11 September 2008

Veggie Songs

Peas squeak.

Seriously. When I pick the snow peas from the vine and place them in my hand, they gently rub against each other and produce a squeaking sound. It’s quite charming.

The green beans are quieter, issuing a small percussive snap when I break them free. Although would somebody please remind me next spring that I’m fonder of the idea of yellow wax beans than of the taste? I think there must be something about leaving the beans on the vine long enough to yellow that causes them to get a bit too starchy and tough. The Haricots Verts, however, are delicious: fresh and crunchy.

The sound of dill is softer yet. I picked a paper-lunch-bag full of dill leaves and set them out to dry, the whole time telling the dill how wonderful it smelled and that I was grateful for it; that it would be used well in spanakopita and zucchini latkes, in bread, and maybe even on fish.

And snails make a satisfying (if guilt-ridden) smack as they hit the pavement, having been launched over the fence once discovered hiding among the bean leaves.

This morning was dedicated to harvest. I walked over to the neighbors and picked up two dozen eggs, five of which I gathered directly from the hen house. (The cackling and carrying on of chickens is its own symphony of sorts.) While there, I helped myself (upon my neighbor’s invitation) to zucchini: four little, four medium, and one huge honker (for stuffing). Three small tomatoes made their way home with me, too, destined for tonight’s pizza. Then I wandered into my own garden, from which I harvested ½ pound each of peas and green beans, the bag of dill, and two bouquets worth of flowers (mostly dahlias).

Meanwhile, a loaf of oatmeal bread was baking. And later today I’ll wander over to the cows’ side of the pasture to collect blackberries. I’ve picked and frozen four one-pound bags so far, but would be happier with more. I love blackberries.

But what I love even more is gathering, and eating from my surroundings. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle right now (I’m in June), and am absolutely loving it. She’s a wonderful writer, and her attitude is refreshing. I wind up comparing her year-long experiment of eating only local food with Judith Levine’s Not Buying It. Where Levine came from a place of deprivation, Kingsolver embraces the challenge with a mindset of abundance and gratitude. And her daughter’s recipes are enticing – I will definitely be trying them. In fact, the book may wind up living on my cookbook shelf once I’m done.

Not that I’m ready to take the localvore pledge, but that’s mostly because of the dearth of local grains where I live. But I eat mostly local food, and of that, probably 90% organic.

In fact, one of the things that amuses me as I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the differences in crop availability. Kingsolver lives in a region that has seasons – snow, even. She also has more heat than we do here on the coast. My god, she’s talking about teasing tomatoes ripe in mid June! Here it is mid September, and my tomatoes are still little green guys. (My neighbor has a warmer garden plot, shielded from the wind, and his tomatoes are up against a wall that adds reflected heat. Hence he has some ripe already.) I can’t even think about growing hot-weather crops: melons, peppers, eggplant… Of course, I’m allergic to them, so for me it doesn’t matter.

Also, everything seems to be late this year. The first of my sunflowers just opened its sunny face today. And most of my dahlias are tight buds. Hopefully this means it’s not too late for me to put in the winter garden. I planted broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, chard, spinach, and onion starts on Sunday.


My goodness, searching through my posts to provide links to recipes, I realized that I never shared my recipe for spanakopita. I apologize! Here it is:

Wilt one pound of cleaned spinach leaves.

Transfer the spinach to a large bowl and add:

8 ounces crumbled feta
one bunch of scallions, chopped
dill (about 1/2 cup fresh, or two Tablespoons dried)
mint (about1/4 cup fresh, or one Tablespoon dried)
nutmeg (just a light sprinkling)
Pepper (to taste)

You can also add:
toasted pine nuts (about 1/4 cup)
cottage cheese (to give it more bulk, up to 8 ounces)

Melt 4 Tablespoons butter and 4 Tablespoons olive oil together.

Brush the bottom of a square pyrex with the butter/oil.

Now begin the layering/buttering process with the phyllo dough, one sheet at a time, until you have about a dozen buttered sheets in the dish. Place your spinach/feta/herbs mixture on top of the phyllo, then proceed to cover it, one buttered sheet at a time, for another 8 to 12 sheets. Tuck it all in, brush the top with yet more butter, and bake at 350 until golden brown.

Warning: the measurements here are off the top of my head. You may need to tweak them. As always, I'm assuming you know how to cook and am offering the recipe as a guide.

06 September 2008

Being Prepared

September is National Preparedness Month.

Just yesterday, a couple of my fellow organizers and I wrote up an informational press release to help members of our community be prepared, just in case. Ironically, tonight when I came home from dinner out with a friend, I discovered that I had no running water. Apparently the water tank has run very low and, this being a dry (drought) year, the well has been inadequate in its duty of keeping the storage tank topped off. Oy. I’ve put a call in to Puryear water delivery so that Bill Puryear can bring me a load of water to refill the tank, which will set me back about a 100 bucks.

Luckily, I have water stashed here and there, enough to get through until Bill comes to save the day. And once I remembered that I have water stashed, I stopped stressing about the pipes being dry. Once again, I have everything I need for this instant, and can be grateful that all really is okay.

So, for your amusement and benefit, here are the preparedness tips that we wrote up yesterday. Hope they help you.

Prepare a communication plan. This includes important contact information for family and friends, and who will contact whom. Remember, if the power goes out and your phone cell dies, you will be without your phone list. So keep a written hard copy and an old-fashioned non-electric telephone handy.

Agree upon a reunion plan. Where will you meet, and when?

Stock up on the necessities of life. The general rule of thumb is three days and three nights of provisions to get you through 72 hours of living without electricity. (In Humboldt County, you may want to plan for longer outages.) Don’t forget your pets! Necessary provisions include one gallon of water per person per day, basic grains, and ready-to-eat, non-perishable food. Remember to include a manual can opener.

Pretend you’re camping. Have a camp stove, fuel, water purification system, a flashlight, extra batteries, candles, waterproof matches, toiletries, and a first aid kit readily accessible. (You may want to keep another first aid kit in your car, too.)

Don’t forget your medications. Advice varies, but we suggest having a two-week supply of all important prescriptions available. Remember to rotate them each time you refill your prescription so that they don’t expire.

Create a Grab and Go bag. This contains a change of clothes (extra underwear for children), jackets, blankets, basic toiletries, a picture of each family member, high-protein bars, bottled water, and your essential documents file. (For more information on creating a documents file, see below.)

Have a radio with extra batteries.
A NOAA weather radio is a good idea, especially if you’re in a tsunami zone. Either way, tune to KHUM at 104.3 or 104.7 FM for excellent live local coverage.

How to Create a Documents File:

What goes in a documents file?

Anything that would be a nuisance to replace. This includes:

A copy of all the cards in your wallet, front and back.

A copy of your driver's license.

Your passport.

Other vital documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, adoption papers, naturalization papers, your social security card.

A copy of your most recent insurance policies.

Photos of your valuable possessions.

Photos of your pets and other family members.

Your vehicles' pink slips.

Any other deeds showing title to property.

A copy of your most recent tax return.

A copy of your "just in case" data -- all that information someone would need to pick up the pieces if anything happened to you. (You can purchase my e-booklet, Organizing Your Estate, which takes you through the steps for compiling this data. Go to www.wintersdaughterpress.com and click on e-books.)

03 September 2008

Gleaning Fruit for the People

Yesterday’s Times-Standard had an article that made me think: Finally!

It’s a simple story about a woman who has the local food bank send in a volunteer gleaner to harvest the abundance of apples on her trees so that the fruit can go to people who need food.

Years ago, when I lived in San Rafael (Marin County, California), I would walk around my extended neighborhood and wonder at the plethora of produce wasting away on people’s unharvested trees. So much food! Apples, plums, figs, pomegranates, lemons, pears … why wasn’t anyone harvesting this? It seemed to me that there must be a way to have the fruit picked and distributed to those who were hungry. But no, I guess people were too concerned about their liability to have anyone come in and pick the trees clean.

Ah, but this is Humboldt County, not Marin. Not only does our local Food for People provide volunteer gleaners, it is part of the national Plant a Row for the Hungry program. As explained in the Times-Standard article, “Gardeners are asked to plant an extra row of food and donate it to Food for People, the food bank for Humboldt County. The purpose of the program is to ensure that everyone has access to the healthiest food choices available.”

Back in those Marin County days, times got tight. There was a period when my partner and I found ourselves needing the help of the local services. The saying “beggars can’t be choosers” was right on; the contents of the grocery bags we received were far from the healthy foods we tried our best to eat. Fresh organic produce? In our dreams. So I’m particularly pleased that programs exist to bring those apples (and whatever else folks plant or can’t keep up with themselves) to people needing help with groceries.

And who knows, with a bit of luck (and a lot more sweat), my garden may start producing enough to share with others! I’m excited – I got a worm bin for my birthday! And, I discovered yesterday, bats have finally moved into the bat house. So we’ve put a tray below their abode to catch their guano. Worm castings and bat guano – exciting shit.