February 23, 2006

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Planning the Garden ~ Planting for a Purpose...

We have entirely too, too many choices of both suppliers of and varieties of both flowers and veggies to plant in our gardens, especially compared to even ten years ago. When it comes to tomatoes, onions, peppers, and definitely, corn, that array of choices can be overwhelming, not fun at all.

I always start by considering the purpose of my planting. Tomatoes: do I want them to eat out-of-hand, to can, for sauce, for juice, to winter-keep or even to dry. Do I need to look at the low-acid tomatoes, or would I like to try some of the heirlooms? Am I going to plant extra for the local plant-a-row-for-the-hungry program? Each of these purposes may be best served by specific varieties, with certain maturities and other unique characteristics.

And, no, I'm not generally going to recommend specific varieties because what grows best in my micro-climate here in Maine may not be best for a field even ten miles inland, let alone in another state!

Okay, let's look at onions... My primary crop will be for winterkeep and here I will state a preference: I've not found a better keeing onion than copra. Other than that, I do want a few of the big, mild white ones, a few red ones for fresh salsa, and lots of sturdy ones for canning in sauces, relishes, for the multi-vegetable juice I make. You make want some of the small spicy cocktail onions or even the small whites for pickling.

Corn... well, the maturity time is perhaps the first consideration here. But, after that, the use is really important as some certainly freeze better than others, while you may want lots of bi-color for eating fresh. And, thinking ahead, will you want nice tall cornstalks for fall decorations too??

Anyway, you can see what I'm saying here. What I end up doing is making a list of the veggies I want, the purposes I'll grow them for, and THEN, and only then, will I start making my buying list. There's lots of veggies I didn't even touch, and then the flowers are another whole story altogetter, one I'll look at next time!


February 19, 2006

Sunday, February 20, 2006

Time to Start the Garden...

While the sun today is strong and bright, there's no question but what this is a mid-winter morning in Maine, one with temperatures in the low teens, accompanied by piercingly frigid winds. It's a perfect day to spread out a gadzillion seed catalogs, to pore over garden notes from last year, just the right day to enjoy a fragrant fire in the fireplace while planning for the coming summer's most perfect pumkins, the most glorious gladiolas, the most tempting tomatoes and the lovliest lisianthus!

It's probably the same at your house... Tons of seed catalogs arrive in our mailbox each winter, starting in early December with the reliable old standards and continuing until April, including catalogs that range from narrowly focused, to folksy and informative, to well, just plain strange! For our short season here on the coast of Maine, I rely on Vesey's, Johnny's, Pinetree, a local seed store and Green Mountain Transplants, which deals in seedlings of all sorts rather than seeds. I do a lot of seed-saving from the previous year, and of course there are many plants, especially flowers and herbs, that can be counted on to self-seed, although some such ambrosia, lemon balm and chamomile a little too invasively.

Where to start, where to start! Well, it's easy to go through the veggies alphabetically choosing this bush green bean, a great carrot-shaped slicing beet, and at least three or four kinds of cucumbers for eating and pickling. We'll get several varieties of both summer and winter squash including a new Japanese variety we grew last year, and have loved both for keeping quality and for its deep orange, dry, rich flesh.

The flowers will be more challenging as the photos are all gorgeous, and the write-ups all so enticing, but sadly, the blooms are often disappointing. One flower that I have come to consider a backbone plant is lisianthus, commonly substituted for roses in florist's bouquets. Although I have grown some from seed, they require a very long season for full blooming, so for the past four or five years, I've gotten transplants from Green Mtn. Transplants (which is now actually located here in Maine).

Ahhh, but this day is just for the first read-through of catalogs, the first sketchy ideas of what this year's garden will look like, that first check of budget realitites... Hmmmm, those climbing roses are gorgeous, that new broom corn very intriguing, those unusual gourds really would make great birdhouses (in spite of the fact that we have a trash barrel full of dried birdhouse gourds downstairs)...

In the next few blog posting, I focus on selecting specific varieties for specific purposes. We'll also look at hay-bale planting which is a lot of fun and very practical. But in the meantime, can't you just smell the summer savory, the basil, the sweet peas, the heavenly heliotrope...

It's exactly ONE month from tomorrow until the first day of spring, ONE month of lengthening days, strengthening sun, and... dreaming!


February 15, 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

High Fat, Low Fat, Good Fat, No Fat...

When will they make up their minds! Between this major study and that breakthrough research, this diet plan and that weight lose program, no wonder everyone's confused.

A few weeks ago I heard a speech given by a Maine doctor who specializes in the treatment of diabetes. He is of course alarmed at the nation's (and particularly our state's) rising obesity rates. And yet, anything having to do with weight loss, books, plans, programs, pills, supplements including the new African herbal "miracle," sells as fast as it appears. There's a disconnect somewhere here, and it seems to be between good intentions and the next meal!

This Maine doctor, whose name I don't recall, made the point that while Americans have reduced their fat intake (minimally to be sure) over the past five to seven years, we have increased our sugar intake dramatically. And while we are buying more fruits and veggies, perhaps we are eating them in rich desserts and creamy sauces.

It's a battle, isn't it? I've been on a cooking binge lately, with special emphasis on low-fat, low- sugar, high-nutrition eating. For example, for Valentine's Day dinner, instead of preparing some lobster in cream-rich stew or sauce, I made a dish of lobster, dried tomates, parsley, minimal butter, lemon juice, and white wine, served over pasta. It was delectable, definitely good eating and good nutrition.

I've said it before: Look for new, better ways to make old favorites. Keep reading recipes (I really find the recipes in Cooking Light magazine useful). Try to eat fruits and veggies as close to their natural state as possible. Watch the salad dressings and sauces with an eagle eye.

There is no way around it and even the very latest studies emphasize this: No matter the carbs, the glycemic index, the fiber, the phony fat or the fake sugar, you still need to count calories. You still need to m-o-v-e.

So, just keep repeating -- Buy Lean, Cook Light, Eat Less, Move More. It works!!


February 12, 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

Life Lessons: The Gift, The Giver, The Gift

I stood in the Spean Bridge Woollen Mill store in Edinburgh Scotland, almost overwhelmed by the softness and gorgeous colors of all the mohair throws. I just couldn't decide on which two to get for my mother and for myself. Finally, I settled on one in blues and green, and another in the same tones with some purple too, the colors of the hills and heather of Scotland itself.

Home again, I started to wrap my mother's, the one with the purple, but oh, I just loved that one and couldn't part with it. I felt the tiniest twinge of... something... at keeping it. Not that the second one, the blues and greens, wasn't equally beautiful. Not that she didn't absolutely love the one I gave her.

My throw quickly became my snuggle-down-and-read blankie, well worn and getting a bit grubby. One day a helpful child washed it for me, and dried it too. Of course it... tightened up... a bit. Still lovely colors and soft, but... denser. I continued to use it but it just wasn't the same.

Some years later, my mother died and as I sorted and sorted, re-read my daily letters to her, threw things out, set other things aside, and packed and packed, I came across that lovely mohair throw in blues and greens. In the way of mothers probably in every place and probably in every age, she had decided that the throw was too beautiful, just plain too good, to use. It was pristine, packed in layers of tissue paper, as soft and cozy and new as when I'd bought it in Edinburgh. It was such a gift...

It became of course my new snuggle-down-and-read blankie. And it has taught me many, many lessons. Some very obvious, such as what we give, we get, sometimes literally. I have been reminded everytime I run my hand over that throw about the timeless and wonderfully-woven nature of love.

Other learnings have been more subtle as I've really thought about saving things for good. And those lessons have not been lost on the next generation either. A few years ago Sally gave me a really nice, and I'm sure expensive, pocketbook with the admonition that if I put it away and didn't use it because it was too good, she'd come and take my old pocketbook and throw it out.I use it! We also use the good china for everyday, and hard as it is, I'm trying to keep my closet clearer of ratty, old, bang-around, everyday clothes!

Years ago, a trip, a far-away shop and a gift, soft and warm. Who knew, who could possibly know... The gift, the giver, the gift... more lessons for a loving life.


February 8, 2006

Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

Slimming Down Your Usual Foods...

Midweek, a bright and crispy cold winter day. Hmmmm, supper, what to have for supper? I don't have menus done ahead for this week, winging it from day to day instead. Check the cupboard. What looks good...

We'll be having baked beans, brown bread and cole slaw for supper tonight. Now, Bert will have a piece of ham from the freezer with the beans, which are vegetarian for me. I've already made the brown bread and the cole slaw earlier this morning. If you haven't tried the recipe in The Frugal Family's Kitchen Book for easy un-steamed brown bread, it's a gem.

Made with two cups whole wheat and only 1/2 cup white flour, this brown bread has no added fat. There's molasses, raisins and chopped nuts and two cups of sour milk which I make with low- or no-fat milk. This makes a dense, fragrant loaf loaded with good nutrition.

So far, so good for a high fiber, low fat supper. Now , that cole slaw. Very tempting to make it as usual with some mayo or mayo-yoghurt mixture for dressing. But, I saw a recipe, no added fat, in one of my cookbooks, and I made that slaw while the brown bread was baking.

You finely shred four cups cabbage (I used a mixture of red and green), mix in some finely chopped onion and green pepper, sprinkle with 1 tsp. celery seed and two TBSP sugar, then add 1/4 cup vinegar (I used wine vinegar) and 1/4 cup water, mixing well. The recipe says, that like most slaws, it'll be even better if it sets overnight, but I made it early enough that at least it'll have all day for the flavors to get acquainted. I've made a recipe similar to this before where you made almost a syrup for the dressing, and it was good, but this was even simpler.

For one week, try to pick just one dish each day to prepare in a more healthy way. Just that one small step. Boy, do I feel virtuous about this supper! Now, if I can just keep from slathering cream cheese on the brown bread. Well, it really doesn't need it...


P.S. I noticed when I posted this that it listed the time as something ridiculous, like 6:45 in the morning. Good heavens! I wouldn't want you to think I was up cooking at that hour... It's actually about 10:30 as I post this!

February 6, 2006

Monday, February 6, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

I'm Late, I'm Late...

for a very important date! Here it is Monday and I'm just sitting down to write. But, of course, there's a good reason...babysitting the grandchildren for the weekend.

It's always fun to spend time with Baxter and Katie, and this time we decided we'd pick the flick for their usual Friday night movies. We reached w-a-y back and shared the classic Disney Alice in Wonderland with them. Now of course, I'd seen it as a kid, I'd watched it with my kids, but oh, one more generation removed... how very different it looked!

The good parts were all there... The harried, hurried White Rabbit, "Off with her head!" Tweddle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat, and best of all, the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. But this time, I saw and appreciated Lewis Carroll's sly subtleties, some of which weren't so subtle. Maybe this is one more gift from the grands, a new perspective on the old and familiar. Ahhhhh, through the eyes of a child...

Now, I can't wait to see Pinocchio with the grands. But in the meantime, I wish you a Very Merry Unbirthday!


February 1, 2006

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Posting on Wednesdays and weekends

Soooo... How're You Doing on Those Resolutions?

Well, somehow we have gotten through January, a month filled with good resolutions about losing weight, getting in shape, watching our money, getting organized, and... and... All those wonderful plans were challenged of course by after-holiday bills, the dire desire to eat, eat, eat on dark winter days, the call of the comfortable couch, and well, life in general, right?

Let's just look at that weight losing resolution and see if we can get back on track. My TRP(Tonnage Reduction Program!) had centered on happy thoughts that "I'd be careful what I eat," "watch it," and "cut out junk." HA! On the last day of the month I weighed exactly what I'd weighed on the first day of this new year.

Time to get drastic! Going back to the work I've done over the years when I have lost weight, I thought about my three biggest challenges: eating slowly, portion control, and social eating. What to do, what to do!

Well, last night I was playing in a cribbage tournament, doing well with my Diet Coke, UNTIL a birthday cake appeared for one of the regulars. And it was chocolate... Well, of course I had to have a piece, and as I wasn't cutting, it was a b-i-g piece. Did I eat it all? You bet! RATS!

A new day... I have to measure what I eat much as I absolutely hate doing that. AND, far, far more important, if someone else is serving, I have to eat only, ONLY, what would be a reasonable amount even though it's way wicked hard for me to not "clean my plate." The measuring... for years I've had juice, cottage cheese and chopped walnuts for breakfast, a great start to the day for me. But, ahhhh, that 1/3 cup of cottage cheese had crept up... up to a generous 1/2 cup. No big deal really, but then, yes, it IS a big deal, really.

S-L-O-O-O-O-W down! Good advice of course, but oh-so-hard! I think I learned my bad speed-eating habits during ten years of teaching. If I was very lucky, I'd have 12 minutes to wolf down my lunch. IF I didn't have lunch duty! That same good advice tells us to pause between bites, eat smaller bites, savor our food, etc. Yup, sounds good. Conscious effort is the only answer. Okay, then...

And so, on February 1st, I'm re-resolving! How about you? Mary