Stacking Functions Garden

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Going without the AC

I just saw this article in the NY Times: “The Unchilled Life: Breezing through the recession without air-conditioning.”  It made me laugh because we unwittingly joined these people this summer.  Our central AC died right in the middle of a heat wave in mid-June, and we couldn’t afford  to fix/replace it.

We have been very fortunate in that we are experiencing a very cool (albeit dry) summer here in MN and I don’t know that we would have used it anyway after that initial 4-day heat wave.  Daytime temps have only been in the 80s at most.

So now the debate is, do we try to get that AC unit fixed/replaced or not?  There is a tax incentive to replace it in 2009 or 2010.  Yet, I’d like to put it off as long as possible.  I’m flirting with the idea of never replacing it.  I’d much rather spend my money on something that would help naturally cool our home, like a porch, or deeper eaves, or better-insulated windows.  I could go on and on.

I am really excited that I have until the end of 2010 to decide.  The only thing that bothers me is lying awake at night, with all our windows open, listening to the drone of the air conditioners going full blast outside every single house around us and wondering, just how great IS the quality of that spewed-out air coming in through my window?  Maybe this no-AC plan works better in the country?

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Book Review: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

indefenseoffoodIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
by Michael Pollan

This book’s been out for a couple years now but I only just got around to reading it.  And actually I didn’t read it; I listened to the audio book.

First a note on that: I don’t highly recommend the audio version.  The reader, Scott Brick, had kind of a nasally, annoying voice.  It wasn’t enough to diminish the importance of the material for me, but still something to note.

This is the book that launched the phrase, which I’m sure many of you have heard by now:

“Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

The book is broken down into three sections:  The Age of Nutritionism, The Western Diet, and Getting Over Nutritionism.

Nutritionism is the term Pollan uses (he did not coin it, however) to describe how we came to focus on the building blocks of foods (vitamins, minerals, nutrients, etc.) instead of foods themselves, and why that is problematic.  Margarine is such a perfect example of this phenomenon.  Because margarine is such a highly processed product, the food industry can change enough of its ingredients to make it appealing no matter what the current nutrition fad is.  So while a few years ago margarine was all about being low in cholesterol, now it’s all about being trans-fat free.

Pollan talks a lot about food processing and labelling, and blasts holes in a lot of sacred cows such as the lipid hypothesis (which is what connects a high cholesterol diet with coronary heart disease), and the idea that soy is good for you (his take: that depends on how it’s prepared).  Much of this information was also presented in Nourishing Traditions (by Sally Fallon), for which I still have to write up a review.

To be completely honest, part of me really wanted to dismiss Sally Fallon and Dr. Weston A Price’s ideas because they seemed so radical.  But to hear those same ideas coming out of someone as mainstream as Michael Pollan was kinda shocking in its own way.  When Pollan talked about Price’s research in this book, my first reaction was “Oh wow, this all might actually be true.  SHIT!”

Actually, Pollan himself has had a pretty big impact on my life.  It was the Omnivore’s Dilemma that convinced me to bring meat back into my life after spending 8 years as a vegetarian.  (Well, it didn’t help that I was pregnant with twins and having major steak cravings.)

If you are new to this stuff, I highly recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma or the movie Food, Inc. as a jumping-off point.  In Defense of Food, along with Nourishing Traditions, takes things to the next level.  I feel like I’m now in the sophomore year of my New Home Economics major.  I’m still a long ways from graduating though.

Pollan breaks his seven word manifesto down into what he calls “eating algorithms” to help us try to eat healthier without feeling so much anxiety about invisible nutrients and keeping track of which one is now good for us and which one is now bad for us.

As you might suspect, each part of his catch-phrase is slightly more complicated than it first appears to be.  Example: Eat Food.  He expands on that to help you understand that much of what you see at the supermarket isn’t necessarily real food.  A good example is something like plain, whole milk yogurt.  It’s been around for eons.  But to say that a product like “Go-gurt” (squeezable low-fat yogurt pouches flavored with high-fructose corn syrup, among other things) is the nutritional equivalent of the original yogurt?  Well, that’s questionable at this point.

Then he talks about the “Mostly Plants” part and breaks down the difference between eating mostly seeds (as we do now), and eating mostly leaves (as we did for all of human history until the last 100 or so years).  Hint: leaves are better.

Finally, the part that hit me right in the heart and gut: “Not too much.”  This is clearly one of my biggest hurdles (in addition to a good old fashioned sugar addiction).  For a long time, I’ve been telling myself,  it’s organic!  It’s homemade!  It’s all-natural!  It’s OK for me to have seconds and thirds because that just means more good-for-you stuff!  Well calories are still calories, unfortunately, and it would do me a lot of good to learn a little self-control.

I thought there were a lot of really great take-aways from this book, and even though I’ve read many of them before it never hurts to be reminded.  This will be going on the “highly recommended” list.

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Recipe: Cucumber Fennel salad

Hi, this is Jennifer’s husband Adam. We thought that since I do the majority of the cooking in our house, that I should share some of my favorite recipes. This my own recipe. A result of trying to come up with something new to do with fennel.  Jennifer planted a ton and we also keep getting it in our weekly CSA.


1 large cucumber (peeled, seeded and sliced)
large pinch of salt
1 bulb fennel (sliced)
1/2 onion (chopped)
1/2 red bell pepper (chopped)
juice from 1/2 lime (or lemon or orange)
1 T. olive oil
1-2 T. fresh dill, or to taste (or 1-2 tsp. dried)
fresh ground black pepper

Peel, seed and slice cucumber, place in a bowl and add a good pinch of salt. Toss cucumber in salt and let sit for about 30 min – an hour, occasionally pouring off the liquid that forms. Add remaining ingrediends, toss and chill for 15 – 30 minutes to allow flavors to mingle slightly.

Works great as a side dish for grilled meat, or toss in some black beans and cheddar cheese and put in a tortilla shell for a very healthy and delicious wrap.

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Garden update, animated

These animated garden gifs are getting HUGE, but they are still kinda fun, so here goes.

beans071809The green beans aren’t changing much anymore at this point.  We are harvesting beans every 2-3 days.  We aren’t getting as huge a crop as I hoped; last year we had beans coming out of our ears.  I think we may have planted more than 2 rows last year though.  Can’t quite remember (and didn’t document it as well).

peas071809The peas are now done, and the pole beans are taking over.  This is not a sufficiently tall structure for pole beans.  I hope they can hold out until my bush beans are done and then I will move those little stick teepees over and try and train the pole beans onto those.

brussels071809Adam  broke the bottom leaves off the brussels sprouts plants to encourage them to develop some “sprouts.”  I think it is working.  The sprouts are looking slightly bigger now.  All the lettuce that I planted in the middle there bolted, so we never ate any of it.  There are some tiny scallions in there, not sure if they are ever going to get enough sun to go anywhere.  The brussels got too big for any of the “companions” to really do much other than keep the brussels company.

lettucepeppers71809Lettuce/Peppers: Adam pulled out all the bolted lettuce and a couple days ago I planted two rows of kale in its place, one on each side of the peppers.  We ate one of our anaheim peppers last week, yummy!

radishesparsnips071809Not much to see here; parsnips are coming along nicely but we are still months from harvest on those.

Click to enlarge this one of the tomatoes. I gave up on my tomato animations. Next year I need to mark a spot with an X or something to stand on when I take pictures.

Here are two more that can also be enlarged:

garden from west

Above, the garden as viewed from the west (back yard, on deck).  Below, the garden as viewed from the east (front yard).

garden from east

Here you can see my little strawberry/asparagus area with the huge hollyhocks that will have to be moved next year.  Seriously they are 12 feet tall!  My corn is standing back up but that’s only because Adam staked it.  OK, gotta go; starting a double batch of kimchi during today’s kid nap time.

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Corn down

We had some straight-line winds this afternoon that took down my 3 cute little stalks of corn.  Such a bummer, not necessarily because we lost the three cobs of corn that we would have gotten, but because my precious pole beans lost their support structure.  Here’s the damage:



I am still holding out hope that it will right itself once the wind dies down.  The stalks are not broken off, just kind-of bent.  I’ve never grown corn before so I don’t know how it works.  Here’s how it looked just 2 days ago:


I do not have the energy for dealing with this tonight, so I’m going to wait and see how things look in the morning.

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Farm animal antibiotics: soon to be banned?!

OH WOW, people, WOW!  It looks like Obama might step up and make some real changes after all!

“The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.”

It’s easy to imagine why the factory farm lobby is so opposed to this measure (and they are so powerful that this may not pass).  If you can’t pump your animals full of antibiotics, it gets harder to maintain them in the crowded conditions found on today’s CAFOs.  Could this have a ripple effect, or will they work in some sort of loophole where they can still give certain types of antibiotics?

Maybe it’s time to send my new senator an e-mail. Oops, I guess this is just in the House right now, so I sent Keith Ellison (he’s the Rep for my district) an e-mail instead.  You can find the Star Tribune article  here.

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Book review: Perennial Vegetables

Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles
By: Eric Toensmeier

perennial_vegHere’s another recent library book that I breezed through pretty quickly.  Why such a quick read?  Once again, much of the information within does not pertain to the frozen tundra on which we live.

I’m really glad I got back into getting books from the library instead of buying them in the past few years, because many gardening books in particular are not really written for us northern gardeners.  This problem has been well-documented elsewhere so I won’t whine any further about it.

Fortunately there were a couple of gems here, such as a list of good perennial vegetables for each climate (even mine):

Welsh onion
garlic chives
asparagus (check that one off, already have it)
Turkish rocket
good king Henry
sea kale
Chinese yam
wood nettle
water celery
giant Soloman’s seal
French sorrel (and several other kinds of sorrel)
Chinese artichoke, sunchoke
dandelion (I’ve got lots of these too!)

I read through the plant profiles of each of these and narrowed it down based on a couple of criteria:  1) how fussy is this to grow?  and 2) how much do you have to do it before you can eat it?  is harvesting it a pain in the butt?  and 3) does it taste good enough to be well worth #1 and #2?

Here’s my narrowed-down list of things I’d like to try:
Sorrel: tangy edible leaves in a cute little bush form (I recently tasted some and thought it was really good), can be eaten raw or cooked
Good King Henry (maybe): edible asparagus-like shoots
Scorzonera (also known as salsify): edible leaves that can be eaten raw or lightly blanched.
Sunchoke: kinda like a giant sunflower with tuberous roots like potatoes
Ramps: a shade-loving onion also known as wild leeks, apparently they can be found fairly easily in the wild
Lovage (maybe): Toensmeier describes it as “a gigantic perennial celery” that is best-tasting after being cooked.

I’ve had sunchokes before, and they are quite good.  They’re a root vegetable that you cook like a potato, but they are smoother and have a nice flavor.  However.  A word of warning: they contain inulin, which most of us are not really accustomed to in our modern diet.  Any plant that has it should be eaten in very small quantities at a time or you will suffer painful gaseous consequences.  I speak from experience.

My first challenge is going to be finding someone local who sells these plants, and my second is going to be finding a place to grow these, since I don’t have many sunny spots left in my yard.  Fortunately most of them tolerate part shade so I’m going to see how far I can push that.  I can’t wait to start my garden plan for 2010.  But I’m not going to get around to that until about January.  For now, I will continue to enjoy my current fresh edibles (just picked last night):

justpicked4 quarts of raspberries!  We are having a bumper crop this year.