Monday, May 27, 2013

Garden Progress - Memorial Day

I have to go to work in a few minutes but I  thought I should post a couple of garden pictures since it is looking pretty good right now. Everything seems pretty happy and after an all day yesterday virtually weed free.  Lot's of hard work but all of it enjoyed and good for the mind and body. Top picture facing South has (from left to right) several varieties of beans, Assorted pepper and tomatoes then cucumbers and the spring cabbages. In the back are all the squash, okra and corn. The bottom picture is facing North with the Silver Queen corn in the foreground and some just starting bush cukes and cantaloupe. Sweet potatoes are just on the other side of the corn. There is still about 25% left to plant.

Life Support

Our beautiful planet is dying. I'm an old man so it is likely I won't see it in its final death throes and truth be told, I don't want to. Still I am doing what I can to make a difference because I can see the effects of human activity everyday in my garden. You can make a difference as well. Since it was written about a month ago, 520 global scientists have signed on to this statement. You can also sign it as I have.  Maybe if enough of us do someone will pay attention. There is a lot more information, including ideas for solutions, at Stanford University's Millenium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere website.

Earth is rapidly approaching a tipping point. Human impacts are causing alarming levels of harm to our planet. As scientists who study the interaction of people with the rest of the biosphere using a wide range of approaches, we agree that the evidence that humans are damaging their ecological life-support systems is overwhelming. We further agree that, based on the best scientific information available, human quality of life will suffer substantial degradation by the year 2050 if we continue on our current path.
 Science unequivocally demonstrates the human impacts of key concern:
  • Climate disruption—more, faster climate change than since humans first became a species.
  • Extinctions—not since the dinosaurs went extinct have so many species and populations died out so fast, both on land and in the oceans.
  • Wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems—we have plowed, paved, or otherwise transformed more than 40% of Earth’s ice-free land, and no place on land or in the sea is free of our direct or indirect influences.
  • Pollution—environmental contaminants in the air, water and land are at record levels and increasing, seriously harming people and wildlife in unforeseen ways.
  • Human population growth and consumption patterns—seven billion people alive today will likely grow to 9.5 billion by 2050, and the pressures of heavy material consumption among the middle class and wealthy may well intensify.
By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.
As members of the scientific community actively involved in assessing the biological and societal impacts of global change, we are sounding this alarm to the world. For humanity’s continued health and prosperity, we all—individuals, businesses, political leaders, religious leaders, scientists, and people in every walk of life—must work hard to solve these five global problems, starting today: 1. Climate Disruption 2. Extinctions 3. Loss of Ecosystem Diversity 4. Pollution 5. Human Population Growth and Resource Consumption.
The full statement has been signed by 520 global scientists from 44 countries. Those signatures were obtained within a month of completion of the statement, by direct email requests from the authors and their close colleagues to a targeted group of well-regarded global change scientists.   The signers include 2 Nobel Laureates, 33 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences,   42 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and several members of various European scientific academies.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hunger Is Growing

While you're (maybe) contemplating your big Memorial Day cookout whether it be burgers or whatever don't think about this article in The Atlantic which discusses the current state of hunger in most of the developed countries of the world. We know, even though we rarely dwell upon it, that people are starving by the thousands in such places as Africa and the Middle East or India but we don't think of the U.S. as a place for hunger....wrong!

Nearly a Quarter of People in Greece and the U.S. Can't Afford Food

Hunger has grown dramatically in Europe since 2007
A Greek man eats food distributed by the Athens Municipality on January 30, 2012. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
No matter where you're from, not having enough to eat is the ultimate signifier of economic distress. Food is the base of Maslow's hierarchy. It's the first concern in disaster zones. It's usually the last thing to go -- after the car and the nice apartment -- when you lose your job.
If you can't afford food, there's really nowhere to go but up. That's why it's so shocking just how many more hungry people there are now in what were formerly known as the world's well-off nations. According to a new Pew report released today, almost a quarter of people (24 percent) in the United States and Greece answered "yes" to the question, "Have there been times during the last year when you did not have enough money to buy food your family needed?"
The levels in other Western countries weren't quite that high, but the rate at which hunger has swept the eurozone since 2007 is still really dramatic:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quick Cream of Broccoli(or any Vege) Soup

The garden is producing a nice crop of broccoli and I don't want to lose it so I have been trying to find ways of using it up. Last night I made quick cream of broccoli soup off the cuff that turned out pretty nice and thought I might share the basics. You can actually use this method for pretty much any vegetable. Cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, beet, potato, turnip, celery, greens of any type would do fine. I was just cooking for two but the recipe will scale with no problem.  Madam insisted there be no left overs.

Here is the broccoli version:

1 pound of fresh broccoli finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup of milk or cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese (optional but nice)

It was raining so I didn't want to go the garden for fresh parsley but it would be nice for a garnish.

This makes two large bowls.

In a large non reactive pot cook the onions and broccoli  in the olive oil and butter over medium heat until the onions are transparent stir in the flour, thyme and nutmeg and cook for a minute or two. Add the stock and bring to a simmer and cook at the simmer for about 20 minutes. Mix the egg yolk in the half cup of milk or cream and add this, while stirring, to the soup. At this point I use an immersion blender to make the soup a little smoother or you can leave it chunky. If you're using, add the cheese and stir to mix well. Adjust the seasoning and serve. A nice salad and some crusty bread and your good.

This and That

A day off and of course it is raining to beat the band and therefore no time in the garden. I'm pretty much caught up with the plan and only have the okra and chard starts to move to the garden and they'll be fine in the greenhouse for a few more days.

I did finish up Michael Pollan's "Cooked" this morning and it was a worthwhile read and recommend it heartily to any of you food lovers and cooks. While I tried a short cut version of his bread recipe the other week which turned out very nice I just embarked on the full length version. The flour and water are mixed and resting for 24 hours and the sourdough starter has been fed and is busily turning into a leaven which I will add to the flour/water mix tomorrow and begin the bulk ferment. This is basically a "no knead" bread and so it consists of merely turning the dough during the ferment to develop the gluten. My shortcut version(I didn't let the flour and water rest overnight before beginning the bulk ferment) turned out with good gluten development in spite of being 70% whole wheat and I can imagine it will be brilliant with the 24 hour rest. I've seen this long rest of the unleavened dough in a couple of German recipes and it makes sense since they typically used rye and needed all the help they could get. We shall see, but the first trial was positive. 

It does make a pile of dough with 1 kilo of flour and 850g of water plus about 150g of the leaven. The first batch had to be baked in two shifts since the oven wouldn't hold both loaves and I might make 3 loaves instead of just two this time but we'll see at baking time. As you can see by the flour/water ratio it is a very wet dough and somewhat difficult to wrestle around. Remembering my early baking days I can imagine inexperienced bread makers would be freaked by such a wet dough.

The garden has produced a lot of broccoli and I'm getting saturated. Last night I made a quick cream soup with a pile and it turned out pretty nice for an off the cuff recipe. I'll post the recipe in a separate post in a while. It's a good technique that will work for just about any vegetable and it's quick.

That's about it for now though I can't help but mention that I am resisting going to the market for some needed items afraid that I'll succumb to the desire to make Mr. Pollan's recipe for kim chi. Madam will kill me if I do. For someone who actually lived in Korea it's amazing how much she dislikes it. I have a jar of commercial kim chi in the fridge but I have a real urge to make a batch of my own. Must resist.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day and Yeast Waffles

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I fixed Madam yeast raised vanilla waffles with Irish butter and maple syrup for her Mother's Day breakfast and she liked them. I'm off in a few minutes to spend the day at work in the garden center at you know where. Can't decide whether it will be busy or not but we'll see. It's going to be a nice day and that usually means a crush on the weekend but maybe Mother's Day will temper it a bit.

On the home garden front I did manage to get the sweet potato starts in the ground yesterday with Madam's help and the second planting of corn done. The first planting is about a foot tall now and at Minimonk's request it is all Silver Queen which despite being around for a long time is still a hybrid corn so the seeds can't be saved. The second planting is Golden Bantam Improved which is an heirloom variety that can provide some seed for saving with the added bonus that is a nice table corn and it is yellow which, for some reason, is my preference.

Everyone enjoy the day.

Oh! and if anyone would like the recipe for making yeast raised waffles(which are lovely) let me know in the comments and I will post the recipe. You know baking powder and baking soda weren't always around so this is a very old way of making waffles and probably started out as a sourdough recipe(and if you need a recipe for those let me know as well).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Welcome to 400 Parts Per Million

A very sobering event happened yesterday. We hit a new carbon dioxide milestone of 400 ppm:
Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.
The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.
In case you are wondering this means that we are on track to possibly see a rise in the average temperature of 4 degrees C towards the end of the century. If 4C doesn't sound so bad consider that scientist think it means the extinction of about half of the species now living on our little spaceship. We are so screwed.

Monday, May 06, 2013

"Cooked" by Michael Pollan

I have just started reading Cooked, Michael Pollan's newest book and even though I am just barely into it it is resonating in a big way. The importance of good food and actually cooking it yourself even when it is time consuming and much easier to buy it prepared is something I harp about all the time. I can already recommend this book to anyone that cares about the food they eat and cook.

It doesn't hurt that the first section is about fire and he starts out in Ayden, North Carolina at the Skylight which is ground zero for the Eastern Carolina BBQ tradition of cooking whole hogs very slowly over nothing but oak and hickory coals. If you have been around here for any length of time you already know I consider Eastern Carolina BBQ the pinnacle of the art and all the rest from Texas to Kansas to Memphis, while good, still 2nd tier. I'll probably get a little push back from that last statement but I have the satisfaction of knowing that Mr. Pollan agrees with me.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Orthodox Easter

I apologize. I didn't remember until just now that it is Orthodox Easter today. For all my Greek and other Orthodox friends...

Christos Anesti! "Χριστός ἀνέστη!"

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Sauerkraut Can Be Beautiful

It's a really lousy day here in the Northern burbs of Atlanta. Rain all day with more predicted and very cool (only 54F at 6PM) which is very unusual for May. This calls for action in the form of a good German meal. Brats with kraut and boiled potatoes with lots of butter and parsley. Not just any sauerkraut mind you but my take on the kraut they make in the Alsace.

This will make enough for 4 unless they are German then it is enough for maybe two. Even if you are not a big fan of kraut you should try it this way and it may change your mind.

You'll need:
1 pound bag of fresh sauerkraut (I like Boar's Head) rinsed and drained
1 apple
1 medium yellow onion
2 bay leaves
8 juniper berries (optional but traditional)
1/2 cup of dry white wine ( I use dry vermouth)
1 TBsp honey
2 TBsp butter

In a 2 quart saucepan put the butter and the onion which you have cut  in half and sliced thinly. Put it over low heat, cover and sweat it until it is soft and translucent. Meanwhile peel and grate the apple on the large side of a box grater and add it to the onions. Don't grate the apple too soon or it will brown on you. Add the kraut the bay leaves, juniper berries, wine and honey. Add enough water to just cover the kraut and simmer on low for an hour or so. That's it.

I'll eat plain kraut on a sandwich or a hot dog but if I am serving it as a side dish then this is my go to recipe. It scales for larger crowds, of course. The juniper berries bring a little depth but you don't really have to have them. You can usually find them in the spice section of the grocery but this is the only dish I can think of that I use them in. If you make gravlax then you can use them crushed to add some zing to your cure.

If you have been turned off on the funky taste of kraut in the past try it this way and see if it doesn't become favorite.

Good Day at Men's Wearhouse

I Win! Went to Men's Wearhouse to get a tux today. Found a nice Jones of New York, classic cut..jacket $329.99, trousers $119.99, new tux shirt $79.99. Got to the check out and discovered that the jacket was marked down to $69.99 and the trousers to $39.99. Woot! On top of that I discovered that I had $150 in gift certificates on file. What I expected to be a $500 plus shopping trip totaled out at $93 with alterations. That was very good!

Liquid Sunshine and Stuff

Nice! I have three straight days off and it is supposed to rain all three. Not going to get much vegetable gardening done it seems.

Madam has decided that we will go to the Magnolia Ball this year. I drag out the tux just to see how it fits....doesn't. Oh yeah, I bought that tux 80 or so pounds's so big it can't even be altered...looks a wee bit like a clown suit. I guess a trip to the Men's Warehouse is in order. Nice rainy day for it.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Skeletons In The Closet

Seems my ancestors got a little desperate for protein during the "Starving Time" and took to snacking on little girls. (It does seem that she was at least dead first)  I've mentioned it before but my family were original settlers and part of the Jamestown colony so I guess I owe my existence to a wee bit of cannibalism. Whatever.

Unseasonably cool and a bit damp in these parts but the garden is coming along. I'll post a pic as soon as I get a sunny day. This is the week from hell at work....having to open at 6am every wouldn't be so bad if there was actually business at that ungodly hour but it is almost always not until 7 or later that we actually get a customer. You just stand around and the time drags and drags.

Anyhoo...its almost nine and 4am comes soon enough.