Category Archives: books

On a lighter note

I figured I’d share a few favorite things I’ve discovered since I last posted on something other than current events.  In no particular order, here they are:

  • If you are trying to decide between the 20 million charities that are currently asking for donations for Haiti right now, consider Partners In Health.  They have, thus far, been making the best use of funds donated for disaster relief in Haiti, have an established network in the country, and are a pretty fantastic organization all around.  If you want to know more, go check out their website, or read this book by Tracy Kidder, which is well written (as are all Tracy Kidder’s books, but that’s another story).  They are one of those organizations that actually has an effective, efficient, sensible plan for accomplishing their mission, which is one of the main things I look for when I’m choosing an organization to donate to, and they’ve been working in Haiti for decades.
  • The White Mountains are amazing, especially in winter.  We just made our second trip up there, and managed to summit Mt. Lafayette.  It was worth every bit of muscle pain.  I only wish we had summit pictures to show you; we’re still waiting on those from friends, as our camera did not like the cold one bit.  The photo above is from the Falling Waters trail in Franconia Notch, which I highly recommend, but only if you have the gear.  If you go up Brindle Path and down Falling Waters during winter, you can slide down the mountain most of the way!
  • Snow is actually pretty fantastic if you take full advantage of it.
  • Radish kimchi goes with EVERYTHING (er… maybe not chocolate, but that’s another experiment). If you haven’t tried it, go! Now! You don’t know what you’re missing.  I had a breakfast burrito with kimchi, New Zealand cheddar, and fried eggs this morning, and have been known to put kimchi on nachos after a late night at the lab…
  • If you’re stuck in a wine shop trying to decide between the cutesy lizard label and the adorable kangaroos, ask if they have a rioja.  Spanish wines are cheap for the quality, and I think they’re worth trying at least once.  Reservas are even better, if they are in your price range.  Barring that, try a Malbec.  These are Argentinian reds that are also generally pretty good for the price, though they aren’t quite as reliable as the riojas seem to be, in my experience.  Reservas are also a good bet for Malbecs.
  • Steep and Cheap is worth checking out if you’re interested in mountaineering gear.
  • The CSS upgrade on wordpress is worth it.  If you’ve noticed (aka still don’t read blogs in some sort of RSS feed), my site has gotten somewhat ugly since I got cheap on you and stopped paying the $15/year upgrade.  I may have to do something about that one of these night shifts.
  • Two tv shows I really should stop watching on netflix but cannot: Spooks / MI-5, which is a BBC series, and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Clearly I’m about the last person on earth to start watching the second show, but having watched some horrible cooking shows and the shows he’s featured on places I’ve actually lived, I really think he actually tries to treat each place he visits with respect.  That’s hard to find on television these days.

And that’s all for now.  I have an experiment setup to supervise next week and a life to sort out, so we’ll see when I return…

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Filed under books, cabbage, firsts, holiday, travel, wine

Such sweet things

Our first strawberry

Our garden’s reveling in the summer sun, throwing up signs of contentment in little shoots and buds. Sprouts of questionable heritage yielded spindly little seedlings, which eventually transformed into our little patch of controlled chaos in the backyard. Along with it, creatures emerged — little slugs and aphids, butterflies and ladybugs. Signs that soon (well, now, actually), we’d be competing for the very produce we made possible.

Tomatoes!

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, which makes the transition to the “wilderness” of the national parks we just visited back to civilization an interesting one. It’s a comfortable book, meandering through the seasons — and his garden, in each — with a thoughtful ease. And while it’s preachy at times, I think his point about America’s view of nature is dead on. Yes, we invented the concept of national preservation areas, where wilderness could be preserved for all to see. And yes, as the ranger in Prairie Creek State Park pointed out, we have cleared virtually every single old growth forest outside of those preservation areas since we decided to settle here. Pollan’s explanation of this is that we have an “all or nothing” view of nature, and how we manage it;

Once a landscape is no longer ‘virgin’ it is typically written off as fallen, lost to nature, irredeemable. We hand it over to the jurisdiction of that other sacrosanct American ethic: laissez-faire economics.

Yes — big developers. Because who wouldn’t want more condos? It’s already ruined, right? This is despite the fact that, as Pollan points out, man has had a profound effect on nature as we see it. We’re part of it, and we influence it, in our introduction of foreign species, our management policies, and our understanding of our role in its history. Most of the time, we’ve had a more profound effect than we know. His point? We have, in essence, become “gardeners” of our landscape, responsible for its care and general health.

We’ve done a good job, in some cases (the State and National Park systems, an example of which is shown above, are a case in point). But in a lot of instances, I think this all-or-nothing concept (which seems to pervade our thinking, really — politically, environmentally, economically, and socially) is dangerous. It gives us license to write off our responsibility, to ignore our role in the planet’s future. Yes, it’s easier to manage; the lines are black and white, easily placed into the law books for all to see. But just as industrial ag is easier on a large scale, it’s not necessarily better.

I guess that’s why we started this garden. And why I’ll keep it up. I didn’t think I’d like it… I thought it’d be just another chore. I mean, this is me — I barely water the house plants; I used to kill them before James came along and started watching over them all. But I find myself going out to visit it every morning, to keep tabs on the soil condition, the new buds, and the creatures I find myself learning more about, in order to defend our plants’ tender leaves. It’s all the more interesting when you can’t just spray a few chemicals about to take care of whatever your problems are. So far, everything is doing pretty well. We’ve had to share our strawberries with the birds, and had some hungry leaf miners eat through the first leaves of chard. Other than that? We have strong, healthy tomato plants, and some amazing squash and cucumber coming along. Our carrots seem happy, and the potato we planted from the Union Square greenmarket is finally pushing a few buds up out of the soil. And we have more lettuce than we can eat — a few plants are going to seed, and I’m just going to let them, just to see what happens. Oh — and I can’t wait for the tomatoes.

So, with that, I’ll leave you with a recipe. Well — this isn’t really a recipe. I just threw a few veggies, some pasta, and a sauce together and called it lunch. But it’s really tasty (with sort of a satay flavor), and makes use of the garlic scapes that seem to be the only new and interesting thing at the Wooster Square farmer’s market at the moment. It’ll be perfect with our yellow pears, carrots, and spring onions later in the season. I only hope I’m still in New Haven when things start to get really exciting.

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Filed under books, carrots, environment, gardening, garlic scapes, ginger, main, pasta, side, vegan, vegetarian