Community Garden: August

I haven’t posted an update on the garden lately because not much is happening. It’s REALLY hot pretty much all day (and night) long, and things are looking pretty dry out there. We’re lazily thinking about gearing back up to a Fall planting, but it’s so hot that the idea of spending time out there is just not appealing to me. It’s also too hot to cook, which is good, because there’s nothing really left!

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I’ve cooked through all our produce but the beans (Jon made little smiley guys out of them while cooking something). We’re not getting any more tomatoes, and the carrots, garlic and onions have all been pulled up. Cooking with fresh garlic was so wonderful, and I’m definitely going to plant a lot of that next time around. I think we’re going to try a larger variety of carrot, too – ours were tiny and bulby, and I wish there had been more. There were a few favorite recipes from experimenting with what I had. There were different things at different times, but I had Swiss chard pretty much the whole time. I tried it many ways. I cooked it like regular collard greens, just sauteed with onions and spices on its own as a side dish. I mixed it in to soups. Below is one of my favorites – sauteed with garden zucchini, broccoli and garlic, over couscous. The best, though, was probably pasta tossed with sauteed chard, onions, jalapenos, carrots, garlic and chickpeas, topped with grated Parmegianno Reggiano. THAT was awesome. The chard has definitely been the star of the garden –  one single plant has lasted from February through the hard heat of a Texas summer, and it’s produced consistently well.

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We ended up getting some potatoes from the barrel we made out of chicken wire, and I used them in a veggie pot pie, among other things. They were small (assorted sizes, but none bigger than a baseball), but very tasty. There were some cucumbers, but not a lot. The ones later in the summer got a really thick, inedible skin – I think the plant was trying to protect itself from August. Inside though, they were good. The zucchini plant died after just a couple weeks of producing zucchini. The roots rotted and the veggies stopped coming – not sure if we over-watered or what. We got some little serrano peppers, but not many. The plants got big but just didn’t produce much. We got one round of beans, and they’re flowering again, but no second round yet.

Last week, I brought home a bucket of basil and made a couple jars of pesto. Summer in a jar!

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I think overall, it was a successful first growing season for two people who didn’t know a thing about gardening in the first place. I’m looking forward to putting our new knowledge into action for the fall planting. It’s really been a blessing being out in the garden this year. I’m not a huge outdoors-y person, but it was really nice being outside until it got hot. The feeling of sore muscles from digging an asparagus trench is so different from sore muscles from biking at the gym while watching a mindless action movie. I just finished Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and I really liked this passage about gardening:

“The work of growing food contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it, of course, but there is something particularly fitting about enlisting your body in its own sustenance. Much of what we call recreation or exercise consists of pointless physical labor, so it is especially satisfying when we can give that labor a point. None of this work is terribly difficult; much of it is endlessly gratifying, and never more so than in the hour immediately before dinner, when I take a knife and a basket out to the garden to harvest whatever has declared itself ripest and tastiest. Among other things, tending a garden reminds us of our ancient  evolutionary bargain with these ingenious domestic species – how cleverly they insinuate themselves into our lives, repaying the care and space we give them with the gift of good food.”

It was a joy to be with Jen and Rob (and whoever else happened to be around, from other plots) while we dug or pruned or planted, and I so enjoyed being out there with Jon. My friend Staci told me a couple of years ago that she and her new husband coached a kids’ basketball team together, and that it did a lot for their relationship, and that she’d recommend it to anyone. I feel the same about gardening with your significant other. Jon and I have been together for years, and we’ve shared a lot of bonding experiences – but I have to say, nothing has quite compared to sharing the planning and work of making beautiful things grow, and then cooking and eating those fruits together. Wish us luck as we plan our fall garden!

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When You Wish Upon a Star

Have I mentioned that I love my job? I had a shoot in Central Florida this week, and I flew in early the day before the shoot so I could check out Disney World. I haven’t been since I was a teenager, and I had such a good time. I was alone this time, which was a little weird, but I had a fun afternoon at Epcot. Apparently there are learning-centric buildings/exhibits/rides, and then there’s a World Showcase. That was the best part for me – good international food!

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“France” was great! I was walking through one of the stores, and a worker passed me and greeted me with “Bonjour,” and without thinking, I responded, “Bonjour,” complete with French accent! For a second, it was like I was browsing a shop in Paris again. I didn’t know this, but apparently most of the people who work in the different countries are actually FROM those countries. They had herbs de Provence, products from Avignon, soaps made from French lavender, and cookbooks from real French chefs. It was all real – there were English, Disney-commissioned labels with nutritional info and ingredients slapped on everything (which I actually thought was a great idea), but the products were genuine. I’ve always thought of Disney as taking real experiences and Disney-fying them, scrubbing them clean and repackaging them as their own, but I was totally impressed with the authenticity of the World Showcase. Yes, each country was basically just a cluster of money-making opportunities, which was annoying, but the wares were authentic, at least.

The food was surprisingly authentic, too. In Morocco, I had lamb, hummus, tabouleh, and couscous rivaling any I’ve had in restaurants. And in Japan, I had Japanese curry with rice. It was interesting – a mix between beef stew with carrots and potatoes and a curry sauce. Very good.

In Italy, I bought some of those little hazelnut chcocolates in the silver-and-blue wrapper that I found in Venice. I bought some Twinings cold-brew Earl Grey tea in England. And most impressively, I bought a jar of harissa in Morocco. That was the ingredient that Jeffrey cooked with in his demo of “The Ingredient Smuggler” on The Next Food Network Star! I bought it from a boy who couldn’t have been more than 23 and had just moved to the U.S. a month ago. I only bought one little thing, but it took 5 minutes because he was still learning how to work the machine, and he asked me a million questions. He told me how he uses harissa (in cooked lentils), told me about his trying to learn how to cook (and his recent cooking oil fire), asked me if I was a teacher (because I have the demeanor of a teacher, he said), and took a piece of paper from the cash register and wrote my first name in Arabic for me to take home. He was very sweet and eager, and it was the absolute last place I expected to have such an honest international encounter. Overall, I had a really nice afternoon. It was nice to get out of town and do something fun!

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Starfish and Coffee

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Jon and I toured the Dallas World Aquarium on Saturday, and my favorite part was the tank full of different-colored starfish! Aren’t they beautiful? The iPhone camera just doesn’t do them justice. They’ve always fascinated me. Got me hummin’ a little Prince.
It was 7:45, we were all in line to greet the teacher Miss Kathleen
First was Kevin, then came Lucy, third in line was me
All of us were ordinary compared to Cynthia Rose
She always stood at the back of the line, a smile beneath her nose
Her favorite number was 20 and every single day
If you asked her what she had for breakfast, this is what she’d say

Starfish and coffee , maple syrup and jam
Butterscotch clouds and a tangerine, a side order of ham
If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand
Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam

Cynthia wore the prettiest dress but different color socks
Sometimes I wondered if the mates were in her lunchbox
Me and Lucy opened it when Cynthia wasn’t around
Lucy cried, I almost died, you know what we found

Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam
Butterscotch clouds and a tangerine, a side order of ham
If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand
Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam

Cynthia had a happy face, just like the one she draws
On every wall, in every school, but it’s alright, it’s 4 a worthy cause
Go on, Cynthia!
Keep sayin’…

Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam
Butterscotch clouds and a tangerine, a side order of ham
If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand
Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam

Legacy Books

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Over lunch yesterday, I stopped by the new independent bookstore in town (well, Plano, but it still counts), Legacy Books. I was expecting something small and funky, but this indie shop is HUGE, clean, and they’ve got an amazing selection of books. The children’s area is amazing. It’s 3 floors, and it feels more like a Barnes & Noble than a Shakespeare & Co. It had specialized sections, though, which was what I thought was really neat. There’s a Texas section (Texas weddings, religion in Texas, etc.), a cute little room – with seating – devoted to art and architecture, and an upstairs seating section with local artists featured on the walls. There’s plenty of comfortable seating throughout the store (big leather armchairs!), including tables for working and laptops. Oh, and for you Twilight lovers, there’s an entire bookshelf devoted to it. OH – and foodies, there’s an entire wall! Go check it out and support your local economy.

Food, Inc.

I saw a movie last month that I forgot to write about, but it’s important, so I’m doing it now.  Food, Inc. is a documentary about the progression of the industrialization of food in this country since the end of WWII. If you’re already surfing the Fast Food NationOmnivore’s Dilemma – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle wave, nothing in this movie is really new information (other than an enlightening and moving segment on a small child who died from eating an E-Coli-tainted burger patty and his mother’s fight for more strict recall measures).

If you’ve read neither of those books or missed the movie version of Fast Food Nation, go check it out. The website has info on where it’s showing in theaters. Here’s a quick summary from the site:

“In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it’s produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.”

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Somewhere in middle America

Sarah and I took a trip to Wichita, KS this weekend! Her family was having a 90th birthday party there for a great-aunt, so I tagged along with Sarah and her step-brother, Travis. We stayed with family friends, and the weather was so nice (cool, cloudy and scattered showers) that we slept with the windows open both nights. I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that before! It was seriously heavenly.

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Here’s a closeup of that sticker on the window. It’s “Wushock,” the Wichita State mascot, a “shock” of wheat. The Shockers. I’m still laughing. Although my high school mascot was a (Mighty) gopher, so I really can’t laugh too derisively.

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We did a little driving tour of Sarah-affiliated Wichita landmarks. This is the house Sarah grew up in:

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We drove through Wichita State, where Sarah went to school. This is a Frank Lloyd Wright building, apparently. I would never have known – it doesn’t look very Wright-like to me, but I’m no expert…

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We walked around the music school building. It reminded me of my SMU music days, practice rooms and all! I didn’t notice the stone penis hovering just above her head until Jon saw this picture and started laughing. Sorry, Sarah 🙂

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We stopped by her favorite bookstore, Eighth Day Books, where she worked for a year back in the day. I’ve been hearing about it for years, and it was great. There just aren’t enough good, independent bookstores left (although I just heard about one in Plano, of all places…Legacy Books). Made me miss the old Shakespeare, Beethoven & Co. in the Galleria. I loved that place.

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We visited the downtown area (way cleaner than downtown Dallas) and saw the Native American Keeper of the Plains statue and the suspension bridge spanning the Little Arkansas River and the Big Arkansas River, right before they join together. I should mention that Sarah was very forthright in letting me know that in Kansas, it is pronounced the ArKANsas River. I thought that was silly until she correctly said that it was a very Texan thing to do, pronouncing it that way, and I had to agree.

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Saturday night, we went to a 90-year-old family member’s birthday party. It was a surprise party, and she didn’t have a heart attack, but she did cry at seeing all her family and friends standing in front of her. It was very sweet, the cake was awesome, and we had fun. That’s Sarah’s step brother and sister, Travis and Keri, on the far right, and her step dad, Kerry, is there in the blue shirt in the middle, above the birthday girl, Aunt Margaret.

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We visited Sarah’s grandmother in the hospital and stayed to chat for a while. She’s home now and fine. Also, we stopped by a restaurant they’d heard about in Norman, OK called Bison Witches, and this sandwich was freaking awesome: roast beef, smoked turkey, and smoked gouda with a honey-based, spicy Russian dressing on rye. Wow.

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We also made a trip to Wal-mart on the way out of town. I haven’t shopped at Wal-mart in years because I don’t like their business practices, but I made an exception for a grey “WuShock” t-shirt. I just couldn’t help it. Here we are with a Wushock mural on the way in. Those three fingers I’m holding up are a W for Wichita;) We had a great trip, and it was great to see where Sarah grew up, get to know some of her family and friends, and explore a new city. On to the next adventure!

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