Friday, July 3, 2009


Well folks, the time is drawing near for me to pick a name out of the hat, so I thought I would try to pique your interest even further. The book I am giving away this month covers a year in the life of one family - a year in which they made every attempt to feed themselves animals and vegetables whose provenance they really knew, and to wring as much petroleum out of their food chain as possible. The chapters follow their progress through the seasons, telling you what they ate and why. At first you might feel a bit sorry for their two children, when you hear what they had to give up in order to participate in this experiment, but it won't be long before the tables will turn, and you will be envious of what all they gained.

In each chapter, you will get not only a glimpse behind the scenes of modern food industries, but also a glimpse into the author's family life, kitchen, and garden. For every food that she spoils your enjoyment of, by telling you disturbing facts about how it was raised or produced, she will more than make up for it by sharing numerous tips on how to eat and live well, using local ingredients that were produced in a safe, sustainable manner.

Take chapter nine, for example, which covers a period in late June. First you are offered a bit of philosophy - a discussion of why the author believes that dinnertime is the cornerstone of her family's mental health, and that the willingness to learn basic cooking skills is the great divide between good eating and bad. "Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they're missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven. The choreography of many people working in one kitchen is, by itself, a certain definition of family, after people have made their separate ways home to be together."

Next, the author tells you a bit about the dairy industry, and why you might be concerned about modern dairy regulations (some pediatricians suggest that if you can only afford to put one organic choice in your shopping cart, it should be dairy - the industry claims growth hormones in milk are safe, but doctors are seeing way too many young girls going through early puberty). She also profiles an amazing artisan, Ricki Carroll (aka The Cheese Queen) who founded New England Cheesemaking Supply, wrote several books on the subject, and has had over 7,000 people attend cheesemaking workshops in her kitchen.

To wind up the chapter, the author teaches you, the reader, how to make your own 30-minute mozzarella, then she shares with you three of their favorite ways to use the homemade cheese: Summertime Salad, Eggplant Papoutzakia, and Friday Night Pizza. Imagine, all that in just one chapter, and each of the other nineteen are just as packed! And if that isn't enough of a temptation for you, I'm also throwing in wonderful treats from two of our Bountiful Sprout vendors: a precious oilcloth market bag from Simple Pleasures Granola, and for you Dr. Pepper lovers, a jar of Texas Tea Jelly from Harvest Time, made with original recipe Dr. Pepper from Dublin, TX. using pure cane sugar.

So, leave a comment any time between now and Sunday, to have a chance at winning these three wonderful gifts!


We've been in Houston all week, for follow up appointments with John's surgeon and cardiologist. They were both quite pleased with his progress, which means I get to hang up my chauffer's cap, and he gets to go back to work next week. I'm ecstatic about my reward. I think he has mixed feelings about his.

Being here in Houston now is something of a mixed blessing, as well. Our son, who just graduated and is still looking for a permanent position, is doing some contract work for one of John's partners, and staying here at our little townhouse. It is sooo much fun to have him here. Unlike his father, he actually likes to cook, and is always willing to get in the kitchen with me. What a treat! And, if he is here, that means the most precious dog in the world is here too, giving me all the sweet lovin' a girl could ask for. But, OH-MY-GOSH! You would not believe the clutter in this house!

There is no extra storage space here, so the entire contents of Austin's college apartment have been packed away in boxes, which are stacked around the perimeter of the garage, and in the corners of every room. Add that to the way John "redecorated" the place after I moved to Wimberley - moving his two desks and all of his computer equipment out of the spare room upstairs, and down into the only living area, where they are circled around the TV like wagons around a campfire - and perhaps you can understand why the whole place just gives me the heebie jeebies now, and is not very conducive to introspection or meditation. Oh, and did I mention the newest accessory he added, as his finishing touch? A shiny new deluxe stationary bike, right smack dab in the middle of everything. Welcome to He-Man Heaven!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I think the dry spell is finally coming to an end - at least, as far as reading goes. I owe it all to you guys, and your wonderful recommendations. There was a time when I had no problem whatsoever finding books I liked on the grocery store shelves, but as my friend Paula once said, "Once you start reading the good stuff, it's kinda hard to go back."

Believe me, I've tried! I had a couple of really good books set aside to read during John's hospital stay, but they were both fairly dark, and I decided after the first day that the hospital itself was a dark enough place on its own, and that I should save those two for later. So I set out in search of something light to pass the time with. It took several forays out to various pharmacies in the surrounding medical towers, before I found one that wasn't so formulaic it made my eyes cross. I finally settled on Sundays at Tiffany's, by James Patterson, because it begged the question "What if imaginary friends aren't really imaginary? What if they are just invisible to everyone other than the child they were sent to help?" My little brother had two such friends - Pinky and Ollie - who were so real to him that sometimes he just about had me convinced! So how could I resist?

Once we were back in Wimberley, and John was on the mend, I was ready to tackle the heavy stuff. I started with Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks, which was passed to me by blog-reader Sherri, when she stopped in for a visit not long ago. It's based on a true story, of what happened when the plague hit a small mountain village in England, and their young rector managed to convince the villagers that they must cut themselves off from the rest of the world, so as not to spread it further. This was a time when people had to choose between the clueless barber-surgeons and the herbalist-midwives for their healthcare. The latter was a much better choice, but a very dangerous profession to be in, for if things didn't go well, the very same people who were begging for your potions one day, were likely to label you as a witch the next! It wasn't until I was halfway through this book that I realized I had read another by this same author some years back, called March. Remember the March family in Louisa May Alcott's story Little Women? Well, this book tells the story from their absent father's point of view, and is about his struggles during the Civil War, to juggle his obligations to God and Country, with those of father and husband. Excellent - both of them!

From there I went on to read something by Wally Lamb, thanks to your recommendations on that reading list we passed around not long ago. I chose She's Come Undone. All I can say is the same thing everyone else is saying: Wally Lamb must have been a woman in a previous life. There is just no other explanation for how a man could get into the heads of his female characters the way he does.

So, what's next boys and girls? What book should I pick up now? Which page-turner will be my next talking book, calling out to me each time I try to walk away from it for a few hours? I have one or two for you. If you've never read anything by Sarah Dunant, head straight to the library and check out one of her's - most especially Birth of Venus. And while you're at it, grab something by Marlene de Blasi, such as A Thousand Days in Venice. Happy reading!

Now, if only you could solve the Hill Country's drought, as easily as you solved my mental one.

P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment, if you wish to be included in this weekend's prize-drawing!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


By the time I got back to Wimberley, after John's surgery, the Muses were all scattered hither and yon. They finally came back the day I had to leave again! I haven't really done much of anything creative all summer, and just can't get too excited about any of the projects I already have on hand (such as painting that garden bench, or finishing that dang orange wall). I'm certainly not in the mood for knitting tea cozies, when it's 107 out! Of course, this is fairly typical for me to go into a bit of a slump this time of year, now that I think about it. I guess I almost always lose interest in the garden, taking walks, and just about anything else that doesn't involve water, ice or AC, just about this same time. Yeahhhh, that's what I need - to be floating on cool blue waters, beneath shady cypress trees. The Blue Hole is acallin', and I am soooo ready to hold a Meeting of the Muses there!

Monday, June 29, 2009


Did you ever wonder, what food is "American Food"? You know, like the Italians eat Italian food, and the Mexicans eat Mexican food, and the Chinese eat Chinese food, so, what is American food? When we signed up to host our first exchange student, a boy from Denmark, I went straight home, pulled out my recipe files and a clean tablet, and started thinking about what to feed him when he arrived. An hour later, I was still staring at a blank tablet. I had plenty of great recipes to choose from, but unfortunately, they were mostly all either Italian, Mexican, or Chinese!

Where were those recipes that were representative of our culture? The ones like some of my friends have, that had been taught to them by their mother or grandmother. The ones that were part of an oral tradition which represented the accumulated knowledge of all the generations that came before - the knowledge of how to eat and live well, using seasonal ingredients indigenous to the place where they were rooted. After a moment or two, it finally came to me: the only people I knew with recipes such as these, have mothers or grandmothers who migrated here from other countries.

Over the years, after reading books like On Mexican Time, Under the Tuscan Sun, and A Year in Provence, I came to realize just what was missing here in America, but I still didn't understand why. What went wrong here? It wasn't until I read this book, the one I am about to award to one of you, my dear readers, that it finally became clear. The book's author asked many similar questions, such as "How did supermarket vegetables lose their palatability, with so many people right there watching? The Case of the Murdered Flavor was a contract killing, as it turns out, and long-distance travel lies at the heart of the plot. The odd notion of transporting fragile produce dates back to the early twentieth century when a few entrepreneurs tried shipping lettuce and artichokes, iced down in boxcars, from California eastward over the mountains as a midwinter novelty. Some wealthy folks were charmed by the idea of serving out-of-season (and absurdly expensive) produce items to their dinner guests. It remained little more than an expensive party trick until mid-century, when most fruits and vegetables consumed in North America were still being produced on nearby farms. Then fashion and marketing got involved. The interstate highway system became a heavily subsidized national priority, long-haul trucks were equipped with refrigeration, and the cost of gasoline was nominal. The state of California aggressively marketed itself as an off-season food producer, and the American middle class opened its maw. In just a few decades the out-of-season vegetable moved from novelty status to such an ordinary item, most North Americans now don't know what out-of-season means." Or what in-season tastes like. Or how exquisite anticipation can be.

Fortunately for us, the author doesn't just tell us what's wrong. She shows us how families like hers are putting the kitchen back at the center of family life, and diversified farms at the center of the American diet, and how people across the country are working to build a genuine food culture. Care to join in? Then leave a comment any time this week, and I will throw your name in the hat, for a chance to win this wonderful book!