Hope everyone is well surviving the coronavirus pandemic. It made 2020 difficult, to say the least. Jacque and I remained virus free, although neighbors on two sides of us caught it and former Solon Mayor Steve Wright died from COVID-19 complications, as you may have heard. The virus is all around us and I’m reluctant to leave the house much.
I’m wrapping up old business and I saw the check from the sweet corn come through on my account this morning. Your sister still hasn’t cashed the $30 check from April for a t-shirt, so if you can give her a nudge on that, I’m not sure how long the bank will continue to cash it. If it doesn’t clear soon, I’ll presume she won’t cash it. Insert snarky comment for her about running a business here:
I’m not sure what I’m doing this coming season. Well, I know some things. When the derecho destroyed my small greenhouse I bought another. I plan to start onions in January using the channel trays I bought from you last year. I also got a heating pad from Johnny’s and may get a grow light. I don’t like having the trays inside for fear mold will form in the room where I put them. I also don’t want to run my space heater in the greenhouse continuously. I think you started onions in the basement. Is that true? If so, when did you start them and at what point did you give them light?
As far as soil blocking, I think the pandemic will remain with us for most of the season so we have to address that. As I may have mentioned, I don’t really like working by myself all the time. It did protect us from each other last year and one hopes the situation is not permanent. Last year I didn’t wear a mask, although I am now the proud owner of five homemade ones and can bring one along and wear it when I’m with people. Since it’s your farm, it is really up to you to tell me what to do. So what I’m saying is I’m open to the idea of a barter exchange in 2021. It’s time to start talking about that, although no particular hurry.
To better use the home time I started a writing project. Hoping to have a first draft done by next year at this time.
Hope you are bunkered in for the snow storm. Supposed to get 5-8 inches, I hear.
The measure of Thanksgiving came this morning when I took my blood pressure and stepped on the scale.
My systolic blood pressure was normal and the diastolic slightly elevated. It was elevated to the same point where my medical practitioner and I had a conversation about medication a couple of visits ago. We decided I wouldn’t take meds and I expect my blood pressure to return to normal by tomorrow.
My weight was the same as 24 hours ago, meaning the huge plates of food consumed in the celebration, which made me feel stuffed and drowsy, won’t likely be added to my waistline.
The two of us were alone for the holiday as we’ve been for many years. Our family is small and no one makes a big deal of the holiday. We do all have some kind of feast. Phone calls, text messages, emails and social media posts were made. It was all reassuring. It all felt like normal.
The coronavirus pandemic is here and the incidence of cases elevated to the highest level since it began in March. Keeping the gathering small was easy for us: we just had to be ourselves. The Centers for Disease Control recommended Americans not travel. Americans are not good listeners. “In a pandemic-era record, 1,070,967 people passed through security at America’s airports on the day before Thanksgiving,” CNN reported. I expect the numbers on this chart to soar higher in the next couple of weeks.
We are lucky to have enough to eat. CNN reported yesterday some 50 million Americans didn’t on Thanksgiving. Food pantries were swamped and some ran out of food. The toll of the coronavirus pandemic on health, on employment, and on income is tangible. In graduate school, during interviews with survivors of the great depression, they told me having a garden was a big part of how they put food on the table. Because so much of what was on our plate was produced locally or from our garden, food insecurity was not a direct issue here. For that we are thankful.
I did most of the cooking beginning at 11 a.m., continuing for six hours. Over the years we developed recipes for baked beans and wild rice which are the two most complicated dishes and take the most cooking time. Beans and rice are the center of a vegetarian meal. For sides we had steamed broccoli, cooked carrots, butternut squash and sweet potato. I ate a few home made pickles while I was cooking. For beverage it was fresh apple cider and for dessert a take and bake peach pie, both from the local orchard. Everything in the main meal was low fat. Except for the peach pie there was little refined sugar. Eating an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet has its advantages.
Part of my Thanksgiving is politics and I spent time reading Barack Obama’s presidential memoir, A Promised Land. He wrote about the 2006 Tom Harkin Steak Fry where he spoke and my friends and I had a chance to shake his hand in the rope line. While others have written about the campaign, notably David Plouffe in The Audacity to Win, it was good to read familiar stories of that campaign. There may not be another like it because of changes in American society since then.
The president took press questions for the first time since the election while I was cooking dinner. He made what were described as “stunning claims” about the election, without evidence. We are a nation of laws. Mr. President, either show us evidence the election was rigged or shut up. He did say he will plan to leave the White House after the electoral college votes on Dec. 14. There is no doubt Joe Biden won the election. President Trump really has no say in the matter of his leaving by Jan. 20, 2021.
In normal times I would be scheduled for work at the home, farm and auto supply store this morning for Black Friday sales. I left retail work because of the pandemic. I’m not sure I will return to it. We’ve discovered how to get by on our pensions.
During my regular end of year planning it appears our budget for next year is sustainable. My best hope is 2021 does not bring another pandemic Thanksgiving.
Pepper and tomato plants were bitten by a hard overnight frost so I gleaned the garden Wednesday morning. A lot was available, a lot remains. I hadn’t been in one of the plots since the Aug. 10 derecho.
When frost comes, kale and broccoli turn dark green and represent some of the best garden eating all year. I froze the kale I picked as there is plenty more. We’ll serve broccoli multiple times during the coming week.
I had forgotten squash vines volunteered in the celery patch and didn’t know what kind they were when they emerged. The four butternut squash I picked look healthy and should provide variety to our dinner plates. We have a new recipe to make pasta sauce with butternut squash so we’ll try that with one of them.
Now is an abundant time for gardeners. The refrigerator has been full, the counter has plenty of squash, onions and garlic on it. The dehydrator is full of red hot peppers. Bins are full of potatoes, onions and shallots downstairs. Two fall shares remain from my barter arrangement at the community supported agriculture project. While we’ll be isolated this Thanksgiving because of the pandemic there will be plenty of food available for our special dinner.
And then winter…
How winter goes will depend on the weather, which is expected to be warm again; on the results of the election, which we hope will favor sanity and competence; and on an ability to be productive on home-based projects new and old.
I’ve been active this election year with multiple political projects. As Nov. 3 approaches many activities enter their endgame. I’m looking toward what’s next and hope my work as a poll watcher on Election Day provides diversion as we all wait for the results of the Electoral College.
A pall fell across the land, a dark shadow from Republican governance. Disoriented, we don’t know if it’s caused by a setting sun or one that’s rising on a new day. Because of the large number of vote by mail ballots, the counting may not be finished election night, and could drag out for a couple of days as states with less financial resources deal with the unusual workload. The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on everyone, including election officials. There is no clear indication when the pandemic will end, or if it will. The election won’t resolve that near term.
For now, with a temperate climate we raise our own food to reduce the amount purchased at retail stores. Produce remains in the garden for gleaning and harvest will continue until the plots are stripped bare during the next warm spell. We’re counting on a warm spell.
One Hundred Years in Good Taste Centennial Cookbook 1898 – 1998 is rooted in the time in which it was written, the late 20th Century. I read it in a single sitting, while in my folding chair outside the garage, waiting for the food rescue truck to arrive and pick up my surplus tomatoes.
It is a collection of recipes from Holy Family Catholic Church in Davenport, Iowa where I was baptized and confirmed. There are some brief historical notes with photos inside. I learned the school building where I attended second through sixth grade was acquired by the parish in 1944. I have four church cookbooks from this community.
I’m searching for ideas for the kitchen garden based on my experiences while growing up. The recipes weren’t that helpful or inspiring.
When we first married, Jacque and I went to the grocery store together. I would make the rounds of the perimeter of the store then head to the generic aisle known for its display of many types of generic food in yellow packaging. Many of the recipes in this cookbook might easily have originated in that yellow food aisle — ingredients like mayonnaise, onion soup mix, grape jelly, canned tomatoes and importantly, condensed, creamed, canned soup of several kinds. Some recipe writers specified a brand, such as Velveeta cheese, Old English cheese spread, Corn Chex, Hormel Chili with No Beans, Hungry Jack Biscuits and the like. Such ingredients, whether generic or name brand are anathema to a kitchen garden and should be cursed and denounced. They remain common in grocery stores nonetheless.
Meat culture pervades more than half the book. I’m used to setting that aside and the coronavirus pandemic isolation removed all temptation to eat meat. Removing the meat and processed food recipes I’m left with some appetizers, a few vegetable recipes, bread and rolls, and desserts. I guess that’s something.
I left Davenport for university in 1970 and never returned for more than a temporary stay. Telling in this cookbook is I recognize few of the names of recipe contributors. Many surnames are familiar and likely descendants of people I knew during the 11 years I lived there. I was hoping for more familiar names to trace the roots of my cuisine. By 1998 the parish had changed considerably.
Based on this reading I will likely make a Mexican-style casserole using flour tortillas, tomato sauce, peppers, refried beans and cheddar cheese as the base. We seldom make dessert although I might refer to the many pie, cookie and cake recipes when I do. There is an extensive section of preparations using rhubarb, so I’ll be coming back to that if we plant some in the garden.
One of the few recipes with a narrative is the one for Croation (sic) Nut Roll (Povitica) by Rose Hood pictured above. The ending sentences are awesome: “So therefore, I’m a Croation. We have a lot of Croation food, as that is what we grew up on. No finer food! and it all tastes very good.”
“No finer food!” After reading that, I wondered why any non-Croation recipe was included at all.
I collected a lot of community cookbooks in thrift shops and yard sales, several bankers boxes of them. There is an older one from Holy Family Church dated by use of five-digit telephone numbers in the advertising. The conversion to seven digit phone numbers began in the 1930s. One from the church is dated 1977 which has some familiar recipe authors. The fourth is another from the 1990s. In addition to these, I have a 1977 cookbook written by the Mercy Hospital Auxiliary. Mercy Hospital is three blocks from the church and where I was born.
For now I rely on Mother and Grandmother’s recipes for ancestral dishes. My kitchen garden is just getting going so there may be more from these cookbook searches.
Learned from a recipe or experience, we repeat the cooking process and evolve it into something we enjoy. Such dishes become our signature home cuisine.
Grandmother had a signature dish: lemon chicken. I watched her make it several times in her apartment and saw how she added the lemon. She wrote the recipe on the back of an envelope for me and later I discovered the lemon went missing. It goes to show the importance of memory and experience in home cooking.
I love a delicious taco. In our household tacos vary from meal to meal. My favorite fillings are either similar to what Mother made, or greens and black beans in chili sauce. Tacos are easy to make yet the origins of the dish are complex. Taco ingredients adjust well to seasonal variation in a kitchen garden.
In 2018 I found a video by Rick Bayless in his Taco Tuesday series. I viewed the video multiple times then repeated every element of the process until learning it. Once learned, improvisations based upon on-hand ingredients and the imagination became possible. This is what cooking a personal cuisine is about. Black beans, kale, chili sauce, a cooking liquid, and toppings on a tortilla are foundational elements to making a delicious taco.
Almost everyone gets help with tortillas. By that I mean we don’t grow our own corn and grind it into masa. I make my own corn tortillas from masa and get uncooked flour tortillas from the wholesale club. There is nothing like a freshly made tortilla.
At some point I hope to grow enough black beans to use my own. In the meanwhile, I buy eight-packs of 15 ounce cans of USDA organic black beans from the wholesale club.
A person could use any type of greens in a taco: chard, collards, spinach, mustard greens, lambs quarters, arugula, broccoli leaves, beet leaves, kohlrabi leaves or turnip greens. I grow an abundance of kale, preferring Winterbor and Redbor, seeds which I get from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. Kale really makes the dish so that’s my go-to ingredient. Fresh is great yet frozen leaves serve equally well. Tacos provide another outlet for the bushels of kale I produce each year.
I’m new to making my own chili sauce. I’ve been using Guajillo and New Mexican dried chilies and have been happy with both. I’ve been growing my own Guajillo chilies yet haven’t mastered the agriculture to produce a dried chili with the consistency of what can be purchased. I hope to master the skill although I’m only in my second year. I made a batch of Guajillo chili sauce on Wednesday with the last of the chilies purchased from Mexico, fresh garlic from the garden, Mexican oregano, black pepper, salt and a pinch of sugar. This sauce holds the dish together.
Our kitchen produces a number of culinary liquids as a byproduct of making something else. I don’t just dump it down the drain. Every time I open a jar of canned tomatoes I strain them to give a head start in preparing tomato sauce. When I make salsa, I also strain excess liquid to prevent it from being too watery. These liquids get mixed into a one liter bottle in the ice box. During preparation, chili sauce is diluted with enough liquid to cook the kale. In the cooking process most of the moisture evaporates leaving another layer of flavor by using my culinary liquids instead of water.
I use Mexican-style cheese from the wholesale club to finish making a taco. Tacos get topped with freshly made salsa, green onions, fresh onions, fresh tomatoes, pickled jalapeno peppers, prepared chilies, pickled garlic, finely sliced lettuce, shredded radishes or Hakurei turnips. The tomatillo harvest is coming in so salsa using them is in season. Fresh cilantro is also a go-to ingredient.
Beans and greens taco filling is easy to make. Heat a cup of chili sauce in a large frying pan (Recipe for mine is here). Add a cup of water or other cooking liquid that goes with Mexican cuisine and incorporate. Add a bunch of kale that has been de-stemmed and torn into small bits. When the kale wilts, add a drained 15 ounce can of black beans. (Optional: Use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to break up some of the beans and give the taco filling a smooth consistency and texture). Once the kale is thoroughly cooked and incorporated it’s time to assemble tacos!
I’ll make these suggestions: begin with a hot tortilla on a heated serving plate. Put some salsa or hot sauce down first. Add the filling, generous but not too much. We want to be able to hold and eat the taco without everything spilling out. Cheese goes next so it will melt. Add toppings according to what’s in season or available and serve.
Cooking is an experience more than an explanation. We relish choices we make producing each plate of food yet it is not about consumption and the process that created ingredients on hand. Cooking, as much as anything we do, is about living in those moments. When the pandemic is over and we return to our new lives it is important to know who we are. Part of me is making these signature tacos.
Planted last October, on July 2 it took about an hour to harvest the crop of 50 head of garlic. It was the biggest garlic harvest we’ve had in our home garden.
The variety comes from my friends Susan and Carmen who in succession, over 25 years, have been growing and selecting seed from the annual crop to produce it. Garlic doesn’t take much more effort than proper planting, weeding, harvesting and curing. The genetics and culture of producing it are everything though.
If everything goes well, I plan to keep the best third of the garlic heads to use for seeding next year’s crop. By doing so I’ll continue the process started so long ago on that nearby farm.
Just so you know, our household doesn’t have any problems with vampires.
On Jan. 30 I received email notice of my appointment to the Johnson County Food Policy Council. My application was chosen by the board of supervisors to complete a term ending June 30.
I declined to re-apply at the end of my term.
The idea of having a food policy council may have been good when it was organized. During my brief tenure, each meeting seemed a random conglomeration of thoughts, statements and opinions heading down a dead end street. To a person, everyone I met while serving was talented, including the county-paid coordinator Ilsa DeWald. So what was wrong about the food policy council?
The goal of fostering relationships between farmers, buyers and government in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids region is important. For their part, non-conventional farmers are a well-organized group of entrepreneurs that take advantage of networking within Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, and other organizations. If you know some of these farmers, they seem to all be talking to each other about everything, all the time. That’s really no different from any successful farmer, regardless of what they grow.
The challenge of a local food movement is establishing enough mass to be a meaningful presence. The kind of changes needed in our food system are complicated and require engagement by many organizations, businesses, and individuals. That includes entities beyond vegetable, meat and flower producers.
By far, large corporations dominate food sales in our region. Reducing their presence or market share is not a point of discussion for the Food Policy Council. Even if it were, there are not enough local food producers to compete with or challenge them. The basic tenets of consumer participation in financing the growing season on a farm, knowing the face of the farmer, and understanding how our food is grown are main attractions for people who choose local food for their kitchen. As recently as last week, many community supported agriculture projects continued to accept new members this summer: demand has not been enough to significantly disrupt grocery operations.
The highlight of my tenure was participation in an annual forum titled, Land Access and Beyond: How Can the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm Support Beginning and Current Farmers? By participation I mean I made lemonade, helped set up, and led a couple of discussion groups. The forum was well-attended by a diverse group of people.
The board of supervisors decided to develop the Historic Poor Farm and this has been part of discussions of the Food Policy Council. Access to land is important and the Poor Farm has enabled some beginning farmers along a path to land ownership. Supporting the Poor Farm is a worthy endeavor for the Food Policy Council.
Part of the inability to engage in a single direction was the coronavirus pandemic. It affected council members both those who farm and those who don’t, and threw a monkey wrench into the machinery of effective policy planning. While we met via video conference, that’s not the same as being together in person with all of the possible side conversations. If not for the pandemic, I might have a different view of the council’s work.
I was happy to do what I could to advance the cause of local food in our food system. I value my time on the Food Policy Council.
My farm friends with community supported agriculture operations take the coronavirus pandemic seriously.
On one farm the crew wears personal protective equipment while working and changed the interaction with customers to control exposure to spread of COVID-19.
On another, the farmers decided, before most planting began, to have the entire crew move to the farm and by self-isolating reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. They also changed the interaction with customers and cancelled the annual potluck because they believe the coronavirus will not be controlled by autumn.
If any of my friends contracted COVID-19, it would have severe consequences for the operation, including the possibility of ceasing deliveries to customers, at least for a while.
While we deal with the coronavirus an explosion of insects is preparing to assault our garden. In the last 24 hours I observed Japanese Beetles, Colorado Potato Beetles, squash bugs, cabbage worms, and many other species. While the invasion was anticipated, I choose to grow organically so using commercial chemicals to hold them in abeyance is not an option. My main tools are vigilant inspections each morning, hand picking the bugs off the plants when I see them, and for the squash beetles, a mixture of castile soap diluted with water in a spray bottle. To be honest this is just part of nature, and I do my best to protect the yield, giving up as little as possible to insects.
I’ve been making a shopping trip every other week to the wholesale club. Yesterday would have been my day to go but after considering the produce from the garden and what was stored in our pantry and freezer, the only thing we needed was milk.
I’m not lactose intolerant. Maybe I shouldn’t be drinking fluid milk, but I do. With the pandemic it’s a bit stressful sourcing the next gallons. Really that’s all we needed in the grocery category. What to do?
Hell if I was spending 90 minutes driving across the lake, past the Trump bar and the jail Hillary house, near the convenience store where young male adults with large Confederate flags mounted on their pickup trucks congregate, past the correctional facility to the wholesale club where milk is cheap. Too much else was demanding my time.
The options in the small city near where I live did not seem safe from spread of the coronavirus. Three convenience stores sell milk and it’s fresh. The cashiers wear masks and have those plexiglass protectors at the register. It’s the customers with no PPE that cause concern.
There is a grocery store in town. Their milk is also fresh. I’ve not been there since the governor declared the pandemic emergency. The unknown is often an issue. It’s just a gallon of milk… were there better options than the unknown?
I wasn’t ready to give up. There is a dairy store in the next town where the milk comes from their cows. I remembered when they reopened early in the first phase they did curbside pickup. They were taking the risk of COVID-19 spread seriously. I drove the six miles, put on my mask and went in.
The store is always spotless. Three cashiers were all wearing masks, as were other customers inside. I didn’t feel like a freak with my mask, wearing one was accepted behavior. The milk cost more than double what it would have at the wholesale club. The added cost was worth it for the time and gasoline savings. It was also a stress reliever.
I got two gallons so I don’t have to go shopping again soon.
Yesterday’s kale harvest was big. To share the wealth I displayed some at the end of the driveway and posted the free give-away on Facebook.
Some of it was claimed, the rest returned to the garden via the composter.
Ten years ago I saved or preserved everything I grew in the garden. Any more I keep only enough to get us through to next year. I’ve visited root cellars filled with very old Mason jars of a garden’s preserves. That’s not who we should be. We take what we need and if we can’t give it away, leave the rest for compost.
Leafy green vegetables are not a favorite around here. I have regular customers who use it in smoothies or bake kale chips. Others prepare it traditionally as greens. The main use in our household is in tacos, soups and stir fries. When out of lettuce we make kale salad. Once in a while I add a leaf to a smoothie. I’m not a smoothie person. I tried kale pesto once and it was okay. Pesto with more flavor, like mustard greens, is better. For a gardener the main challenge is to grow just enough to meet needs. I cut back the space for kale to 18 plants this year. It is still too much.
Combine kale with kohlrabi, collards, mustard, spinach and chard and there is an abundance of greens this year. Next year I’ll use the planting space differently to more closely match what I grow with kitchen usage.