Friday, April 1, 2011

Walking the Walk - April 2011

Just another day in paradox.

Ok, I admit it. I'm easily bored. Every time I hear some new version of an old rumor rolling around, or when I catch an re-play of some micro-factional, Point Bob backbiting contest, I have this uncontrollable urge to yawn and go out and work in the garden. And while I'm there, pulling up dandelions and other weeds from last year's lettuce patch, certain questions comes to mind. Such as, don't these people have anything better to do with their brains?
Given the apocalyptic scenario of on-going civil wars, flood, famine, piracy on the Indian ocean, violence in Libya, and the seismic destruction of Christchurch, all of which had been competing for bandwidth until the media air was completely sucked out by the unbelievably devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and given current economic conditions, with oil prices rising and food prices close behind, isn't there some more interesting, fulfilling or useful purpose to which some of this petty, self-centered, energy could be directed? Maybe so, maybe not, it's hard to say. One thing for sure, these thistle plants definitely have to come out.
Something else I admit; I'm not into judgement, or guilt, or grudges, or any of that other junk that gets in the way of clear communication. I'm not holding myself up as a model citizen here, I just hate to see adult energy wasted in what I consider to be adolescent hissy fits. (No negative reference intended to any actual adolescent). As far as I can see, the kids are doing great. It's some of the so-called adults that really need a time-out.
Meanwhile, I'm just working away, hoping that the slugs will find the horseradish plants more attractive than the cabbage, and that the mason bees will come out at the right time to pollinate the apple trees. The garden is a challenge, and a deep and subtle teacher. With so much information offered, there's never a time when I think I've got it all.
And then there's the people and the place, this town I call home. Such an odd mix. There is so much potential here. With its gentle climate and relative safety, a lack of toxic pollutants and noxious insects, in many ways Point Roberts really is a gardener's dream. Now, if we can all just wake up and learn to get along. Welcome to paradox.

If you're suffering from boredom, or some ambiguous seasonal malady, this Lose-the-Blues soup will cure what ails you.

Rose's Crockpot Bean Soup

2 cups of dry beans
1 medium onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1 TBL each of powered dry herbs: oregano, marjoram, basil, tarragon
½ tsp curry powder
1 TBL powdered dulse or kelp (flakes if possible)
½ cup packed, steamed nettle tips *(see note below)
½ pound of sausage
2 cups of chicken or turkey stock (broth frozen from holiday cooking)
2 TBL brown miso
Start this soup the night before by sorting several types of dry beans, removing broken bits and possibly small rocks (this is important). Try a mix of white northern, pintos, and red kidney beans to start. The more variety, the better. Use roughly 2 cups of dry beans for a large (4 quart) crockpot.
Wash and rinse beans in cold water, then soak in warm water and let sit overnight. In the morning, pour off the soak water (removing much of the nitrogen that causes gas), and rinse the beans in clean water. Place the beans into a crock pot. If you have split peas or lentils available, add some of these now, since they don't require pre-soaking. If you were unable (or forgot) to start beans the night before, you can use only lentils, split peas or black eyed peas and still get a great soup.
Dice up and add the onion and garlic, dried herbs, seaweed and nettles. If you have frozen turkey or chicken broth, melt it in a separate pan and add it to the crockpot. Add the sausage.
DO NOT add wine, salt, vinegar or hot sauce at this point, as these will affect the proper cooking of the beans (too acidic). Add these at the end of cooking if desired.
Add enough hot water to bring the mixture to about 1/2 -3/4 inch from the top the crockpot. Cover and cook all day (8 - 9 hrs) on a HIGH setting.
When the beans are done, turn off the cooker and let sit for a few minutes. Put the miso into a small bowl, adding a bit of the soup broth, and carefully blend with a fork. Return this mixture to soup. The miso will fill out the flavor (similar to bullion cubes, which can be substituted) and also make it saltier. At this point, you may add hot sauce or more salt/pepper to taste. Serve with fresh (preferably corn) bread for a good protein balance.
*Nettles are good tasting and highly nutritious, great for soups or pesto. The tops are harvested in early spring, using rubber gloves, scissors and long sleeves. Cut only the first two or three leaf clusters. DO NOT pick nettles after the flowers have begun to form. The leaves are first steamed slightly to remove the sting, then pressed into plastic ice trays and frozen. These frozen blocks are stored in plastic bags for future use. Good hunting and gathering!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Walking the Walk - March 2011

Herd Instinct

Anyone trying to organize anything in Point Roberts will soon come to one, clear conclusion; people in this town are like a herd of cats. It's not a bad thing, just a fact to be considered. For starters, nobody runs the place. There is no block with enough clout to tell other people what to do. Everyone you meet has an opinion and is usually glad to express it. If you're a billionaire, or a rocket scientist, no one is impressed. What you do, and the way you treat people; that's what really counts. That's one reason why I like this place.
As one of the herd, I do what I can to make things work. It's not easy, especially this time of the year. February is so impractical. Starting with Groundhog's Day, the whole month seems tilted toward goofiness. On the 3rd, Chinese New Year ushered in the Year of the Rabbit, a yin, metal, rabbit to be exact, the year 4709, 4707, or 4648, depending on who is counting and how you count. Then comes the 14th, when grown men get mushy, or pretend to, and spend lots of money on wine, roses, and chocolate. Whatever it takes to get laid, or whatever. Then, roll two famous birthdays into one and call it President's Day, and for a finale, end the whole thing two days short. It's February, and the garden is tossing in her sleep.
So, here I am, having taken on the monthly challenge of writing something clever, wise, or at least practical, and all I can come up with is none of the above. Yes, I wrote my wife a poem for Valentine's Day, and, with the help of my grand-daughter, painted a watercolor picture of a heart. Yes, I read the Chinese astrology for the Year of the Rabbit, and it looks pretty good on the economic front. We could all use that. It would also be helpful if there was a little less saber rattling this year, and maybe some real forgiving and forgetting, although I'm not holding my breath.
Judging from current events in North Africa and the Middle East, those whose power is enforced by violent repression are feeling the sand move beneath their feet. It's obvious something is happening, something very large. From here, I sense a worldwide urge for positive change that won't go away. The hundredth monkey has picked up a stick and is busy prying open the door to the future.
It's time to pay attention to the Earth. It's time for people to take charge of the machine and get it running right again. We have all the technology we need. What's required now is wise action. It's time to clean up the tools, sort out the seeds, find a few like-minded friends and start putting together a plan. I've done some of that, and the road ahead looks good, a little rocky, but good.
As far as organizations go, I admit I'm better at gardening than cat herding. Everyone has to find his or her own direction. That's human nature. And, in spite of everything, some of us here in this funny town will actually end up working well together. I'm sure of it. Call it herd instinct.

Note: February days are perfect for what I call the Root Cellar Special. What you'll need is cabbage, onion, garlic, carrots, a beet or turnip, pork tenderloin, or lean ground beef. Depending on whether you use pork or beef, you'll want a half cup of either white or red wine. Dried basil, oregano, sage, and tarragon are my herbs of choice on this one.
Don't be skimpy with the herbs, since their flavors make the dish. I sometimes add a pinch or two of curry to the mix.
Slice half a cabbage into finger thick chunks, not too fine. Cut the carrots into 2 to 3 inch logs, then quarter those lengthwise. Use a medium onion roughly minced, and two or three cloves of garlic pressed or finely chopped. Grate the beet or turnip, and if using tenderloin (my favorite), cut into large, bite-sized chunks. I sometimes marinade the pork in white wine and garlic for an hour or so ahead of time. If using ground beef, break the meat up into small, tablespoon sized clumps as you add it the mix.
Use a wok or the biggest covered frying pan you have. You definitely need a lid. In an ample amount of olive oil, saute the onion, garlic, and the herbs until the onions are translucent. Turn up the heat slightly and stir in all the veggies, making sure everything is covered with oil. Splash in two tablespoons each of balsamic vinegar and tamari.
Lacking tamari, a little season salt will do. Cover the pan and let cook for a few minutes before adding the meat and wine. Stir the whole thing well, cover, and turn it down to simmer. Sit back, sip a good-sized glass of the wine, and let the magic work. When the cabbage and the carrots are tender, it's ready. I usually top this dish with my favorite dressing, a little grated sharp cheddar or parmesan , and serve it with brown rice or quinoa. Have fun with this one!

George Wright

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Walking the Walk - Feb. 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green.

Kermit the Frog had it right. Even with the best intentions, doing the environmental right thing can be hard. This is especially true now that Green, as a concept, has taken over a certain corner of our vocabulary. Energy production, transportation and distribution, buildings and materials, manufacturing processes, even people and political parties, all carry the same label. The term is even being used to describe a process that undermines the very principles that define it. "Greenwashing" has become a system of its own, a way to obscure the truth, or to make something appear beneficial and good when in fact it's not. The problem is that green, as a label, is easy to apply but can be ambiguous and difficult to analyze. Unlike the words Certified Organic, which have become recognized and trusted, applied to everything from fruits, to dairy products, to fertilizers and soils, Green just doesn't carry the same weight.
One area of clarity is in building design and materials. The U.S. Green Building Council, through its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, offers certification to buildings that meet their criterion. One local example is the new Community Food Co-op, on Cordata Street in Bellingham. Of interest to local home builders, buyers and current owners, the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County, partnering with Built Green Whatcom, and Northwest Energy Star Homes, offers information and contacts for all aspects of design and construction, including remodeling.
For everything else, and with so much space to cover, the term Green ends up in danger of losing its potency and being added to the list of undefinable words like cute and cool. Fortunately, there are dedicated people, greenophiles (my word), who have done, and continue to do their homework, and offer the results to those of us who want quick answers. Basically, is this thing good or bad for the environment, and how does it rank with others of its kind? One excellent company,, gives detailed ratings on a list of consumer products, over 75,000 items, in several categories. They even offer a free iphone app that allows you to scan bar codes to pull up product ratings. Very cool--green!
Like any positive change, going green involves effort. This includes a possible change in ways of thinking and interacting, as well as different ways of spending money. When green rules are applied, the words "cheap" or "expensive" take on different meanings. No matter what the cost, future generations will live with what we pay for now. Is it worth the extra effort? I think so.

Note: Green Grows the Garden
All winter, seed catalogs pile up on my table. The pictures are so beautiful, I'm always tempted to buy more than I can plant. Mostly, we buy through the Seed Savers Exchange,, either from their excellent catalog or directly from other members. A recommended local company is West Coast Seeds, with a retail outlet at 3925 Elliot Street, downtown Ladner. Although many of their seeds are F1 hybrids, they do carry open-pollinated (OP) types as well, and the fact that they offer tested varieties, suited to our climate, is a big help. Be aware of certain restrictions on seeds coming across the border. Other excellent companies are: Johnny's Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed Co., W. Atlee Burpee & Co., Renee's Garden, and John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds. Happy gardening!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Walking the Walk - 2011

Walking the Walk- 2011

Note: Beginning with the Jan. 2011 posting, the All Point Bulletin column, Walking the Walk, will also be available as a blog. Due to space limitations in the newsprint version, additional information, such as references, and lists of suggested reading, are simply not possible. The blog is a way to provide that expanded forum.
Thanks to all those whose positive comments have kept me going on this project.
George Wright

Overcoming Fear of Food
The famous British explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, once said, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing."
In speaking of food, a parallel statement could be, "There are no bad foods, only bad preparation." In this case, preparation would include all forms of processing, preservation and augmentation, as well as inappropriate choices, poor food combining, and just plain bad cooking. Fold in arguments around organics vs agribusiness, hormone-laced/feed lot vs free-range/grass-fed, GMO vs non-GMO, vegan vs carnivore, and soon the eyes glaze over.
100 years ago, these distinctions were not even part of the vocabulary. To the average person, food was food, it was good, and people were happy to get their hands on it. So what happened between then and now? Information. Lots and lots of it. Ever since we moved away from salting and drying, to canning, freezing and chemical preservation, the body of available, food related information has grown exponentially. This is good, except that the cutting edge slices two ways. Every new discovery or invention triggers a commercial wave that is soon overwhelmed, negated, or confused by the next wave. When fear based advertising campaigns, such as the war on fat, are stirred into the mix, the whole thing becomes a mush. Fad dieting, increases in eating disorders, obesity, and diabetes; all this has much more to do with business itself, than it does with actual food.
This raises two questions. Is there a way to simplify the whole thing and make it useful? And, given all this knowledge, can we just eat, enjoy it, and have it be good for us? For me, the answer is a qualified yes.
For starters, even with all our technology and modern lifestyles, we really aren't that different from people who lived a thousand, or even several thousand years ago. Diets are obviously different, but our bodies still have the same basic metabolic requirements. We need proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and all the other basic building blocks of physical life. What has radically changed is the way we eat, and the ways we deal with food sources. This is especially true of meats, grains, fats, and the ubiquitous twins, sugar and salt.
Looking through old cookbooks, I admit to a fondness for recipes that begin something like, "Chase down a good sized chicken..." These days, a chicken dinner usually begins with a trip to the meat section of the market, where the display is spotless, and the breasts, drumsticks, and wings are wrapped separately for convenience. Convenience has it's hidden cost, however. I've raised chickens; killed, plucked, and cleaned lots of them. It's not a pleasant task, but it clears up any ambiguity about the health of the bird, where it came from, and how it was treated. I'd raise my own beef, but don't have the space, so I do the next best thing, and buy a year's supply from a family farm in Sedro Woolley. The price is good, the quality is superior, and again, I know where the animal came from and how it was raised. (for grass-fed beef info, contact me:
Although many people raise their own meat animals, and many more of us have vegetable gardens, very few people in this country actually grow their own staple grains. A few rows of sweet corn in the garden and that's about it. It's not that it's hard to grow, or takes too much space, we've just given up the job to the big boys. Huge farms, huge machinery, huge distribution systems, and huge corporations, such as Monsanto, with their patented GMO technology, who would like nothing more than to control every grain of wheat seed planted.
Fortunately, for those who aren't quite ready for home grain production, organic, whole grains are available, and the prices of quality, small-scaled, flour grinders are reasonable. ($250-$300) Small amounts can even be made with a well sharpened, multi-speed blender. An excellent book, Small-Scale Grain Raising, by Gene Logsdon, covers all the basics.
Every two weeks or so I bake bread, six loaves at a time. I love bread, real bread. With a good morning's effort, there they sit: six, fat, brown, bundles of sustenance, the staff of life. It's not a complicated process, but making one's own bread does take work, and, like chasing down a good sized chicken, it's part of a lifestyle that our great grandparents, and many people in the world today would consider commonplace.
Common? Sugar and salt. They're everywhere, hiding in plain sight. The label of any processed or packaged food will likely have at least one of these ingredients listed. Finding canned or bottled drinks without some form of sugar is almost impossible. And then there's the hardcore stuff, candy, all brightly colored, and at perfect kid's eye level at the check-out counter.
Yes, we have to have sugar. In the form of glucose, or blood sugar, it is absolutely necessary. It is our body's fuel. Humans evolved manufacturing this simple sugar from more complex sugars, and from even more complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Highly refined sugars like sucrose, or table sugar, are converted to glucose so rapidly, that the sugar rush, up, and the resulting insulin surge to bring blood sugar down, causes a kind of roller-coaster effect. If ongoing, this extreme up and down action can disrupt physical and emotional equilibrium, and the long-term stress on the pancreas can lead to serious problems such as type ll diabetes.
So how to deal with the sugar issue? Ironically, the simple solution is to keep it complex. By this, I mean using unprocessed, complex carbohydrate rich foods, such as whole grains, roots like carrots, beets and potatoes, and the natural fats in oils, butter, cheese and other dairy products, as wholesome energy sources. Natural, unsweetened, fruits, either fresh or dried, are also excellent suppliers of energy. These foods are what I call 'slow burners'. By slowly converting parts of these foods to glucose, we get the energy we need without the roller coaster ride. When cooking requires sweeteners, use unfiltered honey, unsulphured molasses, malt extract, or unrefined raw sugar. This last type of sugar is available online, or at most natural food stores. It's not the same as the brown sugar found in grocery stores, which is just refined white sugar with molasses added for color.
Salt, another necessity, which in some ancient cultures was worth it's weight in gold, has become so common now, that it's usually ignored. Ordinary table salt, sodium chloride, is a refined product, with added iodine to help prevent thyroid illness, and calcium silicate to keep it from clumping in moist weather. When it rains, it pours. Sea salt is also mostly sodium chloride, but with small amounts of 80 other minerals and elements, including iodine, and has been made for thousands of years, by the simple process of evaporating sea water. For my purposes, I'd rather have the extra minerals, and I put a few grains of rice in the shaker to prevent clumping.
So how to lose the fear of food? Know what you're eating. As much as possible, keep it unprocessed and fresh. If it's in a package, read the label. Although cooking with whole foods may take a bit more time, the increase in food value is well worth the effort. Also, there are ways to make it quick and easy. I'll describe one below.
Most working people don't have time for a leisurely breakfast. Working hard in the garden, or in construction, I need more than coffee to get me through till lunch break. This recipe for hot cereal is so high in protein and complex carbos, that some days, I don't even need lunch. For me, the easiest way to do this, is to make up a big batch on the weekend, then it should last all the following week, or more.
George's High Five: In a large, dry, frying pan, (no oil or water), place equal amounts of brown rice, millet, and quinoa, and 1/2 that amount of buckwheat. Measure and set aside a 1/4 portion of amaranth. Fill the pan no more than 1/2 full, so that you can stir without the grains spilling over. Bring the heat up to medium-high, and begin to stir with a flattened spoon that can scrape the grains from the bottom of the pan. I prefer wood for this job. When the grains begin to crackle and you can smell the toasting, stir constantly, making sure all the grain touches the bottom, and none sits long enough to burn. If it goes too fast, turn down the heat, otherwise you'll get burned grains, and those that aren't toasted at all. When most of the batch is lightly toasted, add the amaranth and continue to carefully stir until most of the crackling has stopped, and all the grains have a golden brown color. When they are done, they burn quickly, so have a large bowl set aside to receive them. Let the grains cool down before grinding. I use a multi-speed blender with a glass container. At the highest speed, grind the grains to a medium powder, approximately 1 1/2 cups at a time. I help the blender by using a blunted chopstick to (very carefully) stir the grains away from the sides of the blender while it's grinding. When you are finished, store the grains in a sealable container.
One cup of dry grains will make enough for two adults. To cook, bring three cups of water to a boil and stir in one cup of grains, using a whisk or fork. Stir quickly to avoid lumps. Cover and turn down the heat to very low. Don't worry, it won't boil over like oatmeal. After 8 or 9 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. If allowed to cool slightly, the grains will come easily from the pan without sticking. In my house, we eat this cereal with butter or oil, and 1/2 tsp. of white miso per serving. Grated cheese is also good.
The whole grains used here are available in bulk from most natural food stores. Thrifty Foods and Save-on-Foods also have good bulk sections. Miso is available at most oriental markets, and from Thrifty Foods, in the deli section near the eggs. Bon appetit! Be fearless!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Walking the Walk: The Large and the Small

On December 21st, at 13 minutes past midnight, the full moon will slowly move into the shadow of the earth and be totally eclipsed. This silent event, one of two lunar eclipses in 2010, happens to coincide with the winter solstice, the end of the old, and the beginning of the true new year.
Events like this were so highly important to ancient cultures, such as those in Great Briton, that enormous stone monuments were constructed to mark their passing. Whatever explanation they may have had for the movements of the sun and moon, the ancients had good reason to consider the solstice a day worth noting. Winter might still have it's grip on the landscape, but with longer days coming, movement toward spring had begun. Nature was turning in her sleep.
In school, we were taught how the earth's tipped axis creates the seasons, but the deeper importance of the solar cycle seems to have lost it's impact on our culture. With 24-7-365 access to everything, does it matter? In a word, yes. Because all life on the surface of the planet is inextricably bound to this annual pattern, the reality is that without the cold and darkness of winter, the light and heat of summer, the movements of wind and water, the growth, fruiting, and decay of plants and animals --without this cycle of birth, death and rebirth, none of us would be here. Thankfully, we are here, and with modern knowledge, we have an opportunity to find our proper place in the system that sustains us.
As humans, at the top of the food chain, we sometimes get the idea that because of our self-declared position, we are therefore important. Clever? Yes. Important? That depends on a point of view. In simple terms, life on land, as we know it, could not exist without the countless trillions of soil building microbes that make it possible for larger, green plants to flourish. From their estimated beginnings some three billion years ago, these organisms, with a unique ability to draw usable nitrogen directly from the air, are the very foundation of the plant and animal kingdoms that we currently inhabit.
Since they first appeared, these talented microbes, and those that work with them, or depend directly on their abilities, have grown into a soil building community of inconceivable complexity and numbers. Studies have shown that in the first few inches of a healthy soil, one square yard may contain as many as ten trillion (10,000,000,000) individuals. And that's before we get to the rungs of the evolutionary ladder that have beings you can actually see with the unaided eye. In North America, on an acre of rich, forest floor, the numbers could approach 50 quadrillion (50,000,000,000,000,000). As a comparison, the human population of the entire world stands at just under seven billion. Are we important? It depends. We have a place for sure, but it might not be as lofty as we once thought.
As gardeners, being aware of the large and the small, the solar cycle and soil builders, is a way to tap into a relatively simple and effective system. It tells us what to do, and when. Late fall and winter, at the end of the growth cycle, is a time of decomposition; breaking down in preparation for re-growth. In keeping with the season, my young friends and I have been focused on creating compost. We build the structures, and let the microbes and fungi turn garden waste, straw, seaweed, manure, and grass clippings into next season's plant food. Yes, it's effort to move the straw bales, gather the materials and set everything up, but by far, the most important job is done by the millions, and billions, and trillions of our invisible friends that take care of the dirty work. We give them what they want, and they return the favor.
The large and the small, with us somewhere in between; it's a well-balanced system that has been perfecting itself for a long, long time.
Our goal as organic, or natural gardeners, is to work with this system, to learn what we can, and to use that knowledge helping to maintain the natural balance, and so to enhance our own cultural well being.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Walking the Walk: Food Security

In the Pacific island kingdom of Tonga, all coins carry the inscription, Fakalahi me-akai, Grow More Food. This simple message encouraging self-reliance has deep importance, especially for this isolated group of tiny islands. Providence, self-reliance, security, all very important.
This summer, while working together in the community garden, a young friend asked me if I thought it was possible for Point Roberts to "achieve food security". It was a sincere and very interesting question. The short answer is yes and no. The long one, what my wife calls the Sagittarius answer, is filled with more questions than real answers, and enough tangents to qualify as a geometry problem.
To begin, any talk of food security has first to address food reality. As I write, I'm enjoying a morning cup of Costa Rican coffee, Tres Rios, to be exact. I like good coffee, and cream, and butter, whole wheat bread, gorgonzola, miso, virgin olive oil, and a glass of Aussie shiraz. The list goes on. These choices define a food reality that Pt. Bob, USA, does not currently provide. This all becomes part of the "no". The "yes" is fairly easy to describe. Tonight's dinner will be homegrown potatoes, hot beet salad, and braised sockeye fillet from Point Roberts waters. That's as local as it gets. The problem is how to stretch it out, to make all of my meals local.
At this point, unless I'm willing to make some major dietary changes, it won't happen. What's left is a compromise. On the one hand, work hard to provide everything I can. On the other, make considered choices as to source, quality, and the true cost of things I buy. Where does the beef come from? A small, family ranch in Sedro Woolley. And the coffee? Ideally, it would be shade grown, fairly traded, and unsprayed. Honestly, I don't know, but whatever it's provenance, it tastes wonderful, and I'm thankful to have it.
To say that our current food system needs improving is a huge understatement, but I'm not ready to completely abandon it until we've worked out some good alternatives. Thankfully, all across the country, more and more people have begun doing just that; taking back their birthright. Our grandparents and great-grandparents did it. First nations peoples did it. We can provide for ourselves, we just have do it.
The most inspiring example of this I've seen happen, was this summer's Kid's Camp involvement in building the Community Garden. From an empty lot with nothing but stubby weeds and grass, to a full tilt garden with tomatoes, chard, carrots, lettuce, onions, and sunflowers higher than your head! And they did it, from soil to seeds to fresh food. With help from the Point Roberts Parks Board and numerous helpers and sponsors, we have started something, that, like the simple inscription on Tongan coins, is deeply important.

WtW Note: Hot Beet Salad- (This dish will even change the mind of people who say, "I don't like beets!")

Scrub and grate 2 large beets and 1 or 2 carrots. In a fairly deep frying pan (or wok) with cover, slowly saute, in ample olive oil, 1/2 a finely diced onion, 1 sprig of fresh tarragon and 3 or 4 leaves of fresh basil. Dried herbs will work, but don't be skimpy. Cover and let the onions brown. Uncover and stir in grated beets and carrot. Add a liberal splash or two of balsamic vinegar, and a smaller one of tamari (soy sauce), 2-3 shots (to taste) of hot sauce, and 1/4 cup of red wine. Cover and let simmer until the beets are tender. Serve hot, topped with a dollop of plain yogurt, sour cream, or your favorite creamy ranch dressing.

Braised Salmon Fillet-

Use the other half onion, but slice it into long thin strips. Saute onion in olive oil with fresh thyme until the onions are browned. In a small dish, mix the juice of 1/2 lemon and two tablespoons of mayonnaise. Place the fillet flesh side down on the onions for 2 or 3 minutes, then lift and place it skin side down on the remaining bedded onions. Top the fillet with lemon/mayo sauce and add 1/8 cup white wine. Cover the pan and let simmer for 6-8 minutes. Chill a good white wine for this one.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Walking the Walk: Improving our Connection with the Earth

The Italians have a word, arrangiarsi, which means the art of making do. It seems fitting that a culture with such a long and often disrupted history could turn a survival skill into an art form. Along with re-purposing, recycling, and repairing, one basic skill that fits the category is the saving and replanting of seeds. Until the large scale development of hybridized and genetically modified plants, nearly everyone who planted saved their own seeds. These handed-down or "heirloom" seeds, tested in the laboratory of real world necessity, are in fact the backbone of agriculture. Unfortunately, large agribusiness interests, and corporations such as Monsanto are making it very difficult for farmers to do what they have always done.
As gardeners, our best response to this pressure is to plant only open-pollinated, unhybridized seeds that will be true to type for the next year. Thankfully, there are many good companies, such as Territorial Seeds selling heirloom varieties. Our favorite source is The Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit group based in Decorah, Iowa. These dedicated folks manage one of the most extensive international seed networks in the world. Membership is easy, and includes discounts on seeds from their catalogue, access to thousands of fellow member listings, plus information packed, seasonal publications. Check them out at
Here at home, the lettuces are bolting and a few over-looked zucchini have gone way past the eating stage. Great! Let them go as long as possible and save the seeds. For lettuce, once the flowers have completed their cycle and started to dry, I pull up the entire plant, cut off the root, and hang it upside down in a paper bag. Once completely dry, sift out the small black (or white) seeds. Winnowing, or gently tossing in a windy spot can help to separate seeds from chaff. Use a flat plastic bin or large bowl for this operation and be careful how you toss. Full grown zukes can be huge, often more than two feet long. Allow them to ripen until until the vines have wilted back, keeping an eye out for vole or rat bites that can cause rot. Mature seeds will be plump and easy to separate from the pulp. Dry them in a paper lined plate or basket and store in paper, not plastic. Be sure to mark type and date on each package. I've had way too many "mystery squash" seed end up in my collection. The best book I've found on the subject is "Seed to Seed", by Suzanne Ashworth, available from The Seed Savers Exchange online bookstore.
Winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, hubbard, and pie pumpkins, can be stored for months if carefully rinsed with a diluted beach solution and stored in a cool dry space. A large blue Hubbard squash once sat unaffected on my piano for nine months. We planted in May, harvested in November, and ate it the following August.
Happy September and good harvest!

George Wright