Garden Diary

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Meal Train

Abby Schacter writes about Rod Dreher's book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming on the Aculturated blog, and one of the items she focuses on was the way neighbors reallied to support Ruthie (Rod's sister) and her family as she was dying and after she died by bringing meals. From there she segues into ways to do this without necessarily imitating Rod, who decided to move back to the hometown his sister never left for a place where community is a physical as well as a notional thing. One of the examples she provides is Meal Train, which helps organize groups that want to help out by providing meals.

My family as twice been the recipients of this kind of community support; when my daughter Althea was born, many neighbors and fellow parishioners brought meals and baby items. By that time, we had lived in two for four years, I was well-known at church and was teaching part-time in the village school. We were very much part of the community (unfortunately not to last, as finding steady, decent-paying work was tough, and still is, in the Northeast Kingdom).

Eleven years later, we once again found ourselves comforted with food, this time when our daughter Rebecca Ruth was stillborn. My workmates organized a huge delivery of food from a local Italian restaurant, Italian Kitchen, which one of my workmates brought to the house. I am still touched when I remember the gesture and visit, and that event and other shared experiences created bonds of friendship among my workmates which continues to this day, although the business has not been so fortunate.

A helpful web site like Meal Train (and there are other such sites) doesn't replace community, or even "physical" community; but it can help people organize their impulse to help. Here in Boston we've been seeing both that impulse and the importance of organizing, in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings that happened on April 15th. Problems, sorrows, even disasters will always be around the corner; but so, hopefully, will the impulse to come to others' aid; and what more effective way than to personally provide sustenance?

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

7 Reasons You Should Be Gardening

From the entertaining and informative web site The Art of Manliness comes this guest post on "7 Reasons to Become a Gentleman Gardener".
With warm weather upon us and summer just around the corner, it’s time to think about gardening. “Gardening?” you say. Yes, gardening. If the mention of it has you thinking of aged ladies in big hats and frilly gloves gently nipping blooms from their roses, then you have the wrong picture. If you aren’t already gardening, there are plenty of reasons to be doing so. It’s time to lay down your gardening misconceptions and pick up a shovel and a hoe.

Manly Horticulturalists in History

Gardening goes way back and has a good deal of manly history. Thousands and thousands of years ago, the planting of crops led to the creation of what would eventually be modern culture. The first crops were grains, as in wheat, barley, and the like. But don’t think that agriculture began just so that everyone could eat bread. On the contrary, modern theories of early agriculture show that the practice started so that the Neolithic nomads could get their homebrew on. That’s right – early agriculture was driven to produce beer. You can’t get any manlier a start than that.
Fast-forward several thousand years and you find that some of the most celebrated gardeners of our time have been men. Perhaps one of the most prolific and adventurous of them was the third president of our country – Thomas Jefferson. During his time, he was known far and wide for his gardening prowess. He would even compete with his friends to see who could harvest the first peas in the spring (manly competition has obviously changed with the invention of football and video games). He kept journal after journal of his trials and errors in the garden and has passed down a legacy that lives still today. The gardens at his home, Monticello, still function much as they did when he was gardener-in-chief. There’s even a Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.
Aside from Jefferson, we find garden pioneers like Luther Burbank, who developed more than 800 varieties of plants throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s and is the father of the Russet Burbank potato. It was his unorthodox and untidy tinkering that led the horticultural industry for decades and ultimately culminated in Congress passing the 1930 Plant Patent Act. Since he had passed away four years earlier, he was posthumously awarded 16 patents. Burbank’s contemporary and competitor was W. Atlee Burpee, who had the largest seed company in the world when he died in 1915. The company distributed over 1 million catalogs annually and took over 10,000 orders per day. The company is still in operation as Burpee Seeds.
Of course, the one horticultural hero celebrated in both song and story is Johnny Appleseed. No, he’s not just a legend of frontier America; he really did exist. Despite living as a pauper, John Chapman (his real name) became a legend during his own lifetime. He traveled westward ahead of the expansion of the growing United States, introducing apples to much of the frontier of Ohio and Illinois. This itinerant farmer wasn’t planting apples so that people could get all their fruits and veggies, however. Back in those days, apples weren’t for eating – they were for cider; as in hard cider and applejack...
Go visit and read the whole post, which is informative and a good way to rev yourself up to get out and get dirty in the yard.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lenten recipes on

Several years ago, the post of moderator for the Catholicism area on came open, and people were invited to apply for the position. I threw my hat in the ring, and the application process was one of the most stringent and thorough I've ever gone through, certainly more difficult than for any job I've had. At the end, disappointingly at the time, I did not get the job.

The job was awarded to Scott Richert and I have to say, with every visit I've made to the site in the years since, I think the leadership at made a good choice. Scott has been a very good moderator and has brought a lot of solid information to the site, which has improved in many ways since he took over.

Yesterday, I found his post on meatless meals for Lent. He starts off:
Lent is not known as a time for haute cuisine. Tuna-noodle casserole; macaroni and cheese; fish sticks: These are the standard Lent recipes of many a Catholic household on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.

But our Lenten abstinence does not have to mean bland food. The recipes we often associate with Lent are primarily popular American dishes from the 1950's. Catholic culture in Europe and Asia, however, has been coping with Friday abstinence (and not just during Lent) a lot longer...

Scott then goes on to list many sites with recipes that will work well for a Lenten program of abstinence. He even managed to find a set of Gluten-free Lenten recipes by a fellow moderator. Go check it out.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Healthy, Happy, and 100 Years Old

The Lenten regimen I follow (basically, the old Catholic one of no meat during Lent; although I do eat meat on Sundays) and fasting each Lenten weekday (meaning only one meal per day, usually in the evening) tends to make me think about food. Not obsessing about it; it's not that I'm checking my watch all day, hoping to somehow make time speed up and get me to dinner earlier. But thinking about what I eat and how food fits into life.

Yesterday, I went to a communion breakfast for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. A communion breakfast, for those who don't know, is when a group attends Mass together (the communion part) then has a meeting (including breakfast), which typically, as ours did yesterday, includes a speaker or other opportunity to reflect on the bonds that make for solidarity in the group. As one of our primary efforts in the Society is to provide food for people in need, that also is a constant prompt to reflect on food and its place in our lives.

A new prompt was my daughter's visit last week. Molly ended up visiting an extra day because a big snowstorm made travel back to NYC inadvisable. Molly was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, and so we had to rethink how we prepared meals at home, and how our kitchen is set up. (For the record, we didn't fail completely, but we didn't do as well as we could have; we'll have to work on that for the future!) Cooking for someone with Celiac is a bit more demanding than cooking for some other special diets, vegetarians, for example (which we routinely do).

The food we buy and the food we grow are ingredients for a social activity: dining. I know that many people eat alone, but we have always tried to make dining, that is, eating in the company of others, part of our family life. And except for our four years in Delaware, where we lived in a row house, we've always tried to raise a decent portion of our summer food via gardening.

So, I was pleased and intrigued about the article below, which I found thanks to a link on the blog Acculturated, about a Greek island where a much larger than usual pecentage of the residents live into a healthy old age. The reasons for this are discussed briefly, but it is noted that diet alone isn't enough; the way eating is done, the way life is conducted, has as much to do with the way life turns out as anything.

Healthy, Happy, and 100 Years Old
by Ann Lokuta on March 8, 2013

Picture yourself hiking to your neighbor’s house, where you’ll meet to have lunch: a spread of homegrown olives, freshly made hummus, and a thick loaf of warm bread – all slathered in just pressed olive oil. You arrive at who knows what time (because nobody watches the clock here), bearing homemade wine and honey from your own bees out back. After hours of conversation over delicious food and warming wine, you’ll hike back home for a midday nap before you tend to the garden to pick wild greens for tonight’s main dinner dish. Oh and one more thing, this otherwise normal, sun-soaked day happens to be the start of your 100th year...

Read the rest at Mind the Science Gap.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Mediterranean diet

An article in the Atlantic monthly highlights a recently published article in the New England Journal of Medicine "Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet".

Looking at the "Mediterranean diet" made me think, well, we could also call this the Jesus diet: in the realm of food and drink, what would Jesus eat? Likely just this sort of diet. Some of the evidence is explicit in the Scriptures that the foods of the "Mediterranean" diet are Biblically approved.

Olive Oil: Revelation 6:5-6: [5] When he [the Lamb] opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine!"

Fish: John 21:7-9: That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.

Wine: Luke 9:31-35: Jesus said, "To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, `We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, `He has a demon.'  The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children."

Others are there by inference, such as lamb which would have been eaten at Passover, and the other items that made up the diet of a typical Jew in Roman Palestine. While the articles don't mention bread in the tables, whole grains were definitely part of the diet, particularly wheat and barley. There are so many references to bread in the New Testament, I didn't think any were needed, although the New Testament version of fish and chips is right there in John 21 (there being no potatoes in Palestine at the time, since those didn't arrive in the "Old World" until after Columbus).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The beginning of the Great Fast

Many people think of Lent as a time for "giving up" something, as a time of sacrifice, in the sense that a sacrifice is giving up something. And so, over the past week, I have heard or seen references to the Lenten fast ranging from my mother-in-law (who is not Catholic and has not attend church for years) joke about giving up something to a cartoon in which there's an exclamation emerging from St. Peter's, Rome, shouting "You're giving up WHAT for Lent?".

But I think this emphasis on "giving up" is a misunderstanding of fasting. Fasting is a taking up, an engagement, not a negation. Christian theory has always held that penance consists of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and fasting and almsgiving are considered the "wings" of prayer, that is, the means by which our prayer soars above to heaven.

St. John Chrsysostom writes: "† Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskillful in its use.
For the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting.
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies."

Recently my daughter Molly received a diagnosis of celiac disease. As you might know, this is an autoimmune disorder in which the body becomes unable to digest gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt. The presence of gluten can lead to inflammation in the bowels and to all sorts of problems with the digestive tract, and the only solution known at this time is to completely eliminate gluten from the diet.

This is a good illustration of what fasting is: An elimination of food for the sake of health. The practice of non-gluten eating is really a re-ordering of how a person eats and so is not just a giving-up, but a whole new way of eating. Fasting should likewise be a whole new way of living, and for the sake of health (keeping in mind that in Latin salus means not only health but salvation).

Monday, June 04, 2012

Urban trees reveal income inequality

Trees, at least of the non-fruit bearing sort, would not seem to be a natural subject for a blog like this, but it strikes me that the story below could just as easily be about vegetable gardens, flower gardens and any type of agriculture. About the only thing I've seen where this pattern is reversed is with animals; in our own local urban scene, you'll find more chickens in poorer back yards than in well-to-do ones; but that may be a cultural dynamic and not a socio-economic one.
Wealthy cities seem to have it all. Expansive, well-manicured parks. Fine dining. Renowned orchestras and theaters. More trees. Wait, trees? I’m afraid so.

Research published a few years ago shows a tight relationship between per capita income and forest cover. The study’s authors tallied total forest cover for 210 cities over 100,000 people in the contiguous United States using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s natural resource inventory and satellite imagery. They also gathered economic data, including income, land prices, and disposable income.

They found that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent. That’s a pretty tight correlation...

Read the rest of the story at Per Square Mile.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012 Resolutions!

Well, yes, it's been forever since I posted, but my resolution is to post more often in 2012 and to take advantage of some soon to come free time to do some more writing, blogging, and, perhaps, even thinking!

We have had the most incredibly mild winter this year, with days in the 80s in March! So, I have finally made good on a long-standing desire to get my Spring vegetables in the ground early; on Good Friday I planted several seeds in a starter kit I picked up at Home Depot. This is an old English tradition (see here and here), but I've never done it.

Swiss chard, sprouted after a Good Friday planting.

I also built new frames for two of my garden boxes, and started clearing the weeds so I could put some new soil in the boxes. The box on the left is already planted with peas, lettuce and beets, and I'll plant more peas and carrots in the second box this weekend.

This weekend we are enjoying the unique Massachusetts/Maine April long weekend (Patriots' Day, celebrating the stand at Concord and Lexington by the Minutemen), the origin of which is recalled in the Longfellow poem "Paul Revere's Ride":

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year...

of which you can read the full version here.

So, today I finished filling the second rebuilt box with soil and did some cleaning up in some of the other backyard boxes and have had a delightful couple of hours with my hands covered with dirt. One of the benefits was while cleaning out our herb box of various detritus from last season; the thyme and oregano and a bit of parsley have already come back, and the smell of the fresh oregano was simply wonderful. ¡Muy sabroso! as we would have said in Colombia.

Parlsey (lower left), Oregano (left), thyme (right)

One of the great things about gardening, especially with a front yard garden, is that in addition to being able to work outdoors and feel the sun on my neck, I get to meet and chat with neighbors. On Good Friday I met two of my younger neighbors who were intrigued in equal measure by me working in the dirt and our cat Purrfect supervising my labors. Today the young man stopped by to say hello, and having learned he's a hockey player, I offered him our street hockey equipment, which sadly gets no more use. He rode off on his bike to check with his mom, and when he arrived saying he had her permission, I walked up to their house with half a dozen street hockey sticks and a goalie stick and met his mom.

It's not Mayberry, R.F.D., but it's a far sight better than A Clockwork Orange.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

from my friend Theresa

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Consumer Food and Real Food

Much of the food that much of the population eats, even when billed as "Home Cooking", is really industrial food, and the way it is prepared and presented often is influenced more by how this can be done more cheaply for the manufacturer and how it positions the manufacturer vis-a-vis its competitors.

This competitive aspect leads to a homogenization of products; if products are very different, it's harder to compare them. A recently published article in The Washington Post makes this point about clam chowder:

Who put the flouwah in my chowdah? The thick and thin of consumer conformity
by Steven Pearlstein

One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting barefoot and shirtless on a stool at a lunch counter a block from the beach in Ogunquit, Maine, gulping down a bowl of clam chowder.

There was nothing particularly special about the chowder — it was pretty much like what you would have found anywhere along the New England seacoast: a generous mound of potatoes, onions and clams sitting in a broth of briny clam juice and whole milk. As often as not, there would be butter and paprika floating on the surface, with a few grains of sand sitting harmlessly at the bottom of the bowl.

Half a century later, however, a summer visitor to New England is hard-pressed to find such authentic chowder. Although omnipresent on menu boards in restaurants and seaside shacks, what passes for clam chowder now is most often a bowl of flour-thickened gruel in which tiny bits of chopped sea clams and overcooked potatoes wallow...
read the rest at The Washington Post.

Similarly, the way food is served is influenced by these financial and business interests. What is a meal? Well, it is a meat, a starch, and a vegetable, as if even in adulthood we were all eating off a divided plate or a TV dinner tray. Of course, a meal can be much more than that, in any number of different dishes; but by conforming our own table to the advertised format, we are easier to sell to. Dare I say, manipulated.

Last night's dinner was black bean empanadas with three different salsas and guacamole. It was delicious, nutritious and filling! Only one of the salsas (the tomato one) was purchased; Laurie made the watermelon salsa and the mango/cucumber salsa, and I made the guacamole. Some of the ingredients were from our garden, which right now has a lot more to do with determining what we're cooking and preparing for dinner than ads or newspaper features. Which has a certain rightness to it, no?