Where do we go from here?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Here's To Better, Greener, Healthier Days Ahead

As we prepare to enter a new year, a new decade, many people are setting out their thoughts on the year and decade past. I have to agree with these words from one of my favorite news/opinion sites, Common Dreams, sent to me in a fund-raising email this morning:
Ten years ago tonight the world nervously awaited midnight. Y2K.

Would computers freak out as the new century began? Would the networked modern world grind to a halt?

Or would all those stockpiles of bottled water and canned food sit unused on cellar shelves?

Ten years later, we realize that it wasn't Y2K that we should have feared. It was the decade to come on the other side of midnight.

Big events stand out: The stolen election of 2000. Bush. Cheney. 9/11. War on Afghanistan. War on Iraq. Abu Ghraib. The Patriot Act. Guantánamo. Katrina. Economic collapse.

But even more disturbing were the slow-motion trends: Global warming. Foreign policies driven by fear. Too-big-to-fail corporations increasingly dominating our political system. Growing disparity between rich and poor. The privatization of our schools, prisons and military.
Farmer Monte of my favorite Albuquerque institution, Los Poblanos Organics, writes in a more hopeful vein:
I want to go on record and say that we needed this year. That we as a nation, and even as an international community, were living a gluttonous unsustainable lifestyle before we went on a diet in 2009.

A housing industry that was giving out loans to unqualified people (me being one of those people as I look back at my home purchase). A society that was living with a negative savings rate. And financial institutions with as much regulation as the island from Lord of the Flies. So in those regards, we needed a deflating year like 2009 just to get our heads back into reality(..I) am a firm believer that some of the best ideas come out of the most challenging of situations. When things are easy, we rarely find an amazing solution. It makes common sense though. We are creatures of the path of least resistance, we are creatures of fight or flight. Therefore, when things are easy, we choose the simpler path. We choose not to push ourselves.

But those are the old days. And out of the deflated ruins of that old economy a new one will and is emerging. My hope is that with these challenges, we will build back an economy that is more lean and more green. Energy has gotten to be expensive so being green has gotten to be a smart financial move for companies. With that, we all (including our planet) will be better off.
Not mentioned in these lists of woes is the global spread of the H1N1 virus. We can rejoice that it did not meet the worst expectations for it, and become the sort of plague that Garrison Keillor speaks of in his Writer's Almanac entry for today, with a quote from Samuel Pepys' Diary on this day in 1665:
"Thus ends this year, to my great joy, in this manner. I have raised my estate from 1300l. in this year to 4400l. I have got myself interest, I think, by my diligence [...] It is true we have gone through great melancholy because of the great plague [...] But now the plague is abated almost to nothing, and I intending to get to London as fast as I can. [...] I have never lived so merrily (besides that I never got so much) as I have done this plague time [...] and great store of dancings we have had at my cost (which I was willing to indulge myself and wife) at my lodgings. My whole family hath been well all this while, and all my friends I know of, saving my aunt Bell, who is dead, and some children of my cozen Sarah's, of the plague. But many of such as I know very well, dead; yet, to our great joy, the town fills apace, and shops begin to be open again. Pray God continue the plague's decrease! for that keeps the Court away from the place of business, and so all goes to rack as to publick matters, they at this distance not thinking of it."

1665 had been an awful year in London. The plague began to spread in April, with just a few people dead by the end of the month. But by August, 31,159 people died in that month alone. Overall, about 15 percent of London's population was killed. And Pepys believed that the death toll was even higher than recorded because he had heard first-hand that sometimes clerks were so overwhelmed with names that they didn't bother writing them all down.

In late June, King Charles II and his court left London for Oxford, and many rich people did the same, applying for "health certificates" and heading to country estates. A lot of the wealthy doctors went with them. By early July, Pepys had sent his mother and wife away to Woolwich, outside London. But he did not want to leave. He stayed in London to work, and he recorded in his diary how empty the streets were, with all the shops closed, and how sad it was to see corpses abandoned in the street or houses with red crosses on them and the words "Lord Have Mercy On Us" scrawled on the outside.
So, things could have been worse I suppose, these past years, and may yet be, in the coming year, coming decade, but we can be grateful that medical technology has kept us from corpses in the street. There is always hope. May anyone who reads this have good health, bountiful crops, improving finances, and copious joy in the year ahead.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Version of What To Do When It's Below Freezing

Or, Ghosts of Christmasses Past
Once the huge Thanksgiving project was over, I felt a serious sense of anticlimax. We weren't going to have much of a winter holiday bustle; we shop for family gifts all year long, stockpile them in the office closet, so there wasn't much shopping to do, no trips to plan, and we wouldn't know if we were having any visitors until we saw the whites of their eyes. I had a few final classes between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester, so even that wasn't much of an occupation. Thus, a quandry: what to do with the long cold hours I can no longer spend outside gardening?

Fortunately I came across a pile of photo CDs when I was cleaning out a box of office stuff moved here from Delaware - and a new obsession was born. I spent many hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas transferring photos from the CDs onto my computer (they had been on an older computer, the laptop that was stolen soon after we moved to New Mexico) and then onto my photo storage/sharing site on Flickr. I think I finally have all of them on Flickr now, though I may find a few hanging around and take care of them later. It has been a wonderful trip through past happy times with friends and family, causing feelings of both joy and sorrow. I've put a link to my Flickr photos in the sidebar here, and would love to have visitors share them.

At the same time I was doing this, we were also working with paper photos from other unpacked boxes moved here three-and-a-half years ago, sorting them, copying some of them, then framing them to hang on walls, stand on shelves, in general have our faraway (in so many ways) family members close to us. It was quite strange living here for these years without photos in our living space, and what we have done to remedy this feels very very good.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Posole, A New Mexico Tradition

Under my sidebar section called "Foodies" there is a photo of a pan of posole cooking on my stovetop last week. Posole is a sort of soup, or stew, of dried corn kernels, locally known as chicos, meat, onions, garlic, red or green chile, various herbs and spices. Just for fun I googled this dish today, and found interesting, and well-documented, historical facts about its origins. According to this Wikipedia article, they lie in ancient and startling Mexican (Aztec) religious tradition. The meat with which the corn was first cooked was human, from the bodies of prisoners of war after their hearts had been removed in ritual sacrifice, and the posole was eaten ceremonially by the entire community in a sort of special-occasion communion.

Today it is still a special-occasion food, eaten during the winter holidays, a dish of dried corn kernels (though many recipes call for the much blander canned hominy) locally known as chicos, red or green chile, onions, garlic and various spices. Since the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico in the fifteen hundreds, cannibalism was discontinued, officially anyway, and the traditional meat cooked into it is pork, although it is quite delicious made with chicken or turkey as well. I make it with turkey presently, though I hope we will eventually wean ourselves off even poultry.

We had lunch at Garcia's Kitchen the weekend before Christmas, where many customers were slurping down bowls of the traditional red chile/pork meat posole. This inspired me to go home and make a batch of green chile/turkey sausage posole for our friends who were to arrive that night, on their way to Santa Fe. I often use Bueno's frozen corn kernels. I also like to use blue corn dried kernels when I have them, though they take a good deal longer to cook. I first boil the corn for an hour or so, sauté chopped onion, minced garlic, and green chiles and add them to the simmering chicos. I add whatever stock, vegetable, chicken or turkey, I have on hand, cooked turkey meat,fresh cilantro, some mild red chile powder, a pinch of dried cumin, then let it simmer for as long as it takes. It is a food that only improves with time and its own interaction. The longer the flavors blend and mingle, the better it gets. I serve it with a choice of toppings: sour cream, avocado, more cilantro, grated cheese.

I hope you can get past my historical notes on the origins of this delicious winter meal and give it a try yourselves. There are a ton of recipes for Posole on the Internet, so just pick one that looks good and give it a try. Feel free to experiment, New Mexicans all have their own idiosyncratic recipes.

If you live where the basic ingredients of dried corn and chiles are not readily available, you can find them at these websites and have them shipped to you: This one is in Idaho, strangely enough, but they have it all: Purcell Mountain Farms. These folks have an Albuquerque address, so I assume that's where they are located: New Mexico Connection. Their catalogue looks like a treasure. The Bueno Foods' site also has both ingredients and recipes. You don't have to use the pigs' feet. I promise.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter Reading

It's that deep waiting stillness that only comes before a storm. It's been dark and cloudy all day, with a chilly sunlight occasionally peeping through. The birds are ravenous - it's impossible to keep anything in the seed or the suet feeders; they are emptied as soon as I fill them. Most recently this afternoon I went out and liberally smeared the cottonwood's trunk with my favorite new find: bark butter. It's a product resembling peanut butter, and smelling strongly of peanuts too, but containing beef suet and corn as well as peanuts and peanut oil. I stir in some seed mix, then spread it on the tree bark, in much the same way you'd spread peanut butter on a sandwich. It has brought a whole new group of birds just outside the kitchen window: several different kinds of woodpeckers, chickadees, creepers, even a curvebilled thrasher shows up most days. I need to go out and do one more feeder refill before it's totally dark, or the crowd of finches, sparrows and doves that arrives at first light will be very angry with me. They know snow is on the way, and they're tanking up.

It has been truly cold in the Southwest, or at least here in New Mexico, through most of December. My sister and her family were planning on coming out for a Christmas visit, and they did actually pile into the car and set off across north central Texas, only to be stopped cold near Wichita Falls, by dangerously icy road conditions, which would only have gotten worse as they approached the Panhandle. Friends from Texas who were in Santa Fe for their winter vacation encountered the same conditions days later on their way back home. So, we're sitting tight for now, with a wonderful glut of very fat library books, and plenty of firewood. It's an embarras de richesse, for sure.

After a rocky beginning, I sped through John Irving's new opus, Last Night in Twisted River. (This is but one of a gazillion reviews, you could read them for as long as it takes to read the book. But the book is better reading.) The beginning put me off with a surplus of information about logging in the north woods of New Hampshire (of course New Hampshire, it's John Irving), a subject I care next to nothing about. But, I persisted, and soon fell into the narrative that began in the logging camps mid twentieth century, and carried me along, much like the river carries the logs, through fifty years of our less-than-glorious history. The protagonist is a writer, whose life and career clearly follow Irving's own history in many ways. The story is filled with most of Irving's familiar themes: New Hampshire, bears, Exeter, college teaching, strange sexual relationships, parentless children, father/son relationships, the constant knowledge that life is an accident waiting to happen. There is a wonderful new theme also running through the story, as we follow the writer's father's life and career from his beginnings as a logging camp mess cook to his final ownership of a gourmet restaurant in Brattleboro, Vt, we vicariously share Dominic's amazing repertoire of food categories, preparations, and menus. As one reviewer noted, it's not a book to read on an empty stomach. Or, I might add, when you have a houseful of holiday goodies that have been gifted upon you. If you have ever loved John Irving, and you have some time to curl up by a fire with a fleece throw and a cat or two, this book will keep you happy through some long winter afternoons.

Now I have started an even fatter book than Irving's, A.S. Byatt's new enormous novel, The Children's Book. I am a serious fan of Byatt's, not just the book that brought her a lot of attention some years back, Possession, but of her shorter novels and her wonderful short stories. I have loved her and her sister, Margaret Drabble, also a very literary writer, for many years now. We are all of an age, and I am very pleased that they have the stamina to continue writing books that will keep me reading well into my old age. It's too soon to say much about The Children's Book, (though it's already on the "Best of 2009" lists that are starting to appear) as I haven't gotten very far into it today. Time to make some soup, light a fire, settle in under the fleece and cats and start turning pages. Ahhhh, winter. And, Gail Godwin, Anne Tyler, Tracy Chevalier, and John Burdett all have new books!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Food and Books About It

My apologies to the squeamish for the worm photo in my previous post. It's hard for me to understand squeamishness about worms, knowing how incredibly beneficial and important they are for the health of soil and gardens. My outdoor compost bin needs time to rest and work over the winter, so I have high hopes for this new outlet for the large amount of vegetable waste we seem to create in our everyday life of cooking and eating.

And vegetables are really what this post means to be about, not worms again. If anyone read my preThanksgiving post about what green vegetable I would prepare for the big feast, they might find a followup of interest. I was obsessing over the boringness of green beans, and my real desire to do the not-always-popular, especially with children, brussel sprouts. I was saved by a recipe in the (alas final) November issue of Gourmet Magazine for a dish with both vegetables, as well as chile and mint. I was putting green chile in one of the dressings (as well as chestnuts and dried cherries), and mint in the salad, so I chose to do pinon nuts and garlic with the green vegetables. Blanching the beans and sprouts in boiling salted water kept them fresh and green, then I sauteed them in olive oil with the nuts and garlic. It turned out to be one of the stars of the show. People who said they had never liked brussel sprouts before had second helpings, AND asked for the recipe. So, thank you Gourmet, and how I hate to see you go.

Today we are venturing out, as the daytime temps are finally rising above freezing, to see my favorite food writer and cookbook author, Deborah Madison, at Los Poblanos. She'll be signing her books, and I'll be right there in line with my two, Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, and Local Flavor: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets. She has many more books, and in time I will be able to afford her magnum opus, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. There's plenty in the two I have to keep me busy for a good long time, however. If you like to read about food, and I have to confess I love nothing better than a good food writer, Local Flavor is a joy to just curl up in an armchair and read. Deborah will be doing her book signing in the Farm Store at Los Polanos Organics, and I hope for enough time to do some browsing in the store itelf. Los Poblanos is an incredibly beautiful place in the North Valley, which includes an inn and conference center as well as an organic farm providing bountiful boxes of produce (and now bread, meat and milk as well) to its CSA members. It may well be warm enough this afternoon for a good walk in the Bosque into the bargain. All in all, it sounds like a wonderful winter Sunday afternoon.

What To Do While It's Below Freezing

Hard to believe I haven't posted here for two weeks now, because it means two weeks have flown by while I've been in first a coma of cooking and company, then a trance of going through old photo CDs and uploading pictures to first the computer, then to my Flickr photostream. All those photos were on the computer that was stolen soon after we moved here, and the thought of going through the work to retrieve them has overwhelmed me ever since. But I'm in the middle of it now, and it's proving to be more fun than work. At the same time we've been going through photo albums and boxes of photos, some not unpacked for as many as two or three moves, in order to get family faces up on our walls. This realworld, as opposed to virtual world, project, has been ongoing since October and has more or less consumed us. We were able to get enough things framed and up before Thanksgiving so that we didn't look like amnesiac orphans to our guests. Plenty of grandchildren pix everywhere, I'm happy to say.

Once the Thanksgiving Extravaganza of planning, shopping and cooking was over, I had a few days of feeling very anticlimactic - but this virtual photo project has given me another outlet for the compulsive need for a Big Project. During the spring, summer and fall, gardening fills that need, overfills it, in fact, but the ridiculously cold weather we're having makes it difficult for me to even get outside and do some necessary yard cleanup. I've moved the planters full of chard, lettuce and spinach into the garage for the time being, and even there have covered them with frost cloth. Yesterday I also started a worm composting bin, which I'm keeping in the utility room with the furnace and hot water heater, until the garage is above freezing. My friend Julia, of the wonderful South Austin Backyard Naturalist blog, has a very graphic post about her own worm composting. She's coming to visit next month, so I hope she will be able to give me pointers on how to do this right. (Photo cribbed from Julia's worm post.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Beauty of Winter Squash

It occurs to me that this may be turning into a "food blog" of sorts. The sidebar link list I call "Foodies" grows longer every day, and the posts that I'm thinking about all seem to be about food. Maybe it's just that food, recipes, and food writing seem to be everywhere at this time of year. But, if so, I'm certainly in great company, as there are many and wonderful food blogs in Internet World. Witness this list of food blogs links from the grandmomma of them all, FoodBlog itself.

So, two days ago the Local Harvest newsletter dropped into my mailbox; it was titled "Thanks for Winter Squash" and was a meditation on how to "eat local" during the winter months. It's a subject on which I myself have been meditating lately. I'm growing a few winter crops in planters in the back yard, and with the liberal help of frost blankets they are surviving thus far. Yesterday I did some preThanksgiving shopping at La Montanita Food CoOp, and was able to get local (we seem to consider southern Colorado to be local here) potatoes, apples, cider, and chiles. The subject of winter squash is one I have approached from mostly an esthetic standpoint - I think they are works of art, often buy ones that are particularly beautiful, then have no idea what to do with them. But, I'm learning. I bought one a couple of weeks ago that I had to use my industrial strength Japanese garden knife to cut into in order to bake it. I will avoid that one in the future. Anyway. I realized, as we ate our last tomato on a margharita pizza two nights ago, that it was indeed the last tomato we will eat for many moons. I'm going to try to really and truly shop and cook locally and seasonally from henceforth. And consider us lucky to live in a climate that isn't especially harsh for very long; despite our nighttime dips below freezing, the days remain warm and sunny.

Here then, is what Local Harvest had to say about winter squash and other seasonal eating:

This time of year, people from the North often ask us how they can keep buying local food through the winter. In the produce realm, I usually recommend becoming familiar with winter storage crops - apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, garlic, beets, carrots, and other root crops - and looking for signs in your grocery store to see if any come from local farms. Depending on where you live, hardy greens may also be available through the winter. It's helpful, too, to think beyond produce, and see if there are local options for eggs, dairy products, honey, meat, beans and grains.
Going to the pantry to get a pint of your own pickles in January might not be quite as satisfying as going out to the garden with a salad bowl in August and coming back with supper, but it's close. The desire to eat high quality local food through the winter is prompting more and more of us to preserve some of the bounty from the hot summer months. Whether the produce will come from your garden, a CSA or the farmers market, this winter you can lay plans to stock your freezer with roasted tomatoes, blanched greens, tomato sauce and frozen berries. If you ask for a canner for Christmas, you will be able to make applesauce and jam, and enjoy your own salsa all year long.
Putting even a little attention on eating 'winter food' over the coming months deepens our connection to the flow of the seasons, and to the earth itself. Deep greens, brilliant oranges - nature offers us bold colors in its darkest season. Rather than focusing on all the foods we "can't" have when we choose to eat seasonally and locally, we may notice a growing sense of appreciation for the abundance and variety of nourishment the land offers to us in each season. For this food, we give thanks.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we are also thankful for the ongoing support so many people are giving to family farmers, even in this time of economic hardship. Your commitment to creating a sustainable food system is one of the blessings for which we at LocalHarvest are grateful this season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Amazing Grace, Generosity in Hard Times

Last Saturday was the fall Postal Carriers' Food Drive here in Albuquerque, and maybe all over the country. You know, it's that day that you clean out your cupboards and pantry and put all the canned/packaged/dry foods that you know you'll never eat into a grocery bag and leave it out by the mailbox for your postal carrier to pick up. Or at least that's kind of how I've always looked at it. I look at it quite differently now, after the experience Gail and I had late Saturday afternoon. As we are donors to Roadrunner Foodbank, our local supplier of food to those in need, we receive their newsletter. The most recent letter had a request for volunteers to help out at all our postal stations unloading the trucks as carriers came in from their mornings and afternoons of loading them full of bags of food.
So, we volunteered. The substation to which we were assigned is out behind the airport, in an area we are completely unfamiliar with. But after Saturday, I feel like I know at least some of the people who live in that area. I must add the caveat that this is far from being a wealthy residential area, quite the opposite in fact. We suited up for the cold weather, climbed up on the loading dock, and started unloading bins containing the bags of food. Then we sorted them into three categories and tossed them into huge cardboard bins: cans, glass jars, and dry packages or boxes. There were some subsets, like bags of chips, and loaves of bread, that had their own boxes on the sides so they wouldn't get crushed by heavier boxes or bags of stuff.

The big surprise to us was both the quality and the quantity of food in those bags coming off the postal trucks. These people hadn't just cleaned out their cupboards and gotten rid of the old boring stuff that had been there for a year: they had gone to the regular chain groceries for sure, but they had also gone to CostCo and Whole Foods, Sunflower Market and Keller's, places where they purchased organic peanut butter and pasta sauce, cartons of vegetable juice, Amy's soups, giant bags of organic pastas. There were bags of organic lentils and other legumes, boxes or organic cereals hot and cold, baby food of all kinds.

In short, the world has changed a lot more than I had any idea. More places are carrying organic foods of all sorts, and more people are buying them when they shop. The truly astounding thing is that they are buying them, not just for themselves, but for unknown strangers who can't afford to feed their families organic pasta with organic tomato sauce or make their kids organic peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches. And that this is happening in a time of economic harship unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. I've worried that my bags with cans of organic navy beans, pumpkin, lentil soup and so forth would be simply ignored or cast aside by putative recipients. How wrong I have been. We were so cheered up by the people we were working with, lots of whom brought their young adolescent kids, people of all ethnicities and ages, and by the amount of food we all unpacked and sorted - I've looked at the entire city differently for the past week.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Delmarva Birding Weekend Notes

As best we could reconstruct it, here is a list of the birds we saw during our weekend in De, MD, and NJ. Some of them are from the many feeders outside Peg's cottage windows, but most of them are from our birding trips on the Peninsula:

Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Double-Breasted Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret
Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Brant, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Rinnecked Duck, Black Scoter, Ruddy Duck

Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon

American Coot, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin

Parasitic Jaeger, Herring Gull, Greater Black-Backed Gull, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Common Tern

Rock Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Cliff Swallow

Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Golden-Crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-Shinned Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow

Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Boat-Tailed Grackle, House Sparrow

For information on birding the Delmarva Peninsula, check out the Delaware Ornithological Society here.

For great information about birding Cape May, including the Hawkwatch numbers, this is The Site to visit: Cape May Bird Observatory.

This link was in one of the posts on our trip, but it's such a great resource it deserves another mention: The Delaware Birding Trail.


And here is the poem mentioned at the end of my last post about our time at the Delmarva coast last month, it is from New and Selected Poems, which, if you don't yet know and love Mary Oliver, would be a great place to meet her.


Here are the perfect fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit– and here
are the whelks– whirlwinds, each the
size of a fist, but always cracked and
broken– clearly they have been
traveling under the sky-blue waves for
a long time. All my life I have been
restless– I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss– than
wholeness– than staying at home. I
have not been sure what it is. But
every morning on the wide shore I pass
what is perfect and shining to look for
the whelks, whose edges have rubbed so
long against the world they have
snapped and crumbled– they have
almost vanished, with the last
relinquishing of their unrepeatable
energy, back into everything else.
When I find one, I hold it in my hand, I
look over that shaking fire, I shut my
eyes. Not often, but now and again
there's a moment when the heart cries
aloud: yes, I am willing to be that wild
darkness, that long, blue body of light.

-Mary Oliver

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Birding Delmarva, Farewell on a Perfect Day

We planned our trip to include a last day without regimented birding activities, and it turned out to be the best day of all. The weather cleared up, and although it was still fairly chilly; it was warm enough to take a long beach walk at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes. We walked for miles along the beach, even walked in the cold lapping waves, enjoying the mild sunlight on our faces and the wonderful return to sea air. Have I mentioned how I miss the beach out here in the desert? I could rave and carry on about how badly we feel the lack of the water, but I will spare you, for now anyway.

After lunch we returned to Cape Henlopen, this time to an area called Gordon's Pond, for more walking and more birding. We were the only human beings there in a long afternoon of tramping and looking, but we had plenty of other company. At one point a group of whitetailed deer leapt splashing and crashing across the pond; the reeds and bushes were full of sparrows, kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers (about the only warbler left in the area), the beaches yielded semippalmated plovers and sandpipers, sanderlings, blackbacked and herring gulls. As the afternoon wore on, the skies filled with wave after wave of snow geese flying in to settle for the evening on the ponds and marshes after a day of feeding in the fields the NWR maintains for them. Even after our years of living on Delmarva, watching this happen every fall, it's impossible to feel indifferent to the wonder of the sight and sound of so many geese filling the evening and morning heavens.

It was twilight when we finally left the Gordon's Pond trail and went back down to the beach for an ocean farewell. The light was magical, the waters calmed from the wild crashing waves of the previous days' storms, and as we neared a clump of large black rocks at the waterline, I saw something waiting there for us. A piece of folded paper was weighted down by several stones and broken whelk shells in a small depression in the rock. It had clearly been left where it would be found by a passing beachwalker, so I took it back up to the parking lot where there was more light. It was a copy of Mary Oliver's poem, Whelks. A message from the universe, a final gift from the sea in the last moment of our visit.

Birding Delmarva in the Rain, Part 2

Our second day of birding was supposed to be by kayak on the Delaware Bay, in the James Farm Ecological Preserve. Alas, the storms mentioned in Day One of this posting caused the kayak trip to be cancelled. In its place we chose a birding hike through Newport Farms, an astonishing privately owned property of thousands of acres, with a conservation easement that is saving it from the development wildly proceeding in the area. Indeed, I found when I searched for this place online a mobile home development with the same name under way. The Newport Farms that we tromped through for four hours that Saturday morning comprises every environment Delmarva has to offer: forest, fields, wetlands, marshes, beach. and streams. It rained pretty much the whole time we were out, in increments ranging from mist to drizzle to outright downpour.

Despite the horrid weather, we enjoyed the beauty of this place and even managed to see some birds. A partial list of the morning's sightings: Cow birds, mute swans, black vultures, osprey, swamp sparrows, cliff swallows, tree swallows, coots, sanderlings, ring neck ducks, canada geese, a northern harrier, a small flock of great snowy egrets that we kept flushing up from the ditches, great egrets, cormorants, belted kingfisher, western meadow larks, boattailed grackles, great blue herons, a bald eagle, and something that would only be worth mentioning if you come from New Mexico where there are none of them, cardinals. I often say that if I had known there were no cardinals here, I wouldn't have moved here, and maybe I even mean it. Today's photo is a view out over the wetlands on Newport Farms. I could have taken an infinitude of photos, but confined myself to just a few. It was so amazingly beautiful there.

We were quite wet and tired after four hours of walking in the rain, some of it over pretty rough terrain, and were happy to get back home to change into dry clothes. Peg stayed home for a long nap, and Gail and I spent the afternoon having Thai food and seeing Where The Wild Things Are with a dear friend, the head of my department when I taught in Delaware. It was a warm and cozy way to stay out of the weather and catch up on news and gossip.

The next day, Sunday, we had signed up for an afternoon guided bird walk at one of our very favorite places, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Gail and our friend Peg, bless their hearts, headed out for the walk, but I had had enough of wet feet and forced conviviality with strangers, even fellow birders. So, I stayed home and I had the long nap that afternoon. After my nap, I went for a long walk along the Assawoman Canal, through woods and beach cottages, breathing in the damp ocean air, imagining that I was rehydrating all my dessicated New Mexico cells.

At Prime Hook Gail and Peg saw snow geese, pintail ducks, mallards, kinglets, cedar waxwings, semi-palmated plovers, ruddy turnstones, robins, and most excitingly their group helped rescue a loggerhead sea turtle that was stranded on Broadkill beach. I was a little jealous of this adventure, but without that nap and solitary walk I might have turned into an ax murderer that afternoon. So, can't have everything, I guess.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

Following is the text of a post that I wrote a year and a half ago, saved as a draft and just out of curiosity opened to read this morning. Yes, there are drafts from that long ago hanging around on my computer; I'm afraid it's true. Anyway, since I wrote this draft, many moons have come and gone, and this past summer was spent almost entirely outdoors in my gardens. It was the healthiest and happiest I've felt in a very long time. Ironically enough, now that summer has faded into deep autumn, the mornings stay dark and cold for entirely too long, and I'm back in the classroom much of the time, or preparing for time in front of my classes, I once again feel I'm experiencing Nature Deficit Disorder. I seriously miss getting out into the yard as soon as light breaks over the mountains, and staying there until the sun sinks behind the volcanos. My little beds of cool weather crops are growing apace, and this morning I thinned out the lettuce, chard and spinach, going to use the thinned-out babies in tonight's salad. There's lots of garden cleanup that needs doing before it gets much colder, and we made a start on it this past weekend. We've had some good hikes in the bright gold October weather, and hopefully will be able to continue to get some more in before the short afternoons grow shorter and colder. I need to do everything in my power to evade a winter of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and/or the lesser-known NDD (Nature Deficit Disorder)

Written in March of 2008
There is now a "social trend" called Nature Deficit Disorder, which so far is only associated with children.The term describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illness, The term was coined by author Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods. According to Louv, our children's lack of connection to nature is causing what amounts to an epidemic of overweight depressed kids with high rates of attention disorders. I'm so far past childhood that I'll soon be eligible for Medicare, but as soon as I read about this disorder, I recognized it as exactly the condition in which I've been living far too long. The book is one I've been meaning to read, as a person blessed with quite a few young children in my life; but I realized as I read about NDD that just about the only time I myself venture very far into nature is when kids are visiting. That's when we hike in the mountains, go to the Biopark, bird along the river at the Rio Grande Nature Center.

The rest of the time I'm like the kids in Louv's book, cooped up in the artificial lights and indoor air of a classroom, or in my home office in front of the computer, not, in my case, playing video games, but reading and writing, ironically, about the environment. I have been reading so much about gloom and doom lately that I fear I am also suffering from yet another twenty-first century disorder: Eco-anxiety.

And so, it seems to me that it's time to get out of this chair, away from this computer, and experience more of "the environment" than the view of trees and birdfeeders, tops of mountains, cloudscapes, that lies outside the office window. It's fully spring here, some days even feels like we're already moving into summer.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Battle Plan

Which is what it is beginning to feel like.....this Thanksgiving preparation. I'll get back to posting about our Delmarva trip pretty soon, but for the moment this quest is what's on my mind. We are hosting a bigger Thanksgiving feast than we ever have, inviting family, friends and neighbors. Right now it's holding at sixteen, but eighteen or twenty is hovering on the horizon as a possibility. With this many people there are, of course, all sorts of bizarre food allergies and issues. So far onions, cilantro and nuts are out of the picture, and sweet potatoes are iffy. Four of the guests are grandchildren, none of whom eat very much, and certainly nothing very adventurous. So, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and dressing/stuffing (one with onions, one without) are the only sure items on the list. I'm casting about now for some vegetable dishes that will be both interesting and acceptable to all. And no, green bean cassarole is not to be discussed. I would be happy to do green beans almondine, though even that has become rather clichéd, except for the anti-nut faction. I'm thinking of doing a big platter salad with all sorts of colorful raw and cooked cold things, but still, we've gotta have a cooked side vegetable dish, don't we?

If anyone happens upon this blog, and has a fabulous favorite Thanksgiving vegetable dish recipe to share, please please send me either the recipe or a link. I will be deeply in your debt. And now, I'm going to go wandering some cooking sites, and paging through old Gourmet magazines, ah, the late lamented Gourmet Magazine, can you believe it?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Birding Delmarva in the Rain, Day One

Our trip back to the Mid-Atlantic last month seems almost like a dream, just two weeks back into the daily grind of work, pets, general maintenance. I have to admit that, after almost twenty five years of living on it, the East Coast feels more like home to me than the Southwest. Although, of course, the Southwest really is my locus of origin, and probably the place I'll spend my final years. Coming across the Bay Bridge from BWI, seeing the water and sky open up before us, well, I can't help it, it feels like coming home.

We arrived to grey skies and rain on the Weds, which over the next four days evolved into two colliding nor'easters, bringing cold temps, high winds and seas, wind-driven rain. Not really the weather in which to take a ferry across the Delaware Bay, or tromp around wetlands, woods, fields and beaches looking for birds. But we did all those things, and after spending Thursday outfitting ourselves with foul weather gear from the LL Bean outlet on Hwy 1 in Rehoboth Beach, we managed to enjoy them all.

Our first event was an all-day trip Friday across the Delaware Bay via the Cape May/Lewes Ferry, to Cape May NJ, one of the prime Atlantic Flyway birding spots. Cape May Point State Park is the site of an ongoing hawkwatch monitored daily by volunteers from Sept. 1 to mid-December. Amazingly enough, on October 19th, three days after we were there, a sandhill crane flew past the hawkwatch platform. I'd like to know more about that sighting, and will try to research it a little. We spent the middle of the day at the hawkwatch platform, where we saw a merlin and a falcon flying overhead, a lot of ducks out on the water. The trees by the platform were full of golden and ruby crowned kinglets, as well as yellow-rumped warblers. After lunch we headed to the beach at Stone Harbor, where birds were pretty sparse, but there were some shorebirds, gulls, a couple of ruddy turnstones, cormorants, up on a wire a fishcrow was yelling at us, and a few terns zoomed past on fishing missions. The best birding of the day was actually on the ferry, out on the open waters, where the pelagic birds didn't mind the stormy winds. We saw gannets, jaegers, caspian and royal terns, black ducks, loons, many differents kinds and stages of gulls. At the end of these posts, I'll append a list from Gail's notebook with as many birds as we were able to keep track of. A highlight of the weekend was Friday night's reception, mainly for the talk and slide presentation by Jeffrey A. Gordon. His presentation was about the planning and publication of the Delaware Birding Trail in which he was instrumental. Gordon also was our bird guide on the ferry/Cape May trip, which made it a real learning experience. Above photo is Gail and myself on the outward bound ferry, DE to NJ. We stayed on deck the whole time, to avoid seasickness and see all and any birds. (To be continued)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First Blast of Winter Inspires Lentil Soup

If I just didn't have to go teach all afternoon, this would be a perfect introduction to winter. The Intermountain West is having an early winter storm, which is bringing snow to ski areas and the mountains in general. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, we'll probably have some snow showers, have in fact already had some this morning, some freezing rain, but not much in the way of accumulation. I woke up to the sound of icy rain on the roof, and went out to cover some more plants, bring in a few more to the warmth of the house. I'm fond of growing potted succulents and cacti which love their outdoor life during the summer, but have to winter over indoors. After plant duty, I was inspired to start a pot of lentil stew, which will warm our bones when Gail and I get home from work this evening. Although I indulged myself a couple of weeks ago by buying Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, this soup/stew is one I have made for years, using whatever I find in the refrigerator at the moment I decide to make it. Today's pot includes: onion, garlic, red pepper, pumpkin puree, celery, kale and carrots, roasted green chile. This evening when I warm it up, I'll add the leftover rice from the weekend's rice and pinto bean cassarole. As I also have some coconut milk leftover from a Brazilian dish I tried to replicate after we had it at Globalquerque, rice with fish in coconut milk, and as my niece Jessica finishes off her lentil soup with it, I'm going to throw some into this stew. We have some cornbread in the freezer from a batch I made before we went to Delaware for the birding trip, and that will be a fine accompaniment.

The Brazilian dish replication was, BTW, a great success. The folks at the music festival used tilapia, but I found some lovely mahi mahi at La Montanita Co-Op and used that. And, yes, the Delaware birding weekend. I really will get down to writing about the trip as soon as I recover from it. It takes us a while to pull our lives together after being away for a week, and we are now beginning the Thanksgiving Offensive, as we will have possibly as many as sixteen people for the Big Feast. The kids are coming from Denver, and we've invited local friends and neighbors. As long as we're doing it, we might as well do it Big!! The real fear is that this snow, which is much worse north of here and in Denver, may be the start of a winter of weather that closes Raton Pass with frequency. It would certainly result in some major disappointment if it happened again in a month.

350 Species We Could Lose

Last Saturday's 350 Day of Climate Action was an international event of some magnitude, garnering attention from TV and print media alike. You can check out photos from actions around the world at the 350.org's collection on flickr.

But this was more than just one day's activity, it's an ongoing effort to draw attention to the seriousness of this situation and motivate world governments and peoples to take effective action to cut carbon emissions before it is finally too late. One of the most striking ongoing demonstrations of what the results of inaction will be can be visited at the Center for Biological Diversity's website. Called 350 Reasons we need to get to 350: 350 Species Threatened by Global Warming, it is a heartrending display of 350 species at risk of extinction by 2050 if current emissions trajectories continue.

350 Reasons contains a link to a petition to President Obama asking him to take a firm resolve for action with him to Copenhagen's international climate negotiations in December, but its strongest aspect is the interactive map of the USA (and I'd certainly like to see one of the rest of the world as well, but I guess we think globally, act locally, okay) divided by region, with photos of the animals in each region which will , without lowering our carbon emissions, be committed to soon and certain disappearance. With a click of your mouse, read about polar bears in Alaska, monk seals in Hawaii, sea otters in California; bone up on Atlantic salmon in the Northeast, sea turtles in Florida, or corals throughout the world — and hundreds of other species around the globe, big and small, iconic and unknown — that we’re hurting through our lethal addiction to fossil fuels. You can even read about one species that stands to be tragically impoverished by the effects of broader species loss: ourselves, Homo sapiens sapiens.

If you're short on time, you can just go to the map and check out your own region and what your children might not see there in the future. Will I miss the chubs and the pupfish? Well, perhaps not personally, but I will sure as hell miss the burrowing owls, the pronghorn antelope, the Mexican gray wolves, yes the "iconic species." Each of these threatened species, large or small, has its place in the environmental chain, no matter how often, how seldom, we personally experience them. Please add your name to the Obama petition at the Center's site, and share this information with your friends and readers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

350 Day Of Action

If you belong to any environmental organizations, read any environmental blogs or magazines, or pay any attention at all to what's happening in environmental activist circles pre Copenhagen, you are already well aware of what's happening around the world this coming Saturday, October 24th.

Bill McKibben's group 350.org has been planning this day of action to draw the attention of governments and peoples everywhere to the importance of doing something about global climate change NOW before it is finally just too damn late. On the 350.org site you will find the questions you probably have prominently displayed on the first page, the most basic of them being, of course, What does the number 350 mean? And the answer is: 350 is the most important number in the world—it's what scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.Two years ago, after leading climatologists observed rapid ice melt in the Arctic and other frightening signs of climate change, they issued a series of studies showing that the planet faced both human and natural disaster if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 remained above 350 parts per million.Everyone from Al Gore to the U.N.’s top climate scientist has now embraced this goal as necessary for stabilizing the planet and preventing complete disaster. Now the trick is getting our leaders to pay attention and craft policies that will put the world on track to get to 350.As we currently are at 387 ppm in the atmosphere, we have some work to do in order to get things into the minimally safe upper limit.

The next question of course would be: How do we do that? McKibben's group's theory is that we do it by creating the political change to steer us toward 350 FAST. His grassroots movement is all about an international holding of feet to the fire (pun quite intentional) to use Copenhagen to produce a treaty that is strong, equitable and grounded in the latest science. I've been working on this post since yesterday, and this morning came this email from McKibben and company, one last prod to keep me from wanting to sleep in tomorrow morning instead of joining one or more of the many events planned right here in New Mexico:

Dear Friend,Saturday's the day -- October 24, the International Day of Climate Action. So join the nearest 350 action knowing you'll be part of something big.Very big, in fact. This campaign has gone viral--there will be over four thousand events taking place simultaneously in over 175 nations. As far as we can tell, you'll be part of the single most widespread day of political action about any issue that our planet has ever seen.There are too many incredible events to list in one place, but here are some of the highlights:

In Cambodia, citizens from across the country will gather at the famous Angkor Wat to take a giant 350 action photo.In Hungary, hundreds of bathers will jump into the public baths in Budapest and do a 350 synchronized swimming performance.In Nepal, over a thousand young people and monks will march to the Swayambhunath world heritage site temple where they will form a large 350 with traditional lanterns.In the United States, 350 people will dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller in Seattle -- because if we don't stop global warming, we might as well be undead. In Panama, indigenous youth will lead a moonlight vigil in Kuna Yala, their vulnerable low-lying islands off the coast of Panama, forming a 350 at sunrise.

When you're out there marching or rallying, biking or kite-flying, singing or taking part in whatever is going on in your community, take a minute and try to imagine all the other people doing the same kind of things all around the world--every one taking the same basic scientific fact and driving it into the public consciousness.350 is the most important number in the world--scientists have told us that it's the most carbon dioxide we can have in the atmosphere, and now we're making sure everyone knows.

We'll be taking photos from all the events, projecting them on the big screens in New York's Times Square, and delivering them to major media outlets and hundreds of world leaders in the coming weeks. The combined noise from these events will ensure that world leaders who gather next month at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen to create the world's new plan on climate change will hear our call. They will know that when negotiating the fate of our planet, there is a passionate movement out there which will hold them accountable.After your event on Saturday, check out http://www.350.org/, where we will show a glorious slideshow of photos from events in every corner of the earth. Be proud of what you've accomplished.And if you have any doubts about where the fun in your neighborhood is on Saturday, check out this link to find an event near you: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=NOCZi%2F44zIu8FiHjPF2EK15WuoA8ncELOnwards,Bill McKibben for the 350.org crew

There's bound to be something happening where you are, please please please check it out and be part of this very creative demonstration. Everything you care about may depend upon it.

(Crossposted from The Blue Voice.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

After mentioning in my previous post that Los Poblanos Organics is our area's largest CSA, it occurred to me that perhaps not everyone knows what those three letters stand for. They are the abbreviation for Community Supported Agriculture, something that is no longer the innovation it was some years back, is in fact coming to be an institution all over the country. A basic definition from Local Harvest, "Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season."

This section of Local Harvest will give you not only general information about CSA's, but everything you want to know about local family farms, organic groceries and co-ops, restaurants, and help you locate them in your area into the bargain. It's a great site for anyone wanting get in touch with locally sustainable food sources.

Frying The Tomatoes

It's still too dark to go out and see if any of my bumper crop of tomatoes are ready to be picked; but it's now or never for them, I'm afraid. We leave tomorrow for a week, with a ton of fat green globes hanging on the vines. In a previous post I fretted about a killing frost happening while we're gone, but in fact the opposite will be true. The forecast is for sunny dry days with highs in the mid to upper seventies, lows as warm as mid fifties. Perfect tomato ripening weather. I've asked our house sitter to please water the plants, then harvest and enjoy any that ripen while we're gone, and I can only hope she values good eating enough to do so. But, if there are any greenies still on the vine when we return, I'm going to try out this recipe from Los Poblanos Organics weekly newsletter.

Los Poblanos is our largest CSA in the Albuquerque area, with a farm in the North Valley and one in the South Valley. Although I discovered this wonderful outfit researching the Albuquerque area on the web, well before moving out here, I haven't joined up. I did join the local Co-Op, La Montanita, which has incredible produce, much of it local; and there are many Growers' Markets in the city, where local farmers bring their produce in to sell. And, of course, this summer our own backyard supplied us with most of our salad fixins, and salad is about all we could bear to eat, it was so constantly hot through the summer months. A couple of our friends have joined Los Poblanos, and find that they get more food than the two of them can eat, so perhaps we'll go in with them and share a weekly box. If there isn't too much cauliflower I'll be okay. Few are the veggies I don't like, but that's one I've never managed to get into. If it was a weekly mainstay maybe I'd learn to love it. Anyway, here's the way to deal with the green tomatoes:

Classic Fried Green Tomatoes


  • 3 medium, firm green tomatoes

  • 1/2
    cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup milk

  • 2 beaten eggs

  • 2/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs or

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Cut unpeeled
tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle slices with salt and pepper. Let tomato slices stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place flour, milk, eggs, and bread crumbs in separate shallow dishes. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Dip tomato slices in milk, then flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. In the skillet, fry for 4-6 minutes on each side or until brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October Musings

If April is the cruelest month, as per TS Eliot, October has to be the exact opposite. Though, in fact, it was the loveliness of April that occasioned that Eliot line, I think. The beauty of October is still the opposite of April's; Instead of the heartbreak of new life, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, it's the heartbreak of knowing any day now we'll be greeted by the results of that first killing frost. Right now everything in the yard seems to be at its most vibrant, full of life and color. Here, of course, I'm speaking of the perennials, the maximilian sunflowers, tithonia, salvia leucantha, and all the other salvia, goldenrod, ruellia, desert marigolds, several different flowering sedum, all the wonderful creeping things that have finally taken hold on the new berm, even the pink Mexican primroses are stunning right now. The weather is still glorious, blue skies/golden and warm during the day, just chilly enough for great sleeping at night. We have even considered laying and lighting a fire the past two nights, but ended up getting caught doing other things until it was too close to bedtime. It's my favorite time of year, always has been any place I've ever lived. Well, maybe not Dallas, it's often still too much like summer there in October, and this year it seems to be raining all the time.

But, here's the thing, a few months back we foolishly jumped at the chance to register for a three day birding weekend back at the beach in Delaware (where, up til Memorial Day 2006, we lived), on the temptation of an email sent us by a friend. Well, we miss the ocean so constantly that Peg's siren song just caught us at a weak moment. And now that weekend is upon us.

We leave from the Sunport this coming Wednesday and will be gone for a week. We've arranged a housesitter to keep all the living things alive while we're gone, that would be the cats and the gardens, but will she pay enough attention? As I mentioned in the previous post, the tomatoes and peppers are still producing, all the herbs are in full swing. I need to get out there this weekend and cut some of the herbs and dry them for use during the winter months ahead. I've bought frost blankets to cover the incipient cool weather crops that are coming up: lettuce, chard and spinach, and when I look at the ten day forecast it looks like this indian summer weather will continue until we come home, so maybe I should stop worrying. If I hold my mouth right the entire time I'm kayaking and birding and eating fresh fish (which I haven't yet managed to transition away from, though it's hard to find fresh fish here in the desert) the frost blankets can stay unneeded in the cupboard. And we will have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy October's glory in two of our favorite places: the mountains and the beach.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Where I Seem To Be Going

As the name of this blog suggests, I've been looking for a new direction, a new raison d'être as it were, ever since moving to New Mexico. I now see that some of the previous posts in the blog give a hint as to what that direction might be. Although it's been well over a year since I wrote anything (anything that I actually published, that is), the clues to where I am going are there. It's not really a new direction, just more of a focus on one in which I've always been headed.
I've pretty much given up on the political blogging over at The Blue Voice, as have most of my fellow Voices, with the big exception of Bruce Miller. And yet, the urge to chronicle something somewhere remains strong. As the things consuming my interest currently are gardening, food, environment, wilderness, and in some way the conjunction of all those things, I guess they will be the subjects of my chronicling.

While still teaching English to Spanish-speaking employees at UNM, I have spent the past six months mostly in my yard, gardening up a storm. I've always been a gardener, any place I have lived; as the child of two ardent gardeners, it's been in my blood forever. But the model I followed until now was that of my mother's gardening loves: perennials and herbs. Though I'll never abandon those loves, this growing season I embarked on my father's path, growing things we can eat. My father, a career military man, established a big vegetable garden in in the yard of any place we ever lived, whether military quarters, rented homes in towns or country, or ultimately the home where we settled, near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, his last posting.

Transitioning to vegetarianism, living in a place with terrific farmers' markets, getting into Slow Food, and growing many of our vegetables - these things seem to have emerged organically in a slow simultaneity. In the spring I planted radishes, mesclun and lettuces, which with a lengthy cool spring, lasted well into June and provided us with über healthy daily salad eating. I have quite a few herbs growing here, things I planted as soon as we moved in, plus those I've added in the past four summers. The tomatoes, peppers and squash were slow to mature and ripen, due to that same long cool spring, but the basil that I grew with the tomatoes supplied material for many a pesto for us and our friends. For some reason, the cucumbers developed a bad case of failure to thrive, and were a total bust. It's a challenging place to garden, my backyard and New Mexico in general. The cool cloudy spring included lots of wind, and was followed by very hot dry summer months, without any monsoon rains to speak of. Much of my growing was done in containers, as my hardpacked clay soil most resembles adobe, and takes long and backbreaking work to make ready to nurture any growth.

Well, time for the evening walk, then dinner, which is the second go-round for the results of a recipe I found on Deborah Madison's blog: Cabbage and Potato Gratin with Sage. This, with a salad of greens, avocado and tomatoes, has proved a most satisfying and delicious meal. So, having made this fresh start at picking back up the art of blogging, I hope to be back with more very soon.