Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy

We have been hearing about the approach of Hurricane Sandy for days and now it is finally here. So far it’s not too bad where I live. The winds are blowing hard and our backyard suddenly looks bare as the remaining leaves on the maples, Redbud and Tulip trees have been stripped from their branches. The butterfly bush, still lush as a curtain outside our dining room window, is bending low, the remaining flowers gone. Our rain gauge shows over two inches of rain so far but more is predicted. The bird bath has water up to the top and spilling over.

We left our bird feeders in place although I know that some people have taken them down for fear that they might be dislodged and crash into a window. I am keeping my fingers crossed that doesn’t happen here because the birds are still eating. When a burst of wind swings the feeders they take off. Yet, with a forecast of possibly ninety mile and hour winds heading for our area, I think we will probably opt for caution and remove them later today.

All this, so far, is more maintenance than worry. People who live near the shore are seeing a different story. They have been ordered to evacuate, which is probably wise as pictures on the newscasts show flooding in the streets and jetties askew in the ocean where their supports have been undermined. And a particularly high tide is expected mid-evening. Rain + wind + high tide = trouble. Not a good equation. The bridges leading onto the shore towns are closed. 

The storm is making its presence known far and wide. I have been receiving messages of concern from friends and relatives in different states. I even got one from Japan. Thank you all.  People seem to come together when there are difficulties. When we can care about each other and express that caring we become like a family. In troubling times, whether physically based like a storm or politically motivated, if we can remember that we are a family and care about what affects us all, we move into the space called humanity. I hope everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy is safe. And I wish the best for all of us no matter what circumstance presents itself.  

My lights just flickered. Maybe it’s time to lower the bird feeders. Don’t worry, birds, they’ll be back. I take care of family.   

Stats about Hurricane Sandy:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Brussels Sprouts on the Stalk

Brussels Sprouts on the Stalk

Years ago, when my children were in elementary school, I used to bring in raw foods to show them how our food grows. Peas in the pod, corn in the husk, strawberries on the vine, peanuts in the shell, you get the idea. Can’t do that today, of course, but it was interesting to see their surprise at the natural state of things.

My local Trader Joe’s, in the past couple of years, has been bringing in Brussels sprouts on the stalk. I find I am just as excited to see how they grow as the kids were back then. There is something satisfying in connecting with the emerging process. Seeing the tomatoes grow in my garden is extremely pleasing.  To watch each stage of a tomato as it develops, to hold it in my hand while it is still warm from the afternoon sun, is a treat. 

Origins are intriguing. They hint at possibilities. They are Act One in an ever-changing play. Each beginning brings with it unknown potential that responds to nurturing or its lack. It expresses its uniqueness even within its group identity. Every grape in a bunch is different even if they all taste sweet.

Brussels sprouts are a good example of hidden promise. They are rather strange looking and not always the favorite choice of diners but they pack a nutritional wallop that should have us clamoring for them. Here is a profile that should have you looking at Brussels sprouts with respect:

I think that seeing how our food grows is important. It helps to keep us interrelated within the chain of life. Our supermarkets are filled with artificial products that contain non-food additives, which we are learning are not in our best interest to ingest. The fewer the ingredients, the better. We should be able to pronounce the ingredients. And do we really want food that has an extended shelf life? Fruits and vegetables in the produce aisles are identifiable, fresh, and, if organic, pesticide free. I would love to see everyone have access to real food and to make choices that support healthy eating.

The US Department of Agriculture has some simple tips to help you eat well:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Many Mushrooms

Many Mushrooms

My father-in-law took a course in mushroom identification. He would go out into the field with his guidebook looking for specimens. Yet much as he liked to eat mushrooms, I don’t think he ever picked any in the wild. He was a smart man. Wild mushrooms can be dangerous to eat. Some have toxins that can cause digestive or respiratory problems that are uncomfortable, while others are downright life-threatening. But the right kind of mushroom (and there are many varieties to choose from) is delicious.

Which brings me to agaricus, a common whitish field mushroom. Button mushrooms fall into this category. I saw some mushrooms that looked sort of like golf balls. They grow on lawns all around my house. Tempting as it was to pick and cook, I limited my appreciation to the visual. Then I went out to my favorite market and bought a carton of safely farmed produce that I can enjoy without worry.

I tend to be casual when I cook and mushrooms are so easy to work with, they make perfect dishes. I like to sauté crimini mushrooms in a little olive oil with chopped basil, garlic, and pine nuts, then sprinkle on a little grated cheese, serve them over pasta and yum. Portobello mushrooms are great stuffed with almost anything – rice, ground turkey or beef, tofu, squash, spinach – drizzle a little sauce of your choice over the top and bake. Shitaki mushrooms lend themselves beautifully to dishes with Asian spices. If you want a more precise way to prepare them and favor a world view of mushroom dishes, take a look here:

If anyone has a favorite mushroom dish, please feel free to share. We mushroom lovers will be delighted.

For some mushroom varieties and photos:

And for a very basic description of field mushrooms:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Squash - a Fruit and a Vegetable?

Squash - a Fruit and a Vegetable?

I know that there are many kinds of squash – I eat lots of different varieties – when I came upon one at a farmer’s market that I hadn’t seen before. I was intrigued. It was star-shaped with lovely light green/dark green markings. I brought it home with the intention of cooking it right away but I was waylaid by its charm. So instead, I put it in a basket for a table decoration.

But now it is time to get down to business and eat it. Only what is it that I plan to eat? I found out it is a patty pan squash, a variety that comes in green, yellow, and white. I also found out that, botanically speaking, it is a fruit! Like a tomato, it has seeds, the telltale marking. Yet, in the culinary sense, the way we prepare and eat it, it is a vegetable. So it is both. And what does that mean?

This is as much a philosophical issue as a botanical one. Is it more important to identify something technically or to categorize it functionally? Can something be more than one thing and still maintain its integrity?

I actually like the diverse nature of things. It is inherent in the concept of repurposing, shifting how we use something in one way to use it in another, an important aspect of the current green movement. Food scraps turn into compost. Rainwater is caught and used to water a garden. Wind becomes electricity. In truth, we have been doing it all along, in lots of different ways, without any labels. Vinegar is used in cooking as well for cleaning. A scarf gets turned into a belt A colleague becomes a friend. It makes life creative and interesting.

As for the patty pan, it doesn’t much matter if it is a fruit – I will still prepare it as a vegetable and serve it as such for dinner. In either case, it is food, and I anticipate it being delicious!  

I never realized quite how many varieties of squash there actually are. Check out this site:

Fruit or vegetable? What makes it one or the other?

I wrote a picture book about community and repurposing called The Story Blanket :