Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Tomato Story

Heirloom Plant:
An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during the earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing on popularity in the United States and Europe over the last decade.
-From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Last night we harvested our first homegrown heirloom tomato! Although this is only our second year of having a vegetable garden, my husband and I have really gotten into the whole experience and have been trying different varieties of vegetables testing to see what works, what doesn’t, and what starts better from seed or by plant.

Last year, we planted half of our vegetables by seed and the other half by plants from the nursery. The plants produced much faster than the seedlings, so we decided to plant entirely by nursery plants this year. I realized, at bit too late, that heirlooms are difficult to find in nurseries but are much easier to obtain by seed.

Needless to say, I planted seven varieties of tomatoes this year; one Roma, one Cherry, one called “Forest Fire,” two called “Oregon Spring,” and the only heirloom variety I could find, “Mr. Stripey.”

Since June we have been feasting off the Cherry tomatoes, the Oregon Springs and Forest Fire. The Roma took a bit longer but we finally got some in the beginning of July. All of these were quite good, although the Roma was a bit mealy, but perhaps that’s why it is a cooking tomato!

The heirloom variety took the longest to ripen, although it starting fruiting at the same time as the others. Finally, one looked like it was about ready. My husband would give me daily reports on its progress. We both had tasted heirlooms before but had never had one of our own. And, as far as we could tell, our homegrown hybrids tasted better than the heirlooms we had had.

Finally it looked ready! I decided a simple salad caprese would work best. I used the one heirloom along with a variety of our hybrids Dressed in a simple white wine vinaigrette and fresh mozzarella, the tomatoes even looked eager to be eaten!

We realized after only a few bites that there really wasn’t any competition at all! The heirloom won us over with a decidedly more delicate, sweet taste. I was also struck by undertones of a mineral quality. It was as though the tomato itself was vaguely translating the earth it had come from, making it its own. In contrast, it made the other tomatoes taste much more acidic and sharp, much less nuanced.

After dinner last night, we are converts. I am going to plan early, order seeds and plant as many heirloom varieties as I can find and have room for. It is amazing to me how just a little plot of ground can yield so much: so much food, so much knowledge, and so much happiness. I look at Babou as she picks her favorite (Cherry tomatoes) and am completely fulfilled; she too will have amongst her earliest memories the indescribable scent of tomatoes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ode to August

In summer, the song sings itself.
-William Carlos Williams

It is amazing, these days. So long and beautiful are mid-summer days. August is one of my most favorite months of summer. All of them have their own particular ambiance but August seems the month summer becomes quintessentially summer.

June feels so green and is still perfumed by the urgency of spring, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” Dylan Thomas would say. Furious growth, plants mean business in June, growing so quickly you would swear you could hear them crashing upwards.

July the frenzy mellows and you see the first signs of what the buzz has been about. The heat slows the growth deepening the moments. July is almost holding its breath.

But it is August that is nature’s exhale, translated as a contented sigh. August is a banquet, easy and effortless. Time slows and yet everything is happening. In August, to paraphrase William Carlos Williams, summer is the song itself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ten steps forward

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
-Edmund Burke

Last night I was reading the current issue of Body and Soul Magazine, a great syndication that has lots of useful information. One of my girlfriends has a subscription and passes the issues on to me after she is finished with them. I was exhausted from the day, glad Babou was finally asleep, and enjoying the evening quiet. As I paged through the magazine looking at pictures and titles more than reading, I found myself getting stressed out about how I measured up to these standards of health and environmentalism. Overwhelmed with information, advice, and healthiness. It made me feel as though I would never reach this pinnacle of enviro-health warrior this mag seemed to strive towards. It got me to thinking about simple changes I have made that were incorporated fairly easily into my life and that work for me and perhaps might be useful to some of you. Some of these ideas may not work for you and your life and lifestyle, but I think the point is more to do what you can do with what you’ve got. That’s really all any of us can do. I thought I would share what I do and hope you find it useful.

1. Go beyond the grocery store with your canvas bag.
Many are already hip to taking the canvas bag to the grocery store. I love it, I carry mine like a purse with my wallet inside and then just add my groceries after I pay. But I also like to take mine to other stores I go to. They work wherever you are going to buy things, from the bookstore to the clothes stores, to the drugstore, to the baby store…anywhere you can buy, you can use your tote. It’s easy and saves so many bags.
2. Recycle your paper bags as wrapping paper.
When you do forget your bag at the grocery store, as you will every so often, ask for paper and the next time you need to wrap a gift, cut open the paper bag and use the blank side to wrap with. Tie it up with some raffia and you have a beautiful, natural, recycled wrapping paper. I often add fresh flowers and herbs to enhance its naturalness and beauty. Remember, conventional bows and wrapping paper are not recyclable.
3. Keep your fruits and veggies loose.
So there you are in the veggie and produce area of your local grocery store. You reach for the plastic bag to put each type of produce you are getting. WHY? Keep it loose. Don’t waste those bags. You’re going to have to wash those veggies anyway and, as my friend “T” states; you are also paying for that bag when you get your produce weighed. I never use those baggies except for when I have to get lots of loose things like sun dried cranberries or couscous or something like that. And when you so have to get those little baggies, reuse them as saran wrap or sandwich bags, etc.
4. Use Castile or Dr. Bonners soap for everything.
Did you know that you can use this soap for everything from washing dishes to your clothes to your face? I use the Lavender kind for all my cleaning needs that include soap (except laundry—it’s too expensive, I get the Eos detergent from Costco). I use it to wash Babou, myself, my husband, the dog, the floors, the bathroom, just everything. I refill my container at Whole Foods (weigh your container empty first at customer service so that you pay only for the soap; not the container and soap). Without having to purchase different cleaners for different purposes (and nontoxic/environmentally friendly cleaners are not cheap) I am saving time, money, space, and doing my part to not put toxins down my drains.
5. Unplug everything you can every night and whenever you leave your home.
This is something that you don’t often think of but it really helps to conserve energy. Turning everything off at night, unplugging everything really does help keep energy costs down. It is an extra thing to think about, but worth it in the long run. Even if you have a hard time remembering on a day-to-day basis, when you leave for a trip it will make a huge difference.
6. Air-dry your clothes as much as possible.
I know that many do not have the space to dry their clothes outside but you can also amaze yourself sometimes with just how creative you can be. I don’t have a clothesline, but I hang my laundry off my back porch, on the picnic table, and over the chairs in the backyard. You can’t maybe do it all year round, but when you can it makes a huge difference and there is simply nothing nicer than going to sleep in a bed made in air dried sheets and comforter. It smells so much fresher than drier dried.
7. Buy recycled.
Thrift store and second hand shopping is environmentally friendly and economically friendly. I buy as many of my clothes as I can from second hand stores as well for Babou. I also buy many of her toys from the second hand children’s store in my town.
8. Walk as much as possible.
I am very lucky to live in a very central location in my town and since I am taking care of Isabella and my time is loosely my own, I walk almost everywhere I need to go. It helps me to feel independent of gas and gas prices and is fun to get out of the house and stroll around.
9. Don’t limit your organic purchases to produce, eggs, and dairy products; buy meats that have been raised humanely and sustainably.
It is expensive, but cutting down on meat consumption would probably do more good than harm. Fish and shellfish need to be thoughtfully purchased as well. Find a manual to see what is being sustainable caught and grown ( and be aware of fishing practices in other countries.
10. Plant some flowers.
I have been hearing so much about the bees disappearing and the need to study this decline and reverse it. It seems to me that logically there are now pockets of the US where there is really not much for a bee to live off of. I am not sure how far bees travel, but it seems to me there are less and less places for bees to have their hives and less and less plants for them to pollinate. For instance, the street I live on is a very busy one and most of the homes and businesses don’t have much for plants. My front yard was like this also until I had my husband build a large planter box to line the driveway and I put my pots of flowers on our deck. Now I see the next door neighbor has planted some roses and the owner of the Deli across the street has asked for seeds from my flowers to grace their bare parking lot. I am sure there will be a lot of bees happy about these additions to their diet.

There are just so many ways to make our presence less heavy on the earth. We are so much more than stewards of nature, we are nurturers of nature. Every person counts in this effort and there is no room for complacency. There is only room for everyone to do the best that you can every day, to the best of your ability and means. Every one of us has more of an impact than we can imagine and more ability to inspire than we can ever imagine. To quote one of my most inspirational influences, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Choose your own adventure

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

Life has been so busy going by that I have again neglected my one piece of sanity—my writing. Isn’t it funny (not very) how when life gets busy, you neglect the things that keep you together the most? It seems that way with me, at least. I always think, “if I can just get this and that and the other thing done THEN I can write and do the things I really enjoy. But life goes by and you realize that it is going by either way and you must take time to fulfill yourself. So simple a thought, yet so easily forgotten.

So what has been doing? I have a lot of catching up to do—lots of reading blogs and lots of my own writing to do. Well…let’s see…May was a month of visitors, parties, and general entertaining and busy-ness. Toe healed early in terrifying manner—while flipping mattress making the bed, my toenail got caught on a seam and the rest is history—it took the whole thing off. After the essential screaming had died down and I had time to think it over, I realized that it was really a blessing in disguise. My toe healed quickly and I started running again the next day. It still makes me shudder thinking about it though.

June was spent traveling and visiting. I got to go visit my sis Mary Alice and Rescue Ranger graduate high school. He is such a cool guy, no one can make me laugh like he can. He has this goofy sense of humor that I can totally relate to and he just cracks me up. It was just amazing to spend time with my sister and her family and see her life and children’s lives. It made me think a lot about the paths we take and where they lead and if they really don’t just all end in the same place that destiny has already chosen our destinations and perhaps we are only in charge of the route. I am excited to see the roads Rescue Ranger will explore, as well as the destinations life has planned for him.

It felt great to travel again, but it definitely left me depleted. Traveling with Babou was tiring both physically and mentally. My husband had to work so he couldn’t join me and it sure is a lot more luggage when you are traveling with a baby rather than alone. I remember going on trips for almost a month with nothing but a carry-on. Those days are over!

I finally got back home only to take a family vacation with the dog, husband, and baby. Wonderful but, again, logistically a lot to contend with. We camped on the middle fork of the Eel River, snorkeling, swimming, and napping. I love being outside for blocks of time, and I hope that love of nature and watching the day turn to night, the excitement of the first star, are instilled in Babou. I hope she appreciates those moments.

And July, finally home, we have been busy with work and gardening and the travails of potty training. Settling back into a more rhythmic domestic life, one whose epicenter is a home, not a car or airplane.

Sometimes I wonder why my life is so busy and random and changing—so different from many lives. Sometimes it bothers me but deep down I know I chose this road, that life is most fulfilling to me when every day is filled with adventure and possibility.