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February 2011

To be a laboratory

Parking lot palm bed 2.25
We cannot change the culture in which we live except - as Gandhi once suggested - by being the change we want to see happen. So the only way to go forward is to look at ourselves, at our needs, at what it is to be a human being; to work out, for ourselves, the optimum way to live, to live in health, harmony, and accord with other creatures in the web of life. Each of us has to be an inventor, a creator, a discoverer of the right way for human to live. Thus each of our lives become a laboratory for a new experiment. Once you begin to see it this way, you realize just what an exciting project it is... We are pioneers - together you and I - and many, many others who are traveling in the same direction. 

- Marian Van Eyk McCain

[Parking lot garden - phase 2, part 1: Clearing out the weeds while keeping the soil off the sidewalk]

Warm up a little salad

Oranges february 2
One of the inconveniences of our climate is that some of the things that are so refreshing in the heat – lettuce and citrus for example – grow best here in the cool winter. I still love them, and I think we may be in particular need of their nutrients when our bodies are stressed by the cold. But I'm just not in the mood for them when it's 55 degrees in the house. I want soup or a slow-baked casserole that will heat up the kitchen as well as my body.

While we normally eat both these things uncooked, the can be prepared in a way that preserves their overall fresh feel but is a little warming as well.


5 or six oranges, peeled, seeded and sectioned
1 orange sqeezed
¼ cup dried cherries, cranberries or raisins*
¼ cup chopped pecans*
¼ cup coconut*

*These last three ingredients are optional. I happened to have them leftover from winter holiday baking - and they did make it pretty and a little more hearty.

Place ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately. Add chopped pecans,dried fruit, and coconut if you would like. If oranges are not very sweet, you may need to sprinkle with a little sugar as well if you are serving as dessert.


I remember my mom making this when my sister and I were little and my father was out of town. We ate things like spam, fried bologna, fish sticks or frozen pot pies for those rare father-less meals. We loved it!  It was only later that I could imagine the pressure my mother was under to prepare a substantial meal for her hard-working partner, and how these days might have been a break for her from that routine. My mom said her own father used to make it for her when she was little.  I wonder if this one "Yankee" in my family tree had a similar desire to eat salad with a little warmth to it. He, like my mother, made it by frying bacon and using the bacon grease as the "oil" in very warm vinaigrette mixed right in the skillet.  After all these years, I remember it as being incredibly delicious. Here's my vegetarian version:

2 heads (or bags) of lettuce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1teaspoon salt – or to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
one large sweet onion, chopped

Wash and dry lettuce and place in salad bowl Shake rice vinegar and salt and sugar together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid Heat olive oil in a skillet and add chopped onion. Sauté till crisp – between 1 and 3 minutes. Add vinegar mixture and stir around, scraping up the crispy onions into the liquid mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat, then pour mixture over the lettuce and toss.

Lettuce february
[above - our midwinter fridge . . . below - February lettuce] 

The wisdom of no escape

Robin blogsize warren
There is a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects, and animals, and birds. All of us are the same. 

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring if the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness or prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier, or wall, or fearful thing. 

Pema Chodron 

[PHOTO: Robins are traveling through - and sandhill cranes are gathering and going; it's February. Lovely photo by my friend, Warren Nielsen]

Chocolate - Goat Cheese Brownies - some gloomy weather decadence

Chocolate and goat cheese brownie 2
The forecast is for sunshine, and I am still hoping. Meanwhile, it's chilly outside - and in. It's one of those days when I want to fire up the oven and be comforted. 

The recipe card has a yellowed newspaper clipping glued to it. It's "'Best' Chocoloate Brownies" from the Lake City Reporter, winter of 1982. I remember well those days as a new mother - nursing, and perpetually starving - scanning the newspaper for help. Thank you, old newspaper clipping, for coming through again. 

The last time I made these, I added a layer of (local) goat cheese which made "best" even better I think.

"Best" Chocolate Brownies, 2011 version

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 (1-oz) semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled (this century, I used Dagoba organic, unsweetened, dark baking chocolate)
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the goat cheese filling:
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
one egg


Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs. Beat till blended. Blend in melted chocolate. Stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder and add to chocolate mixute. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans, then vanilla. 

In a smaller ball mix together goat cheese, powdered sugar and egg.

Spread half of brownie mixture over bottom of the pan. Then spread the cheese mixture over it. Finally, add the second half of the brownie mixture over the cheese. It's not easy to spread at this point, so I glop it by spoonfuls and spread it with my fingers. It's fine if some of the cheese mixture is showing through. 

Bake at 350, setting timer for 20 minutes (mine usually takes longer in my oven). 

Snuggle up with your brownie and a cup of tea (and your baby if you've got one) and indulge.

Rutabaga Oven-Fries

Rutabaga fries
What to do with a rutabaga? Or many rutabagas? Most recipes encourage using them like potatoes - mashed or baked, but we though they might go over better with our guests as "fries." We peeled them, sliced them, and cut them into french fry-style strips. After tossing them with olive oil and kosher salt, we baked them at 450 degrees in a single layer on a baking steet for about 15 minutes, turning over with a spatula halfway through. They looked a lot like french fries, but with a slight turnip-y texture, and some extra sweetness. We served them "homemade Ranch dressing" (equal parts mayo and sour cream with garlic salt and onion powder to taste - and a little parsley). There were lots of requests for seconds! 

[For another way to use rutabagas, substitute them for the beets in this recipe.]

If we will have the wisdom to survive...

from Wendell Berry –

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
To stand like slow growing trees on a ruined place,
Renewing, enriching it,
If we will make our seasons welcome here,
Asking not too much of earth or heaven,
Then a long time after we are dead
The lives our lives prepare will live here,
Their houses strongly placed upon the valley sides,
Fields and gardens rich in the windows.

The river will run clear as we never know it,
And over it the birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be green meadows,
Stock bells in noon shade.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down the old forest,
An old forest will stand, its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground.
They will take nothing out of the ground they will not return.
Whatever the grief at parting,
Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove,
And memory will grow into legend,
Legend into song, song into sacrament.

The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds,
Will be health and wisdom and indwelling light.

This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.

Creamy Coleslaw

This was delicious yesterday with Collard Green Frittata, sliced oranges, and fresh bread. We grow a variety of cabbages in our region - and some beautiful, colorful carrots; they all work. We used a combination of green and purple cabbage and orange, purple, red, and yellow carrots. Unfortunately, it's been raining all week here (could be worse, I know), and too dark to take a good photo!


1 cabbage, very finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely shredded
3/4 cup mayo
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons grated, sweet onion
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery seed
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the carrots and cabbage in a large bowl. Whisk together the other ingredients and then add to vegetables.

Yay! It's [Corporate] Snack Food Month! (Lemon Bars instead)

Apparently, snack food consumption is down in February, and the "Snack Food Association" is doing something about it! I don't think most people pay attention to these things anyway, but it does have a contrary effect on me. I just want to do the opposite - no snacking! no ready-made junk food!  There are so many good things out there to grow, prepare, and enjoy together. 


We're pretty good about this as a household, but  sometimes the desire to pop a treat into a lunchbox at the last minute or to eat something sweet without going to any more trouble than tearing open a bag overwhelms. Not having it in the pantry in the first place helps a lot. 

When the urge strikes, we have to at least pause and consider whether we have the raw ingredients and enough time to fulfill it. We did last night. We had a drawer full of gift lemons (large, Florida-type) that needed juicing and the basic ingredients needed to make old-fashioned lemon bars. These don't have any more nutrients than a box of Oreos or a bag of Cheetos - but they fun to make and a lot tastier. In fact, they truly melt in your mouth...


Short Bread Crust:
1/2 cup sweet butter, room temperature (or grated)
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
a pinch of cinnamon

Grease an 8 inch square pan with butter and line with parchment (a roll of parchment is definitely worth its cost if you bake often).
Preheat oven to 350 degree F.

For the Crust: Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon forming a light dough. Press dough into greased pan and bake for about 15 minutes, should be light brown. Remove from oven and cool in pan.

Lemon Filling:
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
2 eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice 
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest 
2 Tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

For the Lemon Filling: Mix with a wire whisk the sugar, flour, salt, and eggs until dissolved. Add fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla just until combined. Do not over mix or too much air will affect filling. Pour the filling over the cooled shortbread crust and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the filling is set. 

Remove from oven and cool. After cooling at room temperature, refrigerate. To serve, cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar. Chill lemon squares until ready to serve.