Saturday Rain and a Lovely Day

Cucumber Plants

The garden and yard were excessively dry Saturday morning so I watered the vegetables. Couple of hours later it rained, then cleared up in time for a wedding at Wapsipinicon State Park.

It was a lovely day for a wedding, and for living in Iowa.

We could use more lovely days… and more rain.

I had a couple of food inspirations this week.

On Thursday I had meetings after my shift at the home, farm and auto supply store so I stopped at Estela’s Fresh Mex Mexican Restaurant on Burlington Street in the county seat. I ordered veggie tacos with the traditional mix. The line cook measured a portion of vegetables (corn, onion, peppers and other undetermined items) on the griddle and sauteed them. Next the mixture was distributed among three flour tortillas in a specialized stand and served with choice of toppings and sauce. The inspiration was more process than composition. Because I make breakfast tacos at home at least once a week, I found inspiration.

I use fresh uncooked flour tortillas from the warehouse club in our home kitchen. The typical filling is onion, bell or hot peppers according to what is available, fresh garlic, and recipe crumbles seasoned with home-blended spices. This mixture reminds me of tacos Mother used to make so I anticipate keeping it. What Estela’s traditional mix inspired is a second type of filling, a combination of sweet corn, black beans, onions, peppers and garlic that could be made fresh in a big batch and stored in the ice box. When I want tacos, I could portion out what’s needed and keep the rest — handy for breakfasts when time is short. I plan to work through some variations on this idea during coming weeks.

A second food inspiration was to begin making smoothies.

A smoothie is a use it up recipe based on what’s available. I start making them in spring as spinach and kale come in. It’s a good way to use some of the bounty. The base is home made almond milk.

The preparation for almond milk is to soak raw almonds for three days, changing the water at least once daily, and grinding them in a blender. I use two cups filtered water with one cup raw almonds. It makes enough for three or four servings. I use the entire blended mixture but if one wanted almond milk like what comes from the grocer, it could be strained with a cheesecloth. For breakfast smoothies I use everything… why not?

When I worked at the warehouse club they sent us to Chicago to be trained as demonstrators by Blendtec staff. The basic technique is to load the blender jar with liquids and soft ingredients on the bottom, then top with frozen and hard ingredients. Leafy greens can go before or after the hard ingredients. Using this technique eliminates any need to poke ingredients into a moving blade with a spatula.

A typical smoothie includes a cup of almond milk, a Cavendish banana, other fruit in the ice box, a quarter cup of Greek yogurt and a generous handful of greens. I’m also using up a home-mixed protein powder, but when that’s gone I won’t replace it. Protein comes from the yogurt and almonds.

I also made a spread from goat cheese and other ingredients in the ice box. This too is a use it up recipe, although I bought the goat cheese at the warehouse club intending to make a spread.

I put a log of goat cheese in the bowl of the food processor with two cloves of peeled garlic. Next, a generous cup of purchased New Mexico Hatch Chile mix. I’d use home-canned hot peppers if I hadn’t purchased the blend which included salt, garlic and lime juice. I added half a small jar of sun dried tomatoes from the ice box and processed everything until smooth. I added no seasoning, and after refrigeration a day or two garlic began to overpower the pepper flavor. If I did it again, I’d use only one clove of garlic and try other on-hand ingredients. The spread goes well on crackers and on toast.

Try any of these three ideas and I bet you will be on your way to a lovely day.

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Friday in Spring

Retaining Wall

Fridays in Spring I soil-block for a farmer.

Yesterday I made 4,944 soil blocks which were planted in winter share. Leeks, broccoli and the like. It took four hours.

While driving north on Highway One I nodded off for a brief moment. After realizing it I sat upright, glanced in the mirror and concentrated on staying awake.

It’s not like I didn’t get a full night’s sleep Thursday… I did.

The combination of sun and repetitive work may have worn me out.

After arriving home I walked the garden, checked seedlings for moisture level, took a shower, and crashed into a two-hour nap. It’s become a Friday pattern.

Then I remember it was not soil blocking that wore me out but the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide in France.

Bourdain was a celebrity I liked. I read Kitchen Confidential a number of years ago and watched him on Food Network. In many ways, he is what I’d like to be as a writer, although with less inebriation. How little we know about celebrities. His suicide makes no sense. It may never make sense.

A memorable episode from Bourdain’s television work was when he returned to Borneo and got a chest tattoo on camera. He appeared to be drunk and uncomfortable. In a later CNN interview he recounted the process was much more painful than expected. We already knew that from the video. A reality came through in much of Bourdain’s work — one of his making. That’s why I liked him. The ability to depict a reality is essential to creative endeavor. Bourdain and his crew were masters at what they did. He’s gone too soon and will be missed.

I brought home a bag of groceries from the farm — lettuce, sugar snap peas, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, spring onions and kale. After napping I washed lettuce for salads and stored it in the ice box until supper time. I’m not sure what else got done. Maybe nothing, or something… whatever.

Fridays have been like that in spring.

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Time for Change in House District 73

Woman Writing Letter

I support Democrat Jodi Clemens over Republican Bobby Kaufmann in the Nov. 6 general election.

When our precinct was redistricted after the 2010 U.S. Census we landed in House District 73 which includes Cedar County, the City of Wilton and six adjacent Johnson County precincts.

I went to an event at the Solon Public Library with then House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Kaufmann who would represent the district if re-elected. He seemed reasonable enough. I remember saying to myself, “I can work with this.”

Kaufmann left the legislature and was elected Cedar County supervisor. His eldest son Bobby ran for his seat and won the 2012 election.

In following years I worked with Kaufmann to advance my interests in climate change, local food, and township services. I wanted to work with him, in a common sense way, to get things done in society. I believe we accomplished positive things.

Along came the 87th Iowa General Assembly and Katy bar the door. In retrospect, considering the damage done by Iowa Republicans during those two years — to the budget, to our mental health system, to Medicaid, to our tax system, to public employee unions — what I thought were accomplishments amounted to tinkering around the edges.

I thought if Kaufmann would give me some time, we’d work together, and find some kind of happiness. I was wrong.

I’m reminded of the 1968 song by the British group the Foundations. “Build me up, buttercup baby, just to let me down, and mess me around.”

I’m confident Jodi Clemens, a Democrat, won’t mess around the way Republicans have.

~ Published in the June 7, 2018 edition of the Solon Economist

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Morning After the 2018 Democratic Primary

Fred Hubbell

There was little doubt Fred Hubbell would win the Democratic gubernatorial primary election yesterday and he did with 98,013 votes or 55.5 percent of the total, according to preliminary results from the Iowa Secretary of State.

It wasn’t predetermined. There were no establishment Democrats behind cubicles in Des Moines calling the shots. He is a progressive Democratic candidate who ran a successful campaign voters could relate to. It was a straight up win for Hubbell and Democrats should and likely will rally around his candidacy.

On April 17, I posted what my neighbors were saying, that we were down to two candidates, Hubbell and Nate Boulton. When Boulton dropped out of the race, it cleared the path for Hubbell’s victory last night, at least according to their analysis. If one listens to the community there are grains of truth if we are only perceptive enough to recognize them.

I hope Hubbell finds room in the general election campaign for his rivals and that they help him in substantial ways if he defeats Republican Kim Reynolds. I also hope Democrats recapture control of the Iowa House of Representatives, and eventually the Iowa Senate, because the governor can’t make needed changes alone.

So it’s Hubbell. Good. That means the June 16 State Convention will be shorter than if we had to pick a nominee.

I stayed up late enough last night to get a flavor of the returns.

My new friend Zach Wahls won his primary for Senate District 37 against three others. I knew when I met him on Jan. 13 Wahls is the kind of leader Iowa needs. We need the perspective and energy of the next generation of politicians. I am exquisitely glad voters picked a young person who is also an advocate for LGBTQ rights. It was my pleasure to contribute in a small way to Wahls’ campaign. I’m also glad I can leave his bumper sticker on my car until November.

Janice Weiner, Wahls’ only effective competition, ran an excellent campaign but fell short of votes needed. Weiner won Cedar County by 65 votes but it was not enough to overcome Wahls’ margin in Muscatine (5 votes) and Johnson (1,682 votes). As I told a former candidate for the house district that includes Cedar County, Johnson County drives the bus of who gets elected in current Senate District 37. Redistricting may change everything in a couple of years, but this cycle, Wahls had the strategy and tactics to win this race.

Janelle Rettig and Pat Heiden won berths to the county supervisor general election. Both of them ran exceptional campaigns, particularly Heiden who came from a fourth place finish in the 2016 Democratic primary into her own. I have more to say about that race and want to take a closer look at the precinct results. I supported Mike Carberry, however, one could see it was a lost cause as early as April when I wrote my candidate profiles of the three contenders. I framed up the problems in this twitter thread. I’m encouraged there will now be three women on the county board of supervisors.

Soon I need to get ready for work at the home, farm and auto supply store. I’ll be thinking about the election on my breaks and while I’m hauling animal feed around the warehouse. Physical labor is a great way to process complex events.

Congratulations to Iowa Democrats on this positive primary election.

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Primary Election Day 2018


Today marks what I like best about politics — a brief pause followed by regrouping before the general election.

Primary election day has been cathartic and today will be no different. Where Democrats have failed is in mending fences after the primary to unite around our slate. There is never enough buy-in to what “our” means. A lot of us will do our best to support the party even if our candidates don’t win tonight.

For a moment there is brief caesura and a glimmer of hope the party can come together.

Democrats have been jockeying for position for over a year, seeking elected office for themselves and their preferred candidates from governor to county supervisor. Shortly after the polls close we’ll know most, if not all of our slate for November. There is suspense in waiting to see who will win the horse race, and half a dozen election returns watch parties have been organized by campaigns. I’d rather the county party held one watch party calling for unity but the bonds people make during a primary campaign are tough to break and manifest hegemony in the social arena. The county seat is a long distance from home in the dark of night.

If no gubernatorial candidate wins 35 percent of votes cast, we’ll decide our nominee at the state convention June 16. I’ll be there. Based on social media it appears John Norris is gaining momentum in the governor’s race. However, he has a steep hill to climb to secure the ~ 52,000 votes needed to get 35 percent, let alone win. If voter turnout is more like 2014 than 2006, Norris doesn’t need as many votes but that’s a problem of another sort. Iowa Democrats attempt to use common sense when picking a candidate. Many of my friends and neighbors will settle on Fred Hubbell because there is a perception he alone has sufficient financial resources and can win the general election. Truth matters less than our commitment to hard work done as we close in on the final votes.

The following idea has been on my mind since Boulton dropped his gubernatorial campaign. Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times put it into words last week: “Democrats should not be fooled into voting for what is predetermined.”

There is a lot of voting before Democrats settle on who we are. At 5 a.m. on election day I’m seeing a lot of Hubbell green. A record number of county voters cast early ballots this cycle: 54 percent more than in 2014, the last midterm election. The meaning of this statistic may come later.

Our family waited until election day to cast our vote. When I hit publish on this article I’m picking kale to leave for library workers when we go to town. Politics may be endless cycles of campaigns but the efficacy of fresh kale in binding us together is under appreciated. When we’re talking kale, we’re not talking politics… and that’s okay.

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Gardening Before the Rain

Weather Radar June 2, 4:46 a.m.

In the end it didn’t rain.

The forecast had been rain for a couple of days. The weather radar looked ominous Saturday at 4 a.m. It was heading our way.

At sunrise I went to the garden to beat the rain.

Our garden is big enough to engage a person for hours — weeding, harvesting, planting, mulching, fence mending and the like. It never ends. I think there, mostly about our relationship with the environment and toward a food ecology, the dreams of gardeners.

The work was to mulch tomatoes, weed carrots and beets, clean up kale leaves bitten by intense heat, replant seedlings where they failed and organize for the next planting session. The mulch collected this week is about half used. Before I plant, it must all be relocated to a final destination to clear space for peppers and beans. There is another day’s work waiting today.

Garlic Scape

The garlic crop has been exciting. Scapes began to appear and as soon as they twist back around on themselves I’ll cut them off, to enable the bulbs to benefit from the plant’s energy, and to use them in the kitchen. The seeds were planted seven months ago so it’s great to see we’re getting closer to harvest.

The cloud formation I saw on radar broke up before it got to us. Where I expected rain, there were blue skies. I got out the hose and watered.

Like it or not, I must deal with my physical capabilities. I’ve been blessed with good health most of my life. When I had to give up running a couple years ago things began going downhill. What I mean is there was a perceptible decrease in flexibility and energy coupled with selected aches and pains in my shoulders, feet and hands. The foot pain is likely related to running although I’ve been spared the joint pain runners experience in their knees and hips. My shoulders? One of the transient doctors at the nearby clinic diagnosed arthritis, but I doubt it. I’ve learned to be careful not to injure myself with lifting. My back is sound. I get along.

Kale Harvest

The main thing is dealing with energy levels. Instead of staying in the same place to finish a job I’ll take a break and go walking… to the garage, to my desk, to the kitchen. Sometimes I sit in the recliner for a while. I get back up and return to the garden. It’s a hodge-podgey way of doing things, however, I believe variation in work routine staves off further bodily ailments. It’s likely good for my mind as well.

The spring share at the CSA finished on Monday. The ice box is filled with fresh greens and rhubarb. On deck is rhubarb something, a vegetable broth for canning, and spinach daily until the kale avalanche arrives. I did not barter for a summer share at either CSA in order to survive mostly from our garden. Each year I become a better grower. It enables us to sustain ourselves with fresh produce while the season continues.

What more could we want in a turbulent world?

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Collecting Mulch

Pile of Grass Clippings

Wednesday I worked from sunrise until 2:30 p.m. in the yard and garden. Ambient temperatures rose only to 89 degrees, and the relatively cooler day enabled me to work longer.

Early hours were harvesting spinach and spring onions, weeding, planting Red Rocket peppers, tending seedlings in the garage, and installing nine feet of fencing for pickling cucumbers to climb. The major work was preparing the yard for mowing and then mowing with a grass catcher to harvest mulch for the garden. It takes about four times as long to mow when collecting clippings.

It was a big project.

Riding the mower around our 0.62 acre yard provided a chance to inspect everything. There’s more work to do besides gardening.

A greenish moss is growing on the north side of the house. Dead tree branches requiring trimming. One of the apple trees looks like disease is spreading as the yellow leaves already fall from the branches. The lilac bushes are overgrown and require a chain saw to cut them back. The mulberry and pear trees are forming fruit.

The lawn is reverting to what it was before we built and installed a lawn. Compared to the chemically treated neighboring yards, ours looks a step out of the prairie — greens and browns blended together compared to lush green. After mowing and grass collecting it looks like a hay field. There is a lot of yard work after the garden is in.

After five days in a row off work, I return to the home, farm and auto supply store today and tomorrow. Friday is a farm day then four days in a row off to work on the garden. Once the mulch is laid and peppers and beans planted the initial garden planting can be called done.

Even if a gardener’s work is never really done.

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