Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Review: Uncertain Peril

"Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds" (ugh! What is it with these subtitles?) by Claire Hope Cummings is all about seeds – a topic to which I’d given very little thought. It was so interesting that I want to share it all, but I’ll try to resist.

The history of seeds goes all the way back to Genesis. For most of history, farmers have carefully bred new variations and saved their best seeds, but somewhere along the way, seeds became privatized and patented. "Uncertain Peril" is about what has happened as a result. I found the subject both fascinating and infuriating!

Cummings tells stories of seeds in different places: how we ruined farming in Iraq, how GMO (genetically modified) contamination showed up in corn planted by Zapotec Indians deep in the jungles of Mexico, and how Hawaii’s papaya industry was decimated by GMO papaya patented by Hawaii’s own university. She describes how a few large corporations get rich manipulating agriculture and make farmers here and abroad subservient when they used to be independent. The scariest part of the book concerns GMO seed which is largely untested for health risks (but likely to have them), contaminating other plants and recklessly handled by greedy corporations. Our elected officials could easily put a stop to it, but they don’t.

I’ve noticed a recurring theme in ecological books that I’ll simplify as "East" vs. "West." East represents the whole, the community, and native cultures while West represents the parts, the individual and western civilization. Western thought led to technology, antibiotics, standardization and conventional agriculture. Eastern thought led to the environmental movement, herbal remedies, diversity and organic farming. Clearly we benefit from them both, but West usually dominates over East. Cummings argues that Eastern thought and organic farming methods have the potential to save the world from the damage done by Western industrial agriculture. Like Kunstler of "The Long Emergency," she believes there will be a rise in diversity and locality as oil becomes more scarce. Let’s hope so.

I highly recommend "Uncertain Peril." It’s not exactly light reading, but it’s a fascinating and important topic. Just take your blood pressure meds first. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Question of the day

Munchkin's diction is practically perfect, but he still has a little trouble with the letters "l" and "r" at the beginning of a word. That led to the following exchange...

Munchkin: Mommy, how many woeses is there?

Me: How many roses?

Munchkin: Woeses. Big box stores that have tools.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Say, "Cheese!"

On a recent visit to the library, I picked up "How are You Peeling?" by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers. It is a collection of pictures of fruits and veggies as I'd never seen them before! My intent was to use the book as a launching point for discussions about feelings in the wake of our recent tragedy, but that didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. Instead, it led to our own experimentation in the kitchen.

Mass-produced grocery store produce works fine, but for best results you really need to start with the more interesting shapes that can be found at farmers' markets. Rating: 5 out of 5 for creativity. Recommended as a fun activity to do with your kids!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'll enjoy it while it lasts...

Munchkin and his grandparents were driving around town when they noticed a worksite being prepared for a new store. Munchkin told them the name of the store that was going to be built. Surprised, his grandparents asked how he knew that. Munchkin said, "Mommy told me."

They asked, "Is your mommy really smart?"

Munchkin answered, "Mommy knows everything, but she doesn't know where heaven is."

Friday, July 25, 2008

OLS #8 Taco Casserole

For our local meal this week, I baked one of Scott's favorites. I don't often post recipes, but this one's really good so I'll include instructions of how I made "Taco Casserole." Adjust the quantities to your needs.

Taco Casserole

1/2 bag of corn chips (non-local, sorry. I've tried to make my own with leftover tortillas, but they just don't taste as good)
1 onion, chopped (farmers' market)
1/3-1/2 pound ground beef ( I used local grass-fed beef, but I've substituted ground pork or turkey and no one's ever noticed.)
1/2 - 1 cup refried beans (I made my own with all local ingredients a while back and then froze it into portions. If you use canned refried beans, they will spread more easily if you freeze them first.)
4 tsp taco seasoning (I mix my own.)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I use local Tillamook.)
3-4 leaves lettuce, sliced (picked and mangled by the preschooler)
1 tomato, chopped (farmers' market)

Cook onion and ground beef until meat is no longer pink. Add taco seasoning and 1/3 cup water and simmer until you need it. In an 8x8 baking dish, crush tortilla chips into bite-size pieces. Spread refried beans over chips. Spread ground beef mixture over refried beans and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Top with sliced lettuce and tomato just before serving. Serves 3 with leftovers if the littlest one decides he only likes the meat.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Question of the day

"Mommy, do bears like peanut butter?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

One Local Summer recap

This week I was asked to help out with the recap for the western region of the One Local Summer local foods challenge. If you've never checked out the website, here's the link to my post. Summer foods are so much fun!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Daddy Store

This isn’t going to be an amusing "cute Munchkin"post this morning.

When I’m at my part-time job, Munchkin normally spends time with his grandparents. But when they travel, sometimes for months at a time, then he spends time with another family. This family has six children ages 2-15 and Munchkin absolutely adores them, especially the 10-year-old boy. They’re kind of a rent-a-bunch-of-siblings for Munchkin and he’s spent so much time at their house that he now knows the whole family much better than we do, even though I’ve known the parents since college days.

At 2:00 AM Monday morning the dad, who is my age, had a heart attack and died. We can’t even begin to fathom what this family is going through right now, and Munchkin can’t get his little head around it, either. Last night he told us that they could go to the "daddy store" and buy a new daddy. When we tried to explain that that’s not possible, he insisted, "There’s daddy stores all over."

Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, July 21, 2008


The other day, Munchkin and I were in a grocery store and needed to go upstairs. Since I had him in the cart, we rode the elevator. When the door opened, we followed two boys who looked to be about age 10 and 12 into the elevator. As soon as the door shut, Munchkin started talking. I have to paraphrase a little, but he said, in his perfect diction, "We went to the vacuum cleaner store! The belt on our vacuum cleaner burned up! There was smoke! It was smelly! The belt broke and we had to go to the vacuum cleaner store to get a new one!"

To which the 10-year-old replied, "Coooool!"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mystery plant (a little bigger)

OK, you garden detectives out there! My mystery plants are growing vigorously! Well, the first one is growing vigorously -- I'm afraid we'll never know for sure what the other one was because I forgot to water it and it died. Sorry. Did I mention I wasn't much of a gardener?

Anyway, the guesses on the remaining plant were: squash (crookneck?), melon (watermelon?) and cucumber. I ended up with about 20 plants, so I thinned them out this evening. The roots weren't deep and I didn't recognize the smell on my hands so I know for sure it's not zucchini. If you're new to this challenge and want to see what the seedlings looked like, click here. Anybody want to update their guess? Can you rule anything out?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hi everybody,

I've got a new post up the Blogging Bookworm about my top five recommended "green reads." You can get there from the link in my sidebar (Blogroll - The Blogging Bookworm), or you can click here.

I'm having fun posting on the Bookworm one week each month (well, OK, this is my first week). Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

OLS #7 from our new favorite farm

This morning I went through the classifieds looking for a place Munchkin and I could go cherry picking. I called the farm we used last year and the conversation went something like this...

Me: Hi! Do you still have u-pick cherries?
Them (sounding like Eeyore): Well, they're almost all gone and you have to use a ladder to get to the tops of the trees to pick what's left, but I suppose you could still come.

So I tried someplace else...
Me: Hi! Do you still have u-pick cherries?
Them (cheery): Oh, our trees are loaded! We have the best crop we've ever had and they're hanging so low even kids can pick them!

What was even better, was that when we got there and the lady showed us around, she pointed out four varieties including our absolute favorite, Rainiers! She told us to make sure to sample from each tree before we started picking so we could choose the best tasting cherries. Munchkin and I picked a lot. And I had to hold branches down for him, but the cherries were hanging so low that even a 3-year-old could reach them. After we finished picking, I bought the rest of the produce we need for the week from their farm stand including just-picked corn.

Tonight's dinner was easy:
Local grass-fed beef cube steaks - I get these in a "package" deal from my butcher and I never know what to do with them. This time I broiled them and basted with BBQ sauce (non-local). They were OK.
Fresh corn on the cob - our new favorite farm.
Big bowl of fresh Rainier cherries - hand picked this morning.

We're going to snack on fresh cherries until the weekend, when my husband wants to make Cherry Garcia ice cream (the recipe is from the Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book) and I want to attempt my first cherry jam.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not to make you jealous or anything, but...

Here's where we went on our camping trip.
I'm back, but still getting unpacked.

Friday, July 11, 2008

One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry

If you're reading this, I'm probably already "Gone Camping." I'll be back online next Wednesday, so I'll leave you with a picture of my little blueberry picker 'til then!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

OLS #6 Two local meals

We had two local meals this week. The first was my favorite. After blueberry picking, I decided to make blueberry pancakes for dinner. I use a recipe from a darling little book of Andrew’s called, "Pancakes for Breakfast," by Tomie DePaola. It’s a wordless book except for the recipe, but it tells the story of a farmer lady who decides, well, to make pancakes for breakfast. It’s a great book for talking to kids about where food really comes from, but this is supposed to be a cooking post, not a book review. Back from my bunny trail...

The pancakes were made from a mix of local whole wheat pastry flour and non-local organic flour, local eggs, local milk, local butter, hours-old blueberries and topped with local butter and maple syrup. They were accompanied by fried bacon from our pig (that pig gets into a lot of meals, doesn’t it!). The maple syrup was a gift from one of Scott’s co-workers who took a trip to Canada recently. It was so much better than Trader Joe’s that I now have a problem. We’re hoping to go to Victoria as part of our vacation, though, so maybe I can get some more...

The second dinner was Scott’s favorite. I cooked a grass-fed London broil in a from-scratch marinade. With it, we had mashed potatoes made from Farmers’ market potatoes, local milk, local butter and local cheese, and we also had Farmers’ market zucchini. The only non-local ingredients were in the marinade. It was delicious, and somehow I managed to save some leftover meat for a stir fry and quesadillas this week, which probably also both count as local meals, but who's counting?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monkey see, monkey do

We have a new favorite book in our house called, "Jamberry," by Bruce Degen. Filled with cute little rhymes (One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry) and even cuter pictures, it tells the adventures of a boy, a bear, and a whole lot of berries. If you have kids under the age of about 8, I highly recommend it.

This morning I took Munchkin blueberry picking. He had his own little basket, and when I paid for the berries at the farm stand, the lady put Munchkin's berries into his own little bag. (If anyone's wondering, yes, a 3-year-old can eat a whole pint of blueberries by himself. Maybe more.) Anyway, on the drive home I overheard Munchkin recite, "Hatberry, shoeberry, in my canoeberry!" My mommy radar went off just in time to see Munchkin, shoes off, trying to pour his little bag of blueberries into his sneaker.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July!

(Wish I'd taken this picture myself, but I found it here.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

OLS #5: Sixth Time’s the Charm!

After the cheesemaking class, I just had to try making mozzarella one more time. (Those who’ve followed my blog for a while already know that I’ve figured out many, many ways how not to make mozzarella.) Armed with the knowledge of what it is supposed to look like, a new set of instructions and to my total surprise, the milk turned into cheese! It wasn’t quite as smooth and "squeaky" as the instructor’s, but I’ll chalk that up to my lesser experience. The point was, it worked! It tasted pretty good, too! It’s different from store mozzarella, and I think that’s partially due to the absence of an additive called "lipase powder," which Rikki also sells.

It was so easy that I’m not totally sure what went wrong in my previous attempts. For the first time, the curd looked just like the picture, and maybe that made all the difference. The instructions I got from the teacher were based on Rikki’s, but I noticed three relevant changes: you use 2 tsp citric acid (instead of 1-1 ½), you let the curd sit for 10 minutes (instead of 3-5), and you turn the heat down to low while the curds are forming (instead of turning it off). I don’t know if those changes made the difference or if it was the rumored "cheese gods."
I made ricotta out of the remaining whey and used it in lasagna, which turned out fine, but not fantastic. The whey was supposed to be used in other baking this week, but, like every single time I’ve made cheese, I forgot all about it when I did my baking. Maybe my mystery vegetable starts will like it.

Anyway, for my One Local Summer meal this week, I used some of my freshly made mozzarella in homemade pizza. Everything was from scratch, although I still have yet to achieve a 100% local dinner. The crust included some of the last of my local whole wheat flour and the sauce was doctored up tomato sauce. Instead of grating, the cheese sort of crumbled, so I added some grated Tillamook cheddar to it (and a little grated Parmesan for flavor). I topped the pizza with fried bacon (our pig) and California olives (I don’t think they grow in Oregon). I also made an all-local green salad with backyard lettuce and farmers’ market veggies. The pizza was a hit with my family. Munchkin ate more than usual and my husband really liked it -- more than I did. After making my own cheese, I think I was expecting something a little more spectacular, but it was fine.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's (another) mystery! (Update)

My vegetable garden is pathetic. And it's not all my fault. Our previous neighbor, in an attempt to block the view of our backyard from his second story deck, planted some very fast growing trees. The result is no sun in our backyard after 12:30 pm. I could plant in the front yard, but I'd only be adding to the all-you-can-eat buffet for our deer.

Anyway, trying to improve the state of my garden, a week or so ago I dumped last year's compost pile on my garden and mixed it in. I thought if I couldn't get more sun, at least I could improve the condition of the soil. The compost wasn't completely done, but I didn't see why that would matter much under the circumstances.

Much to my surprise, I now have vegetable(?) seedlings growing where I dumped the compost. Can anybody out there in blogland identify these? (Update: Could the first one be watermelon?)