Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings: June 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Garden Update #13

A couple of notes before I start the Garden Update: First, thank you to all who commented on my last piece (and any musings piece for that matter), talking about issues of importance to me, touchy or otherwise, is therapeutic and always a learning experience, I hope you all feel that you get something out of our rants as well. I always hope for more dialogue, but understand that this is not why many of you come to this blog. However, if you have opinions (which I know you all do), whether you have something to add to the conversation or you disagree, please, please, don't be afraid to comment here. That is what we want when Brett and I rant or muse, we aren't just trying to put our opinions out there. You will not be chastised here, and rude or profane commentary will not be allowed, basically, what I am saying, is that if you have something to say, you have a safe outlet here, even if you disagree with us, we won't take it personally.

Secondly, please check out the challenges on the right side of the page, and seriously consider partaking in one. These challenges are an excellent way for us to reduce our consumption and live better with less. Doing these things in 'challenge' form is a good way for folks to get together to pledge to do something, be there for one another as a support and accountability network, and give tips and hints to make these challenges easier. The end result is simple, to reduce consumption and increase awareness, which doesn't end at the culmination of the challenge, at least my hope is to continue, beyond the challenges, to limit my consumption of the things that I minimized during the challenges.

Enough about all that though, on to the Garden Update and a wrap-up of this week's CSA/Farmer's Market Booty.

My lesson of the week this week is "respect and appreciate your farmers, they work very hard." As I noted in the last Garden Update, due to the seemingly constant rain we've gotten in the Midwest this year, the weeds and grass seem to be thriving, while the crops growth is stunted due to excess moisture. Yes, things are moving along, but I just had to note that the grass and weeds seem to be doing much better all around than any of the crops. So anyway, some serious weeding was in order and we needed to put down a much thicker layer of hay.

Now, our community garden is humble, we don't have the best tools and equipment. So weeding the garden involved Brett loosening up the grass and weeds with a half broken "Garden Weasel", and me scraping off the hay and broken plant detritus with a hoe. I also used the hoe to get the roots of the grass. This was hard work seriously, hard work. Our garden plot is small, and we were only at this for about an hour, but can home sore, and I have blisters and chafing all over my hands despite having worn gloves. I can't imagine what it's like to tend to larger areas even with equipment.

Which reminds me, I've been doing some research on permaculture, and though I can't do much now as we don't own our own place and we only have so much liberty with what we can do at the community garden, this is eventually what I would like to do. The positives seem to be endless with this type of agriculture, you work with the soil, with nature, with the plants, to create a living organism that will eventually be able to take care of itself. And small areas of land dedicated to permaculture can yield surprising quantities of food.

The container garden is doing excellent, well, aside from the broccoli, but more on that in a moment. The peppers haven't had to experience the negative effects of 'too much rain' this year, and the mild summer thus far has meant that not only do the plants have optimal growing temperatures, but between the mild temps and the Keep Yer Cool Challenge, we haven't had the window air conditioner running, drying out the soil.

We finally figured out what was stunting the growth of the broccoli and causing the leaves to yellow. Though we didn't find out until the culprits hatched and began eating the broccoli plants. The culprits were caterpillars, which we have removed. I think the broccoli might be beyond hope this point, but you live and you learn, right?

Here is some of their handy-work:

We also got our first peppers this weekend. I only got a picture of one, but we picked all the large peppers off of the banana pepper plants at the Community Garden. The pepper plants there are so short and look very unhealthy, Brett and I thought that maybe taking the peppers off would give them more energy to devote to plant, not pepper growth. We'll see.

This little guy went in another batch of our traditional vegan refried beans this weekend. The beans turned out super tasty. We love this recipe for refried beans as it's incredibly versatile. This week we plan on having bean burritos, taco salad, and Local Veggie Burritos again with the huge batch I cooked up over the weekend.

Check out the container garden:

Container banana peppers, moving along.

Cayenne peppers going nuts. I hope these start to ripen soon. I plan on dehydrating them and making ground cayenne and crushed red pepper out of them.

This chocolate bell pepper has grown so much this week!

Some pictures of all the Hungarian Wax Peppers. The last in the series of three pictures is the tiny pepper that was peeking out from behind a bloom last week. They don't stay little long, do they?


I am still impressed that we were able to keep this serrano pepper plant alive over the winter and now it's fruiting again. It's amazing what a little care and pruning can do. It already looks like its set to exceed last year's yield.

Super Chiles. These guys will be used in the same manner as I use the cayenne peppers.

Orange bell peppers.

And the Community Garden:

Notice the caterpillar on the plant in the last two pictures? I didn't when I was there taking a picture of the tomatoes! We're going to go back down to the garden after I get off work today to check on the tomato plant. If caterpillars are snacking on the leaves, we will need to relocate them elsewhere.

Continuing my fascination with OPGs, here's a neat development we found this week. The picture makes this look really big, but it's actually about the size of a small lemon. We think it's a baby watermelon. Cute, eh?

This week's CSA included: collard greens, lettuce, spinach, more leaf lettuce, a cucumber, a zucchini, green onions, green beans, beets (no greens this time) and new potatoes. It keeps getting better and better each week!

And the rest of the farmer's market booty includes: local cherries (we found another purveyor!), some gorgeous baby kale, broccoli, fresh garlic (picked the day before we got it!), more green beans, and a summer squash.

'Til next time!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the Joy of Simple Living

I’ve been thinking for awhile about lifestyle changes and all the little things people are doing everyday to lighten their burden on the Earth, to be better stewards of the planet and everything and everyone on it. There are many reasons we all do the things we do; we tackle problems from different angles, and there are many positive aspects of our actions that we might not often stop to think about. But I, still trying to find joy in the benign, everyday experience, have thought about it quite a bit lately.

To me, even if suddenly issues like peak oil and climate change were no longer a problem, I would still continue to live the way I do and continue to try to live better with less, to me it doesn’t seem right that just because I live in an affluent nation I should be able to consume so much more than my fair share of the world’s resources. Let’s go out on a limb even further and say that global hunger and inequality were suddenly eradicated overnight, I would still live this way as I feel a wonderful sense of calm, freedom and homeostasis with the world around me.

Let me explain further. There is a concept Barry Schwartz talks about in the book The Paradox of Choice. It basically states that choice is a positive thing, to an extent, but it can get to the point where there is so much choice that even the simplest decision is suddenly not so simple. And if one is a conscious consumer of either products or information, there is even more anxiety that goes into decisions such as “what type of cereal should I buy? I have 75 different choices?!” or even more difficult “what source of news should I trust?” Living simply reduces a lot of these choices, though one’s choice of media is no simple decision no matter what, but when you buy locally, say at the farmer’s market, there is a variety of choice, but it is still limited in many ways. You won’t find lemons at the farmer’s market in Missouri, nor will you find 5 different kinds of them! If you subscribe to a CSA as we do, well, you get what they give you, and that makes things pretty easy.

But living simply goes far beyond consumerism; it has a lot to do with what you don’t do. Giving up our car was perhaps the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. Getting somewhere on my own accord is such a rewarding feeling. I know I am doing my part to reduce the negative aspects of gasoline. Not to mention, I don’t make useless trips, and thus get useless stuff, I have to think twice before I go somewhere as my ability to get there depends on the bus schedule, the weather, and if I feel like walking. At first this was tough, but then I began to appreciate having to figure out other things to do with my time. I began to do things like watch the birds in the neighborhood, even though they are just ‘lowly’ house sparrows, starlings, robins, cardinals, etc, and let me tell you, they are truly fascinating. Some of my favorite things to do now include taking a walk to the garden after dinner or reading a good book on a Friday night with the windows open and a nice cool breeze, not very exciting, but truly enjoyable and peaceful activities.

I spend time growing my own food, attempting to play music, learning about the people I care about, spending time with my animals, cooking, really very basic things.

I know so many people who feel overwhelmed by the ‘hustle and bustle’ of life, and I feel truly bad for them. We only have one life, and there is so much around us that we miss, small gestures from kind neighbors, baby squirrels making their way around one’s neighborhood, these small things are truly what matter in the end. We often complain about how we ‘have no time’ and for many this is a valid complaint. However, I often feel like we spend an awful lot of time talking about how little time we have, and we have to remember that we choose how to spend what little free time we do have. It feels wonderful to slow down, spend more time preparing meals, reading, enjoying nature, good friends, family, and neighbors.

Why am I waxing poetic like this? I guess it’s that I’ve seen a lot of signs of changes in our world to come, things that could be very bad like potential wars or climate catastrophes, possibly economic depression or collapse. But I also see signs of a change in the conception of reality for many people, close friends and family are coming around in ways I never thought possible, and I’m constantly amazed at the caring and resourceful people all over the world doing their little part. Not to mention, living in fear or with intense anxiety over a future out of one’s control can leave one feeling helpless and hopeless and cause many people to either just give up or become paralyzed with fear.

I live simply for many reasons, but I’ve found that as I’ve simplified my life, I’ve also limited the things to be anxious about but expanded the things I can get joy out of because I now appreciate things I used to take for granted. I’m truly happy, and I think many others too find immense personal satisfaction and joy in doing what they think is right: living simply, doing more with less, and having an identity defined by much more than the stuff they own or the size of their paycheck, or even how they earn that paycheck. I am much more than an Institutional Research Analyst.

I can only hope that if our world is forced to live a more humble way of life in the future that it can resemble something similar to the scene in my neighborhood last night. It was a gorgeous night; folks were out on their porches, cooling off and enjoying the weather; families were gathering to chat in the parking lots; a group of kids from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds were playing a rudimentary game of soccer in the parking lot; kids on bikes, a common nighthawk screeching and diving for bugs, you get the picture. It was a wonderful scene and it again illustrates how rich and beautiful a simple life can be.

I must also make note of the amazing sense of community the internet has fostered. It seems that many feel isolated in their physical communities. Not many people share our interests or values; we are vested in different things. Some of us, as we move through different levels of understanding about the world around us, begin to become distanced from those that used to be close to us, as we no longer see reality in the same ways. The common ground upon which we once stood is no longer there. Our neighbors are more like strangers. But what we’ve forged here in the blogosphere, though not real in the physical sense, has all the aspects of a functioning community, and I can’t speak for others, but you all have taught me so much, enriched my life, and given me a sense of belonging that is hard to feel when you are ‘out of the mainstream’. I think, given the specialized, self interested nature of many of our Western societies, like minded people may not be found next door, they may be across the world, but so long as we are there for each other, continue to teach each other, to continue to help each other through the troubles we all face, personal or as a whole, we have a common interest and common goals that bind us in ways our physical communities used to. That is not to discount our physical communities – anyone from Columbia, Missouri who reads this blog and is interested in what we stand for or have to say, please contact us; we would love to connect with more like minded people – but until things change, by choice or necessity, at least we have something, and as humble and minimal as it is, it is something to be thankful for.

So what do you guys think? In your journey to live a more ethical, sustainable, and socially just life, have you experienced any unexpected positive outcomes? Has living simply made your relationships easier, more satisfying or a nightmare? What has the blogging community brought to your life? To your sense of belongingness and ability to influence those around you? Do you see positive change on the horizon or more of the same? What keeps you all plugging away, doing what you can to make the world a better place?

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm Green! (A Registered Trademark and Patent Pending)

Last weekend, Jennifer and I were at the grocery store and they were giving away reusable bags they had previously been selling. We'd never been interested in buying them ourselves for several reasons: one, we didn't need them (we always carry stuff home in our backpacks); two, they cost money; and three; they're blue and say "I'm green" on the side.

Notice the registered trademark next to the phrase "I'm Green"?

Well, clearly the bag is not green, but nonetheless, I wonder if the statement is meant to come from the bag or its carrier. It's probably both and certainly more important to the carrier than the bag. I mean, what does the bag care if anyone knows it's 'green'? Then again, why should I care if anyone knows I'm green? Even if I did, having it literally written on my bag would not be my first idea; they may as well have been handing out halos at the farmer's market. But hey, I have to hand it to them for trying. That's more than could be said for some of the commentary on two encouraging pieces Jennifer found today.

The gist of it is that marketing firms are coming to recognize that the green-conscious consumers - or "greenfluencers" - are fast becoming an important source of information for companies looking to stay alive in the 21st Century marketplace; they are people like ourselves and many of our readers who influence one another and are sought out for advice by those looking to become more green conscious in their living, and yes, buying habits. Some responded to such news with accusations of greenwashing.

Be that as it may, let me first say that I don't care one bit WHY people do the right things, just that they do them. Kant and I will just have disagree. So, if it makes you feel better about yourself or you believe it makes a difference to wear environmentalism on your sleeve, I say "more power to ya."

Unfortunately, there are some who will point fingers and call it just another form of consumerism. Yet, these, I assume, will be the among the same people who are being called into focus groups for new product lines and telling corporations to reuse, recycle, reduce energy consumption, pay a fair wage, relocalize, and so on. Tell me, what's wrong with that?

It irks the hell out of me to read environmentalists complaining about greenwashing while they have the ear of the corporations. THEY'RE FINALLY LISTENING TO YOU and all you can do is play right into that stereotype that environmentalists are unreasonable idealogues who get a sincere kick out of being able to find something wrong with anything. Yet, our camp needs them too; any camp does.

It is just unfortunate to me that with all the emphasis on environmental problems and social injustice, we sometimes forget how we, too, are tied to this system whether we like it or not. Few, if any, of us are prepared for a collapse of the economy, the political system, or the environment - let alone any combination of the two (or three). So, while consumption has been bad for all these sytems on the whole, it is also part of the system which sustains us. To cease consumption as the most ardent environmentalists would have it, leads to an inescapable market crash in a growth economy (which is pretty much the whole world now). Then, of course, there would be political consequences, and who knows where we come out on the other side of all that?

So, let's take our time here and try not to bring a host of disasters upon ourselves at once. If corporations are looking to become more sustainable, I'd rather they come to myself, Jennifer, or many of our readers for advice on how to do that than some suit who's only looking to make a buck and move on. Even if it's doomed to fail, we'll have done good by funding the construction of alternative systems and infrastructure.

If we, as environmentalists or proponents of sustainability, believe in working with natural systems as opposed to working against them, we should be reminded that consumerism is, for all intents and purposes, a force of nature - one we can use to our advantage if we allow ourselves not to be blinded by a hatred of the system as a whole.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Local Veggie and Bean Wraps and A Series of Fortunate Events

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I'm a bit behind in food posting, so this meal is something we had last week, I think I'm caught up now.

When I saw that we had gotten beets in our CSA, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. I wanted to try to replicate the Garden Burrito from Main Squeeze, the local vegetarian restaurant in Columbia. What we had wasn't exactly like Main Squeeze's burrito, but it was really close and enough to satisfy our tastes!

Local Veggie Burrito
long grain brown rice
alfalfa sprouts
shredded beets (we used 3 peeled beets)
shredded carrots (we used 2 peeled carrots)

I just shredded up the peeled beets and carrots in a food processor and layered warm refried beans, brown rice, and the veggies in a warmed tortilla.

I served them with some fresh, homemade Pico de Gallo.

Onto the second part of this post, the 'series of fortunate events'. You see, chance stepped in the other day and Brett found something I have long dreamed of owning. First off, I must state that I'm not a fan of shopping, at all, I rarely buy things, and only get excited about buying one thing: books. But what Brett got me is not only a very personal thing, it was also affordable and environmentally friendly. As you all know, we had rented a car to go to St. Louis for the weekend. Brett figured that since we had a car, it was a good time to drop off the old electronics we've been keeping in our closet at the recycling center and take some clothes to the Salvation Army.

When he was at the Salvation Army, he decided to pop in and look around. What did he spot there? A Hammond Organ circa 1982. What's so special about a Hammond Organ? Well, Jimmy Smith, one of my favorite jazz artists made his name on the Hammond, some of my favorite Doors songs have Ray Manzarek playing a Hammond, my favorite instrumental Beastie Boys songs (don't really like the rapping ones) use a Hammond. You get the picture. Never heard a Hammond? Think church organs, pipe organs, but different at the same time. Nothing really sounds like one.

Anyways, it wasn't so simple as him just spotting this and getting it. First, he found a tag on the organ with someone's name on it, but it didn't say 'sold' like the other items in the store with name tags on them. He asked someone and after about a half hour of confusion, it was decided that the organ was not sold, and was for sale. He wanted to make sure I was alright with it and didn't just show up at home to find a 200+ lb monstrosity in our apartment. By the time he had talked to me, dropped off the car, gone home to make sure we had the funds, he decided he should probably call to make sure it hadn't been sold, a Hammond won't last long. When he called, the person on the phone informed him that it had been sold, after all that! He called me and said he wanted to go down there just to make sure, because there had been a lot of confusion about the organ being sold earlier and since he had expressed interest in buying it, he wondered if he wasn't the person that the woman was referring to. Keeping up with all this?

So he goes down there, talks to someone who said it wasn't sold, but that he needed cash. So he hoofed it down to a local ATM, and made it back to finally seal the deal. Whew!

We also got this baby, delivered for $50, second-hand. How did this happen? Well, the Hammond is not only one of the coolest instruments around, it's also one of the ugliest. Let me show you what I mean.

Even Nermal wonders why someone would want something so ugly.....

I'm putting this out there so he can't take it back: Brett told me if I learned the keyboard part of "Riders on the Storm" (the Doors), he would learn the guitar part. You've got yourself a deal buddy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This Just In...

Greetings, blogosphere. Some of the more regular visitors to this blog may have noticed that a new contributor was added last week, and I am now posting to introduce myself. I am the ‘Brett’ that is occasionally referred to in postings; I can also be referred to as ‘partner’ or ‘significant other’, but most of you will come to know me by my Indian name: Wet Blanket.

Readers from North America might understand right away what I mean by ‘Indian name’, but for those who don’t, I will explain. First off, ‘Indian’ is not of India in this context. Instead, it is a reference to Native Americans who, according to Western pop-culture, were named after some quality they possessed – like Dances with Wolves. In my case, I am the type of person who could walk into a room full of like-minded individuals and spark a heated debate, or in other words, cast a shadow of doubt on consensus. If I find people looking at only one side of an issue, I’ll try to get them to look at it another way – even if they’re already looking from my favorite angle. If everyone thinks the world is crashing around them, I’ll try to bring them out of that perception; if everyone thinks they’re having a great time, I’ll try to bring the house down around them. It is this second tendency from which I draw my name.

I wish I could remember where I got the term ‘wet blanket’, but my understanding of it is that it refers to one who frequently ruins the mood; in my case, it would be whether the mood is good or bad. I, of course, chose my own ‘Indian name’ which is not common practice; Jennifer usually handles that because ‘Indian names’ are generally reserved for those whose real name we do not know but are, nonetheless, subjects of enough frequency as to necessitate a term.

For instance:

  • Guy with Trench Coat
  • Lady with a Bob
  • Stand-up Guy (repeatedly stands up and sits down on the bus)
  • Nurse Lady (regular bus rider who is a nurse)
  • Neighbor Guy
  • The Smoking Ladies
  • TMI (too much information) Lady

    Then there are some with longer names like:

  • Kid who works at Starbucks that reminds us of Jordan (Jennifer’s stepbrother)
  • Guy who plays guitar on lunch breaks
  • Guy who loves the bus a little too much (talks to everyone, including himself, about it)
  • Girl who’s always on her phone
  • Guy with that cool E-book reader

You get the picture. I think most of us probably ‘know’ people who go by names like these. Jennifer and I lovingly refer to them as “Indian names” to add an element of humor to our abundant ignorance and social ineptitude, but I hope not to be misconstrued as poking fun at Native Americans. For me, referring to the indigenous peoples of the American continent as “Indians” should be interpreted as poking fun at white folks’ stupidity. I mean, how long were Europeans here committing genocide before they realized they weren’t in India?

Anyways, back to the point of this post. I will likely not be a frequent contributor to this blog, and what I do contribute will almost certainly fall under the category of ‘random musings’. Those of you who may have visited me at Parade of Rain are probably familiar with the infrequency of my postings. As for material, I can’t say what to expect. Some ideas just never reach a level of comprehension that can be articulated. So, my presence here is also likely to be sporadic, but it is also possible that the bulk of my contributions will appear in the commentary. I am not a journalist or a cook – just a thinker. Some days it’s all I do.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Garden Update #12

There has been a lot of growth in both gardens this week! The sun has finally decided to come out and shine and the plants are taking full advantage.

Our container garden is going nuts. Well, except for the broccoli. To be honest, I'm not sure if it's too hot, or if we underpotted the broccoli, but it isn't really doing anything. It's growing yes, but no broccoli to speak of. And I understand that after a point it gets too hot for broccoli to grow, so I'm not sure it's going to pan out for us this year.The peppers, however, are a different story, they are thriving. I am probably jinxing myself by saying this, but we've never had a container garden go as well as our is now.

Things at the Community Garden are moving along as well, particularly with a couple of the squash plants and one of our tomato plants. Granted, other peoples gardens (OPG) still seem to be doing better than ours, if you just look at the progress made this week, ours are doing better by leaps and bounds. The two original tomato starts we got from the farmer's market just never took off in the ground, I think they might have gotten something. Basically, they are slowly dying, haven't grown at all, and are taking up space. We are hoping to find some more starts (assuming it's not too late), and pull those out of the ground. A couple of our squash plants don't look like they are doing so hot, and the banana peppers we planted in the ground do not seem to be faring as well as the ones we have in a container.

We have a little work to do in the Community Garden next week. The whole idea of using hay to keep weeds down hasn't really worked out so far, though Brett is wondering if we need a thicker layer of hay. So next weekend, we are going to go down to the garden, remove all the hay, weed with a hoe, work some worm poo fertilizer into the soil, and then spread a really thick layer of hay down.

Check out the container garden:

Don't know if you can tell or not, but there is a little Hungarian Wax pepper peeking out from behind that flower.

Check out all those cayenne peppers.

Chocolate Bell Pepper.

Container banana pepper.

This Hungarian Wax pepper keeps getting bigger. It looks like it is starting to ripen and will probably be ready to pick in a week or two.

Orange bell pepper.

Apparently we took a few pictures of the banana peppers this weekend.

A little photo shoot of the serrano pepper plant. This thing is loaded with peppers, I hope these three pictures illustrate that.

This is the Super Chile which was covered with blooms last week. They are now all peppers.

And onto the Community Garden:

This is one of the squash plants that isn't doing so hot.

Another one not doing so well.

This Roma tomato plant has a bunch of little tomatoes on it!

This squash plant makes the small banana pepper plant next to it look even smaller than it is!

Kathy took a picture of the CSA she picked up this week in our absence (which was really sweet and awesome of her) so I could put it up on the blog as I usually do. Thanks for picking it up and taking a picture of the veggies Kathy!

I am also happy to report that she and her husband have been enjoying this weeks bounty! They got snow peas!

'Til next time!