Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Foodies and Gardeners Rejoice!

This weekend brings two super cool events that gladden the heart of any gardening locavore -- the Ballard Urban Picnic (or BURP) and the Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale!

I'll talk about the plant sale first, since that's the event I'm more familiar with. I nearly missed it last year because I had the flu, but managed to rally on the last day of the sale and wander amongst the tomatoes. This is where y'all want to go to get your summer plants. All of the starts are organic. There should be a list on the website here : http://seattletilth.org/special_events/copy_of_edibleplantsale2010

If you're growing in containers this year, be sure to pay attention to the plants that are marked as "good for containers." You can grow more than you think. Tomatoes will grow quite well in containers. I tried to grow some zucchini in a container last year, and it died fairly quickly. I'm going to try again in my raised bed. We'll see how well it works.

If you see me near the tomatoes, please steer me towards the basil or the sweet peppers. There are still about 20 healthy tomato starts in my house. I'm allowed to buy one Brandywine tomato, and that's it. No more. I do plan on giving some of my tomato starts away, but as it is, you're not going to be able to see my front porch this summer for all the tomatoes. Seriously, if you spot me anywhere near the tomatoes, yell "Anna Elizabeth -- unhand that tomato!" (I'll probably jump if you use my middle name. Only my mother does that. It's how I knew I was in big trouble as a kid.)

When selecting tomato varieties, look for ones that have Slavic names. Now, I'm not just saying that because I'm a Slav-o-phile -- there's a real reason for it. Go get a globe and look at our latitude. Now look at Russia's latitude. Also look at that of the Czech Republic's. A Slavic-named tomato is going to be more cold tolerant than tomatoes that prefer California's climate. We have a short summer up here. Cold tolerant tomatoes grow well.

OK -- on to BURP! The Ballard Urban Picnic is a new event, sponsored by the Ballard Chamber of Commerce. (http://www.ballardchamber.com/node/1786) There's a lot of information about it on the Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Ballard-Urban-Picnic-BURP/116851734992166?ref=search&sid=10739751.1315775694..1), including some of the food vendors. There will be live music, an outdoor movie (I love outdoor movies!), food trucks, and a beer garden. My brother and I will be going in the afternoon, after I get out of the Mariners game. Come on out, enjoy some local food and local fun, and help me discover new beers to try!

If you need some inspiration on the beer front, here is what I've tried (and liked) in the three weeks I've been a beer drinker. I'm serious about being a beer novice!

Fat Tire
Alaskan Summer Ale
Mac & Jacks

So, dear readers, what beer should I try next? I tend to like beers that are amber-colored or lighter. Not a big fan of the darker stuff. And call me a beer snob, but I don't like beers in cans -- the aluminum does something to the taste that I don't like.

The life front seems to have calmed down some, which is great. I turned in my application to UW Seattle's Special Education program, and all I have to do is sit back and wait. I'm not the most patient person on the planet -- which most of you likely know. In my head, I'm like Dorie from Finding Nemo, going "Oh! Oh! Oh! Pick me! Pick me!" I'm a compulsive planner (in this way, I take after my father), and it's really frustrating to not know what I'm going to do next. Uncertainty, while beautiful, is a little bit frightening. I have to remind myself to live in the moment and enjoy every one.

I am the woman who, in Morocco, kept thinking about and writing about my upcoming trip to the Balkans with my family. I had to remind myself "Anna Elizabeth, you're in MOROCCO. In a frickin' village in the High Atlas mountains! Stop thinking ahead and enjoy the moment for cryin' out loud!" Knowing me, there were probably some swear words thrown in here and there, too.

Had a wonderfully random day yesterday. I went to a lecture about earthquake science (and enjoyed a Manny's), and ran into an old friend/co-worker. The two of us, along with a couple of new friends, ended up going out for another beer, and going square dancing at The Tractor. I swung my dance partner around so much I got dizzy! Square dancing was great fun, and I can't wait to go again. I think I need to buy something plaid first. Can you believe I don't own any plaid anymore?

It didn't quite top the Best Day Ever, which was one month ago yesterday and involved both Felix Hernandez and Jay Buhner signing my baseball, a Junior walk-off grand slam, and hitting double bullseye twice in the gay cowboy bar in Phoenix. (Damn, how I wished some of those cowboys were straight!) Oh, and that Best Day Ever happened to coincide with the one-month anniversary of my unexpected singlehood. But you know, it was a pretty damn good day. I think I've finally left all that sadness behind me. I'm going to stop marking time in terms of distance from That Awful Day. Unexpected singlehood isn't always a bad thing. In fact, I'm really enjoying mine.

I can swing my partner round and round, laugh with wild abandon, and dance into the next phase of my life. I definitely need to dance more. I was probably the clumsiest waltzer on the dance floor. But you know, practice makes perfect, and it doesn't matter how clumsy you are as long as everyone's smiling.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Local pork chop success!

Before you say "that's enough for one day, Anna. Go get out in your garden," I must tell you that the local pork chop I just ate was the tastiest thing ever. Here is how I prepared it:

Pork Chops with Apples
-- Adapted from Mark Bittman, "How to Cook Everything"

4 shoulder or center-cut loin pork chops, about 1 inch thick, with fat trimmed
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon minced garlic or 2 tbsp minced shallot, onion, or scallion (I used garlic)
1/2 cup chicken, beef, or veggie stock
1 tbsp butter or more olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar

Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper. Heat large skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add olive oil. When first wisps of smoke rise from oil, add chops and turn heat to high. Brown chops on both sides. Move them around so they develop good color -- no longer than four minutes total. (This took about three minutes per side for me.)

Reduce heat to medium. Add wine and garlic and cook. Turn chops once or twice. Cook until wine is almost evaporated -- 3 minutes or so. Add stock, turn heat to low, cover, cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn chops once or twice. Cook until tender but not dry. (Mine took 10 minutes exactly.) Chops are done when firm to the touch, with juices that are slightly pink. Cut into them to make sure.

Transfer chops to platter. Cook 2 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples in the remaining liquid. Add 1/2 cup more white wine or stock if necessary. (This was not needed.) After 5 minutes, stir in 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Eat, and enjoy!

Prijatno! (Enjoy!)
-- Anna

Amending the Soil; Still Beating

Apologies for the lack of photos -- my camera shutter won't open all the way. I either need to go fix it or buy a new camera. Lame! It's been a good run -- I guess four years is really all you can expect out of cameras anymore. I still have my Pentax K-1000 SLR, but with the advent of digital pictures, haven't used it in a long time. I still have pictures I took with it up in my room. Some of them are going on ten years old. Wow.

Today, I amended my soil with Zoo Doo. Now what is "amending the soil," and what exactly does one do to "amend" it? Well, most garden soil is missing essential nutrients. Unfortunately, you can't just plant veggies and leave them alone. Veggies require care -- and leafy greens like nitrogen. To amend the soil in your garden bed, put down a layer of compost. With an aerator (it looks a little like a garden fork), gently work the compost into the soil around your veggies. I'm not entirely sure how often you should do it -- that would be a good question for the Garden Hotline.

There is still a ladybug living on my oregano plant. Also, my strawberries now think that it's late enough in spring to start producing tiny berries. Granted, these are alpine strawberries, so maybe they're supposed to produce berries earlier than the everbearing variety I grew last year. The plant producing the berries looks a little wilted, and I'm not entirely sure what to do about it. But, as I learned last year (and wrote about here), strawberries are resilient. Like me.

I had a song make me cry yesterday. In general, I've been doing fine -- I'm keeping myself busy with the garden, leading hikes, and doing fun things with friends. Two months into it, and I'm adjusting to the single girl lifestyle -- so much so that I'm coming to love it. I'm approaching the post-relationship phase of self-discovery with a grace and openness I didn't know existed. I'm meeting some great new people through the Mountaineers, and reconnecting with old friends. I'm remembering who I am by doing what I love with the people I love.

This hasn't really been a sad time. In fact, it's pretty exciting. Today, I will finish my application for UW Seattle's special education program. I'm on the cusp of a grand new adventure, which is right where I like to be.

But I still have sad moments, and I still have sad days. Yesterday's sad moment crept up on me unexpectedly. I was listening to Josh Ritter's CD "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter," and the song "Still Beating" came on.

I am thankful to John for introducing me to gardening and to Josh Ritter. If it's possible to have a crush on someone's voice and ability to write music, than I have a crush on Josh Ritter's. It's likely that I have heard this song many times before, but hadn't ever listened to the lyrics. We used to listen to Josh Ritter on the way to the mountains, and I was often driving, or reading, or enjoying the fact that I was hanging out with my then-awesome boyfriend. For the year-and-a-half we were together, I never thought to pay attention to the lyrics.

It was like I was hearing the song for the first time yesterday. The lyrics are as follows:

"I know the dog days of the summer
Have you ten-to-one out-numbered
Seems like everybody up and left and they're not coming back
The shadow that you're standing on's still here sometimes that's all that you can ask
And your heart's still beating

You're not the fastest draw in town now
How many times you been shot down now?
Seems like everybody else could see the things you never did
But if you could yourself you'd probably never have made it through the things you did
With your heart still beating

I know the dog days of the summer Have you ten-to-one out-numbered
It seems like everybody else saw trouble sneaking up behind
Left you half dead in the street but that just means you're half alive
And your heart's still beating"
-- Josh Ritter, "Still Beating"

Here is the song, for those of you who want to listen -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evHrugzL_g4&feature=PlayList&p=0DDC7F98A700B3D8&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=4

Both the second and third verses just really got to me. It's just so true. I don't think I could have made it through the last few really hard months if I actually saw the things I never did. But I made it through, and my heart's still beating. How and why I'll never know -- but it is, and I'm slowly getting back from the place where I was half dead or half alive to feeling more fully alive. I think the song got to me because I realized just how much I've survived recently. I never saw any of it coming. And now I'm redefining and remembering who I am, following my passions, and falling in love with the world around me all over again. My heart's still beating, and it'll keep beating through good moments and bad ones. There's a line from an Indigo Girls song that goes "It's remarkable the mess we make and what we can survive." I am learning just how true this is.

Last night, after listening to the song that made me cry, a wonderful set of old friends and new friends came over for a potluck. We spent the evening laughing, sharing food, making new friendships and delighting in old ones. I'm so amazed by all of the wonderful people in my life, and I probably kept repeating "I'm so glad you're here" over and over again.

It's true. I'm so glad you're here. My friends are the reason why my heart's still beating.

OK. Time to leave Josh Ritter, turn on something twangy from the great CD my friend Loren burned for me, and have a spontaneous single girl dance party in my kitchen.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Farmers Markets

The first asparagus of the season was for sale at the U District Farmers' Market today. And I saw a woman with three or four gorgeous stalks of rhubarb sticking out of her shopping bag. You know what this means, right? Almost summer!

In my quest to eat local, organic, yummy food, I have become a frequent farmers' market shopper. I'm starting to mark time by what farmers' market vendors have available. For example, right now we are transitioning from potatoes, beets, and parsnips to leafy greens, peas, carrots, and leeks. Strawberry season follows -- meaning it's time for my famous strawberry-rhubarb crisp! Summertime brings tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, oodles and oodles of zucchini, and peaches. And then we go through another leafy green season before we return to the time of winter squash and potatoes. The circle is complete.

As we transition to summer (and summer veggies) in Seattle, all kinds of musicians start appearing at Seattle-area farmers' markets. Today, I listened to a couple of wonderfully twangy groups at the U District Farmers Markets, and a guy who was singing songs he had written in his VW Van. It was a very Seattle moment. There will be more of these Seattle moments as the summer goes on -- my two favorite farmers markets (Wallingford and Phinney Ridge) are set to start up around Memorial Day, and they both have live music.

Why those two farmers markets over all the others? Well, they're a bit smaller than the ones in Ballard and the U District. The prices seem to be a little lower. Because these are smaller markets, the vendors are more likely to recognize me -- which means more free zucchini! (Last summer, one of the vendors gave me free zucchini because I was a frequent customer. It was yummy.)

Today, I purchased my first locally grown organic pork chop. I don't eat a lot of meat -- I came of age as a cook during a time when I was a vegetarian, and I don't know how to cook a lot of it. I have since abandoned vegetarianism -- I kept getting sick, and I'm honestly a lot healthier now that I eat meat again. (And what can I say -- hamburgers are really good.) Anyway, I bought my first locally grown pork chop today. I'm really looking forward to eating it tomorrow.

I'm attempting to locally source at least half of my diet. A sign at the farmers market said today that the average piece of produce purchased at a farmers market travels 67 miles, while the average piece of produce purchased at the grocery store travels over 1000 miles. Eating locally means that it takes less gas for my veggies to get from a farm to my table. And for me, it also tastes better. This summer, I challenge all of you readers to go find your local farmers market and taste a tomato. You'll thank me later.

For a potluck tonight, I am making homemade pizza. I'm going to attempt to make my own pizza dough and tomato sauce, using tomatoes I canned and froze last summer. My pizza will be topped with locally grown onions, mushrooms and local mozzarella. I will also put olives and bell pepper (I ran out of my frozen ones) on top too. It should be super tasty.

OK -- back to listening to Josh Ritter and attempting to do homework.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In Defense of Wildness Part 2

Upon rereading "The Accidental Farm," I realized how angry it sounds. It's not that I'm against people moving here -- many of my nearest and dearest friends are "transplants." They move here for various reasons, come to love it, and contribute to the lifestyle and character of my beloved hometown in many ways. I could not imagine life here without them. It's the folks that move here to build big houses and create giant subdivisions that encroach on once-wild spaces -- that's who and what makes me angry. We longtime King County residents (and Pierce County residents too, for that matter) are also to blame for inaction. We didn't start managing growth until it became too late. Pugetopolis, sadly, already exists.

Emmett Watson was right. Seattle lost a lot of its character because city and county leaders did not manage growth effectively. The city I grew up in is not the city I live in now. And we still must protect places like Duvall, Monroe, and North Bend from being swallowed up by Pugetopolis.

Before I leave Pugetopolis for further musings on wilderness and wildness, there's one more thing I need to say. The "accidental farm" on the Redmond-Fall City Road is still there. It has not become a victim of growth.

A favorite quote of mine from a Mary Oliver poem is this -- "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your wild and precious life." Without a space for wildness, can my life truly be wild? Will the generation behind me grow up knowing nothing of wildness?

I am intentionally using the word "wildness" and not "wilderness" here. It's been six years since we discussed this in one of Don Snow's classes at Whitman, so my knowledge of the difference between the terms is a bit fuzzy. The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Wildness is what we hope to find in nature -- places in which the ecosystem has been left intact. Wildness is in overgrown, fierce, deeply natural areas. Wilderness is the space we have set aside in order to experience wildness.

This is inherently problematic. Why do we need to set aside places to preserve wildness? Why do we need to control, manage, and use nature? By creating wilderness, we are making the wild into a commodity. There are a couple of problems with this. People hear "wilderness," and it becomes synonymous with "beautiful." And therefore they must visit. So it becomes a little less wild. But, on the flip side, we absolutely need to protect wilderness. Yes, we are commodifying the wild, but we need to protect it so there is something left for our children. If we do not set aside places for the wild, it will no longer exist.

There is a tension here. Wilderness lies in spaces untrammeled by man, yet to become a lover of wilderness and wildness, one must experience it personally. Ed Abbey, one of my all-time favorite authors, famously pulled up the surveyors stakes marking the road going through Arches National Park. He thought that national parks should be preserved for wildness, and not for people to visit. Yes, it's cool that we can drive up to Hurricane Ridge and go snowshoeing -- but should we be there? Up on Hurricane Ridge, there is a visitor's center and a parking lot. It is no longer wild.

I think it is very important for everyone to experience the wild. But I also think it is important to have places that we cannot get to. There need to be places on this planet that are so remote that we cannot find them. Yet we also need places we can go to be alone in nature. Those of us who, like Thoreau, seek solitude in the woods must go further and further out in order to do it. And so the tension remains.

Will we one day live in a world without wildness? And will this world also lack silence? There is a campaign to preserve the silent nature of Olympic National Park. It was started by a man who sought one square inch of silence (http://onesquareinch.org/) -- one square inch where human noises could not be heard. Airplanes and helicopters have altered the soundscape of our national parks quite dramatically. It is hard to be alone in nature and experience its sounds without hearing the drone of an airplane engine.

I realized in the gym today that the kids I work with may never experience this kind of silence, and it made me cry. My eyes started watering in the middle of my workout. True silence is one of the most beautiful things on the planet. And for me, it is a hallmark of the wild.

When I was 18, I took my very first backpacking trip in Utah's red rock canyon country. I woke up one night, and my ears hurt from the silence. The silence of that canyon was so loud that it invaded my very being. I sat up, filled with wonder, watching the stars, amazed by the sound of the absence of noise. The kids I work with will likely never experience this. And now I cannot -- I took a racquetball to the ear during my senior year of college, filling my silence with a high-pitched whining noise. I am so glad I got to experience silence.

Nowadays, kids are so wired that we have to remind them not to take their iPods out on a backpacking trip. And the world is so small and so filled with noise everywhere that silence is endangered, just like wildness.

Silence and wildness are both worth defending. We need wild spaces that exist on their own terms. Places that we can visit, but not stay. Places that are so remote that we do not know about them. Ed Abbey was mostly right when he wrote "The idea of wilderness needs no defense, only defenders." But he should have used a different word.

For it is the idea of wildness that needs no defense. Only defenders.

In Defense of Wildness Part 1

I once discussed the Wild Sky Wilderness with my aunt's Texas relatives. Her brother-in-law wanted to dig for coal in the Cascades. I told him it would be over my dead body. I wish wild spaces didn't need a defense from our own rapaciousness, but they do.

On this Earth Day, Ed Abbey's ghost is haunting me and won't let me rest. What does it mean to defend the wilderness? And does the need to defend it somehow make it less wild? Are there still truly wild spaces left on this earth?

I plan on writing more on this later, after I have done my homework for the day. I found an essay I wrote for a class I took on environmental radicalism. It is my own passionate defense of Lesser Seattle, wild spaces, and small towns. I stumbled across an "accidental farm" on the Redmond-Fall City road, and it provided the inspiration for this essay. Your thoughts, as always, are welcomed.

The Accidental Farm

Some days, I want to be a member of the Earth Liberation Front. New housing developments are encroaching upon my favorite bike route – up Five Mile Road, around the foothills of the Blue Mountains, and back to Walla Walla via Russell Creek Road. The decadent, overbearing houses sit just before I reach Walla Walla, on a hill overlooking the trails of Rooks Park. I can see them from five miles away, hideous blots in a valley of farms. I wish to destroy them, ripping them apart board by board, piece by piece.

I want to be a one-woman wrecking crew, and save Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, and Bellingham from merging into Pugetopolis. Urban growth already threatens the Cascade foothills. I can remember when Redmond was considered “the boonies” instead of being a ritzy Seattle suburb. The place where I used to ride horses is now covered with gaudy, overpriced houses. Rural, two-lane highways that used to wind through forest are now choked with cars.

I want to be like Emmett Watson, a cantankerous Seattle reporter who predicted many of the region’s growth problems. In the 1970s, Watson and a group of other Puget Sound locals founded Lesser Seattle in response to the work of Greater Seattle – a group of businessmen dedicated to publicly promoting the virtues of the Puget Sound region. Watson believed that Seattle would lose something of its character, if city boosters could not manage urban growth. He dedicated his Seattle Post-Intelligencer column to railing against California transplants, city leaders, and any big project (like the Kingdome) that threatened what he saw as Seattle’s character – a sleepy, literate, rain-drenched city that wanted to remain an unknown haven. All you Californians must leave Seattle, Watson wrote. It rains for nearly six months straight in winter. You won’t like it. Trust us. Go back.

Go back, and maybe the forest that used to cover my urban neighborhood would still exist. I used to play among the giant hemlocks and Douglas firs. Go back, and maybe we wouldn’t need two bridges across Lake Washington. Leave, and maybe we wouldn’t need to create the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Cascades, because it would all be wild. Just. Go. Back.

While I support the creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness, the need for it stems from a larger social issue regarding our current relations with the natural world. We control, we manage, and we use nature, and many in our society (like our current president) do not believe in preserving wild spaces because of their inherent value. For many, wilderness is a barrier, the repository of precious commodities that could be used if only they were unprotected.

Thoreau argued for the preservation of wild spaces long before the Wilderness Act. He noticed nineteenth century New England settlements pushing nature away, pushing wildness out in the drive to civilize. Thoreau, perhaps fearing the loss of natural spaces, wrote that the preservation of the world lay in wildness. Not wilderness. Over a century later, writers like Paul Shepard and Gary Snyder took this idea further, articulating the distinction between wildness and wilderness. According to Shepard, wilderness areas are becoming commodified parks, little biological islands of wildness in the midst of human civilization. Snyder did not believe that wildness was confined to wilderness and other protected areas, instead stating that the wild is all around us. All we have to do is look.

I wish we did not need the Wild Sky Wilderness. I like Snyder’s vision – human settlements integrated within wild spaces – because it allows space for a city to exist in balance with nature. Snyder feels that an ecological city is possible, and that there are degrees of wild. Even though I sympathize with Shepard’s view, and understand that in the creation of wilderness we are commodifying the wild, I think we need protected lands. It took a century before Thoreau’s wilderness idea became law. Revolutionizing the way we interact with the natural world will take time. I will risk the commodification of wilderness in order so that, one day, we may participate in and interact with it. This may happen sooner than planned, as the dwindling supply of oil and continuing rise of gas prices forces us to take a hard look at our lifestyle.

As for Emmett Watson and his defense of Seattle – I think we now need to defend the towns and natural areas surrounding the city from becoming the latest casualties of Pugetopolis. In order to know the wild, we must protect it – at least for a while. The suburbs and rural towns that daily become closer and closer to the Pugetopolis beast – they should write growth management plans, preserving a way of life from the forces of urbanization and change. We need to ensure that towns like North Bend and Fall City remain twenty miles away from the urban beast, and do not become suburbs like the former rural towns of Issaquah and Redmond.

Just outside Redmond exists a little hope. Over a large hill and past the upscale strip malls of the Redmond-Fall City Road, there is a farm. The fields are overgrown, and the buildings are in decay. It sits in the middle of a slough of planned housing developments, placed there almost accidentally, somehow forgotten in the drive for growth. Behind the farm is a forest. I do not know how far it stretches.

The Redmond-Fall City Road separates the farm from what will soon be suburban space. Our defense of the land surrounding Seattle should begin here. A group of concerned Puget Sound citizens, holding true to the principles of Lesser Seattle should post a sign that directly faces the gaudy new houses. “Go away,” it will read.

It rains for nearly six months straight in winter. You won’t like it. Trust us. Leave. Sincerely, the farm across the highway.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On beer, plants, Zoo Doo, and endings

I am sitting on my front porch, drinking a beer, enjoying the end to a rather lovely day. That's right, my friends, I am drinking a beer. Football and baseball buddies rejoice, for I have rediscovered Fat Tire, and it is good. I am looking forward to further exploring the world of barley, hops, and microbrews. My tastebuds must have changed in the last couple of years.

Beer is good. And now that I have tasted what my friend Brian calls the "gateway beer," it's going to be all downhill from here. Who wants to go to Hopscotch in Fremont next weekend?

My guy friends who are reading this are probably cracking up. I can see Jeremy, Ryan, and Steve all saying "well duh. We could have told you beer is good a long time ago." I always just thought I didn't like it. I rediscovered beer at a Mountaineers event a couple of weeks ago. They were out of hard cider, so, in typical Anna fashion, I asked the bartender what he had that was closest to Fat Tire.

"Fat Tire," he responded. Thank God I know how to laugh at myself. This comes in handy on many occasions. He poured me a tall glass of Fat Tire, and I got hooked.

But I digress. This is supposed to be a blog about gardening, yet it really has turned into a blog about life, the universe, and everything.

Yesterday, I put some carrots in the ground, reseeded my chard, and put a few more radishes in as a succession crop. If I haven't added the pictures yet, I will soon. My fava beans are getting pretty tall, and I am wondering how soon they will yield real beans. The peas are reaching for the trellis. They send out small tendrils, searching for the twine. The oregano is growing like crazy, and a ladybug has taken up residence on the plant. I really like ladybugs. Not only do they eat things like aphids, but they're also pretty. The one radish I did not pick for a salad last week has turned into a giant radish. I am planning on pulling it up tonight and putting it on a salad. Although I kind of want to see whether or not radishes act like zucchini and just keep growing.

I met Dr. Doo the Prince of Poo (no joke) at the Woodland Park Zoo today. I picked up my Zoo Doo this afternoon. They still have an amazing pile of compost left. It makes me smile, thinking that what was once elephant poo will be fertilizing my garden. The Zoo Doo program is fantastic. They take poop from all the vegetarian animals and turn it into compost, which they then sell to happy gardeners like myself for incredibly cheap. Believe it or not, there are more gardeners who want the compost than there is compost available! Dr. Doo called me on Monday to let me know that I could buy Zoo Doo this year, and now there are three garbage bags of it sitting in my backyard.

My parents have this great story involving using manure as fertilizer. When they started dating, my mom had a garden. Dad had an old truck, which my brother and I have nicknamed "The Grapes of Wrath." (He still has the truck, but it no longer runs.) Anyway, Mom wanted to grow some zucchini, and thought that cow manure would be the perfect fertilizer. Dad fired up The Grapes of Wrath, and he and mom drove out to Duvall to get some manure from a farmer. The guy put two tractor scoops of manure in the truck's bed. On the way back, they had the windows down, oblivious to the smell. It was a hot day in Seattle, and everyone around them also had their windows down. Dad said that he started to notice, at stop lights, people pinching their noses and rolling up their windows. They drove The Grapes of Wrath all the way to Mom's house in Greenlake. Mom's backyard may have smelled like crap all summer, but she grew some gigantic zucchini!

After my trip to the zoo, I went over to the P-Patch to take out the strawberries, pull up the crops, and put my garden to bed for the next person to use. I felt a little sad. As I wrote in the last post, I'm a terrible quitter. I like to finish what I've started. Yet I could also tell that I was getting in over my head. I need some free time to follow my heart and really step into my next adventures. It's spring, and the mountains I can see from my back window call out to me each day. I need free time to go find something to climb, to find a new trail to love, to get back to nature. And it's a lot easier caring for a garden next to my house.

So now, my little 4x8 raised bed is all I have. But I think it will be plenty. With the addition of the strawberry plants, my raised bed is now full. I hope my landlord doesn't mind all of the containers I am surrounding it with. Giving up the P-Patch all but ensures that I started way too many tomato plants, so if you would like one, let me know. Otherwise, my porch will be covered in tomatoes this summer. Although that's not sounding like such a bad thing right now.

And on that note, it is time for some food! I'll let you know how the big radish tastes. (And guys -- I did, in fact, finish my beer.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Quitting

I am a terrible quitter. I stay on the path I have chosen until it becomes clear that I am unhappy. The path I had chosen for myself should have revealed itself to be the wrong one long ago -- and yet I miss all the warning signs. This is why I am still in graduate school. I thought I could stick it out -- I thought I really wanted to be Dr. Anna and teach sociology at a liberal arts school. And then I found myself wandering around the streets of Dubrovnik, crying. I didn't know when I had started. I realized I needed a change, and I thought that being a professor of Eastern European history would provide the answer. It didn't. I ignored the small voice inside of me whispering, "Teach middle school. That's where you belong." It had been whispering for years. That voice had been telling me what to do since I took high school students to Morocco. But I thought I had to stay on the path I had chosen.

Sometimes I think maybe I'm trying to be too much like my dad. My dad weighs the pros and cons of any major decision before making it. But when I try to do this, inevitably, that little voice pops up and tells me to do what my dad would think illogical. My friend Jessica once referred to me as a "free spirit." I thought "I can't be a free spirit -- I plan too much." Yet I'm starting to realize that she's right.

My Balkan summer taught me that I am a person who is happiest living passionately. I think I've written about this here before -- I throw myself into life without really thinking about the consequences. Rather than test the waters, I go for a swim. I get excited about everything -- new people, new food, plants, and books. I wear my heart on my sleeve -- or, as the Serbs say "my soul on my face," and I know it. When I am unhappy about something, I feel it deeply. I don't sleep. I have to fix whatever it is that is wrong first. But it's funny -- when trying to fix what is wrong, I never think that it's the path I'm on itself. I always think that I just need to tweak a few things, and everything will be fine. Right?

Well, as I have learned in these heady days full of new passions, new beginnings, and renewal, sometimes I need to be a better quitter. I keep reminding myself that it's okay to stop. It's okay to fail. It's never too late to change your mind. Because my "stick-to-it" nature is in conflict with the part of me that craves new adventures, new places, new people, and what is unknown. To me, the known is familiar and comfortable. The unknown is exciting and beautiful. I am in a period of my life where I am about to step into the unknown. I am following a passion for teaching -- the one that has always been there. The one I had been fighting for years.

By this point, you're probably wondering "so what does this have to do with gardening?" I'm getting there, I promise. A week of sleepless nights and worrying over the P-Patch has made me realize that I have to give up my plot. This may sound selfish, but I don't want to be part of a gardening community. I garden in order to spend time alone with plants -- like how Thoreau went to the woods in order to be alone. The solitude of being in my garden, feeling the good dirt under my hands, watching my plants grow and become food -- that's what I want. Gardening, for me, shouldn't involve meetings and planning. I'd rather it be just me, weeding in my raised bed, singing.

So I gave up my plot today. I apologized to everyone. I admitted that I'd taken on too much. I am walking away because I need gardening to be my alone time. And I need time to spend with the communities I'm already a part of -- grad school, volunteering, neighborhood, and The Mountaineers. I need some time to be a free spirit. And in my garden, the mountains, and in my beautiful city -- with old friends and new friends, or alone, I will do what I have always done during these times of transition.

Once again, I will fall in love with the world.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gardening and Baseball -- anything in common?

Before getting into my main topic, guess who just called me? Dr. Doo the Prince of Poo! Now before you think I've gone crazy, let me explain. I sent a postcard to Zoo Doo in March, requesting to be entered into their contest to purchase the high quality compost they make out of the zoo animals' poop. My postcard got drawn, and I can purchase two large cans of Zoo Doo! Awesome. I'll go pick it up on Sunday, if Dad's truck is free. Anyone want to help? :)

Alright, now I can start. Y'all know I love gardening, and since most of you who read this are my friends, most of you probably know that I love baseball. I am a true blue Mariners fan. I have been ever since I was little, when my grandfather took me and my dad to a game at the Kingdome. I remember when the Ms went to the playoffs for the first time in 1995, and jumped ten feet into the air when Edgar Martinez hit that beautiful double down the left-field line, and Junior sprinted from first to home in the bottom of the 9th, Game 5, American League Division Series. I was 13. We ran up and down my block clanging pots and pans, celebrating the victory. I didn't have homework for a week.

When great or bad things happen, I either go to a baseball game, or to the woods. It's where I find solace. My bachelor's thesis was a sociological look at Mariners fans, where I came up with my own theory about how baseball creates a sense of community -- not just among those who are at the game, but also among those who listen and watch at home. I got to interview Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus as part of this project, and I've saved the tape. It was like talking to one of baseball's grandfathers. For me, it was really special. Baseball has been my constant, and has kept me company through my travels, my triumphs, and my losses.

My uncle, who died a little over a year ago, used to save anything with a Mariners logo on it for me. He saved newspaper articles, and really anything he could find for me. He didn't have a lot of money, but every time he was at Value Village or Goodwill, he'd bring home an old Mariners hat, a shirt, or a bobblehead of a traded player. We were very different. He was an alcoholic who lived in a trailer park, and I'm a grad student who travels the world. We didn't have a whole lot we could talk about together, except baseball. My quiet uncle and I could have a lively conversation about players, great plays, and the game the night before. I really miss him.

I'm thinking about the connections between baseball and gardening today because I'm sitting at home, listening to the Mariners home opener. I know that not all the things I love have to be connected, but sometimes I try to figure out if there's a common thread running between different activities and things I enjoy. Could baseball and gardening be connected? And could this also be connected to my love of the Balkans? That last one may be a bit of a stretch, but we'll see.

In Seattle, we start our vegetable gardens at the beginning of Spring Training. When all the players have reported to camp, that's when peas and fava beans go into the ground, in February. Throughout Spring Training in March, I was planting spring veggies. All of these will ripen and be replaced by summer veggies by the end of June, before the All-Star break. The main summer harvest is in September, and as I scramble to harvest, freeze, and can tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini, my Mariners will hopefully be scrambling towards the finish line and a playoff spot. And in October, as the baseball season winds towards a glorious finish, so does my garden. I harvest the last of the veggies and put the garden to bed as a World Series winner is crowned. Hopefully it'll be anyone BUT the Yankees this year.

So the seasons are basically the same. Baseball season is also gardening season. What else?

Well, here's where the Balkan connection may come in. One of the reasons why I travel is to collect stories. I have some great travel stories, many of them involving misadventures. There's nothing I love more than a good book, too. Baseball is all about stories. Dave Niehaus, the Mariners iconic broadcaster, is constantly telling stories. He tells listeners about plays by painting the scene with his voice. He's so good at putting you in the game that people bring Walkmen to Safeco to listen to him. Every baseball fan has a good story, too. Ask any Mariners fan to tell you about 1995, and you'll see.

Gardeners like to tell stories as well. Although our stories are a little different. We tell stories of giant zucchini, good tomato harvests, hunting slugs at midnight, and how we drove off the pesky squirrel stealing strawberries. Get a group of gardeners together and the stories will fly!

That last one might be a little weak, but I thought of one more. Both baseball and gardening involve a lot of thought. Baseball is a thinking person's game. Entire books have been written about the science of baseball. Baseball requires players to make adjustments to different situations. As a fan, it's rare that I zone out during a baseball game. I usually know what's going on, and keep rapt attention on the game in front of me. Gardening is like a giant puzzle. I have to figure out, for example, what my tomatoes with yellowing leaves need. I have to figure out what's eating my plants and how to stop it. Maybe thought's not what I'm getting at -- it's attention. True baseball fans are attentive at the ballpark. True gardeners tend to their gardens well.

That's what I could think of. But maybe baseball and gardening are just different, and I'm reaching to try to make connections. What do you think?

And the score? 1-0 Oakland. Top of the 5th. 2 outs Figgins-to-Wilson-to-Kotchman beautiful double play. May the Mariners be in 1st place in the AL West by the time I'm harvesting tomatoes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Radishes, arugula, and Wallingford moments

You know you've been in the wilderness all day when you're at Hard Rock Cafe for a birthday party, ravenous, thinking "wow, it's really noisy in here." My fatigue from a long day (and from not sleeping well this week) got to me, and I'm home, ensconced in my favorite comfy fleece pants, listening to Rockapella and writing about my plants. I'd be asleep, except one of the neighbors is having a party, and the bass is rattling my windows. Sometimes I don't like living in an old house.

Quick digression. I love Rockapella. There's so much more to them than "Carmen Sandiego" and the Folger's coffee song. I sang in a choir in college, and it's hard to get harmonies as tight as theirs. It's just beautiful music.

My P-Patch is starting to sprout! Hooray! I have little baby kale, lettuce, radishes, and chard! With all the rain, though, my careful labeling of my rows is all for naught. All the pen washed off, so I have no idea what is growing where -- except for the strawberries. I guess I'm going to be surprised once things ripen up!

All of the plants in my raised bed are getting so big! Look at the favas -- they're huge!!! I feel like such a proud gardener. I put some seeds in the ground way back in February, and now I have real, live vegetable plants! I've never grown anything from seed before, so this is awesome.

One set of radishes, as you can see from the picture, is ripe already. Radishes are a nice plant to grow because they tell you when they are ripe. They start poking their little tops out of the ground, saying "Pick me!" I'll eat it in a salad sometime this week.

Now the neighbors appear to have moved from Sublime (I swear they were playing it for the last hour) to something with even more bass. I should counter with Bon Jovi. It will be the epic Wallingford music war.

Speaking of very "Wallingford" moments, I walked into Tweedy & Popp on Friday, and this sentence escaped my lips -- "I need something organic to kill the bugs that are eating my arugula." How Seattle is that? Probably just as Seattle as what I did on Tuesday -- walk around Queen Anne for ten minutes to try to find someone to give my fries to. They gave me free fries at Dicks, and I didn't want them. I couldn't bring myself to throw them away, but it took me ten minutes to find someone to take them!

Anyway, I bought an organic insecticidal soap, and that seems to have done the trick. No more aphids on my arugula. The best part was that the hardware store guy took me to the insecticides, and painstakingly went through the ingredients on all of them with me to make sure I was putting something organic on my plants. Now that's a Seattle moment.

The Garden Hotline got back to me, and the leaves on my tomatoes are yellowing because they likely need more nitrogen. I upped the fish fertilizer in my watering mixture, and that seems to have helped. Except now that corner of the dining room smells strongly of fish goo, and my roommates are probably thinking "that's the last time we let her start tomatoes in here!"

Now my neighbors are distinctly playing "Seven Nation Army." I'm totally going to counter with Bon Jovi, or hair metal, or something else that I'm sure they would find obnoxious. Rockapella at 120 decibels -- bring it on!

I have been listening to Bon Jovi a lot lately. Well, really the Glee cast doing the mashup of "It's
My Life" and Usher's "Confessions." There's a line from the song that just keeps resonating, which is why it has been on repeat. "Better stand tall when they call you out. / Don't bend, don't break, baby don't back down."

I didn't get into Seattle U for teaching. I'm a little bummed, but I was wanting to go to UW Bothell anyway. I was just hoping I would have a choice. I did do a little investigating, and UW Seattle's special ed program lets people in until July 1, if there's space. I'm probably going to put some feelers out and talk to someone about that program this week. I'm volunteering with middle and high school kids with learning disabilities, and I love it. It's a challenge, and I love being able to make a difference. I get to try out new ways of teaching things. It's worth looking at, right? After all, if I can wake up every morning and go do something I love -- well, that's a recipe for a life fulfilled.

And on that note, time for bed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tonight's Dinner...

I did my first ever late-night slug watch tonight! The little bastards like to munch on leafy greens after dark. I didn't find any slugs, but I did find bugs. Some bugs are absolutely decimating my arugula, and a few of them are trying to eat my fava bean leaves, too. The nerve. That's going to be my food!

If anyone knows of a small insect that likes to munch on leafy greens, let me know. It was just the arugula and the favas. It's pretty small, with wings, and looked a bit shiny. Bonus points if you can tell me how to kill it.

Bugs and slugs. The bane of the gardener's existence.

Anyway, as you can see from the pictures, I turned the cute little radishes I grew into a yummy salad. I paired it with one of my favorite dishes, sausage & apples. If you ever have too many apples around, this is a great way to get rid of some of them. The salad is my own recipe. For this one, the ingredients are --

Mizuna salad greens
Trader Joe's Gorgonzola crumbles
Trader Joe's raspberry viniagrette

The radishes have a good flavor. Not too tart, and just spicy enough. I grew French breakfast radishes. It's not quite salad green season up here, but all the veggies came from my CSA, Full Circle Farm. They combine with other farms to give customers more variety. While it's completely local three seasons out of the year, in the winter and early spring, quite a bit of stuff comes from California. Usually I try to pick things that don't grow well in our climate, like oranges, avocados, and lemons.

The recipe for sausage & apples comes from one of my favorite cookbooks. It takes about 40 minutes, start to finish. I highly suggest using Trader Joe's apple chardonnay sausage with this -- it really goes well in this dish.

Sausage and Apples
Adapted from Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Simply in Season

4-6 links sausage
1/2 cup apple juice or apple cider
1/4 cup apple jelly or hot pepper jelly (I leave this out, as I can never find it at the store)
2 tbsps Dijon mustard
1 medium onion
2 tbsps olive oil
3 firm apples
1 teaspoon dried basil (whoops -- so hungry when it was done that I forgot!)
pinch of pepper

Step 1. Brown or pan fry sausage in a little oil, over medium-high heat. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Step 2. Mix together the apple juice, Dijon mustard, and apple jelly in a small bowl while the sausage is cooking.

Step 3. Cut the onion into vertical slices. (I diced it. This is what an empty stomach will do to a chef!). Add to saucepan you used for the sausage. Add the oil. Cook over medium heat until it starts to brown. Add more oil as needed.

Step 4. Cut the apples into thick wedges. Add it to the onion until starting to brown.

Step 5. Stir in the sauce. Add basil and pepper. Return sausages to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until sausages are done -- about 10 minutes.

Prijatno! (Enjoy!)
-- Anna

Desert reflections

I have always loved deserts. I took my first backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park when I was 18, and I think that experience made deserts near and dear to my heart. It was three weeks long, and unforgettable. We spent three days solo by a creek. I used to go out and use my water bottle to bathe every morning, taking delight in how cold the water felt on my skin. At night, coyotes howled at the moon, and I curled up in my sleeping bag trying to count the stars until my eyes grew heavy and the next thing I knew it was morning. I emerged from the desert lean and strong, knowing I would return.

I keep finding my way back to deserts. I spent a whole month with high school students in Morocco. Three weeks of that time, I lived in a remote village in the High Atlas Mountains. Every night before I went to sleep, I heard the call to prayer echo from village to village in the valley below. My host sister, Naima, and I had incredible conversations, aided by three dictionaries. We talked about faith in a mixture of French, Arabic, and Berber -- the language only the two of us knew how to speak.

I fell in love with the desert before I fell in love with plants. And I fell in love with baseball before anything else. I was 13 when my Mariners went to the playoffs for the first time. I jumped 10 feet into the air when Edgar Martinez's beautiful double down the left-field line in the Kingdome sent Junior sprinting from first to home. We'd done the impossible. We'd beaten the Yankees.

So, for me, this desert trip to see some baseball was much needed. Both baseball and the desert are good for my soul. I got the chance to relax, go some places I'd never been, and just recharge. I'm back now, happy and refreshed, ready for the next curve ball life throws at me. Show me what you've got and I'll hit it out of the park.

Guess what I kept taking pictures of -- plants! I decided that Saguaro cacti look like little green bandits, and kept taking pictures of them. Desert plants are so alien to me. In the Northwest, we have so much water that most of our plants are in various shades of green. In the desert, things are spiky, colorful, and poisonous. Desert plants have to protect their precious water.

I saw Joshua Tree N.P. and Saguaro. I didn't find a random butte on which to dance, but I did do a great cactus impression while at a rest stop. And I had the best day ever. On the same day, Felix Hernandez and Jay Buhner signed my baseball; Junior hit a walk-off grand slam; and I hit a double bullseye twice playing darts at the cowboy bar.

That's right -- two Mariner all stars signed my baseball. I'm still a little giddy. I have it sitting in a plastic bag on my bookshelf, awaiting the shrine I'm going to buy for it. I will pass it on to my kids -- unless they become Yankees fans. (I'm convinced my children will become Yankees fans just to spite me.)

I caught up with old friends, and made some new ones, too. I spent a wonderful evening lying on a San Diego beach and drinking margaritas with my friend Ben, whom I see not even once a year. I hung out with Cris and Kerry, whom I hadn't seen since college.

I think I need to take advantage of spring break every year.

Anyway, I came back to find that my tomato starts are quite a bit larger, and that I have ripe radishes! Hooray! I plan on picking some this afternoon to put on my evening salad. Perhaps I will take a picture of them once indoors to show you. They're so cute right now -- little green tops peek out of my garden over the radish's pinkness.

Some of the leaves on my tomato starts are yellowing, and I'm trying to figure out why. Hopefully someone from the Garden Hotline will get back to me soon. I think it might be a nitrogen deficiency. I just started watering them with a weak fish fertilizer, so we'll see if that helps. Some of them look great, and I started too many tomato plants anyway.

I had a great idea for this garden blog, based on something I found in the New York Times. Apparently, some of the most popular photo blogs are based on pictures people take of things they eat. My twist on this is to take pictures of things I make out of my homegrown veggies, so y'all can see the end of the journey -- from seed, to plant, to stomach! What do you think? I promise to pair these photos with recipes, so you can make your own, too.

On another note, when moving stuff around on my bookshelf to make room for my baseball, I found the list of stuff I'd decided I was going to do before I turned 30. I was 25 and living in Serbia when I made this list. My first real serious relationship had ended that summer, and I was reflecting on that when I made my list. You would think I'd remember that as a sad time, but I was just so excited by all of the possibilities that had opened up for me that I remember it as a happy time. I wrote in my journal "Mislim da moj život će biti velika aventura. -- I think that my life will be a grand adventure." So far, this has been true. And I don't think it's going to stop anytime soon.

Finding this list was really cool. There are about 20 things on it, and surprisingly, I've already done most of them. These include things like getting a master's degree, singing on stage again, auditioning for an acapella choir and learning yet another language. But there's still some things left, and I've only got about 20 months to go before the big 3-0 is upon me. I need some help deciding which of these things I want to accomplish. Keep in mind that I'm not made of money, so some of these things may be out of my means for a while. Of the things that aren't too esoteric or philosophical, here's what's left :

Summit Mt. Rainier (Probably involves too much cash to do now)
Learn how to dance
Bike the STP
Hike the Wonderland Trail
Go to Ireland and see my family's estate (I do have many frequent flyer miles)

So what do you think? Which one of these goals should I realistically try to accomplish in the next 20 months? What should my next adventure be?

After finding this list, I realized that I did accomplish the biggest thing I promised myself. I am not living a boring life. Every day is full of the promise of adventure.