Archive for August, 2010

Written while I was vegan. Still use vegan margarine though, because I just can’t get used to the taste of butter. Or of eggs. The only thing I use non-vegan when baking cookies is the chocolate chips.

If these do not convince you that going vegan is the best idea you’ve ever had, you may be impossible to convince. Or, you don’t like chocolate chip cookies. This is up for debate.

½ c soy margarine (stick kind- be careful not to use any margarine with vegetable or olive oil in because this will cause the cookies to melt)
¼ c sugar
½ c dark brown sugar
egg replacer (1 egg)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 1/8 c flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 c vegan chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease cookie sheets.
2. With electric mixer (or strong arm), cream margarine with two sugars until well blended and soft.
3. Separately mix egg replacer and vanilla, gradually add to margarine mix.
4. Add flour and baking soda. Splash in a little water (like, less than an 1/8 cup) until the dough is moist. Stir until just combined. Add chocolate chips.
5. Place heaping teaspoons on cookie sheets. Bake 10-15 minutes.

The trick with good cookies is not to bake them too long. With “normal” cookies, you have to bake them for a certain amount of time to kill the potential deadly bacteria in the egg. However, with vegan cookies, you can eat as much raw dough as your heart desires and never get sick (at least not from bacteria). Therefore eight minutes, depending on the heat of your oven, is usually about enough. This takes some practice to perfect, but if the edges of the cookies have just started to brown and they are still soft in the middle when you take them out of the oven they are about right. The bottoms of the cookies should be a light tan, and somewhat firm to the touch. Transfer to a plate or cooling rack for no more than ten minutes to firm up, and then store in airtight Ziploc bags or Tupperware (only Tupperware with a good tight seal will keep them fresh). They should remain amazingly soft for days.
Do not be alarmed if you do not produce perfect cookies every single time. Baking is an art that takes a lot of practice, and even the most proficient bakers will burn a batch of cookies or stir for too long or not add enough water or baking soda or whatever it is and end up with cookies that are largely edible, but not mind-blowing. But we find that the one thing keeping most people from becoming vegan is the fear that they will not be able to eat fantastic things like cookies and cakes. This is not the case. And in reality, if you read the ingredients on a store-bought package of cookies, they’re already quite possibly vegan. Only, no one is sure exactly what’s in them instead.
If you can’t identify the ingredients, do you reaaaally want to put it in your mouth?


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C-Realm Podcast
This is hilarious, because that community or death post I did earlier this week? Yeah. The first twenty minutes of this interview are almost identical to that post. It’s on other people’s minds!

And in response to some of the comments on that post… You know, I’ve been thinking about it pretty much nonstop, and the more I think about it the more I agree with what I wrote earlier this week. I have long been of the belief that rather than wandering around hoping to find the ideal situation, it makes far more sense to settle down and build it where you are. You make a lot more progress that way. Think about it this way: yes, I could move somewhere else and in theory build a community (in the sense that I typically use it, to mean a group of people who support each other and are dependent on one another for their well being), but I’d have to start all over. And then maybe I’d have to move again. This is what happened when I lived in Georgia. I made all this headway, I started to make a difference, and then I left. And I’ve been back several times since and it’s like all the headway I made had never occurred. None of the changes stuck. Because no one was there to see them through.

I am not likely to abandon the progress I have made here so easily. It is far too important to me. There’s an Evan Greer song that I always think of in these situations, and it goes like this:
“Once the novelty wears off we’ll find the same old shit/ that drove us from the last place and the one before it/ slowly it will dawn on us that everywhere is pretty much the same/ and if we want to find something new/ we have got some work to do/ so get the dirt and grab some tools/ or nothing is ever going to change… all you get is all you build and building takes some time.”

But it is the weekend and I’m supposed to be posting pictures of food, not rambling like I do during the week. I posted a C-Realm podcast primarily because KMO was over for dinner again, and we recorded another podcast, which will be out Wednesday. It’s all about food (big surprise). I’ll post a link when it’s up.

So last Tuesday I forgot to take pictures again, but halfway through dinner the plates looked like this:

I had a panko breading theme. This is panko breaded curried potato patties and zucchini fritters, which are basically grated zucchini and parmesan and were supposed to have egg but my eggs had mysteriously frozen in the fridge, so… yeah. They kind of fell apart.

Caprese salad with tomatoes from my friend’s garden.

And the whole plate all together. There was chicken there but it is gone in this picture. It was supposed to be lemonade chicken but I had no lemon zest so it wasn’t very lemony. But good! Everything is good with panko breading.


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I’ve been reading some other food blogs lately and it occurred to me, after reading one girl’s where she posts what she’s thrown away every week, that this isn’t a bad idea. I very often have things that go a bit funny before I get to use them (AGH I HATE not being home to prepare things!), and it drives me insane. Given, all my food that I don’t use ends up in the compost, but that doesn’t make me feel better for not having eaten it. I wish I had chickens, because then I could feed the bad stuff to the chickens and eat the chickens later, and it would be coming full circle. As it is I take the food to the compost at the college and they just use it to plant shrubs and things, which seems a bit beside the point as it is a dead end rather than a circle.

Anyway, I started thinking about what I’ve composted recently. I’ve been doing better this year than last year, though I still end up composting greens whenever I get them. I just don’t seem to eat them at all unless there is someone around encouraging me to eat them. And for some reason I flat out won’t eat a salad unless I have people over for dinner. So in the past week or so, I’ve composted the remains of a salad, lots of tomato skins, some peaches that went rotten… ends of green beans and okra and zucchini and eggplant, pepper tops and veins, garlic and onion skins. Mostly things that can’t be eaten, unless I had gotten to the peaches sooner. Oh, and some grapes that I accidentally left in the car all day, where they promptly turned to mush and fermented. And an end of a loaf of bread that turned green. And, alas, a lot of edamame and basil that I didn’t get time to process before the former dried out completely and the later shriveled up and turned black. *heaves a sigh*

WHEN will I have time to actually live my life? Can someone please tell me?

On the upside, there is almost never any actual trash in my trash except cat litter. And beer caps. And the plastic wrappings from meats. That’s really about it though. So that makes me feel a bit better.

Now, to get those chickens…

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So I originally started this blog thinking, oh great, I will have a chance to write at least a little each day. Because, after all, I am a writer, and it is sad and pathetic that the twenty million other things I do tend to take the place of any actual writing. The funny thing is, the way I write, it all comes out at once and I end up sitting down, writing six blog entries, and then suddenly stalling out for the next week. It seems to work though.

Unfortunately this is also the way I write novels, and as they take a significantly longer time to sit down and spit out than blog entries, they tend to live in the back of my head for months and at this point years before ever being written down. Possibly they will never get written down. I use that phrasing because I don’t write novels in the sense that I make them up. They kind of spring into my head and I scramble to write them down before I forget what I saw. Imagine if out of nowhere you’re walking down the street, and suddenly a movie clicks on in your head, and you stop dead to stand there and watch (mentally). That is very similar to what happens to me. It is up to me to try and describe what I see.

The other unfortunate thing is that my brain very rarely let’s me know which of the several novels floating in my head this particular scene belongs to. So, when walking to work in the rain a month or so ago, I got a flash of a scene, I hadn’t the faintest what it belonged to. In fact, it didn’t seem to fit with any of the three novels that were next up in the queue. So I ignored it for a while, until I started getting even more flashes, mostly while we were on vacation (though I didn’t realize what they were at the time). Then I had a good portion of scenes rolling around in my head, largely disconnected from one another, and was now becoming somewhat concerned about whether or not I would remember them all when I finally figured out what they belonged to, and, even more direly, when I would have time to write them down.

As it turns out, they belong to a novel that I had only vaguely conceived back in my senior year of high school. You see, our wonderful AP English teacher had us write journals, and one day (out of nowhere I’m sure) I got this image of this girl stepping across a stream into the forest. I hadn’t the faintest idea what she was doing there, or where she was coming from or where she was going or why, but it came to me clear as day and I fortunately wrote it down (the trick will be to find it now, but lucky for me I save everything like the OCD pack rat I am). I hadn’t thought of this image in years. Until, that is, all these disconnected scenes starting beleaguering me, and I recalled an idea for a novel I had while being bored out of my mind during my senior year of college (all that class time was really great for writing- I used to pretend to be taking notes while really writing lengthy sections of novels and epic letters to people).

Now there is a novel in my head. Not all of it, mind, because my brain at least knows when to draw the line and wait until I’ve had time to write some sections of it down before dumping the rest in. But heaven knows when that will be. Again, on the back burner, with so many other things. Maybe someone will drop from the sky to give me a million dollars so I have time for all this- though of course with a million dollars I would immediately start farming, which will probably not be conducive to novel writing either. Perhaps I just need to arrange to be sick for the better part of a week to see if I can knock some of it out. Perhaps I need to pretend that the bits of the novel are blog entries and then you all can be terribly confused by my writing process, where I have a tendency to write at least ten different beginnings and a couple endings before getting around to the middle.

Speaking of which, I do have a finished novel sitting around on my desktop. I don’t think it’s fit for any actual publishing, because, well, it’s not all that great. I wrote it in college and it had to happen but it’s no glory of American fiction or anything like that. I’m wondering if I could publish online, somehow, and just charge a few dollars to people to read it. Or download it. Is that possible? Does anyone know? (Would anyone actually be willing to read it, beyond my immediate family who have already all gotten to read it for free?)

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New York Times: Math Lessons for Locavores

Oh for heavens sake.

People have been sending me a lot of these types of articles these days. The corporatists frantically trying to regain ground for a global food economy, while the rest of us roll our eyes and remark to one another how terribly they have missed the point.

Yes, it is true that you can play all kinds of games with math to make the numbers go in one direction or another. It is more energy efficient to ship food versus the energy it takes to store it at home. Though I find this to be a completely ridiculous comparison. Because if you ship food across the country, you use energy to 1. ship it, and 2. store it at home. Versus not shipping it at all and then storing it at home. You see how there are two wastes of energy in that first equation? So comparing the energy usage of transportation to that of home energy storage is just kind of demented. And yet ANOTHER example of a main stream media journalist trying to take the blame away from say, corporations, and putting it back on people. Come now. You’re going to start attacking individuals for using refrigerators when industry uses thousands of times more energy to build all the trucks and ships and so on that transport food across the country?

The problem with articles like this is that they go on about how “localvores” are so selective in their arguments, and then he goes on and is just as selective. To make my point a little clearer (as opposed to more rambling irritation), let’s use some bullets:

– As already mentioned, he fails to address the energy costs of building all the vehicles used to transport food around the country (and internationally) including planes, trucks, and ships. And the energy used to extract oil. And the energy used to fight foreign wars to protect oil interests.
– I have no idea where he’s getting his figures on energy use, because they are astonishingly different from, well, every other figure I’ve ever seen.
– We’ve “liberated tens of millions from backbreaking manual labor” by making farming more efficient? What the hell do you think those tens of millions of people are doing? Sitting on their couches eating bonbons? They’re doing industrial backbreaking labor now, you moron. Or they’re moving the boxes of food around that you are so in favor of transporting thousands of miles, and anyone who’s every worked in a warehouse knows that’s not back breaking, right?
– Apparently our new “efficient” agriculture has also spared forests from being tilled under, which is hilarious. Um, gee, what about the entire country that has already been plowed under? What about the forests in other nations from whence we import our food that are deforesting for agriculture? You ever hear about that whole issue with the rainforest? Let’s not even get into the fact that farms are draining the aquifers of the country, that we’re going to run out of fresh water, and that conventional farming has polluted most of the waterways in the nation. In addition to destroying habitat.
– He also fails to mention that the global food economy results in lots of food getting mixed all together, resulting in, surprise! Outbreaks of pathogens! Just like the eggs this past month, and the peanut butter, and the spinach, and the many many cows, and chicken, and god only knows what else before that. Whereas I am never afraid to eat the eggs from my neighborhood farm, because I’ve been there, and seen that they’re clean.
– And, finally, the biggest omission of all: he very casually makes the assumption that we have endless quantities of oil to keep transporting food all over the world. He does not in the slightest address the fact that in a very short period of time, we are going to be forced to reconfigure EVERYTHING in our lives, not just food, because oil will be too prohibitively expensive to use. So if the cost of oil continues to go up (as it will, since we have already surpassed peak oil production globally), then the cost of transportation will go up… as will the cost of the conventional agriculture he seems so fond of… as will the cost of refrigeration, for that matter. That part at least is too true. What the hell do people need three fridges for? The bottom line is, if you are dependent on a global food system for food, and that system is dependent on oil, and oil is GOING TO RUN OUT, then your food will run out. Pure and simple.

This all comes down to the fact that the author, poor thing, is just assuming left and right that there is only one way to feed people, and that is conventional agriculture. He assumes that conventional agriculture is a great thing that has saved us all from starvation, when in fact it has led to the population explosion that is now making life very very difficult for us all. But this is typical of mainstream media. Not that I don’t make assumptions myself. I just do my damndest to make sure I’m examining them and verifying my beliefs with reality.

And, last but not least, it is sinful on the Eastern Shore to eat a tomato flown in from California simply because they taste like shit compared to home grown shore tomatoes. That blows most of the “math” arguments right out of the water, in my opinion.

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I’m feeling dramatic lately, what can I say? Because I, like so many people my age, am again faced with the decision so common in this f-ed up society. Stay where I am, where unfortunately there are almost no career options, or move somewhere else where in theory there might be more than one place to get a job. No, I haven’t lost my job. It’s just decision making time in my world and, unsurprisingly, I find myself thinking about where my food comes from in the process.

Or more accurately, I should say, I find myself thinking about the people I get my food with. I never expected when I moved to this town over four years ago that I would stay at all. I’m usually terrible about making very close friends, and I tend to stay close to the places where I’ve made them. The trouble is, in this town I’ve not only made some of the closest friends of my life, I’ve found myself a member of an entire community. When my little sister was visiting last week we dashed into the market for a hunk of mozzarella, and she was terribly amused by the fact that every single person in the store knew me by name.

And that’s what I love so much about this town. We make the joke that you can never go to the farmer’s market just to get eggs: this simple task takes at least two hours. And it’s because when you go to the farmer’s market you run into everyone you know, and end up standing there chatting with them about one thing or another. I absolutely love that I know so many people. I absolutely love that I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know. I love that on any particular night, if I am feeling social, I can walk to one of five or so neighbors’ houses and be guaranteed I will be invited in for a meal or at least a drink on the porch. I am so in love with this that the thought of moving away from this town caused me to burst into tears and mope around the house all day last Monday, a reaction that completely astonished me.

It shouldn’t, really. I have always been a homebody. I used to go on in high school about how I wanted to travel, but I think that was mostly a desire to get the hell away from my death trap of a hometown. Since then I have traveled, and I have lived other places, and I hated it. I was miserable as all hell. But since moving to this town I’ve been if not consistently happy (and who is, really), than happier on a more regular basis than I’ve been in my life. It’s hard not to be happy after going to the farmer’s market on a beautiful summer morning, and coming home to a loaf of bread and hand crafted cheese and locally fresh picked berries.

And now I have a network of people I can rely on- people who, if they aren’t exactly friends, certainly fall solidly under the category of “neighbors”- people who, if I needed it, I could call up for help on one thing or another. And people here do that. They help each other out, they do what is needed to make sure those around them stay afloat. It has taken me four years to become a part of this community, and now that I’m a member, I sure as hell don’t want to give it up for my life. It IS my life. That’s a startling realization for anyone who has grown up in this culture where it is simple as can be to pick up your “life”, pack it in a box, and start over somewhere else. We haven’t been taught to value the relationships that only come with being in the same place over an extended period of time. We haven’t been taught to become interdependent with our neighbors, because, well, if we did we wouldn’t be so dependent on stores to fulfill our needs. But here I am canning tomatoes and sharing produce and talking about going in together on a freezer with my friends, and my bike is in my neighbors’ garage and there’s a regular standing offer to trade services (web skills or sewing or whatever it may be) with the rest of them. And I’m thinking about giving this up? So I can potentially make more money somewhere else?

It’s the bind that really makes this whole society so untenable. If I want to farm, I need more money. If I want more money, I have to find a job that pays me a ridiculously larger sum than I make currently. But on the other hand, if I want to farm successfully, I need a market to sell to and a community of people willing to support me. But to make the money to start a farm, I have to abandon the community I’ve become a part of, and the network of farmers who would help me get started, to go somewhere where there are more jobs (if such a place even exists). This is such a ridiculous choice it just makes me fume. I want the other choice. I want to just smash the system that would put me in such a bind (and it’s not just me that’s in a bind, I know that for damn sure. It’s everyone under the age of 40, so far as I can tell). I want the way out that will mean the community really actually getting its act together to build what it wants- which is a functional local economy that can support the people who live here, rather than all of the young people abandoning ship to try and find jobs somewhere else. If we want to keep this area rural, we HAVE to find jobs for young people- and my suggestion is to find ways to get young people into farming, and make it profitable enough that they are willing to stay. This would create so many jobs we wouldn’t even be talking about building more bedroom communities as a means of temporarily employing people.

Some people might say I’m scared to leave home and move somewhere else. But in reality I listen to my friends saying they are so excited by the adventure of moving somewhere where they don’t know anyone and I can’t help thinking to myself, what, are they insane? And by insane I mean something along the lines of emotionally impoverished, or something similar. Every fiber of my being cries out for a community, for a social network where I can have a fulfilling, meaningful role. And I have been fortunate enough to find that, here. Now it’s my job to STAY here, and build the jobs I and all the others need so it will be possible for us to stay. Without one day ending up in thousands of dollars of debt. I’d like to have a hometown that my kids won’t want to run away from.

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Trellising or Death

The whole hornworm fiasco occurred during one of my other not so favorite tasks. Actually, I don’t mind it that much, but it tends to make my back scream at me later, which is never pleasant. I’m talking (of course) about trellising.

There are many ways to grow tomato plants, but the general concept is to somehow keep them upright. There’s this new tendency to grow them upside down (I have one of those topsy turvy things on my porch), but I find that while this eliminates the need for trellising, the tomato will keep trying to grow the right way up. In a home garden, it’s all well and good to use tomato cages, but on a farm, this not only would just get irritating (they are hard to pick from), it would be fairly expensive. Instead we typically drive stakes in the ground and string twine between them, holding the tomatoes up between two lengths of twine, one on either side of the plant.

The back breaking part comes when you have to pull the twine really, really tight so it doesn’t sag, which involves a lot of shoulder muscles and apparently the same twisting motion that is guaranteed to have me in tears later in the evening when the nerve pain that results from too much strain on my back gets too intense. As we hid in the shade sorting onions later that afternoon, I related this to the other interns, who as usual looked at me askance and asked why I was choosing to get into farming. (This on top of the doctor’s mandate that I lift no more than 20 pounds until I strengthen my back more.) I replied, as always, that I intend to find a form of farming that doesn’t require putting out your back on a daily basis.

Regardless, whenever I trellis tomatoes I am always thinking the same thing: how the hell did they keep the tomatoes up before someone came out with twine? The twine that we use is plastic: some kind of tough synthetic stuff that cuts into your hands if you attempt to trellis without gloves. That certainly hasn’t existed forever, and is yet another thing that will go when we can no longer unabashedly make everything out of oil. There is a such thing as fiber based twine, but that is more expensive, and if we’re talking about a non industrial society, you certainly wouldn’t spend hours or days making a length of twine only to turn around and use it to tie up a tomato plant.

Or would you? I haven’t the faintest idea. I know tomatoes originated in South America way before Europeans showed up. But how did they string up their tomatoes? Did they? I have a hard time imagining they just let their tomato plants trail along the ground, which is what will happen if you just let them be. The weight of the fruit will force the branches down, and if the fruit is sitting on the ground, it tends to get rotten a lot faster. Maybe the original tomato plants tended to be squatter and bushier, rather than tall and rambling like the ones we have now. The fruit was probably a lot smaller, as well, which would make it easier for the branches to support them. Maybe there was no need to trellis tomatoes at all.

The point being, we do a lot of things in farming that take a lot of time and resources (just think about that twine- it had to be made from oil which had to be extracted and we all know how intensive a process THAT is) and which won’t be able to continue when oil just stops being available. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we have got to start figuring out other ways to farm. Trellising makes a lot of sense if you make a few assumptions, namely, that you are going to be using the varieties of tomato plants that get really tall, and secondly, that you want the ease of access for picking that trellising provides. But what if we wanted to find a way to grow tomatoes that didn’t rely on oil, and wasn’t so time consuming (and back breaking)? Could we do it? Or would we not even bother growing tomatoes?

I know there are people out there trying to come up with the answers to some of these questions, it just worries me that there aren’t enough of them. Why aren’t more of the farmers out there more willing to be innovative with their techniques? That’s mostly a rhetorical question, because the minute I asked it I knew the answer, which is, of course, money. If you try something new with your crop, you risk not getting any return. You could try not trellising tomatoes and end up with no tomatoes, which means you wouldn’t make any money, which means your farm would fail. I’ve been regaled recently with stories of small farmers going abruptly out of business due to thousands and thousands of dollars of debt and not being able to keep up with the mortgages. It makes me glad I didn’t spring into farming before figuring out how the business end of it worked, but it’s also immensely depressing. Who’s to say all my crackpot ideas on how to farm are going to pan out? It’s been especially depressing since I went to a family wedding last weekend and literally every person asked me when the farm was going to start up- and I had to answer every person with the usual, “no idea, don’t have enough money and have no prospect of having enough money ever, thanks.”

Sigh. I get so pessimistic when I’m not getting enough sleep.

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