Growing vegetables, herbs, etc. in a small urban space

The Birds Were Chattering Madly Excited

This bush was full of tufted titmice and sparrows. They were all simultaneously chirping with excitement.

I imagined some of them agitated and anxiously saying of the unseasonable warmth hat it was not normal and something needed to be done.

The rest of them were loud drunks on the spring warmth. “Life is short. Enjoy what has come.”

Perhaps there was one truly wise bird who was saying that both of those are true and that recognizing both truths was a door to harmony.


Comfort Food Potluck Red Cabbage and Sprout Salad

Last night I went to my neighbors’ “comfort food pot luck.” Comfort food tends to mean for many of us in winter warm, dense, heavy, rich food that is likely to be white, beige, or otherwise pale in color. There is much to be said for the emotional impact of great mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, especially when it is cold.

As I was deciding what to bring and remembering that last time I went to this pot luck there were three kinds of macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and multiple kinds of bread, I thought about what would bring me comfort in that context.

My diet is not subject to any particular label. I mostly do not eat meat or cow dairy–perhaps vegetarian/vegan preferred would be a good label to the extent one would need to give a label (we are so fond of those in this society). I also prefer local and organic food, in that order, when available, and find my health benefits from a fair percentage of my diet being raw, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Based on my assumptions of what others would likely bring, I thought that it would give me great comfort to have something fresh, bright, crunchy, raw, organic, and mostly local to go with mashed potatoes (they were delicious Marlene) and assorted casseroles. I took a look at what was in the kitchen and found I had red cabbage, a couple of apples, an onion, and some carrots from the farmers’ market; organic celery, raisins, ginger, lemon, apple cider vinegar, and white miso from the food coop and the organic grocery store; and mung beans sprouting on the counter.

The red cabbage salad and sprout salad was a hit as a foil for the traditional “comfort food.”

Since you asked, here’s how its made:

Mince some onion and dice a small red cabbage. Splash some apple cider over the onion and cabbage so it can start pickling while you are cutting up the rest of the ingredients.

Dice some carrots and celery and add to the cabbage and onions.

Throw in some raisins.

Mince some ginger and add to vegetables.

Mix a couple of tablespoons of mild white/blonde miso and some Dijon mustard to taste (a darker miso will be too strong) and stir in hot water to thin until the miso-mustard mix is a creamy consistency and stir into the vegetables.

Dice an apple or two and mix in with the other ingredients.

Add some fresh bean sprouts if you have them (I always have sprouts growing except in the hottest weather; a good source for supplies is; best to add the sprouts while they are still short so they are the same texture and size of the other ingredients in this chopped salad).

Squeeze in some lemon juice to taste (or more vinegar if you don’t have a lemon on hand or want to be completely local). If necessary to get the dressing spread evenly over the vegetables, add a little more water.

Add another apple or additional raisins if you need more sweetness to offset the saltiness of the miso and the astringency of the vinegar and lemon juice.

This salad benefits from sitting for at least a few hours. It can sit overnight without the apples and the sprouts–the miso starts to ferment the cabbage as for sauerkraut, which is nice– but the apples and sprouts will get mushy and are better added at the end.

Enjoy. Play with ingredients and quantities and please comment if you come up with a delightful variation.


My Latest Favorite Hot Drink for Winter

Hot water with a wedge of lemon (squeezed); a couple of slices of fresh ginger; one dried chili pepper whole (I still have a bunch from last year’s garden)–or use a dash of cayenne; stevia or agave nectar to taste.  Spicy, astringent, and sweet all at the same time.  (This also makes delicious cold lemonade in summer).

A couple of other winter hot drink options from Cate Stillman–ayurveda practitioner and educator and certified Anusara yoga instructor:  hot water with either a little bit of turmeric or a little cinnamon.


“Who Goes On A Diet to Lose Three Pounds?” (and the Carbon Footprint of Orange Juice)

The other night after yoga class, a group of us went out to celebrate a friend’s 39th birthday.  During the ambling course of the conversation, I said that I was turning 50 later this year.  I added that I would grow my hair another couple of inches longer and lose three pounds, and 50 would be just fine (let’s leave aside for now all the societal conditioning that goes along with feeling that such an age marker wouldn’t feel too old as long as my hair was long and my body at a youthful weight).

“Who goes on a diet to lose three pounds?” asked one of my friends.  I find that people sometimes look at me and are shocked that I pay attention to my weight.  They have an idea that someone who stays slim is just lucky rather than consistently mindful.  My grandmother who was 4’11” in her high-heeled slippers was the one who taught me to be mindful in this way.  Once or twice a year, she would moderate her diet to lose the two pounds that crept on after one too many desserts over the course of a few months without any other change in her modest, healthful for those days diet.

Going on a diet to lose three pounds means never having to lose 10 or 20 pounds or more.  It means returning to mindfully eating a little extra less for a couple of weeks after a couple of months of having eaten a little more than what is perfectly sustaining rather than having to go through a major lifestyle change.  In my middle age, I pay attention to my diet not as much for how I look in my clothes and feel about my body, but more for whether what I am eating is healthy for me and the planet.  One of the best and easiest ways to be at an optimal weight, feel healthier, and have less impact on the planet is simply to eat less (though this is a new announcement by the government, any one with even an ounce of common sense knew that, no matter how much exotic, novel, or challenging diets seemed more appealing).

Part of eating the right amount for your ideal fit with your body and its relationship to the planet and society is having food that is not necessary for a healthy body only on special occasions (which is different than rigidly forbidding it to yourself).  In reviewing what is sustaining for me and the planet while still enjoying a delicious diet, I periodically take a look at what I am eating and think about what is really fulfilling.  One of the things I enjoy, but have known really should be a treat is orange juice (which I stopped drinking on other than an occasional basis several months ago and truly have not missed).

If you are eating multiple servings of vegetables and a piece or two of fruit a day, orange juice processed, packaged, and shipped outside of a grower state provides little more benefit to your diet than does a can of soda.  If you kept everything else in your diet consistent and aren’t already eating enough to be gaining weight, eliminating the unnecessary glass of juice would not only diminish your carbon footprint (and if it is not organic, your chemicals into the drinking water footprint as well as your carbon footprint), but you also would be eliminating the number of calories it takes to gain a pound over the course of a month.  And if you live in one of those states covered in snow and ice and are yearning to eat something from the land of sunshine, eat an orange or some other tropical fruit–organic if you can get it — and skip the processing, the cooking (pasteurizing), and some of the packaging that goes into it being shipped to your grocery store as juice.


Whispers of Spring

Look very closely on this wintry day, with ice still caking the sidewalks and the news full of the next winter storm, and promises of spring are visible.

I have not seen any bulbs coming up yet, though with the rain and higher temperatures on Wednesday, a few may start to appear in warmer spots.

The buds that set up last fall are starting to color and swell; leaf nodes on early trees are forming. Some of the maples have reddish leaf buds already.