Sunday, July 25, 2010

Garden update - July 25, 2010

Today we ate something from our garden. I reached deep into the beans, where I thought some greens would like the shade and the extra nitrogen, and broke of two 4" leaves of lettuce. They were tasty and too soon gone.

But they are a start. This was literally the first of the harvest, though there are signs of more to come. How soon?

The squash are in bud, with some female flowers emerging. The plants look awfully small to me. How can they have enough leaf area to grow a squash fruit of any size? We'll see.

Both tomato plants have blossoms, but I haven't seen any newly set fruits for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the three tomatoes that have appeared are still hard and green and in the case of the Early Girl, rather small.

The eggplant has no blooms, but it is growing leaves abundantly. I decided to move it to a section of the trellised area that is close to the house, so it gets reflected as well as direct sunlight now. That seems to have made all the difference.

Beets are making leaves, as are carrots and turnips. They are still tiny. Spinaches are growing but surely it will be a month before they will be eating size. Chard is finally emerging, and parsley is still not visible. I tucked in a few extra squash seeds of various types, and they are all growing smartly. It is impossible to believe they will have time to mature and grow fruit, though, unless we have many hot days.

Down in the yard, the baby jerusalem artichoke is growing taller each day. It is beginning to send forth its fourth set of leaves, as of this morning. I figure every leaf means more energy for the plant and yet faster growth. We figure the tubers will be ready in the winter, and will stay happily in the ground even after frost, so  right now the big deal is to get them to survive snails and deer. If they do, we'll have yummy tubers for months this winter.

Today the porch is registering over 80, so we'll get some good growth. I would feel better if the tomatoes were setting fruit - I would know I'm doing it right.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saying good-bye

When someone has been part of your family for nearly 14 years, he will be missed. Today Gimli, our rather absurd afghan-something cross, was assisted in his downhill descent into the intangible. For a dog, he was a rather intent on communicating with his people, and at the end, those who were close enough to him to notice heard him say 'enough'. Bye, Gimli!

Gimli came to us from the pound. We made the mistake of stopping by in case they had a suitable puppy for a daughter to give her brother for his 14th birthday. That was the start of the challenges of owning a dog who didn't believe in fences, who hated thunder, and was scared to death of water.

Gimli always got out. There wasn't a fence high enough to contain him IF he wanted to leave. He often wanted to leave. How a rather short dog, half the height of a full-blooded afghan, could scale a 6-foot fence is something we never learned. But he did. Many many times.

He was also constantly on the alert for the chance open door. He had just learned to be obedient - sometimes - to the command to sit when he took advantage of someone opening the front door a crack and instantly he was bulleting across the front lawn to the high-traffic road beyond. We yelled for him to stop, we said no, and then someone thought to say, "Sit, Gimli". With just a moment's hesitation, he sat. He was about 6 feet from being run over. GOOD BOY, GIM!

Gimli stayed home better after the kids got him a puppy of his own. Gimli, to whom running was the greatest of pleasures, ran around and around in a circle in the back yard, while the tiny puppy watched him from a squat. The tiny puppy grew till he was taller than Gimli, but his lightbulb never quite turned on. He ended up the bulk of 3 Gimlis - Gimli was always very slight - but his battery was always close to running down. Still, Gimli was loyal to him and started to stay home.

Gimli loved to play ball. Bounce a ball and he grabbed it out of the air. Tell him to get the ball and he searched all over the house till he found it. Tell him to go get his chewy toy and he returned with the chewy toy. Soon he fetched several different objects by name. Tell him no, he couldn't go over the fence and he just didn't understand.

After we moved to a house with no fence, Gimli and his young companion were treated to electric fencing. They both respected it - for a while. Later we could hear Gimli screaming as he streaked through the fence - he had learned it only hurt for a moment, and then he was FREE!

The problem was, he couldn't get back in without more pain, so we often found him wandering around on the outside of the periphery.

Gimli never got himself in real trouble. He was always scared of thunder and hard to find during a storm - he could make himself very small so he could hide in tight quarters and feel safe. He likewise hid when someone called to him from the bathroom with the water running. Then he skulked and shivered. He was always kind to people. He always looked earnestly into the eyes of those he loved, clearly transmitting a message of great importance and intensity.

Toward the end, he took to breaking into the garden to sleep in the cool of the irrigated plants. He stopped being able to walk. He lost weight. He turned from fawn to gray.

Today he made his final escape. Go, Gimli!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Farmers' Market Fare - Greens and pork

A couple of years ago we were driving around the small farms of Skagit County here in Washington State, and found a cheese shop (essentially a shack) by the side of a small rural road. We stopped in and discovered Samish Bay Cheese Company. We were delighted to learn that they milk their own cows, that the cows are on pasture, and that they also had pigs on pasture, supplemented with whey from the cheese-making.

We indulged in some of their strong gouda, which ran out too fast. We also bought some bacon, the best bacon I've tasted.

Not many weeks later, we discovered them at the Anacortes Farmers' Market. Now we see them regularly. Last week we bought some side pork from them to go with the armload of greens we bought from Moondance Farm. Here's what happened next:

Greens and Side Pork 
1 lb or so grass-fed side pork
3 lbs or so mixed greens, such as collards, kale, beets, spinach, etc
1 bunch garlic scapes
3 T or more balsamic vinegar (or according to taste)
½ t coarse sea salt
On coming home from the farmers’ market, leave the side pork on the counter to come to room temperature. Leave all the greens on the counter, or wash if gritty. With scissors or your hands, snip or tear the greens into strips about an inch wide. Chop the coarsest stems about an inch long. Cut the garlic scapes, including the buds, an inch long or so. Snip the side pork with scissors into about ¼-inch strips. Saute the strips till some of the fat melts, then add the garlic scapes and stem pieces and cook for a minute or two. Add the prepared greens, a handful at a time, and stir until hot and wilted before adding more. When all the greens have been added to the pot and stirred well, add a cup of water and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until as done as you like. This dish is nicest when it has been cooked thoroughly.  Remove the lid, stir a few more times, and add the balsamic vinegar and salt. Stir some more, taste, adjust the amount of vinegar and salt, and serve with a yellow vegetable. Can also be served over rice. Leftovers, if any, are excellent for breakfast the next day.

My take on vitamins - part 1

Foods have vitamins and real foods have real vitamins in abundance, or to put it more generally, they have nutrients.

The concept that foods have nutrients would be so trivial, under normal circumstances, that it would never be stated as if it were a fresh idea.

But now our food doesn't necessarily have nutrients, and I've been noticing ads that try to make us feel that the foods they are trying to sell don't have MANY nutrients, as if fewer were better. One of these downplayed nutrients is FAT (the stuff our brains and nervous systems are made of).

Foods are manufactured, today, to get rid of the "bad" nutrients, the ones the culture has determined are EVIL.

Hold on! How can a nutrient be evil? A nutrient is something that nourishes us, that gives our bodies something they need. We can't live without nutrients, the more the better on average.

But, you may argue, fat is bad because it makes us fat.

Actually, that's not true, as obvious as it sounds. Simple carbs that raise our blood sugar beyond what our activity level can use make us fat. Simple carbs are those that have been extracted from the food crops that grew them. They are broken, partial foods. They are not real foods. And they make us fat and unhealthy.

Kids are not getting fat from potato chips, they're getting fat with simple-carb sweetened sodas.

But I digress. Real foods have nutrients (and not-real foods have few if any nutrients). Real foods have the macros: carbs, fats, and proteins. And they have the micros: vitamins and minerals.

These thoughts are about vitamins. Real foods come with them. We don't need anything but what we get in real food. IF. Big IF.

We don't need to use vitamin supplementation IF:
1. We eat real food and no other food but real food.
2. We eat only fresh real food, no more than hours old when eaten or preserved.
3. We eat real food that was picked when it was ripe, but not over-mature.
4. We eat a variety of real foods.
5. The real foods we eat were grown in healthy, compost-fed soils.
6. The real foods we eat are in a digestible form (or converted into a digestible form through fermentation).
7. The real foods we eat are in season.

IF we can't meet all these standards with every bite we eat, we are getting fewer nutrients than we got when we all relied on growing our own. IF we can't meet these standards, supplementation with vitamins and minerals is essential.

Modern life essentially dictates vitamin/mineral supplementation. When in doubt, supplement. If you feel better, you'll know you were missing something.

More on picking a supplement later.

Earthy veggies

It's a wonder there's any dirt left in California, where our store-bought veggies come from. All the grit and dirt that is lodged in celery, chard, leeks, spinach and other greens when they arrive in my kitchen, multiplied by all those in this store and other stores, might amount to several inches of good soil.

I don't know where it goes - whether into sewer settling tanks or my plumbing traps. I just know my veggies need to be free of it or we're going to have a miserably crunchy experience at dinner tonight, and I'm going to fear for my teeth.

Which is where H2 comes in. This is the old veteran workhorse cleaner Basic H in a slightly modified form. It still works on veggies to release the grit.

Here's what I do: fill the sink or a large bowl with cold water, measure in exactly 1 drop of H2, and then add the veggies (either in batches or all together, depending on quantity). I remove them immediately and rinse them. A satisfying layer of dirt is usually visible on the bottom of the container.

For many-dimensioned veggies with deep crevices like celery and leeks, separating the stalks before washing them only makes sense.

When I first started doing this, decades upon decades ago (in 1971), I did an experiment. I took a bag of triple-washed spinach and shook it into a large bowl of cold water, shook it around a bit, and looked in the bottom. No grit - of course not, since this was already-washed spinach.

Then I added a drop of Basic H, shook the spinach in the water some more, lifted it out - and was delighted to see a layer of silt in the bowl.

That's when I took up the practice of washing all the produce that comes into the house in Basic H, whether it seems dirty or not. Cold water, rinse quickly, dry, and refrigerate. It works for fruits too - what you can't see (pesticides?) can hurt you.

A warning about H2: it is as concentrated as it can be. There's no water in it. ONE DROP is all you need. I don't want to strip the vitamins out of the produce, so one drop, cold water, a quick rinse, and done!

Another comment: H2 is not a veggie wash, it is a cleaner. You can use it to clean everything, but again, be frugal - a small amount goes a long way. The literature that comes with it will explain that. It's not toxic, not dangerous, just undiluted.

To order Basic H2, visit this Shaklee website.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Our foggy-island garden

Our self-watering garden, on the porch to keep warm

Tomatoes (2), beans (25 or so of 3 kinds), a pepper, and our gravity-defying trellis system

8:30pm, the whole garden (contains 20+ varieties of veggies) watering itself 

A foggy morning - looking southeast through the tomatoes

Growing your own in no space at all

I just stumbled on this. It's fascinating. It's for people who live in apartments or otherwise want to grow their own food but have to garden inside.

Grow Your Own

What is 'unsugared'?

I've been looking for a word that means 'no added sugar' when that's what I mean.

If I say 'sugar-free' it might mean I used an artificial sweetener, which I would never do. If I say 'unsweetened' it seems to imply that the recipe is lacking something, that it's austerely unsweet. If I say 'fruit-sweetened', it's overly specific and limiting.

So I'm using 'unsugared'. That means not adding sugar but being happy about the sugar that comes with the ingredients. Many fruits are good ways to add sweetness without adding sugar.

Of course not everything needs to be sweet. But some things just do, if there's a way to make them that is unsugared.

Why not add sugar? Because sugar a broken food, refined and concentrated and hence in my simple-minded way of looking at it, unbalanced.

What about honey? That depends....

Choosing yogurt

Yogurt can be a wonderfully healthy food. But check the ingredients to make sure the yogurt brand in your hand has just yogurt in the container!

Real yogurt doesn't need gelatin, pectin, tapioca, or guar gum. Real yogurt has made the transition from milk to thick, predigested dairy product through the action of one or more types of bacteria that ferment milk sugar (lactose) to lactic acid and cause the milk to thicken.

The conversion of lactose to lactic acid means that those who are lactose-intolerant can enjoy yogurt.

Real yogurt is sour, so the tendency in America is to sweeten it, usually with sugar or an artificial sweetener. Around the world, though, yogurt is eaten unsugared. I will add home-tested recipes for these foods here from time to time. When shopping for yogurt, check the ingredients to make sure it is unsugared.

Real yogurt also contains live bacteria. The milk the yogurt is made from will have been pasteurized, but the yogurt should not have been pasteurized after fermentation, or the good bacteria in it will have been killed. Because of wide-spread interest in yogurt as a healthy food, most brands no longer kill off the good bacteria through pasteurization but brag proudly on the label that they the product contains live bacteria. This is what we're looking for!

In our local farmers' market, we can buy local yogurt from two vendors. Both are whole-milk, unsugared, unadulterated yogurt, one 'greek' (extra-thick) and one regular consistency. In years past, a goat yogurt has also been available - I'll have to check to see if that vendor still provides it on a regular basis.

Yogurt has a good effect on digestion for many people. As a fermented product, it is inhabited by beneficial bacteria and pre-digested by them. You might want to read this Wikipedia article on Yogurt for more information.

A useful book on the value of fermentation and the pre-digesting of foods has been written by Sandor Ellix Katz. It is called Wild Fermentation. Yogurt is just one of a multitude of beneficial fermented foods he talks about.

Simple Summer Smoothie

In the pursuit of unsugared satisfying foods, I have taken to making smoothies again. This one is so easy that it will be ready 5 minutes from now, if you happen to have the few ingredients on hand.

half a quart container of plain yogurt - I use whole milk organic yogurt
3 ripe peaches
1 frozen banana - if you don't have one frozen right now, use a fresh one

Holding the peaches over the blender as you cut them so you don't lose any juice, remove the seed but leave the skin on. Drop them into the blender with the broken-up banana and yogurt. Whirl on high for as long as it takes to eliminate most of the lumps.

Hints: I use my Vita-Mix so the blending takes less than a minute. To freeze bananas, peel them, break them into chunks with your fingers, and freeze in a pie pan or other flat container where they can spread out a single layer deep. Then once they are frozen, bag them and store them in the freezer till it's time for your next smoothie.