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My pickle journey began on a crisp January day this year. I was flipping though Annie’s Heirloom Seed Catalogue, while fantasizing about warm weather and all the stuff I wanted to grow in the garden.

Me: “Hey! We could grow corn and make our own popcorn!!”

El-D Squidward: “No.  The deer will eat it.”

Me: “Then we need to plant enough for the deer to eat too! What could be better than homegrown popcorn!?”

El-D Squidward: “Being dead…or anything else.” (ok, maybe he didn’t say that part exactly, but the sentiment was expressed in the look he gave me.)

I continued flipping pages in the catalogue and came to the page with cucumbers.  Homemade pickles! I kept this thought to myself, lest I be told a plague of cucumber-eating locust were expected this year.

I pondered pickles for few months, then ordered the seeds for Boston Pickling Cucumbers.  The date was March 24th.

I planted them on May 6th. Little fuzzy plants began pulling themselves out of the ground a few weeks later.hanging on

 

El-D saw them coming up and built them a fancy trellis.  On May 11th it occurred to me that  I really needed to be growing dill if I was going to make pickles, so I planted some.

As the cucumber blossoms started turning into fruit, I realized  that this pickle thing might acutally happen.  The search for recipes began in earnest. I watched the Good Eats episode on pickle making as part of my research because Alton Brown is THE MAN.

cucumber 2016

After painstaking research, I finally decided on  Curbstone Valley Farm’s Classic Dill Pickle recipe.  Four stores later, I had managed to acquire almost all the ingredients.  (Where the heck does one find juniper berries??).

Today, pickle preparation began. Today alone was a 5 hour labor of love.

pickle fixins

I have the scalded skin to show for it.  Seven months after the pickle idea popped into my head, I have this…

pickles

<cue angels singing here>

 

 

Sing it with me y’all!

…and now I only have three weeks to wait.  This batch will be ready August 2. *sigh*

Dana of Zona Pellucida seduced me into making homemade sauerkraut recently.

It’s not entirely her fault.  The Angry Russian is also to blame.  To this day he raves about his dad’s homemade kraut, which was made in huge barrels with yellow apples.  When I started reading about candida, sugar,  the digestive system and probiotics, my kraut fate was sealed. I had to grow some bacteria myself.

 image

The other day I popped open the first jar. It bubbled and gurgled its fermented secrets at me.

It’s ALIVE!!!

I love having these sorts of mad-scientist moments with my food.  I’m pretty useless, even dangerous, when it comes to working the normal kitchen gadgetry (e.g., ovens, microwaves, knives, etc.), but I excel at stuff that takes days in dark places to transform (See Sprout it Out Loud for additional evidence of my culinary nerdiness).

So anyway, I shared a serving of the kraut with The Angry Russian. His rapt expression at first bite made all the trouble worth the while.  I have another jar still fermenting and I will definitely be making another batch.  Maybe with apples.

One of the blogs I read, Garden Variety, featured artist Lynn Karlin today. You can check out her gorgeous work in the link below:

On a Pedestal | Lynn Karlin’s Vegetable Art.

9-3-13 001

Here is a list of stuff I’ve recently traded for the fresh eggs of Myrtle, Pearl, Gertrude, and Freebird:

1. two jars of homemade pickles

2. a loaf of whole grain organic bread

3. two hands full of home grown green beans

4. a bag of home grown cucumbers

5. a bag of home grown jalapeños and bell peppers

Also, a friend recently offered to house/dog/cat/duck/chicken sit if and when I ever go out of town again, in exchange for fresh eggs.

Personally, I find this an impressive list given I’ve had the girls less than a month. The farmy bartering makes me downright giddy. Let it go down on the record that I have not eaten any of the eggs myself. I gave up eggs January 11, 2011 as a strange experiment with “enlightenment.” On a side note, when I just went back to find the link to the first blog post in which I announced this decision, I realized that the date translates to 1-11-11 . I suppose I won’t be forgetting that date again. It wasn’t an intentional “oooh-here’s-a-date-with-a-buncha-ones-in-it,-let’s-do-something-crazy” sort of decision.  But apparently it was a good date for new beginnings, especially since the post I wrote right before that one was aptly named Conflict and Crisis.

a mama carrying her silver orb

a mama carrying her silver orb

On another tangential note…2 years, 10 months, and 1 day after beginning my enlightenment quest, my mother and I are still driving each other nutters. (Hi Mom!)

Looking back, it’s funny to see all the obvious patterns you missed as you’re moving through a life unfolding in real time. It’s also a little embarrassing. There I was, ego bare, for all to see.

And here I am still….

*TaDA!*

I wonder what obvious things I’m missing even now that I will look back on someday and snicker about.

duck eggs

duck eggs

The self-imposed egg prohibition was largely a symbolic gesture, which I attempted to explain many times to others (and to myself), as in the post: The Incredible Inedible Egg.  In spite of all this, it has never made much sense to any of us I’m afraid.  As a result I caught a lot of flack from family members who were baffled, horrified, or just plain outraged by my perceived havoc-wrecking habits on our family feasting functions.

My life is so different now from when I started all this. I am different. And I am the same. As life continues to unfold in real time, one pattern that has not escaped my notice is the irony.  For someone who has worked so hard to avoid eating eggs, I’m now surrounded by them being laid before me on a daily basis.  This certainly wasn’t planned, but it is welcomed.

 

darkness

A spiritual practice is one that brings us full circle – not to a new self, but rather back to the essence of our true selves.                                                                   

-Rolf Gates

 

berriesIn the garden I did no crime.

–Tori Amos

The raspberry bush has been sputtering out berries this summer and I’ve been racing the birds to get them.  It’s our relatively peaceful version of The Hunger Games. Victori spolia.

Did you know that the raspberry fruit is not a true berry? Neither did I until I read a report from Cornell Univeristy. The fruit is apparently an “aggregate of many individual drupelets” with each drupelet being “anatomically analogous to a cherry.”

Who knew?

My garden raspberries are different from the ones I buy at the store. They are sun-warmed, sweeter, and burstier.  Each of their drupelets is an explosion of sunlight, frogsong, and butterfly wings on the tongue. They have virtually no shelf life. Frogsongs fade fast when plucked from the earth; you must eat them while their echos still vibrate to taste the music.

Berries in general are highly perishable. There’s a significant loss of vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidants within just a couple days of harvest. So I’ve been inventing ways to infuse my cells with berry goodness as often as possible.  Here are just a few of my favorite berry treats.

july 20 2013 011

While they need no accompaniment, sometimes it’s fun to let them frolic with friends.  It’s really fun to sing along with Tori Amos’ Raspberry Swirl as I spin them around in a blender.  I toss in strawberries, a squeeze of lemon, a squirt of lime, and a splash of cranberry juice and grape juice.

This concotion makes yummy popsicles.  I call them Raspberry Zingers.

july 20 2013 014

Sometimes I throw in a little peach to a get different texture.  After filling the popsicle molds, I add a dallop of yogurt and a dash of milk to whatever is left in the blender to make a smoothie.

Fun fact: The phytonutrients in raspberries and strawberries have anti-inflammatory properties when consumed regularly (about three times a week).

Another fun way to get my berry bliss on and to make myself feel incredibly fancy in the process is with “spa water.”

july 20 2013 012

The idea is to send sliced fruit floating in water for hours to infuse the water with flavor. I’ve been experimenting with variations, but so far my favorite is sliced up strawberries, squished raspberries, cucumber, a little squirt of lime (or sometimes lime slices), and fresh mint.  This week the pineapple basil is making a spectacular comeback after the rain we’ve had, so I added a few leaves. It’s tasty!

Fun fact: Raspberries are rich in vitamin C, fiber, and vitamin K.  They also contain folate, vitamin E, and potassium.

I can’t unsee it.

–El D

The Hungry Raptor

The Hungry Raptor

My beautiful mistress demanded another blood sacrifice this week.

Hiram, our only boy duck that had manners, was taken out by a hungry raptor.

I was headed to work when I met the brazen beast near my car  in the midst of his macabre meal.  At first sight I was so captivated by the hawk’s beauty and proximity that it was all I could see.  I didn’t process the life being extinguished beneath his talon. And then, all at once I did, as the flood of life’s drama rushed in – the hunger, the struggle, and the sacrifice of one life for another.

Sacrifice.  When I was a child, the word conjured terrifying Biblical images of a world that made no sense: Abraham binding his son Isaac, slaughtered lambs, and gruesome crucifixions.  Such interesting tales told to Sunday school children.

Over the years, my understanding of the concept has deepened. When I became a vegetarian I began practicing what the word meant in action: to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” I gave up my taste for flesh so that another life might go on for awhile longer.

My current lesson comes in noun form, “the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.”

Within the linguistic roots of the word sacrifice is the word sacred.  That tangle of meanings is there for good reason.  The life and death of one thing is contained within the seed of another.  Everything must eventually give way for what comes next in Life’s yearning for itself.

This brings me to the topic of the Japanese beetles.  The scarabs are pretty; their shells are an iridescent mix of greens and golds.  However, they don’t belong here. These interlopers have been fornicating all over the roses and eating up the petals and leaves. Last season I came to the conclusion that while they’re pretty, they don’t smell nearly as good as the flowers,  so I poisoned them.  Then I questioned myself about the ethics of a vegetarian destryoing a happy bug’s life — and about poisoning the air, ground, and plants with hazardous chemicals.  Skattur suggested I pick the bugs off, pack them in a box, and ship them back to Japan.  I entertained this fantastic idea briefly, then I decided to pick them off and feed them to the ducks, who seem quite satisfied with this exotic delicacy.

The first harvest of the season comes at the heels of all this sacrificial obeisance.

june 21 010

I managed to pick about a dozen blueberries before the bushes became just another elaborate system for feeding winged-things.

We have also managed to salvage some lettuce, radishes, and a few raspberries, which made a pretty salad.

july 7 2012 001

Here’s what was on last week’s menu.   You can following the links (in bold) for recipes.

january 2012 004

quinoa and avocado salad

Wednesday

Breakfast: Vanilla yogurt on toffee granola topped with fresh raspberries, and tea.  As far as nutrition, we’ve got calcium, fiber, iron and B-12.  The raspberries add a little extra  fiber,  vitamin C and a whole lot of yum.

Lunch: Arugula salad (picked fresh!) with oil and vinegar dressing, flatbread, and an orange.

Dinner: Ok, I admit this is an odd combination — corn chips and guacamole and a side of grilled asparagus.

 

Thursday

Breakfast: Vanilla yogurt on toffee granola topped with fresh raspberries, and tea.

Lunch: Annie’s Shells & Cheese with fresh steamed broccoli.

Snack: Rice pudding

Dinner: a 3-ounce fillet of salmon, sauteed squash, and 1/2 an avocado.  Yes, I ate fish. This was the main source of my B-12 this week.

 

Friday

Breakfast: Vanilla yogurt on toffee granola topped with fresh raspberries, and tea.

Lunch: Vanilla yogurt on toffee granola topped with fresh raspberries.  Again!  It’s that good.

Dinner: Eggplant parmesean and a salad.

Dessert: Eggless chocolate cake.

 

Saturday

Breakfast: Leftover chocolate cake and tea.

Lunch: Homemade yeast roll drenched in butter and honey.  I know — sugar, sugar, sugar!

Dinner: Blackbean tortillas, salsa, cheese dip and salad.

Dessert: Eggless apple cake.

 

Sunday

Breakfast: Leftover apple cake.

Lunch: El-D’s amazing vegetable soup with yeast rolls.

Dinner: Sharky’s for El-D’s birthday.  I had fried oysters, a bit of fried fish, and edamame and corn succotash.

 

Monday

Breakfast: Vanilla yogurt on toffee granola topped with fresh raspberries.

Lunch: Quinoa and avocado salad.

Dinner: El-D’s amazing vegetable soup.

 

Tuesday

Breakfast: Yeast roll with butter and honey.

Lunch: Bombay House vegetarian lunch buffet. I treated myself to my comfort food.

Dinner: Mushroom stroganoff and roasted cauliflower.

 

Wednesday

Breakfast: Peanutbutter on crackers.

Lunch: Popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast.

Dinner: Not sure yet.

 

A Week in the Food Life of a Vegetarian

First a disclaimer: I am not a dietician! Please consult with someone more knowledgable if you want medical advice about your diet.  I am merely a carnivore turned (mostly) vegetarian, trying to find my way in a meat-eater’s world.

I say I am “mostly” vegetarian because I have added the occasional dash of seafood (usually one meal a week) to my diet to get vitamins B-12 and D.  For example, just a few ounces of shellfish (e.g., oysters) are loaded with B-12. There are other ways to get these vitamins, but my personal preference in avoiding malnutrition does not involve chugging milk by the gallon nor ingesting tablets made in a lab or factory.

So this week I’m posting what’s been on this vegetarian’s menu.  If folks want recipes, maybe El-D will provide them, ’cause he’s the chef around here.

Friday Breakfast: I skipped it.  Bad me.

Friday Lunch: Veggie plate at the Silver Caboose, which included cream corn, okra and tomatoes, and sweet potato casserole.

Friday Dinner: Mushroom Stroganoff.  (You can click the bold link for the recipe.  Scroll down it’s the second recipe. It’s delicious.)

Saturday Breakfast: Waffle with maple syrup and a banana smoothie. I know he uses Bob’s Old Mill Waffle mix, Flax seed meal, and EnerG Egg replacer (in place of eggs) for the waffles.  Oh, and rum — El-D recently informed me he also puts homemade vanilla rum in those waffles.  Who knew? The banana smooth is easy – he just tosses about 5 frozen bananas in the blender with about a cup of almond milk.  He garnishes the smoothie with nutmeg and honey.

Saturday Lunch: Bombay House — This is my absolute favorite Indian restaurant in Memphis.  They know how to make hearty vegetarian fare.  I call it my “comfort food.” I feasted on the buffet, which included Aleo Tiki (I call ’em potato fritters), Mushroom Bhaji, Sag Paneer (a creamy spinach), Aloo Bangan (eggplant), Naan (flat pancake-like bread), and Desert Burfi, Rice Pudding, and Chai.

Saturday Dinner: I ate so much for lunch that I didn’t need dinner.  I may have eaten some popcorn as a snack.  I don’t remember.

Sunday Breakfast: Amish Friendship rolls smothered with butter and cranberry-strawberry preserves with tea.

Sunday Lunch/Dinner: El-D’s amazing homemade carmelized onion pizza.

Monday Breakfast: Amish Friendship rolls smothered with butter and cranberry-strawberry preserves with tea.

Monday Lunch: El-D’s leftover amazing homemade carmelized onion pizza with grape juice.

Monday Dinner: Amish Friendship rolls smothered with butter and cranberry-strawberry preserves.

Tuesday Breakfast: Amish Friendship rolls smothered with butter and cranberry-strawberry preserves with tea.

Tuesday Lunch: Two plums and two flatbread crackers with tea.

Tuesday Dinner: Blackbean and avocado dip wraps.

So that’s the last five days of my food life.  I’ve probably consumed enough sugar to kill a hummingbird.  I’m not sure if this qualifies as “healthy” but it’s been really, really tastey!

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.

–Charles Dickens

Today was exactly like that quote from Charles Dickens.

Spring Break was a couple weeks ago. Quite suddenly the frenetic pace in which I have grown accustomed to functioning, came to a screeching halt. Then there was silence and time. I can’t remember when I had such a vast expanse of both.

Last year at this same time I was learning new ways to kneel and kiss the ground even as that ground was spinning away beneath my wheels and shifting beneath my feet.  Prayers were being flung to the heavens. Finally, the ground gave way and I poured right through the hourglass into a completely different life. And here I am.

This year I am learning to operate at a slower pace.  The curriculum is challenging, but the lessons are definitely worth the while….as well as delicious!    El Diablo made these fluffy rolls this week the slow way.

Amish Friendship Bread

Amish Friendship Rolls

They took *forever.*

Piping hot and drenched with melted butter and maple syrup as they were, I ate entirely too many of them.

Now, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry bushes are ready to be planted. This season’s new seeds will be planted soon, along with the seeds collected from last year’s garden.

seeds for the planting

seeds for the planting

As we are making way for slow food, I’m remembering some of the things I read in Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about how to rely less on fossil fuels through the food choices we make. So I leave you today with food for thought.

  • Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars.
  •  The average food item on a U.S. grocery shelf has traveled farther than most families go on their annual vacations…. an average of 1,500 miles….
  • If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.

–Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Arugula, freshly picked

Arugula, freshly picked

I’m the black sheep vegetarian in a family of meat eaters. It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it.

This is not a brand new thing.  It’s been two years since I converted. Still, when I get invitations to family functions they say things like this:

We’re having a party. I know you don’t eat x or y…or z — good lord aren’t you starving yet?? Well, you can come anyway.

I swear I am not trying to wreck havoc on people’s dinner parties (unlike The Good Greatsby, whose humorous post can be found HERE). I don’t mean to be difficult, but I might be a little complicated. The vegetarian thing is just what makes sense in my heart and in my head.  I’ve tried to explain it all, but I obviously haven’t really done a good job of it because just a week ago I was asked (again):

So…I still don’t understand…are you doing this for religious reasons or what?

And then there was there was the following exchange with the Resident Teaologist, who when preparing lunch couldn’t find what she needed:

Resident Teaologist: You said you had arugula, so I didn’t get any at the store, but I don’t see any in the fridge…

Me: That’s because it’s out in the yard.

Resident Teaologist:….oh.

So we go out to the yard to pick the arugula.  She stares at it and says,

It’s so weird that you are about to eat something that was just growing in your ground.

I had to giggle. That this bewilders others bewilders me.  How did we ever get so far removed from our food? And what have we lost as a result of this distance?  And what exactly have we gained?

Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm — which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of American farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems.

–Wendell Berry

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