Monday, December 03, 2007

Our Winter Stores

Here I am again, with my thanks to those of you who have checked in over the past few months. It's been a bit of a rough road balancing the two jobs, losing our long-time pup, and battling pneumonia for 6 weeks. There was a myriad of other sore luck, including losing our hard drive along with the past four months of pictures we'd taken. That included a much fuller picture than the one in this post, showing off our winter stores. At this time last year I was pining for having put up more local foods. This year we remembered, and were good little squirrels. We have strawberries in the freezer still, (my dream of our own strawberries in November and December oats has come true), jams from our strawberries and currants, salsa verde from our early tomatoes and peppers, diced tomatoes and sauce from our garden bounties, and applesauce from local orchards. The pickled peppers came from my sister's garden--we canned them together at our grandmother's house. (That was an adventure--believe the part of the recipe that tells you to wear gloves. I'm just sayin'.) We had our own garden peas for dinner tonight, and there's at least one more dinner of those, and also in the freezer we have double the tomatoes pictured. We've supplemented here and there with store-bought sauce and jelly, but I think we should move comfortably into the next harvest season. Supplementing this are the local pumpkins, squash, potatoes, onions, carrots and beets (some from our own garden) that we remembered to stock up on this year. We have certainly learned a lot and come a long way since committing to eating as local and organic as possible.

Looking back at my goals for this year, I can say that I've come closer to meeting them. I wasn't perfect, but I made improvements here and there--I'm moving in the right direction. Our holiday gifts this year will consist of (hey family, skip the rest of this paragraph!) a sampling of our preserves and photo gifts of the kids. We worked hard all summer to make that happen. (If you are doing your own gift shopping, feel free to check out my Guilt-Free Shopping Guide from last year.)

I admit my shortcomings and I can assure you I won't be posting a lot in the next few weeks. Enjoy my posts from last year if you so wish. Much of this month will be reliving the same joys. This year we've adopted a local family to give them a special holiday, which will make our own twice as helpful. Tis the season of giving, and I feel blessed knowing that my blog readers will be taking that to heart, and spreading their good will to all in their own communities. Happy Holidays to all of you, and best wishes for the new year.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Whole Foods Does It Again

I've written before about how much I believe in the power of Whole Foods as a champion for local, organic food. Well, they've come through again, riding a white horse, carrying a banner, blaring a trumpet. Wisconsin had a rough summer. In our own backyard we spent the first half of the summer watering daily to keep up our market garden. In the last half we picked madly to try to keep ahead of the torrential rains that were bursting our tomatoes and carrots, stagnating our cucumber production, and drowning seedlings. What we saw in our gardens was mirrored horrifyingly in the big organic family run farms in the state. Beo and I didn't even bother holding back tears when we read about the damage to our favorite Farmer's Market vendor's farm. Harmony Valley lost acres of topsoil and tens of thousands of dollars worth of profit. Their story was repeated over and again at numerous farms throughout our area. Avalanche Organic, Driftless Organics--the losses were devastating.

That Saturday Beo and I went to the Farmer's Market and got our normal produce from Harmony Valley, then paid double for it. We've done the same whenever we could make it since then. Today, I found out that Whole Foods Market is doing much more. I was greeted today by a television set showing a video about the horrible damage our farmer's have experienced in these past months. Nearby, a sign explained that Whole Foods had committed $25,000 to farm relief, and had pledged $10,000 to match customer donations. That in and of itself is an incredible support of our local farmers. The story goes on though. When I took my donation coupons to the register, two employees told me that they've already raised $6,000 in their store alone. One gentleman explained that not only does Whole Foods in Madison buy from these local farmers as they go into the market each week, they have the buying power to buy up the leftovers of what the farmers don't sell at market. (He added that these days that's not an issue--there's just not enough produce to go around.) Whole Foods has also been assisting local farmers even before this crisis by trucking their produce out of state, in Whole Foods Market trucks that would be headed to those stores anyway, providing distribution that these small farmers could never afford. This employee told me with pride that the hard squash displayed for sale in the front of the store that day had been picked by Whole Foods employees. Avalanche Organic, washed out and strapped for cash, couldn't afford a harvest crew, but a crew of volunteers came to do their harvest last weekend, including a large group of volunteers from Whole Foods.

If anyone having read my former posts had any doubts, I hope they stop here. Whole foods is walking the walk--they're leading the walk. They're not just getting local organic produce to more consumers, they're standing up and giving those farmers the support they need--formerly to thrive, now to survive. Eat your heart out, Michael Pollan.

Please consider giving what you can to the cause. For More Info:
Press Release on Whole Foods' Recent Action
Harmony Valley Farm
Sow the Seeds Fund

Thursday, August 30, 2007

2007 Preserves

This has been a challenging garden year, between the dry spells, the wet spells, the heat, and our busy lives in general. Still, we've already managed to put up more food than last year, and we hope to get a few more good weeks in before things really taper off in the garden. We lost at least 100 tomatoes to the rain--probably more--batches and batches of sauce. We've gotten a few good batches in though. This year we opted to skip the boiling, de-seeding, coring and peeling and go for a food mill. With ripe tomatoes, this thing is a dream. Orange tomatoes make it a bit more of a chore. In some respects, it's as much labor, because you have to set the thing up, clean it, wash all of the catch bowls, etc. It's far more efficient though. I end up with a small dry pile of peel and seeds instead of a huge pile of gorp. Check out the before and after shot of how much more pulp and juice I got and how much "waste" was reduced, just by re-processing the "waste" from my initial run through of the tomatoes.

Yes, these are actual pictures. No, my kitchen's never really this clean except for pictures and company.
We also invested in a pressure cooker, but we've only done one batch of sauce in it. I don't really care for the sauce that we've found recipes that are safe for canning for. We've eaten lots of my own special non-recipe (sauteed onion, garlic, lots o' garden herbs, simmered waaay down, S&P at the end) and frozen 4 pints. I also did a few batches of salsa verde about a month ago, before the tomatoes started turning. With all of the cucumbers we had before the rain, pickles were tempting, but we had a market at the coffee shop for them, and Bird eats them whole, so we let all of the cukes go beyond pickling size. Maybe next year. My sister is bringing some of her banana peppers this weekend and we hope to pickle those. If I can get one more batch of sauce put up, along with the applesauce and apple butter to come this fall, I'll be pretty happy. I do hope we're spared some of the rain next year so that we have more tomatoes to put up, but I can hardly complain when I look at the devastation our big-cousin family farms have suffered.

Sprout starts school next week and I can hardly believe it. I've had unbelievable anxiety this week instead of the calm relaxing preparatory week I'd hoped to give him. We're heading out for the weekend though, and hopefully that will refresh us for jumping into this next big phase on Tuesday. My baby is growing so fast.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Darling Vermin !@#$%#!s

Earlier this year Beo and I were thrilled to spot a thirteen-lined ground squirrel in our front yard. He was eating the seeds around our bird feeder, and we were so glad to have attracted more wildlife. Soon we saw him scurrying around the back prairie, and we crowed over the fact that we had a real ecosystem going there now, with a native critter having made his home back there. When the gardens got going, we were happy to see that we didn't have any problems. Beo had spotted more than one ground squirrel at a time in the backyard now, and we'd seen them scurrying in from other areas of the neighborhood.

Then about 6 weeks ago we had such a rush on lettuce orders from our coffee shop that we started some new lettuce seedlings. Once they had multiple leaves, we transplanted the 1.5 inch plants into a carefully prepared bed. The next afternoon, they were gone, nibbled to the ground. Meanwhile the new bed couldn't seem to push up a seedling for the life of it. We'd planted about 100 seed patches, and only a few things were coming up. Finally we realized that the seedlings were coming up, only to be gnawed down overnight. At first, we decided it was rabbits, and we put up chicken wire. No dice. Next we decided it was birds--we'd spotted a robin in the lettuce beds on multiple occasions. Beo spent an afternoon and rigged an elaborate netting system over both of our seedling beds. Our poor little lettuce seedlings kept getting nibbled to the ground. Soon we noticed holes appearing in our garden. One little burrow came up right in the middle of one of the seedling beds. Another exited on either end of the raised potato bed, and as soon as the tomatoes started turning orange, we began finding half eaten tomatoes at the edge of the hole. It was the dang little adorable thirteen lined ground squirrels.

We debated over how to handle it. They're so tiny that there's really no way to protect the garden from them. Although we loved having them in our ecosystem, we finally agreed that since they were ruining our gardens, they had to go. Beo bought a small live trap and we baited it with peanut butter--somewhat skeptically. The next morning I spotted our little friend sniffing around the trap. He got a tomato (little bugger) and ate it on top of the rock border, eyeing the trap the whole time. When I next looked out the window, the trap was sprung, and sure enough, our little friend was in there. We took him to a local park where I'd recently found there was a whole colony of his kin. The next day, Beo took the NEW lettuce seedlings of of a bench, and by that afternoon they'd been eaten to the stem. We saw another little friend in the prairie today, so set the trap back there. 5 minutes later Bugger2 had sprung the trap, but we had set it wrong and he got out. You'd think he'd have learned a lesson, and you'd be right if that lesson was "Peanut Butter is tasty!". We baited the trap again and less than 2 minutes later he was in it again, this time for good, and is off to find a new home. There's definitely a balance to this whole permaculture thing, and I guess sometimes there's just not enough room for all of us in the backyard.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Fruits of our Labors

I'm behind in writing this, but wanted to give you a picture of our June. Our strawberry plants are in their third year, and gifted us with a steady supply of fresh fruit. It was so wonderful to have it after a long winter/spring with fruit being a rare treat. At first, we were excited with the first single strawberry that came into perfection. We picked it, photographed it, savored it. Before long we had such huge harvests that we didn't know what to do with it all. In years past, Bird would forage her way through the beds and there was little left for the rest of us, but this year even our little Bird had her fill. Our visitors were encouraged to pick their heart's delight--and still we had more than we needed. With an early and mid producing variety, we had a steady supply for weeks.

Last year's attempt at jelly put me off of such ventures, but looking at strawberry jam recipes, that looked less intensive. Grape jelly involved peeling, seeding, and boiling down the grapes, but strawberries just get hulled and mashed. It's still work to prep the strawberries and prepare and can the jam, but after a first batch we decided it was more than worth it. We did 2 batches of straight strawberry jam, and one with currants when our champagne currants came into fruit. The strawberry-currant jam is particularly delightful. I still get a bit nervous about the canning aspect, but I am so paranoid about doing everything right that I realize I have little to worry about.
As we went hulled our strawberries from huge bowls, I selected the most perfect berries to be frozen for later. I set these individually on a tray, froze them for a few hours, then put them into a freezer bag. (This method prevents them from freezing together in a great lump.) I'm looking forward to making a strawberry smoothie with our own backyard local organic straberries--in October. With a gallong bag of frozen berries, and a dozen jars of jam, we're a far cry better this year towards preserving more of our fruit, to take us further into the less productive garden months on local fruit. If we do as well with our garden goodies, we'll be in great shape.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Play with Dolls

Those of you who know me a bit know that I am a pretty eccentric individual. I tend to pick up hobbies that are often far from what one would expect of me. So here's my latest confession: I've fallen for dolls. When I first heard about the American Girl Benefit Sale for Madison Children's Museum, it sounded great to me. American Girl donates their seconds and returns to MCM, and MCM has hundreds of volunteers who fix them up. Once a year there is a huge warehouse sale where the items are sold. All of the proceeds benefit MCM and American Girl's charities. So let's see, we're reducing waste AND benefiting charity. Sounds good! Doing a bit of research I really liked the way American Girl emphasized girl's self esteem, worth, strength, and intelligence. I loved the history and stories behind the dolls. My sisters and I played with dolls when we were little, and as I started looking at these new dolls, I enjoyed reminiscing with them over our favorite doll friends in childhood. I was lucky to get an early ticket into the sale, so I started doing some research, thinking I'd pick up a doll or two for the kids. That's when I discovered the world of adult collecting, and what a world it is! I decided pretty quickly that this was something I wanted to do. It's pretty out-of-character for me, and Beo is more than a little freaked out about the entire thing, but is being relatively cool about it. He said that it helps that I'm pretty embarrassed about the entire endeavor. I've found a little niche for myself in the world of collecting, and discovered that I enjoy getting dolls that just need a little fixing up. I've gotten a couple of fixer-uppers on E-bay, learned how to make them over, and resold them to help fund my own collection. My collection started with a second-hand "Kit", the doll from the Great Depression, around 1934. She's pretty new and just needs some stray candle-dye removed from her hand. (It's a long process, but she'll recover.) Last night we picked up a Craigslist lot from a family about a half-hour from us. It was so fun to meet the girls who grew up with this doll, to watch Sprout and Bird fawn over and name the new "girl" (Daisy), and then to get to work on fixing her up. I just love the transformations of these well-loved dolls, giving them a new lease to get some more love and bring another child (or adult!) more joy. Check out the before and after--to me it's just really satisfying. Daisy caught me by surprise and will probably be a permanent member of the Sprout-Bird collection. I do think that playing with dolls is important for children, helping to teach them about caring for another being (even if it happens to be inanimate), and in this case, teaching them about believing in themselves. The Madison Children's Museum Benefit Sale is this weekend and I've saved up my lettuce money and some overtime to build up a starter collection. I'm so excited! So now you know what's been filling up my time between weeding and watering. It's doll collecting, and while I can't yet say I'm proud, I'm getting there, and having fun in the process.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Us at the Farmer's Market

Today marked a momentous occasion: the first ever Farmer's Market in our little village. A couple of industrious folks finally riled up the board enough to get permission to use the village hall parking lot to hold a farmer's market. We were asked to join in. We're pretty "between" crops right now. All of our lettuce has gone to the coffee shop, and our new seedlings were all mowed down by birds within 24 hours of putting them out. We have potatoes like you wouldn't believe--the current pride of the garden, but Beo refuses to share (and I'm not about to argue!). We also have beets and zucchini, but we've been living on them. I wanted to be a part of this though, so managed to get together a few bouquets of flowers, some beets, baby zucchini, garlic, and herb bundles to take down this morning. I was pleased when I arrived to find that we had a good spread! There were 5 other vendors. One had a wide array of vegetables and flowers, another had eggs, a third had preserves, a fourth had plants for sale, and the last had honey. Traffic was sparse, I don't think we'd have known about the market ourselves had we not been asked to join in, but there were enough drive-bys to keep people trickling in. In the two hours we were there we sold all of our basil, mint, and beets, and a bouquet of flowers. I felt kind of guilty about the flowers because Bird asked the lady to buy them, and who can say no to Bird? The customer even asked Bird to pick out which flowers she should take. Yeah, that was all about those big brown eyes. People's asking prices were loooow. The only other veggies seller there was selling almost everything for $1, so I ended up selling my herb bunches for $1 and the beets were $2 but my last one I sold for $1. Tough critics. The flowers only went for $3. So I spent an hour prepping and two hours there, and made $10. $2 of that went for eggs from our fellow vendor. It was a nice experience but boy, that's tough money-wise. I won't be able to make it next week, but the following week, once tomatoes are rolling in, we may give it another shot. The money is not why I showed up this morning, it was a matter of being the change and offering organic local food from our own backyard to our community.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Summer Updates

Well I've planned a half dozen posts but there's just not time for them all, so let me give you a digest version of how summer is going. We've been gardening, traveling to weddings, celebrating birthdays, and gardening...and gardening. The gardens are glorius this year, and in some ways less maintenance as they mature and shade out weeds. We've put in more beds this year though, mostly vegetable beds, so there's more to keep up with, and much more watering. When we get a good rain I breathe a sigh of relief knowing I'll get a few more free hours the next day or two.

One of the most exciting things is that I've taken on the market garden component of Someday Gardens. We have been selling our lettuce to a local coffee shop, that's featuring them in a special salad. It started off slow, with a delivery every week or so, but the salad took off in popularity, and soon we got a call that they'd take all we could deliver. Suddenly we were delivering two containers (about a pound of lettuce each, washed and dried) a day. Beo went in and asked for the salad for lunch one day after I'd made a delivery that morning, and they told him that our lettuce was already gone! It's nice to have it going over so well, even moreso when you look at the cycle of it. We drink their coffee, compost their coffee grounds and vegetable waste, grow lettuce with the compost, which we sell to them. I've even been watering our new lettuce seedlings with the rinse water from the lettuce. We had to put in an entire new bed just for lettuce because we quickly tired out our early spring batch. It is pretty labor intensive to pick and triple wash, then spin and dry that much lettuce, but I am thrilled to be able to do it. The other day I came out from making a delivery, saw our "Be the change you wish to see in the world" bumpersticker, and smiled to think how we were implementing local organic foods in our own community.

The flower gardens and the prairie have taken off as well. We're thrilled that a little thirteen-lined ground squirrel has made our yard his home. We've also had a frequent hummingbird visitor who is new to us this year. There are pollinators galore buzzing all over the place, and we had a huge influx of butterflies late last month. There were dozens all over our front yard, and at first I thought they were just everywhere, but looking up and down the street I realized that they were all concentrated in our yard. If I were a butterfly I guess I'd hang out here too. Heck, I'm not a butterfly and here I am.

Eating local has been somewhat of a breeze. We've made a couple of trips to the Farmer's Market, but many of our meals came from our own backyard until late last month, when things got so busy we were always on the run and our lettuce was all going elsewhere. We did enjoy a harvest of peas though, and an early harvest of beets. Beets are one of those vegetable creatures that I never learned to love until I'd had them fresh. Now they're one of my favorites. This meal was oh-so-local: backyard peas, lightly steamed; backyard beets, roasted, homemade bread spread with locally produced goat cheese; backyard lettuce with local feta and a homemade vinaigrette. Divine. I so love eating locally. It gives one something to look forward to. I will do my best to keep up more with my blog. It's frustrating that the time of year I have so much to write about, I have so little time to do so. I hope everyone's enjoying a fabulous summer.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Salad Season

When we returned from our trip, we were greeted with exploding gardens. In the vegetable garden, our Speckled Trout Romaine (Forellenschluss) was ready for harvest. Beo was up for trying some salads as our main course, and we have both found them delightful. This is a wonderful lettuce variety and I highly recommend it. Working on the CSA, I learned how to best prepare lettuce. After harvesting, it should be rinsed in a cold water bath as soon as possible. Make sure to use plenty of water so that any debris can float away from freely-moving leaves. Remove the leaves from the water, drain the water, and rinse any dirt or other undesirable material from the sink or rinse container. This process should be done 3 times to get clean leaves. If you don't currently clean your lettuce this way, you will probably understand why you might want to after seeing your rinse water the first two times. I've been using our first rinse water to water plants outside, the second for inside plants, and the third for the dogs water dishes (heck they drink out of puddles in the mud outside) or to fill pots that need to soak. I just use another container to scoop the water out of the sink, or use a large bowl if I only need to wash a small amount of lettuce. After washing, let the lettuce dry (this will help it stay crisp and retain nutrients--use a salad spinner or lay leaves on clean towels), and store it in a ventilated container in the refrigerator.

We started out with some basic salads. Our radishes were ready too, so the basic formula was lettuce, sliced radishes, and nuts. We like almonds, pecans, and walnuts for a little crunch. For extra protein, we often saute some sliced tempeh with a bit of Bragg's Amino Acids. We've also been doing sliced boiled eggs lately. I do not particularly like eating eggs. I have a personal mindset that just puts me off of them. However I've realized that if I want to eat more locally, eggs are far and away my best vegetarian protein source until we have enough land to grow heirloom beans. That's not in the near future, so for now, eggs it is. We enjoyed the beautiful pear, walnut, and goat cheese salad last week. The pear was our last domestic one we had, and I wanted to really highlight it. I was inspired by a salad Beo and I shared when we were at a restaurant in North Carolina.

You may have a favorite dressing recipe, but try something new to spice up your salads. I recently got some Organic Valley Mexican Blend cheese on sale, so I threw it into a salad with some seasoned black turtle beans, salsa, corn chips, and goat cheese for a Taco Salad. (Forgive the picture, I was in a hurry. My dear family is often waiting to eat while I try to get a good shot of our dinner!) I concocted a basic vinaigrette and added lemon juice and chili powder. It was delicious! To make your own, just use a formula of 2 parts oil to one part vinegar, and add a pinch of salt. You may also want to try a bit of sugar. I have used mustard, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce, garam masala and more to try to create the right dressing for the salad. Give it a try and enjoy the wonderful greens that are in season now!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Prairie Dogs, Ferrets, and Poison, Oh My!

On our recent trip, one of the animals Sprout and Bird found most captivating was the prairie dog. We spent so much time parked near the edge of their "towns" in the Badlands and Custer State Park, watching their antics. Beo told stories about being in the backcountry of the Badlands the year that Black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the area. Now more than 200 of these endangered creatures live in and around these same prairie dog towns. It's a success story in the endangered species world. Now the ferrets are threatened again, as cattle ranchers push the Forest Service to expand their prairie dog poisoning programs deeper into federal lands--into the heart of where the ferrets can potentially thrive.

I hope my readers know that I am no (stereotypical) garden-variety tree hugger. I understand the importance of cattle grazing (especially in the face of CAFO expansion) and the need to remove prairie dogs from private lands. Federal lands however, are there for a reason. These areas already permit grazing. In my mind, ranch owners should be able to use the land within its ecological limits, but not dictate how the federal government controls the land. The Forest Service is in part responsible for keeping these ecosystems balanced and preserved. Moving the poisoning program into an area where an endangered species is getting a foothold is foolhardy at best. Our world is under threat from all sides. This is one area where we've done the right thing and tried to set up an ecosystem that belongs. Let's not let business interests throw that away. Please, take the time to read this article, and follow the instructions for contacting the Forest Service to share your thoughts about the plan. My letter is ready to get dropped in the mail.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Yellowstone and Beyond

Things have been a blur the past month. There was much to do with volunteering, work, home, and the gardens. Our trip to Yellowstone was a wonderful respite. My Dad asked us a few months ago if we would like to take this trip with them when my sister flew back from Alaska. We jumped at the chance for a planned family vacation! The last time we took a vacation with my parents and sisters was back when I was in high school, excepting trips to Ohio for Christmas. My Dad planned everything out ahead of time, basically removing all pre-stress from the trip. Believe it or not, what follows is the Readers Digest Version of this journey. Our trip began at my parents house in SD. On the one-year anniversary of my Dad's stroke, we picked up my sisters and their/(ours too) dear friend, and we were off. We visited the famed Corn Palace, the Badlands and stayed in Spearfish the first day. The badlands never cease to awe me, no matter how many times I visit them. We saw Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, Meadowlarks, Bluebirds, Vultures, and some young Bighorn sheep in the park.
The next morning my fam enjoyed a lovely local coffee shop and a brief drive into Spearfish canyon before meeting up w/ the rest of the family after church and visiting the historic Booth Fish Hatchery. Next we were on to Devils Tower, a truly amazing place. It was and still is sacred to the native people of the land, and on the trail up to the base you will see various offerings and prayer ties in the trees. From there we drove across Wyoming and into Cody. We took the less-traveled Highway 14. It is a STUNNING drive through the mountains, and I highly reccomend it if you ever head out that way. Just be sure to check your brakes before going, and don't forget to brake with your transmission too. The next morning we left Cody for a drive said to be the most beautiful in the country, through the Little Bighorns and into Yellowstone. The drive was definitely exceptional. Yellowstone was much chillier than I'd originally anticipated, but we layered up and were fine. The first day there, we saw Yellowstone Canyon with it's falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the mudpots. Mammoth Hot Springs has changed so much since I was last there more than 10 years ago. Many of the springs are now dormant and are a simple chalky white rather than the cascading, shiny colors that I remember. Still, they are impressive and unique.

The wildlife was amazing. We saw elk, birds of all kinds, moose, mule and white tailed deer, a few bison, and a large herd of bison with calves in an incredibly picturesque river valley. Those calves are so darling. Even with all of the little traditional cute things we saw, Bird's favorite throughout the trip was the baby bison. She got a closeup view shortly after we left this herd, as a huge herd came straight down the road we were driving on, all but stopping traffic. I have to tell you--these are some impressive animals. Even as I was trying to get a good shot, I was catching my breath at how awesome they are. They have quite a presence.
We stayed in West Yellowstone and the next morning we were off to the Geyser Basin and Old Faithful after layering up and getting some nice warm sweatshirts for the kids--big so that they could go over all those layers! We saw Old Faithful Lodge and a number of neat smaller geysers before getting to see Old Faithful. It was snowing as we all watched it erupt. It was really cool to get to experience that with not just my parents and sisters again, but all together as a huge family. Sprout absolutely loved that part. From there we headed on to Flagg Ranch, in between the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. I have to say that this was possibly my favorite part of the trip. My Dad had arranged for us to stay in these great cabins, all close to each other. We were very near the edge of the bluff that the ranch is built on, having been moved out of the river bed in order to expand Grizzly territory! The bluff overlooks the Tetons, and a beautiful expanse in-between where we saw bluebirds as well as many of their cousins, a big bull bison, a moose cow just below our feet, elk, and a coyote, or possibly a wolf--we couldn't be sure. Quite a backyard, at any rate. Right outside our cabin we had a flicker trying to make it's home in the cabin roof nearby, ground squirrels, and on the first morning there, a precious sighting of a pine marten! We heard news of a nearby bear, but a drive to the suggested spots yielded nothing but some stunning views of the mountains. It was still a fun chase. The next day we took a morning hike together, and then Beo and I broke out on our own for a hike into Flagg Canyon. Later we all met up to drive down to a waterfall in the Tetons. We didn't make it to the waterfall, but we had a wonderful afternoon seeing the sights, including a young Griz! We hung out at a streamside for a while, and made some wonderful memories. On our way back we stopped and watched a little sleeping fox alongside dozens of other viewers. That night we had a campfire before heading for bed. It was positively idyllic.
The next morning we went back through Yellowstone, stopping at Moose Falls and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This was one of my favorite parts of Yellowstone. The hot springs are so beautiful and otherworldly. Next the beautiful drive back to Cody, and the next morning it was on to the Black Hills of South Dakota again. We stopped in Spearfish Canyon to try to find an American Dipper (aka "Water Oozle") in the creek, and sure enough spotted one and enjoyed it for a while. That night we stayed in Hill City and got to see Mount Rushmore at sunset. Sprout was incredibly impressed. The next morning we went to Sylvan Lake for a little hike and through the Needles Highway and across Custer State Park before heading back towards home.

I can't tell you what an incredible experience this trip was for me and for my little ones. I got plenty of chances to practice my photography. If by some chance you didn't get enough of my pictures, you can see some of the 1600+ that I shot at this flickr album. It was great just to be with my family, but moreso it was so great to see the kids as part of a larger family. We had car seats set up so that we could move them between vehicles, everyone helped out with them at meals, bedtimes, playtimes, hikes, entertaining in the car, and even bathroom breaks. It was so neat to see the kids reveling in all of the grown-ups who love them so much. It felt so good. My Dad pointed out that it was pretty amazing for the kid's first visit to Yellowstone to be with a biologist and a geophysicist! ("Ask your auntie" was a standard reply to their many questions!) The trip an incredible way to celebrate my Dad's health. It was a wonderful experience to get to spend time with my family doing something just to be together and go out and appreciate the beauty of nature. I know I'm waxing like aged cheddar here, but it's the truth. We saw an incredible variety of nature and wildlife, and did it all together as a family. In this day and age, that's an incredible gift.
Thanks to everyone who checked in with me during my absence. I'll try to post more regularly! family. I know that in todays day and age, it's something to cherish. Updates on food and the gardens coming soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Frugal on a Time Budget Meal of the Day

Last week I committed to buckling down on frugality while trying to find time to do everything else. My current duties besides the everyday of keeping up with my paid job, keeping the house within health code standards, and keeping the family fed and clothed, include working on my church's Mother's Day for Peace event (more on that later) and working on Someday Garden's biggest consultation job to date. Not to mention, our own gardens are established and filling out, but the weeds are still competing and there are always things to be moved, pruned, watered, you name it. However busy I might be, I did find time to make a big pot of veggie chili. I made my standard from diced tomatoes, bulk kidney beans, corn, onions and seasonings, and added some bulk barley to fill it out nutritionally and budget-wise. (Saute the onions, then add remaining ingredients. Cook the barley ahead of time or add a goodly amount of veggie broth with the dried barley into the chili, and let it simmer gently until the barley is tender.) It turned out great. The first night, I decided to keep things interesting by serving it over a baked sweet potato, with a dollop of plain yogurt. For some reason I thought some steamed broccoli on top sounded good, and it ended up complimenting the whole thing quite nicely, giving a sweet freshness to the savoriness of the general dish. It may not look like much, but it was absolutely delicious, and very filling. I believe the cost per person was about $1. The kids are currently shunning tomatoes, but gobbled up a Sprout-Friendly chili version with just beans, corn, and (shhh) a little bit of tomato juice mixed in. It helps to find new ways to make old frugal favorites interesting.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Heatwave with Flowers

We are in our third year of gardens here, and it's wonderful to see how things have finally gotten well established and are coming up bigger and stronger than ever. We were surprised to see how well the shade garden is coming back. My anemone is finally doing what it's supposed, to being big, white, and showy early in the garden.

We have one Jacob's Ladder that is weeks ahead of it's kin in a shower of delicate periwinkle buds.

The columbine have budded out and the bleeding heart are already blooming. I love how they capture moisture within their luscious petals. You can see the drops when the sun shines through.

I was thrilled to spot our lone trillium which my sister picked up for me at a native plant sale. I didn't really believe it would make it back, but it made it's ephemeral debut this week. These are one of my favorite flowers. They're so simple in essence, but their elegance is enhanced by the smooth green leaves that frame the three white petals. They remind me of the big ruffs that English queens sometimes wore--or the big headresses of vegas showgirls! I hope you enjoyed the walk through our garden today.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Yesterday I had the incredible honor to join thousands of others at a teaching given by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Seeing His Holiness has been on The List of things I'd like to do in my life, along with seeing the Great Barrier Reef and Alaska. We joined people from all walks of life to crowd into a sold out hockey stadium to hear this incredible individual. When we arrived, I had to practice my open heart and compassion as we walked past people carrying "Trust Jesus" signs, shouting at us from behind big placards with bible verses, and handing out "Heaven or Hell?" flyers. Good practice.

As we joined the massive crowd waiting to enter, we found ourselves next to a group of individuals I believe to have been Tibetan. I felt a surge of emotion as I was torn between happiness and sorrow from the old woman, who perhaps remembered leaving Tibet, to the young girl, who perhaps never would, and also the joy in them being able to see the great spritual leader from their native country.

Amazingly, arriving 45 minutes late because of the crowding, we were seated (far, far in the back but with a decent view) and only minutes later His Holiness entered the arena. I knew I would be overwhelmed by the emotion, and I was. Tears started running down my face as I saw this "humble Buddhist monk" who radiates peace and calm. He waved to everyone, even comically peering up into the highest reaches of seating and getting laughs right off the bat. As he was introduced, he removed his shoes, exposing his maroon socks and then tucking his feet up under him as he settled comfortably into a seat that was part throne, part victorian setee. I have read hundreds of pages of text in the words of HH, studied his teachings and learnings over the years, most recently about neuroscience, and to hear him speak still ignited a spark in my heart. He spoke at first in Tibetan, with a translator, but mostly in English. As I've heard, he will sometimes be so into a thought as he teaches that he switches to rapid Tibetan and his translator explains the end of the thought. He also checked words occasionally with his translator. Their relationship was so smooth and easy that you didn't miss a beat, and the nature of it was charming. His Holiness has a very strong accent, but is easily understood when you pay attention to him--easy to do when he is mixing comedy and lightheartedness with his teachings.

The nature of his teaching was Compassion as the Source of Happiness. He spoke about how humans by nature have a biological need for compassion and affection from the time we are born. He described how in consciously choosing to be truly compassionate towards another individual, we gain self-confidence and strength, dispel our fear, and are able to be more peaceful and calm. Later he described how having this underlying calm and compassion can help us not only to have a higher level of happiness day-to-day, but gives us the serenity to handle more difficult situations and even tragedies when they arise.

When his lecture was over, His Holiness spoke about his optimism for Our World--peace and sustainability. He drew wave after wave of applause when he said firmly that prayer and meditation was not enough, that we must work for change, and then we can see the next century as one that is known for it's peace, and our environment can survive. He also spoke about parenting compassionately, with affection, joking that it was easy for him to advise because he was a monk. He said that if he had to be with children he would be very kind--maybe 3, 4 hours. Then, maybe not so kind. He also spoke about being a vegetarian. He said that because many monastaries are strict vegetarian, they do promote a vegetarian diet. However, he said that he eats mostly vegetarian, but then, once maybe one or two weeks, a little not-vegetarian. He spoke about how monks are supposed to fast from solid foods after the noon meal, but that if he is very hungry, he'll have a biscuit or two. You see, His Holiness teaches us that greatness doesn't come in some abnormally Divine individual, it comes through people just like you and me. We all have the ability to be compassionate, and to actively develop that compassionate to be happier and to make a difference in the world. We are all Divine. We all have the ability to pray, meditate and move our feet as we do.

Biography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama Teaching Webcasts
Books by His Holiness (I highly recommend "The Art of Happiness".)
Picture from the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Flickr Photos

False Cherry Blossom
Originally uploaded by SproutsMom.

One thing I've been finding time for is taking pictures. If you're in the mood for browsing, feel free to check out my Flickr account. I'll keep it updated with my latest favorites. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed of my Flickr photos if you're interested. Just click on the picture to go to Flickr, or visit my homepage at The link for the feed is at the bottom. Of course I'll continue posting photos here as well.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Frugal on a Time Budget

Oh how crazy life becomes. While I'm thrilled with the success of our garden business, its meant that Beo is away for many hours. We did get to work on a project together this week, which was great, but there's much to do at home too, and we're finding ourselves constantly in a time crunch. Housekeeping, paid-work, cooking, shopping, time with the kids--how do I balance it all? Lately I've found myself withdrawing from all of it because it feels so overwhelming. With all the crazy scheduling, we've found ourselves eating out more and cooking far less. After a week and a half of it, we both were downright sick of it. Beo and I sat down (okay, we had the conversation while we were both getting ready to go somewhere else) and came up with a plan: Back off from the gourmet, 10-step, dirt-cheap meals, but find a way to still cook inexpensively and simply. So I've tried to take what I've learned about frugality, and combine it with my favorite simple cooking. Time to take a step back.

So I went to Whole Foods Market, with only a basic idea of a plan, and here are a few things I came up with.

1. Bulk beans, rice, steel cut oats and nuts still work time-wise, and save us money. Beans and SCO may be more time intensive, but there's little labor involved, I just need to think ahead. Money and packaging saved.

2. Sweet potatoes still work over frozen potatoes. I can nuke one for lunch or throw them into the oven while something else bakes.

3. It may be warmer weather, but nothing stretches the budget and fills in menu holes like a big pot of veggie chili or soup.

4. Homemade bread is out until further notice. I found a bakery variety on sale and *gasp* had it sliced.

5. Time to go back to big batches, leaving leftovers for lunches. If I'm going to do Mollie Katzen, I'll do the full batch and we'll live with a little less variety.

6. While we wait for our favorite veggies to come into season, let's stick with frozen. A bag of mixed organic veggies is $2. That's two sides or one great stir fry. Speaking of...

Our first frugal meal this week was a stir fry, which we haven't done in ages. I made some rice from bulk (25 cents), browned some tofu in marinade ($1.50) and combined it with stir fried veggies ($2) and onion (10 cents). Total cost for the meal: $3.85. It was delicious, and even the kids ate it. It gave us each a generous portion, with enough left over for lunch for Beo today. Total time spent? I was in the kitchen for about half an hour, but I easily could have cut 10 minutes off of that by remembering to thaw the tofu beforehand. What's more, I was able to spend time putting away dishes and cleaning while things cooked up. I'll keep you updated as we try to make our frugal food more time-friendly. Now if I could just get as efficient with the other things on my proverbial plate...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chickpeas and Spinach Stew

'Tis the season for spinach recipes! I picked up a beautiful two pound bag of big green leaves at the Farmer's Market this weekend. It was gone before we knew it. Spinach is so incredibly versatile and nutritious, and it's one of the easiest foods for us to get local and organic. I received this recipe in my "Green Guide" e-mail yesterday and decided to give it a try. This is modified only very slightly. This is a quick and easy dinner that plates nicely and is very satisfying. Made with bulk rice and beans, it's also inexpensive--especially if you don't burn the first batch of rice. Not that I did.

Chickpeas and Spinach Stew

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 cup veggie stock
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
12 ounces fresh greenmarket spinach
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups cooked brown rice
Plain Yogurt

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and spices and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Cover pot, lower heat and simmer 7 to 10 minutes. Add chicken stock, canned chickpeas and tomato; cover and cook 10 minutes at medium-high. Add spinach, cover for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve over brown rice, Top with a dollop of plain yogurt, and a sprinkle of spices.

I originally followed the directions to cook for another 10 minutes after adding the spinach, but I think it would have been nicer to let the spinach retain more of it's natural brightness and bite. The chicklets ate a modified version--brown rice, chickpeas, yogurt, and cumin. They had baby carrots on the side for their veggie. It was a big hit. Leftovers were great too. Enjoy cooking local as more variety becomes available!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Early Spring in the Garden

Now that Spring seems to have taken hold over the late spurts of Winter, the Gardens are starting to take off. It's so nice to see things popping in to bloom. I'm pleased to say that as of right now, it looks like we may have lost only a few plants. My perrenial snapdragons have yet to bud out, but I haven't given up hope yet. The clematis we put in last year had a rough year and I don't think it will return, and it's too early to look for hostas yet. Our Wood Poppies are probably my favorite native that we have. They live in our partial shade bed, liking wooded edges in their normal habitat. They've done so well over the past few years. I shared a picture earlier this week, but here's a better shot of the plant, now that the flowers aren't bent over.

Our cushion spurge (Euphorbia epithymoides) is some of the earliest color in the garden every year. It's bright yellow foliage belies the fact that it's flowers are actually tiny little things set in the middle of the riot of color. (They are related to the pointsetia, which has the same characteristic.) Our flower lady recommended these when I first had the garden set 3 years ago and was looking for anything I could put in in the earliest days of April. I haven't been dissapointed. As it fills in, it will create a mass (cushion) of these yellow "flowers", that really create a nice chunk of bright color in the early garden.

The last of my favorites to emerge is our Indigo. This is actually a lovely hybrid of two natives, and is known as Baptisia Purple Smoke. I sought our it's lovely shoots under their blanket of wood chips, and was finally rewarded with the lovely purple spears. As they open up their leaves, they lose some of the dramatic color, so these shoots are one of my favorite stages of the plant. They're quite pretty after they go to bloom, and it looks like they're happy where they are--lots more shoots this year than last. Beo loves it too because it's a nitrogen fixer, so every year we add a few more indigo to our gardens.

Last fall we finally decided to plant bulbs, and we've been rewarded with some spots of color as most everything else fils out it's leaves. This narcissus just opened up today to contrast it's yellow cousins. I look forward to continuing to share as our gardens grow and new things come in to bloom.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Dinner 3

Last night we had our third annual Earth Dinner. These dinners, founded by Organic Valley, are a wonderful way to celebrate local, organic, and sustainable foods. It's always fun to try to plan a local dinner in April here in Wisconsin. Some years I wish Earth Dinner would wait until July when things are in full swing! As I've come to learn though, there's more available than one might think. I started yesterday with a rare solo trip to the Madison Farmer's Market. It was the first day of the open air market this year. What a wonderful thing! It was great to see some of our favorite vendors back, and our winter vendors with a much bigger selection. I got lettuce, spinach, radishes, potatoes, beautiful flowers (hyacinths, daffodils, freesia), honey and grass-fed-goat organic feta.

Our menu: Vegetable Lasanga with Farmer's Market Spinach Organic Valley cottage cheese and eggs, homemade pasta; Tossed Salad (all local); Rolls made with Organic Valley eggs; Roasted Heirloom Baby Potatoes from the Farmer's Market; Pear-Applesauce, brought by our neighbors and made from their own pears; Chocolate Chip Cookies brought by our neighbors made with their own maple syrup; wine brought by our friends, from a local winery; pasta salad brought by our friends. I also made a key-lime cheesecake with Organic Valley cream cheese and eggs. The limes came from my fruit angel, so they were quite local for her. It was a sumptous feast (that somehow managed to get eaten amidst the 6 children under 5 that were chaos personified and a complete joy)!

We celebrated last night with two families new to our lives, one from our church and another from just around the corner. It was great to celebrate this event together. I put out our Earth Day cards (pictured above) but the conversation was so lively, they went untouched. I highly recommend these dinners for a way to bring neighbors or friends together in a celebration of local food.

Our Earth Day celebration continued at church this morning, with a lovely service and the planting of a native garden by the children. What a wonderful way to celebrate the Earth! What's more, it was 80 degrees out! That made it especially nice to be outside enjoying our environment. For my favorite Earth Day tips, check out last year's Earth Day post. Thanks to all of you for the things you do to walk more lightly on our planet. Happy Earth Day!

100th Post

Happy Earth Day! This is my 100th post. Yep, it is. I thought I'd show you a number of different things for this momentous occasion. Here's some things growing in our yard. Here's our great groundcover:
Here's one of the native plants in our shade garden: Beo's latest rock wall: Here are the flowers I got at the Farmer's Market Saturday:

Here's my little beauty and my big dopey hound:

Here's me really, really happy that Beo felt 100 posts deserved a new camera! (Actually the 100 thing was a bonus to the fact that Beo got a bonus at work and has secretly been planning to get me this. What do I call him in my profile? Enviable? Yes, I think that's apt!)