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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 clich├ęd, 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)