August 2018 Wrap Up

I usually find August unbearable. Hot winds out of the Southwest make life miserable. Much of the time my garden shuts down because it can’t handle the windy triple digit days. This year was different. Cool, rainy days prevailed during the early weeks with just a couple of hundred degree days toward the end. ‘I could get used to this’ to paraphrase an alien busting actor.

Travel

In fact, weather in my hometown rivaled Saratoga Springs during the early part of the month, although we lack any farmers market. Other travel trips were limited to just a few hours. But one I will share took place in the Rocky Mountains. I joined a young couple in hiking around Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We will participate in the Xtreme Hike Vail in late September. This is a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Feel free to contact me through the mail button at the top if you wish to donate.

View of mountains in distance
Looking West from atop Golden Gate Canyon State Park
two people hiking on a trail
Hiking Mule Deer Trail

High altitude certainly slows me down. On this particular hike, each mile took about twenty minutes. The three hours of “moderate” trail left me feeling confident that I am up to the challenge. I did ice my ankles and stretched afterwards. Both actions keep me on top of my game. Read my post recommending the book Stretching if you don’t already have a routine.

County Fair

August heralds the county fairs in this part of the country. I entered quite a bit of produce and some canned goods this year. Although I did not win a top prize, I was proud of my garden efforts. The Raised Row Garden certainly is a success. My plan is to continue this technique another two years before placing permanent fencing around the perimeter. So far the temporary fence is keeping the critters at bay.

4-H Competition Premiums

A comment on the fair. There were over eighty kids in the parade of champions. This is a good number. However, I believe most were competing in the livestock divisions. The other divisions were not well represented.

For example, only four articles of clothing were entered by three separate 4-H kids. This was disappointing to me. With the exception of cake decorating, the entries in the non-livestock division were sparse. I don’t think most of the kids showing animals will use the skills as adults. Much of the competition centered on lambs and goats. Outside of the Easter season, few in this country eat lamb on a regular basis.

But I do see this as a principle of economics. The premiums for animals participating in the livestock division are determined via auction. The townspeople bid on the animals (but don’t actually purchase them) and the kids keep this premium. The bids are usually in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. The kids can then sell the animals at market price if they wish. This doubles the money.

However, the 4-H entries in subjects ranging from dog obedience to cooking to rocketry to woodworking (the list of skills is extensive) earn premiums paltry in comparison. The Grand Champions of each division are awarded seventy-five dollars. If you were a kid, which activity would you spend your time on?

Econogal Challenge

In July I challenged my readers to abstain from alcohol, or if they did not drink form their own challenge. An article and scientific research indicating a rise of liver disease among Millennials prompted this challenge. The feedback is positive. Those involved feel free to share in the comment section below. Or in the comment section of the original article Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events. One month down, two to go!

National News

The investigation into the involvement of Russian election interference continues to twist and turn. I urge my readers to read my reviews of both New York Station and Hidden Target. History reveals such interference is not new. However, current technology has taken everything to the next level. I have talked about technology before. I am currently working on a post concerning cyber security. There are some things one can do to limit the invasion of privacy. However, only going totally off-grid eliminates breeches to personal data. My preference is to protect what I can with the knowledge that everything is vulnerable.

This past week, Senator John McCain lost his battle with cancer. I did not personally know Senator McCain and did not always agree with him on political matters, but I admired his devotion to this country. Over the next few days, media coverage will focus on the ceremonies recognizing this statesman. Honoring those who give much to society is important.

Even more important is each of us doing our part to make society better.

The Verdun Affair Book Review

The Verdun Affair

Nick Dybek’s The Verdun Affair reminds me of the books assigned in my high school English classes. Full of deep meaning, filled with ambiguity. Fodder for discussion. Passages to quote. Books such as Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Only time will tell if Dybek will reach such a point. But sentences such as “He couldn’t have known that a lifetime is a sad thing, that, in the end, it is a bridge between two worlds that don’t believe in one another” which ends Chapter 3, have the depth for quotation. And discussion.

I struggled reading The Verdun Affair much as I struggled to read the above mentioned classics. The plot was fairly simple, the characters straightforward. But the presentation is one of shifting back and forth between the years.

The story is split between 1950 and the post World War I years. Tom, an American boy caught in France during the war tells the narrative. He is but one of many orphaned by war. He comes of age under the care of French priests and remains in Europe following the war.

The aftermath of The Great War led to many families, parents and wives, searching for those missing or lost. Tom’s task is to recover bones from the battlefields of Verdun while the priests tend to the many searching for lost loved ones.

The White Lie

The story truly unfolds from there. In the absence of clergy, Tom is tasked with consoling a fellow American, Sarah Hagen, searching for her husband. In an attempt towards compassion, he tells a lie. Some would classify it as a White Lie. He claims to have met her husband. This gives her hope. But it will haunt him.

Sarah continues searching. She travels to Italy in hopes that an amnesic is her missing husband. Smitten, Tom finds a way to follow. Italy introduces other key characters. One of whom, Paul, also has a presence in both past and present tales. He, too is searching for someone and thinks the amnesic is that person.

Purpose

The Verdun Affair ponders much. Truth, revenge, conflict and purpose are all posited for the reader to reflect upon. Dybek shows how war affects those involved directly as well as indirectly. Actions have consequences. This novel creates many questions for the reader. When does truth matter? How does one let go of a loved one? Is revenge always needed? How do actions today steer one’s life tomorrow?

I believe this book offers much to the reader looking for reflection. It is not an easy read, but life is not easy. The Verdun Affair is the type of literary work students should be assigned. But, it also holds value for those of us on the other side of the bridge.

Pressure Canning- My Newest Skill

Long-time readers will remember one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to learn six new skills. Pressure canning is now on the list of acquired skills. I have canned, or in layman’s terms, put-up jams, jellies, and salsas for years. Last year I added pickles. Now that I have successfully learned how to use a pressure canner I expect to really expand my preserving.

Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning

There is quite a bit of difference between the water bath canning I have done for years and pressure canning. For starters, water bath canning really does not need special equipment. Although I have a large water bath canner, for many years I just used my spaghetti pot and lined the bottom with a towel. However, a pressure canner is designed just for canning.

To be honest, I have had the canner for a few months. But it sat in its box. First in the basement, then for the last month at the top of the stairs. Its’ main job was intimidation. Yes, I was scared of this device.

For those of you that don’t can, a water bath canner is used with foods that are acidic in nature. Or have lots of vinegar in the recipe. As long as you achieve a good seal on the can, there is little to fear. On the other hand, low acid foods need pressure sealing in order to eliminate the danger of botulism. Therein lies the source of my fear. I worry that I will not use the pressure canner correctly. And there is no one I want to poison.

Abundant Garden

This year the garden is in overdrive, thanks to the new raised row garden. Therefore, I need to learn how to can. My green beans, eggplant, acorn squash and pumpkin all need preserving. I only have so much freezer space! So I decided to start with something simple-green beans.

I spent two days procrastinating by reading everything possible about processing green beans. Then after picking four pounds of green beans, I opened the pressure canner box. Reading the directions and assembling the canner delayed the moment by another hour. But finally I was ready to can.

Snapping four pounds of green beans takes a bit of time. It brought back memories of the women on my Dad’s side of the family snapping beans at what used to be the family cottage in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. Not a bad thing when you are alone at the kitchen sink washing and preparing to can.

Moment of Truth

Finally, the time arrived to can. The green beans were ready, the canner was fully assembled.  Then following the canner directions, I placed three quarts of water in the bottom of the canner. I added warm water. I have a quart size Pyrex measuring cup which I nuked in the microwave. The book suggested warming to no more than 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t measure, but it wasn’t boiling.

I had kept the canning jars hot by filling with boiling water while the beans were being processed.  The beans were boiled for five minutes, partially cooking them. When I water bath can, the jars are in the canner until ready to fill. So this step was different.

After filling the jars with beans and leaving the proper head space of an inch, I placed the five pints in the canner. I lined the arrows on the lid and canner top, rotated clockwise and turned up the heat. Then I waited. And waited.

Steam needs to vent for ten minutes before the pressure regulator is placed atop the vent. Time passed fairly quickly as I was able to clean up the mess I made snapping the ends off the beans. But then time seemed to crawl once the pressure regulator was put in place. An automatic air vent/cover lock struggled to pop-up. Perhaps it was because of the first time use. Or maybe this is normal. Future canning’s will tell.

Pressure Time

Finally, the pressure gauge began to move up. My altitude dictates a pressure of 12 which is just above the standard. The trick to pressure canning is to keep the canner at the right pressure. If the canner falls below the pressure needed for your altitude it means resetting the clock. This I did not want to do. So I watched like an eagle. I did have to adjust the heat throughout the canning. But it was worth it in the end. No restart of the clock for me.

After the twenty minutes elapsed, the pressure canner was lifted off the heat and allowed to cool. Think of a car radiator, much the same concept. You don’t want to open either when hot. Once the canner cooled down, I lifted the lid and removed the five pints onto a kitchen towel. Longtime preservists will appreciate the thrill of hearing five metallic pings shortly thereafter.

The four pounds ending up filling five pints with enough left over that I froze the remainder in a quart size freezer bag. I am out of pint size jars. So is my small town!

Final Thoughts

I am so glad I learned this skill. The lovely pings indicate a good seal. I have a feeling this new pressure canner will get plenty of use this fall. Unlike a water bath can, I will need to stay in the kitchen paying close attention to the pressure. But I think the time spent will be worthwhile.

A major difference between the two types of canneries is how altitude is handled. In water bath canning, additional time is added to the process. However, in pressure canning all geographic locations use the same amount of time. It is the pressure which is changed.

Yes it is far easier to buy the cans at the grocery store. But I love to garden and I don’t want the produce to go to waste. I can control what goes into the food. Next time you read a label with lots of hard to pronounce ingredients, you might understand my point. Of course reading labels could be a whole separate blog post!

If you so desire I would love to hear about your successes. Feel free to share recipes too! I was so caught up in the process only a few pictures were taken. But there is always next time!

Green beans piled in front of a pressure canner
Ready to start
Cannery with pressure gauge on top
Intimidating Dial
Empty large pot
Empty canner
5 jars of green beans alongside recipe books
Final Product

 

Zero Waste Book Review

Book Cover of Zero WasteReduce, reuse, recycle is one slogan I grew up with. But Shia Su takes this mantra to a whole new level with her book Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks To Drastically Reduce Your Trash. The cover of the book shows a glass jar, approximately quart size with the trash she generated in a year. This is truly cutting waste to zero.

The book has a pictorial Table of Contents. There are lots of pictures throughout for illustrative purposes. The content is such that you can either read straight through or skip around to what you need. Zero Waste is a good resource book.

Su has highlighted tips throughout. Some of her suggestions I already practice. For instance, at the grocery store I seldom use the small plastic bags in the produce department. I just place the items in the cart and group them close together at check out.

Other concepts, such as the high-tech toilet seats from Japan, I have only just heard of. (A neighbor took a trip to Japan this summer and came back raving about the toilets.) I was however, surprised that the cost was not higher. Bidets are certainly not new. But my understanding is the Japanese manufacturers have taken the concept to a whole new level.

Many of the tips are cost savers. But some of the Zero Waste ideas would be tough to convert to. The various personal hygiene tips top the list in this department.

On the other hand, the food storage tips and most of the housekeeping tips are doable for me. I also found her comments on clothing donations informative. We tend to forget economic dumping is not limited to large manufacturers.

Su is a blogger. Her site is Wasteland Rebel. Just a quick glance at the blog after reading the book shows a lot of carryover. So, if you like holding a book in your hands, buy Zero Waste. Or you can subscribe to her blog. Either way, I think you will find the information interesting. How many of us could fit a year’s worth of trash in a quart jar?

Simple Concepts

A Little Bit of This

“A little bit of this….”was the beginning of the title of one of my favorite first books. To be honest, I think the title finished with “a dab of that.” But when I did a quick Internet search I was inundated with results far different from my original understanding of dab. Perhaps the book is no longer in print. Maybe if I patiently clicked through thousands of hits the book would pop up and I could cite the author. At any rate, I still remember the story over 50 years later. The kids in this early reader book were making sandwiches and adding “a little bit of this and a dab of that.” A simple concept that stuck.

So how does someone come up with a simple concept? Many are inventions of necessity.The Flintstones had wheels of rock on their cartoon cars. But perhaps the first wheels were attached to carts to make things easier to drag along.

Simple Concepts

How are simple concepts monetized? I think one would fall back on the old standby answer, it depends. If you use the example of Walter Hunt, an inventor of the early 19th century, some of his inventions could be considered simple. The safety-pin is one of his inventions. What a great idea! Yet Hunt sold the patent to pay a small debt.

Hunt is a very interesting man with a couple of biographies. The first, written in 1935 by Clinton N. Hunt is titled Walter Hunt American Inventor and the only copy I could find through the search engines resides in a Berlin, Germany library. Fortunately for me since my curiosity has been piqued, Joseph Nathan Kane penned Necessity’s Child: The Story of Walter Hunt, America’s Forgotten Inventor in 1997 and copies are still easily available. Stay tuned for a review!

In contrast to Hunt, who merely paid the bills with his inventions, are the modern-day profiteers. Think pet rock, or even more successful, the Beanie Baby. These creations generated tremendous profits. But how have they advanced civilization?

Many of today’s money making inventions are marketing successes as much as needed creations. All fill a need, it is just our needs have changed. For example, one of my favorite pieces of exercise equipment is the Simply Fit Board. I love it! The board definitely falls into the simple concept category. But if I lived a hundred years ago, I would get fit from all the manual labor required to get through each day.

A Dab of That

The passage of time has made other changes in our daily lives. Earlier this month, Econogal sponsored the Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon. Sports competition has greatly evolved. During the same time period Hunt was working on his many inventions, very little occurred in competitive sports. Baseball, with its murky origins appears to have predated both football and basketball. Modern day organized track and field events also occurred in the late 1800s.

This very informative article from The Atlantic published in 2013 discusses the tie between mandatory education and organized sports for youth. According to the author, organized sports first catered to the poor. Only in the 20th Century did middle class kids enter into competitions.

I would concur with the article that the rise of competitive leagues for kids dovetails with the educational push starting in the 1960s to lessen competition in the classroom. In theory, this would allow all children to achieve self-esteem. (I could write a series of blogs on the pros and cons of this theory.)

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon

Thus I did not find it unusual that the youngest participant in the Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon was six years of age. In fact I was pleased to see a youngster competing in this event. I think personal challenges of this type are what really create self-confidence. Competition with others can be good, but improving upon your own measurements, I think, creates positive self-esteem.

Congratulations to all the participants. Thank you Rhonda Snyder for the shared photos. Next year I hope to travel to Rocky Ford to compete in the 2019 Rocky Ford Melon- Man Triathlon.

Swimming PoolMan on bicycle

 

 

 

 

Runners at Starting Line

The Alice Network Book Review

Kate Quinn offers a treat for history buffs and those who like a bit of romance. Her book, The Alice Network, is set in the years immediately following World War II. But, the focus of more than half the book is World War I, also known as The Great War.

Charlie

Alternating chapters reveal the stories of two women. Charlie, short for Charlotte, opens the story in 1947. She is searching for her cousin Rose. The family lost contact with Rose while France was occupied by Germany. Charlie has one lead, Evelyn Gardiner.

Charlie is also running away. Her story is a combination of post war stresses as well as her search for Rose. War has long-lasting consequences for both soldiers and families. Quinn does an outstanding job of conveying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout Charlie’s tale.

Fans of romance are treated to just a bit as Charlie becomes attracted to Finn Kilgore, employee of Evelyn Gardiner. Kilgore’s background is of a former soldier with some issues. He is struggling a bit but is a rock to both Eve and Charlie.

Eve/Marguerite

Evelyn Gardiner is the protagonist of The Great War story as well as the support Charlie needs in her search for Cousin Rose. Evelyn now known as Eve and sometimes as just Gardiner, is a drunk. But during World War II she served as a spy with the assumed name Marguerite.

Marguerite Le Francois is an integral member of the Alice Network. She is recruited in England but placed in France. Her fluency in English, French, and German makes her an ideal spy. Of course Marguerite is entirely concocted by Quinn. But The Alice Network was real. So too were some of the key supporting figures in the story of Eve. The weaving of fact and fiction is expertly done.

The Alice Network

Throughout history, women have been a party to war. During the Great War, women served as key figures in spy rings operating behind enemy lines. In the chapters focusing on Eve’s storyline, Quinn demonstrates the sacrifices made by these women. Then through Charlie’s story, she gives the readers a glimpse of how long-lasting the impact of war is.

I really enjoyed The Alice Network. The back and forth between storylines worked. Although the reader knows Eve survives World War I since she is still around in 1947, there is still quite a bit of suspense to this novel. I greatly appreciated the author’s notes at the end of the book. Quinn spells out fact from fiction as far as the war events. Those more knowledgeable of The Great War might not appreciate the notes as much.

I strongly recommend this book. The members of The Alice Network went to great lengths to shorten the war. The author does a really good job of showing the impact of war on soldier and civilian as well.

The characters are endearing. The story is suspenseful. The ending is akin to a romance novel even though there is a dose of bittersweet. Kate Quinn has a winner in this well researched and well written book.

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market Fun

One of the best things about summer is the abundance of Farmers Markets. Just spotting them from the road gives me a smile and a lift in spirits. But getting a chance to wander around one takes the enjoyment to a higher level. Last weekend I happened upon a great Farmers Market in Saratoga Springs, New York just loaded with fun.

Fresh Produce

The first thing I love about Farmers Markets is all the fresh produce. Ears of corn, tomatoes of all colors, beets, carrots and peppers are all standard at a market. The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market had all of these and more. Fresh milk, cheeses, honey and mushrooms were spotted, sampled and purchased as I wandered through the stalls. Other goods such as jams, flowers, herbs and home-made spirits were fondly looked at, but hard to fly home with, so just admired.

Ramble Creek Farm

Most often I see beautiful examples of farm product I am familiar with. But at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market I found a new to me item, a mushroom called Lions Mane offered by Ramble Creek Farm in Greenwich, NY. As you can see from the pictures, this mushroom has both a textured top and bottom. An unusual seafood-like taste makes this mushroom unique. But what intrigues me the most is the health properties. Lions Mane is thought to have positive effects on brain health. Visit this website for more information. Those new to Econogal can read the About Me section for a glimpse into why I focus so much on the brain.

I wish I lived closer to Ramble Creek Farm so I could purchase more of their organic food. I loved visiting with one of the owners. They have an approach to farming that I commend. Please visit their website by clicking here. If you live in New England you may live within their delivery area!

Saratoga Suds

Another entrepreneur I chatted with at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the soap lady. These were not just your ordinary hand-made soaps. These soaps had style! The cupcakes looked good enough to eat and were what first caught my eye. Saratoga Suds originated over 45 years ago. Of course the company offers traditional styled soap, but the creativity in the shapes and the scents sets this company apart from the rest.

Furthermore, this Farmers Market find is once again a natural product. Visit the website for Saratoga Suds by clicking here and order some soaps today. I think you will like this mineral water soap as much as I do.

Food to Go

In addition to farm products to take home and prepare, there were many vendors with food to eat right then. The piping hot dishes looked great but I opted for my traditional travelling fare, bread and cheese. I washed it down with some delicious lavender lemonade although the fresh bottled milk was tempting.

The croissant purchased from Mrs. London’s Bakery paired nicely with the kunik cheese and honey purchased from Nettle Meadow. The French style bakery and café has been treating the residents of Saratoga Springs for over 20 years. Few food operations last past the first five years, thus Mrs. London’s Bakery is an exception as well as exceptional. The croissant melted in my mouth.

Nettle Meadow had an engaging spokesperson and an informative display. The operation is a farm and a sanctuary. While goats are the star of the show, sheep, llama, chickens and ducks share space on the farm which is open to visitors. This popular stall at the farmers market offered a variety of goat cheeses. Their kunik cheese is an award-winning blend of goat’s milk and cow cream. I now have a new addiction.

I did not discover the stall for Saratoga Crackers until after enjoying every bite of kunik. But these crackers are delicious just on their own. Like many of the farmers market booths, samples were available. I could not decide which I liked best, the Garlic Parmesan or the Rosemary Olive. Both ended up coming home with me. I love the fact that Saratoga Crackers is focused on healthy natural ingredients and would love to someday meet The Cracker Master and learn of her ties to the Saratoga horses.

Farmers Market Music – Running The River

Another first for me at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the live music. Two trios were performing at a far enough distance that the tunes did not conflict. While I liked the group playing music from my younger years, I loved the group Running The River. Their schedule indicates a regular appearance on market days along with many other events in the surrounding area. They have two new CDs Longbow and Riverside which showcase some of their original work as well as favorite cover songs. Their website which can be accessed by clicking here has a calendar with performance dates and locations. Running The River members are great entertainers. Make sure to watch the short You Tube Video of Running The River below.

The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market is superb. I think this ranks as the top farmers market I have wandered through. From glancing at Running The River’s performance schedule, the market seemed to be open longer than the traditional months. So I scoped the Internet and learned that this particular farmers market is open year round. If you are ever in the area, make sure to stop by. No matter the time of year!

The Day the Crayons Quit Book Review

Book, coloring book and crayons
The stars of The Day the Crayons Quit ready to color again.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Author Drew Daywalt and illustrator Oliver Jeffers have a winner in The Day the Crayons Quit. Each of the colors in a crayon box has something to say. This children’s book is sure to be a hit with your favorite youngster.

I feel this is a book which is designed for an adult or older child to read to the younger crowd. The story is definitely geared toward a preschool or early grade school crowd. But the vocabulary is not for beginning readers.

Striking Crayons

The story is engaging. Duncan wants to color in class but finds a stack of letters instead of his crayons. Each color has hand written a note. Thus some of the book could be difficult for an early reader to decipher. Adjacent to the note is artwork featuring that color. Most colors complain, some need a referee and a couple are downright hilarious. The humor is perfect for the target audience. But I appreciated it as well.

In addition to the story line, Daywalt provides a personality for each crayon. Then Jeffers brings the color into focus with illustrations any child can relate to. The duo have created a children’s book which has lasting value. Humor rules throughout. This story fits in many places. The book is appropriate for story hour at libraries, reading time in schools and naturally bedtime.

Read Aloud

The Day the Crayons Quit harkens back to a time when youngsters were entertained by someone reading to them. This book provides the opportunity to spend time with a child. Reading aloud is an activity that requires participation by both reader and listener. Thus, a far cry from the electronic entertainment seen so often today.

I encourage anyone with a young child in their life to find this book. This includes daycare providers, elementary school teachers and librarians, parents and grandparents. The Day the Crayons Quit is a great addition to the library.

I have just one question for Daywalt and Jeffers. Whatever happened to Mr. Brown Crayon?

July 2018 Wrap-Up

July 2018

July has been a whirlwind! So many things to share and I hardly know where to start. So I think I’ll shoot for a mix between chronological and focus events.

Cataracts

The month began with my second cataract surgery. I did not feel outwardly as apprehensive as with the first surgery. But my vital signs contradicted this feeling. My blood pressure was quite high for me. So I think I was given a little more relaxant. I don’t remember nearly as much this time. No visions of pretty colors. Just my husband waving from the viewing room after the surgery.

However, the recovery has been much easier. I experienced some of the same irritations as the first time. But knew those were signs of healing and did not panic. I even managed to give myself the regimen of eye drops during some of the post-surgery days.

Wheat Harvest

Immediately following the surgery, we visited with relatives during the Fourth of July celebration. This is a favorite holiday of mine. I live on the edge of wheat country and our visit was in the heartland. Many years harvest coincides with the nation’s birthday.

Wheat harvest is a bustle of activity for the farm communities. This year was no exception. Custom harvesters work alongside the resident farmers. Many custom cutters follow the harvest from South to North. These travelling harvesters fill the hotels and restaurants adding economically to the small towns. Of course there is outflow money too. Payments vary from flat rates to percentages.

This year I watched from inside the vehicle. As is typical for that part of the country, the wind was blowing. I did not want any wheat chaff to blow into my eyes. So no combine ride for me. Maybe next year I can visit and capture the view. For now I can only share a photo of the grain transfer.

Grain cart dumping wheat into truck.
Grain falling into truck.

Des Moines

Immediately following the July 4th visit to the wheat fields, I journeyed to Des Moines. This beautiful city deserved a post all its own. If you missed it click on Destination Des Moines. I consider this state capitol a hidden jewel. Maybe you can visit sometime.

Econogal’s Garden

Returning from Des Moines, I could devote time to my garden. The production continues to amaze me. I easily doubled the amount of produce from June. By the end of July, most of my salad greens bolted. I am letting a few plants go to seed. Each year I try to learn more about saving seed.

However, the Swiss chard is coming into its own and we are using this green along with beet leaves in our smoothies and salads. Other fruits and vegetables harvested in July include tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, green beans, peaches, green grapes, eggplant, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and tomatillo. We also continue to enjoy our many herbs. Because of a week-long visit to Orlando, I do not have an exact amount on the harvest weight.

Orlando

My trips to Central Florida are frequent. I have family there. My Mom is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. She receives good care at a nursing home. But best of all for her, she has my Dad visit every day for hours at a time. So sometimes he needs a respite. That is where I come in. I am her other security blanket.

Many of you know someone who is affected by some form of dementia. Brain disease is at the forefront of scientific study because of the growing numbers impacted. I write often about brain health. If you use the search bar at the top of this blog for brain, numerous posts will pop up. Now you know why I have such a personal interest. I intend to keep my brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. One way is by Maintaining Physical Health. So I jumped at the chance to sponsor a triathlon.

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon 2018

Saturday August 4th is the date for this year’s triathlon in Rocky Ford. Proceeds from the event are used to support the town’s swimming pool. I love fundraising linked to improved infrastructure as much as I do those events that raise money for research. So Econogal is proud to be a sponsor for this event.

A triathlon is a competition involving three sporting events; swimming, biking and running. The Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon is designed for both individuals and teams. For example, if you are a runner who hates to swim, you can partner with a swimmer who can’t stand running.

The distances are doable. The swim is 250 meters, the bike ride is 10 miles and the run is a 5 K. So if you are in driving distance of Rocky Ford, Colorado consider entering the triathlon this weekend. Click here for a link to the registration. If you can’t compete this year please share this post so the word can spread and consider entering next year!

Clock Dance Book Review

Clock Dance- A Book Club Book

The author of Clock Dance is new to me. But I am glad I discovered her work. Clock Dance piqued my interest from the start. I read it cover to cover. Many of you may be familiar with the author, Anne Tyler. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. So, it is not surprising that Clock Dance is being read by book clubs across the country.

Willa Drake is the protagonist in Clock Dance. The reader follows her life from grade school to 60 ish. There are large gaps in the timeline but Tyler makes that work. Thus, in some ways, Clock Dance is a summary of life events.

The characters are pretty straight-forward. The development of Willa is nicely done. But the reader may be surprised by how her relationship with key members of her family changes over the years. I was, yet I wasn’t. Dysfunctional family relationships during the early years have a way of sowing unusual outcomes.

Call for Help

The “real” story begins in the present which for Willa means her early sixties. In a case of mistaken identity, she receives a call for help. And she responds much to her husband’s chagrin. He tags along.

Willa flies half way across the country to care for a young girl. Tyler makes it clear the kid is pretty self-sufficient. There is a parallelism between Willa and Cheryl, the young girl she is in temporary charge of. Thus the natural re-awakening of Willa’s self is easy to believe.

The supporting characters are good. So is the plot. The ending is a bit surprising but not overly so. Those of us approaching a certain age do begin to wonder how things could have been. Tyler reminds us that time remains to make changes. The clock has not run out yet.

I really liked Clock Dance and plan to loan my copy out to others. This book has great appeal and not just for those of us approaching the later stages of life. Anne Tyler is a great writer and I plan to read more of her work.

Learning New Skills

Green beans piled in front of a pressure cannerMy New Year’s resolutions for this year included learning six new skills. At my age, learning anything new can be tough. Both the body and the mind tend to prefer the status quo. But the benefits are great. New skills stimulate the brain cells in a positive way.

The raised row garden has provided one outlet for learning. Just establishing the garden took research. This compilation of new knowledge definitely made the brain waves dance. Constructing the rows took a lot of labor too.

Furthermore, maintaining the garden has generated a few new skills as well. I learned how to make organic bug killer when battling the flea beetles. For the first time I used an inoculant on my peas. Now I am about to add pressure canning to my list of skills.

I have been canning and preserving for years. But I have only used the water bath method or frozen the produce. To be truthful, I find the idea of pressure canning downright scary.

Water Bath Canning

Jams, jellies, salsas and pickles tend to be quite acidic and thus lend themselves to processing through the water bath method. Some of the items have natural acidity. Others are put up using an acidic ingredient which helps make the recipe safe. Some of my lower acid fruits have lemon added and the pickles and salsas recipes tend to have vinegar added.

My favorite canning book Small-Batch Preserving focuses on water bath method recipes. This type of canning utilizing highly acidic ingredients reminds me of my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. I seldom worry about spoiled food put up in this fashion.

New Skills- Canning Low Acidic Foods

However, low acid foods and recipes intimidate me. I worry about food poisoning, specifically botulism. So I am about to learn a new skill. I bought a pressure canner. Plus I have researched several websites such as the Wells Can and the Ball and Kerr sites. I also consulted Better Homes and Gardens Complete Canning Guide. Since visiting their test garden I wrote about in Destination Des Moines, I feel very motivated and slightly less nervous.

My raised row garden is yielding multitudes of green beans. So that will be the first vegetable I put up. Check back on the blog when I post the July 2018 Wrap-Up to see and hear about the results!

Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events

Numerous alcohol bottles on displayI use Twitter to keep abreast of news. But, I follow-up by searching for source information. Yesterday the Twitter feed piqued my interest with a trending item relating increases of liver disease in the under 34 population with The Great Recession. Naturally, I am interested whenever I see society impacted by economic events. Also, I look for the reverse; societal events which impact economics. The interchange is often life changing.

Increased Liver Disease Since the 2008 Recession

Therefore, I searched for the source of the study and found the publication in the BMJ. The study originated at the University of Michigan. Assistant Professors  Tapper and Parikh produced the work. Please click here for the link explaining the scientific methodology. Some of you may have read articles in either the New York Times or Washington Post summarizing the study. I encourage you to read the actual study found on the above link.

The study covers the time period from 1999 to 2016. A statistically significant correlation between The Great Recession and increased deaths in the 25 to 34 population is discussed. Since my oldest offspring fit this demographic, there is a greater interest on my part. The data analysis and results were of particular note. Table 2 in the study is a good indicator that the onset of economic trouble has a direct correlation with an increase in liver disease.

Validation is important to me, so I searched for other studies. There are quite a few. The Great Recession spurred many scientific studies. Most attributed the decline in health to the decline in prosperity. However, I did come across a scholarly article that posited the opposite reaction.

Health Effects of Economic Crisis

Christopher J. Ruhm produced the working paper Health Effects of Economic Crises. His detailed analysis can be accessed by clicking here. (Note the Economic Bureau of Economic Research does not have a secure website, but the link is to a PDF.) On the surface the two studies appear to conflict. Yet a closer evaluation indicates some correlation between the two.

Ruhm’s study of the interchange between macroeconomic downturns and morbidity rates focuses on cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Everything else is lumped into a category of other disease. (He also includes analysis of death rates due to accidents, suicides and homicides. Although the two latter conditions could be attributed to mental illness.)

Backgrounds play a key role in the approaches. Tapper and Parikh are medical doctors specializing in the field of gastroenterology. Ruhm’s background is in economics. He holds a doctorate with his CV citing Health Economics, Labor Economics and Public Economics as specialties.

My belief after reading both studies is there is an interaction between economics, macroeconomics in particular, and societal changes. Declines in extra spending money leads to a decline in consumption of goods harmful to health. Examples would be alcohol, tobacco and sugar.

Correlation

From what I understand of the two studies, a correlation can be made. Ruhm’s analysis led me to believe the morbidity rates declined due to a money squeeze. Personal observation recalls individuals in my hamlet switching to bikes and walking during the Great Recession. This increase in physical activity combined with a decrease in consumption of deleterious goods such as alcohol, tobacco and sugars would lead to healthier living.

By contrast, the study by Tapper and Parikh seems to me to focus on the aftereffects of the Great Recession. The country has enjoyed a decade of prosperity. Yet it is easy to infer the lingering effects on the age group of 25-34 year olds. Some would include the Millennials in this cohort. Individuals entering the workforce during the Great Recession faced adversity at the time. Many are still struggling to catch-up.

Perhaps this internal struggle coupled with more money currently available for consumer spending is the cause for the findings in the study. Higher alcohol as well as obesity lead to liver failure. Thus a call for an increase in sin tax with regards to both alcohol and sugar by proponents of this particular study.

Health Challenge From Econogal

Taxes are unpopular and only one approach. My suggestions differ. First, as I have written before, maintaining physical health is important. In my opinion, all adults (everyone over 18) should have blood work done once a year along as part of an annual check-up. Second, we should practice moderation. I first discuss this in the book review of The Case Against Sugar.

Alcohol consumption should be limited. I looked up the suggested limits for low risk use. They were more than generous in my opinion. My understanding is those who don’t drink at all are at an advantage with regards to memory processes and only at a slight disadvantage for cardiovascular health.

Thus, I have a challenge for my readers. Starting August 1, 2018, reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption until Halloween. Monetary costs most likely prohibit blood work before and after for concrete results. So, I am asking my readers to use observation. Make weekly notes on energy levels. Note activities. Journal entries will keep you on track. Then share your results via comment. I will let responses dictate space on the blog.

If you are already a non-drinker, reduce your consumption of sugar, tobacco, caffeine or some other unhealthy product. Or those that abstain from alcohol and other sinfully delicious goodies can add a positive. This addition of a healthy alternative would be good for the drinkers as well.

Are you up for the challenge?

Fire on the Track Book Review

Book Cover of Fire on the Track with old bookcase as backgroundRoseanne Montillo offers a close look at the first female track and field Olympians in her book Fire on the Track. Much of the history focuses on Betty Robinson. But detailed backgrounds of Babe Didrikson, Stella Walsh and Helen Stephens are also outlined. Participants in the Olympic games of 1928, 1932 and 1936 are the focus of the work.

Fire on the Track captures you from the start with a narrative of the 1931 plane crash that badly injured Robinson. This style sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Montillo writes a very readable presentation of non-fiction and thus captures a wider audience.

However, due to some very intimate details, I only recommend Fire on the Track for high school age and above. Some of the runners, Stephens in particular, suffered in a manner that would easily qualify her for inclusion in the #Me Too movement. The greatest change over time is the desire in the past to hide the atrocities. Since Montillo has been thorough in her reporting of history, I personally would shield younger readers from this narrative. But I think it is appropriate and important for the mature audience to learn of these past events.

Olympic Track and Field

Having established those parameters, I strongly recommend this book. As a runner, I had a smattering of knowledge about most of the individuals covered in this historical account. But, I did not know of the many difficulties faced by these trailblazing women. Nor did I fully appreciate how much discrimination continued even after the inclusion of track and field events for women in the Olympic Games.

Montillo balances the personal stories of the individual runners with the political and economic events of the time period. Climate played a role as well. The late twenties and the decade of the thirties comprised a period of struggle. The relative prosperity of 1928 yielded to the Dust Bowl days, bread lines and loss of property. All of which are expertly woven into the account.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the personalities of the runners. These young women participated in competition during an era not particularly accepting of the idea of gender equality in sport. Each of the runners were exceptional. Each faced obstacles. And each handled the spotlight differently. Either pick up a copy at your nearest library or buy a copy. Put this book on your list.

Daniels’ Running Formula Book Review

Of the many training books I own, Daniels’ Running Formula is one of my favorites. I have the original edition. But you can find copies of the 3rd edition online through the major booksellers. I used this book to train for a marathon. But other distances are covered too. Indeed, Daniels has a formula for all distances and all types of runners.

Four Keys to Success

Jack Daniels states there are four keys to successful running. First is inherent ability. Even though runners come in various shapes and sizes, certain body types lend to more success. This was important during my competitive running days. But I find I still enjoy running even with a bit of a middle age spread. However, even if I no longer strive to cross the line first, I believe proper training is essential to avoid injury. Thus Daniels’ Running Formula is still consulted.

The other keys are motivation, opportunity and direction. In discussing each, Daniels focus is on competitive running as is much of the book. His discussion of each of the four keys leads into the three parts comprising the body of the work. I believe these ten pages are worth reading. However they contain philosophy as opposed to the more scientific approach used in the remainder of the book.

Program Planning

Part I of the book is composed of three chapters. Daniels uses graphs to illustrate increase of training stress to optimize the level of competitiveness. Naturally, I appreciated the fact that he included a diagram illustrating diminishing returns. The author uses these early chapters to introduce some important biological concepts. A thorough discussion of the cardiovascular system is covered by Daniels.

For the serious runner, there are detailed instructions to create and utilize aerobic profiles. Various charts and illustrations in Daniels’ Running Formula aid in the understanding of the shared concepts. The reader is forewarned; quite a bit of this first section is tough to comprehend. But I believe it is the most important part of the book for competitive runners.

Formula for Training

The second section and bulk of the writing concentrates on training. This part starts with a section on building base. A base level of fitness will vary by individual. Couch potatoes will need to start from scratch. Daniels discusses how to build your fitness level even if you are a less experienced runner.

He also makes clear that slower speeds end up stressing a body more than a quicker tempo. Thus, someone running ten minute miles will work harder than a six-minute miler. Therefore, in the beginning, time measurement of running is as important as distance.

The training section is easier to understand in general. Although you will still have charts requiring knowledge of maximum aerobic capacity. Daniels guides the runner through the set-up of a training program. Explanations of various training techniques are covered. Interval running, marathon pace, fartlek, easy runs and hard runs are all discussed. He includes everything.

Racing

The final section is geared toward racing. Many think of racing in terms of high school and college students. Or they conjure up memories of Olympians. But racing is a positive for all runners. Even my small town of 7500 has multiple running events each year. I have even travelled to a town of under 500 for a road race.

In Daniels’ Running Formula, the racing section first covers the basics. This includes topics such as clothing, shoes, sleep and stretching. The first chapter also discusses how to pick the races and has some psychological pep talk as well.

The next three chapters are focused on race distance. The author breaks the distances into what I would call short (or even very short) medium and long. Chapter 12 is 1500-3000 meter racing. Then, Chapter 13 is 5-15K distance. Chapter 14 covers half and full marathons.

Since high school I have raced only once at the 1500 meter distance. My marathon training partner talked me into the race. It started 30 minutes after we completed the qualifying 10K. Needless to say, my race time was not impressive. But I digress.

Daniels includes a race strategy for each distance. He also provides a training calendar with workout descriptions. Runners who are already conditioned can consult these last chapters repeatedly.

Throughout the book, Daniels spotlights some top individuals in the sport. It was fun to read about Jack Bachelor (I lived in Gainesville when he did and loved spotting him on his runs) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (an all-time favorite.) Read the book to find out if your all-time favorite runner is highlighted.

I recommend buying this book if you are serious about your running. You will improve your performance. If you are not a runner but have one in the family, Daniels’ Running Formula makes a great gift.

Destination Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa is a great place to visit. On a recent trip we enjoyed perfect weather which allowed us to enjoy several parks as well as street boutique shopping. Anyone thinking of vacationing in the central part of the United States should consider this charming city for their destination.

Iconic Capitol

The capitol city of Iowa has a lot to offer. History buffs will enjoy touring both the capitol building and the surrounding grounds. As you can see from the pictures in the slide show, the building is currently undergoing a face-lift. The restoration project is in full swing. But from an aircraft above as well as when driving, one just notices the shining gold dome.

My favorite park is on the grounds of the capitol. The eclectic nature of the various monuments appealed to me. At first glance I thought the memorials were limited to the fallen Iowans of the various wars. There is even a tribute to those soldiers buried in Iowa who fought in the Revolutionary War. This memorial showcases the original colonies. Thus a great visual teaching tool for young visitors to the area.

But, the tributes are far-reaching. One of the most attention attracting monuments from a distance is Shattering Silence. This tribute to a landmark slavery case involving Ralph Montgomery is appropriately located closer to the Iowa Court of Appeals. For more information on the historic decision, click here.

Other key memorials include a gift from Japan and multiple trees planted. The Iowa government has produced a map of the grounds. I wish I had found this map prior to my visit. Click here for the map. I recommend printing the PDF version found on the link.

Downtown

Our downtown Des Moines stops included the East Village Shopping area, Papajohn Sculpture Park, and the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. Each offer metered parking. But only the Test Garden offered much shade. There are plenty of places to walk along the river as well.

East Village

I love old-fashioned shopping along city streets. More of the businesses are Mom and Pop stores. Furthermore, clothing boutiques allow you to express yourself. Unlike the chains, service tends to be a bit more personalized too.

East Village has much to offer. Boutiques like Aimee and Matilda Muse were fun to pop into. Clothing from casual to dressy filled the racks. Alongside the clothing stores were two great places for those who like to cook.

First was Kitchen Collage. This shop had everything you could imagine needing in a kitchen. Knives, cutting boards, dish towels, place mats and hundreds of gadgets. I bought a tool to turn my zucchini into noodles. Kitchen Collage would be an ideal place to shop for wedding gifts.

At the other end of the block is Allspice. This locally owned store is a must visit for cooks. In addition to a wide array of spices, the store offers olive oil and vinegar blends. The service here, like the other stops in East Village, was top-notch. I have already used the pickling spices I purchased. To visit Allspice online, click here.

Papajohn Sculpture Park

The Papajohn Sculpture Park commands attention. The large pieces have plenty of room. But they still have a larger than life appearance. My favorite is the spider. However, the attention stealer is titled Nomade. The art piece is 12,000 pounds of stainless steel painted white. The artist, Jaume Plensa hails from Spain. You can view more of his work by clicking here.

Many families rambled across the park on the day we visited the area. This is a great place to let kids stretch their legs while absorbing this contemporary style of art. However, proper respect of the artwork is essential. The sculpture park is open from sunrise until midnight. The operating hours for the adjacent museum can be found by clicking here.

Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden

Just across the street from the Papajohn Sculpture Park is the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. We were fortunate to visit Des Moines on a Friday. Because the test garden is only open on Fridays from noon until 2 during the warmer months of the year.
The test garden had a small crowd waiting at the gate for the guides to arrive. This was a key destination for many visitors. A series of steps leads down into the garden. Reservations were not required. However, groups of ten or more can arrange for guided tours. Our group was half that size. So no guided tour. But I found the master gardeners friendly and informative.

Garden Highlights

A ring of crabapples surround a fountain courtyard in the center of the garden. The shady spot offered tables for those working nearby to bring their sack lunch. Visitors needing a break could sit at the tables and soak in the view. The trees were planted 20 years ago. In the ensuing years a canopy has formed creating the shady oasis in the center. The guide I talked with indicated sun-loving plants were set out underneath the trees in the early years. As the trees matured, shade loving plants took the position at the base of the crabapples. Now there is deep shade. The trees and the fountain more than suffice to anchor the courtyard.

A pathway winds around the edge of the test garden. They types of plantings varied with the amount of sun. One corner had a vegetable and herb garden. The bell peppers were huge!

Readers of the magazine easily recognize various features in the garden. The planters and benches are picturesque. The groupings of plants were inspiring. But what I found most helpful were the identification labels. These labels named both the annuals and the permanent flowers and trees. If I lived and worked in downtown Des Moines, the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden would be my lunch spot every Friday during the summer.

Following the request of the magazine, there are no photos of the test garden in my slide show. Visitors are allowed to take pictures for their own use. But not for any commercial use. Therefore, I am providing this link to the test garden website.

This is just a taste of what Des Moines has to offer. The city deserves a repeat visit and a longer stay to further explore its treasures. Consider this great place for your next vacation destination.

Secrets of the National Parks

Secrets of the National Parks Book Review

Summer is here. Travelers are flocking across the country and many of them are headed to National Parks. If you are among the many heading to the great outdoors, consider purchasing Secrets of the National Parks. I found this guide-book edited by National Geographic on a bargain table at Barnes and Noble for under ten dollars. But I think it is worth more.

My parents did not enjoy camping. However, both felt it was important that we were well-rounded in our education. Trips to National Parks played a key role in exposing us to the wonders of nature. Thus, as my kids were growing up, I made sure they also experienced some of our great national treasures.

I wish I had found Secrets of the National Parks sooner. The book offers a comprehensive guide to 32 of the most popular of the parks. Following this major portion is a small section of snippets about smaller, off the beaten path sites. Last, some of the Canadian National Parks are covered in a similar fashion to those United States sites which comprise the bulk of the work.

Maps and Photos

The editors facilitated the use of the book by placing a map of the United States at the beginning. Each of the 32 National Parks high-lighted in the work are positioned on the map. Then, the page number where each park is detailed is located in red beneath the park name. Thus, those wanting a quick look at a specific site have an easy reference. Maybe the next edition could represent the Canadian Parks in a similar fashion.

Maps are a key characteristic of the books. Each park description includes a map. The editors use a numerical system to indicate both the most visited and the secrets of each park. Thus, the first suggested site described by an author is located on the map with a 1 within a red circle. I found this a very useful feature of the book as many of the parks are vast.

The photos included in the book entice the viewer. The ones featuring the parks I have visited bring back great memories. Those of the places I have yet to see are beckoning. Each captures the essence of the individual locations. Some focus on landscape such as the photo of Delicate Arch. Others highlight the inhabitants from coyote to roseate spoonbills.

Plant life is often depicted with the magnificent natural formations as backdrops. One of my favorites was Sunflowers and Buttes included in the Capitol Reef National Park section. This site is now on my list to visit.

Secrets Detailed

Perhaps the best attribute of the guide are the secrets shared by the writers. While the sections cover the most visited trails, sites, and visitor centers, each includes at least one lesser known, off the beaten path choice. I appreciate this. My enjoyment of nature is heightened if I am not surrounded by throngs of people.

Details include the degree of difficulty of the various hikes. The book is quite useful in this way. Both hikers with very young children as well as those with aging ankles or knees benefit with forehand knowledge.

Updates to the sites are also related. For example, Mesa Verde which I have visited many times has additional attractions since my last visit in 2009. I need to make a return trip in the not too distant future in order to view the new visitor center and participate in the just established “Backcountry Hikes” program.

Nature has a tendency to change over time. Therefore, individuals using Secrets of the National Parks need to check before travelling long distances. Most notable of ongoing change at this moment in time (summer of 2018) is the volcanic eruption at Kilauea.

National Geographic has produced an easy to read guide that is appealing. On a recent trip, I shared the guide with two of my companions. One I asked to verify Wind Cave National Park was on the way to Sturgis. The other is weeks away from a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Both individuals enjoyed Secrets of the National Parks. I think you will too.

Two Tone Zucchini Bread

For the first time ever, I am successfully growing zucchini. Most people find zucchini easy to grow. However, I have been the exception. In fact I seldom have an over-supply of this versatile vegetable. This year, thanks to my raised row garden, I have plenty of zucchini to work with. Two Tone Zucchini Bread is the result of my latest recipe creation.
The bread has some sweetness, but not too much. As a result of reading The Case Against Sugar, I am really watching how much sugar I add to my cooking and baking. Two Tone Zucchini Bread has plenty. Both a cup of white sugar and a third of a cup of chocolate chips will please those with a sweet tooth.

Prepping the Zucchini

The prep takes a little bit of time. I like to pick the squash before it gets too big. This reduces and sometimes eliminates the amount of seeds. I don’t like the seeds in my bread but if you use monster squash, you don’t need to pick out the seeds. They are edible.

Wash the zucchini thoroughly. This is important even if you grow your own or know if the produce has been organically grown. Then I peel before grating. You can leave the peel on if that is your preference. You will need 1 and ½ cups of grated zucchini. Once this step is done, you are ready to gather the remaining ingredients.

This recipe calls for whole wheat flour. If you use all-purpose flour add two tablespoons of flour. I like using whole wheat flour. But, the two types of flour vary slightly with the liquid/flour ratio needed to bake. I also prefer using sunflower oil but other vegetable oils could be substituted.

Kitchen equipment needed:

Grater, electric mixer and mixing bowl, 9 x 5 pan greased well, mixing spoon or large spatula, measuring spoons and cups.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 eggs
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups grated zucchini

For second batter:

1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift the first eight ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, sunflower oil, water and vanilla extract and blend on a medium low-speed. Stir in the grated zucchini. Pour approximately half the batter into a well-greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. A cooking spray is preferred.

To the remaining batter, add the dark cocoa powder and the chocolate chips. Stir on low until fully incorporated. I used semi-sweet but milk chocolate or dark chocolate can be used as well. Then pour the second batter on top of the first. Bake for 50-60 minutes. A toothpick inserted through the center should be clean when done.

I did not smooth the batter, nor did I spread it out evenly. This gives the loaf uneven layers. However, the next time I make this recipe I plan to see if the second batter will swirl through the first. The weight of the chocolate chips may hinder this technique. In fact, the uneven layers may have been due to the chocolate chips sinking at random spots.

Try this recipe next time you have some extra zucchini. I think you will like it!

June 2018 Wrap-Up

Purple and green basil.
Oven Dried Basil
Cherries pitted and in baking dish.
June cherries for a crisp.
First harvest of Beets

This year continues to fly by! Now that June has run its course we are officially half-way through the year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are now experiencing days shortening. However, summer still has many hours of sunlight ahead.

June Garden Update

My part of the United States has already experienced multiple days of triple digit heat. So many in fact that I have lost count. However, the garden continues to produce. During the month of June almost 50 pounds of produce was harvested. The edibles included various greens, root vegetables, squash, peas and the first of the cucumbers and tomatoes. Also included in the harvest;cherries and gooseberries. I did lose the broccoli crop to the flea beetles and the pesky pests shortened the harvest of the kale.

Planting seeds continues as spots come open. I even plopped some old seed into the ground and will report on whether or not the seed is still good at a later date. My potato bag experiment may be headed for a second year of failure. One plant did not withstand the 1.1 inches of rain we had one night. Roots did not drain well.

Cataract Surgery

The first of the eye surgeries is behind me. The clarity now that the cataract is removed is unbelievable. I am still anxious about the next surgery but hope the outcome is just as good. My reading remains a bit behind my usual pace. Since my regular glasses no longer work on one eye, I limit reading time to an hour at a time. (Computer time follows the same limit.) This helps eliminate headaches from eye strain.

Travel included trips to two Garden Cities. Please visit the post on Summer Street Fairs from Garden City, New York. The other Garden City served as the location for my cataract surgery. Both cities are thriving.

Reading Materials

Due to the eye surgery, I have focused on reading newspaper articles and blog posts. The Wall Street Journal continues to serve as my go to newspaper source. There was a very interesting article on the equality of the bottom three quintiles. The article posited this emerging equality as the reason President Trump won the 2016 election. Very interesting.
Blogs are some of my favorite reading sources. I especially enjoy those that discuss books or gardening (or both.) One blog I like for the honest reviews is Life of Chaz. Another post which I loved paired wine and summer books, you can click here for that post. I do miss reading my mysteries and all the new books at my library. Thus, I am looking forward to getting my eyes back to normal.

June 2018 has come and gone. My month was super productive. What about yours?

Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Garden Book Review

Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Garden is geared toward the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah & Wyoming. But author Diana Maranhao is so knowledgeable about edible gardening you might want to pick up a copy even if you live in a different state. Since the book is geared toward the mountain west region, there are a few items such as the chart on average first and last frost dates that are not applicable for everyone. However most of the book contains useful information not limited to the Rocky Mountain area.

Maranhao divides the book into two sections. In the first section, the initial focus is on the states making up the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. For those residing here the above mentioned frost date chart along with detailed Zone maps of each state are a plus. Chapters 2 through 5 are useful for gardeners everywhere even though there are some location specific details.

Seasonal Gardening and Soil Composition

Chapters 2 and 3 yield tips and information on the basic conditions needed to grow a successful garden. The author explains how temperature extremes hinder crops. Then she suggests ways to mitigate the damage. Additionally, the author indicates which plants perform best as transplants and which need direct sowing.

The soil building chapter shares information generally found in good gardening texts. The section on composting did yield some suggestions I was not aware of. Maranhao does recommend soil testing utilizing local extension agencies for tool kits.

Planning, Planting & Growing

Chapters 4 and 5 cover the nuts and bolts of a garden. I really like the author’s approach. If I had a common sense guide such as Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Garden when I first started out, I think my failures would have been fewer. The planning and planting of the garden are spelled out in a non-verbose way.

The garden maintenance section advocates using a drip system. I concur. Much of the success of my raised row garden is due to the watering system. Maranhao gives details on differing drip systems. She also stresses the need to weed and monitor for pests.

Rocky Mountain Fruit and Vegetable Profiles

The second section of Rocky Mountain Fruit and Vegetable Gardening is a fantastic guide for the gardener as it pertains to specific plants. This portion is divided between fruit and nuts and vegetables and herbs.

Priority in planting is trees, bushes and vines. The author includes a chill chart which indicates the number of hours fruit trees need exposure to sub-45 degree air temperature. While I knew some cooler temperatures were needed, I did not know how many. Nor that winter thaws above 60 degrees Fahrenheit reverses the chill factor.

I also appreciated the illustrated diagrams on planting and pruning. Information on trellising plants is in this section as well. Other tips include a proper hardening off technique for transplants. Then the author turns to individual edibles.

The book organizes the information on the individual plants by dividing the specimens into cool and warm season groupings. Then, the seasonal plantings are listed alphabetically. Each of the listings has growing tips in addition to the basic questions (and answers) of who, what, where, when, and how to plant.

I added Rocky Mountain Fruit & Vegetable Gardening to my home library. The book is easy to use. Diana Maranhao is knowledgeable and writes with a style that is easy to follow. This book is a great resource especially for those living in the mountains, high valleys and high plains.

Cooking for Two

Root vegetables  in a cooking pan.
Just enough for Two!

Some individuals struggle with empty nest syndrome, others are ready to celebrate. I was closer to the latter, but that may be due to a schedule that included full-time work, studying for a Master’s degree in management and training for a marathon. Frankly, I did not have time to feel morose. My biggest struggle was suddenly cooking for two.

Our offspring seem like sets. The two oldest were born in the same year. Then the third did not arrive until the first two were about ready for school. The last was a few years behind the third. But the last two left home at the same time. This caused a big shift in cooking habits.

When we were six at home, we seldom had leftovers. The meals consisted of generous portions and necessity dictated quick to prepare recipes. Four kids meant a lot of activities. Each was allowed one sport and one non sport activity plus school and Sunday school. Of course there were guests around from time to time as well.

Empty Nester Cooking

The portions are now quite a bit smaller and even then we have leftovers. Sometimes we go for more complex recipes but I still like to keep it simple. One of the best parts of this empty nest cooking style is the impromptu aspect. Such was the case recently when I decided to prepare Roasted Root Vegetables for Two.

Even though we have had more than a handful of 100 degree days, we enjoyed a cool front (complete with 3/10 an inch of rain, Yahoo!) Since I harvested a rutabaga that morning which had survived the flea beetle attack along with beets, I decided roasting the vegetables would be a nice change. We added some store-bought potatoes and carrots. Garden onion and garlic were also utilized. I am including the recipe below.

The life style change has impacted our kitchen preparations. Pancakes are seldom on the menu and I do not recall when I last made goulash. Yet when the kids were at home both were weekly occurrences. Now, each weekday lunch is centered on a smoothie. No mac and cheese or other quick order meal for the high school kids on their lunch break.

Dinners have been the biggest change. I no longer plan out the meals a week in advance. In the summer, meals are decided last-minute based on what the garden has yielded that day. Favorite meals are homemade pizzas, cold soups, and grilled everything. The colder months feature crock pot meals or casseroles. Both yield lots of leftovers.

Solutions

There are some things one can do to offset the challenges of cooking for two. First is freezing. Often part of the meal is put in a freezer container. This relieves the boredom factor of eating the same thing for three or more days. Second is creating or finding recipes such as Roasted Root Vegetables for Two. This helps eliminate the overabundance of leftovers. But perhaps the best way is to share the meal.

Sharing a meal with other couples, neighbors or family members is no longer commonplace. However, I think as a society we need to revisit this custom. When the kids were little neighborhood gatherings were commonplace. Perhaps not every weekend but more than once a month. However, that no longer seems to be the case. Now the occurrences are once or twice a year.

Since one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to socialize more, I plan to host some gatherings once the outdoor building project is completed. In my case it has been easy to retreat once the kids left the nest. I enjoy being at home since I am a bit introverted. Entertaining takes time that could be spent on other activities. But I do think it is important to keep resolutions so neighborhood cook-outs are on the docket. Let me know how you adapt to cooking for two!

Roasted Root Vegetables for Two

1 rutabaga
2 beets
2 potatoes
1 onion
2 carrots or 1 cup baby carrots
1 TBS olive oil
4-6 garlic cloves
Salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut vegetables into small chunks and spread out in baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Stir every 15 minutes. After 30 minutes sprinkle the garlic cloves among the vegetables. Resume stirring every 15 minutes. Test for doneness at one hour by piercing rutabaga with fork. Salt to taste and serve. Note: If rutabaga not included cooking time may be reduced to 45 minutes.

You Me Everything Book Review

You Me Everything is the first novel Catherine Isaac has published in the United States of America. Romance readers across the ocean might be familiar with the author under the name Jane Costello. After reading her debut released on this side of the Atlantic, I want to find her other works too.

Part of You Me Everything is a love story. But the story is so much more. Many people in real life and in fiction, travel through life with few challenges. Others, such as Jess the protagonist in this novel have more than their fair share of ongoing heartbreak. Amazingly, Isaac creates a story that is uplifting regardless of the all important backdrop of relationship misunderstanding and breakdown. A further tribulation is the diagnosis of Huntington’s and the carrying gene.

Isaac’s writing is fast paced. The dialog is witty and the characters are incredibly endearing. I felt like I knew them all. But what I liked best was the growth of the lead character, Jess. She learns to face a difficult future with both grace and joy.

While the characters hail from Great Britain, much of the story takes place in the French countryside. Jess and her ten-year old son are taking a holiday at the resort his father owns. The purpose is for the father and son to bond and spend time together. Something which is difficult when living in different countries.

However, there is an underlying motive behind Jess’ plans. Her mother is in the final stages of Huntington’s disease and Jess has learned in the past year that she also carries the gene. At her mother’s insistence, she travels to France. Both now and in the future her son needs a close bond with his father.

Huntington’s disease

You Me Everything is the second book I have read recently involving a character with Huntington’s disease. For more information on this debilitating condition click here. The devastation is dramatic. Isaac does a tremendous job conveying the hardship and heartbreak of the families. But even more impressive is her ability to convey a joy for life among characters facing the diagnosis. Her message is clear: We all have one life and we must live it to the best of our ability.

Crop Rotation, Succession Planting, and Companion Planting

Planting a home food garden takes more work than plopping in seeds and watering. Planning the garden is a critical component. However, some of the most important planting techniques can conflict. Primarily, I am talking about crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting. While the first two seem to go hand in hand, the last of the three can make planning and implementing a garden tricky. If, that is, you want to keep the soil healthy.

Crop Rotation

The best way to keep soils happy and pests at a minimum is to practice crop rotation. I have seen charts for various cycles of planting. Some involve rotating through a cycle of three years and others for four years. Also, some rotation plans include a fallow season. Currently the big garden is designed for a four-year cycle. I best remember the cycle with the chant Root, Fruit, Leaf, Legumes. The rotation follows the line. Thus, a fruit crop follows the space a root crop was in, the leaf crop goes behind the fruit, the legumes behind the leaf and the roots follow the legumes. Sounds easy enough, but that does not allow for succession planting in some of the row. Nor does the sequencing allow for companion planting.

 

Dill and summer squash side by side
Growing dill and summer squash together in effort to deter squash bugs

Succession Planting

Succession planting has multiple definitions. One involves growing a late season crop after an early crop. For example, both radishes and spinach are usually finished by early June. This gives plenty of time to plant a second crop. Following the rotation chart, the next crop should be from the fruit or legume family as the case may be. But now your row is no longer consistent from within.

Another type of succession planting is placing plants with different harvest dates side by side. An example would be putting beets and butternut squash side by side. The winter squash takes much longer to grow and develops above ground in contrast to the root vegetable which will be harvested at a much earlier date.

Companion Planting

I use the technique of companion planting throughout my yard. I have garlic planted at the base of my fruit trees. In theory, this wards off borers. Also, my tomatoes are grown side by side with both onion and basil. One can see quite easily what this latter grouping does to crop rotation. But I still plan to rotate the rows in the big garden.

In addition to preserving soil nutrients, crop rotation helps battle pests. The flea beetles were aggressive this year. Even though the rutabagas and broccoli were planted in different rows, the little bugs attacked both. I certainly don’t want to plant the rutabaga in the same place next year.

So far, no signs of squash bugs, but I know they are lurking somewhere. If all my squash were next to each other, they would just chomp down the row. Thus companion planting is essential to my gardening.

Garden Compromise

My intentions are to loosely follow a crop rotation through the rows. So, next year the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will reside where the beets are now. I will still inter-plant the basil and the onion alongside the tomatoes. The plants are too happy not to. I do plan to take very close notes and lots of pictures. Sometimes I lose my sketched garden plans from one year to the next, so it helps to have photos.

Succession planting will still occur. Our late spring, early summer heat triggers bolting by June for some of the early crops. I do not want to have a lot of the rows idle. However, I will try to follow a mini crop rotation with the succession planting. Perhaps I will follow the radishes with tomatillos next year.

We eat from our garden all summer long. The health benefits are only outweighed by just how great fresh fruits and vegetables taste. To insure the garden keeps producing, we will combine the various techniques of crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting to keep both plants and soil thriving.

 

Quilt in a Day: Log Cabin Quilt Book Review

Eleanor Burns’ Quilt in a Day log cabin pattern was the first how-to quilt book I ever purchased. I still use it over thirty years later. Burns is very straightforward with her directions. She begins the book with a brief history of the log cabin pattern. Then the detailed instruction begins.

Charts

Burns provides multiple charts to aid the planning of a log cabin quilt. First are worksheets to pin fabric swatches on. These sheets keep the sewing order on track. Also included are yardage charts. Each of the charts indicate the application of block arrangements. This is useful because only the Field and Furrow arrangement can always work. The many other arrangements require specific numbers of blocks. So if you want a Barn Raising Log Cabin quilt, you must make sure to use the correct block arrangement.

The yardage charts also provide the accurate amount of fabric to buy. The yardage varies by the size of the log cabin quilt and the placement of the fabric within the quilt design. I have made many quilts using these charts and I have yet to be short or overly long on fabric.

Log Cabin quilts key on color contrasts. Burns breaks up the charts between lights and darks. However, contrast can be between colors opposite each other on the color wheel. An example is using red and green in a Christmas themed log cabin design. In such a scenario, just assign one of the colors to the light chart and the other to the dark side.

Burns labels the next chart the tearing chart. She is big proponent of this technique. However, I am a rotary cutter fan. The tearing charts still apply. Preparing the strips all at once is key to this method of quilting.

Log Cabin Block Assembly

After all the fabric is in strips, the blocks are ready to sew. Burns provides the illustration in assembling the quilt. For a first time quilter, these diagrams are extremely helpful.

Once the blocks are made they can be previewed in the various log cabin variations. Burns includes diagrams indicating block arrangement for each log cabin variation. The book is a fantastic guide for the many designs.

The next section gives instruction on piecing the blocks together. Burns discusses the practice of butting the pieces together. This allows continuous sewing and saves time. Also, the technique avoids wasting thread.

The author does an excellent job of walking the beginning quilter through the entire process. The log cabin quilt is one of my favorites. I love the contrasts of both color and hue. Values of color really show off the different arrangements. If you are interested in learning to quilt, I highly recommend this book.

Summer Street Fair

One of the best things about travelling through New England in the summer is stumbling across a street fair. Recently I enjoyed one such event in Garden City, New York. The main street gave way to numerous bands, vendors and many families. Sidewalk tables spilled from the restaurants and the weather was perfect.

The biggest change from my college days of New England Summer Street Fairs was the extent of the blockades and the heightened security. Unfortunately this is a sign of the times. However, the extra measures were reassuring. One still needs to be aware of the surroundings, but I felt quite comfortable in this setting.

As you can see from the pictures, all ages were involved. The youngest attendees surveyed everything from the comfort of their strollers. Then, the next age group bopped to some classic rock while their grandparents sang along as the bands played.

I loved the number of teenagers in the crowd. They participated in the singing and dancing as well. Further, it looked like things haven’t changed much since I was young. As the night wore on the cluster of girls edged nearer and nearer to the group of boys.

Street Vendors

The vendors ranged from pony rides to snow cones and diet aids to safety tips. While there were hot pretzels, I missed the cold pickles and ice cream of yesteryear. The group I was with dined on lobster instead. My lobster roll was almost as good as home-made. Unfortunately, I had no room for dessert.

Old fashioned glow sticks have been replaced by fancier devices. Unfortunately, I did not spot the vendor selling the lights. So, I missed a close inspection. These globes and sabers reminded me of light-up sneakers with their pulsing light. The kids loved them and I’m sure the parents had an easier time of keeping track of the youngsters.

Street Music

The music varied among the bands, but several played classic rock. Since I live in a part of the United States that prefers country music, I enjoyed the change of pace. The audience sang along and the performers were great interacting with the crowd.

Live music is a treat. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy an outdoor concert. I hope the Scottsbluff High School Choir which shared our plane sang outside when performing in New York City. However, they were not present at this particular street fair.

You don’t have to live in New England to enjoy a summer street fair. Look around. Street fairs can be found in cities, suburbs and small towns. A search online will garner lists in each state. If you can’t find one nearby, then organize one for your community. Celebrate summer. Attend a summer street fair soon!

Triple Crown

Tomorrow, June 9, 2018, Justify has a chance to become a Triple Crown winner. In honor of that possibility, I am presenting three book reviews today. All three discuss this difficult feat. Two are non-fiction accounts of my favorite Triple Crown winner, Secretariat. The third is a work of fiction by Felix Francis.

There is something for everyone in these three books. First, the novel is a good mystery full of the Francis penchant for showing the human element. Next, the general history and wonderful photos in Secretariat by Raymond G. Wolfe Jr. is perfect for the many sports fans stirred up by the quest for the Triple Crown. Finally, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack is geared toward those with a serious interest in the horse industry. Enjoy one or all of these books and tune in to watch the Belmont tomorrow to see if Justify becomes just the 13th winner of the Triple Crown.

Triple Crown The Novel

Felix Francis is the son of Dick Francis. The two collaborated on a few books before the latter’s death. Triple Crown, published in 2016 is a crime novel involving the Triple Crown races in America. The novel is written in the style made famous by the elder Francis.

Jeff Hinkley is an agent for the British Horseracing Authority. He travels to the United States on an exchange program to advise the Federal Anti-Corruption in Sports Agency (FACSA). However, his true purpose is to identify the individual within FACSA tipping off horse trainers to upcoming raids.

The action continues at the Kentucky Derby where problems intensify with several horses unable to start in the famous race. Francis conveys the atmosphere surrounding the Derby to the reader. Visitors to Louisville, Kentucky can visit both Churchill Downs and Wagner’s. Even those just watching the race on television can relate to his description of the crowds.

The plot moves from crime to murder mystery as the races move along the legs of the Triple Crown. Hinkley goes undercover as a groom. Readers glimpse life on the backside through the prose. There are a few twists in this tale of government corruption. The racing industry is not painted in a particularly positive light either. However, the writing does convey a sense of the workings of the industry. The fast paced novel is entertaining. The focus is on the players in the game more than the actual races themselves.

Secretariat

A wonderful testimonial in pictures as much as text is Secretariat by Raymond G. Woolfe Jr. The first edition appeared in 1974 with the update including a forward by jockey Ron Turcotte released in 2001. I love this book. The photos cover the story from start to finish. Both he human element and the horse are detailed.

The text begins with the famous coin toss to decide ownership. The story follows the entire life of the horse. Additionally, the book includes updates on the humans involved with the Triple Crown winner. Also shared with the reader are several charts. Along with the racing charts, the list of progeny, and the pedigree is Secretariat’s training log. Every activity is recorded from January 20, 1972 when he arrived at the barn to November 12, 1973, his last day at the track.

This combination coffee table book and historical account is a great tribute and record of Secretariat. Some pictures are in color but many are in black and white. The challenge of photographing the 31 length victory in the Belmont is evident. No other horses were in sight at the widest angle. The first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, Secretariat was an amazing horse.

Secretariat: The Making of a Champion

William Nack only has a few pictures in his historical account, but one is my favorite of all time. Taken from the infield the viewer has a true sense of just how far in front Secretariat was in the Belmont. The final leg of the Triple Crown.

Secretariat: The Making of a Champion is a detailed look at all the parties involved in the making of the horse. In this account, background on the breeders involved includes so much more than just the coin toss. Nack gives great inside information to this important side of the industry. Interesting details on the principle breeders involved are a major part of the book. Indeed, the story of Penny Chenery Tweedy is conveyed alongside that of Secretariat. Furthermore, Seth Hancock’s syndication of Secretariat and the involvement of the Ogden Phipps are important parts of the history.

Additionally, the trainer Lucien Laurin, groom Ed Sweat, the primary jockey Ron Turcotte and the exercise rider Jimmy Gaffney are involved in this well documented biography. Each provides perspective. Thus, Nack tells the Triple Crown winner’s story through the stories of the many humans caring for him. Finally, Nack does an incredible job of describing the racing action. His play-by-play of the Belmont will have those readers who were lucky enough to witness the historical race nodding their heads, yes, yes.