Kitchen Garden

Long June Days

Wildflowers on the state park trail June 7, 2022.

We have been blessed with some perfect June days. Temperatures have been moderate and when it rained, it was the gentle kind that nourishes everything it touches. We can’t get enough of these long, beautiful days.

The garden is producing an amazing amount of greens: arugula, spinach, chard, collards, kale, mustard, turnip, lettuce and others. The season is only just beginning.

I’m halfway through the garlic scape harvest. Everything planted the last few weeks has taken and the greenhouse is emptying. There is weeding to do, a lot of it. At the same time there is a brief caesura. I can breathe.

We need these long, June days.

Living in Society

Iowans Need a Voice not a Parrot

Woman Writing Letter

It’s time to elect a Democrat in the First Congressional District, one that will listen to voters after arriving in Washington. That person is Democrat Christina Bohannan.

With the close election of Nov. 3, 2020, decided April 1, 2021 when Rita Hart withdrew her contest from the House Committee on Administration, Mariannette Miller-Meeks had a choice. Either address the concerns of a divided electorate much as Representatives Jim Leach and Dave Loebsack did before her or do something else. What she did was unexpected and unwelcome.

Almost immediately the congresswoman became a parrot for Republican talking points, adopting an “all of the above” energy strategy developed by the oil, coal and gas industries. Society must stop using fossil fuels. This policy is bad for her constituents.

NOAA recently noted carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere hit 421 ppm and continues to increase — more than 50 percent higher than pre-industrial times, a level not seen since millions of years ago.

Miller-Meeks’ junket to COP 26 with the Republican Climate Caucus resulted in her parroting the “all of the above” energy strategy including development of more fossil fuel capacity. Since Russian fuel exports were sanctioned in its war with Ukraine, Miller-Meeks doubled down on this misguided policy.

Voters need a voice in Washington, not a parrot of right-wing talking points. Miller-Meeks works for us, not the fossil fuel industry. She had her chance. It’s time to elect Christina Bohannan on Nov. 8.

~ First published in The Little Village on June 7, 2022.

Living in Society

Election Returns Tonight

Solon baseball field.

Today’s task is to find something useful to do while waiting for primary election returns after 8 p.m. tonight. There are a number of results-watching gatherings around the county. I don’t like driving after dark, so it will be me at my computer staying up past my bedtime.

The county has a number of contested races with key legislators Mary Mascher, Joe Bolkcom, and Christina Bohannan deciding to leave the legislature at the end of this term. Usually, these have been secure seats where there was no contest, and re-election assured. Change is in the future of the Johnson County delegation to the legislature.

I’m also interested in Linn County’s races, particularly the Molly Donahue-Austin Frerick Iowa Senate Race. I favor Donahue. I would also like to see Liz Bennett win her state senate primary over Joe Zahorik. The rest of the contests are less interesting yet important to follow. Based on who filed in which district, it seems unlikely Democrats will gain control of either chamber of the legislature this cycle.

In my precinct, the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State, and County Supervisor primaries are the only contested races. Our precinct has been losing Democrats over the past ten years, so I’m interested in how we turn out and vote because I’m not sure how our state legislative electorate will evolve. Losing Cedar County and gaining Iowa County will no doubt make it more conservative overall. I’m watching the Republican race to challenge Elle Wyant, although it seems a foregone conclusion Brad Sherman will win among the six candidates.

The weather is forecast to be mild so I’ll work in the garden. I’m also writing a letter to the editor due to be submitted and published after the primary. There is plenty to do as we await the results. I’ll have more to say after the winners are known.

Living in Society

Last Primary Rally

Michael Franken Rally at Lower City Park, Iowa City, Iowa on June 5, 2022.

When asked, most attendees at the Michael Franken for U.S. Senate River-to-River rally in Iowa City raised their hands to indicate they had voted early in the June 7 Democratic Primary election. In Johnson County, we like voting early. The River-to-River rallies may be the final hurrah for Franken, although the election is a jump ball between him and Abby Finkenauer. If he wins, he’s ready for the general election campaign. If he doesn’t… well, let’s not talk about that.

It’s an insular crowd in the county seat. When a friend introduced me as a member of the central committee, a woman said she didn’t know all the candidates on the ballot and the Democratic Party should do more to get the word out. I said I would raise the issue at the July meeting, She went to the farmers market to meet candidates. Some of them weren’t there when she was, and she was surprised when their names appeared on the absentee ballot. I suggested doing what I did: look at the sample ballot when published and research the ones where more information was needed. The farmer’s market is not where most county residents go to learn about candidates, I said. She didn’t believe there were any significant number of voters outside Iowa City and everyone should be able to find out about candidates at the farmers market. It takes all kinds to make a Democratic Party.

Present at the rally were political friends made during the run up to the 2008 Iowa Caucus when Democrats fielded eight major candidates and activists got to meet them all if they wanted. I worked Sunday’s rally crowd as time allowed. There were so many with whom to discuss politics and the pent up social longing created by the coronavirus pandemic. It was a picture-perfect day for it.

I’ll support the Democrat who wins the primary election in the general. I’ve had enough face time with Franken to have my issues addressed and some of them incorporated into his stump speech. It is hard to predict what Iowa Democrats will do on Tuesday, yet I’m hoping they pick Michael Franken for U.S. Senate.

Kitchen Garden

Spring Seasoning

Herbs, spices, seeds, and flavorings arranged on the counter.

When the world seems to be falling apart on a path toward chaos, then oblivion, we draw into family. My spouse and I set a meeting to go through herbs, spices, flavorings, extracts, sweeteners and seeds. That’s right! We put it on our calendars and everything. I baked a vegan rhubarb-applesauce cake before we began and that helped us along.

We both use the kitchen and things had gotten out of control. We were determined to remedy that. It turned into a two-day project during which we learned something about ourselves.

There were so many items tucked away in multiple places, just collecting them in one place was a major project. A few found their way from Indiana to Iowa in 1993 when we moved to Big Grove. Others migrated from our child’s kitchen in Colorado ten years ago. I had two shelves in the pantry where I crammed jars and bottles since I built the shelves. Over the stove, in the cupboard, in the turnabout, stuff was everywhere. We truly had no idea what we had in case a recipe called for something.

We set no firm time-line for disposition. If the item was unique, or we hadn’t used it in a while, we were more likely to keep it for potential use. There were a number of containers with no expiration date. There were also those I grew in the garden or foraged. We tended to dispose of bottles with a best by date of 2009 or earlier when it had one. The oldest was dated 2002. It was not an absolute rule. What mattered more was the aroma of each bottle gauged against future use. At the end of the first day, I had a five-gallon bucket full of discarded herbs, spices and flavorings for compost. The compost pile will be fragrant in a different way for a while.

This seemed like a bigger project than it should have been yet it is only the beginning of downsizing the number of possessions in our household. The project created many different interactions between us and the end result was positive. Practice makes perfect, they say.

Organization might help us maintain a grip on what’s in the pantry so our meals can be better for the knowledge. It was a positive way to spend an afternoon. There is plenty of negativity away from our little enclave. We were able to avoid it for a while. The fresh cake helped.

Home Life

Reading Today

State Park Trail.

Gentle rain suppressed my desire to attend the Amana free-will donation fire fighters breakfast this morning. It is part of my project to get to know Iowa County, which became part of my state house district and will remain so for the next ten years. It was a solitary endeavor and therefore easy to delay until next year. Now that the garden is in, we can use the rain.

I have indoor projects requiring attention, more than I care to admit. A main one is to develop a reading plan for the rest of summer. I closed May re-reading The Great Gatsby, a Memorial Day weekend favorite. Today I hit something of a wall.The books on my to-read shelves seem a tedious chore. Where did my reading mojo go?

Maybe I need a break. My program to read at least 25 pages of a book each day has been good and I look forward to resuming progress. During a break, I need to take stock of what I’m reading and figure out what I need to read. This post is toward that end.

Some dynamics are at work in my reading life. I have been a book buyer since I had an income as a grader. I have been a keeper as well. As a result, I have a large home library which contains as many unread books as those I read. My buying slowed in recent years, yet there is plenty to read a step or two away from my desk. I also bought books with a vague notion of building collections around a topic. For example, I have eight books about Iowa authors and the University of Iowa Writers ‘ Workshop. It is a collection waiting to be read when the spirit moves me.

Research for my autobiography set me on a path to read books to understand the background against which I was born, educated, worked and lived. This year, The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the Founding of the Quad Cities by Regena Trant Schantz is an example. I bought it soon after publication and read it during the time I wrote about the 1950s in Davenport. It was a useful reference about a story that had not been adequately told until Schantz wrote her book. There will be others on my list like this.

I don’t write much poetry yet I read it each year to gain exposure to how other express themselves. I read Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver this year and am looking for my next book of verse. Over the years, I built a large collection of unread poetry, bought mostly at thrift stores and used bookstores. There is plenty from which to choose without leaving the house.

Books about writing are a mixed bag. I have a shelf of them and once or twice a year I read someone different. I have yet to read one this year, so I’ll pick one.

A lot of my time is spent talking to people in person or online. I get book recommendations frequently. Sometimes they work out and sometimes not. It tends to stretch my understanding of what is worth reading. If left to my own devices, I would read and re-read the works of William Carlos Williams, Saul Bellow, Joan Didion, John Irving, Vance Bourjaily and David Rhodes over and over and over again in an unending loop. Recommendations are important to maintaining an active mind.

I have an appetite for good fiction and read a couple books per year in this category. The most recent is The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. With Gatsby, they are the only two fiction books read this year. Perhaps another is in order for the summer. Whatever summer fiction I read, I don’t want it to be too much work.

Finally, there are cooking books. These serve the endless quest to determine new dishes for our kitchen garden. I’m at the point as a home cook where I don’t consult with recipes very much. I know the range of ingredients and techniques and fit them into meeting the needs of ovolacto-vegetarian me and my vegan spouse. One of my projects is to build a cookbook shelving unit for the kitchen-dining room and reduce the number of cookbooks to what will fit on it. That’s a project for winter, though, so I’m still exploring.

With that in mind, here is my draft of a summer reading list:

  • Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking by Anthony Bourdain.
  • The Groveland Four: The Sad Saga of a Legal Lynching by Gary Corsair.
  • Seven Sinners of Shiloh and other Poems by Franklin Walker.
  • The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How to Restore Its Greatness by Thom Hartmann.
  • Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy by Matt Stoller.
  • The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose 1978 – 1987 by Seamus Heaney.
  • Sarajevo: An Anthology for Bosnian Relief edited by John Babbitt, Carolyn Feucht and Andie Stabler.
  • From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction by Forrest A. Nabors.
  • Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken.
  • Siberian Dream by Irina Pantaeva.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Wish me luck and/or comment with your recommendations.

Kitchen Garden

2022 Garlic Transition

Last garlic bulb.

The last bulb of garlic from the 2021 garden is ready to use. By the time we consume it, scapes from the new crop will be available. This is where a gardener wants to be.

Since I began following the garlic-growing practices of my farmer friends, it has been an unmitigated success. Using seed from the farm, I grew my own seed for the following year crops with plenty for the kitchen. I also increased the size of the garlic patch this year. The plants looks healthy and should be ready to harvest in July.

I cut all the scapes to encourage the bulbs to grow large. Scapes serve as a replacement for garlic until the harvest.

Next steps in the cycle are to clear off the table in the garage and convert it into a drying rack later this month. Garlic is an important vegetable in a kitchen garden. Once one learns how to cultivate it, it is clear sailing to great culinary dishes.

Living in Society

Car Talk – Primary Election Edition

Spring Cornfield

I brought the bundle of campaign mailers with me to Des Moines where I picked up my spouse who is helping her sister get settled in her new place. On the trip home, among fields of corn beginning to sprout, and wind turbines turning slowly in the steady breeze, we reviewed and discussed the three competitive races on the June 7 Democratic Primary ballot and made our decisions. It was a rational conversation, one like married couples have. We stopped by the county auditor’s office on the way home and cast our ballots.

The office was not crowded with early voters so I took my time voting. As I read each name on the ballot, I thought of my last in-person interaction with that person. There was one for each of the candidates. At a certain point in life one can have that. I’m learning to savor it. I slid the ballot in the ballot box and that was that: another election vote into the history books.

If I once thought the passing spring farm scene was bucolic, it is no more. While the neatly squared fields promise new life, the cultivation of corn and soybeans is ruining our water quality and environment. The practices are unsustainable despite how well measured and neatly planted are row crops. There is a system, well developed and based on scientific principles, but its result has been an unintended consequence.

A new study indicated the U.S. corn belt will be unsuitable for growing corn by the end of this century because of current technology and practices. “There may be a shift in corn cultivation from the Midwest to the Eastern region,” researchers found. It is important for farmers to make a shift from reliance on corn and soybeans going forward. It is hard enough for a farmer to make a living without disrupting the industrial agricultural practices they have come to know. Unless the government gets involved, such a transition seems unlikely.

The weather on Tuesday was peak Iowa. A light breeze, sunny skies, and comfortable humidity. We enjoy these days of partly cloudy skies and highways that seem to continue forever. We also enjoy the car talk as we find our way home.

Living in Society

After the Democratic Primary

Iowa County Democrats central committee meeting on May 10, 2022.

Iowa and the country are heading into a weird place. The combination of isolated lives made more so by the pandemic, social media, and unceasing stimulus from people and corporations wanting to convince us of something brought us here. The sense of loss is palpable.

I miss the political environment we had when I was growing up, when Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were president. Democrats were in the minority in Iowa yet I felt there was a secure place for people whose opinions differed from the majority. That feeling was lost, slowly eroded until it was gone. There are few prospects of it returning. All that is visible is a bare wound with the bandages of society ripped off. We are becoming a place where our assumptions about feeling welcome are challenged.

To meet this — that is, to maintain mental health — I return to specific actions in a limited context, to wit: Once the winners of the June 7 primary election are known, it’s hammer down to the Nov. 8 general election. There will be plenty of political work to do in that five-month period. The Iowa Democratic Party reached out for an organizing event this week in the First Congressional District, and I plan to do my part. After the rout in 2020, why won’t I give up? There is a bigger picture related to needing something useful and fulfilling to do.

It begins with the idea people are not that interested in my stories about old campaigns. I told my story about helping elect Lyndon Johnson in 1964, yet there are only so many times that old saw can be brought out. It still cuts wood among people who haven’t heard it. Trouble is, most people I hang with have heard it.

As I age my views become less relevant to people on life’s main stage. I’m being mostly forgotten, not quite a has-been, but one can see it from here. I’m okay with that. I remain a predictable Democratic vote and can bring a few people with me when needed.

As far as the economy goes, my fixed income isn’t a driver. When the curtain falls on this mortal coil, my payments to the gas, telephone and cable company won’t be missed. My insurance company may miss me, yet once the final payments are made the relationship will be over.

We need short-term projects, in which to engage. Projects like the 2022 midterm election campaign. It helps us forget the hopelessness of modern society and the hegemony of rich folk hard at work deconstructing what few protections remain in government programs like Social Security and Medicare. I miss the old days, yet look forward to the new, even if the sense of loss is palpable.

I think there is a song about that.

Kitchen Garden

Vegetable Broth 2022

Winterbor kale, May 2022.

Someone asked me how I make vegetable broth when I posted this photo on Instagram. I wrote an exceedingly long explanation that may not really answer much. The method is centered around using the abundance of garden greens. Here’s how I explained it, although ask me again and the explanation might vary from the simple mirepoix, bay leaves and greens seasoned with salt.

I get out a big stock pot and evaluate how much I want to make depending on available greens. Usually one large onion, a pound of carrots, half a dozen stalks of celery and three bay leaves. Two large onions seems too much, but IDK. I know it’s controversial but I season the broth with salt at the beginning of the cooking. I want the flavor to be ready when I use it. I used to leave salt out completely but changed my thinking on that. Then I pile in whatever greens are available. I like turnip greens best, but they are not ready yet so I cleaned up the refrigerator, using bok choy, kale, collards, and tatsoi yesterday. Next I fill with tap water so the greens are covered and crank up the heat until it is boiling. Once it comes to a boil, I turn the heat to low and cook at least until the onions are transparent, often longer. Couple hours, for sure. Stir often. I use mostly cruciferous vegetable greens, yet would not be averse to adding wilted lettuce to the mix. If I have leeks, I’d add them too. I also put vegetable scraps in the freezer for broth and soup, yet in the spring I keep it simple with mirepoix, and cruciferous vegetable greens. I want to end summer with 3-4 dozen quart jars of broth made using the water bath canning process. No worries about electricity disruption. Thanks for asking.

Facebook post, May 28, 2022.

A bit rambling, perhaps, yet one could make a batch of vegetable broth based on this narrative.