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Why don’t astilbes spread? September 24, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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Our friend Ben was sitting on our back deck the other night, enjoying the plump, seed-filled plumes of our favorite astilbe, ‘Professor van der Weilen’. (The good Professor is a cultivar—cultivated variety—dating back to 1917, with arching white flower plumes, as opposed to the upright plumes of most astilbes.) Our plant has formed a very handsome clump over the years, and this year, it’s especially impressive, with lots of arching seedheads.

But I’ve never seen a single seedling. Friends have given us many nice astilbes over the years, and they’ve all thrived in our shade garden, but they’ve never sent up any little astilbes, either. In fact, all of them came from divisions cut off from the mature plants, not from seed-grown plants. Given their vigor and longevity, our friend Ben would have expected to see a forest of astilbes coming up among the hostas, hellebores, geraniums, ferns, bleeding hearts, and other shade-loving plants in this particular garden. But no: The astilbes hold their own just fine, but that’s the end of it.

Gardeners are often cautioned not to plant seeds of prized cultivars, since they seldom come true, i.e., replicate the parent plant. That’s fine, good advice and all that, but what if you don’t care if your seedlings grow up to look and act exactly like their parents, you just want, say, more astilbes?!! Obviously, some astilbe seeds must be viable, or breeders would never be able to create new cultivars. But why weren’t our plants giving us seedlings when they were producing so many seeds?

This time, my good friend Google gave me conflicting advice. Some sites said that astilbe seeds were sterile and the only way to propagate the plants was through divisions. But another group said they’d grown astilbes from seed after ordering them from seed companies and babying them like crazy.

Yowie kazowie. I don’t want to coddle any seeds around here, just let the seedlings come up where they will. And I certainly don’t want to be huffing and puffing with a garden spade dividing plants. I guess we’ll just be enjoying the astilbes we have, checking out plant sales, and thanking our friends for any divisions they care to share with us. Meanwhile, if you haven’t tried ‘Professor van der Weilen’ in your shade garden, at almost 100 years old he’s apparently still available. We think you’d enjoy making his acquaintance!

New stinkbug nightmares. September 21, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If you’re familiar with any of my previous stinkbug posts, such as “When will stinkbugs go away?” (type this in on our search bar at upper right to read more), you’ll know how much I hate brown marmorated* stinkbugs, those creepy shield-shaped bugs that sneak into your house in fall, lurk unobtrusively in the curtains, then dive-bomb you when you’re, say, writing a blog post. Talk about a test of my cardiac fitness!

Not that they bite or sting or anything. Though I did have a friend who drank one in her coffee. (She said it took days to get the taste out of her mouth.) It’s just scary to hear a buzz come out of nowhere and a bug land on your tee-shirt, pillow, or whatever. They also don’t “stink” in the common sense of the term: They don’t smell like manure, like rotting food, like burned rubber or hair, like garbage, like body odor, like a fish market, or basically like anything else I’ve ever smelled. They smell like stinkbug. Once you’ve smelled one, you’ll never forget that smell.

This is stinkbug season, when the stinkbugs start migrating into house walls to spend a restful winter hibernating away from the cold and brutal outdoor conditions. And, always, some of those stinkbugs get into your house, and the dive-bombing begins. The news has been full of warnings about this. But yesterday, I saw the worst stinkbug news I could ever have imagined: Finally, we have a predator for these Asian imports.

Now, this should be great news. Normally, the reason pests like Japanese beetles spread and ravage our landscapes is that they’re inadvertently imported with produce or whatever and the predators that keep them in check back home aren’t. Once they arrive here, none of our native birds and other natural predators of insects want anything to do with them. So they proliferate, wreaking havoc on our fruits, veggies, and ornamental plants.

But a superhero bug has shown up to consume the evil stinkbug! Only it’s worse than any stinkbug could be for homeowners. At least, for homeowners like me. According to the article I read yesterday, stinkbug carcasses in your home attract carpet beetles. And carpet beetles, as their name suggests, are attracted to carpets. As Sue Kittek, author of the article, chillingly puts it, “after the [carpet] beetles are done with the stinkbugs, they’ll move on to eat woolens and dried goods stored in your house.” In my case, that means the priceless oriental carpets I inherited from my parents. Nooooo!!!!

Fortunately, Sue has an easy solution for this: Make sure you get rid of the dead stinkbugs, either by vacuuming them up or by hand-picking them and then disposing of them. This means regular patrolling of the house. We’re good about this here at Hawk’s Haven, and have never found enough to warrant vacuuming; we just pick up the dead ones and trash them, and pick up the live ones and toss them out the door. (If you do have enough to vacuum, everyone says that you should dispose of your vacuum bags to avoid a dreadful stink.) Whatever the case, don’t forget about those carpet beetles. Yikes! And during stinkbug season, always look in your mug or glass before you drink.

‘Til next time,

Silence

* Apparently, “marmorated” means “marbled,” given the ornate if unimpressive squiggles on the backs of their shells.

A three-part food disposal system. September 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s nothing as demoralizing as wasting food, but we all do it. It’s not just a shame, but a sin, when people all over the globe, people in our own cities, are going hungry. Yet we’ve all had the experience of opening our vegetable drawer and finding produce that’s past its prime, or discovering a container of leftovers that makes us go “Eeeeewww!!!,” or looking forward to our morning toast and finding a moldy loaf of bread (sob).

No worries, this food needn’t go to waste. Our friend Ben and I have a three-part food-disposal system that takes care of pretty much everything. Well, actually, I guess it’s four-part. The first line of defense is our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our yellow-naped Amazon parrot Plutarch. They do a pretty decent job of eating scraps of cheese, veggies, chips, nuts, and the like.

The second line of defense is our flock of six heritage-breed chickens. They’ll eat that moldy bread, overripe tomato, leftover rice or pasta, wilted greens, or what-have-you with relish. The only thing I’ve ever seen chickens reject is zucchini. If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.

Then there’s our earthworm composter. Earthworms also love leftover fruits, salad greens, and veggies, but they’ll also eat things like coffee grounds and tea bags, turning them into rich fertilizer for greenhouse and garden plants.

Finally, there are our compost bins. We can put anything in them, with these exceptions: diseased plants, meat, dairy, grease. Diseased plants will contaminate the compost, infecting whatever you put it on, while the other contaminants will attract rats and other vermin to your compost bins. I’d also advise against putting weeds, especially weeds that can harm you like poison ivy or aggressive weeds like thistle that can spread throughout your garden, in your compost bins. Sometimes, the trash can is the only option.

However, between pets, chickens, earthworms, and the compost bin, a lot of potentially wasted food gets returned to the earth and enjoyed. I love to cook and use fresh seasonal produce, but I never feel guilty about eating out. OFB and I make a point of bringing every single thing we don’t eat home. I’ll bring a meal home that’s big enough for the two of us for another supper. OFB will bring his leftover French fries and half a bun home for the always-thrilled chickens. With our pets, our chickens, our earthworms, our compost bins, and, well okay, ourselves, there’s never an excuse to waste food. As our beloved hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “Waste not, want not.”

‘Til next time,

Silence

Monarch butterflies: The next passenger pigeon? August 31, 2014

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Our friend Rudy sent us a wonderful article about passenger pigeons (this year marks the 100th anniversary of their extinction). It was packed with fascinating facts about these once-plentiful birds, such as that they once numbered in the billions, comprising as much as 25 to 40% of America’s total bird population, and that their flocks, numbering millions of birds, could blot out the sun for hours. (People who’d never seen a passenger pigeon flock before, hearing the thunder of millions of wings and watching darkness blot out the sun, feared that the End Times were upon them, or at least that a tornado was bearing down on them and making their personal end time imminent.)

Another thing our friend Ben learned from the article was that, unlike something like, say, the ivory-billed woodpecker, people knew exactly when the passenger pigeon became extinct. Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, died at a Cincinnati zoo in 1914 and was shipped to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for preservation and study. Poor Martha! From billions to just one. Then none.

Human behavior drove the passenger pigeon extinction. People had always eaten the abundant birds, a cheap (or free, if you were a good shot) source of protein. But Dan Greenberg, one of the experts quoted in the article, blamed their extinction on two inventions that would appear to have nothing to do with birds: the telegraph and the railroad. The two had to come together to make the extinction happen: the telegraph, because its miles of wires gave the birds a convenient place to roost, which they would do in huge flocks. On the wires, they were easy to find, and they perched so close together that a single shot could down multiple birds. And the railroad, because the birds could be packed on ice and shipped to major urban areas, guaranteeing an insatiable market of poor urban laborers desperate for some cheap meat.

The extinction of the passenger pigeon, and the awareness and acknowledgment that human actions were responsible, helped launch the conservation movement, and probably saved the buffalo (hunted for their tongues, considered a delicacy on the East Coast) and the beaver (whose fur was used for fashionable top hats) from a similar fate. So at least the pigeon didn’t die in vain.

But the aspect of the article that really snagged our friend Ben’s attention was when the interviewer asked another expert, Steve Sullivan, what he’d consider to be today’s passenger pigeon. And he answered, “the monarch butterfly.”

You probably used to see monarchs all over the place, floating through your yard, drifting along roadsides. I’ve even seen them migrating south at nearby Hawk Mountain alongside the hawks and other raptors. You might even have been lucky enough to see one of their beautiful sea-green chrysalises, in which the monarch caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. But in recent years, I’ve seen fewer and fewer monarchs, and I’ll bet you have, too. (Unless, like our friend Mark, you mistake the brown-and-orange admiral for a monarch.)

The catastrophic decline of the monarchs is also directly related to human activity, and also to a one-two punch like the one that brought down the passenger pigeon. Every year, more and more herbicides are dumped on farm fields, lawns, and gardens. GMO crops are specifically bred to withstand the ever-increasing use of these poisons, so vast acreages of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, and the like can take even stronger herbicide applications. What can’t withstand the herbicides are the “weeds,” which is to say, the diversity of plant life. And some of the weeds that herbicides kill are milkweeds, the only source of food for monarch butterfly larvae.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood make room for plenty of milkweeds here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But even so, our monarch populations have dwindled to the point where I think I saw one so far this year. (We also have pawpaws for the zebra swallowtail larvae, which are totally dependent on them.)

I urge everyone to have a butterfly garden in their backyards, or in containers on their deck or apartment balcony, to try to save our beautiful butterflies from the onslaught of herbicides. Milkweeds have gorgeous flower clusters that last a long time (Asclepias tuberosa, the very popular “butterfly weed” that brightens sunny, well-drained gardens and wildflower meadows with clusters of yellow, orange, and red flowers, is a milkweed). Butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) sport beautiful plumes of blooms in colors from white through mauve and purple to maroon, and during their summer bloom season, there’s lots of added color from visiting butterflies. (We planted one called “Miss Molly” on our beloved golden retriever Molly’s grave.) And there are many, many more.

But monarchs aren’t just threatened by America’s obsession with herbicides. As you doubtless know, they migrate south for the winter and cluster by the thousands on the trunks of trees in pine and fir forests in their wintering grounds near Mexico City—trees that are being decimated by illegal logging. The monarchs depend on their winter habitat being there. After all, they’ve just flown thousands of miles to get there, and they have a collective memory of the forest where they overwinter and return to it. What if it isn’t there?

Monarch populations have crashed in recent years due to this combination of herbicides and loss of winter habitat. In 1995, they covered 44.5 acres of trees in their wintering grounds in Mexico. Last winter, their population was so reduced that they only covered 1.65 acres. How much more will they have to decline before the last “Martha” is on display in some zoo’s butterfly conservatory?

Please plant butterfly-friendly plants, refrain from herbicide use, and try to urge your neighbors and your community to do the same, to create corridors where butterflies can move and eat freely, as safe from herbicides as any of us can be in this day. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Greens: Cooked or raw? August 30, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I’m mostly an equal-opportunity greens fan; I love them raw (in salads and sandwiches), semi-cooked (in hot sandwiches like cheese panini with tomatoes and arugula), and cooked (in pasta, soups, dal, sauteed, or steamed). Pretty much the only greens I won’t eat are the ones that taste like dirt (beet greens, Swiss chard), the ones that are prickly (radish greens, turnip greens), and the ones that come from cans. (Just give me the beets and radishes and Japanese turnips and let me enjoy the colorful chard as an ornamental.) If I knew how to grill, I’d doubtless love the grilled halved Romaine lettuces and halved radicchio that have become popular.

I love to make a big pot of greens, including the “supergreens” kale and collards, along with spinach, arugula, and methi (fenugreek greens), cooking them down with a tiny bit of water clinging to the leaves, and then make saag paneer, the delicious, Indian dish that uses their equivalent of farmer’s cheese/fresh mozzarella, paneer, with a simply luscious mix of sauteed onion, spices, and cream. Served over basmati rice, which soaks up the sauce, it’s pure heaven.

Greens prepared this way are also a great base for soups and a great filling layer for lasagna. (You can tuck them in between the lasagna pasta and the ricotta or Greek yogurt, then top with sauce and shredded cheese.) So are greens that are added to dishes like pastas at the last moment. I love sauteing diced sweet onions and minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps with sliced mushrooms and diced red, orange or yellow bell pepper, a dash of crushed red pepper, Italian herbs (a mix of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme), salt (we love RealSalt and Trocomare, hot herbed salt), and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I add arugula when everything else has cooked down, use pasta tongs to immediately add cooked spaghetti to the sauteed veggies, and toss the pasta with the veggies and my choice of shredded cheese before serving it up. Yum!

But I’d still want to serve my pasta with a crunchy green salad. I really love salad, from a Caesar (yes to hard-boiled eggs, no to croutons and anchovies) to the famous iceberg wedge (I like mine with chopped sweet or purple onion, diced tomato, crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and an olive oil-lemon dressing, with plenty of salt and fresh-cracked black pepper).

There are so many salad variations that I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t love salad. One of my favorites has a crunchy Romaine base with arugula, radicchio, Boston (Bibb, butter) lettuce, watercress and frisee giving texture, flavor and color, with shredded carrots, diced bell pepper (red, yellow, and/or orange), diced red onion, cherry tomatoes (my favorites are the orange Sungold tomatoes), cucumbers, red cabbage, shredded white sharp Cheddar and/or blue or Gorgonzola cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs, black olives, scallions (green onions), and pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for nutritional value and crunch. I’ll add avocado and/or jarred artichoke hearts in oil for an especially decadent salad. With so much going on in the salad—especially if I mix in fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or another fresh herb—I like to keep the dressing simple: good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But not all is well in the raw greens world. I had a very sad revelation a few months ago when I read that eating raw kale was damaging to people with thyroid issues. I love raw kale in salads, but I guess I’ll be eating all my kale cooked from now on. A dear friend reminded me that the oxalic acid in spinach is bad for people with arthritis, and can not just accumulate in the joints but contribute to the formation of kidney stones. And if, like my father, you’re on blood thinners to prevent heart attack or stroke, your doctor will probably tell you to avoid all greens and salads, since leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, a natural blood thinner. Bummer!!! Not to mention that you need to eat some oil with your greens to release their nutrients in the body, preferably a healthy oil like olive oil.

The real divider in our household, though, is spinach. Our friend Ben likes it raw in salads, I like it cooked. I find the texture of raw spinach both limp and dusty—no crunch, and this dreadful musty, felted texture. (I feel the same way about raw mushrooms, and won’t eat them in a salad, either, although I love cooked mushrooms.) I, on the other hand, love cooked spinach (again, cooked down with just a few drops of water) with balsamic vinegar. OFB hates it. His exception is spanakopita, the Greek phyllo pockets filled with spinach and feta. We’ve finally found common ground with spinach sauteed in olive oil with minced garlic or onion. OFB will eat it if I add crushed red pepper, and I can discreetly add a splash of balsamic vinegar to my serving. And yes, I do buy baby spinach for his salads when I remember!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Naturalizing bulbs. August 24, 2014

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Following on my previous post, “Why are tulips so short-lived?”, our friend Ben would like to talk about an interesting way to naturalize bulbs and perennials. “Naturalizing” basically means encouraging plants to come up all over the place in random arrangements, rather than planting them singly or in ordered groups. It works best for plants that tend to spread and multiply on their own, like daffodils, many of the little bulbs, and wildflowers.

The usual advice for naturalizing daffodils is to simply toss the bulbs into the area where you want to plant them and planting them where they fall. That way, you don’t unconsciously space or arrange them. But who wants to bruise the poor bulbs?! Not our friend Ben.

So I was quite intrigued to read a technique in an e-mail from Peony’s Envy, a wonderful peony nursery in New Jersey, about how they naturalized their woodland peonies (Paeonia japonica), which are the first peonies to bloom and thrive in the woodland garden settings that support ferns and other shade-loving wildflowers. (Peony’s Envy sells their plants online and on-site, and hosts open garden days throughout peony bloom season.)

The Peony’s Envy folks suggested taking as many tennis balls as you had plants and tossing them in the general area where you wanted the plants to go, then planting where the balls fell. That way, you’re not tossing plants or bulbs around, but are still getting random planting patterns. Mind you, this technique works better if you’re planting six woodland peonies or autumn ferns or hostas or Virginia bluebells than if you’re planting 100 daffodil bulbs (er, golf balls, anyone?). But the general idea is still intriguing. And if you had more plants than tennis (or golf) balls, you could always plant in cohorts: Toss the balls, plant; turn to the next area, toss the balls again, plant; and so on until you were done.

Thank you, Peony’s Envy! Great tip.

Why are tulips so short-lived? August 22, 2014

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The thing about bulbs is that most of them are so long-lived. Plant them once, and they either come back reliably year after year, or come back and multiply year after year. They’re one of the easiest and most dependable flowering plants, something you can plant once and look forward to every spring thereafter. This is true of daffodils, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, crocuses, glory-of-the-snow (chionodoxa), star of Bethlehem, snowdrops, Siberian squill, and numerous others.

Planting them is ridiculously easy, too: If you’re planting a sizable group of bulbs, dig a trench deep enough to cover the bulbs (shallow for small bulbs, deeper for daffs) and long and wide enough to contain the number of bulbs you’re planting, set the bulbs in root-side down, put the soil back over the bulbs, firm the soil by walking over it, the end. If you’re just planting a few bulbs in an existing bed, tucking in some grape hyacinths, snowdrops, crocuses, and/or daffodils, a narrow trowel will open a V-shaped slit in the soil (again to the appropriate depth) and you can just drop the bulb in (making sure the root end is facing down) and step on the slit to firm the soil over it. This avoids the big holes that “official” bulb planters gouge out of the soil, potentially damaging the roots of nearby perennials, and saves the steps of inverting the bulb planter after each bulb, knocking out the soil, and then replacing it in the hole.

So, our friend Ben wondered, what’s the deal with tulips? Once planted, daffodils grow and multiply for decades without further effort from you. But tulips? Apparently, most tulip hybrids bloom for one or at most two seasons. So-called “perennial” tulips, such as the Darwin hybrids, bloom for at most five years, typically blooming for three before declining. Yet they’re at least as expensive and as much trouble to plant as daffodils. Many gardeners simply treat them as annuals, planting them every fall, then digging them up after they bloom and discarding them.

This wanton waste didn’t sit well with me, and besides, I wondered why they behaved so differently from the rest of the spring bulbs. I consulted my good friend Google and found an answer from ornamental horticultural expert Rob Proctor. He pointed out that in their native land, tulips endured poor, rocky soil, cold winters, wet springs, and hot, dry summers. In these conditions, they were true perennials, just like daffodils, returning to bloom every year. He compared the climate to Colorado’s.

Apparently, our problem is that we cosset our tulips to death. We water their beds all summer, encouraging bulb rot; we feed them or plant them in rich soil (or both); our climate isn’t cold enough in winter or hot enough in summer. Our friend Ben read a fascinating tip, that in Britain, where summers aren’t known for being hot and dry, gardeners dig up the tulips when their bloom cycle has ended and their foliage is starting to decline and bring them inside hot, dry greenhouses to “cure,” then replant them in fall, thus encouraging many years of bloom.

Of course, this still sounds like a lot of work, and you’d need a greenhouse to pull it off. Is it worth it? Er. Our problem would be trying to remember where we’d planted the tulip bulbs, what they looked like versus the daffodil bulbs they were interplanted with, and how on earth we could dig them up without exposing our entire bulb border, a major undertaking. We had such a gorgeous display of daffs and tulips interplanted in our border last year it was breathtaking. But Silence Dogood and I have agreed that we’d better leave everything as is for next spring and see what happens. Maybe we won’t get a single tulip, or a single blooming tulip, but at least our daffodils can stretch out. And if we do get a few more tulip blooms, that will be great.

Perfect peach crisp, plus salad. August 17, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. It’s peach season here in scenic PA. Our friend Rudy just gave us a whole bag of fresh-picked peaches. Thing is, ripe peaches aren’t great keepers. Like heirloom tomatoes, you’d better eat them in a couple of days or else. And there are only two of us. What to do?

Well, there are plenty of ways to eat ripe peaches. Salads are one of my favorites. You can toss peach chunks, blueberries, diced red onion, and slivered almonds on a bed of arugula, add some extra-virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon or lime juice, and some salt and fresh-cracked pepper, and enjoy a luscious salad. Or mix things up by subbing avocado and pistachios for the blueberries and almonds. Fresh mint leaves pair perfectly with peaches on a bed of Bibb lettuce with crumbled blue, gorgonzola, or feta cheese. Or make a cocktail in your salad bowl with Bibb or Boston lettuce, peaches, raspberries, crumbled pecans, and an olive oil and champagne vinegar dressing.

But when gifted with an abundance of ripe peaches, one of the most delicious ways to use them all is to make a peach crisp. Sure, save a few for eating fresh and adding to salads. But crisps are so luscious, flavorful, and easy to make, it would be a shame if you didn’t at least try one. Unlike pies and cobblers, crisps don’t require a pie crust, so you need no technical piecrust-rolling skills, no ability to create a piecrust lattice on top, no horrendously messy counter.

Here’s all it takes to make the best fruit dessert since fresh blueberry tart:

For the filling:

Butter a round 8-inch glass cake pan and add a touch of water to the bottom. Slice enough fresh yellow peaches into chunks or slices to fill at least 2/3 of the pan. If you wish, add blueberries, red raspberries, or pitted sour cherries on top. (We like the rich gold of the peaches with the blue and red of blueberries and red raspberries or sour cherries, but any one of the three makes a lovely add-in, as do, improbably, seedless green grapes.) Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon or cardamom over the fruit.

For the topping:

Combine 2/3 cup unbleached flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 stick butter softened at room temperature. Work the butter in with your fingers to make panko-like crumbs. Next, work in 1/2 to 2/3 cup rolled oats and spread the mixture over the fruit in your glass pan.

To make:

Bake at 350 degrees F. for an hour, covering the top with aluminum foil for the first half-hour, until the fruit is cooked and bubbly and the topping is crisp. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or dished up in bowls with cream poured over the crisp. Yum!!!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Morning rituals. July 31, 2014

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Do you find yourself beginning every morning the same way, with some soothing activity that brings you a little calm, peace of mind, and feeling of security before you plunge into your day? Maybe it’s as simple as picking up a cup of your favorite coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts on the way in to work. Or maybe a walk or bike ride every morning sets you up for the day. Sometimes a hot shower or a soothing rub of body lotion is enough to make you feel pampered and centered.

We have a friend whose morning would be a disaster if he couldn’t pore over the baseball box scores, and another who begins every single day by reading the comics, convinced that a good laugh is the right start to a good day. Another rises early every day to meditate. For yet another, it’s worth getting up an hour early to go to the local diner and indulge in the “farmer’s breakfast”—pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, homefries, and toast, with plenty of coffee to wash it all down. (Gulp. But it’s heaven to him.) One relative couldn’t imagine a morning beginning without attending morning Mass.

Of course, we have our own morning rituals here at Hawk’s Haven, too. Silence Dogood is not what you’d call a morning person, yet she wakes with the light. In the interval between daylight and the return of consciousness, she likes to keep things calm and absolutely quiet. She sits at her computer and reads Yahoo news and her e-mail, then visits a few favorite sites, and then will write a blog post or two to kick the day off. Our friend Ben, meanwhile, will put on some coffee, take our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, out for her morning walk, feed the chickens, water the garden, and get the papers, which he (and, eventually, Silence) will read. OFB enjoys hot toast or croissants or English muffins and marmalade or hot pepper jelly and lots of butter along with that morning coffee and the papers. Silence can’t even look at food before 10 a.m., and then she’s more likely to opt for fruit and cottage cheese or a quinoa salad.

It doesn’t really matter what you do in the morning, as long as it makes you feel good and sets you up for the day. But we do think that morning rituals, whatever they are—doing the same things at the same time every morning—will get your day off to a healthier, more empowered start. We even think that applies to the eye-popping diner breakfast, morning walk, and meditation equally.

That’s because so much of the modern workday is about powerlessness—you do this for this many hours in this exact place and you’d better do it just the way we say and produce these results, even if that’s impossible, or else. Your time, your life, your mind are not your own, your talents are unappreciated, you’re just another faceless cog on the wheel, a “worker bee,” as a heartless boss at one old company described his employees.

But before work, you’re in charge. You have the power. No one can tell you what to do, can make you keep up with 50 social media sites while also doing your job for the same pay but ever-increasing hours, can put you on call after you’ve already put in a full day’s work. The difference between morning ritual and the lack of it can be the difference between feeling in control and out of control. So don’t feel ashamed of that Mickey D’s Egg McMuffin you pick up every single morning. Think of it as an empowering ritual.

The CSA conundrum. July 21, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Last night, my brother and sister-in-law stopped by en route to pick up our nephew from summer camp, and our friend Ben and I took them to a lovely old country inn for supper. Rather than talking about anything most people would talk about, we got into a discussion about the problem with CSAs (technically “consumer-supported agriculture,” typically organic vegetable operations that are supported by advance subscriptions and provide “shares” of vegetables each week during the growing season).

Here in scenic PA, we have a marvelous CSA just five minutes from our house. It not only provides a diverse selection of organic produce throughout the growing season, but it has a fantastic U-Pick garden where members can pick strawberries and raspberries, flowers, green and yellow wax beans, hot peppers, cherry and paste tomatoes, and a wide assortment of herbs. The farmers also partner with local organic farms to offer fruit shares, cheese shares, bread shares, pizza shares, mushroom shares, and free-range, grass-fed meat shares, as well as wild-caught salmon.

It sounds like a dream come true, and we enthusiastically joined up and belonged for several years before finally giving up on it. Why would we do such a thing, when it was so conveniently located and the produce was so well grown (and we really loved the U-Pick garden)?! We could get things at our CSA that we could find nowhere else: garlic scapes, tender Japanese turnips that were great sliced thin in salads, French breakfast radishes that we ate as the French do on buttered slices of baguette. And the fruit share was full of incredible varieties you’d never find in a store. I drool every time I read about the mushroom shares, which weren’t available in our day.

But we had to stop. It cost a great deal to sign up for a full share, and what you got depended on what the farmers planted and which crops flourished, not what you wanted or would actually eat. So, on a given week, you might get one ear of corn, one tomato, and what seemed like 50,000 pounds of Swiss chard or turnip greens or radish tops or the like. Now, I love radishes, beets, and those Japanese turnips, but I do NOT love bitter turnip greens, prickly radish greens, or Swiss chard and beet greens, which both taste like dirt. (And don’t dare tell me that sauteing radish greens makes them taste good, unless you’re also fond of stuffing fiberglass down your throat.) Plus, how are you supposed to feed two people with one ear of corn or one tomato?!! And sure, if we got a half-share, we’d only have gotten 25,000 pounds of Swiss chard and etc. But then we wouldn’t have even gotten our one tomato and ear of corn.

We wanted to support our CSA. We loved our CSA. But we really needed to buy food we would eat, in quantities we could use. So we finally gave up and now rely on the farmers’ markets near us and on our own veggie beds. (You can’t get any of the other shares, like fruit and mushroom, if you don’t belong to the CSA, sob.)

I felt like a total failure because we stopped supporting our CSA. I was too ashamed to mention it to anyone. So you can imagine how surprised I was to hear my brother and sister-in-law start talking about their CSA subscription and how challenging it was for them. Now mind you, they live in a city—Washington, DC—not farm country like me and our friend Ben. And they only subscribe for a quarter-share (not an option here, we’d get a handful of stuff, but apparently they’re still overrun, lucky them). But their experience was still like ours. Their kids don’t eat vegetables, unless you consider French fries vegetables, so they need to consume the CSA produce each week by themselves. And they too are overwhelmed by things like beet greens and, in my brother’s words, “vegetables we’ve never even heard of.”

Like us, they hate to waste food, and since they get so much in their week’s share, they end up eating whatever it is frantically every night of the week. Okay, so let’s hypothesize that you get a gargantuan bag of spinach in your share. (Would that we’d ever been so lucky.) You can add fresh spinach to your salad, cook some into an omelette or frittata, saute it with minced garlic and olive oil as a side, cook it down in a tiny bit of water and serve it up with salt and balsamic vinegar, or add it to saag or palaak paneer, lasagna, pasta, or you name it. But what if you’ve gotten a gargantuan bag of amaranth greens or Jerusalem artichokes or amaranth seed heads?

Oh, dear. There’s no question that supporting our local organic farmers via CSAs is the right thing to do. Perhaps OFB and I are just suffering from a breakdown of the imagination. But until further notice, we’ll be patronizing the local Mennonite farm stands, farmers’ markets, and growing our own.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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