Dinner from the Garden

Picture of one day’s harvest–pretty typical of the last couple of weeks:

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Now I realize that this is nothing impressive, and more accomplished gardeners are probably rolling their eyes. But I want to give encouragement to others who, like me, have been a bit intimidated by gardening. I always thought that I was just not a very good gardener. But I discovered that really gardening is not some innate, mysterious, gift–it can be learned, like any other skills. Start small, take a class, read some books. Every year I have taken out a little more grass, read another gardening book or two, and tried a few more vegetables. And I’ve totally enjoyed learning some new skills.

I kind of like my rather small daily harvest, because it’s something that we can keep up with eating without being overwhelmed. We always eat a lot of vegetables, and now we can get most of them from the yard, which is so fun. Of course you can do some canning and freezing–and I am doing a little of that–but if you don’t want to preserve, it works to have a large variety of plants, but only a few of each. Biodiversity in the garden–I haven’t had pest problems at all–and more mealtime diversity as well. Although we have been eating a LOT of tomatoes and cucumbers over the last week…..

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Truly local dessert

If you live in western Washington, you know what I mean when I say that we are overrun with blackberries. They are everywhere, and most people consider them a nuisance. I consider them free food. If you want to eat locally, a little foraging is a way to cut down your “food miles”. Some people try to eat most foods within 100 miles of home; my blackberry food miles only add up to a few blocks. Plus no fossil fuels are involved in the transport–the only fuel used is kcalories I burn when pedaling my bike to the nearby prolific bushes.

ubiquitous blackberries

ubiquitous blackberries

If you want to eat more healthfully and sustainability, one of the best ways to do this is to cook. And I think homemade desserts are especially important. Not that desserts are ever really “healthy”, but homemade ones are “not as unhealthy”, and are definitely more sustainable. Most bakery desserts have tons of ingredients. Not to mention that virtually all desserts these days seem to be packaged in non-recyclable plastic. So homemade is the way to go. You can easily grow your own rhubarb, blueberries, apples, or whatever fruits are local–or buy them at the farmer’s market. I confess that my sugar and cornstarch are not local, but at least the main ingredients are.

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9-inch baked pie shell. I firmly believe in homemade pie crust. It really is easy, but I know it’s intimidating if you have never tried it. Here’s a link to step-by-step instructions. Pie crust is not healthy, so I try to semi-compensate by rolling it very thin.

Wash and drain 3 cups of fresh blackberries.
Pour out carefully on a dishtowel, and gently pat as dry as you can without crushing them.

Simmer another 1 cup of fresh blackberries (crush slightly first) with 3/4 cup water for 3 or 4 minutes. Add: 3 tablespoons cornstarch combined with 3/4 cup sugar. Cook over medium or medium-low heat until syrup is thickened, stirring constantly. This will only take a few minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly, and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Carefully pour the 3 cups of fresh berries into cooled pie shell. Pour slightly cooled blackberry sauce over the top and stir gently to combine. Chill.

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Gardening and baseball setbacks

As a fairly novice gardener, but with lofty goals (a yard almost totally devoted to edible landscaping), I am always thinking that THIS is going to the breakthrough year. But walking around my garden this week, I see that things did not go as planned. I realized that yet again, my garden’s questionable success was tracking with the Seattle Mariners.

I started spring with the best of intentions–did lots of weeding thanks to early beautiful weather. Took out some grass. Added a tiered veggie bed in the back yard . And the Seattle Mariners were doing great–briefly FIRST in the major leagues in spring training. Wow–finally that breakthrough year that everyone has been talking about.

beets and tomatoes in part of tiered bed

beets and tomatoes in part of tiered bed

Unfortunately spring training doesn’t count in the standings. Things started to unravel for the Mariners as soon as the season started. Same with my garden–the pattypan squash seedling that I was excited about died. None of my lettuce came up. My husband inadvertently took out my parsnip seedlings.

this was supposed to be pattypan squash and parsnips

this was supposed to be pattypan squash and parsnips

All was not lost though–tiered veggie bed is doing great. Even the potatoes that don’t get much sun are thriving. Leeks and sunflowers are progressing, tomatoes producing. Tons of raspberries. And lo and behold, the Mariners actually had an 8-game winning streak in July!

Zucchini looking good–lots of beautiful foliage and flowers. Felix Hernandez pitching was also great the other night–and Henry Blanco hit a grand slam! Mariners were up 7 – 2 going into the 9th inning. Success! Yet…..somehow our bullpen relievers managed to lose the game. And I forgot to harvest the zucchini for our salad tonight.blog 002

But really…..my garden is mostly getting better every year. I’m having a great time with it, and I feel so good about growing local organic produce. I’ve learned so much about gardening the last few years, and other bloggers have inspired me. And I still love the Mariners no matter what–probably NEXT year we will be in the post-season. Plus I am even a bigger fan of their local minor league affiliate, the Everett Aqua Sox, and they are at the top of their league. So all in all, a good summer of gardening and baseball.

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How (not) blogging is like (not) exercising

If you’ve ever started an exercise plan with all of the enthusiasm in the world, then quit for a while, you know….it’s hard to start back. I’ve been a dietitian for a long time, so I know what people think when they stop exercising–I’ll start again tomorrow, Monday, when the weather gets nice again, when my knee stops hurting, when I can find a workout partner……

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Well, I have discovered that blogging can work like that. I stopped blogging last August–not a planned thing. Somehow I just didn’t blog one week, then another, then pretty soon I was thinking…..after I get caught up at work, after Thanksgiving, after Christmas, maybe in the new year. Just thinking about the blog inspired guilt. Then it got scary to think about opening up the blog and writing something (don’t ask me why, did I think WordPress had a crew of writers on standby to start jeering or nagging?) No, that didn’t happen; I even remembered my password, and when I opened the blog, it was still there with no nagging words.blog 006

So, back to blogging. And just like re-starting exercise, it feels good. But it also feels like a slightly scary beginning. Will anyone remember me? Will anyone read this?

So, a brief review. This is a blog about sustainable (the planet part) nutrition (the plate part). My goal is to give some information, and hopefully also give some ideas for changes that are reasonable and do-able. Not that I expect anyone to take ALL of my suggestions–I’m a mom, after all, I know better. But if readers can make some changes to eat more healthfully and more sustainably, then I will feel this is all worthwhile.

And by the way, that mom part. I have an addition to that–now I’m a grandma as well. In fact, Aubrey’s birth was part of the reason the blog came to a temporary halt. She’s basically a perfect baby, and I can talk about her endlessly like every other adoring grandma. However, I promise not to make her a blogging topic after today. But she has given me even more incentive to try to work on keeping our planet a healthy place for generations to come.

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Zucchini “carrot” cake

Isn’t everyone looking for zucchini recipes this time of year? I am, for a change. For the first time ever–tada!–I am successfully growing zucchini. So now you know my claim of being a barely-competent gardener is true. I always have felt like the only person alive who can’t seem to get the hang of zucchini growing. But this year I have three beautiful plants, worthy of landscaping and also quite productive.

zucchini success

So what is the key to my success? Want some gardening tips? I wish I knew. Maybe it’s in a sunnier spot, maybe I am watering more consistently, maybe it’s because they are planted right next to pollinator-attracting flowers. Random gardeners like me seldom have any definitive answers.

We like the very small zucchini, sliced raw in our green salads. Of course I have discovered that you don’t always catch these squash in the small stage. You experienced growers know that somehow a huge zucchini can be very sneaky and hide in plain sight.

easily missed and growing fast…..

Here’s a good use for a giant zucchini. This is just a carrot cake recipe with one key ingredient substitution. I made this for a family birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and those who were not in the know (I won’t mention any names) just assumed it was carrot cake. This is really a delicious cake, and I don’t even really like cake.

Zucchini “carrot” cake

Combine in large bowl and mix thoroughly with whisk:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you can use regular whole wheat, but whole wheat pastry flour is finer grain, and better for cakes and cookies)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Beat with whisk until light and fluffy:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar

Gradually beat in until thoroughly combined:
1 cup oil

Add dry ingredients, stirring until well blended.

Stir in 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (peel and remove seeds before grating)

Bake at 375 in well-greased tube or Bundt pan for about an hour, or in a 13×9 pan for about 40 – 50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan.

Make your own frosting; it really only takes a few minutes. Canned ones have tons of additives and are packaged in plastic–not sustainable. It’s easy to make homemade:

Blend 1/2 of a 8-oz package of softened low-fat cream cheese, 1 tablespoon of milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Gradually beat in a 1-pound box of powdered sugar and a little more milk. I am not exact about amounts; I just add powdered sugar and milk till it’s the consistency I want. See…wasn’t that simple?

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Gardening as entertainment

I don’t have much of a gardening history. I didn’t grow up gardening. And now that I am an enthusiastic–if not entirely competent–gardener, I am pleasantly surprised at just how entertaining gardening can be. Things just don’t always turn out like you expect, and that is fun. All right, I admit that I am easily entertained. But you just have to smile at my sunflowers, don’t you?

How did these sunflowers get so tall?

A friend gave me some sunflower seeds, and I planted them around the peach tree, thinking that they would pollinate the squash plants below. I got back from vacation and they had grown about 4 feet in 3 weeks, and haven’t stopped yet. My second-grade neighbor asked me if I had planted magic seeds. I don’t know what kind of sunflowers they are….a local bank give-a-way, not much label info. One problem….no flowers. A bit of yellow FINALLY appeared on August 28, and now on September 3 I have two flowers, with a third one about to bloom. Truly, they look ridiculous, but they are entertaining. How did they get so tall? Will they every bloom? Are those bees just too far away to pollinate the squash? And what about those magic seeds?

I have had fun with the nasturtiums, too. I’ve made a lot of green salads this summer, with nasturtiums included (yes, they are edible and tasty), and everyone always comments on how pretty the salads are. Easy, pretty, simple to grow, and they are good at filling in gaps in the garden. Why is this the first year I have grown them? Cheap entertainment.

Front-yard blueberries

And what could be more fun than walking out the front door to pick blueberries for your breakfast cereal?

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Local foods across the U.S.

August–the sun is out in the Pacific Northwest. Such a rarity, I have to spend all my time outside. But now it’s time to get back to blogging.

We recently returned from a three-week road trip covering a lot of the United States. Pacific Northwest to Colorado, to the midwest, to part of the south (well, I think of Tennessee and Arkansas as the south anyway….), and back across. I LOVE traveling through the U.S., wonderful people everywhere, and geography covering everything from mountains to plains. And I was so encouraged to see that the local foods movement is prevalent everywhere we went.

My first surprise was the fantastic farmer’s market in Lincoln, Nebraska. And there were farmer’s markets everywhere, small towns, large cities, filled with friendly farmers and much more interesting produce that you can find in the grocery store. I wasn’t even really searching for farmer’s markets, but they were advertised and obvious.

Farmer’s market in Little Rock, Arkansas

And here’s a unique roadside vegetable stand in Wisconsin. Total trust with this unmanned stand; just put your money in the pay slot. Love the midwest.

Vegetable stand near Baldwin, Wisconsin

And there was even a community garden in Baldwin, Wisconsin, my husband’s very small hometown.

Love these community gardens showing up everywhere

I saw lots of restaurants featuring local foods, and I already wrote about local foods at the ballpark in Little Rock, Arkansas.

But I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture here. In spite of all of these hopeful signs, the industrial food system is still alive and well. Every large town freeway exit has several fast food restaurants. As I pondered this depressing fact, I realized that really a once-or-twice weekly farmer’s market, even if it is very crowded, can’t really compete with all-day every-day fast food. Sigh. And yet….we are making progress. In 2012, there were 7864 farmer’s markets in the U.S., a 9.6 % increase from 2011 when there were 7175. And that year was a 17% increase from 2010. Thank you, farmers, market organizers, community gardeners, and everyone else helping us build a healthy food community.

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