Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Marches On

Bloated from a huge Passover dinner last night, I wandered around taking pictures of my yard on this rainy spring morning.

Here's our baby cherry tree, which is getting lovely blossoms all over it.

Likewise our five young blueberry bushes.

We even have the first real rosebud coming in! This year is a big change from last year, when we almost didn't have any roses for the start of the Rose Festival over Memorial Day weekend. Now here it is March and the roses are already gearing up for the summer!

Keith's going to get the big raised bed in the backyard filled with dirt so we can go ahead and start planting some of the huge pile of seeds I have now. We have seeds upon seeds upon seeds, but work is still much leaner than usual, so we haven't had the money to get everything ready for planting yet. I hope we don't miss the whole season! We also need to rototill the yard and cover it with black plastic for a couple of weeks - I wanted to avoid that option, but it really looks like the only way we can kill off all our grass. My fingers are crossed tight for doing that soon.

Meanwhile, Doris is sick or injured and I can't figure out what's wrong with her. She sure looks awful...

She's been limping for a few weeks now, but I can't find anything wrong with the foot or leg. We can't afford a vet visit for a chicken, but she hasn't laid an egg for two weeks and she's looking pretty bad. I hope we can figure out what it is soon, and help her. The other hens are fine - Lana's still parked on that nest in the garage, with less than two weeks to go until her chicks hatch.

And it's raining, and raining, and raining... we're set to get almost three inches of rain this week. Springtime in Portland.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pass (the charoset) Over (to me!)

We're getting ready for Passover here at our place, holding our first seder in our own house. I'm putting together a secular haggadah since our guests are a mixed bag of Jews and friends-of-Jews (and we are, ourselves, an interfaith couple). I still need to scrub the house clean and clear all the chametz out of the kitchen - that's everything made with wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt. I also need to finish the grocery shopping, though I did quite a bit of it at the farmers' market today.

Tonight I may go ahead and make the spiced hazelnuts, to be served in a bowl on the table for snacking during the haggadah reading. (We have a couple of young children attending and I know how people need to nibble, plus we'll all want something to get the taste out after the Bitter Herbs.) I planned the rest of the menu this morning...

Garlicky Leek & Artichoke Soup
Chicken Cutlets with Preserved Meyer Lemon & Parsley
Greens & Quinoa Pie
Honey-Braised Carrots
Cabbage with Cucumber & Caraway
Matzah & Charoset
(My friend is bringing dessert.)

Got the cabbage recipe from FabFrugalFood (thanks, Anne!), the chicken recipe from the book Well Preserved (as an example of what to do with Meyer lemons preserved in salt), and the soup, pie, and carrot recipe from last month's Vegetarian Times. (If you're not a subscriber to Vegetarian Times, you really should be, whether you're a vegetarian or not. It's a really terrific magazine with lots of interesting, delicious, and usually healthy recipes.)

As for the charoset... well, let's face it, that's what makes it Passover! For those who've never had it, charoset is a coarse paste meant to resemble the building mortar that the Israelites used as slaves. It is, however, far more delicious. It goes on the seder plate during the reading, and a polite nibble is consumed as we go through the ritual, but everyone always goes back for a helping of it later after dinner. It also makes a FABULOUS breakfast the next morning, and makes it much easier to eat tasteless matzah all week. So we tend to make lots of it. Here's my recipe:


5 cups apples, cored and diced
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup dried cherries*
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup red wine
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger

* You can use raisins instead of dried cherries if you want. Keith and I hate raisins and are blessed to live in Oregon where dried cherries are reasonably cheap. I haven't tried this with dried cranberries but I bet it would be good if you wanted to try it - let me know if you do!

Throw the apples, hazelnuts, and cherries into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. (Or, if you don't have a food processor, chop it all very finely.) You want it chopped, mind you, not pureed, so pulse gently and don't overdo it. Transfer the chopped goods to a bowl and stir in the rest of the ingredients, mixing well until blended. Refrigerate until time to prepare the seder plate. Try not to eat it all before then.

Everyone who's celebrating Passover this year, have a happy and kosher one!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Salad Love

This was so good I just had to post about it!

I loooooooove salad. Absolutely love it. I think I've posted on here before about how much I love salad for breakfast, but honestly I like it all day. And a big one-meal salad, loaded with tons of different components, is the best ever! We had this one today.

I topped mixed baby spring greens (arugula, mesclun, radicchio, etc.) with sliced artichoke hearts, diced avocado, carrot shreds, raw kohlrabi, leftover BBQ chicken, and sunflower seeds. Then I whisked up olive oil, rice vinegar, some juice from salted lemon preserves, a little black pepper, and a smidge of Dijon mustard. Drizzled that shizzle and served it up for lunch right after a really grueling workout. It was surprisingly filling (must be all those good fats in the avocado and olive oil)! And ohhh, so delicious.

It's probably a little ridiculous how a good salad always makes me so incredibly happy. But it does.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The First BBQ!

We kicked off BBQ season in healthy style at our place yesterday, with an impromptu cookout before Keith's friends headed back to Los Angeles. And in the process, we cleaned out some of the freezer from last season. We started out with a lovely honey-sweetened lavender lemonade, which unfortunately I did not get a picture of, made with some of the lavender that my brother and I picked out in the Hood River Valley last summer and some juicy delicious Meyer lemons.

Then Keith fired up the grill for some chicken, and broke out the cherry-chipotle BBQ sauce I made last summer. It thawed out perfectly and tasted just as I remembered it - rich and dark, with a spicy sweetness.

To go with it, I made homemade chips by tossing sliced Yellow Finn potatoes and sweet potatoes with a little olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper, and rosemary from my yard. I roasted them until they were dry and crispy. They went really nicely with the BBQ chicken!

I also threw together a spring salad, with baby greens, baby turnips, watermelon radish, artichoke hearts, carrot curls, and sunflower seeds. To drizzle over it, I whipped up a salad dressing out of olive oil, rice vinegar, the salty lemon juice from my preserved Meyer lemons, and a little Dijon mustard.

And for dessert, I made Jamie Oliver's rhubarb fool. It's definitely a dessert but healthier than it looks - I pulled out some rhubarb that I froze at the end of the summer last year, and stewed it into a compote with a little sugar and the juice of an orange. Then I beat the orange zest and a spoonful of honey into some nonfat yogurt, and rolled out a sheet of puff pastry with cinnamon and a little confectioner's sugar, and fried it up in a dry skillet before setting it aside to cool. I layered up the rhubarb compote, orange-honey yogurt, and puff pastry on a plate and served it with fresh ground coffee.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, the food good, the company great... all in all, it was a terrific kickoff for the season. Here's to a nice long spring and summer out by the grill in our very own yard!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lana's Got Real Eggs!

Nine fertilized eggs! For only $3. What a nice lady!

We drove out to the country east of town this morning to pick up our raw milk, then dropped it off at home and headed out for an hour in the opposite direction for fertilized eggs. It was a nice morning for driving out to the country; we woke up on our own just before dawn anyway, so we got a scone at His Bakery and began our day. There was a thick milky fog all morning, and it was chilly, but in that springtime early-morning way that lets you know it'll be beautiful later. Sure enough, it's now 12:30 and the sun is shining over a gorgeous day.

So we got our fertilized eggs for broody Lana to sit on - we got three Australorp eggs, four Cuckoo Marans (including one frizzle!), one half-Australorp and half-Blue Cochin, and one little bantam egg from a tiny mutt hen. When we got them home, I put on a heavy glove and slipped each one carefully underneath Lana, who was less than thrilled to have me reaching into her nest. She pecked and bit the glove, clucked and screeched with anger, but never moved from her nest. And now she's settling over those eggs and warming them up to grow baby chicks!

If all goes as it should, we expect the eggs to hatch over the weekend of April 9-11. We're planning a little jaunt to Ashland for the 11th, so hopefully the chicks come on the sooner side, but either way I'm confident Lana will handle them just fine. She's already such a protective mother! (And now she has nine real eggs and two fake ones to defend - quite the clutch for our Mama Hen.)

We also passed a nursery on the way home from the farm, and stopped because the sign bragged of Walla Walla onion starts. I can't resist - those sweet sweet onions are my absolute favorite in the summer, especially caramelized on the grill - so we got two big bunches of them and I'll plant them in the backyard later.

But I'm not planting them today! This afternoon we have our first BBQ of the season. A couple of Keith's work friends are dropping by before they leave for L.A. (they were in town shooting over the weekend) so we're dusting off the grill. Chicken with the cherry-chipotle BBQ sauce I put away in the freezer last summer, roasted veggie chips, salad with a salted lemon dressing, and homemade pickles from last summer too. For dessert, I'm making Jamie Oliver's rhubarb fool (it's stewed rhubarb layered with a vanilla-orange-honey sweetened yogurt and baked cinnamon puff pastry slices). And I'm juicing Meyer lemons for a honey-sweetened lavender lemonade. Photos and a rundown tomorrow, probably!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring: It's official!

This is the 100th post for the Urban Luddite! Woohoo!

I guess I'll blog a centennial celebration by describing my very busy but productive weekend.

Friday, we got Lana situated in her new apartment in the garage. Now she can brood and rear her chicks in a safe, protected environment and she won't be able to steal the other girls' eggs anymore. We can't park the car in the garage while she's in there but it's no longer winter so that's fine. There's a window cracked for ventilation and she gets all the light she needs, and she's got food and water, a small space to walk around, and a nest in a sheltered corner.

There are only two fake eggs in the nest right now; we're picking up our fertilized eggs later in the week once the mother hens lay them. The other noteworthy feature of this apartment setup is the chick feed - apparently the calcium in layer feed is bad for a hen when she isn't laying, so she's eating chick feed for now and when the chicks get here they can eat that too. It's higher in protein and other stuff that baby chicks need.

Here's Lana showing off her new digs:

On Saturday, we woke up early to a fantastically beautiful day. Keith was working on a commercial out on Sauvie Island, so I drove him out there and we caught the sunrise over the Columbia River and listened to the wild birds carrying on in the wetlands. Then I came back to Portland, got a coffee downtown, and got in position for the start of the first farmers' market of the season!

At 8:30 am, when the opening bell rang, I finally purchased the artichoke and cotija cheese tamale (with hot salsa on top, yum) that I've been dreaming about all winter. This tamale is my regular farmers' market treat - it's so creamy and delicious, with bits of corn in the outer layer and tangy marinated artichoke hearts held together by melted cotija. I walked around with it for awhile, savoring the flavors along with the bright sunshine and the leaves budding on all the trees around the PSU campus, admiring everything the vendors had on offer. This week it was mostly greens and baby plants for the garden. I got some baby turnips with their greens, a few root vegetables, and other deliciousness but I couldn't resist two beautiful white ranunculus and young mint plants for the back yard, either.

When I got home, I planted the ranunculus and chocolate mint in deck planters, and I got the Kentucky Colonel mint nicely situated next to the rain barrell, where it will get lots of water and hopefully grow to take over that whole corner of the yard. Nothing else grows there because it's too wet, but mint loves that and this is a particularly tasty variety that (I am told) makes fabulous mojitos for the summer time. Of course, it goes well in iced tea, too.

I then took some more time to start seeds - I only had nine survivors from the first round of tomato planting, so I did a second round and I now have 28 little pots with baby tomatoes in progress. Hopefully I'll have more survivors this time! Next spring we'll have to build a greenhouse, as these seeds are a bit fussy for growing indoors under a single flourescent.

Besides my tomatoes, I also started four pots of collard greens, ten nasturtium flowers (edible AND beautiful!), and two Czech Black hot peppers.

It was the perfect day to start off spring - perfect spring weather, the first farmers' market, and some gardening. Can't top that!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Babies for Lana

It happened a bit sooner than we expected, but here we are with a broody hen!

For several days now, our Lana Turner has given up on everything but her determination to be a mother. (I know how she feels; I've been suffering from a dose of that myself lately.) She won't leave the nesting box at all anymore, and she even moved the fake egg out of one box into the other so that she could set on both fake eggs. To make matters worse, we're not getting eggs anymore from our other hens, which leads us to believe that Lana is adopting their eggs as her own and setting on them as well.

Keith's tried tipping her out of the box to make her go eat and drink a little water, but she goes right back in the nest as soon as she can. She's our youngest hen, not even a year old yet, and already she's ready for motherhood! (And yes, this is the very same juvenile delinquent hen who led us on an adventure back in August.)

There are a few things you can do for a broody hen, but the best solution is to let her get it out of her system. I wanted an Australorp hen to add to the flock anyway - they have beautiful black plumage that shimmers green in the sunlight, and they lay lots and lots of gorgeous dark chocolate-colored eggs - so we found a lady about a half hour away who has a breeding pair of Australorps. She agreed this morning to save us up some eggs, and when she has six fertile ones we'll drive out and pick them up at a cost of fifty cents each.

Then, under cover of night while Lana sleeps, we'll carefully slip out the dud eggs she's currently setting on and we'll slip those fertile eggs underneath her. Less than three weeks later, hopefully we'll have a few chicks! We're getting six eggs because they don't all tend to hatch; apparently we'll be lucky to get a 50% hatch rate, and all the chicks might not make it to adulthood if they do hatch. When the babies grow up, we'll give them away or sell them, keeping one little Australorp girl if we get one.

So Lana, through her persistence and dedication, will get to be a mother! And maybe soon a bit of her luck will rub off on me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Potatoes for the Irish!

I just did a big long post about potatoes over at my other blog, Nothing But An Apron. It occurs to me I've never plugged that blog here, so I'll take the opportunity to do that now. I co-write it with a good friend of mine in Australia, the irrepressible Elizabeth Rivera, and we cover the range of home economics over there - mostly cooking, with cleaning, beauty, and other household stuff thrown in.

Today I'm talking 'taties, which have got to be the most underrated vegetable in the plant kingdom and which go with St. Patrick's Day just as well as corned beef and beer. Here at the homestead, we're celebrating the holiday with a couple of friends, and I'll be simmering corned beef in Guinness in my crockpot all day. To go with it, I'm whipping up Fab Frugal Food's Irish soda bread rolls, a sauteed cabbage with caramelized onions, and of course, roasted potatoes.

And because it's a special occasion with company, what the hell, Guinness cake! I made this cake once to take over to a friend's place a few months ago and it was absolutely unholy. If you follow that link to the recipe, she's got it pictured as a loaf cake, but I did mine in my Bundt pan. It makes a beautiful rich black Bundt cake that's almost too pretty to slice into. (Almost.)

Keith, my brawny Irish husband, will be enjoying his favorite holiday with his favorite Guinness, but I prefer (of course, haha) a local Oregon brew: Hazelnut Brown Ale from the Rogue Brewery. It goes beautifully with beef and smoky flavors, with a rich hazelnut flavor and just a slight hint of sweet. It's a bit lighter than the Guinness and less intense for me.

Funny how I never liked beer until I came to Oregon and I still only really go for the Oregon beers.

I have a free hourlong session at the gym with a personal trainer this afternoon, thank G-d. I'm going to need to work off this dinner before I eat it!

UPDATE: Got a picture of the Guinness-ginger cake. Delicious!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Southern Goes Oregon

Everybody who's read any post of this blog knows I'm Southern. While we make some really incredible food down South, it's not known for its health benefits, and there are certain foods we just don't do. On the other hand, I've made my home here in Oregon now, and I've spent years developing a love for Pacific Northwest cuisine and yes, it does rival my love of Southern cooking. (I think it's about a tie.)

Yesterday involved both, as we made an impulsive morning decision to go to brunch at The Screen Door, a Portland institution I had somehow not tried yet despite its being the best Southern restaurant in town. Something I learned living in L.A. and Portland, and working in Seattle: The West Coast LOVES Southern food, which hilariously makes Southern restaurants some of the priciest in town. Southern food is almost exclusively built around the cheapest ingredients known to man, but in a city where you can buy sushi with the change you find in your sofa, going to a Southern restaurant is a special occasion type of deal. This is what happens when people don't cook.

Regardless of price and West Coast quirks, though, the food was fabulous. It was worth the long wait (half of Portland descends upon this restaurant on the weekends) and it was worth the price. Keith got a fabulous buttermilk biscuit with excellent fried chicken, drowned in sausage gravy with grits on the side. They have their own house-made hot sauce and it was terrific on those grits. I got a less-than-Southern brunch special - orange and ricotta griddle cakes with a Cointreau sauce and warm maple syrup drizzled over. We both had plenty left over for today. Next time we go, we'll split something, like the fried chicken over a sweet potato waffle; the people sitting next to us ordered that as we were leaving, and it was enough for four people.

Sidenote: I'm always really amused at the number of West Coasters who believe that Southerners eat fried chicken and waffles together. I never saw that combination until I visited Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles. Inauthentic as it may be, however, it's a great combination and one I think Southerners should adopt post haste.

So anyway, it took us most of the day to digest that brunch and then in the evening I girded my loins for the biggest challenge my kitchen has seen in a long while...

I was getting ready to make SALMON.

For years I've felt like I was missing out. Everyone loves salmon but me. It's got incredible health benefits, it's said to be delicious, it goes with almost everything, and it's a staple of Pacific Northwest cuisine. And small wonder that it is, because our local wild-caught salmon is said to be the best in the world. You can even catch it yourself right here in the river this time of year without even leaving Portland!

So clearly, I needed to learn to like it, and for months I've been working up the nerve. The salmon I had as a kid was canned, oily, less-than-fresh. It had probably been grown in some dirty farm pond somewhere, then flown several hours to Memphis, where it sat on melting ice at Kroger for who-knows-how-long before one of us bought it to choke down for the health benefits. I knew I wasn't interested in that. But last October, at the farmers' market, I picked up a couple of fresh wild-caught filets from a pair of sisters who owned their own fishing boat, and I stuck those filets in the freezer until such time as I got ready to use them.

That time was last night. I searched the internet for a suitable recipe, and came up with this one. The salmon itself really stands alone in this recipe; it's just sprinkled with salt and pepper, seared skin-side down in a hot skillet and then flipped to finish off in a hot oven. But it's paired with a mix of veggies and lentils, stewed and then mounded into a bed for the fish. (I left out the onions and used regular brown lentils in mine, which do take a few minutes longer to cook but are considerably cheaper than green ones.) To go along with, I sauteed some kale and braised it with crushed red pepper and rice vinegar.

Let me tell you, it was FABULOUS. Beyond fabulous. I don't even have a word for it. I never knew fish could taste like that! And without even any butter, or sauce, or even lemon. I loved that salmon and cleaned my plate before I knew what happened. Keith enjoyed it too, and was glad to have me aboard the salmon bandwagon. Once again the lesson is driven home: Quality ingredients make all the difference, and don't need a fancy preparation to make them incredible!

Now that salmon season is gearing up again, I have a hunch we'll be eating a lot more of it around here.

But don't worry. I'll still be making biscuits and gravy too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Treats? Realism? Help me out here.

I found this article interesting:

What's Really In Your Food?
Learn the truth about these four fast-food favorites.

By David Zinczenko & Matt Goulding, Men's Health

It's not groundbreaking news, to be sure. We all know that fast "food" is not actually food, but laboratory-designed chemicals mixed with barely edible processed ingredients that once were food, if such a word can be applied to diseased, abused, malnourished animals. What interested me more than the article was the comments, especially this one by "AC Vader":

I realize some people don't have the will to cut back but it's actually pretty easy to avoid this stuff. I'm never the one to say completely eliminate it from your diet because I think that is unrealistic for most. But I don't think eating this stuff 2-4 a month is that bad. In fact I think it is pretty healthy to "treat" yourself every once in a while.

I hear this sort of thing a lot, that it isn't "realistic" to avoid the manufactured garbage and eat food. This mentality is echoed in several other comments, such as those who responded to the contention that a milkshake should just consist of milk and ice cream by squealing, "But look what's in the ice cream!" Ice cream itself SHOULD contain milk or cream, sugar or honey, and whatever fruit or other food you want to mix in with it. But packaged foods and corporate marketing have so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that we now assume that everything originally comes out of a box. I guess that's why so many people assume that it's "unrealistic" to stick to eating real food.

I still don't get it though. Why is it unrealistic? It takes me just as long to make a sandwich as it takes to drive to McDonald's, wait in the drive-thru or the line, order the so-called "food," and pay for it. Actually, I'm pretty sure the sandwich is quicker. We all know it's healthier, and we're all in agreement that homemade tastes better - even the people who've never set foot in their own kitchens rave over my homecooked food and say they wish they could cook. Well, they can. Like my mom always says, "If you can read, you can cook" - recipes and cookbooks aren't privileged information or anything. So why not?

Which brings me to the other part of the comment I quoted above... that it's "healthy to treat yourself" to processed garbage food. Is there anyone out there over the age of seven who honestly enjoys McDonald's as a TREAT? (And the kids only like it because of the marketing, not because of the food itself.) We all know what McDonald's tastes like, and it's tasteless, sickly stuff. The whole point of it is the fact that you can just cram it into your craw and not feel hungry anymore. What part of that is a treat? What happened to chocolate, wine, cinnamon rolls, fresh berries in summer?

Is our culture really so far gone that we can't conceive of food that never had a bar code on it, and a lump of chicken-flavored guar gum fried in genetically-modified canola and shoved at you by a snarling teenager counts as a treat? Please tell me there is more hope for us than that!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Faith vs. The State

The front page of my local newspaper, The Oregonian, greeted me on the porch this morning with a screaming headline: Sentence is warning to church. I knew immediately what it was about, even without the large photo of police leading a middle-aged, heavyset couple through a crowded courtroom. Jeff and Marci Beagley are going to prison.

I've been following this case in the news for the past few months. The Beagleys belong to a religious sect called the Followers of Christ, which doesn't believe in modern medicine. In June of 2008, their 16-year-old son Neil (in the photo at age 14) died of kidney failure. Turns out he had a congenital urinary blockage that was only treated with prayer, which didn't work. His parents, Jeff and Marci, were charged with criminally negligent homicide for what is being called (inaccurately, in my opinion) a "faith-healing death."

In their defense, Jeff and Marci did ask Neil if he wanted to go to the doctor, and he refused. Of course, he'd been homeschooled within the church since third grade and had little to no contact with the sinful world, so he was likely far more afraid of hell than he was afraid of dying. And, while not a child, at 16 he was still a minor, taking some of the decision out of his hands. His death came only a couple of months after the death of his baby cousin Ava Worthington, who was Jeff and Marci's granddaughter and who also could likely have been saved by modern medicine. 2008 was not a good year for this family.

The Oregonian is pleased as punch with the guilty verdict, reporting today with palpable satisfaction the sentence that Jeff and Marci Beagley received yesterday: 16 months in prison, plus three years of post-prison supervision. This sentence is intended to be a strong message to the Followers of Christ that they should "soften" their stance on medical treatment - in other words, get in line with the mainstream and fall in with modern medicine.

It's hard to argue with that at face value. Neil and Ava are not the first children to die in their faith community. It's easy to think, "Well, yeah, these kids would be alive today if their parents had taken them to the doctor, so of course they're criminally negligent." It becomes a bit more difficult to agree with 16 months of hard time when you see the grief and early age etched deep in the lines around the Beagleys' eyes. It becomes really hard, however, to agree with this sentence when you consider the long-term implications.

First Amendment religious freedom issues aside, do parents have a right to set the limits on their children's medical care? This is a serious issue raised by this verdict, and one I haven't seen the local media discussing. We're a fairly liberal (and libertarian) West Coast state, so we tend to go along with crunchy hippie values, and we tolerate the more conservative values more than they would in, say, Seattle or San Francisco. Oregon was founded by refugees from the mainstream and we take a certain measure of pride in that. I do worry, however, that this ruling has set a dangerous precedent. Fundamentalist Christians aren't our mainstream, but what happens when we hold the hippies to the same standard we just set?

Take the current controversy over vaccination. I'm not completely anti-vax, but I don't think it's a coincidence that so many children suffer symptoms of heavy metal poisoning and autistic behavior soon after they're injected with massive cocktail doses of barely-tested shots. No, I don't want to see kids die from the measles, but I don't want to see them brain damaged from a chicken pox vaccine when most kids get through the chicken pox just fine on their own. Other people disagree with me on both sides. I know a lot of people who believe in vaccination as the savior of mankind, and I know people who would sooner inject themselves with formaldehyde than inject their babies with an MMR. For the time being, we as a society have agreed that parents have the right to make those decisions as they see fit; even though vaccinations are technically required for schoolchildren (11 required vaccinations in Oregon), we concede to "religious exemption," which is as often as not invoked by atheists and agnostics for reasons having little to do with faith.

Or take homebirth, which is very big in Oregon and which I myself hope to someday take part in. Our state's health plan for the low-income uninsured covers homebirth and midwife care, putting us at the forefront of a movement that gains more momentum every day. Every unnecessary C-section, every contribution to the USA's rising maternal mortality rate (largely due to hospital-acquired infections), every torn woman with scars from "purple pushing" flat on her back turns more women away from the medicalized birth experience. Currently we respect a wide range of birth options, from unassisted homebirth to scheduled C-sections, with birthing centers and licensed midwives in between.

Or hell, take diet. The USDA makes no secret of its disdain for raw milk, home canning, private animal slaughter on family farms, or traditional growing methods. They do, however, tolerate them and I have just as much right to give raw milk to my (hypothetical) children as my neighbors have to feed their children McDonald's. But for how long?

You see where I'm going with this? Big Pharm is getting bigger by the day, and look at the "health" bill currently in Congress if you deny the power of insurance companies and the medical establishment. Once healthcare becomes taxpayer-funded, that brings the government in further, and we know who they work for. (Hint: It isn't the taxpayer.) Will those parents who refuse full-scale vaccinations, those parents who birth at home, those parents who put up cranberry chutney, be put on trial if something goes wrong? It is a sad fact of life that sometimes children die, whether or not the medical establishment gets involved. Isn't that tragic enough without prosecuting the parents for decisions they made, for better or worse, with their children's well-being in mind?

I'd hazard a guess that the same judge who sent Jeff and Marci Beagley to prison for their son's death would not imprison the doctor if Neil Beagley died of an infection he got in the hospital during surgery to treat his urinary blockage. While modern medicine has done much to improve our longevity and quality of life, we run a very real risk of becoming slaves to a corporate-funded establishment. Even the doctors themselves are not in full agreement on everything; new information changes the rules every day. So should parents be allowed to use that information themselves, without input from the (human, fallible) experts? Should they be allowed to opt out altogether? Or should we further elevate the medical profession above the near-godlike position it currently holds, giving it even more authority over society's children than the parents have themselves?

It is my deepest wish for Jeff and Marci Beagley to find peace in their hearts for the choices they made, even though I myself do not agree with them. And I also hope these larger issues are raised upon appeal. This isn't about a fundamentalist sect in rural Oregon, this is about all of us - especially we who pride ourselves on our independent streak.

Monday, March 8, 2010


That there is beef short ribs slow-braised for three hours in honey and beer with carrots and onions, served over sage polenta with a side of asparagus sauteed with salted Meyer lemon. I had to share a picture, it was that good!

I've been reading French Women Don't Get Fat, which is a fabulous book I cannot recommend highly enough, especially to people who are always dieting. We could all stand to be a bit more French in our approach to food - quality over quantity, relishing what we eat and putting it down when we're not relishing it anymore. Plus the recipes in this book look fabulous!

I dug up some more grass yesterday and I'm planting lavender this afternoon, all along the front of the yard. There will be a little path to the mailbox, surrounded by lavender, which should make it a fragrant experience to get the mail. Our blueberry bushes are getting small flower buds all over them, and so is the cherry tree but it isn't blooming yet even though several other cherry trees around town are blooming beautifully. Meanwhile in the guest room, 15 of my 26 tomato pots have sprouted (including both of my black tomatoes)!

Got a bit more of the seed starting to do today, sending out some job applications, getting some writing done, straightening the house, blah blah blah. Another day, another to-do list!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On the "Bad Seed."

I'm getting ready to order a couple tons of seeds (not really, but it seems like it) and I wanted to make a point about it here for anyone else who might be getting a garden ready. Please, please, do NOT support Monsanto this season!

Monsanto is the very personification of the phrase "evil corporation." Information abounds online, starting with the Millions Against Monsanto campaign, if you aren't aware of the corporate terrorism, biological warfare, and genetic destruction they perpetrate worldwide. There's also the enlightening documentary, The World According to Monsanto, which you can watch online here.

But avoiding Monsanto isn't as easy as not purchasing Roundup. Most of the major pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other non-organic gardening chemicals are made or sold by Monsanto. Even worse, so are seeds. The biggest seed retailer in this country, Burpee, gets their seeds from Seminis, which is owned by Monsanto. In fact, most large seed companies deal with Seminis, making it harder and harder for the average gardener to avoid dealing with the devil.

So if you're planting a garden this season, I implore you to get your seeds from non-Monsanto sources. It's worth the extra step; after all, we garden because we care about our world and surroundings, right? And do you really want to plant for a world in which vegetables are made with bug genes and small farmers are a thing of the past?

For good companies, I highly recommend the nonprofit Seed Savers' Exchange, which preserves endangered heirloom varieties. These old-school fruits and veggies have been bred for flavor and nutrition rather than grocery-store shelf life, and the Exchange's work in preserving the genetic diversity of our food supply could prove invaluable in the event that our corporate monoculture varieties should fail. I'm also a fan of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Seeds of Change.

On a smaller local level, there are sure to be smaller independents in your area if you look. My dad sent me several packs of seeds from Seedman for my birthday last year, including the tomatoes which are now germinating in my guest room. So hunt around! And remember, every dollar you don't spend on Monsanto is a dollar toward a brighter future.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Luddite, indeed.

So the evil empire just jacked up our internet service bill again, and now we really can't justify paying $50 a month for a service that wastes our time more than it contributes to our lives. So... we're thinking of cancelling our internet.

*gasp* "No!" you cry. "I cannot LIVE without reading this blog!"

Fear not. Coffee shops with free wireless internet abound in this fair city, and if I know us we'll still be online two or three times a week. But I refuse to pay for it any longer when it wastes so much of my time at home, and we don't really need it. I get the newspaper delivered now, so that's what I can read over breakfast to get the news, and with all the work there is to do around this house (plus a lot of writing I want to get caught up on), I will be glad to be rid of the distraction.

This is a big step for me though, as my biggest weakness is my internet addiction. I anticipate heavy withdrawals soon, ha, but I do think it'll be better for us both in the long run.

And I know I'm going to be very busy soon, as the tomatoes are already sprouting and I have seeds to order and peppers to plant and a fence to build and grass to kill and so much to do outside...! Today I'm running out for a flourescent light for my tomatoes. They sprouted a lot sooner than I thought they would and they're stretching out way too high looking for sunlight, which they aren't getting in our spare room! (But in the spare room, they're also warm and not being trashed by cats, so...)