Tennesseetransitions


Winter of Wellness
January 19, 2015, 7:48 PM
Filed under: Healthy food, Wellness | Tags: , , , , ,

Almost everything I do has some element of compromise in it. Each time I get into an automobile, buy a new pair of shoes, or even fill up the bathtub I am contributing to the great unraveling. One thing I will NOT compromise on though, is my health. To that end, I’m stealing the name of a series of ‘webinars’ that I’m beginning tomorrow and calling this my own ‘Winter of Wellness’. (if you’re interested in the webinars too, here’s a link to free registration: http://2015.winterofwellness.com/program)

Some of you may know that my husband Michael has recently finished an 18 month long battle with colon cancer, and won the war! But having a front-row seat to that battle has profoundly influenced me to not take my own good health for granted. I’m working hard to remain healthy. I may falter occasionally, but believing that we are what we eat, encourages me to eat healthy to stay healthy. And not coincidentally, I also believe that the hard work of transitioning to a way of life that’s not based on cheap oil, but on local food systems, sustainable energy sources, and resilient localized economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being will demand that we have good health and well being. I try to remember that if none of those things ever fully develop, maintaining good personal health will always be part of the solution to any of life’s problems.

And so, after what seems like only a couple of weeks ago that we planted our raised beds to a winter cover crop…

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the cycle of growing my health begins again. We ordered our seeds…

20150114_135159They’re non- GMO and organic which I feel is a good beginning, but planting them is the REAL beginning of this winter of wellness. Onions have just broken the surface with the help of grow lights and heat mats (there’s that compromise again)

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…but the parsley will take much longer to germinate. That’s ok though because parsley is a super food AND a biennial which means we don’t have to plant it every year. Some swallowtail butterflies use parsley as a host plant for their larvae and will feed on parsley for two weeks before turning into butterflies. Bees and other nectar-feeding insects also visit the flowers. Birds such as the goldfinch feed on the seeds. I think parsley is really underestimated as a powerful food source. It dries easily and I like adding it to all my winter soups and stews.

I’m enjoying experimenting with some of the endless recipes available on the internet. Trying new dishes like “Spicy Tofu with Sweet Chili/Lime Sauce” served over a bed of quinoa and fresh kale from the winter garden, or “Red Thai Curry” over Basmati rice makes it really easy to eat health-fully when they taste so delicious. The fact that they are so inexpensive is of course, and added plus. But again, we’ve decided to not compromise on the foods we buy, any more than we would on food that we grow. Organic foods have really become comparable to conventionally grown foods in the last year or two, and I like knowing we’re avoiding the chemical baths most of the time. 

In addition to growing, cooking and eating healthy foods, we’re increasing our daily exercise as well. That can be the most difficult part of staying healthy for me, but I won’t compromise on that either. Some of my family members that were here for Christmas took a short run (casual observers might’ve called it a ‘forced march’) with me on the new hiking and biking Tweetsie Trail that’s nearby. Our motto is: ‘The family that runs together has fun together’. Whatever…

Xmas run

Plenty of rest, a few dietary supplements, a wonderful ‘world-wide-web’ of supportive friends and family, and an ever-deepening reserve of inner spirituality, combined with healthy food and exercise…SURELY those are the things needed for wellness. Am I missing anything?



A Zucchini a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
July 12, 2014, 3:28 PM
Filed under: Healthy food, Local Food | Tags: , ,

I do believe my zucchini have done better this summer than ever before. So well in fact, that I’m giving them away, drying them to add to winter soups and stews, making flavored chips and now-finally!- I’ve discovered some easy and great tasting new recipes. I wanted to share them with you because they both can be made in a few minutes and for just a few cents if you’re growing most of the ingredients. 

Here’s the first: 

Zucchini Parmesan Sammiches

Zucchini Sammiches

From The Moosewood Cookbook:

2 cups diced fresh zucchini

1/2 cup minced onion

1 clove crushed garlic

1/2 tsp. chopped basil

1/2 tsp. chopped oregano

2 Tbs. olive oil

salt, pepper

Fresh tomato slices

1/2 cup freshly-grated parmesan

Saute’ onion and garlic, with salt, basil and oregano, in olive oil until onion is translucent. Add zucchini and saute’ until soft. Spread onto lightly browned toast, topped with thin slices of tomato and a sprinkling of fresh parmesan. (I didn’t have any fresh parmesan, so just used what the ‘canned’ variety. It didn’t melt as well but tasted good nonetheless. Use what you have . This one should be broiled, not grilled. Parmesan loves to broil. And I loved these sammiches!

And here’s a recipe for Savory Zucchini Cakes, from a post that  I made last July:

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https://tennesseetransitions.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/z-cakes-and-chow-chow/

In my opinion, nothing, I mean NOTHING compares to putting an organic, made-from-scratch, grown-in-my-own-garden, meal on the table! The satisfaction of producing one’s own food in a globalized world speaks not only to my environmental consciousness; sharing with you the growing, gardening, cooking and preservation of all that home-grown goodness gives me a sense of connection to my roots and to my community. YOU’RE my community. Thank you! Hope you enjoy your weekend friends! I’m off to the ribbon cutting of my city’s new “Founder’s Park”. It’s a beautiful park, with art, and rushing water and lots of green space-and it’s an 8 minute walk from home. Here’s a pic:

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Hope Springs Eternal

Last Saturday our temperatures here in NE TN were a perfect promise of spring, so I got to my plot in the community garden and spent a very pleasant hour or so turning under the green manure crop of Crimson Clover while adding some organic amendments to the soil. The next day’s rain was the perfect finish. Now it will have a couple of weeks to break down before I plant ‘spring things’ there. It’s a rare fall that I get the planting of my winter cover crop timed perfectly so that it will fill in, without going to seed, before the cold weather fully hits, but I managed to last fall. Remember this?

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The now-brown quilt of clover served as a natural cover through the winter, and will now finish its’ part in the garden’s life by adding nitrogen-rich organic matter to my slowly improving soil. I added blood meal, rock phosphate powder and homemade compost to the bed and then tilled it all under. I plan to try a no-till method in some of my beds this year, in hopes that the earthworms will drag the compost and other amendments down deep to the plants root area where it’s needed most. I vowed when I started these beds from scratch last spring that as soon as the clay was broken down I’d stop tilling. I hope that time has come, for using a tiller is not sustainable and my goal is to garden productively without using fossil fuels or the pesticides and fertilizers that are made from them. I’m still not there, this picture proves it, but I do hope to be some day soon.

diggin' in for spring

In the meantime, I’m babying my starts of onions, kale, chard, cilantro and parsley that are growing on a make shift book case-turned-plant-rack.

Veggie Starts

They’ll get transplanted to 4″ pots, slowly hardened off, and tucked into the prepare beds by the end of the month, along with potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli-all ‘cool season crops’ too. After many satisfying meals this winter using our stored, canned and frozen fruits and veggies it will be wonderful to once again have fresh foods to add to the table. While I wait for the lettuce, peas and strawberries, I’ve started sprouting seeds in the kitchen to give us ‘something fresh’ right now. Sprouting is easy-peazy- something even I can’t mess up!

The winter was really tough on the fall-planted kale, chard and lettuces. The ‘polar vortex’ ripped the plastic off both hoop houses the night it blew in and all that survived was the spinach. This picture was taken on December 17th, when those things were holding some promise for spring:

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All that’s left of that promising bed are the spinach plants, (lower left) which are still too small to harvest. Hopefully, not for long.

In writing this post, I realize how many times I’ve used the word ‘hope’. My garden is always full of hope, if nothing else. I hope the seeds will sprout, I hope for a bountiful harvest, I hope the food we grow will nourish us and I hope that by showing you, my reader, how much can be grown with so little time, space and energy that it will inspire you to try your hand at growing something this spring too. All indications are that we will definitely see rising food prices as the year goes on. We already are actually. Hoping that won’t happen isn’t enough for me though. In a world where I often don’t feel I have much control over much of anything, growing my food empowers me like nothing else does! Right along with filling my pantry and my belly, gardening fills me with peace of mind and the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the world, I’ll always have the knowledge and skills to provide for myself and others. Hope really does spring eternal in the garden!



Good Luck with That!

I cooked my traditional dish of Hoppin’ John today, using home-canned peppers, tomatoes, veggie broth and a package of the frozen Sofritos that my Puerto Rican friend Daniel taught me how to make last summer from my garden’s excess. IMG_0104

So today, all I had to do was open the jars, pressure cook the dried peas for 15 minutes, and add 2 cups of last night’s leftover rice, along with some precooked vegan sausage crumbles I had in the freezer. I love this time of year when I’m able to cook most of our meals using the fruits of my summer labor and dried beans and grains bought in bulk! Eating this way also helps me get ‘back in the groove’ of eating healthfully after the excesses of the holidays. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Property taxes, car insurance and the season’s highest heating bills all have to be paid in January and cooking this way feeds us well for mere dimes. Really. I also took advantage of the warm, sunny day to uncover my raised beds and cut some fresh kale to go with this. Quickly stir fried in red-pepper oil, it was the perfect go-with for the Hoppin’ John. We eat this dish (with a coin hidden in the pot-whoever finds it in their bowl will be blessed with wealth) with greens every year. Don’t you love family traditions?

New Year Resolutions; I have two:

Resolution #1. Get Fit. I want to ride my bike UPHILL  (important skill when  you live in the mountains), run in the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5k race again (along with 5,000 close friends), and climb Chimney Top Mountain on January 1st, 2015 (with a much smaller group of friends) that do it every New Year’s Day. We did it with them in 2008 and have always said we’d do it again. One year from today, we’ll be there and I’ll post a picture. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Here I am after the last time I did that climb:

tired

Resolution #2. Become a better bass player, which is going to require a lot of daily practice on my part. I know, I know, “good luck with that too!”

bass crop (3)

Eating healthy, staying fit, staying out of debt and living ‘well with less’, making home-made music, gardening and canning, hiking, bike riding and spending time with family and friends is really how I want to live my life, this year and always. May YOU be so lucky too! Happy New Year! 



In the ‘Nick’ of Time

Even though the full moon that’s been keeping my kitty-kitty prowling and meowing around the house during the night is postcard beautiful…

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the cold, short days really are cause for prayer and Prozac. For those of us that love to garden this is the time of year that we begin to truly miss kneeling at our weedy altars. The answer to this annual crisis is found in my mailbox, right there with the Christmas cards and end-of-the-year requests for charitable donations. Just in the ‘nick’ of time, the seed catalogs arrive! The colorful, mouth-watering, dream-inducing wish-books can transport me right back to warm days and garden plots.

Today’s ‘crop‘ of catalogs…

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inspired me to get outside and remove the plastic from my hoop houses so I could harvest some fresh kale and parsley… 

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to add to tonight’s soup…

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In my winter hoop house and in the kitchen, kale is king. After some hard frosts, it sweetens up, is easy-peazy to grow, and hearty enough to withstand serious cold with just a little protection. And check out the nutritional qualities of this super food:

kale

While I was in the garden, I took a peek at another bed that I’d planted with Red Sails lettuce, chard, spinach and some micro-greens called Claytonia and Mache’. Here’s that bed on Oct. 25th:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s what it looks like today, Dec. 17th:

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Come late winter, when I feel like I can’t possibly look at another plate of kale, the spinach and chard will be filling this space with their tender sweetness that can’t be duplicated with winter varieties. Just in the Nick of Time.



Good Investments

Yesterday was our first taste of winter here in NE TN -some of the higher elevations close by had snow flurries and even a bit of sleet! The gray skies and windy conditions forced us to turn on the gas fireplace stove, immediately drawing  the cat and dog in close. We picked the remaining tomatoes and then brought the baskets and bins of fresh produce from the porch inside to the pantry to protect it all from tonight’s expected low temperatures. We’ve got two cases of apples to store away, along with onions, grinding corn, butternut and spaghetti squashes, red, yellow and white potatoes and sweet potatoes all cured and waiting for the real cold to move in before we begin eating them daily. You know, when that time that comes after the Farmer’s Market closes next month when there’s very little fresh, local produce available, all these root veggies will be combined with whatever greens and Brassicas we have under the hoops to make lots of great meals. All this food was grown organically on good soil and is full of vitamins and minerals. Soil and compost building is a ‘good investment’ in successful gardening and the resulting fruits and veggies are  ‘good investments’ in our health and future well-being.

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Every single person that has seen Michael since he’s undergone his cancer treatments has commented, “Well you look good!” Even though his body’s been completely poisoned with the chemotherapy and ravaged by the radiation, he pulled through easier than many his age do and we are certain it’s because he was always investing in good health, even though all the while that damn tumor was growing undetected. Eating healthful foods and getting exercise every day may in fact be the best investment he’s ever made. This picture was made a week ago.

michael on bike

I’m glad the government shutdown was discontinued and the debt ceiling raised, but I think we all know it’s temporary. A friend remarked the other day that she has never EVER tended her garden with as much care as she has this year. Why? I think she’s simply being prudent and wise based on her own observations of how precarious our current economic system is. If ever, in the course of our lives, there was a time to plant food and learn a craft or skill, build a pantry and invest one’s money in one’s life, it is now. I recently offered a talented friend use of my washer and dryer twice a month to do her laundry in exchange for giving me advanced bass lessons while her clothes get clean. Michael and I make our ‘mad money’ by playing with a local band. The better musicians we are, the more likely we are to be hired to play. (AND learning to play any instrument is right up there with learning a foreign language and doing brain exercises as ways to keep sharp as we age) Plus, we have so much fun playing music!  I consider the trade another ‘good investment’.

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 Get to know your neighbors–you’ll need each other as shortages force us to relocalize. Work toward establishing new, more community-based economies.  Last week I traded a neighbor some of my fresh organic veggies for a big sack of his pecans. He feels like he got the best end of the bargain, but so do I. That’s what I call win-win. In the business world, networking with others in your line of work is considered important for success. The same holds true in our private lives. Volunteering for your favorite charity, sharing space in the community garden, even joining a church or club are all great ways to network and make friends. Our church community has rallied around us during Michael’s illness and we’ve felt uplifted and empowered by their support. Many studies have proven that a strong social network of friends can stave off depression, dementia and other illnesses. Building those relationships are ‘good investments’ for everyone concerned!

I think by clearly envisioning the joyful, healthy, earth friendly lives we most want and then by making ‘good investments’ during this transition period that we are currently experiencing, we’ll be able to make that vision a reality.

PS I apologize in advance if some the words in this post are highlighted in red and take  you to an ad. I have no idea why it’s happening and will try to fix it in future posts.



A Bog Blog or: More Local Food News

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Look carefully into the center of this clump of Native grasses…do  you see them? They’re cranberries, growing in a wild, Southern Appalachian cranberry bog! What does that mean? They are exactly 33 miles from my front door, which means we can now add CRANBERRIES to the list of local foods that CAN be grown in NE Tennessee. I didn’t even know about them when I wrote last week about our ’emerging local food economy’. Now, even though it’s a little blurry because it’s a close up, I wanted you to see how delicious they look:

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Michael and I drove over to Shady Valley, TN yesterday to attend their annual Cranberry Festival and even though the food, crafts and music were top-notch, the thing that grabbed our attention the most was the tour we got to take of the wetlands and stream restoration work that is taking place on 150 acres that is owned by The Nature Conservancy. Their little 1/4 acre bog preserve is being nurtured into existence by many dedicated volunteers. They have also established cranberry nursery beds, which were in full fruit right now. The Shady Valley Ruritan Club established the beds in 2008 for the purpose of propagating native cranberries and keeping alive the genetic strains from Shady Valley’s five distinct cranberry colonies. Cuttings and plants from these nursery beds provide stock that is transplanted elsewhere in the Conservancy’s restoration area.

More cool news: the endangered ‘bog turtle’ which is only 4″ and a native of this area is making a reappearance in the newly established bog. This little guy feeds on water insects and plants that are typically found in cranberry bogs. No turtle soup for you!

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Turns out the festival celebrates a history and heritage dating back centuries to when the valley was filled with wild cranberry bogs left over from the last ice age. More recently, residents of the valley would gather each fall to pick the locally grown cranberries and the resulting harvest became a time for celebration. Now don’t misunderstand: there’s not enough berries yet to go around but, God willing, and if the creeks DO rise, there will be ‘enough’ some day soon to go around. One of the conservationists explained the primary reasons the original bogs failed to thrive was because the water tables had been lowered so drastically by man’s engineering of streams and of course by beaver dams as well. The conservancy has worked hard to restore those streams back to their original paths. This little bog is meant to be natural, with only enough moisture needed to keep the plants’ roots wet, but the guide explained that irrigation would be another way to grow cranberries. Not necessarily a better way, simply another way.

Why am I writing about cranberry bogs? Because I want to get us all thinking about the traditional foods that are grown in our personal food sheds, wherever that might be. The foods that are local and native to your area are easiest to grow and will be sure winners in the future global competition for low energy food sources amidst major climate change. I want YOU to share with growers and CSA owners and market vendors and even  your favorite gardener that you’d LOVE to buy their locally grown cranberries (and pecans and cushaw squash too-see recipe below) As I find out about more foods that once were, or could be again, part of our emerging local food economy here in Southern Appalachia (and I’m sure there are plenty more!) I’ll be sure to pass them along to you. In the meantime, here’s a great recipe that uses all three!

Cranberry Cushaw Bread

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Yield: 1 loaf

Cranberry Cushaw Bread is the perfect escape from all of the typical Pumpkin recipes at this time of the year! Enjoy this delicious bread over coffee in the morning or for dessert at night while standing over the kitchen sink. (full disclosure: I haven’t made this recipe, but I’m sure going to-it’s ‘the season’ for all its major ingredients!)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon all spice
a pinch of cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cushaw puree
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 9 inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving 1 inch of parchment paper hanging over two sides of the pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the first 9 ingredients.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Add brown sugar and cushaw puree, whisking until well combined.

Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the center. Using a large spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold together until there are no lumps. Then carefully fold in the cranberries and pecans.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake this bread or it can become dry. Let bread rest in the loaf pan for 20 minutes before removing.




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