Of Wind And The Absence of Power

Gathering Moss

This weekend, howling gusts tore through the Maritime Northwest, tossing branches everywhere and felling trees as well as power lines. Our small island was left largely powerless (many folks still are), a condition that scares some people into fleeing for the City while others fire up generators and fill the quiet air with their roaring racket. Old timers tend to fire up the wood stove instead, with lanterns and camping stoves at the ready. When we first moved here, power outages were commonplace, occurring seemingly at random any time of year and without fail during storms. We quickly learned to bring in armloads of wood, get out candles and oil lamps, and fill tubs with water as soon as the wind picked up (especially after the storm that knocked out power for 11 days in some parts of the island, notably my elderly mother’s apartment complex).

These days, thanks to relentless tree pruning by the power company’s minions, our outages are less common and usually far briefer. However, fierce north winds can still wreak havoc, since southern winds are by far more common. Our trees aren’t used to the change in direction, having built up stronger roots over decades in the face of prevailing winds. All over the island, roads are closed by fallen trees and many a house has been damaged or had near misses as huge trunks fill driveways and yards. Anytime the infrastructure fails, it becomes obvious just how dependent we are on the flow of power to homes and businesses. Our local Prepared teams always get a boost in citizen response after such events, as we recognize how much water and power we use every day and how much harder life can feel when we can’t turn on a tap or flip a switch to get our needs met.

Gathering The Broken

On Sunday I went out for my daily walk when the wind had slowed and soft snowflakes were lazily floating down from scudding clouds that barely blocked the pale winter sun. The roads were littered with fallen branches, most of them thickly embroidered with mosses and lichens and even a few licorice ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza). Much appreciated by First Nations People, these lacy, tree dwelling confections are winter green and summer dormant, with sweet tasting roots that have a decided licorice like flavor. I gathered a handful of the fallen bits and when I got home, made them a cozy nest in a funky old bowl to decorate my doorway. It’s beautiful and it’s also a sorrowful reminder about the state we’re in.

Since Wednesday’s horrific school shooting, I’ve been thinking about broken infrastructure, about power and being powerless, about the fallen and the broken. Our beloved country feels broken to the core, our dearest values tossed aside like towering trees in a raging wind, innocent people stripped of human rights and trodden underfoot. Yet. But. And. I am filled with hope by the passionate uprising of young people, of students who are speaking out and calling shame on the government that is supposed to be safeguarding our people and our democratic values. If teens could vote, Congress and the Senate would look very different very soon. As it is, many people haven’t voted recently because they didn’t see candidates who reflected their values or even bothered to acknowledge what they feel is important about our country.

Rising Up, Everywhere

Thankfully, all across the country, under-represented people are stepping up to run for office, from local councils and school boards to congress and the senate. This year’s elections may well look very different and have very different outcomes from the devastating disasters of the 2016 elections. They certainly will if our kids have their say and their parents and relatives and voting age friends heed their words.

Although I no longer have school aged kids, I’m planning to participate in both of the protest marches now being organized nationally. On March 14, a month from the date of the most recent Florida massacre, the Women’s March organization is calling for students, teachers, and school staff to walk out of school, accompanied by parent, friends, and allies. On April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre will be marked by a second rally, again intended to call attention to the mounting death tolls in schools across the country. Our country. Not other countries. Because other countries don’t have anywhere close to the number of school shooting America experiences, not to mention random murderous shootings in shopping malls, movie theaters, and places of gathering and business. No country on earth has as many mass murderers, as many home grown terrorists, nearly all of whom are white males. Armed with guns they can buy in five minutes at any Walmart.

Study War No More

How do we stop this insanity? Our country is at war with itself and our government is causing unmatched harm to its people and to our land. When the government is out of control, we must vote these irresponsible people out of office. When the great majority of elected government officials are in the pay of gun manufacturers and beholden to the NRA, it seems that the only recourse is to fire them all and start again. I’ve heard arguments that government is a complicated business and an influx of newbies could be very disruptive to business as usual. Well, good. Business as usual is killing our kids and killing our planet. Instead, let’s make sure it’s time for healing democracy, time for peaceful rebuilding of our infrastructures, time for representation for the unheard, the unseen, the ignored and the powerless. See you on the streets on March 14. On April 20. And may we all do all in our power to make our world change for the better on Tuesday, November 6.

 

 

Posted in Health & Wellbeing, Moss, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Restoring Habitat For Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

Pleasing Pollinators And Pals

Last week the first crocus opened at the library, along with snowdrops and a few species daffodils. Despite the chilly air, a few insects were already nuzzling around the bulbs, while the golden blossoms of various Oregon grape forms were busy with bees. I’m hoping this is a good sign, and that this year we’ll see a resurgence of pollinators coming to feed on the plants we offer them. Our offerings are more important that ever, since so much of their natural habitat has been and is still being destroyed. It burns my heart to see a small forest felled to make room for yet another concrete bunker storage facility; beautiful, strong, healthy trees killed so we have someplace to put our excess stuff. Stuff doesn’t clean the air and help maintain that precious oxygen balance in our atmosphere. Those trees did, and our air is impoverished by their death.

So are we, and so are a host of small creatures that lived in those woods. Birds and bats, raccoons and foxes, insects and snakes, slugs and salamanders, all displaced if not killed outright. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of space to house many of these beings. The bad news is that they need a bit of the wild, and any touch of wild is in danger these days. When I work with homeowners, I often hear that they want to welcome birds and nurture bees, yet the first thing they want to get rid of is the messy tangle of blackberries and salal, huckleberries and wild roses that so often edge the property. Even when I point out that such tangles are home and buffet for the very creatures they want to welcome, it’s clear that many folks can’t live with that lack of controlled appearance. Leaving some wild can be a hard sell, since our ideas about tidiness can be deeply rooted. Thus, it’s hugely important to equally deeply consider why we may think that the appearance of control is more important than a healthy, intact habitat environment.

Meadow Makeover

I’ve recently visited several large properties where owners don’t want to mow existing big lawns and do want to offer more support to native pollinators. One very effective alternative is a pollinator meadow, woven with annuals, perennials, bulbs, and grasses as well as some native shrubs. As with any sustainable landscape, the overall success of a pollinator meadow depends on good prep, appropriate plant selection and planting, and consistent (if quite low) maintenance. Success also relies on the owner’s tolerance for that touch of the wild that means life for small life forms.

Meadows are not lawns and it can take time to adjust our eyes to see the natural beauties of plants through the year. If this sounds like the dog’s breakfast, a look at the pioneering work of Piet Oudolf, a renowned Dutch garden designer, can help train our eyes and teach us to value form and texture as much as color.

Here’s a link about Piet’s work in New York City:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shy6DxVE2Oo

And a longer clip on his five season gardens:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6GPNuDAHj4

Step By Step

Piet works with a fabulous palette of plants that live and die with grace. If we want to support all kinds of pollinators, many of the plants Piet uses will work, since they will attract European honeybees as well as the less selective native pollinators. Selective native pollinators can’t appreciate such a variety, but a base of natives amplified with selected introduced perennials may prove the most pleasing to people and pollinators alike. Start by researching the natives that flourish in your area, particularly in the kind of setting you have to offer. Native plant societies, the Department of Natural Resources, the Xerces Society, and independent nurseries are good places to look for appropriate plants. You’ll also gain new appreciation for certain plants that may already be in place, such as stinging nettles and wandering wild roses, which tend to look straggly but support many small beings.

Once you know what you want to grow, prep the soil. Where existing lawns are thin and mossy to start with, the scanty grass is easily overwhelmed by the addition of natives that thrive in such settings. In such settings, we can remove strips of existing turf by cutting and rolling up the sods, which can be stacked green sides together, then root sides together. Top the resulting mound with root side up turf, then cover it with a tarp or deep wood chip mulch; in a few seasons, it will rot down into lovely soil. Where tall, grassy meadows are already established, planting can be more challenging, since grasses that get head high in midsummer will in turn overwhelm small native starts. Here your best choices are either to smother the grasses with deep wood chip mulches (12-18 inches or more) or till up the turf and rake out as much root mass as possible before planting anything new. Remember that you don’t have to do all the work at once; you can implement your plan is stages over several or many years, assisting the transition by careful weeding and invasive plant removal three or four times each year.

What To Grow

Where lawn will transition to meadow, consider planting some of the native milkweeds, which will be manna for Monarch butterflies (Asclepias incarnata, A. speciosa, A. syriaca, A. tuberosa). Skippers feast on checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora), mountain avens (Geum macrophylla), and Phalaris arundinacea Feesey’s Variety. Our native bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) fosters Swallowtails and Parnassians, as does Ceanothus sanguineus, purple willow (Salix purpurea Nana), Heraclum lanatum and its garden counterpart, Angelica gigas. Coppers, Hairstreaks and Blues love ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor, one of my personal favorites), as well as redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and sweet peas (Lathyrus latifoilus). Native hardhack (Spirea douglasii), S. betulifolia and S. densiflora are important fodder and nectar plants for numerous native butterflies. If you grow hops near the meadow, it will also be highly popular.

Grasses appreciated by native butterflies include golden oats (Stipa gigantea) and Mexican feather grass (S. tenuissima), which can provide nesting material for many other critters as well. Globe thistles (Echinops ritro) are a favorite of Painted Ladies, while Spangled Fritillaries prefer to feast and nest on violets (Viola glabella). Quite often, native pollinators will happily visit cousins of their preferred native plants, so you may see the same bees and other insects on blueberries and huckleberries, various willows and ceanothus species, and many kinds of thistles. Herbs seem to attract the wisest range of pollinators, from rosemary and sage to thyme and oregano. Seed savers will find that flowering kale and lettuce, beans and peas, radishes and beets are also heavily visited, usually resulting in excellent seed setting. Onward!

Posted in Annual Color, Early Crops, Easy Care Perennials, Garden Prep, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Planting & Transplanting, Pollinators, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lovely (Vegan) Lasagna

Magic Ingredients

My family recently celebrated the second birthday of my delightful granddaughter, who requested a kitty party (face paint, costumes games) with a huge shark pinata (cats eat fish right?). After the fish course was dealt with (whack!), folks feasted on a couple of lasagnas, one traditional (more or less) and one dairy free. I also made a smaller vegan version just to see how well my various tweaks worked. It’s definitely one I’ll make again, and I offer you the recipe, since I find a lot of vegan recipes to be either disappointing or too heavily reliant on processed non-foods. Just saying…

Plump, cushiony layers of roasted vegetables alternate with rich, velvety sauce and tender noodles in this lush vegan adaptation of the Italian classic comfort food. Like any lasagna recipe, this one may initially seem dauntingly involved, but actually assembling this vegan version doesn’t take very long once the various layer ingredients are made. You can make the Not Cheese Sauce while the vegetables roast, and if you made a pleasing sea salt blend last year (when I offered several versions), that bit’s already done. And of course, you can always use any salt you prefer, seasoned or not.

Building Blocks

Start to finish, this recipe took about an hour to be oven-ready, though it needs a night in the fridge before baking it off. Next day, allow about an hour for baking the lasagna, while you make a salad, set the table, and enjoy a glass of whatever you choose. If it’s easier for you, make each layering ingredient and set them aside until you’re ready to put it all together. Personally, I like to work on several things at once, starting the Not Cheese Sauce while the vegetables roast and steaming the spinach whenever there’s a few idle minutes. I always use the no-boil noodles these days (they’re actually more similar to home made ones than the frilly edged kind), but if you prefer to boil up the big ones, you can do that ahead as well and spread them on cooling racks until needed. Ready? Here goes!

Not So Cheesy Sauce

This thick, almost gloopy sauce puts me in mind of those slightly plastic-like jarred nacho cheese sauces but tastes a lot better. You can definitely dip corn chips into it, spoon it over roasted vegetables, pasta or rice, or use it in vegan mac-and-not-cheese, which tastes wonderful and qualifies as a genuine comfort food. It’s gluten free, nut free and soy free too (if you omit the miso paste), for those who need to pay attention to these ingredients. Adjust the flavor freely; avocado oil has a rich, buttery flavor, nutritional yeast adds a salty, cheesy, nutty quality, lemon juice and vinegar lighten the density, mustard gives it the tang of aged cheese, and a little miso paste (soy alert!) adds mystery and extra umami depth (thanks, Leda!).

Vegan Not Cheese Sauce

3 cups chopped yellow skinned potato (peeled)
1-1/2 cup chopped carrots (peeled)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons avocado oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1-2 teaspoons yellow miso paste (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup flaked nutritional yeast
freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine potatoes, carrots, and garlic with water just to cover, add a little salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer until fork tender (12-15 minutes), then drain, reserving cooking liquid. Let vegetables cool for 10 minutes, then combine in a food processor with the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, miso paste (if using) and mustard and puree until smooth. Blend in nutritional yeast to taste, adding cooking water as needed to make a thick, pourable sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate in tightly sealed glass container for up to 3 days. Makes about 5 cups sauce.

Roasted Vegetables

You can use any assortment of roasted veggies you like, but keep them separate to emphasize the differences in flavor and texture. I like to cut some of the cauliflower extra finely and use it for extra crispy topping on baked dishes (or a great soup garnish).

Oven Roasted Cauliflower & Company

1 large head cauliflower
1 large sweet potato
2 large Portobello mushroom caps
3 tablespoons avocado oil
1/4 teaspoon lemon garlic sea salt (or any)

Oil three rimmed baking sheets and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut cauliflower head into small florets, chop stems. Cut about 2 cups of cauliflower smaller than the rest, set aside. Peel and chop sweet potato into roughly 1-inch pieces. Slice mushroom caps thickly (1/2 inch strips). Put each vegetable on its own pan, drizzle with avocado oil and gently toss to coat, spread in an even single layer and lightly sprinkle with salt. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes for the sweet potatoes and mushrooms and 30-35 minutes for the cauliflower. Gently toss with a flat spatula, season to taste with salt and let cool on the baking sheets.

Taken With A Tad Of Salt

Pretty much any and all roasted vegetables taste even more delicious when sprinkled with this lavish sea salt blend. It’s super easy to make and can be tweaked endlessly with your preferred herbs, or made just with garlic. Or garlic and lemon. Or garlic and rosemary. All can transform simple soups, scrambled eggs, rice or pasta into a tantalizingly savory dish. However, you can also just use the nicest salt you have on hand.

Italian Rosemary, Lemon And Garlic Sea Salt

1/3 cup chopped garlic cloves
1/4 cup stemmed and chopped rosemary
Grated zest of 2 organic lemons
2 cups medium flake sea salt

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. In a food processor, grind garlic, rosemary, and lemon zest with 2 tablespoons salt for 20-30 seconds (garlic should be well ground). Add remaining salt and process a few seconds until colored bits are evenly distributed. Don’t wash the food processor yet. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 225 F until slightly crispy (15-20 minutes). Very briefly run the crunchy bits in the food processor until evenly blended, then spoon into small glass herb jars with tightly sealing lids or store in a tightly sealed glass jar. Makes about 2 cups and keeps indefinitely.

Vegan Lasagna

1 quart pasta sauce (roasted garlic or your favorite)
1 box no-bake lasagna noodles
1 batch Not Cheese Sauce
1 batch Oven Roasted Cauliflower & Company
1 bunch spinach, chopped and steamed for 3 minutes

Pour 1 cup of pasta sauce into a large baking dish (13 x 9 or so) and shake to coat evenly. Add a single layer of noodles and the sweet potatoes. Top with 1 cup Not Cheese Sauce and another layer of noodles (they need not touch). Spread on 2 cups pasta sauce and the spinach, then top with the mushrooms and remaining pasta sauce. Gently press on another layer of noodles and the cauliflower, reserving the smaller extra crispy bits for topping. Add 1 cup of Not Cheese Sauce and more noodles, then spread the remaining Not Cheese Sauce evenly and top with crispy cauliflower bits. Refrigerate, covered overnight or up to 2 days. Bake at 350 degrees F until lightly browned and bubbly (about an hour). Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8-10.

 

 

 

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Being Prepared: Food Security

Backyard Bounty For Family, Friends, Foodbanks

As the rains come down and average temperatures rise, our paper garden lists are shifting to what-to-plant-this-week lists. Cold hardy greens are my usual first crops, but I’m also considering crops that pack a nutritional wallop. Why? Here in the Maritime Northwest, awareness has been building around several possible scenarios that could result in communities getting cut off from our usual support systems. Earthquake, anyone? Tsunami for afters? Mudslides, rivers flooding, volcanoes erupting…sounds like a second string action film, but local governments, especially along the coast, are asking citizens to get ready for The Big One, in whatever form it may take.

Seriously? The political scene isn’t enough to keep us on red alert? Well, yes. Seriously. Here on my home island, Preparedness teams are coming together to help teach folks how to take care of themselves when the need arises. I’ve been asked to join a team that focusses on food security, since it’s pretty clear that 24,000 people will still need to eat even if the many daily trailer trucks can’t get to our grocery stores. We’re looking at local open space that could become viable farmland, but we’re also looking into high-yield food production techniques that anyone with a backyard can adopt. Like what? Well, for starters, there’s French Intensive, with it’s focus on double-depth digging (one time only), and Biodynamic French Intensive, which seeks to create closed cycles of soil nutrient use/replenishment. Both an be emulated with less soil disturbance by making mounded or raised beds that combine native soils with mature composts. In very limited spaces, boxed beds filled with excellent and frequently replenished soils can be nearly as efficient even on a small scale.

Biggest Nutritional Bang For Your Energy Buck

Fortunately many people have been exploring ways to step subsistence farming up a notch or six. Worried about overdoing it? There’s really no downside to growing abundance: whatever your family can’t eat can be passed on to friends and food banks. Most practitioners start by growing as wide a range as possible of foods with the highest ratios of nutrient/acreage. For home gardeners, this mainly means growing lots of varieties of beans and potatoes, traditional subsistence crops that have served many cultures well for millennia. Next come hardy leafy greens, from kale and cabbage to winter hardy lettuces and Asian greens. Along bed edges, we can insert storage onions, garlic, and leeks, along with clumps of perennial chives and other hardy herbs. Not so different from what we might grow anyway, but the quantities might be significantly greater and we might choose more long keepers over fleeting treats. We can also “grow the rainbow”, since the most colorful forms of anything edible are generally the most nutritionally rich.

We might also pay a lot more attention to selecting OP varieties. OP stands for Open Pollinated, which means that seed strains have been grown long enough to stabilize and you can save and sow the seed yourself with a reasonable expectation of raising crops that look and taste the same as their parents. Seed saving also involves selecting a few of the best plants and allowing them to go to seed, then collecting and preserving that ripe seed for another year. That’s important, as it’s tempting to save seed from less desirable plants but logically, that will lead to weakening the stock. Pollinator friendly flowers and herbs are just as important to food security as the main crops themselves, of course, and room must be found for these (again, along bed edges and ends are great spots).

Try Tastier Tubers

Introduced to Europe nearly 500 years ago, plain old potatoes quickly became staples for the peasantry. Eventually the rural poor became so dependent on them that when late blight wiped out Ireland’s potatoes in the mid nineteenth century, thousands starved and thousands more emigrated to the New World. The first disease-resistant potatoes were bred to be good commercial crops, bland long keepers that stored and shipped well. These days, truly tasty potatoes like Yukon Gold and German Butterball are game changers, followed by dozens of heritage varieties and new hybrids that combine pleasingly complex flavors with disease resistance and good keeping qualities.

Relative newcomer Yukon Gold is already popular, thanks to lovely color and rich taste. Waxy, firm-textured fingerlings are top picks for potato salads, from Pink Fir to Peruvian Purple. Rounded, oblong Carola potatoes are widely considered to be the perfect potato, an excellent keeper that’s equally good for baking, boiling, frying, mashing, or salads. Late season German Butterballs are ideal for baking, boiling, or mashing, while Russet Burbanks are still the best for hash brown and fries. Heritage Yellow Finn fingerlings are excellent roasted, mashed, or in salads as are pink skinned, rosy fleshed Blossom fingerlings. Blue-skinned Caribe and pink-tinted Mountain Rose are excellent early potatoes, while dusky Purple Majesty potatoes combine satisfying, buttery flavor with excellent texture. A foodie favorite, Ozette potatoes are lumpy little fingerlings with an earthy, nut-like flavor. They were brought to the maritime Northwest by Peruvian Jesuits in the late 1700s, and though the rain soon drove the missionaries away, the Makah people continue to grow the delicious potatoes they left behind.

No crop offers as much protein per plot as beans, and there are dozens of heritage types to try. Small, tender and mild in flavor, Adzuki beans are often used in Asian sweets as well as soups and teas. Anasazis are heritage, all purpose, easily digested beans with few gassy compounds. Small, firm Black Turtle beans are popular in Central American, Cajun, Creole, and Spanish cuisines. Italian Cannellini are a type of White Kidney bean often used in soups, chili, and for baking with ham or bacon. Big, tender Christmas Lima beans have distinctive red markings and a bold, nut-like flavor that’s perfect with pasta and cheese. Plump and speckled Cranberry beans are widely used in Italian, Greek, Turkish, and South American cuisines, while Dutch Browns are equally good eaten fresh or dried in soups and casseroles.

Now Try Something Yummy

Parmesan Potato Muffins

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup milk
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 cups coarsely grated yellow potatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a muffin tin. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, stir in flour and salt to make a roux, then stir in milk. When thick, add cheese and potatoes, spoon into muffin cups and bake until tender (30-35 minutes). Makes 12

French White Bean Salad

2 cups cooked white beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
1 cup thinly sliced artichoke hearts (packed in oil)
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons capers, drained

Combine all ingredients, toss gently and serve. Serves 2-4.

 

 

Posted in Early Crops, Health & Wellbeing, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments