aphids pose a serious and annoying threat to both the plant itself and the gardener.  Spraying them off with water or wiping them away is a natural and organic way to eliminate this problem.  Aphids are tricky, though: they burrow deep in the leaves and require time and dedication to eliminate them.  This is gardening, though: this is why it’s hard work and why we’re so grateful when it turns out beautiful.

We planted Red, Purple and Yellow Seed Potatoes we purchased from Hohl’s Feed and Seed.  Potatoes flourish when planted in cool spring soil, but bear in mind you don’t want to plant them in water logged soil (this could rot the potato).  This is a fun plant to grow if you have children: set the potatoes out in an area of your home where there is plenty of sunlight and “warm” temperatures (about 65F) and in a few weeks you’ll notice little buds.  The buds will determine where you can slice the potatoes (if larger) in halves or thirds.  Smaller potatoes can be left whole.  Plant them in rich soil and you’re pretty much done.  They are low maintenance and offer a hearty bulb, therefore, children can easily plant the potato in soil themselves and feel a sense of accomplishment.  After time, when the potatoes are growing in leafy bushes and hotter weather rolls in, covering the plants in straw is a good idea (potatoes aren’t too keen on hot weather).  Each potato bushel yielded an average of seven delicious, colorful potatoes.

Some of the “not-so-lucky” vegetables we encountered were cauliflower, radishes and brussel sprouts.  Gardening can sometimes make you feel like a champ when all goes well, but when it doesn’t, it’s difficult not to get discouraged or frustrated.

Along with victories, every gardener has their failures.  In our case, it was the radish.  One word: maggots.  It’s so easy to say, “just pluck them away.”  However, the Radish sometimes enjoys playing peek-a-boo with the soil and its red top flirts with the rest of the radishes nearby.  Radish maggots spy these tasty treats and devour them.  Sadly, once a radish maggot gets to a radish, the only thing to do is toss the little red root away.  It’s commonly thought that slugs get to radishes, but when you actually take a closer look, peering inside, you’ll see the little white maggot worming its way, happily munching away.  I swear every year I won’t plant these difficult vegetables again, although I always do.  After all, what’s a garden salad without a radish?

Eggplant is finicky.  It takes its time to grow and seems like a lazy plant.  I call it the “Teenager Who Won’t Get Out of Bed for School on Time” plant.  Because, seriously: sometimes it misses its chance to get there on time!  We had two good eggplants, but should have had more.  We planted the Ping Tung; 70 days, 18” long, 2” in diameter, which claimed to be “sweet and tender, superbly delicious!”  And it was.  The two we grew.  I just wanted more and I would have loved to see it produce more fruit than it did.  There weren’t any pests and it was planted in the greenhouse (eggplants love warmth).  We’ll try again next year.

Brussel Sprouts are interesting vegetables.  You see so much foliage and no produce for a while.  And then suddenly, as if overnight, you begin to see small little buttons emerging from the stalks.  Even before they sprout their little green buds, however, aphids are attracted to the plant.  They burrow on the tops of the overlapping foliage, nestling themselves so deep, the gardener has to literally unfold each leaf and wipe them off, spraying off the aphids.  When the brussel sprouts do grow bigger and look more like the way we see them in markets, keep a close eye on each sprout: slugs, aphids and cutworms find these veggies a tasty meal.  The ideal brussel sprout is a firm, tight brussel.  To achieve this, plant in firm packed soil.  Firm soil equates to firm brussels and loose soil leads to loose flaky brussels.  Harvesting the sprouts if they are loose and later boiling them for your meal will result in tasteless, flaky veggies.  We found that the hardest thing about growing brussel sprouts were the aphids.  Getting rid of them is tedious work, especially when they return a week later!

The fun things about gardening are its unexpected surprises.  These surprises can be both good and not so good, but who doesn’t like a garden surprise?  Our “surprising” adventures in the garden beds were the pole beans, cauliflower and garlic.

We planted the Royalty Purple Pod pole beans.  At first we didn’t think they would make it: they seemed small and wilted in the sun and lacked the desire to climb.  We babied them endlessly.  Manually weaving the little vines around poles, creating elaborate and intricate routes to a better direction.  And then, as if they finally figured out what they were supposed to do, they flourished.  They grew.  They bushed out.  They wrapped around in curly definition around the poles, around the fence and up the twine.  They looked like they came out of the Secret Garden with their little curly-cues; their spiral little vines whimsically boasted to its neighboring apple tree; they were going to make it.  And then the pole beans began to sprout.  The first few we saw we ecstatically plucked them off for that night’s dinner and had a sense of pride.  And then ten more came.  After that, the entire bush was full of foot long beautiful, thick purple pods.  We plucked them off the vine, ate them raw and discovered a new favorite.  They all came to maturity nearly at the same time, so I would suggest canning, freezing and sharing with others.  They are a truly scrumptious eat.

My husband and I have planted Cauliflower before and have had good luck in the past, but this year we weren’t as lucky.  Cutworms devoured the roots to the point of complete annihilation.  Like cabbage, you can tell a cutworm found its way in the roots just by looking at it.  It stops growing (stunts) and looks horrible.  Our soil was rich and full of nutrients, but in addition to the cutworm, the cabbage looper (common pest for cabbage) attacked it, infecting the white button, leaving it inedible.  We planted both purple and white cauliflower.  Out of about six plants, only one made it and it was very small (but delicious).  With gardening, these things happen and they may be surprising, but it’s not worth getting discouraged over.

Lastly, we planted my favorite, Hardneck Garlic.  I love garlic.  I love cooking with it, I love roasting it and I even enjoy eating it raw (this is a very powerful immune booster).  When we received the pearly white bulbs in its brown paper sack, we immediately put them in the refrigerator, until ready to plant.  It’s such an easy plant to grow: get all the cloves from the bulb, directly plant in rich soil two inches deep, cover with soil and wait.  They’ll sprout and grow into tall, lanky, onion-like stalks.  When it’s time to harvest, be careful when you uproot it.  You need to wait until the stalks “die back,” turning brown and yellow.  Because of this, don’t pull; you need to dig them out.  We found the easiest way to harvest Hardneck Garlic was to uproot them with good, thick gloves (my favorites are the Atlas Gloves) and dig them out with your fingers (this way you can work around the bulb).  After harvesting, wipe off the dirt (don’t wash) and cure the garlic.  Curing is easy: place the garlic in an area with good air-circulation, out of the sun (underneath rafters, a shed or even in an area in your house) and leave for a few weeks.  After they’re good and dry, wash and bundle about ten bulbs (with stalks), braid them and hang.  Voila, you have a vampire’s worst enemy.

Gardening is a lot of work, a time-consuming activity and an excellent means for sustainable living.  The beautiful thing about gardening is anyone can do it.  Picture this: you’re a first-time gardener and after a successful season you find that you have found a new passion, a new hobby and have a new, raw taste for sustainability.  It’s delightful!

Saucy Sauce

We planted a new Heirloom variety of tomatoes this year: Hillbilly Tomatoes.  I knew little of this new fruit, but after pouring over each page in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog my mother so generously lent me, I spotted the Hillbilly.  A true tomato lover, I found myself drooling over the brilliant marbled red and yellow colors, and its intricate pink streaks showcasing perfect and succulent linings when sliced open.  Granted, I bought the seeds with no taste to judge on, but the words “rich, sweet flavor” sold me.  The day the package came, both my husband and I opened the envelope like excited children on Christmas morning.September 09 120September 09 126

Through four months of devoted time, love and care it is finally time to see the beauties in full bloom.  As though screaming, “Eat me!  Love me!  Devour me!” the Hillbillies have proven to be an absolute tomato gem.  We also planted a cherry heirloom variety, the Riesentraube, which are perfect for salads and sneakily popping in your mouth, freshly plucked from the vines teeming with these little red fruits of heaven.  However, the Hillbillies are my favorites: these 2lb fruits, when sliced generously thick, are excellent for a simple cucumber and tomato sandwich.  They’re meaty, sweet, and have that perfect sharp taste that a tomato should have.

Tonight we made a delicious Spaghetti Sauce, recipe provided by my sweet niece, Chanel, in England.  I have never made a Spaghetti sauce before, but am always up for a new culinary adventure.  If the recipe seems too difficult, with too many ingredients, and specific timing requirements, I have to admit: my sense of adventure gets dulled and I end up disinterested in the recipe the moment I begin.  I like simple, unpretentious recipes.  Chanel gave me just this, and the outcome tasted like a gourmet dish served in a five star Italian restaurant.  And trust me: I am no culinary expert.

Here is the recipe:

  • Grab a handful of tomatoes per person, or as many as possible (I used both the Hillbillies and Riesentraubes)
  • Score a cross on the bottom of each tomato
  • Crush a few cloves of garlic (I used 7 ripe from the garden because I am a bona fide garlic fiend)
  • Season generously with salt and pepper
  • 1 T sugar
  • A “glug” of olive oil

I added:

  • A handful of fresh sprigs of basil
  • 1 onion
  • ½ bell pepper
  • ¼ c. pine nuts

Roast all of this in the oven, 350F, for about 50 minutes.  Take out, mash a little (I used a potato masher) let cool and remove skins (I like the skins, so I left them on).   Pour over meat (if desired – can be used as an excellent vegetarian dish) and pasta.  Voila!  You’re done.September 09 115

Sustainable Living

Everybody has a definition for sustainable living and the more it’s out there, the fuzzier the idea gets. While one thinks this style of life is creating a pretty garden with the odd vegetable here and there, recycling and going in an organic direction, another can think it requires more than that: a hard core vegetable garden, a goat in the backyard with a few free-range chickens running amuck, a workshop to build furnishings, recycling old linens for clothing and doing everything as simple and as green as possible. defines sustainable living as “any lifestyle based on energy-saving and environmental responsibility.” Does this mean that the pretty garden peppered with the odd red vegetable with scary looking warts is a means of sustainability? Well, yes. According to the dictionary, it is. Every garden requires environmental responsibility and if that garden produces meals, it is energy saving. Sure, it’s not enough to keep a human (being) alive, but the definition of sustainable living doesn’t say it needs to.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as a plate of homegrown vegetables and a fresh line caught salmon for dinner. It almost feels like cheating to use a lemon from the local market, so we tend to forgo the tangy yellow fruit, boasting to ourselves that, yes, this is a 100 percent sustainable meal. Our taste buds burst with pleasure and we smile to ourselves, remembering the rod that tugged with force while the silvery pink fish splashed out toward the surface. Reeling in tonight’s dinner, we have the inevitable sense of accomplishment and certainty; we can survive, alone. We are hunters; we are gatherers.

The idea of “going green” has sparked conversations many times around the dinner table, in the garden, even in a child’s room. It can be an achievement and a set of beliefs. It is a great accomplishment to grow a head of red leaf lettuce, a few sprigs of green onions and an heirloom tomato; eat a garden salad and call it sustainable living. However, others ask if that is enough. Ours is a world where 7 Up is called “natural.” Or where packaging that screams “compostable” ends up in the landfill where it won’t break down because that bio-material is not accepted at the city composting facility (unless you live in one of the lucky cities with compost collection).

Green-washing (meaning when companies spin their products and policies as environmentally friendly) is so pervasive, it might drown out the efforts of countless salads. The phrase “sustainable living” is perfect for marketing that 100 percent organic cotton apron with three little birds embroidered by a blind nun (who was paid fair wages and given access to appropriate healthcare); but is preparing an organic meal in that apron really a sustainable life?      july 09 109

Going Back to Basics: Isn’t it Ironic?

Going back to basics has an irrevocable sentiment of domesticity. Communal gardens and rooftop beds of growth, small porches filled with little plant boxes and rows of seeds sprouting up. Knowing even the dead can fertilize the living. All of this requires attentive detail and constant dedication; it is a time-consuming activity. It involves tending, a trait that once belonged solely to women.

Gardening is as basic as basic gets. A good source of basic living is cooking homemade meals. Baking from scratch is on the rise, because it can cut your grocery bill in half, a big incentive these days and partly due to a growing awareness of our need to keep our regional food sheds healthy and available. For others baking is fun. Whatever the reason for the rise of baking from scratch, one thing is worth noting: many women are back in the kitchen.

Women for centuries have fought long and hard for their independent rights and freedoms. If we go back to the Stone Age era, for instance, the role of a woman was to help gather nuts and seeds and grind them to make meals, sew clothes and tend to the most basic needs of their family. This “role” for a woman has been passed on from generation to generation, defining a woman by her duties at home.

The fight for independence and liberation had finally reached a satisfying point.

  • Women vote
  • Women work in construction
  • Women are in the army
  • Women can have a baby and three weeks later return to the workforce
  • Women can do nearly anything a man can do
  • Women have gained their freedom from tending

The irony in this, however, is women are now fighting their way back into the kitchen and into the garden and those who are lucky enough to work from home are envied. The sense of pride a woman gets these days from baking her first whole wheat loaf of bread! She boasts on Twitter: “Just made a fresh loaf of whole wheat flax bread from scratch and the smell is delightful.” She then proceeds to shove the dry morsels of food in her spouse’s mouth, eager to prove to herself and others that she is a culinary expert. Once again, a woman who can sew her own clothes, master her own garden and cook an entire meal from scratch using the produce from her garden is the new post-feminist.

Getting Started in Sustainable Living

Creating a balance between living within the Earth’s limitations and simplifying our own needs, wants or desires can lead to a daunting and intimidating responsibility. While we know of the environmental plight, we also know human nature has a tendency toward naïve ignorance or the popular and somewhat comforting myth that somebody else will take care of it. Relegating such tasks, however, is not a sustainable option. Interestingly enough, the differences are ones from a more traditional past:

  • Use a clothes rack to dry clothes
  • Use public transportation, walk or ride a bike
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room
  • Use energy efficient household items
  • Cut down on electronics
  • Plant a small garden for vegetables. If you don’t have access to a yard, use your porch or look around your community to find a communal garden
  • Become aware of your local classes and events to see what they have to offer

If you are new to the idea of going green in your lifestyle or just want to continue learning and getting involved in the community, there are local organizations to help you, and websites to learn from:

Seattle Tilth is a local nonprofit organization whose main goal is to educate and encourage gardeners to grow organic and become more environmentally conscious. This past July, Seattle Tilth, offered a City Chicken Coop Tour, educating the minds of those interested in how to raise chickens or build a coop. Additionally, Seattle Tilth hosts an annual edible plant sale presenting Seattle’s largest selection of organic and sustainable vegetable starts. If this doesn’t get a gardener excited, nothing will. In September the Seattle Tilth offers a Harvest Festival where you can enjoy an organic farmer’s market, classes, food and live music.’s Small Farms site includes important how-to’s in the farming culture. Interested in how to design a small farm, prepare the land for farming or raise chickens? The articulate and informative articles will give you an inclusive perspective on these topics and more.

Seattle Urban Farm Company teaches chicken, vegetable and herb farming or you can talk with the friendly and knowledgeable staff about organic farming/gardening.

Sustainable Seattle is a non-profit volunteer-based organization who believes in getting businesses, governments and people more proactive with healthy and sustainable actions in the economy, communities and environment.

Food co-ops and natural grocers are always eager to help educate the ways of green-style living. PCC Natural Markets, Rainbow Natural Grocery and Madison Market, to name a few, always have interesting and fresh ideas of sustainability (not to mention scrumptious foods).

Local Harvest is an excellent website. Plug in your zip code and they’ll find the closest farmers’ markets, family farms and other locally grown/raised products for you. They also have their own catalog of organic goodies ranging anywhere from produce, seeds, meats, honey, dairy, wellness, wools, fibers and more.

Eat Wild is another good website to browse for factual and easy-to-learn information about grass-fed meats and dairy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the science and nature of grass-fed meats (especially when you start talking to one of the meat cutters at a natural grocery store); this website is both user-friendly and highly informative.

Going back to basics is a positive direction toward a better and more fruitful life, where one can feel their hard work surge and feel as though they are taking a step toward a greener and brighter future.

In a world where consumerism and thoughtless purchases lead to waste, going toward a sustainable lifestyle makes you re-think everything you’re putting on your plate and how much. It makes you think of what you could create with those old linens you were about to toss in the garbage or gives you a sense of pride when you see your energy bill cut in half. Whether sustainability is hyped up or a post-feministic way of the future, a chance for beginners to strive for a green style of living, one thing is for certain: It’s a beautiful thing.