June 16, 2012

Good Bug, Bad Bug

by Cynthia

   Good Bug!

This little guy was busy pollinating my garden the other morning as I was patrolling for squash bugs.  There seem to be more bees this year, which is encouraging. Honey bee populations have been plummeting around the world in recent years, a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Environmental stresses are suspected to be the culprit.  United States beekeepers  began reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their hives back in 2006.  Research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health provides strong evidence that CCD is caused by imidacloprid, one of the most widely used pesticides. The study will be published in the June 2012 issue of the Bulletin of Insectology. (from Wikipedia)

We need our bees! Remember the Bee Movie? No bees, no flowers. No bees, no fresh veggies. So instead of using pesticides, I stroll through the garden twice a day smashing, capturing and stoning bugs.  The bees are so generous, not only do they pollinate plants, they sweeten the world with their golden honey.  Antonio Machado wrote a lovely poem about magical bees.

Last Night As I Was Sleeping   Antonio Machado   (version by Robert bly)

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—-marvelous error!—

That a spring was breaking

Out in my heart.

I said: Along which secret aqueduct,

Oh water, are you coming to me,

Water of a new life

That I have never drunk?

 

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt–marvelous error!—

That I had a beehive

Here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

Were making white combs

And sweet honey

From my old failures.

 

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

That a fiery sun was giving

Light inside my heart.

It was fiery because I felt

Warmth as from a hearth,

And sun because it gave light

And brought tears to my eyes.

 

Last night as I slept,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

That it was God I had

Here inside my heart.

   Bad Bug!!

Look on the leaf in this photo and you will find my nemesis, the disreputable Squash Bug. Its scientific name is Anasa Tristis, but when I run across one in the garden ( an everyday occurrence) I call it something unprintable. Each morning, I inspect the leaves on the squashes and zucchini for squash bug eggs. When I find them, I smash them by rolling my thumb and forefinger over them until they burst. Consequentially, my squash leaves are full of holes, but an army of newly hatched, ravenous baby squash bugs can decimate my little crop in a matter of days. If I find an adult like the guy in the photo, I smash him between my fingers. Squash bugs are a great outlet for repressed homicidal urges.  The Japanese beetles are another issue. I collect them in a wide mouth Mason jar where they careen around madly until they finally succumb to asphyxiation or shock, I’m not sure which. I actually feel a little bit bad about that, but a swift death is not an option. Smashing a Japanese beetle only signals more of their comrades to show up.  In spite of my efforts, they are making lovely lace doilies out of the leaves on my pole beans.  A healthy, chemical free garden is not always a beautiful garden, as beauty is traditionally understood. But a few scars and chewed up leaves is a fair price to pay for food I can put in my body without a worry about what chemicals I might also be eating.  There aren’t many poems about squash bugs given their less than inspiring nature.

 

 

 

 

March 22, 2012

Go Big for Beauty

by Cynthia

Spring has come early to Tennessee. Winter was ambivalent this year, barely showing up, an unfortunate portent to a wicked summer. I spent the day weeding:  the peony bed, the perennial bed, and then the garden beds.  It’s the best kind of work, weeding. Mindless and repetitive, it leaves the imagination free to meander all sorts of places. While digging up crabgrass and dandelions in the peony bed, I was planning my summer adventures; perhaps a week at the beach with the family, maybe a writing workshop, or a fly fishing expedition with Tim at the White River in Arkansas. Luckily, I came out of my reverie just before whacking the tips off a little green furl of dinner plate dahlia poking its fingers up through the soil. Every Spring, the sight of green plants, wakened and stretching themselves toward the sun creates a small renewal in me. In that moment, the darkness of winter with its unrelenting grayness and its damp clammy chill vanishes. Like the peony and the dahlia, my hopeful heart is resurrected.

The appearance of green shoots and sprouting things, with their death defying acts of renewal, emboldens gardeners, both the novice and the expert. Each year I choose a new vegetable to plant, something I have never tasted before, convinced it will flourish. If the peony which I have completely neglected since cutting the last fat flower in September can reappear with such vigor, surely a vegetable that I lavish with attention all summer will thrive. This year’s pick is pineapple tomatillos. They are supposed to taste like just like a pineapple, and since my locavore tendencies preclude my buying pineapple at the grocery, I’ve got big hopes for this little veggie.

That furl of dahlia pushing its determined limbs up through the Tennessee clay reminds me to pay attention to things that are easily gotten, little bits of beauty around me that are either free or darn inexpensive. Things like the sounds of wind chimes floating around on the breeze, the smell of freshly turned earth, the wiggle-twist of earthworms doing their good garden labor, unpaid. The outrageous purple-ruby of the random redbud tree in the woods behind the garden makes me hungry for beauty everywhere. So I plant flowers in between the lettuces from seed heads that I pilfered while walking through the garden at the Biltmore Estate last fall: hollyhocks and strawflowers and black-eyed-susans.  I repaint the bedroom, plant petunias, and hang a glass globe from a shepherd’s crook in the garlic bed.

If Spring had a billboard it would read GO BIG FOR BEAUTY. Beauty is easily gotten if you aren’t focused on glamour. Forget about the plants in the seed catalogues. Yours won’t look like that anymore than you will look like the Victoria Secret model just because you cough up a small fortune for the underwear.  Your plants will look a bit more like you; slightly stooped and a bit ragged at the edges, but sturdy and useful. In a word, Beautiful.

January 28, 2012

Night Thoughts and Sunrises

by Cynthia

I have a nard time saying no. It’s a terrible deficit and a great strength depending on which side of the coin happens to land up after the toss.  I agreed to give a presentation to my professional community next month knowing there was not enough time to adequately prepare. But the board chairperson was in a jam, and it was on a topic for which I have a lot of passion and interest, so again, I said “yes” when I should have said “no”.

I woke up last night at 3:00 am and dutifully lay there until 4:00 trying to fall back asleep. At 4:03 I thought, “What’s the use?” and got up to work on my presentation. I parked my computer and research articles on the dining room table which has a view through the floor-to ceiling windows in the den and out past the quiet winter-cloaked garden and  twenty miles away to the  twinkling security lights of the farmhouses across the valley. On the right hand side of the dining room are windows which overlook the front pasture, directly east where the sun made its pale ocher adverstisement and then burst into an orange-gold-pink announcement just as I was halfway through my talk and on my second cup of coffee.

Today, in the full sun of morning, with my husband tromping around in his work boots on the back porch and the dogs arguing over a chew-toy I am grateful for the silence of the night. I am grateful for the stillness of all things save the little mouse who is too smart for traps and lives in the walls between the bedroom and the stairs. I am grateful for the old clock that my father wound faithfully each week and that still tick-tocks away on my own mantle, keeping the wakeful company.

Now it is time to leave the reverie that sleeplessness provided and go make bread for the week. And bake the granola and feed the chickens and do the things that people do when the sun is up.

January 9, 2012

Stone Soup

by Cynthia

“Reuse, Refurbish, Recycle”. It’s a trendy slogan, and it’s something I find rewarding.  Tim and I were going through boxes in the attic yesterday. We were hauling the Christmas decorations back to their storage spot until next year and got distracted. We found a box of knick-knacks he had collected from his parents’ house after they died; little porcelain bells, a mother of pearl encrusted pill-box,  red glass salt and pepper shakers, and some carved wooden animals. With a bit of polish, the salt and pepper shakers were usable, and the wooden animals made  a great addition to the cows and horses and sheep in the grandchildren’s collection of farm animals.

Sometimes I cook with the principle of recycling in mind. Perhaps it is laziness, or the fact that I hardly ever throw food away, but I sort of enjoy going through the refrigerator and seeing if I can make something delicious out of the bits and pieces of past meals. Sort of like making stone soup. I’d been in the garden earlier in the day and collected a basket of kale and lettuces and spinach.  The lettuces and spinach would make a salad, and I wanted to use the kale in something warm.

I opened the refrigerator and began looking through the bins. The first find was encouraging. A half used package of bacon!

The smell of bacon frying is the solitary reason I will never understand vegans. I think of vegans in the same category as priests and nuns who pledge to give up sex forever as a religious practice. No sex? No bacon? Come on, life is too short for those kinds of sacrifices.  I suppose there are some people who actually don’t like bacon, but then again, that is sort of diagnostic, don’t you think?

If you want to make stone soup, begin with some kind of savory fat or meat.  If bacon, fry 4 pieces of bacon very crisp and drain off most of the drippings. If you are a nerd like me, you pour it into the little round aluminum canister like your grandmother used to collect bacon grease. It even helpfully has the word GREASE pressed into the side in case you get confused. Your stuffy foody friends will cringe at the sight of it, but grandma knew a thing or two about flavor. The rest of you can pour your grease into something non plastic and throw it out later, but why? Crumble the bacon into a large soup pot.

I had an abundance of shallots this year so I chopped a handful along with  2 cloves of garlic and a few pieces of celery I found in the crisper. Onions would work just as well. Chop them fairly fine and then saute them in the drippings until they are soft. Put the garlic and onions/shallots and celery in the pot with the bacon.

Since I had a big bunch of kale, I cut out the ribs and chopped it before wilting it in a skillet with some olive oil. I then put the wilted kale in the soup pot. Cabbage or spinach would also work nicely.

I found some  red fingerling  potatoes and a few carrots in the fridge.  I chopped them up and put them in a small covered saucepan to boil until they were on the soft side.  Then I put the potatoes and carrots and the water they were cooking in all into the soup pot with the other vegetables and bacon.

Now you can go a bit crazy here and create your own version of stone soup. What’s in the fridge? I found a cup of white gravy left from last week. I also found some roasted root vegetables and some white beans.  I put them all in the soup.  Then I took 2 quart jars of tomatoes I canned this summer and poured them into the pot, along with 2 cups of chicken broth. Then I sprinkled on some dried thyme and few sprigs of rosemary, a bit or salt and a grind or two of pepper.

So the basics are the following; a savory fat or bit of leftover meat,  an assortment of vegetables, some broth and seasonings. Be sure you have enough liquid that the soup can cook down a bit and not get too thick. Let it sit on the stove and simmer on low for a couple of hours.  Make yourself a cocktail and relax while your soup simmers. It will smell heavenly and whomever you live with will think you a culinary goddess.

December 29, 2011

Sprout

by Cynthia

Sprout

Everything has a beginning. Most things begin as a tiny something, hidden away, usually in the dark. An traveling egg encounters a rushing spermatozoa, a pea is buried beneath the soil, an idea is formed deep inside the brain late at night while its thinker lies, sleepless.

Things sprout. The pea sprouts a root that reaches down into the soil for water and leaves that reach up to the sun for energy. The embryo sprouts little buds of legs and arms. An idea sprouts into a thought, the thought into an intention, the intention into action.

Planting, tending, watching and nurturing are my jobs. As a psychotherapist, my job is to witness and nurture people’s emotional and relational growth. As a mother and grandmother, my job is to support, encourage and guide, but mostly to love fiercely and without waiver. As a gardener, my job is to plant, nurture and harvest in a way that is respectful of the soil, the plant, and the planet.

This quotation from Hal Borland cheers me as Christmastime ebbs away and the two dreary months of January and February loom unpleasantly on the horizon;

“There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues.”

They began arriving on Monday. Burpee, Territorial, The Cook’s Garden, Johnny’s.  And there will be more. I take them to bed with a cup of hot tea and turn up the electric blanket, dreaming, imagining, planning for spring, wishing away the winter. I’d like to enjoy the winter more and perhaps if we had sunshine, or snow, and especially if we had sunshine and snow at the same time, I might. But here in Tennessee, winter is mostly dreary, or wet, and often dreary and wet concurrently.

So I dream of thing sprouting. I buy seeds, and fire up the grow lights, and make my plans. In a way, it is what we all do each morning. We fire up the grow lights and plan our day. Something is always sprouting, if not in the garden, at least in our imaginations. Especially in winter.

December 29, 2011

The Intentional Eater’s Dilemma

by Cynthia

The Intentional Eater’s Dilemma

I was listening to an interview with Micheal Pollan on NPR last weekend. He was doing Michael Feldman’s show, What Do You Know?, and was talking about the new addition of his book Food Rules. Micheal Pollan is smart, inspiring and convincing about food.  In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan established himself as the Pied Piper of intentional eaters by tracing the industrial food production system from source to table.

On my kitchen counter sits Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s book about her family’s year long experience of living in the Kentucky countryside and eating only what they could grow or buy close to home. Kingsolver’s book convinced me of the virtues , and the pleasures, of being a locavore. 

In the same week as the Pollan interview,  I downloaded an article by Andrew Weil on the Anti-inflammatory diet, hoping to use my food choices as a way to diminish the symptoms of lupus that have been wreaking havoc on my body the past few months.  If I eliminate the foods that are on Weil’s list of no-no’s, and I eliminate foods that are non-organically grown, and I eliminate foods that were grown far away and shipped to my area, burning fossil fuels and contributing to the decimation of the ozone layer, what is left for me to eat?  Especially in the winter, and darn it, it is winter now. The only things in the garden are the winter greens. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have them. I eat them raw. I chop them into soups. I make dips, omelets, and casseroles with them. But what about my craving for an orange? Or a fresh carrot?

Being a locavore in Zone 6b is no fun in the winter. But if I hop on down to the nearest grocery and buy an organic orange that was picked a couple of weeks ago and came to me by way of California and an 18 wheeler, I feel as if I am doing something immoral.  If I only eat what I can buy or grow in my hometown, I am resigned to the frozen or canned or dried fruits and veggies stacked in my pantry or on my freezer shelves. I try to be good, I really do. I haven’t had a fresh green bean since August.

But I have a confession to make. I buy limes. I buy them all year long, three or four at a time. Granted, I am growing a lime tree, I have good intentions. If I live another 20 years and manage to keep this tree alive, perhaps one day I will quit my guilty habit of buying fresh limes. Could Barbara Kingsolver and her family live on that farm the rest of their lives, eating only what they could make or purchase within a few miles? I wonder. Would her children grow up smuggling fresh fruit into the house under their raincoats? Would her husband leave her for the first woman who offered him a fresh vine-ripened tomato mid-winter?                     .

This food choice thing is one area where I believe in moderation. Michael Pollan talks about flexatarians- people who are mainly vegetarian but eat meat on occasion. I like that word. I’m a flexatarian. Mostly, I eat organic food that I grow in my own yard, and meat that some man in my family has shot and slaughtered. But now and then I go to Subway and get a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips. Sometimes I buy beef jerky and pretzels at the gas station and chase them with a Diet Coke. And we already know about my lime habit.  None of us has to eat perfectly to make an impact on the environment. If all of us would eat a little more organic, and a little more local, and a little less meat, the planet, and our bodies, would be a lot better off.

December 2, 2011

Gardening as spiritual exercise

by Cynthia

It’s late November and time to put the garden to bed. There are still lettuces and cabbages and other greens growing like mad in one of the raised beds, tucked snugly under a row cover to protect them from the early morning frosts that herald the coming winter. In another bed is a lovely stand of green peas, their vines curling tenaciously around the cane poles I staked along the borders to give them support. The pea vines are a lovely translucent green and the pods are full of peas that will never mature. The vines froze in the first hard frost, leaving the big, flat pods shimmering and glassy. Clearly in my late summer greediness for a second pea crop I miscalculated the timing of days to maturity and first autumn freeze. I’ll pull them up this weekend and throw them in the compost pile.  One of the blessings of a vegetable garden is that even mistakes can be turned into something useful.

Last weekend Tim and I mucked out the animal stalls and transferred the litter to the garden. We are doing a little experiment. Since we won’t plant again until Spring, we put the manure directly into the beds, with four of the garden beds getting goat manure, and the other four getting chicken litter. We are wondering which poop will be the best soil amendment. A deep pile of leaves goes on top of the manure and hay mix from the stalls, and then before planting, a couple of inches of compost. I realize I put more energy into making sure my garden beds are well nourished than I do taking care of my skin. I know women who layer creams and moisturizers and clarifiers on their faces every night with the same kind of intention that I put into feeding my garden soil. While both seem important, I find the effort expended in taking care of the garden more rewarding than trying to stop the effects of time on my face. I’ll be wrinkled but well fed, with a lined face and a nourished soul.

Growing your own food, at least a bit of it, changes your life. Even in the places all over the world where people must grow their own food or starve instead, that active engagement with the natural world outside their doorstep deepens their experience. When I walk the hills in rural Guatemala, and look at the tiny well-tended kitchen gardens of Mayan Indians who subsist on next to nothing, it is clear that those beans and corn and cilantro plants are part of their cultural and spiritual expression of all that is holy to them.

 In Barbara Brown Taylor’s lovely little book about faith, An Altar in the World, she writes, “To make bread, or make love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone.”

 

 

October 23, 2011

Introduction to Walnut Ridge

by Cynthia

 

Introduction to On Walnut Ridge

 Seven years ago, I convinced my husband we should buy a farm.  Having come from a long line of country folk on both sides of my family, the rural gene had been working its way up to the surface for years. We named our place Walnut Ridge because of the black walnut trees that are so abundant and the fact that our property sits at the end of a long limestone ridge that rings the valley below us. Our log house faces east, and we love sitting on the front porch with a steaming cup of coffee watching the sun rise. 

The first thing I did when we moved here was put in a vegetable garden.  The following summer, I canned forty quarts of tomatoes. All those glass jars of ruby tomatoes lining the pantry shelves like good food soldiers inspired me. Now all of the vegetables we eat and most of the fruit we consume comes out of our yard.  The pleasure of eating fresh, organically grown food has been as motivating a reason to keep investing time and energy into the land as the knowledge that the food is better for us than what we can buy in town.

 Wendell Berry writes about the  calming effects of being in contact with the “peace of wild things”.  The peace of wild things is missing in the lives of most people. The result is a poverty of experience that dulls the spirit and fogs the mind. I believe that everyone can have an enriched connection to the natural world and that it can make us better people and better neighbors. Even if you live in a small apartment and your gardening space is limited to a stoop, a patio, or a porch, you can grow fresh herbs and a tomato plant or two.  Eating a home grown tomato and eating one you bought in a grocery store are completely different experiences. Eating a store bought tomato is a bit like kissing your lover through a screen door.

Practicing some of the fundamental skills that literally kept my grandparents alive makes me feel more alive myself. On Walnut Ridge we do things like collecting rainwater, growing and preserving fruits and vegetables  harvesting and preserving wild game, and keeping a herd of goats and a flock of chickens. Not everyone is interested in the hard work and blood and poop involved in going home grown. Not everyone has access to a piece of land. But why not take a step away from your dependence on the business of agriculture and grow as much of your own food as possible?

You can support a local farmer’s market. You can join a CSA (community supported agriculture) You can stop eating processed, dead food that came from far away in trucks powered by fossil fuels and has compromised nutritional value. You don’t need fifty acres.  Just eat something that you pulled out of the ground with your own hands.

October 18, 2011

The Lily Room

by Trisha

 

Lilyanne weighs eight pounds and has long brown eyelashes. I watched her come into the world, breathless. Both of us, actually, were not breathing. She was not breathing because her lungs were filled with meconium.  I was not breathing because I was terrified that she never would. After a long, long, slow motion moment, she let out a small infant cry, and I inhaled a  lung full of joy and relief. 

I am so in love with her big brother, Luke, that it seemed impossible to make enough room in my heart to love Lily the way any grandchild deserves to be loved. But yesterday we spent the day together and in between my rocking and feeding and singing to her, and her throwing up on my shoulder before falling asleep in my arms, my heart opened up a new room; The Lilyanne room, a really big room with lots of space for love to grow.

When Lily’s mother was a baby, I was only twenty-three and she was my entire world. Being at home with her was my only job, so anything less than perfection at motherhood would have seemed like failure.  All her baby food was homemade. She wore cloth diapers. I spent hours and hours sewing beautiful French batiste and lace dresses for her to wear.

My Grandmother fantasies were fueled by my experience as a new mother. Sewing tiny, lovely baby clothes, knitting caps and booties and miniature Angora sweaters were part of the vision in my head about the kind of Grandmother I would be. In the fantasy, I’d have all kinds of free time to devote to the grandkids, and they would think of coming to my house and wriggle with delight. The reality is a little different. I’m fifty-four and smack in the middle of trying to make a living, fund a retirement account, pay a mortgage. The big hinkey in the fantasy plan was a divorce fifteen years ago and my having to grow up and learn to take care of myself. I can’t even afford French Batiste fabric anymore. And the laces? Instead of putting a price tag on the rolls of lace at the fabric store they should just write, Outrageous on the end of the bolt. Even if I could afford the materials, when would the sewing happen?

So the Grandmother vision has needed some adjustments. No fancy dresses for Lilyanne. No yards of ruffles and ribbons coming from this Grandma. Homemade applesauce? Yes. A farm with lots of room to run? Yes. But the booties will come from Target.

Someday she will call me Mimi. That’s the name that Luke has created for me.  We’d been teaching him to call me Grammy, and when he mastered the last syllable, he figured that worked pretty well, and Mimi stuck. I can’t wait to hear her say it, to hear “Mimi” come out of her rosey little baby mouth.  Lilyanne and I will dance and spin and march all around that big Lilyanne room in my heart.  We will throw scraps to the chickens and bake sticky chocolate chip cookies and dig in the garden together. We will make a mess and laugh about it.  Fancy dresses are no good for digging anyway.

Garamondle post in the “Family” category.

October 18, 2011

Good Food Post

by Trisha

It’s early November and time to clean up the garden. I spent a few hours yesterday cutting tomato vines and pulling the wire cages out of the ground for storage until next summer. The ground around the garden beds was littered with gnarly, ropey vines that had been tiny, tender shoots just a few months ago.  I gathered a couple of bushels of green tomatoes and a few red ones, mostly the little Amish paste heirlooms. Then the vines went into the wheel barrow and out into the field beside the garden to be burned.

Today I started the process of turning all the beds with a shovel, shaking the dirt off the weeds before throwing them into a pile. Next week, a layer of straw and manure goes on the beds, and as soon as I get a couple of hours in with a rake, the beds will get blanketed for winter with a thick pile of leaves. While turning the soil over, I found a few sweet potatoes that had hidden from me when the potatoes were harvested a few weeks ago. Then I came across a few stray onions, and in another bed, some Yukon Gold potatoes.  I realized I had just uncovered dinner!

 I brought my basket of garden dregs into the kitchen and washed and sliced them.  They went  into a roasting pan along with a few of the Amish paste tomatoes that I left whole. I tossed them with half a cup of olive oil and a quarter cup of balsamic, a shake of sea salt and some ground pepper. Then a few sprigs of fresh rosemary scattered on top just for the heavenly smell.  They baked, covered, in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degress and then another twenty minutes uncovered. Some kind of insanely delicious magic happens between the sweet sugars in the roasting tomatoes and the starches of the potatoes. I forgot to do it, but it would have been even better if I’d thrown in a few cloves of garlic.

Where else but in your own backyard can you literally dig up some dinner by surprise?