Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Body Spirit Art Intellect

Why garden?

Because it satisfies the senses: does it taste good (body), does it feel good (spirit), does it look good (art).

There's another aspect to gardening, that people tend to equate with "real" or "good" gardeners: do you understand it (intellect).

Intellect is gardening knowledge; all the things about planting that concern the science of the effort: What is the variety? How does it behave in my zone? Are there any reasons not to plant it— zone, effect on the native ecology, interaction with other plants (either positive and detrimental), is there enough light, how big will it get?

I’m quite impressed at gardeners, especially novice gardeners, who can identify a scientific name by the look of a plant, who know what variety they are planting, and can compare one variety’s behavior against another. I’ve always joked that my garden is “Darwinian”— only the fit survive—or worse yet, laisser-faire. I've been gardening for more than 20 years, but I'm not sure how much I know about gardening. Garden bloggers in particular intimidate me terribly-- they seem to know so much stuff!

You can get joy from gardening that is visceral and emotional. One puts in a bed to fix the shape; or put in a plant to change the profile or enhance the color. My garden has a beautiful design, but I didn't "design" it. It's just twenty years of living in a space, and moving things around, kind of like the living room furniture. It just takes a little longer with plants. If the color or size works in the spot I want to fill, I’ll try it. If I want to try growing some new thing to eat or preserve, I'll try it.

But it’s hit and miss, with plants cycling through because they were the wrong choice made for the wrong reasons, or wouldn't grow here, or maybe I just didn't like them. (The morphing of my garden can be seen here.)

A benefit of this is that the plants that have survived are indeed hardy, with some spectacular successes. But a lot of the garden areas never quite get there because I haven’t really considered what they need, from a more scientific viewpoint. Thank goodness, because then I get to try something else.

Cooking is the same way. A flavor combination will pop into my head-- how about cinnamon and hot? Basil and raspberry? And I'll try it out (I seldom look up recipes first-- someone has always thought of it before me, which takes all the fun out of it.) This one is an exception, since it's baking. I confess it was inspired by kelly at MyFolia, who was bragging on Twitter about eating these. So I looked up a recipe to try my own. Couldn't quite find one, so I adapted.

Rosemary Peasant Bread

adapted from Make and Takes

• 1 packet dry yeast (or 2 1/2 tsp) with 1 T. sugar; or use the self-starting kind with no sugar
• 1 1/2 c. warm water
• 2 T. honey
• 2 tsp salt
• 2 c. white flour
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 cup corn meal
• 1-2 tsp. fresh Rosemary plus more for topping
• Olive Oil, Corn meal, Melted butter and salt

Dissolve yeast in the warm water and sugar. Add flour, salt, and 1-2 tsp Rosemary and stir until blended. No kneading--the dough is quite sticky, you won't be able to knead it. Cover with a moist cloth and let rise for 1 hour or until double in size.

Remove dough. It will be sticky. Coat your hands lightly in oil for taking out the dough and shaping it. Place it in 2-3 rounds (about 6" diameter each) on a cookie sheet lightly coated in oil and sprinkled with corn meal. Cover with a towel or greased plastic wrap. Then let it rise another hour.

Brush each round with melted butter and lightly sprinkle with more Rosemary and sea salt. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then reduce temp to 375 for 15 minutes more.

Eat it with
Squash baba ganoush
from Jeff Smith's Our Immigrant Ancestors

Butternut or acorn squash, about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, roasted
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Method

1. Place the squash in a bowl, along with minced garlic, tahini, lemon juice (or vinegar), olive oil, sea salt, and crack pepper. Combine and taste. Adjust the seasonings to taste.a

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What the kids remember

From Proust to your grandma's pot roast, food memories are primal. Mine are all tied up in my mother's illness when I was a teen. I strain to remember what she taught me before she got sick and gradually stopped cooking (when I was about 14). I seek those tastes and smells. Forty years later I still scour her cookbooks, looking for the pages that are stained, or where the binding stays open, because then I know she made that item a lot.

If I could give one piece of advice to young parents it would be "pay attention." I don't mean for them to turn every precious second of Princess's life into a Kodak moment, I mean observe, and savor. Be mindful.

I asked my 24 year old son and 21 year old daughter for their memories of food growing up.

From my son, Seng Lim:
My earliest food-related memories with you were of that little organic grocery store we used to go to. I don't remember the foods very much, more the smell and look of the store. I don't quite remember when you stopped doing as many home cooked meals, but I feel like it had to do with a combination of you taking on more work and Nga Jee coming along and getting picky.

I feel like the food started with good, healthy food in early childhood, followed by "the dark side" when Nga Jee and I were 8-12 years old. Once I got to high school, I remember full family dinners became less frequent—I can recall many evenings when I would get back from school around 5pm and be the only one there until 8 or 9 at night, or I would be out doing something late and have to buy dinner for myself. The summers around that time were different—you were growing lots of vegetables by then, and our schedules were less crazy so we were together for meals more. But during most of the year, I ate a lot of popcorn for dinner (hey, I was pretty lazy back then). Overall, I think we were pretty typical kids as far as randomly refusing to eat things, but I think we all always appreciated and enjoyed your meals, especially the "family favorites."

My memories of the garden are mostly of forced manual labor. I enjoyed the fresh vegetables and the colors when it was in bloom, but mostly I think about digging flower beds, laying paths and patios, and mowing it soooo many times. Also, I remember your compulsion with it—picking weeds to and from the garage every time we left the house. That one's easy to remember, because I'm pretty sure you still do it!

Also, why did you feed us lima beans? Do you actually like lima beans? I am never going to feed any child of mine lima beans.
From my daughter, Nga Jee:
I can't remember much of when you started feeding us crap*, but I'm almost certain it was because of me, because I don't think Seng Lim cared much about what he ate and if he did he's not really the kind of person to complain about it. Most of what I remember about the garden is you FORCING me to work with you (and not liking that). But I remember when we had the patio and the old porch. The flower beds on the left have always been there for me and I can just remember before there was the little side paths and all that stuff.

I always really liked the garden veggies. I thought the carrots were lame compared to the grocery store ones because they were so puny but they tasted better. And I remember walking to and from the grocery store with the red wagon. Strangely all my memories of groceries occur in the summertime. I can't even remember recent grocery trips in the winter. I remember even when we drove we would load the wagon in the garage with all the bags and drag it to the bottom of the porch too. Which seems funny to me now, cuz the garden's only like 7 meters long.

I actually really liked when you got new plants and we had to dig the hole and then put in the plant and then fill it with water.
*this would be because she was the fussy one, eating not so much "crap", as she puts it, as an all-carbohydrate diet. The child lived on bread and noodles. Neither of them were big candy-eaters until they were well in high school, meaning I ended up eating most of the contents of their Easter baskets and Halloween haul. This is how mothers get fat.

What do your offspring remember about food growing up? What do your younger ones think about it now?

Old-fashioned popped corn
about 1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup popping corn
(I got mine through freshpicks.com from a local farm. Most farmers markets will have a vendor selling locally-grown popping corn.)


This is how we made popcorn when I was a kid, before air poppers and before microwave popcorn (in fact, when I was a kid, only The Jetsons had magic ovens like microwaves)

Get a large, lidded pot. It is important to use a pot large enough, so that your popcorn won't overflow and cause a mess. Coat the bottom of the pot with a thin layer of oil (about 1/8 inch). Heat the oil on medium on top of the stove until it's hot, or until it appears to reach a watery consistency. (Another way to test whether your oil is hot enough is to stand back and flick a droplet of water into the pot and wait for it to sizzle.) Coat the bottom of the pot with a layer of popcorn. A 1 gallon pot will take about 3/4 cup of popcorn, which will yield about 2 quarts popped. Try to ensure that there is only a single layer of popcorn and that none of the kernels overlap.

Cover the pot and turn the stove up to medium-high/high. As the oil begins to bubble, gently shake the pot in a left to right motion (not up and down) so that the popcorn kernels move and don't burn. After a minute or so, the popcorn will begin to pop. Continue to shake the pot on the stove until all of the kernels have popped. It's a lovely sound.

Transfer your popcorn into a separate container. Melt butter in the microwave and drizzle over your freshly popped popcorn! You can add any seasonings you like-- grated cheese, herbs, pepper, salt (of course).

Dial up a movie and kick back! I can't believe Seng Lim used to eat microwave popcorn for dinner. I am apparently the Worst Mom Ever.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How to eat sustainably

Here’s an 8-step by step guide to getting back control of your own food supply, from the simplest to the most obsessed.

Easiest: Stop shopping at the big chains like Safeway
Buy your groceries from the locally-owned neighborhood grocery store, if you’ve still got one. In big cities, you’ll find these in every Polish, Chinese, and Mexican neighborhood, less and less in the other immigrant areas. Don’t be intimidated by the language or the comparative messiness of these stores. They have to abide by the same health laws as the chains. But you’ll be putting money in the pocket of a local, family merchant, rather than a multinational several states away.

A little more challenging. Seek local brands.
You may need a couple of trips to the market, to write down brands so you can research them (or check them out on your smart phone if you’ve got one). A lot of packaging now will say “product of STATE” and/or product of COUNTRY. Careful though. They play games like shipping California milk to Wisconsin and bottling it there, then calling it Wisconsin milk. Diary labels have a code that allow you to track not just where they were bottled, but which farm the product came from.

Still with me? Read some labels.
Buy certified organic. Many shops now carry organic brands, especially the chains, if you don’t have a local family grocer. Check ingredients, too. If it’s got high fructose corn syrup in it, don’t buy it. Let’s get rid of our dependence on King Corn. Even refined sugar is better for you and better for the planet, plus, it tastes better. Yes, this means you'll have to stop buying soda. Don't worry, I've been working on a homemade syrup that tastes like Coke! As soon as I figure it out, I'll share it with you! (So far, some combination of raspberry, coffee, and caramel seems most promising...puts on mad scientist coat and goes back to work.)

A little harder, because now you’re denying yourself stuff
Only buy in season. This means no fresh fruit in the dark of winter in my area. But I’ll let you buy locally-grown preserved fruit and vegetables, including jams, canned, frozen, pickled, etc. You’ll also have to relearn what’s in-season when. You can’t tell anymore by what’s on the shelves.

Do you have some time left?
Don’t buy things with ingredients (this is straight out of Michael Pollan). And I don’t just mean frozen pizzas and pre-prepared meals, or soup in a can. I mean jam, salsa, bread, crackers, granola and other breakfast cereals, desserts, etc. Make them yourself. Soup is easy and cheap. Making jam is rolling off a log. Ditto tomato sauce and paste. Don’t know what you’re doing? I seldom baked before I started trying to eat like this. I thought it was hard. I thought it was boring. Turns out it took exactly 3 weeks to figure out how to make all those baked goods. Even your mistakes will taste better than the corn-syrup and salt-laden imitations they’re forcing down our gullets.

Now it gets challenging. Plan ahead.
I don’t mean plan what you’re going to eat on Friday. I mean plan in July for what you’re going to eat in February. If you want locally grown, organic jams, pies, tomato sauce, and vegetables when snow is on the ground, buy it at the farmer’s market in the summer, and “put it up.” This will be a lot of work in July and August, but basically you won’t have to cook in January, February and March, because you’ll have done it already.

In pretty deep? Plant a vegetable garden.
Start with the things you know you eat a lot. Produce only what you need for the summer at first, then start adding within the constraints of your time and space. If you don't have a yard, put some pots on your porch. If you don't have a porch, put some herbs on a sunny windowsill. Don’t worry about budget. You’ve saved so much money taking the steps above that you have plenty to start a garden. What you can’t grow, buy at the farmer’s market.

Meat, dry goods, dairy
Look on line a FamilyFarmed.com or localharvest.com for merchants, farmers, and markets near you that have these things that are difficult to find locally.

Finally, give yourself a break.
We live in an interconnected, global society. I firmly believe you should eat in season (including imported fruits like oranges), and make things that make sense to make (bread, jam, main dishes) but that you can carry it too far. Humans have always traded. Get your cinnamon from the east, and coffee, and chocolate. Don’t deny yourself oranges in Canada, or rice in Illinois. But seek out fair trade brands, and locally-owned distributors. If you want to eat out or order in, try to find a restaurant that buys locally-grown foods, but the next best thing is to just go to a one-off, family owned business instead of the national chain. For the goddess' sake stay out of MacDonald's, can you do that for me?

If we all follow these steps as far as our time, energy, and budget allow, even if we never get past step one, we'll go a long way toward repairing the damage that our profligate and blindered life style has gotten the planet into.

My garden doesn't need to be a success


I garden for fun, or for my soul, or to the betterment of society. To have control over what my family eats, or to fill my time, or to share my experience. To save a little money.

I don't garden because that's where our food has to come from.

I don't write about it to make sure everyone else is doing it right. If you end up with homegrown food on your table, by definition, you're doing it right.

Even the use of the term "gardener" is telling. In some societies, if you're not a gardener, you're also not an "eater." Once in human society, we were all gardeners. It would have been like saying, "oh, I'm a breather."

If my tomatoes fail, I can walk down the block and buy some. I can choose not to grow garbanzo beans, because the plants don't fit in my beautiful layout, and I'd have to give up the space I give to raddichio. I can get garbanzos in a can for 79c. I can even get farmers' market garbanzos grown in my county, thus satisfying both my desire and my politics.

What I do with a garden is laudable, and enriching, and important. But it's not necessary.


Sourcream-honey crackers with rosemary


1 cup plain flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 teaspoon seasalt
2 tablespoons softened butter
liquid: 1/3 cup each milk, sour cream, honey

seasoning: 1 teaspoon each seasalt, white peppercorns, dried rosemary

Preheat oven to 150'C/ 300'F.

Grind the seasonings together in a mortar; whisk the milk, sour cream and honey together to form about a cup of thick liquid

Add the salt to the flour, and in a mixing bowl or food processor, cut the butter in until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. (I start this with a knife or pastry cutter, then finish it with my hands.)

Slowly mix in enough liquid to form a soft, but not sticky, dough.

Divide the dough into four portions and roll out one at a time, until paper thin. Some people recommend a pasta press, but I did it fine with a rolling pin. Keep turning the dough over, and lightly coating it with flour so it doesn't stick to the pin or the board.

Lightly brush the sheet with a flavorful oil (nut or olive), then sprinkle and pat the seasonings on it. Using a sharp knife or pizza roller, cut the dough into crackers. Line cookie sheet with parchment (or just put them directly on an ungreased sheet), then transfer crackers to the cookie sheet if you rolled it out on a board.

Bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp. Allow to cool on the tray and then store in an air tight container for up to a week. This recipe made about 200 1" square crackers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Having time to make mistakes


Today I made croissants.

In general, I've never baked very much. My mother died when I was young, which is like losing your cooking confidence; there are so many things I've never tried because I had no non-judgmental mentor to guide me. I've never made a pot roast or a ham. Angel food cake. Pie crust. These are things that require guidance and confidence and knowledge.

Or at least time and resources to mess it up while you figure out what you're doing.

The time-consuming aspect of not buying things with ingredients (like bread, or fancy cereal, or crackers, or snacks other than fruit) I think is the true challenge of "eating real." Even buying these things from local, owner-operated shops takes more time than simply stopping at the national chain on the way home from work. Right now in our society "eating real" is a privilege of those blessed with the twin resources of time and confidence. (Contrary to popular belief, it does not cost more; in fact I have cut our grocery bill by more than half doing this.)

Fortunately for me, I cooked a lot with my mother until I was 14 and she got ill, at which point I just made all her recipes for the whole family (she would leave me instructions on the 'fridge that I would find when I got home from school: "marinate the chicken in the juice of one lemon and sprinkle with salt, oregano and pepper." Or sometimes, "make spaghetti sauce tonight." Uh, right. How do you make spaghetti sauce?)

You'll cook like your mother cooked. My mother cooked from scratch, and mine may have been the last generation (the early and mid-Boomers) who can say that as a general rule. Our mothers came home from the factory or the base, and spent the next 20 years cooking. The generation after ours have had to figure it out largely on their own. I rarely read a cooking blog that says "my mother never cooked." How do you learn to cook if your mother doesn't cook?

If you don't have the time and confidence to make mistakes, and to try again, then you're eating out and eating out of boxes.

I've never really had the time or confidence to bake before, and this family's baking knowledge died with my mother and grandmother. There are no aunts. My obliging boss recently gave me the time by cutting my job (and my salary) by half. Writing about cooking on line, and the Eat Real Food challenge have upped my confidence. All I need is knowledge, so I pulled out my mother's trusty Joy of Cooking (no stains on this page, so if Mom ever made these, it wasn't from this book).

Maybe next I'll try a pie.

Croissants, from Joy of Cooking
About 18 Crescents

7/8 cup milk
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Scald the milk (about 3 1/2 minutes on high in the microwave, or until just before it boils on the stovetop), then stir into it, until melted and dissolved, the lard, sugar and salt. Cool until lukewarm. Activate the yeast in 1/3 cup 105°-115° water and add it to the liquid. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Stir in or knead in the flour to make a soft slightly sticky dough (you have to guess the amount of flour by the quality of the dough, which should be smooth and elastic.

Knead on a lightly floured surface, using a pastry scraper to flip the soft dough end over end 10
times. The dough should now hold together. Place it in an ungreased bowl. Cover with a cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 11/2 hours. Then cover the dough with a lid and place m the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled, at least 20 minutes.

Roll or pat it out on a floured surface into an oblong 1/4* inch thick. Whip 1 cup of unsalted butter. Spread 1/4 of the butter over two-thirds the surface of the dough, leaving an unbuttered border 1 inch wide. Fold the unbuttered third over the center third. Then, fold the remaining third over the doubled portion. The dough is now in 3 layers. Swing the layered dough a quarter turn—or, directionally speaking, bring east to south.

Roll it again into an oblong 1/4 inch thick. Dot the center third with 1/4 cup of the whipped butter, and again fold it one-third over one third, turn and roll out to 1/4 inch. Repeat this two more times. (NB: The dough will start becoming more springy and elastic, so you have to roll it quite thin for it to retain that thickness.) Now, cut off any folded edges, which might keep the dough from expanding. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares, and cut the squares on the bias (i.e. into triangles) Roll the triangular pieces, beginning with the wide side and stretching them slightly as you roll. Shape the rolls into crescents. Chill for 20 minutes, not allowing it to rise again.

Preheat oven to 400°. Bake the crescents 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake until done—10 to 15 minutes longer.

Project Grow post

I was starting to worry about the indoor starts on the Spitfires. Growing something so publicly makes me feel a little vulnerable. If it doesn't work, everyone will know I'm not a "real" gardener--I stuck a seed in dirt and it didn't grow.

But like the little boy and the carrot, in fact, I planted it, and watered it, and patted it, and on Thursday they just BURST through the seed starting medium (Ferry Morse organic seed starting mix). In the morning- nothing. In the afternoon 3" tall, with two leaves on each. I've never seen anything like it. Haven't checked the wintersown ones, because it's suddenly winter again (March-in like a lion, out like polar bear), and I'm not going outside except under duress.



I’m growing Nasturtium “Spitfire” for the GROW project, thanks to Renee’s Garden for the seeds.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I read it somewhere

How do you learn to garden?

I feel like it's so easy these days. There is so much information a few keystrokes away, in fact it's almost discouraging. Sometimes when I'm trying a new plant, I actually STOP reading about it to see what works for me. And then I'll go back and look it up, and discover what I did wrong, and what I did right. Last year I put in Brussels Sprouts for the first time. They weren't looking too good, so I thought "peat! Peat is great in the garden, right?" Wrong. Brussels like high pH, and peat will lower it. Oops. So I just scraped all the peat off where I could, went to the garden center and started reading labels, and put something or other organic on there that would raise the pH back up. Brussels were fine. They'd probably have been even better if I'd just left them alone. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

No one in the family can remember when I started to grow vegetables. The garden itself started as a patio and an ornamental border, with every single plant free- picked up at neighborhood swaps, or dug out of the verge at my father's downstate home, or scavenged out of the alley from escapees from other people's yards.

I made a LOT of mistakes. I put in what turned out to be invasive, and apparently immortal, wild phlox. Still fighting that stuff back. I put in loosestrife. (I know I know.) It's so pretty! Oops. I found what turned out to be oriental bittersweet, a gorgeous plant, but fortunately posted a picture on MyFolia and asked what it was. (This was recently; the difference between a newbie and a pro is that now I know to ask.)

I have made every mistake there is to make. I've forgotten to put in paths. I planted tomatoes in the shade. I didn't put the peas in until June. I walked on the carrot sprouts (by the way, they can take it). I pulled up perennials, not knowing what that was (oh, you mean it comes back? Like a tree?). I left weeds. I yanked weeds. I watered too much. I watered too little.

Somewhere along the way, I ended up with a garden. How do I know? My college-age son brought a friend over, and they walked out onto the back porch. Friend stops in his tracks and says "Whoah, that's gorgeous." Son says, "I told you." Best. Garden. Moment. Ever.

I can't wait to see what I do wrong this year.

Brussels sprouts slaw (originally posted October 14, 2009)
1 1/2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, blanched and sliced
1 cup cabbage, sliced (I had a very tiny head from the garden. Don't use too much or it will overwhelm the flavor of the brussels sprouts)
small onion, sliced very very thin
1/2 small green pepper, sliced thin
2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped roughly

3 tablespoons each, lime juice and real mayonnaise
2-3 teaspoons hot or brown mustard
white pepper, salt to taste

Whip the dressing ingredients together (make sure you whip or blend it really well so that the lime juice doesn't separate the mayo. This has to do with emulsion or acid or something. What, you thought I knew what I was doing?) Mix it all up in a bowl, let it sit for a couple of hours.

So I want to know-- how did you start gardening?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Who are we?

I just read through the entire list of blogs participating in the Eat Real Food challenge at Not Dabbling in Normal, and found only 2 people who appear to have full time jobs, and none whom I could identify as older empty-nesters like me. (Granted, this information is not readily gleanable from the info available on many blogs, but I saw an awful lot of pictures of adorable youngsters planting things.)

While the challenge is expanding my definition of home cooking, I've always cooked from scratch for my family, and had a garden since my own kids were adorable youngsters planting things (they actually remember it as "forced labor"). I still recall the disbelief I encountered at the entry interview for the private school my kids attended, when we said that we ate home-cooked meals at home, together as a family, with both parents present, 5 to 6 days a week. (I've asked the kids to reconstruct a family food timeline, with special instructions to help me remember when I fell off the wagon and started feeding them Kraft Mac n Cheese.)

It is my former, young mother self that I am seeing on the Real Food blogs. Maybe us old women just don't blog, or maybe we feel it's pointless because we've always cooked like this, why make a fuss? (Remember Michael Pollan "don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize?" Basically, that's me, a decade or so too young.) I also am not seeing the working women doing this. Or the dads. I'm not sure I'd be doing this myself if my own job hadn't been cut in half in November, giving me an extra 20 or so hours per week, and a huge cut in salary, which is highly motivating in trying to cut costs. (Surely it was when I went back to work that I started slipping on the home cooking thing.)

So where are you, people with no time? How do you, or do you at all, manage to feed your family locally sourced, home-cooked meals?

Recipes today, 140 character "recitweets" (my coinage, I think)

from Gilfeather (who came up with the idea): Mix 2 T.Frangelica w/1/2 lb.hulled and sliced strawberries+1&1/2Tsugar & allow to macerate.Mix 1/2C yogurt & 2tsp.honey. Layer w/ Poundcake

from MarieMonDieu: Oyster crackers baked on 250 for 15-20 mins. Covered in oil, Hidden Val Ranch pwdr, garlic pwdr, dillweed. Awesome snackiness!

And mine: Saute brussels, grn onions in olive oil w 1.5 c orzo. Add 3 c veg stock simmer til orzo done, 1/4 c cream, simmer; srve w grated romano.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In defense of imports

Over at Not Dabbling in Normal, there's been a long discussion of "Things I'll never give up" vis a vis Eat Real Food.

But I'd like to go at that from a more positive framework, and defend the import of things that can't be grown in my climate.

Coffee. Chocolate. Cumin. Raisins (although jury's out on that one, as there's Illinois wine, so why not raisins?) Cinnamon. Pepper. Whatever is in Garam Masalla. Mahlepi (okay, that one can be grown here, but do you know how to process cherry pits for grinding? Not on my "things to learn" list.) Clementines and oranges. Avocados.

Every since Oog discovered that he had seashells and no copper, and Mook discovered that she had copper but no seashells, human beings have traded over long distances. There is archeological evidence of trade roots thousands of miles long well back in prehistory.

So while I am making every effort to buy locally those things that I can, and to stay seasonal (I've pretty much always been seasonal, it used to drive my kids crazy-- "Why can't we buy fresh strawberries in October again?") I'm not going to knock myself out trying to recreate an idyllic human past that never existed. I'll buy these things from local merchants, and fair trade where I can, but some things you just don't have to live without.

We live in a marvelously interconnected, technological world. Let's use that interconnectedness intelligently and still be able to eat cinnamon scones in northern Illinois.

Cinnamon scones
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
>1/4 cup white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1T cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup half-half or milk
1/2 cup sour cream, plain or vanilla yogurt
½ cup cinnamon raisins

For glaze:
¼ cup yogurt
2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.

Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry blender or rubbing between your fingers until it has the consistency of corn meal. Mix together milk and sour cream in a measuring cup. Pour all at once into the dry ingredients, and stir gently until well blended. (Overworking the dough results in terrible scones!)

To prepare raisins, plump raisins. Place in a microwaveable container, just cover with water and heat them in the microwave on medium for about 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry, then coat with about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon suger. Mix these into the scone batter.

Glaze with yogurt mixed with cinnamon

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drop batter by generous spoonfuls. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until the tops are golden brown, not deep brown.

Clementine-Mint Marmalade, and clementine syrup
1 cup thin strips Clementine peel (about 4-6 fruits)
4 cups cold water
Pulp and juice of 10-12 clementines
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 cups boiling water
2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon mint extract

Peel the clementines, slice 4-6 peels into narrow strips (until you have about a cup). Hold onto the extra peels for the syrup. Remove seeds and white membrane from all the peeled fruit, dice. Set aside the diced pulp. (Again, conserve any leftovers for the syrup.) In a heavy saucepan, combine the sliced Clementine peel and cold water. Bring to a simmer, covered, over moderate heat; continue to simmer until peel is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain the water into the saucepan with the membrane and other extras.

Combine cooked peel, diced fruit, lemon juice and boiling water. Add sugar and blend thoroughly. Quickly bring to a boil and cook until mixture is thick and reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes. Decant into sterilized jars.

For the syrup, add 1 1/2 cups of sugar to the extra peel, pulp and water. Bring to a boil and keep it on a high simmer for ten minutes. Drain the liquid into a separate pot, then strain or mill the solids into it to wring every bit of yummy liquid out of it. Bring this back to a high simmer, reducing it to 2 cups (about 10-15 more minutes).

Monday, March 15, 2010

What I don't need to buy

As people who read this blog know (both of you), I've been following the Eat Real Food challenge from the food and homemaking blog Not Dabbling in Normal. I've been going back and forth on how meeting the challenge works for this family. I was feeling quite discouraged that I couldn't seem to meet both forks of the challenge-- to source food locally, and to eschew packaging--without adding huge time and inconvenience and also while staying within the food budget.

I'm happy to report that at the Family Farmed Expo on Sunday I found a grocery delivery service called Fresh Picks where I can choose my food (unlike a CSA, which I don't use because I grow all my vegetables), that delivers to my door, and where the prices are comparable to, and sometimes cheaper than, the grocery store brands. Further, they have everything except dry goods (flour, noodles, etc. Still trying to find local flour that I can actually both get to and afford.)

So what I've done with the challenge is to make it mainly avoiding things with ingredients (vis. Michael Pollan's Food Rules) and packaged goods. I'm also walking to the grocery store, which will discourage buying stuff that I don't need.

Since Monday is a day off, I'm dedicating it to making the things I usually buy, which this week was scones for breakfast and snacks, hummus, and pita bread. (I really wanted peach scones, but since they're not in season that seems out of the spirit of the challenge. Maybe I'll do it and not tell anyone, heh-heh. Right. The goddess will know.) Adding in the crackers that I made on Friday, my time investment was about 4-5 hours. Not counting the cost of the ingredients (negligible) my savings was about $20! In other words, making just these things, which are fun and easy to make, that I buy regularly, will save me something on the order of $1,000 a year.

Hummus

1 (16 ounce) can garbanzo beans, half the liquid reserved
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 heaping teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

Put all ingredients, except the reserved water, in a food processor and blend until creamy. If it's too dry, add a little of the water. Any water you don't use, throw it in the jar of vegetable stock that I just know you have in your freezer. You can add different herbs or vegetables for flavored hummus, such as chopped roasted red peppers, basil, sundried tomatoes, etc. We ate this with the homemade crackers. Yum.

If you're a real sucker for punishment, um I mean if you want to lower your carbon footprint even more, you can make a creamy hummus grinding it by hand in a large mortar, and tone your tricepts and delts at the same time.

Pita recipe here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Apostate

When I was a child, in the late 50s and 60s, there was widespread famine in India, Africa, and Asia, and serious hunger in the eastern US and Mexico. This wasn't like today, when famines are caused by religious and political upheaval, and climate issues.

These famines were caused because the world was not growing enough food. We couldn't feed ourselves. My childhood was spent anticipating a Malthusian nightmare where the population outstripped the food supply.

Of course, it didn't happen. And it didn't happen because of Norman Borlaug who engineered high-yield grains and introduced modern agriculture to those parts of the world that were in deep trouble. At the same time, to oversimplify, large areas of US and Canadian farmland were being converted to other uses, industrial, recreational, and domestic, because of those same food production innovations. It's why there is no farmland within spitting distance of most major metro areas anymore. Cheap fuel and government subsidized highways and shipping completed the equation. All over the world, the middle classes eat food grown far away, by someone else.

Enter the local food movement. I spent the afternoon at the Family Farmed Expo, talking to exhibitors and listening to panels discuss buying local, knowing your farmer, preserving food yourself and organic farming.

The overwhelmingly young, white, middle-class, educated crowd were sincere and enthusiastic, and I think misguided.

There are six and a half million people along the Wisconsin-Illinois-Michigan shoreline. Do we really want "local" farms (and I use the term loosely, as did the Expo, with exhibitors from as far as southern Indiana). Do we have that farm capacity, or do we want to? I wonder if it is better to let land go back to its ur-natural state, than to a pre-industrial local subsistence model.

Food preservation, also, struck me as naive in its economy of scale. Is it really better for a million local households to each have a dehydrator ($80) and a couple of freezers ($200 to $350 each), and a pressure canner ($200 to $600), and a vacuum sealer ($150)? One panelist had all of these so that her children can only eat fruit "in season" because they've frozen strawberries themselves (purchased at considerable expense from a "local" grower at a Farmers Market). Left out of the calculation were the south Asian factories where all that stuff is being made so that well-off midwestern housewives can go back to the land.

I would like to posit that a better direction for our political energies is toward a sustainable agriculture, both organic and chemical, some local, some distance, with carbon neutral shipping and real pricing, and the rethinking of tax subsidies to support the farmer and not the chemical multinationals. We need to insist on labeling that allows us to know what goes into our food. We need to make more food ourselves, whether from locally milled flour, or wheat shipped in from India. We need to spend the few extra pennies it costs to support what Michael Pollan calls "industrial organic" that uses economies of scale intelligently to replenish and nurture the land.

It's a worthy effort, and I'll support these vendors when I can. I grow a garden, and I do a lot of preserving (without all the expensive equipment). But what I took away from the Expo was a desire to worry less about where my food comes from, and more about how it was grown.

For a fantastic conversation about this issue, visit MyFolia, where I posted the same essay to my journal.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Reinventing yourself

I've done it all my life-- finding a new Xan every 5 years or so. Maybe it stems from my peripatetic childhood as an academic brat, constantly picking up as my father followed tenure track positions from New York to Connecticut to Michigan to Pennsylvania to Illinois. Perhaps it's because once I begin to master something I feel the itch to move on and try something new.

But I've been an artist and a singer, a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, and a telecommuting mom. A skating coach and a gardener, a not-for-profit executive and an entrepreneur.

So what is this new persona, who makes homemade crackers and jam. It's a stay-at-home mom kind of thing to do, but while I may be staying at home, the kids have long since flown the coop. Just the latent hippie in me coming to the fore, I guess.

Homemade wheat thins

1 cup plain flour
1 cup wheat flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons softened butter
approximately 1 cup of milk

Seasonings- oregano, sea salt, cracked pepper, sesame, etc.

Preheat oven to 150'C/ 300'F.

Add the salt to the flour, and in a mixing bowl or food processor, cut the butter in until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Slowly mix in enough milk to form a soft, but not sticky, dough.

Divide the dough into four portions and roll out one at a time, until paper thin (Really really thin. I did the first batch too thick- maybe a milimeter, and they came out chewy instead of crisp). You can do this on a lightly floured board, or you can do it straight onto a large ungreased cookie sheet. This recipe made enough for four 10" x 15" trays and a little more, so divide your dough accordingly.

Lightly brush the sheet with a flavorful oil (nut or olive), then season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and oregano, sesame or other herb. I also made some with ground ginger (no salt on that one).

Using a sharp knife or pizza roller, cut the dough into crackers. Line cookie sheet with parchment, then transfer crackers to the cookie sheet if you rolled it out on a board.

Bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp. Allow to cool on the tray and then store in an air tight container for up to a week. This recipe made about 200 1" square crackers.

Based on a recipe at Towards Sustainability


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Economies of scale

One thing about eating "real" and local is convenience. It is terribly counter intuitive. It turns out to be much more challenging, expensive, and time consuming to buy flour, eggs, milk and meat from Wisconsin, 50 miles away, than it is to buy kiwifruits from Chile.

I did finally find a local-ish place to get chicken and eggs, Harrison Poultry Farms, about 15 miles. They weren't on localharvest.com so maybe their farm in southern Wisconsin doesn't make the "local" cut.

There's another Wisconsin farm called Great River that seems to sell flour to Sam's Club, so I'm off to Sam's Club some time this week to buy $2.20 a pound flour, grown and milled in Southern Wisconsin, as opposed to 70c a pound flour, grown and milled god knows where-- you can't tell from the packaging. India for all I know. I worked out the cost-- if I make all my own bread, the expensive flour makes each loaf about the same price as the store brand. If you count my time as having no monetary value.

I can get local milk at Whole Foods; I just have to forsake a 20-year-old vow never to shop at Whole Foods since they closed down all the old locally owned organic grocers that they bought when they moved in, despite promises not to. (And the ones they couldn't buy they forced out of business.) Local cheese is abundant at the regular chain markets, thank goodness. I actually have a neighborhood butcher (!); he tells me his meat is from Iowa, and I'm going to count that as close enough for jazz.

In all, the thing that this challenge seems to boil down to is the American character. As a red blooded rugged individualist I find myself resisting the time I have to carve out of a tight schedule, greater good bedamned. Not counting cooking time, I figure I have about 8 hours a week for non-work work, if you see what I mean, like blogging and meeting these challenges. Instead of one-stop-shopping for groceries, and being able to walk to the store, I have to go to several different shops all over the north side (I just can't justify trekking to the south side or the 'burbs for this). I realize that doing this might start a butterfly effect. If every singleton decides "not worth the trouble" then we'll never create a critical mass to force change. But do I really want to be the pebble that starts the landslide? Do I really have that power?

I guess that's why they call it a challenge.

All in all, it seemed appropriate to go rogue here in my frustration, and propose a risotto which I made with imported rice (already in the larder), hothouse tomatoes (yay! local, and extremely expensive) and summer squash. Ah, irony.

Tomato risotto with summer squash

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil (or use the oil from the sundrieds)
1/2 cup minced yellow onion (about 1/4 pound)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1 tablespoon sun dried tomatoes, diced
1 cup Arborio rice
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 medium summer squash, diced
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (from Wisconsin, hooray!)
coarse salt (optional)

Melt butter with oil in a 2 quart stock pot; stir in onions, sundried tomatoes, and garlic, saute until onions are translucent. Add rice and stir to coat, cook for about 4 more minutes. Add tomatoes. Start adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, simmering each time until all the liquid is absorbed. There may be some stock left over. Halfway through this process, add the squash.

Stir in pepper and cheese, add salt to taste, if desired, and serve hot.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

So many challenges

I really need to find a way to make this blogging thing pay. It's taking up all my time. And the reason is: challenges.

Let’s Get Real! Food Challenge. Growing Challenge. Project GROW. And they all want their posts on Sundays.

So one challenge per post, and apologies for three posts (maybe four, also going to Chicago Flower and Garden Show) in one day. Current plan is an appropriate recipe for each one, but we'll see how I feel when I get to #3.

Let’s Get Real! is an incredible challenge, taken to its extreme. With the premise of minimizing packaging and food miles, in the three days since starting just the research (forget the actual eating), I have discovered that, despite living 50 miles south of the dairy heartland of America, most of the dairy products at the chain grocery stores come from places like California. (Can't buy the most ecologically correct brand, because I don't want to fund the on-going political career of the conservative wingnut who owns it.) They're just packaged in Wisconsin. WTF. No wonder my milk always tastes sour. It's been frozen and thawed and is already a week old by the time it gets on the shelf.

Forget flour. There is absolutely no way to tell where your flour comes from, and I'm sorry I'm just not going to mill my own. Which brings us to the main philosophical problem with trying to eat "real." Where does the balance tip the wrong way? I could drive about 20 miles, to where there's a year-round farmer's market. Or I could go to Whole Foods, where I'll pay around 5 times the regular brand price for the privilege of feeling smug and local. And frankly, I don't really trust the labels at Whole Foods. I think those brands play the same sorts of games that Dean's milk does, importing food to be packaged locally so that they can call it local.

FamilyFarmed is trying to find me locally milled flour that I don't have to order from the internet.

Then there's eating out.

I managed to locate just two restaurants where I can be reasonably sure that they source lots of their food locally, because they make it part of their branding. One is too expensive to pretty much ever eat there. The other is fine if the dinner is your destination, but last night my destination was the movies, and this restaurant is on the other side of town (and I live in a big town). We ate at the Golden Nugget. It was food. Not even going to think about how "real" it was.

UPDATE from Abby: Mado, Publican, Blackbird, Avec also source ingredients locally.

I'm sure once all these logistical issues are sorted out I will find that the food is better, but at this point I'm not sold on the concept, and it's not just about the inconvenience. It's about that tipping point. I live in the 4th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. Nothing we eat comes from here (unless it comes out of my own garden). The closest working farm is 20 miles away; the bulk of the local food market is 50 to 100 miles. Is it still local?

Which is more sustainable--walking to the local big chain to buy my groceries, or driving 20 miles to go to the year-round farmer's market (and even in summer the nearest farmer's market is 5 miles away).

And to top it all off, I ran out of the Mrs. Richardson's caramel syrup that I like to put in my (shade-grown, organic, free-trade, but, sadly, imported) coffee.

UPDATE: Caramel syrup
The first time I made this, the sugar recrystalized. So here's a method that keeps it smooth

1 c. brown sugar
1-2 T water
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. cream
1 tbsp. cornstarch

Put the brown sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan, adding just enough water to make it the consistency of wet sand. Turn on the heat to medium and add the vinegar. This will keep the sugar from recrystalizing. Boil for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the butter and continue to boil until the butter is completely melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cream, then add it to the sugar and bring it back to a boil. Cool several hours in refrigerator or overnight.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Where are all the vegetables?


The first thing that hit me when I walked into the Chicago Flower and Garden show, through the back entrance, was the smell of dirt.

Wonderful.

It's a scent that gardeners crave, and the more delightful for being oddly unexpected in this gigantic forum of fake gardens.

After that it was a little downhill for me. I'm not sure exactly what I thought it would be like, having never gone before, but certainly more variety in garden design. There were very clever themes to be sure, and the overall theme of musical theater was near and dear to my heart. But taken as a whole, there was a depressing sameness to the layouts, despite clever corners and pretty plants.

But what disappointed me most of all was the utter neglect of food gardens. There was one tiny farm illustrating the tale of the Three Little Pigs, and liberal use of lettuce as an ornamental. The American Girls booth had a pizza garden for one of the dolls (not kidding). And that was it. There are seminars on edible gardening. There are back to back cooking demonstrations. But not a single display focused on edible gardening. One display, in fact, didn't even focus on plants. The central feature of Kia's "The Street Where You Live" suburban garden was a huge SUV taking up at least a third of the booth's square footage.


Flickr set here.

And because I promised always to include a recipe, a wonderful recipe from Epicurious/Bon Apetit

Artichoke, Potato, and Portobello Mushroom Casserole
Bon App├ętit | April 2006

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large artichokes (I didn't have any, so I subbed celery and broccoli)
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
2 large portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
small soft fresh goat cheese
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup dry white wine (didn't have any, so I used sherry)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Brush 2-qt casserole with 1 tablespoon oil. To trim artichoke, add the juice from half a lemon to a large bowl of cold water. Cut off the artichoke's stem; rub cut surface with the other lemon half. Peel off all the leaves. Cut off top one inch of artichoke. Using a spoon with a serrated edge, scrape out the fibrous choke from the center. Rub the artichoke all over with lemon and drop it into lemon water. Drain before using.

Slice artichoke hearts. Arrange half of potatoes in dish, covering bottom completely. Top with half of artichoke hearts and half of mushrooms. Coarsely crumble half of goat cheese over. Sprinkle with half of garlic, salt, and pepper, then 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Cover with remaining mushrooms, then artichokes, goat cheese, garlic, 1 tablespoon Parmesan, and 1 tablespoon oil. Top with remaining potatoes. Pour wine over; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Cover dish with foil. Bake 40 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400°F. Sprinkle top with remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and top is brown, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly and serve.

This was incredibly delicious. Wonder if they'll make it at the garden show?

Seeds for Shady Swap

Here's what I'll try to bring to the Shady Swap (assuming I can get them all packaged, eek)

Canterbury Bells
Pink Cleome
Variegated Purple Cleome (probably a bastard, if you know what I mean)
White Cleome
Small Sugar Pumpkin
Prairie Coneflowers (seeds a couple years old, never planted any so don't know viability) From a wild stock
Snow Peas, oregon sugar pods
Mustard Greens, Green Wave
Columbine (another bastard)

Might be a few others, haven't scrounged the actual seed box yet.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bringing back the birds


The house next door to us has had a fascinating garden history. When we moved here in 1986, the next door yard was the territory of two big mean dogs. Separated from us by a flimsy wire fence, they prevented us from even walking through our back yard, let alone using it. We used to have to get to our garage by going through the yard on the other side when those dogs were out.

Mercifully they left 18 months after we moved in. The people who replaced them never had an idea they didn't like, and had a chaotic but charming garden with every plant known to humans, structures, ponds, walls and walkways. Maybe 8 years later new people moved in and imposed some order on the chaos. Then after about 12 years, they sold it to a young family who didn't really take care of it, but didn't actively destroy it either; however, they were victims of a bankruptcy and bailed on the property.

And there it sat for more than 2 years, with no resident. I did what maintenance I could, as did the neighbor on the other side, but over the years it got wilder and wilder, becoming quite literally a wildlife habitat, to the benefit of the entire neighborhood.

But eventually, new people moved in, and completely destroyed the garden. They took out every structure, path, and plant (yes, the plants too) including 25 year-old lilacs and hydrangeas, and a 15 foot tall redtwig. They filled in the pond. With the garden went the wildlife and we suffered through a summer with no birds or insects, except large flocks of pigeons that kept coming because the new people kept throwing out bread "for the birds." (Hey, if you want birds, leave the plants, idiots.) What we did get were all the little furry things that had taken refuge in the tiny wilderness- voles, moles, rats, mice, rabbits, coons and possums- and now had no homes.

In an effort to lure the birds back, I completely reconfigured my garden. I added a bed with shrubs and berries, constructed a trellis (we don't have any large trees in our yard) redirected paths, and upped the number of bird-and-butterfly plants like coneflowers. We put in bird feeders, something we never had to do in the past.

Last month, counting along with the annual backyard bird count, we observed juncos, cardinals, a robin (in February!), two different types of apparent sparrows, a catbird, two types of woodpeckers, flickers, those shiny black ones that I can never remember the name, and crows.

And in honor of our feathery co-habits, of course, a chicken recipe (sorry, couldn't resist)

Papaiachne (pa-pa-ya-chnee)
Cut up whole chicken
1 large onion
1 large carrot, sliced
2 large potatoes
2 stalks celery
1 can whole peeled tomatoes (no salt added)
2 cups fresh green beans
2 T fresh oregano, chopped fine, or 1 T dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Make broth with the back, neck and wings of the chicken plus the onion and potato skins and celery ends, plus salt and black peppercorns. Use enough water to make 2 cups of broth.

Brown the chicken in olive oil in a deep pot, turning once. Add the onions and celery and sautee until soft. Add the broth and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the potatoes and carrots and simmer until soft. Add the green beans and cover, simmering until beans are al dente (about 15 minutes).

Serve over rice.

This was a staple of our diet when I was growing up, and I have always known it as Greek chicken stew. However, it's one recipe I have never found in a book or on line quite in this form. I've never been able to find the Greek word transliterated, so the transliteration is my own; anyone with a better spelling, please let me know. I suspect this dish is an export from my grandmother's turn-of-the-century childhood in an ethnic Greek village near Smyrna, Turkey, and possibly a dish typical only of her village, or even her family. Which makes it kind of wonderful.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sporonechinosiphobia


Never heard that word?

That would be because I made it up. It means "fear of seed starting," and I spent 20 years as a gardener in its throes.

It seems so complex--grow lights and trays and shelves. Staggered timing, potting soil, coir, soilless mix, seed starting mix. Fungus and sterilizing. Finding room. Hardening off. Damping off (one's good; one's bad). A whole new vocabulary.

But after spending a year reading about starting seeds indoors on MyFolia, I tested the waters last year with some wintersowing, and then this year jumped in with both feet, doing indoor starts on several herbs, onions, leeks, a couple of ornamentals, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and of course tomatoes. I'll wintersow (outdoor early seed starting in mini-greenhouses made from milk jugs) my vining vegetables and brassicas (greens and broccoli).

The thing about early seed starting is the green. It's hard for a non-gardener to understand the yearning for the dirt, and the need to see those shoots come out of the earth. So starting seeds allows you to get your fingers in the dirt, and to somehow feel like you've created this plants yourself, in a way that even direct sowing doesn't. Nursery starts, or what I've called "outsourcing" your seed starting, never give you the same feeling of ownership.

But these tiny sprouts are mine.

So no recipe today. Just my tiny sprouts. Because I made them.