To have a place to talk about food, food follies, recipes, garden lore, historical garden & food lore, climate & weather, natural selection, food selection, building health and so on. To skewer the silly, serve up the savory and garnish with gleanings from the news. To flame, to flesh out the facts, to farm the fun, to portion out the passion and perfect the presentation.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Park-and-Walk: A Tactic For Finding More Steps On A Busy Day

I've always thought it would be great to live close enough to everything to walk to the post office or bank or farmers' market. How strange it seems at times to have to schedule walking time as if it were a chore!

We almost bought a house in downtown Anacortes just because it was near downtown and only a few doors from the farmers' market. The timing wasn't right, we let it go, and now every time I go past it I feel a pang. Because someone else is now living there and I can't impulsively decide it's time.

Chances are we will never live downtown, and so we'll always need to have the car with us for those inevitable errands. Town if four miles from home, and while that's not overly far to walk, it's hard to avoid the main busy street with its ferry traffic and lack of sidewalks.

But we can simulate living downtown: we can park at a central location and do all our errands on foot. We can begin to think of the car as a way to go from house to town, and then home again. Every other part of the journey is for walking.

So now we park at Safeway and walk to all our errands. (If we need groceries we get them right before going home so refrigeration isn't a problem.)

From Safeway it's 6 blocks to the post office, or 5 to the bank, double for round-trip. The circuit that covers both is 14. The farmers' market is about 9 blocks. Another grocery store is 5 blocks in another direction.

It takes a lot of errands to get enough steps to satisfy a good day's walking. My target is 10,000 steps. A trip downtown, counting time in grocery store trying to find things, can take as few as 2000 steps. Throw in an excursion over to the docks to watch the boats coming and going, though, and it can start to add up.

I've done errands in the rain. It feels virtuous. I've found that in our island town the cross streets are breezy, because the prevailing wind comes from the west. I've bumped into people I know. I've stopped in at stores I've only wondered about. I have gone beyond the norm to the library, which is only 6-7 blocks from the car but away from the other usual stops. I've walked further to the cinema to see what's playing. That is a full 9 blocks from the car. It's all quite pleasant compared to the usual day of errands. And fortunately right next to the Chamber of Commerce in the midst of it all is a pair of restrooms.

I'm always looking for steps, so park-and-walk works for me. It seems so much more sensible to park and walk then to drive to errands, then come home and try to find a time to get my steps in!

But it's a new habit for sure. The other day we drove from the market to the post office to the bank. It was a beautiful day. We just forgot to park-and-walk.

What about you? Would this work in your circumstances? Do you do it already? Does it sound worth trying? I'd love to hear about it. Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Your Garden 2015 - Squash!

Here in the PNW it's time to plant squash.

We can catch the spring rains now before our summer drought. (Yes, we have several months with no rainfall.) And frosts are almost entirely unlikely to surprise us now, in late March.

We have been enjoying last year's Oregon Homestead variety of Sweet Meat winter squash. It is just as firm and wholesome now as it was when we harvested it in October. The flesh is bright orange, thick and non-watery, ripe with huge plump seeds that are ready for planting.

These squash weigh about 10 pounds each. Opening them can be a tedious task, so I just take a cleaver to the whole squash, and after a hefty gash, drop it on the cement front walk to our house. It splits along the gash but doesn't make a mess.

Then I scrape out and save the seeds, and roast the halves, cut side up, in a broiler pan at 325 degrees. I don't add water to the pan. Keep an eye on it. You want it soft but not deeply browned (though the brown parts are caramelized and delicious). It will take something like an hour. I let it cool and scoop out the flesh.

This winter I've been making squash custard, similar to pumpkin pie filling. We like it not too sweet, full of spices, and often, made with rice. You can think of it as squash rice pudding just as well. Here's that recipe:


Beat 4 eggs until uniform

Add 1/3 cup sugar pre-mixed with 1 tsp each of two or three favorite spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, or cardamom,

Beat in 2-3 cups roasted winter squash pulp.

Mix in 2 cups cooked rice. I use short-grain white rice and slightly undercook it.

Sprinkle in some salt. I use about 1/4 teaspoon or a bit more.

Stir in 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk, 2% milk, or part whole milk and part cream.

Pour into a large baking dish. I use a large glass lasagna pan.

Stir in some currants, raisins, dried blueberries, or fresh berries, about 1 cup if dried or to taste. Or omit the dried ginger and sprinkle finely chopped candied ginger at this stage. You can also add chopped walnuts or pecans.

Set a roasting pan in the oven toward the bottom, then set in it the pan with the squash. Heat a quart of water in a 4-cup measuring cup till it's quite hot, then pour it into the roasting pan (not the pan with the squash mixture!) as high as it will reasonably go.

Cook for about an hour. Test it by inserting a knife in the middle to see if it comes out clean. Once it does, I give the custard another 10 minutes to make sure all the egg is cooked.

This custard can be served warm or cold, with our without anything added to it. It is firm. If you would prefer a softer pudding, omit all or part of the rice.

It's easy to grow winter squash, it just takes a lot of room. But the long vines can be trained over a lawn or other non-garden area. It does like to set down new roots every few feet, and you can heap up piles of dirt at these points to keep the fruiting vine alive in case the vine gets damaged near the old root.

Each Oregon Homestead plant produces 3-4 10-pound squash. After we roast one, part of the cooked pulp goes into a freezer container for an easy meal or more pudding. If we had them, we would probably sacrifice one every two weeks all winter, so we would need 7 months' worth or 14. (There are two squash-lovers in this household. Adjust the number for your family accordingly.) That is what would be produced by 5 plants. We aim for 4 plants and then add a few Burgess Buttercup to eke out our supply. Four Oregon Homestead take up a lot of vine-space!

(Burgess Buttercup is a much smaller squash with wonderful flesh, 6-foot vines, and 4-5 squash per plant. They keep for months - except we eat them in between the bigger Homesteads, since they make 1-2 meals each and don't require packaging and freezing or other processing or use in recipes.)

We will also experiment this season with a landrace (mixed) winter squash, also produced by Carol Deppe* (see accompanying story). With a landrace you don't know what you'll get, but if we find an exceptional squash, we'll save the seed and hope to find something adapted to our very own yard.

One issue we could have with this plan is too many squash. No such thing, we think! We can always share.

If you don't have much space, you can cut out a circle a couple of feet in diameter, load it up with compost, and plant there.

*Carol Deppe is the author of The Resilient Gardener. She lives outside Corvallis OR and has spent untold years developing reliable varieties of the 5 crops she considers essential for survival. I can't recommend this book too highly.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Measles debate - Inspired by REAL via a post on her blog

These thoughts were inspired by good friend REAL on her blog. Here's the link:

I posted these thoughts as a comment to her post, but they were too long. I'm posting them here for her and for anyone else who might like to broaden the discussion. Here's the Comment:

These thoughts add a new dimension to the debate that I've never heard, and I'm happy to have stumbled on it. I wanted to add that misinformation and disinformation are playing their roles here, too, and while you suggest different groups have different goals, there are political and financial forces at play working hard to create fear around measles and that misinformation sets neighbor against neighbor as some adopt the propagandized point of view and others either don't hear it or don't adopt it.

I want to share that I my very own self am a measles survivor! I was miserable for a week when I was 2 or 3 and now I am a pool of immunity here in the US. I no longer have the ability to spread the plague, I mean measles. My sister had it when she was 5 and was miserable and had to have the shades drawn because the light hurt her eyes. Everyone knew back then that these poor kids would have sensitive eyes during their bout of measles. I don't remember anything about my brother having them. But most of us - classmates and friends and siblings - had measles by the time we went to school. And not one of us is now capable of passing it on or catching it. AND, we're all still alive.

(I should be fair. I had a friend in middle school who had kind of limp dishwater-colored hair. She said that until she had measles she had had blond curls.)

When we were little, we got immunized for D, P, and T. Diptheria killed almost all the little ones who got it, whole households of children at a time. Pertussis, whooping cough, is tough on babies. Tetanus comes from puncture woulds in places like barnyards. A lot more people had barnyards back then. Tetanus will never be eradicated. But then came polio. I had friends who had polio and it's well worth avoiding. We were not allowed to swim in public places in the summer because of polio. So good riddance! I'm not even worried about what might occupy its niche. Polio survivors can have ongoing problems all their lives and I'm all for preventing it: we grew up with a justified fear of iron lungs.

I am glad I didn't have to worry about D or P for my babies, and I never did worry about T. The problem is that while we were all preventing awful things, drug companies were being rewarded for their enterprise with a constant and reliable flow of many dollars. And they liked it. So as with any other pleasure center, they said 'more, more'. And so we got MMRs. (This is all observation - I haven't gone into it in depth as so many valiant young moms and others have.)

Measles did cause some deafness, and some died when they had it as kids. Mumps - never got it. It wasn't contagious like measles. Rubella - this causes deafness and other defects in in utero babies at certain stages of pregnancy, and you don't see those problems around anymore like we used to.

All these sound good - qualitatively. But since no one in our culture likes math, the tools for figuring out the real costs vs the real benefits has to be left to others (who know people who like math) and that makes us vulnerable to their propaganda. Self-serving propaganda.

So I had never thought of what will move in to take the place of the 'missing' viruses. That's a whole new way of looking at it for me. I'm just worried about who is duping whom. In a risk-averse culture like ours, any prevention sounds good. But as you're suggesting, every push in one direction is going to be rewarded by an equal and opposite one in the other, and most of these will have unforeseen consequences.

Solution? Be informed. This post (which you resisted for so long) is one piece of information and thought that when added to others may lead the formerly uninvolved to more informed opinions and a rebalancing of 'what we know' based on others' opinions to a greater pool of discussion with more contributors and more profound thinking and a better-balanced consensus. I don't know what's best here. I am a pool of one, someone who survived measles and fortunately never had polio (but then was limited to a kiddy pool for summer swimming).

Thanks for adding to the discourse. Your blog filled an eco-niche in the discussion. Brava!