A Marigold’s Tale

The subject of this week’s Spin Cycle is “Best and Worst.”

I can do that.

Okay, so you know Beloved’s we’ve gone off the deep end with our back yard gardening.  Not surprisingly, this has turned out to be a mixed blessing.

Best:  Sprouting our own seeds, replanting them in the back yard and knowing they’ll likely survive.

Worst:  The back yard garden has begun to take over our living room.

This has engendered some interesting conversations, though.

The G Man, as he hangs over the back of the love seat:  “What’s wrong with the lids on the plants?”

The Young One:  “It’s called ‘condensation.'”

Best:  Nurturing all of our plants, knowing they will eventually be blog fodder dinner.

Worst:  What – I need to water and weed AGAIN??

It should be noted that I am not the most trustworthy person to weed; I often cannot distinguish between the seedling of something I’m really going to want to eat later, and the weed I won’t.

Best:  Loving the Spring weather in Ohio even more.

It amazed me when I first moved here that you could practically just throw stuff in the ground and it would grow like gangbusters.  We had a beautiful ornamental garden in our back yard in Texas, but due to the searing heat 7 months of the year, we had to be very careful about what we planted, and tend it vigilantly.  Up here, we plant stuff, water it occasionally and that’s it – we have a gorgeous bed of impatiens in our front garden all summer long every year.

Worst:  Learning to HATE The Weather Channel.

The same Weather Channel that promised our over night low would be 38 F.  He Of The Green Thumb was out of town, leaving Hopelessly Inept Gardener on her own for the week.  Hopelessly Inept Gardener thought it would be safe to simply water the garden, rather than covering it, before retiring for the night.

You don’t know terror until you’ve left your husband’s precious garden uncovered all night, only to wake up at 5 a.m. and realize it’s 31 F degrees outside.

Best:  Having He Of The Green Thumb declare that the damage isn’t as bad as you thought; all of the cold/cool weather plants (lettuces, peas, collards, carrots, parsnips, beets) are fine and he shouldn’t have transplanted the peppers, squash, okra and tomatoes outside so soon.

Worst: The realization that the marigold your precious grandson started from a seed at preschool, and which was on the verge of blooming, was one of the items that had been transplanted outside too soon.

You have never seen two people search for a marigold at the local gardening centers quite as frantically as Meema and Papa.

the Marigold

Fortunately, three-year-olds have a limited grasp on the fact that marigolds don’t grow so large quite so quickly.


The Gardening Obsession

This week’s Spin Cycle is about “obsessions.”  Hoo, boy.

Yes, we tend to be obsessive, which is probably why Beloved and I are so well suited.  Three years ago when I began to obsess about the kind of food we eat and where it comes from, Beloved was right there with me.  In fact, he’s become more obsessive about it all than I have. (Not surprising, since my loving husband is an “A type” if there ever was one. As for me, I’m not sure I even qualify as a “B type” – I’m probably somewhere down the line at…M).

At any rate, last year we weren’t exactly excited about the offerings from our CSA.  Not that they were bad or anything, just nothing too terribly out of the ordinary – lots of lettuce and green beans and zucchini and tomatoes and peppers, but no kohlrabi or bitter melon or dragon tongue beans or anything like that.  Now, there is a farmer we know who grows things like that (and much, much more) and offers CSA memberships, but his farm is considerably further away.  He’ll bring our share to the farmers market, but that means driving out to Peninsula every Saturday morning, something we elected not to do last year; we attended that particular farmer’s market once or twice a month.

So, Beloved decided we’d grow our own vegetables, hopefully being able to ditch the CSA all together eventually.

Now, we’ve been growing our own food for at least six years; I have a wonderful herb garden on the east side of the house, and we have two 8′ x 4′ plots in our back yard where we’ve grown everything from tomatoes to okra to peppers to broccoli over the years.  But once he decided we’d expand on that, those two plots became home to perennials – rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries to be exact (the asparagus crop has been disappointing to say the least, but the rhubarb is huge and we’re going to have a ton of strawberries, much to The G Man’s delight).  I should also pause here and mention that we have a huge blackberry bush that is going to drown us in that beautiful fruit as well, and a raspberry bush that we hope will eventually be just as prolific.

Once he decided to expand our backyard garden, I began finding sketches all over the house with various layouts of raised beds and positions for water barrels (don’t even get me started on The Search For The Perfect Water Barrels).  Fortunately, he decided to “start small” and built 3 raised beds:

Raised Garden Beds

Well, until recently, anyway – I think he’s decided to build 3 more before Spring is over.  At any rate, we have squash and peas so far – the peas are what the lines of twine are for, and you can see they’re off to a good start.  (Remind me to tell you the compost squash story another day.)  Here are the “old beds” we’ve been growing things in for several years (I forgot to take a photo of the herb garden):

Old Garden Beds

If you look closely, you can see the three sad, lonely asparagus spears next to the huge rhubarb.  The strawberries are in the bed in the foreground.  You can’t really tell, but there are dozens of flowers in there, each with a tiny strawberry in the center.  That big bush to the right along the fence is the blackberry bush; the small plant to the left of it is the raspberry bush we put in last year.

Of course, I’ve already shown you the compost bins and told you about our weekly jaunts to pick up eggs and 25 gallons of cow manure (I swear I have the only blog where you can do a legitimate search for “seriously good shit”), but then the man just went off the deep end and decided we weren’t going to purchase “starter plants” any longer because we had no idea where the seeds came from (“Monsanto” is a four-letter word in our home).  So he got a seed catalog that sells organic, heirlooms seeds and the next thing I knew we had this behind the loveseat in our living room:

Seed Trays

That long trailing plant is the squash I’ll tell you about at a later date.  The green pot contains a live basil plant we purchased at the grocery store, the plastic up is The G Man’s geranium he started from seeds at preschool, and the two small plants in the foreground are red bell pepper starters we got from a guy in the neighborhood who is also an organic gardening enthusiast.  Everything else are plants Beloved started from seeds – I can’t tell you everything off the top of my head, but I know there’s butter lettuce, Brussels sprouts and purple carrots in there.

But it doesn’t stop there, oh no.  He’s talking about digging up the part of the front lawn that runs beside the walk leading from our driveway to the front door with a decorative raised bed and planting sweet potatoes there because the flowers are supposed to be so pretty.

And he’s taken the lawn organic so we can harvest our own dandelion greens and the purselane that grows there wild.

I’ll let you know when he buys me a large, iron kettle and some lye and begins to refer to me as “Ma.”

A Sad Commentary

sausageI’m busier than a Kennedy at a strip club with an open bar today, but I thought I’d share this interesting little tidbit with you.

Last week, Beloved wrote a great guest post for me about how to eat real food while traveling.  He’s out of town this week again, and I got a phone call from him when he arrived at Baton Rouge on Monday.  Apparently there was a dearth of grass-fed beef and bison at the Whole Foods near his hotel, and he was looking over some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and Andouille sausage, wondering what he could do with them.  We talked a bit about it and I gave him some advice (which he took and appreciated), and had a couple of really nice dinners.

Wednesday he went back out to Whole Foods to pick up more of the sausage, since he needed something quick (he had to go back out to the client site after he ate) and the Andouille must have been gone, because later he called to tell me they had no sausage in the store that didn’t have added sugar.  He ended up buying plain ground pork and a seasoning blend with fennel in it, but when he asked the guy who worked at the meat counter if they had any sausage without sugar in it, the guy replied:

“No, or else it wouldn’t have any flavor.”

And that, friends and neighbors, is at least part of the reason why obesity and diabetes are such a problem.

I'm A Food Renegade

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

Keeping It Real On The Road

If you’ve been hanging around here for very long, you know that my husband, whom I affectionately (and sometimes sarcastically) refer to as “Beloved” and known to my readers at large as “BE”, travels a great deal for business.  Before we changed our diet nearly three years ago, he pretty much ate out wherever it was convenient.  That’s not so easy now; even if he weren’t so mindful of what is in his food, where it came from and how it was prepared, his tastes have changed – it’s hard to find good quality, well-prepared food in restaurants – and when you can, it’s apt to cost an arm and a leg.

Over the last year, he’s found a somewhat workable solution for this dilemma.  Here’s what he has to say about it.

Anyone trying to eat real food, let alone those with food allergies, knows how difficult it is to navigate the waters of eating out, even occasionally.  But as a frequent traveler, I can attest that it gets old in a hurry. So I changed the way I travel so I can eat real food and save a lot of money.

Sure, you can eat reasonably healthy at restaurants, even fast food joints, if you are careful of what you order.   Short trips necessitate eating out as time is dear. For bun-less burgers I suggest one of the better burger chains like Wendy’s, Whataburger or Culvers, and if you can still tolerate MSG, add bacon.  But why is it that you need to remind the clerks that when you don’t want a bun, you still want the veggies?  Salads are always a good choice, but dressings (on the side) are always suspect; oil and vinegar is my choice if the oil doesn’t look like it’s been sitting on the counter since 1970.  Worst case breakfast at a diner any time of day can be worked around. But if you have to eat out all the time, invariably you end up at the higher end places, and you can find some gems out there specializing in local and clean foods.  Of course, the high end places are much more accommodating than the “have it your way” Burger Kings of the world.

But it’s expensive and it still gets old.

Frankly, when travelling alone on business, the last thing I want to do is to go out to dinner. I want to get back to a desk, catch up on the emails of the day’s regular business, and talk to the loved ones.  Sure, you can join the minions of lonely business travelers sitting in bars and cafés talking on their cell phones, but I’d rather enjoy my meal.

A couple of years ago I cracked this nut and learned how to travel and eat real.  I book rooms that have kitchens, although you have to be careful to avoid rooms with “kitchenettes”   that only provide a mini fridge and a microwave.  Sadly, as far as I know, none of the on-line hotel search sites include a decent amenity search for a kitchen (let me know if you found one), but there are several chains that specialize in these kinds of rooms.  Beyond a doubt, my favorite is Staybridge Suites.  They are invariably the nicest with the best equipped kitchens.   I also recommend  Homestead Suites by Hilton, SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites by Marriot (the SpringHill Suite in Gaithersburg, PA is my favorite place when visiting D.C.)

There are other, usually cheaper, chains like, Homewood Suites, Extended Stay America, and Candlewood Suites (which I frequent because they, along with Staybridge, are affiliates of the Holiday Inn Priority club).   However, you need to be prepared for the possibility of needing to buy cookware if it is lacking – and the cheaper the place the more lacking.  Can you believe I was at one of these (a Holiday Inn) where they had all kinds of great amenities but didn’t issue any skillets to any of the rooms.  I’m supposed to make eggs in a sauce pan?  I have donated more than a few cast iron skillets to extended-stay hotels in strange towns. Darling Daughter is going to have a whole set if I keep going to Vegas (by the way, home to my absolute all-time favorite hotel suite with a kitchen – not only is it highly equipped, including an oven, it has a salt water pool and cabanas).

Honestly, I am convinced that most of these chains really don’t like you cooking in and messing up their kitchens, to say nothing of the billows of smoke in the hallways and the goat sacrifices you know are going on down the hall (and I have yet to be invited to the barbecue.  Bastards.).  Sadly, I suspect a large percentage of the guests cook nothing more complicated in their rooms than coffee and Pop Tarts – which are conveniently sold in the lobby pantry and billed to your room.  Ewwwww.

That brings me to the next point. Hotel eating requires some careful planning. Just like booking flights, cars and hotels, I scope out the healthier food stores in an area. Whenever possible I keep it local, but often do have to endure Whole Paycheck, which continues to disappoint me by carrying industrially processed and GMO products (of all companies, right?).

Of course you need to remember that even the better hotels have limited utensils. Always try to stop at the suite before shopping.  You need to know what you have to work with. Check out the utensils, knives, cleaning supplies and storage containers. Does the hotel have a grill? Does it work? Do they have utensils (you usually have to clean)?  It appalls me that every flea-bag hotel doesn’t have at least one grill.  Again it’s hard to search for and if you ask the front desk you may not get a truthful answer.   If you know there is a functional grill, even discount hotels can be made to work – at least in the summer.

With rare exceptions even full kitchens don’t have ovens, so cooking is primarily on the stove top.  Besides, I am only cooking for one. I want it to be quick, convenient, and not too complicated. With my gourmet at home, I am flying without a net.   So what do I shop for?

Eggs, greens, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, some salad, some nuts and a little fruit and cheese, if you can handle it, are good staples for the week.  While you can often find salt and pepper packets, I usually buy some each week (at least they can be packed and taken home).   Depending upon the proteins I pick up a spice medley or Adobo chili powder can be used in several meals.

I usually grab a bottle of spring water and can often raid the hotel’s breakfast pantry for tea to brew.  As for coffee, you need to check the room. There will probably be a pot, but often only one self-serve pouch unless you go down to the buffet.  At times, coffee needs to be on the list – don’t forget appropriate filters.

Always buy a scrubby pad for the cheap hotel cookware.   This may require a trip to a regular grocery store because if Whole Paycheck has one it is made out of recycled vegetarian raised ocean sponges that won’t work any better than the white face cloth provided by the hotel. And be prepared:  They never have appropriate cleaning supplies.

Breakfast is somewhat easier.  Even with a “free” buffet of powdered scrambled eggs or (at best) hard boiled battery eggs with processed meats, it’s far easier to throw on some bacon and eggs while getting ready in the morning.  Bacon is one of the first things I cook when I get to the hotel because bacon fat is so useful with all range top cooking, but even more important when using cheap stainless steel.

Whenever possible, I eat lunch in my room; I often make up a handful of burgers the first day to have for the rest of the week.   Like cooking for one, portions have to be balanced and reused when possible. I usually have onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, lettuce or an avocado for a nice quick burger meal  and they can be used to compliment  other meals.

Dinners are primarily based on whatever good quality protein I can gather at the store: steak, ground beef, chicken, fish or pork chops.   I no longer enjoy grain-fed beef so sourcing meat is the primary mission when arriving in town.  Even Whole Paycheck has good bison and usually grass fed beef. However, I have noticed that some locations, especially in crunchy (read: vegetarian) areas, the selection can be very limited and grass fed beef is almost always imported from New Zealand.

I almost always rely on leafy greens like spinach, collards, etc. as they are easy to sauté with some mushrooms and onions (and also easily repurposed for  a nice omelet) and taste great.   One of my favorite snacks, especially if there is a grill, is prosciutto wrapped asparagus with a sliver of pear in the middle – drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette if you want to be fancy, but those bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar will stay behind unless you check your bags.

This week is a bit of a treat because I can drive to my destination and will be able to take staples with me. I will have decent utensils and take a cast iron skillet.  More importantly, I was able to shop locally for my food: Whitefeather Meats (for bratwurst, sausage, ground beef and a nice 6 week dry-aged rib eye) and Mustard Seed for $20 worth of veggies (collards, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, an onion, some green beans, and a few cashews).   Sounds horrid, huh? My total bill for four days is under $75 – about a day and a half if eating out.

Is my road diet a bit humdrum? Maybe, but it works for me with my limited resources and culinary abilities.  I do confess that I tend to lose weight when I travel, but that is the opposite experience of most travelers and, as far as I can tell, a good thing. I welcome suggestions and hearing how others cope in such situations.

The truth of the matter is that travel has become much more enjoyable since I started cooking for myself in the room.  I can come “home,” relax, check my emails, talk with my loved ones, iron my shirts all while preparing what I know will  a good meal, knowing what’s in it. I don’t have to go out and explain my diet to servers when I really need to get back to the room to finish my day and prepare for the next one.   As Jan and I enter the new phase in our lives as empty-nesters, I am hoping she will accompany me on more trips. I will be anxious to see what she does with this “mystery basket” of limited ingredients and even more limited equipment.  In a couple of weeks we are driving a cooler full of real food to New York City for a few days.

If we can make it there, we can make it anywhere!


The Recliner Saga

A week ago this last Saturday, I was in the kitchen (because where else would I be?) when an anguished wail came from the general direction of our family room.  I poked my head around the corner and saw Beloved on his knees, in front of his ancient recliner, weeping gently over the springs which had apparently been mortally sprung.

I sighed…I knew this day was coming.  The poor recliner had been ailing for some time; we had, in fact, done some emergency surgery on him not too long ago when one of his springs snapped, in the way of a couple of clamps Beloved had purchased at Home Depot.  I was not aware, however, of the scope of the damage – along with the aforementioned clamps, there were now wires, twist ties, and was that one of my pot holders under there??

It was.

Before I could comfort him, Beloved came to his feet, looked me dead in the eye and said, “We’re buying a new recliner. Now.”

Not one to argue with a recliner-less man – I have a reasonably developed sense of self-preservation – I gathered up my purse and 10 minutes later My Better Half was happily caressing leather upholstery and trying out foot rests at the Lazy Boy showroom.

Now, our home is decorated in cream, green and gold, with burgundy accents, mostly because of that very recliner.  It is hunter green and I knew it would be a permanent fixture, so I just sort of decorated around it.  Which honestly wasn’t hard, since green is my favorite color.  However, while hunter green was popular in the 90s, I dare you to find any furniture that color these days:  literally everything in the Lazy Boy showroom was brown, maroon or taupe (blech).  Our inquiries into the matter only confirmed what I already suspected; yes, we could get the recliner of our choice in a hunter green, but it would take at least 10 weeks and significantly raise the price.

After wandering a little more and trying out several chairs (including one that could have housed a small immigrant family and cost a small fortune), Beloved settled into a chair that was more-or-less burgundy (the swatch on the chair was labeled “Cabernet”).

“Oh, this is nice,” he said.  I looked at the price tag – it was on sale.  It was, in fact, half off.

“We’ll take it,” I told the sales lady.

“Don’t rush, don’t rush,” he said.  “Here, you sit in it.”

Now, there is some validity to his request.  You see, I spend a fair amount of time in the recliner when Beloved isn’t in it.  Aside from our bed, it is my favorite place to sleep – he’s snoring and I can’t get him to roll over?  I’m in the chair.  My sinuses won’t drain if I’m in a prone position?  I’m in the chair.  I simply can’t sleep and don’t want to keep him up with my tossing and turning?  I’m in the chair with my Kindle.  So I sat in it.

And it was the most comfortable chair I’d ever parked my fanny in.

I looked at Beloved and said, “We’ll take it.”

“Great!” he replied.  “Let’s get two!”

The sales lady, who looked as if she’d just reeled in the biggest sucker fish of the season, said, “You know, I believe we have that very chair in that very color here in our warehouse, and can have the other delivered by the end of next week!” and feverishly began filling out paperwork.

Again, his suggestion to purchase two (which were, after all, half off) had some validity.  You see, he can’t sit in his chair if I’m sleeping in it, and if I had my own chair, well, that problem would be solved, now wouldn’t it?  Our furniture is also kind of old and while our loveseat is in good shape (mainly because no one really ever sits in it), the sofa – which is an incredibly comfortable sofa, as anyone who has ever sat on it (including the dog) will tell you – is showing many signs of wear and tear.  So, after a short discussion on the logistics of just where we’d put two recliners, I acquiesced, and to give me credit did not even flinch when we handed over our first born American Express.

We could take the recliner in stock that day if we could provide transportation for it, and the other could be delivered the following Friday after our return from Hocking Hills (for a mere $69), so Beloved called his father and asked if we could borrow their van.  The next thing I knew, we’d made the 20 minute drive to my inlaw’s house, left them our car, taken their van – from which my father-in-law had considerately removed the seats – and picked up the new recliner…which meant Beloved wouldn’t have to go one single day without putting his feet up while he napped through all of his favorite television shows.

And that’s what’s really important, isn’t it?

While the new recliner was being loaded into the van, Beloved turned to the sales lady and asked, “What’s the warranty on this?”

“Lifetime on the parts, one year on the labor,” she replied.  A strange expression passed over his face, but I didn’t think much of it.  But when we got home, Beloved made a bee-line to the old recliner.

“That’s what I thought,” he muttered.

Yes, the old recliner is a Lazy Boy.

He called the showroom, and discovered they could fix it for less than $100, and it would take less than a week.

We unloaded the new recliner and loaded the old one into the van and drove back to the Lazy Boy showroom.

We cancelled the order for the second recliner.

We took the van back to my inlaws and thanked them.

We went to Hocking Hills and played many games, ate much barbecue, drank much wine and lounged a great deal in the hot tub.

We came home and picked up the newly repaired chair, which cost a whopping $42.

And that, friends and neighbors, is how I got a brand new Lazy Boy recliner.