April 5th, 2012

I left the schoolroom some years ago, but I feel like I’ve been sent back with this relentless numbering of online info. Is anyone else tired of being spoken to like children? 10 Things Not to Eat. 7 Things to Eat. 5 Reasons to Do This. 5 Reasons Not To. Please! Enough already.

Him Indoors, on listening to my 6 Ways This is Making Me Crazy, said “Blame it on Moses. He started it all.”
I had to count to 10 to stop laughing.

April 4th, 2012
Mosquito Mayhem

Winter was a little late this year. So late it didn’t even bother arriving. And here it is spring in Emmaus already, and my pal Cnythia in Des Moines tells me summer in Iowa is almost half over. Everyone I marvel with about the freakish weather goes on about the freakin’ bug problems we have to look forward to. As the blue plate special on the mossie menu, I have special cause for dread. West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and canine heartworm disease are, I am assured, imminent — as a non-horse or dog I hope I am not prone, but with my luck…Ah well. So much for the joys of spring.
Just recently I completed replanting my garden (after only one year I’m ALREADY hoiking things out and moving ‘em around, poor souls) to be a doll’s house version of my English garden. (Why? Because I can! since the climate in PA has warmed to nearly zone 7). But now I’m haunted by the ghoulish thought of having to peer at it from behind screens through a miasma of insect repellent.
Thus, Him Indoors has been assigned the task of keeping the gutters clear so no water will pool in dank leaves,  cracks where skeeters might lodge have to be filled, citronella candles positioned (the big ones in buckets work pretty well) and Mosquito Dunks stockpiled since, in the cause of OG’s Skills & Abilities department, we’re putting in a water feature. But I’ve tried the Dunks and know they work, they’re discreet and way cheaper than forking out medical co-pays to combat West nile virus. Last resort if I do get bitten? I know to spray the bite with ammonia. It stops the itch immediately. As I learned on a photo shoot in Birmingham AL one summer. The bugs are BIG there, and mean. We broke for lunch, and desperate to do something — anything — to stop the enormous red welts from itching, I reached for the lavatory cleanser tucked behind the toilet bowl in the ladies room. It worked!  That old guy with the Windex in the Greek wedding movie was right! It’s not organic but, ahhhh,  the relief!

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April 2nd, 2012
Lose Weight. Really?

I’ve found the secret to losing weight! It doesn’t involve not eating spuds, bread, pasta, or — if one of the latest diet manuals is to be believed — eating all the spuds, bread, pasta you want.

My method truly works. Eat less, but eat better (ie. more veg & fruit & whole grains). Exercise more…as in go for a walk.

I’m not quite at a fever pitch of perfection practicing what I preach, and I work at Rodale, surrounded by people exercising—we even have treadmill work stations available—and eating piles of green leafy organic things. So I have no excuse. But old habits die hard.

However. My recent attendance at a conference to push forward the agenda presented by a recent Rodale book, “The Prince’s Speech: On The Future of Food”, shook me to my core (which I know needs strengthening). My biggest takeaway? Panelist Dr Robert S. Lawrence’s observation that we “self-medicate” with food everyday, and we can CHOOSE to use either good or bad “drugs.”

Ergo: You are what you eat. And it’s our choice. Really.

March 31st, 2012
Vitamix Heaven

March 31st, 2012
Vitamix Heaven

Smoothies are new to me — but it was an instant love when I partnered with a Vitamix — the newest piece of equipment in my batterie de cuisine. It unleashes my creative powers; in a trice I can whiz up a blend of blueberries, mango, anything in fruit line, with a little kefir or creamy Greek-style yoghurt. Dollop of honey — maybe. Voilá! Lunch. And when feeling less than virtuous, a blob of vanilla bean ice cream joins the ingredient list. (That’s when I think of my Dad who’d treat himself to a homemade malted milk using his Oster blender. He always shared.) The family tradition carries on with me and my Vitamix. But I have yet to brave a smoothie made with kale or wheat grass, but today, in a fit of bravado and cheapsterism inspired by a recent article I read about just how much food we THROW AWAY every day, I made soup with Madame Vitamix. Wow. She sure is a hot little number. Instead of sending the beetroot tops to the compost heap, I picked ‘em over, threw them (about two cups worth) in the blender jug along with a cup of chicken broth, half an apple, a quarter of a small onion, garlic clove, salt and pepper. Whizzed all on High till the steam issued forth, then added a half cup of half-and-half, and a handful of instant mash potato. Borscht of sorts. Not half bad.
Maybe next time I’ll try that kale recipe.

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October 21st, 2011
Greetings from Italy, Part III
This isn’t just a garden tour of Tuscany, it’s an eating tour as well! Join us as we learn to cook, Tuscan style.
Jenny discovers a new vocation at Zia Emilia’s Trattoria. Note the way Emilia uses a sieve in the stock pot to strain each ladle of broth. Tuscan efficiency!

Secret Ingredient
Preparing the safrito for the porcini: olive oil, garlic and “nipitella”‘ a wild herb similar to catmint used by Tuscan cooks to flavor mushroom, zucchini and eggplant. The other pan has the safrito for risotto: parsley, carrot, a little onion, and chopped mushroom stalks melted in olive oil.

October 17th, 2011
Greetings from Italy, Part II

Some more videos from the Organic Gardening Tour of Tuscany

Sunday afternoon in Florence
Discovering one of Tuscany’s traditions in the square outside out hotel, Loggiato dei Serviti.

Sunday lunch in Piazza S Spiritu
The most important meal of the day! Along with breakfast and dinner.

Organic Gardening Getawayers visit Palazzo Stozzi
Next stop the organic farmers market across the river Arno.

Regional herb blends from Chianti at the Ferucolina
This is saffron harvest time, and if we help him gather crocus for two hours, he’ll give us a jar of Saffron. DEAL!

The Ferucolina at S. Spiritu,
A small organic produce fair where artisanal producers sell their goods, from cheese, to salami, fresh veg and fruit to handmade felt slippers. And all sorts of honey!

Ciao for now!


October 12th, 2011
Greetings from Italy

I’m filming my wonderful trip to Italy for all of you readers who couldn’t join me. In my first dispatch, an interview with Tudy Sammartini, the author of Verdant Venice.

And my first ride on a gondola in Venice. Magical.

August 25th, 2011
What I did this summer.

Blogging has been on my mind, especially since my last communique was in March. But I have an excuse. I’ve been traveling, which is what many gardeners I know love to do. So here, in retrospective order, are snapshots of just a few of the places I have been this past summer.

Chicago's latest new citizen

Chicago's latest new citizen

August: The Independent Garden Center hosted its 5th annual conference at Navy Pier; Organic Gardening was there (with our first booth) to meet the free-range garden enterprises that sustain and maintain the diversity of our gardens across the nation. Many of our advertising partners were there, too, displaying the garden goodies (and some are very good indeed) we’ll see in local garden retail outlets next year. Along side copies of Organic Gardening, I hope!

The prairie and the city.

The prairie and the city.

A visit to Chicago is not complete without a stroll through the fabulous Lurie Gardens on Michigan Ave, right next to the Art Institute of Chicago. As this is my hometown (GO CUBBIES!!) I’m a booster for the major contributions the city has made to public horticulture and landscape. And Millenium public park is one of them.

A section of SSE's huge seed selection

A section of SSE's huge seed selection

July: Heirloom gardens (see June, below) need heirloom vegetables, and I was excited to be in Decorah for the Seed Savers Exchange annual camp out cum conference. Every time I visit that place I come away inspired, educated and chilled out. It’s not the easiest place on earth to reach, being located in a distant northeast corner of distant Iowa, but boy is it worth the trip.

SSE is the mothership of many of the vendors of heirloom seeds, Baker Creek included, and it just astonishes me what they’ve achieved since starting on Diane Ott Whealy’s kitchen table. And you’re in need of a good book and some inspiration, I recommend “Gathering”, which is Diane’s memoir of how this great American organization came into being.

Real Fresh Foodie fun in KC

Real Fresh Foodie fun in KC

June: Another garden center association, the GCA of Greater Kansas City, brought me to Missouri in  when I returned to my old college town, (a short and utterly unremarkable moment at the Art Institute school). I had enough time there to visit the Nelson Atkins showing of the Monet waterlilies, before delivering the first of two presentations and to be one of the judges for a recipe contest at the Urban Farms & Gardens tour picnic in support of urban farming initiatives; the winner was raw food chef, Debbie Glassberg’s  Cold Sorrel Soup. For a fair to middlin’ size Midwest town, KC positively bristles with community gardens and leads the way through the issues surrounding environmental sustainability.

Just outside Kansas City is Powell Gardens, a private, not-for-profit botanical garden that is making great strides in developing the publics’ awareness of prairie gardens and native plant restoration. At its core lies the Heartland Harvest garden, the largest fruit and vegetable garden in the Midwest … or is the USA? A masterpiece of horticulture that brings together traditional formal kitchen garden design and the varieties best suited to the variable Midwest climate.

Heartland Gdn aerial view

And that is how I spent my summer — it was as good as a vacation.

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March 25th, 2011
Magic Mushrooms

Just a few days ago I returned from the annual Organic Gardening visit to The Natural Products Expo, aka Expo West. It’s just HUGE! There really is no shortage of organic goods to market, and far from being on the granola grind, these products are mainstreamable, if they aren’t already widely available.

At Expo, the most fertile hunting ground is in the New Products area in the basement. Here’s where you find the innovators. And we found two young men, Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, who having obtained MBA’s and other worthy degrees, decided, phooey. Let’s do something fun. So they concocted Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden as the first product line from their seedling company, BTTR Ventures, (as in Back To The Roots.)

The old saying, “There’s money in muck” may be familiar to these guys, but the cardboard box “garden” uses spent coffee grounds as the growing medium, which is not manure, and when one side of the box finishes cropping, turn it over and the other side begins. When all is done and the mushrooms have been eaten, add the whole thing to the compost heap. Perfect closure of the proverbial circle.

Ten years ago they might have started a .com. Yet that is what is so thrilling about the basement at Expo West. Discovering the  investment and invention in organics and in championing regenerative practices and lifestyles being made by … I’ll call them Gen O (as in organic), that gives hope for a healthier future. Something we sorely need to hold onto as events unfold in Japan, the Middle East, and just about anywhere on the map you care to push a pin. I wonder what they’ll come up with next.

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March 3rd, 2011
I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts!

So goes the lyric of a lively old Cockney tune, but that’s not what I came here to say…or sing.

Add another scientific about face to the list: Coconut oil is on the good-to-go list! Which I find personally exciting since I’ve been trying to make decent pastry all my life and had heard that this supposed artery-blocker was pretty darn good as a pastry fat, but was afraid to try it in case I liked it, but my cholestrol level didn’t.

Which brings me to Des Moines. When I first landed there from Planet Austin, I attended a small gathering of foodies at the now defunct Art House on Ingersoll Avenue. The place was an art gallery, cum jewelry gallery, cum watering hole for the city’s lively art scene. At the gallery’s openings most of the folks in attendance were also members of the local Slowfood convivium.

On this particular evening the buzz was about the upcoming Slowfood picnic and pie bake-off to be held at Sunstead Farm, home to Neil and Khanh Hamilton. Neil’s a force of good in agricultural law with a focus on small farms and their plight. Khanh is simply a force of good nature in a quiet, pragmatic way.

They take their pie-baking pretty seriously in Des Moines (the ’s’ is silent for those who wonder). And the talk was all about rendering lard and where to obtain the holy grail of pastry chefs: leaf lard. Some were rather close about their source, like not telling where to find the best wild mushroom lode…

Remember, I was a newbie to this scene, and all I could think was “Good Grief”, this is what they do for fun here? Render lard! And I thought Austin was weird?”

Well, I never did make a pie crust with lard, hand-rendered or pre-packed from TajMahDahl’s. Which is just as well because my arteries would definitely not have benefited. But now I intend, at my earliest opportunity (after the Philadelphia Flower Show this weekend) to make an apple pie with a coconut oil crust. My son will be home for a few hours on leave. He can be the judge of whether the oil can render Mom’s pie flakey enough to eat or not. Or just plain flakey. It’s the Des Moines effect.

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