Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CLASSIC COCKTAILS FOR THE HOLIDAYS


Five Beverages Guaranteed to Make Your Holiday Spirits Bright

According to Slashfood.com, creamy cocktails are some of the unhealthiest choices, simply because of the sugar and calorie intake. For example, the White Russian is 865calories, while the Mudslide has 851 calories. Each year Paul and I look forward to Cate Wilson's homemade eggnog. Sinfully creamy, eggnog without alcohol has 257 calories and 14 grams of fat, more than a Snickers bar but less than the White Russian or a Mudslide, the trick is to pace yourself. If you're going to be enjoying eggnog regularly throughout the holiday season, those calories can stay with you a long time.

There is a way, however, to enjoy holiday cocktails without worrying about putting on extra pounds, go classic. I have chosen to share five cocktails which are classic to me. They will make your nose glow and your friends say 'ho, ho, ho". These cocktail recipes were chosen based on the premise that everyone has a few basic ingredients in their pantries and liquor cabinets, so whether you are hosting an office party or an intimate gathering at home you hopefully won't have to make a special shopping trip for extraordinary ingredients.

Let's start with the Bees Knees. Bees Knees is a very simple gin-based recipe popular around the time of prohibition. Simply gather together a good bottle of gin, Hendricks is great, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and honey. For every six tablespoons of Gin, add one tablespoon each of Lemon juice and Honey. Shake well with ice and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass. Now there's a drink that will keep you warm, and soothe your throat, on a cold winter's night. If you want something equally nice, make a dry martini with the Hendricks and garnish with cucumber. Superb.

Next is the Cosmopolitan Cocktail. My sister Meg and I perfected this cocktail over several "girl's night out" years ago. I add the splash of seltzer and dried cranberry garnish over Christmas for that special holiday feeling. I guarantee you the majority of party goers will love this cocktail. For every three parts Vodka (I prefer Grey Goose), add ½ part Cointreau or Grapefruit Juice (optional), and ½ part Cranberry Juice. Shake well with ice and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass. Top with a splash of seltzer, garnish with a slice of Lime and drop in a few dried cranberries if you'd like. Voila! It's Party Time.

What party is complete without a Bloody Mary? This drink has been around forever for a good reason, it's delicious, tomato juice is good for you and Bloody Marys allow you to drink without guilt on a Sunday morning; what could be better than that?

I like my Bloody’s spicy. The great thing about a Bloody Mary is that you can play a little with the garnishes (celery sticks, olives and a lemon wedge, maybe a dill pickle, or a shrimp) and make them cool or spicy; they are so easy to individualize. Here's how I do it. Combine 2 parts Vodka with 4 parts Tomato Juice, (or Spicy Hot V-8), add a squeeze of Lemon Juice, 2 dashes each Worcestershire and Tabasco, drop in at least 2 tablespoons of Horseradish along with Salt, White and Black Pepper to taste. Stir the mixture well. Pour into a tall glass filled with ice cubes and garnish.

I have to tell you I love variations of the Bloody and one of my favorites is the Shrimpy Mary served at Jumpin’ Jays Fish Café in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They also have a great raw bar there. If you are ever in the area I would highly recommend a visit. Next Please!

How about Whiskey Sours? My Grandmother loved them. She used some kind of pre-packaged mixture that was too sugary for me. Here's what I do instead: For every shot of Whiskey, add ½ shot of Lemon Juice, if you need a touch of sweet add a dash of Honey (or Maraschino Cherry Juice to taste). Shake well and pour over a short class of ice and garnish with a cherry. Sit back and enjoy.

You simply must finish off the festivities with a nice Irish coffee. So warming on a cold evening, you simply need a good pot of strong Coffee and a fine bottle of Irish Whiskey. Simply pour the coffee into a mug, add a shot of whiskey, sugar to taste (optional), and if you decide to indulge a big a dollop of whipped cream on the top is more than acceptable.

So there you have it, five of my favorite cocktails. Hopefully you’ll find one or two of the recipes to your liking. Here is to a happy, healthy holiday and a roaring good New Year. Ciao!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wood Smoke Rising


The high cost of oil and gas fuels a boom in wood stoves, but is burning wood greener than burning gas?

An inordinate number of articles on-line from publications across the United States are reporting on the burgeoning interest in wood stove purchases and use. Despite our falling economy the rising price of non-renewable fossil fuels has provided an incentive to return to traditional wood burning for supplemental, or sometimes total, heating for the home.

Both traditional, pellet-burning, and even corn burning wood stoves are in high demand as cold weather returns to the northern United States and Canada. Sales of stoves are up 55 percent so far this year over last according to industry figures; sales of wood pellet stoves are even hotter: up 135 percent over the same period last year.

Coal, oil and natural gas are the three kinds of fossil fuels that we have mostly depended on for our energy needs, from home heating and electricity to fuel for our automobiles and mass transportation. Fossil fuels formed from plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago and became buried way underneath the Earth's surface where they transformed into the materials we depend on for fuel today. They are limited in supply and will one day be depleted. There is no escaping this fact. Therein lays the root of all our energy problems: fossil fuels are non-renewable.

The concept of renewable energy, or alternative energies, is growing at a steady rate. Renewable energy simply means energy that is produced from sources other than our primary energy supply: fossil fuels. Wood if properly maintained, harvested and burned, is an important source of renewable energy for those in colder climates.

Since 1988, all indoor wood stoves and fireplace inserts sold in the United States have been subject to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards. EPA-certified units feature baffles or dampers, secondary combustion chambers, and/or secondary air supplies to improve combustion efficiency and reduce emissions. They use less wood to produce the same amount of heat, saving you money while reducing air pollution.

If you own a pre-1988 indoor wood stove, fireplace insert, or other wood-burning appliance, you can significantly reduce its emissions by adding a catalytic combustor or converter. Similar to the unit found in your vehicle's emissions control system, it will help burn gases, fine particles and soot before they are vented outside, for a cleaner, more efficient wood fire. Catalytic units should be inspected at least twice per year, both before and during peak home heating season.

Advanced combustion stoves and fireplaces use about 1/3 less wood and produce 90% less smoke to produce the same heat as earlier models. They actually re-burn the smoke, which produces more heat and eliminates the build-up of creosote. Consequently, advanced combustion burners require less maintenance than conventional stoves and fireplaces.

Ecologists generally agree that wood is carbon neutral. Burning wood releases a significant amount of the green house gas, carbon dioxide, which is also released by fossil fuels. The gas is reabsorbed by growing trees and turned into carbon, accounting for half the weight of wood. Whether a tree burns in your fireplace or decomposes in the forest, it will release the same amount of carbon into the environment in the form of CO2, methane, and other gases.

This cycle only closes, however, when the wood has been grown and harvested using sustainable forestry practices. Proper forestry practices preserve bio-diversity, which in turn enables the CO2 to be reabsorbed, as well as giving one a place to get more firewood. Theoretically, this practice can be repeated indefinitely. Fossil fuel can make no such claim.

By burning clean, dry, well-seasoned hardwoods such as oak or maple, your wood stove will produce less smoke, i.e. less pollution. An added advantage is that hardwoods provide more heat energy than softer woods because hardwoods are denser and burn more slowly and evenly. Poplar and birch are also good firewood. Seasoned wood is usually purchased by the cord (4 ft. x 8 ft. x 4 ft. ft of tightly stacked wood).

A fire made from wood that has been properly seasoned, is not wet or punky, and that is burning properly produces little or no smoke from the chimney. If you see a lot of smoke coming from a chimney, that's air pollution. Wood smoke results from incomplete burning. When released outdoors, or accidently indoors, it becomes air pollution. A properly installed, correctly used EPA certified wood stove releases significantly less pollution into the environment. EPA certified wood stoves burn wood more completely; therefore, they emit 60% to 80% less pollution. In some parts of the United States during a typical wood heating season, wood smoke can account for about 80% of the air pollution in a residential area.

So the answer is yes. If approached properly and treated as a renewable energy source sustained by practical forestry management, wood burning is definitely greener than burning fossil fuels.

Quick Tips on How to Burn Wood More Cleanly

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has these following recommendations for people who burn wood:

• Use a properly installed and vented EPA-certified wood stove.

• Season wood outdoors through the summer and for at least six months.
Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds
hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.

• Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered.

• Use clean newspaper and dry kindling to start fires.

• Have the wood stove cleaned and inspected annually.

• Don’t burn household trash or cardboard. Plastics and colored inks on
magazines, boxes, and wrappers give off toxic chemicals when burned.

• Never burn coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood, as it also releases
toxic chemicals.

• Never burn ocean driftwood, plywood, particle board, or any wood with glue
on or in it. They all release harmful chemicals when burned.

• Never burn wet, rotted, diseased, or moldy wood.

• Only bring into your home the amount of wood needed for a day to reduce the
chance of allergy-causing mold spores circulating indoors.

• Breathing smoke is not healthy. Wood smoke contains a mixture of gases and
fine particles that can cause burning eyes, runny nose, and bronchitis. Fine
particles can aggravate heart or respiratory problems, such as asthma, in
people of all ages.

Resources: woodheat.org, The National Geographic’s http://www.thegreenguide.com, Environmental Protection Agency, ecology.com, terraapass.com

Monday, December 8, 2008

Roll On Recycling...


There is an article published in December 7th’s New York Times, Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up, written by Matt Richtel and Kate Galbraith who proclaim that “Trash has crashed”.

One reason the prices for recyclable materials has dropped is that demand from China, the biggest export market for recyclables from the United States, has slipped away as the global economy shall we say, slumped. According to the reporters, “China’s influence is so great that in recent years recyclables have been worth much less in areas of the United States that lack easy access to ports that can ship there.”

I come from a generation of environmentally conscious consumers who were raised to feel good about sorting their garbage and taking it to the roadside for recycling, and I’ve raised my son, Hunter, to do the same. But guess what; most recycling programs are driven as much by the almighty dollar as by activism. So while the market drops the piles of waste grows, leaving recycling companies with a major dilemma, do we store this waste and hope the market rebounds or do we send stuff to the landfills?

The impact on individual recycling efforts from town to town and state to state varies. Most communities are keeping their recycling programs, sometimes because they are required by law, sometimes because the economics, while they have drastically downturned, still favor recycling over landfills.

We cannot let the recycling effort deteriorate because of the economy, and the best place for most of us to start is home of course. We must resolve to change our personal strategies and produce as little waste as possible recycling everything we can, to not support products that cannot be recycled and, very importantly, to purchase recycled items whenever possible.

Here’s my plan. Right now I’m going to ignore bigger issues like scrap metal, and concentrate on what I can do around my own home. I know most people out there recycle somewhat; hell, this country has been trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle since the last Great Depression. We’d best harken back to our grandparents or great grandparents now, because soon we are going to have first hand experiences of what they had to live through.

Living in the country makes recycling kitchen scraps easy for me; they go to the pigs or to the compost pile (which usually means dinner for all our wild critters). Anything that doesn't go into compost that is leftover gets stored to use in a different meal. Tupperware is not for me. As often as possible I try to reuse plastic containers from products like cottage cheese, sour cream, take-out foods, for my leftover food storage. When they have fulfilled that purpose they go into the recycle bin.

Paper products are next. The amount of paper junk mail alone sent each year in the United States is astounding, according to a number of websites over 4 million tons, and most of that is never opened. Even if you recycle there are still enormous environmental costs in terms of ink, energy to produce deliver and recycle the paper, recycling inefficiencies and loss of productive forest to create the high quality glossy paper much junk mail uses. The industry tries to "greenwash" their images but you’re probably not fooled. Badly targeted junk mail helps no one, including the industries themselves, but still they keep pumping it out.

There is a lot you can do to reduce the cost to the environment, so many options in fact that I don’t have room to list them all here. If you click on this link it will take you to a website that has phone numbers, addresses and direct links that will allow you to cut back your junk mail significantly. Please take a few moments to view this site and follow some of their very easy steps.

If you really don’t have the time at least try this: Start by sending a postcard or letter to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 15012-0643. Include your complete name, address, zip code and a request to "activate the preference service". For up to five years, this will stop mail from all member organizations that you have not specifically ordered products from.

I’m getting a worm farm. The unsightly worm has been quietly aerating, tilling, and fertilizing the soil for centuries, and utilizing their expertise will make it easier for me to get good soil for my plants since, as I mentioned before, most of my outdoor composting efforts are usually eaten up by "critters".



Worm farming is a simple way of turning vegetable and fruit scraps into a great potting soil for your garden or house plants. It can be done year round by apartment dwellers as well as home owners. Worm farming is particularly useful for people who would like to compost their food scraps but do not have space for a backyard compost bin. From all my research it seems that you should use red worms. They are also called red wrigglers or manure worms. Do not use earthworms or night crawlers. They just are not made to do this job.

All you need is a container of wood or plastic, bedding, and food. Worms function best at room temperature so keep your worm farm in a room where the temperature is between 40 degrees F and 85 degrees F., and they prefer it to be dark and without a lot of vibrations. Follow the directions for periodically cleaning out the castings, and never feed your worms meat, poultry, dairy products, or salty foods, like potato chips, and you won’t have an odor issue; minimal work for maximum output, sounds like a winning proposition to me.

Some things are easy to do: DO NOT use plastic bags to carry your groceries home. If you really feel the need to use a plastic bag for your meats or cold products or for purchases at big box stores, reuse them as garbage bags in the bathrooms, bedrooms, or home office, or use them to store and protect quilts, clothing, and appliances, whatever. Use paper bags to carry products home, they at least break down in a landfill, or use a cloth bag that will last for years and years. DO NOT use plastic bags for your recyclables. Please, please click the plastic bag links, it will become immediately apparent as to why plastic bags are disastrous.

Here is an idea, if you live in a state that has deposits on beverage bottles but you don’t like to take the time to return them at the stores, how about donating them to your local soup kitchen, or Boy Scout or Girl Scout Club, or at the very least sending them out to the curbside with your other recyclables. Reuse plastic or metal coffee cans in the garage, basement, or kid’s room for organization or storage purposes.

Finally, I live in Dutchess County, New York, so this is to help my fellow residents. If you live in other states or countries that have not begun any measures against these plastic bags please contact your local officials and voice your concerns. I personally think the plastic bag should be outlawed, but until that happens this is a step in the right direction.

During the 2008 Session, the New York State Legislature passed legislation requiring the reduction, reuse, and recycling of flimsy check out plastic bags.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney and Senator Carl Marcellino, the respective Chairs of the Environmental Conservation Committees in the State Assembly and Senate, the bill requires stores over 10,000 square feet and some stores over 5,000 square feet to offer in-store recycling of plastic bags for customers.

Additionally, the bill enacts public education policies to encourage reusable bags and recycling plastic bags. Currently the bill is awaiting Governor Paterson’s signature. Once law, this important policy will help make New York retailer and consumer behavior more sustainable while conserving finite resources and protecting wildlife. Read the full bill text here.

Please call Governor Paterson and tell him you support reducing plastic bag consumption. Please share your desire to shift from a wasteful nation to a sustainable society. When you phone tell the Governor
• Your name and address
• You support New York requiring in-store recycling of plastic bags statewide
• You want him to sign A. 11725/Sweeney and S. 8643-A/Marcellino
• You support shifting away from a disposable society

New York State Governor David Paterson can be reached by dialing:
1-518-474-8390.

So that’s it, some of my ideas of what to do to keep recycling rolling in the right direction. If you have any ideas or comments to share please feel free to post them.

Just remember to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beth's Spicy Hotdog Relish

Everybody's thinking about turkey leftovers. Me, I'm into hotdogs - all beef, natural casing dogs, no turkey dogs for me thank you.

Paul and I have a few favorite places like Blackie's in Cheshire, CT, Hotdog Heaven in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Dalla Riva's Hotdog Cart seasonly in Kent, CT, and the Frisbee Market in Kittery, Maine where we make sure to stop when we're in those respective areas.

Some places just offer standard sides - mustard, ketchup, chopped onions, sauerkraut; others have signature relishes or spices. We like things spicy and the relish below was modified from a recipe I found on-line. I've tried it on my friends and most people like it. If you want to add a whole new new dimension to your plain ol' dog— a little spicy with a bit of a crunch give this recipe a try.

Just mix in a bowl and chill; can be stored for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.


Ingredients



¼ cup chopped red onion

¼ cup chopped red bell pepper

¼ cup chopped dill pickle

¼ cup chopped sweet pickles

¼ cup small capers

¼ cup Gulden's mustard

¼ cup prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup ketchup (optional)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Have you ever been to Kalamazoo?

Written for my son, Hunter, but really for all the little (and big) kids in my life....


Have you ever been to Kalamazoo?
They have the most amazing zoo,
With animals you’d never think
Could live and eat and dance and drink.

They have the Pink Alurahoo
The most popular sight at the zoo.
It’s tall and thin and pink with green
Once thought to be very mean,
Until a Kalazoologist found
They’re extremely shy and don’t like loud sounds.

So to view the Pink Alurahoo
You go in pairs, NEVER more than two,
Then quietly stand behind the wall
And don’t make any noise at all,
Look behind the Loohura tree
And the elusive Alurahoo you will see.

Another creature at the Kalamazoo
Comes from the bogs of Tir Na Nu.
It’s long, and brown with shiny scales
And likes to munch moss and little green snails.
It has big eyes that constantly blink
Unfortunately it sure does stink.
They call this creature the Odiferous Nog
Of The Almost Unknown Tir Na Nu Bog,
An awfully long name for something that smells
And sits around munching on snail shells.

They have the Horsog of Crosby Falls.
Who likes to dance by the light of the moon
On a summer evening toward the end of June.
He looks a little bit like a dog,
with the legs of a horse and the eyes of a hog,
But it’s truly the friendliest little thing
And sometimes when he dances he sings.
So if you are in Kalamazoo in June
You can watch the Horsog dance
By the light of the moon.

I like the Alurahoo and the Odiferous Nog
And I especially like that little Horsog
But I never leave Kalamazoo without going to see
The especially smart Tingtang Turakazee.

He’s a little grey mouse with the softest of fur
That comes from an ancient forest in Kur,
He’s very well read, enjoys Black Pekoe Tea,
Recites rhymes, quotes the sages, and can just talk for ages;
He answers the questions his visitors pose
Usually in song or the nicest of prose.
If you bring him some vegetables and a dumpling or two
He’ll make you an amazing Kurama Stew.
He’s a popular fellow
You must call in advance,
But you must stop to see him if you get the chance.

So next time you’re traveling out with your friends
And you need somewhere to go that you’ve never been,
Take a trip to the spot found in Kalamazoo
You’ll find all kinds of creatures
And have lots of fun too.

Copyright 2005 – all rights reserved

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog.....

I'm on a cartoon roll now, trying to remember all my favorites. This, obviously was one. So you can sing along if you'd like....

"When criminals in this world appear,
And break the laws that they should fear,
And frighten all who see or hear,
The cry goes up both far and near for
Underdog! Underdog! Underdog! Underdog!
Speed of lightning! Roar of thunder!
Fighting all who rob or plunder!
Underdog! Underdog!"


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Daryl's Hot Peppers

This spring my friend Daryl gave me some seeds from a pepper he had wrapped up in tinfoil. He had been to a restaurant for dinner and complimented the chef on the meal and particularly the peppers. Well, the peppers were imported from Italy and he gave Daryl an actual pepper (hence the tinfoil wrapping). Well, Daryl knows I like to grow things and he was very excited at the prospect that he was going to be able to end up with bunches of these delicious peppers. I sprouted the seeds in the windowsill, transplanted them in the garden and they were growing steadily, getting big and green and bushy when I had a Japanese beetle invasion, so I lost a number of the plants. Fortunately I had kept some plants in pots on the porch and I didn’t lose all the pepper plants in the garden, one disaster averted. I watered them, I talked to them, and I picked the bugs off their leaves. At the end of the season I had a fair number of interesting looking, long, multi-colored (some green, some yellow, some orange) peppers to harvest.




The next step was to figure out exactly how to preserve them. I wanted to do Italian style preservation in what I assumed would be just olive oil, but every recipe I found was more towards pickling. I had all kinds of friends and relatives looking high and low for recipes on preserving peppers. Finally I modified one recipe from many. Then I looked at our “harvest” and I worried that if the recipe was bad I’d have no peppers to give Daryl. I assembled all my ingredients on the counter, picked out some jars for packing, got out the pots and pans; then I started getting really nervous, actually I had a panic attack. So I went and rearranged the pantry shelves and drank a couple beers while I was doing that. Then I looked at the pepper plants lined up in front of the windows. I rearranged all my pepper preserving materials on the counter again because they were in the wrong order. I called my girlfriend Suzanne who reviewed the recipe with me and gave me a pep talk. After hanging up the phone I circled the counter a few times and then looked at the clock and decided it was too late to put by peppers. I went to bed.




After a fitful night of tossing and turning and dreaming about all the horrible things that could go wrong, I got up a the crack of dawn, picked a peck of peppers, washed them off in the sink, rearranged all my stuff on the counter and decided to make myself a fortifying cup of tea. After feeding the piggies and circling the counter numerous times I yelled, “F**k It, it’s just damn PEPPERS!”, and I jumped in. I did one small batch and snuck them into Daryl’s fridge when he wasn’t looking. Then I went out for a few cocktails and put the whole experience out of my mind. I figured if Daryl didn’t like them I’d try something different, and if he liked them, well then it was worth all the worrying wasn’t it.




Guess what – he liked them, he really, really liked them. He told Paul (my better half) that they were good and he was looking forward to getting more. Needless to say the recipe has now become my “secret” Daryl’s Hot Peppers recipe. Here’s what it looked like when I put the rest of the peppers up. I saved a few that are drying for the seeds and I’m already looking forward to next year’s crop.




Monday, November 3, 2008

Burned

I need your opinion. Have I told you about 100 Words? (See Campville Preferred Links on the right of this blog)

100 Words is a website where you sign up to write 100 words a day - exactly 100 words, no more and no less.

I failed miserably.

I wrote 100 words a day for 12 days and then I got backed up, bogged down – work, kids, other writing, laundry, dishes, feeding the animals (I currently have 3 piggies, 2 boys, and a dog) – Arrgghhhhh!

It was challenging writing in such a restricted form; seeing what you can come up with, see if you can keep the thoughts in some kind of sensible form. The problem is I seem to always start and never finish. (See my previous blog post
Friday, April 18th – Continuation of a Short Story); an idea that has not reached maturation either.

So I need your opinion. Please make a comment; good, bad or ugly I would really like your opinion on both pieces. Is this something I should continue, or should I give up the ghost and move along?




The note said, “If you can’t love me enough to let me be me without cursing my ways, just let me go. This is who I am. You can’t change me.”

The paper it was written on had been opened and closed so often that it was soft as buttery lambskin, the edges indistinct, the writing beginning to blur.

He folded it once again and placed it carefully under the torn lining of his wallet. The wallet he slipped back into the pocket of his jeans.

“Mitch?” his wife’s voice drifted across the yard. He rose slowly from the picnic table.

All under control, dear,” lifting the lid of the grill he turned the control knobs to high and hit the starter.

Two clicks and propane flames licked the edge of the burner. It burned blue close to the element that released the gas, yellow as the flame licked at the air. Just like always, two clicks of the button and the flame burst forth.

Staring at the flames, her laughter, lilting, musical, floated on the air. Just the thought of her ignited a burning in his stomach and spread toward his balls. Just thinking about her did that to him.

He knew her smile, her laugh, could start a fire in most men. It made them do stupid things. It made them crazy. It made him crazy, he’d really loved her. She’d said she loved him, then wanted to leave; was that love, was it?

Mitch grabbed the thick, red sirloin and slapped it down on the hot rack. It sizzled, spit, protesting as the flames reached hungrily higher and hotter searing the flesh; just like she had sizzled, her flesh burning, her smile melting away.

Nausea boiled in his belly. He closed his eyes against the world swirling by.

***


He hurried around the corner thinking of the morning’s first hot cup of Joe, of glancing through the New Milford Times as he sipped that coffee at the counter, of picking up Molly’s watch from the jewelers when he finished with all that.

As he rushed along headfirst, looking down at his feet instead of where he was going, he almost knocked her down.

“Well, hello handsome,” she said as she giggled that luscious giggle of hers. “Why are you in such a rush?”

He stared drop jawed like a smitten schoolboy.

“Well, I, umm, getting coffee, yeah, umm, coffee.”

“I drink tea and I could really use a cup. Mind if I join you?”

She locked arms with him, looking up expectantly. Mitch stood frozen; his brain wasn’t working in any kind of cognizant way. He stuttered, he fumbled, all senses grasping at her freshness, her smile, flashing white; her laugh, girlish and magnetic.

“I, you aren’t from around here are you?”

Mitch moved forward desperate to recover his senses, a feeble-minded school boy he was not; reaching up to touch her hand resting so lightly on his arm, a warning flash, the morning sun on his wedding band.

As the light caught his eye Molly’s brunette bob and freckled face flashed in his mind.

“I’m on the run, as you noticed,” he laughed lamely. He moved forward disconnecting his elbow from her hand with little to no finesse at all.

Laughing in return as she kept step alongside him, “I‘ll just walk with you then.”

“Weren’t you headed in the other direction?”

“Like you said, I’m new around here, so I have an excuse for going in the wrong direction. I could really use a cup of tea. My name’s Grace by the way.”

“Well, Grace, I’m Mitch.”

***



Molly stared out the kitchen window at Mitch lighting the grill. She washed and slowly dried her hands, a light breeze gently stirring the curtains. Her mouth pursed, wrinkles formed between her eyes as she lost herself in thought. Mitch had been acting so different lately. Not like himself at all.

They had known each other since grammar school. What Molly had always loved about Mitch was his steadiness, his dependability. Lately he had been scattered, unreliable, unavailable; just recently she and Mrs. Johnson had to wait outside the Public Library for 45 minutes. He said he’d forgotten; how odd.

The hours he’d been keeping lately were very sporadic. She used to be able to set her watch by his comings and goings, but now? True, he had gotten much busier at work since he’d taken on a new client, the Aspinwalls. Mitch had complained several times that whenever he completed an architectural draft as requested they came back with numerous changes.

Molly sighed. Blowing a wisp of brown hair from her face she turned from the sink to the butcher block. Picking up the knife she absentmindedly began chopping cabbage. The Rhineharts would arrive soon for their afternoon picnic.

She was glad Sally and Charlie would be joining them. The Rhineharts and the Wildes had been close for years now. Charlie, Mitch and Grace had all grown up together. There had been an uncomfortable time for a bit in high school; a love triangle thing, kinda. It had been complicated and confusing, until Grace remembered what she’d always known; she would marry Mitch. He had kissed her in kindergarten under the big oak tree and told her it would be so. Looking into his blue eyes, calm as the sky on a hot August day, she never doubted him.

Charlie had gone on to attend agricultural college in the Midwest. Mitch had headed to the city to obtain his design degree. He had always loved to imagine, to draw, to build. A career as an architect had seemed as inevitable for him, as farming was for Charlie.

For as long as they all could remember Charlie had dug in the earth, driven tractors, milked the cows, baled hay. His family had been farming for generations; it was a lifestyle Charlie embraced.

While they were growing up, Westchester County folk were slowly and steadily creeping toward their quiet country town.

As if overnight old dairy barns were torn down. Large swaths of pasture were cordoned off into postage stamp sized lots; the same little house in different colors grew up as if replacing the cows.

Charlie had always wanted to save the working farms, and each time another family folded under the pressure and cashed in their land, their inheritance, well it was so sad.

At least when that did happen Mitch spun them into what they all jokingly referred to as “new fangled old homes”; he tried to cultivate clients who at least loved the idea of a farm.

Molly worked steadily in the kitchen moving from sink to refrigerator to the counter, chopping vegetables, molding hamburger patties, folding mayonnaise into the potato salad. Stopping at the sink she gazed out at her husband sullenly drinking a beer at the picnic table staring into the flames from the grill.

“Patience, patience; I need to just wait. He’ll tell me what’s going on when he ready. Just wait, just wait, just wait.”

She’d been repeating this over and over in her head for weeks, a silent prayer, a daily mantra, reminding herself of the faith she had in her husband.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Outside My Office Window...

...I can see hayfields. Autumn has definitely arrived here in New York State, but winter is knocking on the door - loudly. On Tuesday night, October 28th, we had snow!! It is gone now and the days are alternating between what feels like frigid to me (32-33 degrees) to something more "comfortable" (55-60 degrees). Seems to be harder for my body to become acclimated these days.



Can't think about moving though. The changes in the season, in the weather, that's what make this one of the most beautiful spots in the country. A few days previous we had a sun shower over a corn field that had just been chopped. A few raindrops hit my lens, but I think you'll get the idea.





Monday, October 27, 2008

Pear-Ginger Crisp

You know I like to cook; particularly this time of year. When the days get short and cool you’ll find me in my kitchen, canning, creating, trying new recipes. When autumn’s in the air I always like to cook with apples: apple pie, apple sauce, apple crisp. While we have a lot of apples here in New England in the fall, I’ve always eyed the pears and wondered what I could do with them. Then, thanks to Rural Intelligence I discovered this recipe for Pear-Ginger Crisp. The texture is definitely different than apples but the flavors are delicious and the aroma when it is cooking is fantastic.


If you have friends that are allergic or don’t care for nuts substitute quick oats in the topping, and make sure you use a hard baking pear, such as Bosch or Red Anjou.



Pear and Ginger Crisp

Courtesy of Bobby Flay by way of Rural Intelligence


serves 10-12



3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

1-1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

5 T sugar

pinch cinnamon

pinch kosher salt

9 T unsalted butter, room temperature (softened)

2 T fresh ginger, peeled and grated--about a four inch long piece, give or take

juice of 2 lemons

10 medium pears, peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.




Make topping: toast pecans in a small sauté pan over medium heat until they become fragrant--just a few minutes. Don't let them burn! Mix flour, brown sugar, 2 T sugar, the cinnamon, and salt together in a small bowl. Using a spoon, slowly stir in butter--the mixture will be crumbly and bumpy--and then stir in pecans.


In another larger bowl, gently stir together ginger, lemon juice, 3 T sugar, another pinch of salt and the sliced pears. Turn the fruit into a baking dish, and cover with the topping mixture. Bake until topping is crisp, about 50 minutes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I just finished reading “Wise Blood”, a novel written by Flannery O’Connor. I found it disturbing and fascinating. This was the first time I’ve read any of O’Connor’s work and so I chose to read her first novel. I found its form to be stark, direct, simplistic, its content dark and disturbing. I am entirely intrigued by her style and content and look forward to reading her short stories.


Flannery O'Connor was the only child of Edward F. O'Connor and Regina Cline O’Connor. Born in Savannah, GA in 1925 she attended Peabody High School and Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College and State University). She majored in English and Sociology. In 1949 O'Connor met and eventually accepted an invitation to stay with Robert Fitzgerald, a translator of Greek plays and epic poems and a respected poet in his own right, and his wife, Sally, in Redding, Connecticut. In 1951 she was diagnosed with lupus, and subsequently returned to her ancestral farm, known as Andalusia, in Milledgeville, GA where she died at the age of 39 years on August 3, 1964.


“Wise Blood” is written in the Southern Gothic genre. Southern Gothic is a subgenre of the Gothic writing style, unique to American literature. Like its parent genre, it relies on supernatural, ironic, or unusual events to guide the plot. Unlike the Gothic writing style, Southern Gothic uses these tools not for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South. This genre of writing is seen in the work of many celebrated Southern writers such as: William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Cormac McCarthy and Katherine Ann Porter among many others.


I am particularly interested in the short story which has become less popular in our times. “Wise Blood” began with four chapters published in Mademoiselle, Sewanee Review, and Partisan Review in 1948 and 1949. O'Connor then published it as a complete novel in 1952, and the publisher, Signet, advertised it as "A Searching Novel of Sin and Redemption."

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Flannery O'Connor was a Roman Catholic living in the American South, and her fictions consistently illustrate not merely religious, but theological points of view. By the time of “Wise Blood”, O'Connor was herself diagnosed with lupus and was receiving treatment with hydrocortisone therapy at Emory University hospitals in Atlanta.”


After her first major attack of lupus in 1950, she had been forced to return home to live with her mother on the family farm. O'Connor's father had died of lupus, leaving her with no illusions about the outcome. Having previously lived in Iowa and in and around New York City, she found her mother's company and the general area of Milledgeville to be difficult. The smart-aleck child coming home, and resentment of mother figures and parents in general, permeates all of O'Connor's fiction, and “Wise Blood” is true to this context.


In this novel, O'Connor explores her recurring concept of an alienated young person returning home coupled with the theme of the struggle of the individual to understand Christianity. O'Connor's hero, a young man named Hazel Motes, sneers at communal and social experiences of Christianity. Having returned from serving in the Army Hazel is travelling by train to the fictional city of Taulkinham having just discovered that his family home has been abandoned. His grandfather was a tent revival preacher, and Hazel is told repeatedly that he "looks like a preacher," though he despises preachers.


An interesting cast of characters follows including Miss Leora Watts, Enoch Emery, and a blind preacher, Asa Hawks, and his young daughter, Sabbath Lily Hawks. Leora Watts is a prostitute, Enoch Emery is attracted to Hazel's new "Church Without Christ" and believes himself to have wise blood, Asa Hawks is a blind preacher who is not blind, and Sabbath Lily has a wild side and has fixated on having Hazel for her own.


Hazel Motes tries desperately to find freedom from his conscience by choosing to ignore his belief in God. He believes that if he eliminates morality from his life, he can avoid Jesus. The cast of characters in Wise Blood are frequently deceptive, chronically unkind, and brutally violent. “Wise Blood” is a spiritually empty, morally blind, cold, hostile place. Over the years, critics have often referred to Flannery 0' Connor's first novel as dark and grotesque.


In 1979 “Wise Blood” was made into a movie. According to Rotten Tomatoes “from the "The Maltese Falcon" to the "The Dead," filmmaker John Huston created provocative adaptations of stories and novels -- and "Wise Blood" is considered to be among his most daring.”

Words for Thought

Some people try to turn back their odometers. They want to look younger, erase the "wrinkles" of time. Sometimes I go there and dream of plastic surgury, wish I didn't sit in an office chair all day long, believe I should look like the photos in a magazine, but mostly not.

I want people to know I look the way I do (which, by the way isn't that old or wrinkled, but I know it's coming...just a matter of time). It's because I've traveled a long and winding way and some of the roads weren't paved.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

And So They Dance......

I was raised to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I learned from my grandmother, Margery, who was born in 1915 and lived through the Great Depression, to reuse tin foil, eat everything on my plate, compost your leftovers and so much more. That was why I was excited to find out about Gazelle.

Gazelle wants to, in their own words, “change the world – one cell phone, one laptop, one iPod at a time.” They promise to provide a practical, rewarding way for people to finally rid themselves of all those old electronics, everything from cell phones to digital cameras, and gaming systems, iPods, anything that you no longer use. Now you can recycle them and sometimes get paid.

Gazelle believes that too often when people think of recycling, they rush straight to smashing things into bits for parts. Instead Gazelle offers a way to reuse first. If your GPS unit, your old mobile phone, what have you, still works, why not keep it in circulation AND get paid for it? If reusing isn’t in the cards, then Gazelle can recycle that vintage camcorder. They call it Re-Commerce.

Like they say, “Yeah, we’re green. Green for you with dollars in your pocket; green for the environment with fewer electronics being trashed.”

Another great website for recycling, with the possibility of getting paid, is Cell For Cash. On this website you follow three easy steps and you can get paid to send them your old cell phone. If your phone is ineligible for payment for some reason, they will allow you to print out a label for mailing your phone to them for recycling. They pay the postage fee. Visit today.

Think Globally, Act Locally.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Well, I have “Put By” my own tomatoes; Marinara Sauce, Green Tomato Chutney, some Whole Tomatoes. But I’m not going to talk about it too much. Why, you might ask? Well I think a picture is worth a thousand words and my camera isn’t working. If something suddenly changes I’ll be sharing with you. Until then onto something a bit more interesting, I hope.

More interesting to me is 100 Words. You can link to their website by clicking on “100 Words” under the Campville Preferred websites to the left of this blog.

I like this site for three reasons, 1 - because it is for writers who need a challenge and some discipline; 2 – because you can write about anything you want; and 3 – you are not giving up your copyrighted material.

That’s right. Can you believe it? A site that wants to publish your work and lets you keep the rights to your own work. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to write 100 Words a day for one month. I know I have a few friends who should really do this because they are creative and just need motivation. How about you?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cooking Up A Story...

I wanted to find a video that I could post here for everyone to enjoy that had to do with canning. I grew up canning, both my grandmothers and my mother gardened and canned, and so it is second nature to me.

I always do tomatoes because you can use them in so many recipes and I'm experimenting with a different preparation this year that I'll share with you later on. Jams and jellies are my favorite creations and I've put by a lovely blueberry jam, this year without sugar - just honey - and I must say it is fab.

In the meantime, enjoy this take on preserving food with "Cooking Up A Story".


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Well, I know I have a lot of videos on my blog right now, but don’t forget to check out my older posts. I’ve posted a short story I’m working on, and talked about rice, garlic, coffee, and asparagus. I like my garden and food. That’s where I’m going today, to the garden.

September has flown by here in New England. As the days get shorter and shorter and the air changes to crisp and cool, the final vestiges of green growing things struggle to survive in the hillside, too shady, weed infested area I’ve staked out for growing vegetables.

This year the garden was expanded, the fencing went up late (I wasn’t about to put all my plants out so the deer and bunnies could have a party at my expense), and many of the beautiful plants I’d started indoors got root bound, bug infested (organic means Bugs!!), sun deprived, water deprived and attention deprived. But despite all that I have a bumper crop of tomatoes. I’ll be canning some as sauce, and trying a Green Tomato Chutney. When I have time again I’ll let you all know how I did.

Until Then.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let Us Not Forget...

“I do pray, and that most earnestly and constantly, for some terrific shock to startle the women of the nation into a self-respect which will compel them to, see the absolute degradation of their present position; which will compel them to break their yoke of bondage and give them faith in themselves; which will make them proclaim their allegiance to women first . . . . The fact is, women are in chains, and their servitude is all the more debasing because they do not realize it. O to compel them to see and feel and to give them the courage and the conscience to speak and act for their own freedom, though they face the scorn and contempt of all the world for doing it!"

Susan B. Anthony, 1872.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Growing Asparagus




What can you do to cure the winter blues? You can think of sunshine, longer days, warm breezes, and succulent spring asparagus.

Asparagus has long been a harbinger of spring. Protected by an old fence line dividing our yard from the neighbors, hidden behind an ancient lilac bush, lingered an old asparagus bed that had been planted by my great grandfather. When winter had pasted and the sun warmed the ground little buds would poke through the soil sending their tender shoots skyward. We passed the asparagus bed each morning on our way to the bus stop and when the shoots were about six inches high my mother would come forth with a big basket for carrying her bounty back to the kitchen.

That house is gone from my family now. I imagine if no one found the hidden spot that the asparagus grew until the stalks were tall and tough, a feathery crown reaching skyward. Since it is still one of my favorite vegetables and so easy to cook in so many ways I decided to plant a bed at my own home.

Asparagus grown in your own garden is tastier and much less expensive than any you can get at the grocery store or at a gourmet restaurant. Once you have eaten your own fresh asparagus after you have harvested it from your own garden, you'll never go back.

It is important to realize that the work that goes into establishing an asparagus bed doesn't pay off in good eating for several years and will take a bit of work. However, asparagus is a perennial vegetable, once established it keeps coming back and getting better year after year. A good asparagus bed can truly last a lifetime with minimal work once it has been well established.

Go Ahead, Get Growing

The best time to begin digging and preparing your asparagus bed would be in autumn, but don't wait another season; go ahead and start as soon as you can.

To have a fine bed of asparagus, plan carefully. If you haven't had a recent soil test, you should get one, knowing what the pH of your soil is will save you a lot of difficulty and help your asparagus bed properly establish itself. Soil pH should be maintained between 6.5 and 6.8. Asparagus does poorly at pH levels below 6.0.

Choose a site with good drainage and full sun. The tall ferns of asparagus needed to help establish a strong root system may shade other plants, so plan accordingly. Properly preparing your bed is equally important. If your soil is heavy or full of clay you will need to incorporate generous amounts of well decomposed manure, organic matter such as compost, and maybe even a little sand.

Early in spring when you can work the soil without it clumping (if the soil is too wet, you will end up with hard clumps of earth) dig your trench add your fertilizer, lime, if needed, and organic matter as needed. In heavy soils, double digging is recommended. To double dig, remove the top foot of soil from the planting area. With a spading fork or spade, break up the subsoil by pushing the tool into the next 10 to 12 inches of soil and rocking it back and forth and digging a V-shaped trench. Do this every 6 inches or so. Double digging is ideal for the trench method of planting asparagus since a 12-inch-deep trench is usually dug anyway. The extra work of breaking up the subsoil will be well worth the effort, especially in heavy soil.

Asparagus, a member of the lily family, is just about impossible to grow from seed but you can easily purchase 1-year-old asparagus crowns, which are the roots of the plant. Look for bundles with 10-15 roots that are dormant (showing no green shoots) that look firm and fresh, not limp. The bundles can be obtained from a local plant store, nurseries, mail order catalogs or sometimes your local hardware store. Just time your purchase accordingly because you should plant as soon as possible after purchasing.

Asparagus requires lots of space. Crowns should be planted every foot or so in rows 4 to 5 feet apart. Place the plants in a trench 12 to 18 inches wide and a full six inches deep. The crowns should be spaced 9 to 12 inches apart. Spread the roots out uniformly, with the crown bud side up, in an upright, centered position, slightly higher than the roots.

Cover the crown with two inches of soil. Gradually fill the remaining portion of the trench during the first summer as the plants grow taller, but do this a little at a time until you are eventually at “ground” level again. Asparagus has a tendency to "rise" as the plants mature, the crowns gradually growing closer to the soil surface. Many gardeners apply an additional 1 to 2 inches of soil from between the rows in later years.

You’ll also want to give new plantings one to two inches of water a week; after that, water only when rainfall is scant. Weeds and grasses are asparagus’ worst enemy. They compete with the developing spears in your garden and can significantly decrease yield and quality. Start frequent, light, shallow cultivation early in the spring in both young plantings and mature patches that are being harvested.

Asparagus produces both male and female plants. The female plants are pollinated by the blooms of the male plants and produce red berries in the fall. The berries contain seeds that self-sow. The list of commonly available varieties has significantly changed in recent years. Standard varieties like Mary Washington, Martha Washington and Waltham Washington are still being offered; but a number of new varieties that are either predominantly or all male recently have been introduced in to common usage.

Many gardeners recommend that you select the new all-male hybrid asparagus varieties such as Jersey Giant, Jersey Prince, and Jersey Knight. These varieties produce spears only on male plants. Seeds produced on female plants fall to the ground and become a seedling weed problem in the garden. Female plants also have to expend more energy to produce the seeds that decreases the yields of asparagus spears on female plants. The all-male hybrids out-yield the old Mary Washington varieties by 3 to 1. Since I like things natural and productive I think a mix of both male and female can be used and easily maintained. I also believe it will add length of life to my asparagus bed. It’s nice to think that after I have moved on someone else will be able to enjoy the fruits of my labors for many, many years.

Once your bed is set it should be fertilized in the same way as the rest of the garden the first 3 years. In the spring, apply 10-10-10, 12-12-12 or 15-15-15 fertilizer at the rate of 20 to 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet of area or 2 pounds per 100 square feet and incorporate gently till into the soil. Starting in the fourth year, apply the same amount of fertilizer but delay application until June or July (immediately after the final harvest). This approach encourages vigorous growth of the "fern," which produces and stores nutrients in the roots for next year’s production season.

HARVESTING ASPARAGUS

Refrain from harvesting any spears during your plants' first year in your garden. Each spear needs to "fern out" so that the roots can grow stronger and more productive. The second year you can pick a few that reach about the size of your index finger; the third year, pick finger-size spears for two to four weeks in the spring. In subsequent years, take all the finger-size spears you want until the spears that come up are thin and spindly.

Use a knife to harvest spears. Use one hand to hold the top of the spear you are harvesting. Cut the spear off about one inch below the soil line. Be careful not to cut too deep - it will damage the asparagus crown. Harvest all the spears that come up during the harvest season. A good general rule for length of harvest season is the 2-4-6 week sequence. Harvest for 2 weeks the second year the plants are in the garden, 4 weeks the third year, and 6 weeks the fourth and all following years, each succeeding fall, remove any brush after it has turned brown.

If you harvest asparagus that not be used immediately, wash the spears and place the cut ends in about 2 inches of water. This way they will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Friday, April 18, 2008

WAITING:Continuation of a Short Story

so here we are, as I have time the story develops. not sure where we are going, but hopefully getting there will be fun, and we all won't have to sit around, waiting...

Warm, lazy days like this called the memories to her; colorful siren songs painting her thoughts. She remembered.

Blade thin, pale legs slicing the air, a stream of blond hair flowing behind, waves of grass undulating ahead of her in the breeze. The black tire swing bit warmly into the bare underside of her thighs, just below her shorts. Amelia knew what would happen if rubber marks smeared her clothes. If the faded jean material rubbed between her soft skin and the tire’s rim marking her with black punishment was inevitable. As it was she was taking a chance; but those worries were for later, for now she enjoyed the freedom that came from the endless twirling.

“Spin me, spin me again Tilde”, she giggled.

Her sister stretched forward grasping Amelia’s ankles. As Tilde propelled her round and round Amelia threw back her head.

Budding leaves from the branches above blurred against the blue sky, swirled, eddied into green ribbons like brook moss dancing in the current. Soon the swirling became almost unbearable. Struggling against the centrifugal force Amelia heaved herself back upright tucking her legs under her and the tire’s circular movement became faster, tighter.

Amelia laughed out loud in happy desperation. Tilde giggled from the ground where she had fallen, their laughter twining together, tinkling wind chimes singing in the breeze. She watched her sister spin, enjoying the luxury of their laughter. A flash of color caught her eye. A blue jay sat silently in the boughs above, head cocked to one side staring down at the girls.

The twinkle in Tilde’s eyes dimmed. Even the watch dog of the woods knew what a curious situation it was for her and Amelia to be laughing out loud. Usually the jays chattered and scolded, alerting everyone of curious goings on, but even the purple-hued sentinel seemed to know enough to keep quiet and not draw attention to the sisters.

Suddenly the jay cocked his head again, to the right, to the left, and then quickly flew off. Tilde, too, heard the faint chug of the old tractor as it paced steadily up the far hill. She leapt to her feet, grabbing Amelia’s ankles, halting the twirling and causing a look of alarm to flash across her sister’s face.

“Get down, now”, she hissed, before running north through the meadow, back toward the dilapidated farmhouse on the hill.

Amelia scrambled off the swing and followed her sister. Grass whipped their bare feet and ankles, leaving red lashes across white skin, but that pain was slight in their experience. Their singular intent was to reach the front door and escape into the house before the tractor reached the crest of the hill.

Crashing through the front door they ran to the front room diving to the floor underneath the window.

“You look, look and see where she’s at,” whispered Tilde.

“I can’t. I can’t”, said Amelia shaking her head.

Taking a breath Tilde grasped the edge of the window sill raising her eyes to the edge. Lace curtains wafted slowly in the breeze; a bumblebee buzzed angrily against the screen; the tractor chugged in the distance. She could hear but still not see the source of her anxiety. Wide-eyed she watched and she waited.

*****

I’m not sure what I’m waiting for but I’ll know when I see it. A solitary street lamp illuminates the dingy parking lot I watch over, a faded pool of swirling yellow lapping at the darkness. Shadows from the convenience store hide my presence.

From where I sit the view is clear and I can see the light undulating like the sea, its mesmerizing. I don’t think many kids think about the light rolling like waves. There are lots of things I think that are different from the other kids, lots of things that only I see; it’s always been that way.

I have thick glasses and problems with dry eyes, so I blink a lot and I always blink slowly. And I’m big for my age, 5’ 6” and 150 pounds at 12-years-old makes me, well, noticeable. So I sit and I blink and I think while watching the occasional person swim back and forth through the dirty pool of light.

One of the guys at my new school, Rory Johnson, he looked at my blinking eyes and my freakish body and started calling me “Hooey”, something about Baby Huey, some fat duck cartoon that used to be on television ages ago, and the an owl ‘cuz of my blinking. Of course it caught on. So I sit alone, my quilt gathered around me. I blink and suck my thumb – thank fuckin’ god Rory doesn’t know about that.

This quilt is the only thing that belongs just to me. I can’t quite remember where it came from, although I have vague memories of a soft-spoken woman with a twisted smile underneath the quilt with me, the quilt held up by her arms like a tent before it slowly descends enveloping us in a soft, warm darkness, she laughs in my ear, gravelly, like pebbles in a cement mixer, holding me close and wrapping the quilt around us. I remember being happy then. That’s all I can recall.

It’s actually quite large, my quilt; perfectly square when you open it up. The pattern, identical on both sides, held together by an infinite amount of perfectly matched black stitches. The quilt’s pattern is crazy; riotous blues crash into shimmering greens, slim bands of silver shoot throughout everything and the edging is silky, crimson red.

So I sit in the shadows, sucking my thumb, my quilt wrapped around me, comforting me as I watch and wait.
*****

copyright 2008 - all rights reserved

Friday, April 4, 2008

GARLIC: NATURE'S OLDEST SUPER FOOD








Garlic is as good as ten mothers. Proverb

ANCIENT HISTORY

Among the oldest known horticultural crops, for centuries garlic has been renowned for its healing properties. A belief in the sacredness of garlic can be traced back to the third millennium B.C. when it was offered to Egyptian gods and painted on the walls of tombs.  Ancient Indian cultures referred to garlic and it’s uses, and there is clear evidence of its use by the Babylonians. Some ancient writings suggest that garlic was even grown in China 4,000 years ago, giving this little bulb a long and powerful history.

Egyptian foremen and their slaves believed in the power of garlic. Inscriptions in the pyramids at Giza indicate those who built them subsisted largely on onions, garlic, and radishes, the garlic to give them strength. The Egyptians credited these three foods with magical and medicinal powers responsible for physical stamina and spiritual integrity. It has been recorded that when the supplies of these foods ran out the slaves refused to work, proving just how valuable these food sources were.

An Egyptian holy book, the Codex Ebers, dated approximately 1550 B.C., was discovered in 1878 by a German archaeologist and lists more than 800 therapeutic formulas in use at the time; twenty-two of them were based on garlic. The Codex says garlic heals headaches, heart problems, body weaknesses, human bites, intestinal parasites, lack of stamina, heart disease, and tumors.

Archeologists have also discovered clay sculptures of garlic bulbs and paintings of garlic dating about 3200 B.C. in Egyptian tombs in el-Mahasna. Garlic was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen (Egypt’s youngest pharaoh) who was sent into the afterlife with garlic at his side, and within the funerary complex of Saqqarah in the sacred animal cemetery (a vast necropolis in the region of Memphis). When Herodotus (484-425 BC) arrived at the foot of the three famous pyramids, he was awed by the work involved in creating these magnificent structures. He also learned that the hieroglyphs inside praised garlic's power.

In ancient Greece, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used garlic for treating infections, wounds, and intestinal disorders, not to mention a savory lamb stew. Others from this ancient civilization used garlic in a variety of ways, from repelling scorpions, to treating dog bites and bladder infections, to curing leprosy and asthma. Garlic was left out as an offering to the Greek goddess Hectate. Early Greek military leaders fed garlic to their troops before battles to give them courage and promise victory (and perhaps in an attempt to fell the opposing army with one good whiff!) Even Greek Olympic athletes counted on garlic to stimulate their performance.

The "stinking rose" was sold in large Greek towns, and later in Roman cities, by peddlers. Every Greek who wished to enter the temple of Cybele, mother of the gods, had to pass a strict breath test aimed at detecting garlic. To the Romans, garlic was a symbol of the proletariat since no noble would debase himself by smelling of garlic. Horace explained that garlic could be absorbed by the iron stomachs of the working class but made those used to more refined cooking feel unwell. Roman legionnaires attributed strength, courage and stamina to garlic and took it with them as they conquered the world, thus spreading its use and cultivation everywhere they went. Praised by Virgil and other poets of antiquity, garlic was progressively introduced into various parts of Europe during the Romans' campaigns.

Garlic was introduced to France by Godefroy de Bouillon, leader of the first crusade who, when he returned to the country in 1099, was elected king of Jerusalem. Henri IV of France was so fond of garlic that, according to a Jurançon legend, the good king must have been baptized with a clove. Despite his royal station, the king was not above lending a hand in the kitchen: he became famous for his stewed chicken with garlic. Today the French, known for their love of good food and wine, incorporate garlic into a plethora of savory culinary dishes.

"You reek of garlic! Get out!" was the irrevocable judgment that befell any knight who dared appear at the court of King Alfonso de Castille with garlic on his breath; it was Spain and the year was 1300. Any knight who smelled of garlic was banned from court and not permitted to speak to other courtiers for an entire week.

Home of the vampire legend, ancient Transylvanians found garlic to be an effective mosquito repellent as well as a way to ward off midnight visitors. Modern representations of the vampire legend always seem to show braids of garlic hanging from the beams of kitchens in which poor peasants tremble with fear.

In the Middle Ages garlic was thought to combat the plague and was hung in braided strands across the entrances of houses to prevent evil spirits from entering. The belief that garlic could combat evil dates back to the medieval era when children would play or work in the fields with cloves of garlic hung around their necks to protect them from the evil spells of the local witch; every one knows that witches love children! This custom gradually changed, and in the 19th century, cloves of garlic adorned only the necks of cows and heifers.

Throughout ancient India, Egypt, Greece and Rome, into the Middle Ages, and forward into modern times, garlic has always been considered potent medicine. Today garlic has maintained supporters as both a favorite food and for its medicinal properties. It is good for zapping bacteria, keeping your heart healthy or warding off coughs and colds, and adds amazing flavor to everything from marinara sauces to a hearty beef stew.

HOW DOES YOUR GARLIC GROW?

Today garlic only grows wild  in Central Asia (centered in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).

In the past wild garlic  grew over a much larger territory and may have bloomed in an area from China to India to Egypt to the Ukraine. This region where garlic grows in the wild, is referred to as its "center of origin" since this is the geographic area where the crop originated and the only place where it flourished in the wild. Only in this region does garlic routinely grow without the assistance of human propagation. The "center of origin" for a plant or animal species is also referred to as its "center of diversity" since this is where the broadest range of genetic variation can be expected. That is why those who have sought to find new genetic variation in garlic collect wild garlic in Central Asia.

We know almost nothing about the early types of cultivated garlic. No designation of garlic varieties was made in early writings. Throughout garlic's history some have speculated that softneck garlic was the predominant type cultivated, although evidence of  a hardneck varietal has been found interred in Egyptian tombs. It was not until garlic was cultivated in southern Europe that the distinction between hardneck and softneck was routinely noted.

Throughout history, humans migrating and traveling through Central Asia and surrounding areas have collected wild garlic (and still do) and carried it with them for later consumption and cultivation, and so garlic came to be cultivated. It is easy to imagine early garlic connoisseurs migrating beyond the natural range of wild garlic and carrying it far from its center of origin. There are plants in the United States locally referred to as "wild garlic", Allium vineale, but this is another species of the garlic genus (Allium), not garlic itself (Allium sativum).

Learn how to pickle garlic here.

GARLIC TODAY

Today about 2.5 million acres of cultivated garlic produce about 10 million metric tons globally each year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization . Garlic is a crop widely grown on a small scale for local markets and, particularly in the U.S., by a few large-scale producers for processing and fresh sales.

Although widely cultivated, production of true garlic seed was underway before the 1980's, it is only since routine seed production became possible in the 1980's that garlic can be called a domesticated crop. A strict definition of domestication is the process of selective breeding of a plant or animal to better meet human needs.  For many years garlic was shunned by Western cultures, such as Britain and America, because of the residual smell it left behind. In seventeenth century England, garlic was considered unfit for ladies and anyone who wished to court them, and it was avoided in America even early into the 20th century when famous chefs would substitute onion for garlic in recipes. As America experienced a huge influx of immigrants during the 19th century, however, garlic slowly gained a foothold on the American palette.

GARLIC'S HEALTH BENEFITS

Beyond superstition, modern research has confirmed what our ancestors believed about the health benefits of garlic. In 1858, Louis Pasteur documented that garlic kills bacteria, with one millimeter of raw garlic juice proving as effective as 60 milligrams of penicillin.

During World War II, when penicillin and sulfa drugs were scarce, the British and Russian armies used diluted garlic solutions as an antiseptic to disinfect open wounds and prevent gangrene. Though not completely understood at the time, today’s research has confirmed that garlic’s healing powers stem from hundreds of volatile sulfur compounds found in the vegetable, including allicin, (which gives garlic its offensive odor), alliin, cycroalliin, and diallyldisulphide.

The allicin in raw, crushed garlic has been shown to kill 23 types of bacteria, including salmonella and staphylococcus. Heated garlic gives off another compound, diallyldisulphide-oxide, which has been shown to lower serum cholesterol by preventing clotting in the arteries.

Vitamins in garlic, such as A, B, and C, stimulate the body to fight carcinogens and get rid of toxins, and may even aid in preventing certain types of cancer, such as stomach cancer. Garlic's sulfur compounds can regulate blood sugar metabolism, stimulate and detoxify the liver, and stimulate the blood circulation and the nervous system.

In many cultures, garlic is also considered a powerful aphrodisiac and a vegetarian alternative to Viagra; some say it’s even able to raise a man’s sperm count. In Palestinian, tradition dictates a groom who wears a clove of garlic in his buttonhole will be guaranteed a happy wedding night.

Garlic is widely used around the world as a seasoning or condiment. The flavor varies in intensity and aroma with cooking methods. It is often paired with onion, tomato, or ginger. The parchment-like skin is typically removed before using in raw or cooked form. An alternative is to cut the top off the bulb, coat the cloves of garlic by dribbling olive oil (or other oil based seasoning) over them and roasting in the oven.

While experts vary in opinion regarding the recommended daily amount of dietary garlic, most of them agree that fresh garlic is better than supplements. To negate the aromatic after effects of fresh garlic herbalists recommend munching on fresh parsley.

YOU CAN DO IT: GROW YOUR OWN GARLIC


Growing your own garlic at home can be fun and relatively easy. Garlic grows from the individual cloves, with each clove producing one plant with a single bulb, because of this garlic is self-sustaining. Garlic’s unique fungicidal and pesticide properties can also help keep neighboring plants healthy. Garlic typically enjoys a Mediterranean climate, but has regularly been cultivated now in cooler climates.

Choose a garden site where the soil is not too damp and sunshine is abundant. Plant the cloves individually, standing upright and about an inch under the surface. Cloves should be planted about 4 inches apart, with rows about 18 inches apart. Warmer temperate areas - generally speaking, can plant in late autumn through to early winter. Under warm temperate climatic conditions autumn planted garlic will remain dormant for a few weeks and then develop roots and a shoot. With the onset of winter growth is fairly slow until temperatures warm in spring. The cold of winter is needed, as with many bulbs, to initiate the side buds that will ultimately grow and swell to become cloves (and in some types, to initiate the flower bud).

The lengthening days of spring are the signal for the initiated but undeveloped side buds to start forming into cloves. It is possible to sow in early spring and get a reasonably good harvest, but everything is against you - wet, difficult to work soil; no early root growth; less exposure to winter chill. Early spring is possible, but definitely not the first choice.

In temperate areas plant after the first good frosts of autumn. Spring planting is possible in the higher latitudes, as the longer day lengths promote bulbing, but the shorter season means the bulbs are often smaller. Autumn garlic will produce roots, but either no, or short, top growth which is good. If the garlic sprouts have emerged, they can survive freezes and snowfalls.

Autumn planted garlic should have strong roots by winter, and these roots will help prevent the 'seed' being pushed out of the ground as the soil alternately freezes and thaws ('frost heave') but they should be mulched heavily (about 6 inches/15 cm) to prevent heaving and frosting of any possible growth. Just make sure to pull the mulch aside in spring.

A good rule of thumb is to harvest your garlic when half of the leaves around the base of the bulb are green and the other half are turning brown and dying off. Take your garlic inside right away, brush off any dirt, gently wash the bulbs and hang in a cool, dry place. Leave them for at least a week to dry. It is best to dry your garlic out of the sun or your bulbs will sunburn. Because weather is so changeable it is really best to dry your garlic under cover. When the bulbs are dry, you can trim off the roots, scuff off the outer discolored parchment, and braid your garlic for storage.

If you intend to keep your own clove seed, select the biggest and best bulb. Leave the cloves on the bulb, and at planting time select only the best cloves to use as seed cloves. Store your seed bulbs in a relatively cool, dry place; heat in storage can cause the seed cloves to develop into a plant that produces a single large clove , rather than a normal multi-clove bulb. Prolonged exposure to low temperatures can also disrupt proper growth.

Often glorified, sometimes maligned, the strong, pungent scent and distinctive taste of garlic makes for strong opinions on this bulb’s epicurean quality. Garlic has had an amazing array of nutritional and medicinal applications throughout human history, and it’s still improving the health of many today. So grab a clove and enjoy the many benefits of nature’s oldest super food: garlic.

References:
Philipp W. Simon, USDA, ARS, Vegetable Crops Research Unit, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706
Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

LOOKING FOR A NIGHT OF WICKED ENTERTAINMENT ?


Academy Award-winning writer/director Martin McDonagh takes audiences on a murderously funny trip In Bruges (pronounced "broozh"), which world-premiered as the opening-night film of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Mr. McDonagh makes his feature directorial debut on the film, from his own original screenplay. His plays (which include The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman) have brought him two Olivier Awards and four Tony Award nominations. He wrote and directed Six Shooter, starring Brendan Gleeson, which earned him the 2006 Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film.

Paul and I decided to go to the movies which we very rarely do; usually it’s at home in front of the DVD for us. But his son Daniel had just returned from a brief hiatus with his mother, and friends, Darren, March, and Orson decided to tag along. Honestly, I wanted to see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, but Darren, who is 23-years-old, didn’t want that soft kind of girly humor, and convinced us to go see In Bruges, and what a great choice it was. I have to say the other children were 12, 14 and 13-years old respectively and the humor was quite dark, the language was quite awful, and there were definitely scenes with drugs, sex and murder -- so you’d be best to take a good look at your own child’s maturity level before allowing them to view this show, but really some of the video games Daniel has gotten his hands on are more violent and have no sense of humor.

We all went out for Chinese and Sushi before heading to the lovely little theater in downtown Millerton, NY which is close to our Connecticut home. It was an evening full of laughter and fun. This is a movie I want to add to my DVD collection so I can see it again and again.

In Bruges was filmed on location; Bruges the most well-preserved medieval city in the whole of Belgium is a welcoming destination for travelers from all over the world. But for hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) a difficult job has resulted in the pair being ordered right before Christmas by their London boss Harry (two-time Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) to go and cool their heels in the storybook Flemish city for a couple of weeks.

Ray is very much out of place amidst the gothic architecture, canals, and cobbled streets, while Ken wants to spend the days living the life of a tourist, sightseeing. Ray, haunted by a horrible mistake he’s made, hates the place, while Ken, even as he keeps a fatherly eye on Ray, finds his mind and soul being expanded by the beauty and serenity of the city.

While they wait for Harry's instructions, the more surreal the movie becomes, as the pair finds themselves in ridiculous encounters with locals, other tourists, violent medieval art, a dwarf American actor (Jordan Prentice) shooting a European art film, Dutch prostitutes, and a potential romance for Ray in the form of Chloë (Clémence Poésy), who may have some dark secrets of her own.

When the call from Harry does finally come, Ken and Ray's vacation becomes a struggle of darkly comic proportions. If you like the weird, the offbeat, the sublimely ridiculous this movie will have you in stitches.

Don’t believe me? Check out the reviews from Rolling Stone or the Hollywood Review